PG rating for a couple of bad words.
It starts three months after the shooting.
Never a heavy sleeper, John wakes with a jolt, heart hammering at the sound of a shout in the dark. He’s frozen, body rigid as if nightmare-bound, the only sound in the room the blood pulsing through his ears. It wouldn’t be the first time he’s startled himself awake, except this time he can’t remember dreaming and normally he does. Normally he can’t push the images back out of his head.
A car drives past outside, headlights sweeping through the curtains and washing over his bedroom walls. Inside, all is silence. He takes a breath and wills himself to move, to relax. His shoulder aches, leg protesting with ghostly pain as he sinks back down and stretches out on his back.
He won’t sleep again tonight, not with that much adrenaline flooding his system. He can feel it in the centre of his chest, white liquid fire pulsing with every heartbeat, urging him to move. To get up. To act. Helpful in a crisis his therapist often reminds him, but less helpful in the middle of the night or the middle of the supermarket. Just one of those unpleasant souvenirs he’s brought home. It won’t last forever, she says.
Nevertheless, he knows he won’t sleep again tonight.
The room’s cold, the heating won’t kick in until six and the tail end of a bitter winter lingers across the whole country. Even central London’s seen snow. He retreats under the duvet, but he doesn’t want to lay there awake in the dark, thinking about how much sleep he isn’t getting. And downstairs he can hear movement. Perhaps Sherlock has a case? Perhaps that’s what woke him up.
Braving the chill he pulls a jumper over his head and shuffles downstairs. But with each step it seems to get colder, until he’s hit by a definite arctic blast when he reaches the living room. The reason is obvious, if inexplicable.
The window has been flung up, open to the icy sky. And Sherlock is standing in front of it, face like marble in the moonlight, dressing gown fluttering in the cold air as he stares into the night.
John stops on the threshold, knowing this isn’t right. Even for Sherlock, this isn’t right. He watches, waiting for him to turn or speak, to explain. But nothing happens and so carefully John says, “What are you doing?”
Sherlock turns with a start, one pale hand pressed to his chest. “I didn’t know you were there,” he says, and the surprise in his voice is laced with fear. “I didn’t hear you.”
They both know the startling implications of that statement; they both choose to ignore them.
John nods at the window. “It’s bloody freezing in here.”
“Yes,” Sherlock agrees, turning back to the window as if bemused to find it open. “Yes, sorry.” He pulls the sash shut, twitches the curtains closed, and the room is suddenly dark.
Sorry? No, that’s not right at all.
John takes a step and finds the kitchen light switch, the slow-build of Mrs Hudson’s eco-friendly bulb throwing yellow shadows across the living room. Sherlock has retreated to his chair, knees pulled up beneath his chin. Defensive. He looks cold and John wonders how long he’s been standing at the window. Then he remembers the half-dreamed shout and thinks it hasn’t been long. He heads for the kitchen and puts the kettle on.
“What do they do with racing cars when the engines break?” Sherlock says when John returns with two mugs of tea.
He sits down before he answers, tired and rubbing a hand over his face. His skin feels thin, dry. “I don’t know,” he says and takes a sip. The tea is hot, almost scalding, but he can feel himself relax at once. “Build a new car, I suppose.”
Sherlock nods, ignoring his tea. “You can’t mend an engine like that. High performance, finely tuned. Once it’s damaged it’s irreparable.”
“Didn’t know you were into motor racing.”
“I’m not. Tedious.”
“A case?” He’s sceptical and it shows in his voice.
Sherlock’s eyes find his; in the half-light they are shadowed, oddly dark. “No.”
Metaphor, then. He doesn’t say it out loud however, just blows on his tea and relishes the warmth of the steam against his face before he takes another sip. “Bad dream, was it?”
Sherlock doesn’t answer, turns his head to look at the empty grate. John considers making a fire, the heat and the light would be welcome, but he doesn’t really want to move. Besides, he doubts they have anything legal to burn, Sherlock’s collection of the Telegraph notwithstanding.
He sips at his tea and after a while Sherlock says, “Don’t try to psychoanalyse me, John. You have no idea how my mind works.”
“I wasn’t,” he lies.
Somewhere close by a siren screams into life. Sherlock jumps, one hand grabbing the arm of his chair as blue lights flash past outside. John pretends not to notice his reaction, eying those long fingers over the rim of his mug as they slowly uncurl. When he looks up, Sherlock’s lips are pressed into a thin line and there’s a sheen of sweat on his forehead.
“Do you think about it much?” John asks.
Sherlock glares, murderous, and flings himself out of the chair. “Shut up.”
A moment later his bedroom door slams and John is left alone.
On the afternoon Sherlock punches Anderson, John estimates it's been five days since Sherlock really slept. He also reckons Sherlock pulled the punch at the last moment, that if he’d really wanted to he could have done a lot more than break the man’s nose.
Not that it isn’t enough.
Lestrade shakes his head, hands shoved into his pockets. “I’m going to have to write it up,” he says. “Anderson’s really pissed off.”
“Yeah,” John sighs. “Can’t blame him, really.”
At the other end of the car park, away from Anderson and the huddle of outraged police, Sherlock stands alone. He’s staring out toward the river, coat whipping about his legs in the cold February wind. “I don’t think he’s handling things too well,” John confesses at last. “You know, after what happened.”
He meets Lestrade’s gaze, sees concern in his eyes – professional and personal. Lestrade’s a good man, better than Sherlock realises. “I won’t be able to use him again,” he says, “if he can’t hold it together.”
“I know.” After a moment John adds, “Maybe you shouldn’t for a while. You know, I’m not saying forever…”
Lestrade glances over at Anderson, face already bruising and Donovan trying to wipe the blood from his shirt. John can’t help thinking he had it coming, but even so – not good. “Might be better all round if he steers clear for a few weeks,” Lestrade suggests. “If I can persuade Anderson not to press charges, it’ll be okay. If I can’t…”
John nods. “I’ll talk to him,” he says, looking over at Sherlock. “Maybe he’ll apologise.”
Lestrade just laughs. He has a point.
By the time he reaches the other side of the car park, Sherlock’s pacing. “He’s an idiot,” he says in a flurry of self-justification. “A complete and utter moron. I can’t believe Lestrade lets him within ten feet of a crime scene.”
“It was a cock-up,” John agrees. “He should never have touched the gun.”
“Of course he shouldn’t. Amateur.”
“And you shouldn’t have punched him either.”
Sherlock doesn’t answer – pacing, pacing. At his side his hands are still balled into fists, bone-white against his coat. John suspects he doesn’t have an explanation, not even for himself. It’s probably eating him alive.
“Lestrade thinks if you apologise—”
“—if you apologise Anderson might not press charges.”
“Press charges,” he mutters, as if it’s the most ridiculous thing in the world. He turns, indicates Lestrade with a dramatic sweep of his arm. “He wouldn’t dare. Without me he’ll never be able to—”
John grabs his arm, stopping him dead. “Sherlock, you just assaulted a police officer. In front of his boss and a dozen witnesses. Do you understand that? Do you understand that Lestrade won’t be able to use you on another case if he has make this official?”
The glare he gets in response is vicious, cold fire in those colourless eyes. But it’s not a refusal.
“Good,” John says, unflinching. “Then get over there and say sorry, or the next time you see Anderson it’ll be in a bloody magistrate’s court.”
Sherlock wrenches his arm free of John’s grip. “Never touch me again,” he growls. Then, with a swirl of his coat, he stalks back toward Anderson who’s leaning on the bonnet of a patrol car, holding a wad of tissues to his bloody nose. John hurries after Sherlock, not entirely sure what he’s going to do, struggling to keep up with his angry strides.
When Donovan sees them coming she gets up and comes to stand protectively between Anderson and Sherlock. Sweet, John thinks with a sour smile. Lestrade’s there too, a hand on Anderson’s shoulder that might either be supportive or cautionary. Anderson, on the other hand, stays put, caught between humiliation and fear. John doesn’t blame him; at the best of times Sherlock can be intimidating, but in this mood he’s bloody terrifying.
“Look,” Lestrade says, “I think—”
Sherlock ignores him. “Anderson,” he says, stopping some distance away and glaring at him down the length of his nose. In the cold February air his face is ashen, grey smudges beneath his eyes, and John wonders, again, how much sleep he’s been getting. He flings John a quick look, and he sends him a ‘get on with it’ glare in return. Like a recalcitrant school boy, Sherlock turns back to Anderson and grudgingly says, “I’m sorry.” There’s a moment then when John thinks it might all turn out okay, that it might be forgotten or put down to eccentricity. But then Sherlock carries on talking, a rush of words he can’t seem to stem. “I’m sorry you’re an idiot. I realise you can’t help it, having demonstrably drawn the genetic short straw, and in future I’ll try to avoid causing you any lasting damage when you manifest your innate idiocy by fouling up a crime scene.”
And then he’s gone, coat flying out behind him as he stalks past the loitering police and away into the city.
It’s a week after the incident with Anderson when he first finds Sherlock high.
But he doesn’t realise straight away, distracted as he is by the music drifting down from their flat when he shuts the front door.
“He’s been at it all afternoon,” Mrs Hudson says, handing over John’s post with a long suffering smile. “I’ve never heard him play so much.”
John’s never heard Sherlock play at all, not really. He’s more used to the fretful plucking and scraping of strings that apparently assist his thinking process. But this... This is something different.
He doesn’t recognise the piece, he’s not an aficionado of music beyond the popular classics, but the dark melancholy cuts right through him. He climbs the stairs quietly, then stops in the living room doorway. Sherlock is sprawled in his chair, long legs crossed at the ankle and the violin propped at an improbable angle beneath his chin. His eyes are closed as he plays, brow furrowed in concentration, fingers moving with swift precision. The cuff of his left sleeve hangs open where his arm is raised to hold violin’s neck; John doesn’t immediately realise its significance.
As the music ebbs and dies, Sherlock’s head sinks back against the chair, arms spreading wide in a gesture that look like surrender. The violin and bow dangle from limp-fingered hands, one drooping over each arm of the chair. “I was practicing,” he sighs, and John notices the rapid rise and fall of his chest. Like he’s been running. Or something.
“I heard,” he says. “That was really good.”
John sits down heavily in his own chair. He’s tired, it’s been a long day. A long few months. “Sounded good to me.”
“Scarcely a compliment from someone whose idea of high culture is Classic FM.”
John ignores the provocation. “I’m hungry,” he says. “Have you eaten?”
Sherlock lifts his head, gesturing with his bow to dismiss the question. “Not hungry.”
And that’s when John notices the dilated pupils and the slight flush on his cheeks. His gaze shifts to the open cuff, to the three needle marks on his arm. Anger is his first reaction, swiftly followed by shock and a chaser of alarm. He finds himself leaning forward, arms braced on his knees. “What the hell are you doing?”
Sherlock smiles, glancing deliberately at his arm, then back to John. “Bored.”
He clenches his jaw against a curse, knowing that ranting won’t do any good. Instead he says, very calmly, “What was it? Heroin?”
Sherlock’s insulted. “Please.”
“Cocaine, then. Anything else?”
There’s no answer to that, Sherlock just stands up and walks over to the window. The bow still dangles from his fingers and he lets it scrape over the chair, the table, anything in the way. He gazes down at the street and says, “Spare me the lecture, John. I know what I’m doing.”
“I doubt it.”
“You should give it a try, imbue that dreary little mind of yours with some fizz for once.”
“No thanks,” John growls.
Sherlock laughs, not a nice sound. “God!” he exclaims, spinning around to face him. “Must you be such a little-Englander, John? So unbearably dull?”
John shoves himself to his feet, pissed off. Worried and pissed off. “Fine,” he snaps, hands up to deflect any more vitriol. “Fine. Do what you like.”
“Thank you, I shall.”
He’s tempted to go out, to phone Sarah and see if she’s free; a curry and a DVD sound pretty good right about now. He reaches for his phone.
“Yes,” Sherlock nods, scathing, “why not phone Sarah? Perhaps if you’re lucky she’ll even let you—”
“Shut up, Sherlock.”
Swallowing whatever else he was about to say, Sherlock turns back to the window, tapping his violin against the wall in a staccato rhythm that’s all anxiety. And John finds that he can’t forget the melancholy of the music, or the fact that Sherlock hasn’t slept for days, or that a week ago he punched Anderson on the nose. As the great consulting detective himself might say, it’s all highly suggestive.
So he pockets his phone, walks into the kitchen and flings open the fridge. It’s mercifully lacking in body parts, so he pulls out some eggs and cheese and makes an omelette. Sherlock stays in the living room, but he doesn’t play anymore. He’s restless, pacing, John can hear the violin resonate as it’s knocked against the furniture. The comedown’s a bitch, and lasts much longer than the high.
What he wants to do is listen to Sherlock’s chest, the doctor in him worrying about the impact on his damaged lung of the cocaine induced cardiovascular acceleration. But he hasn’t got a stethoscope and the odds of Sherlock cooperating are about zero.
So, taking his food into the living room, he sits at the dining table and starts to eat. After two mouthfuls, the silence becomes intolerable and he reaches for the remote. He flicks past a dozen channels and settles on Time Team; he only really wants the noise.
Behind him, Sherlock starts plucking at the strings of his bloody violin. Tuneless, deliberately irritating. It’s almost amusing that this is his attempt to pick a fight; only Sherlock would do it with violin abuse.
“What?” John says at last, staring at the TV and pretending to find Tony Robinson fascinating.
“Mycroft tried to kill me once,” he says, as if making conversation. But his voice is laced with something heightened, fragile.
John isn’t sure what to make of it, exactly, so just says, “Right.”
Sherlock flings himself back into his chair, blocking the TV, and John can’t help looking at the scarlet track marks on his arm, half hidden by his dangling shirt sleeve. He feels something in his chest, something fierce he can’t quite name.
“He claimed it was a joke,” Sherlock says, “but arsenic’s never very funny, is it?”
“Not really, no.” He chews another mouthful of food, watching Sherlock tap on the arm of the chair with his elegant, musician’s fingers.
“It wasn’t entirely unprovoked.” He stares up at the ceiling. “It was vengeance.”
John lets the silence run for a while before he says, “For what?”
Sherlock smiles, defiant. “A boy.” He fixes John with a challenging look; judge me, it dares. Fight me. “Mycroft wanted him, so I took him. Not because I wanted to, just because I could.”
John holds his gaze. “Because you were bored.”
“He said he hated me. He said ‘I fucking hate you, you arrogant cunt.’”
“Not Mycroft.” He looks away, those musician’s fingers curling into talons. Pupils still dilated, his eyes are dark. Haunted. “The gunman,” he says and it’s dry, like bone. “That’s what he said before he shot me.”
John’s fork is halfway to his mouth and he leaves it there, afraid that moving might shatter the moment. He hasn’t heard this before, Sherlock’s said nothing about it since the day it happened.
Unnaturally dark eyes flick toward him, assessing his reaction. “I corrected his grammar.”
John frowns. “The gunman’s?”
“The brother. Domestic violence, beneath contempt.” He hesitates, then confesses. “I was bored.”
Slowly, John lowers his fork until it makes a silvery clink against the plate. “So you humiliated him and then left him to hang?”
There’s glimmer of a bleak smile. “Almost exactly right.”
John nods. “So... What? That means you deserved to be shot?”
Sherlock’s eyes close but his hand, the one resting on the arm of the chair, lifts to his chest. “Perhaps.”
“Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices. Proverbs 1:31. Mummy would be so proud.”
John leans back in his chair, not sure what to say. He dredges up something he thinks his therapist once told him, “Sometimes, when these things happen, we try to find reasons – explanations.” Sherlock doesn’t move. He looks exhausted, strung out, the hand lying on his chest rising and falling with his rapid breathing. “But sometimes there isn’t one, sometimes it’s just bad bloody luck.”
“There’s always a reason,” Sherlock says and his voice is brittle. “You just have to look for it.”
“Turning down a case, even if you were a bit of a prick about it, isn’t a reason to get shot.”
“It is a reason,” Sherlock insists. “Arguably not a justification, but it is definitely a reason.”
John changes tack. “But it wasn’t your fault.”
“Has anyone ever wanted to kill you, John? I mean, you. Not because you’re wearing a uniform, or because you’re connected to me. But you.” He lifts the bow, holds it like a shotgun and aims at John. “Because they hate you.”
“When was the last time you slept properly?” John asks in reply.
“About 1995, I imagine.”
“Sherlock...” He gets up, circles the table and plucks the bow from Sherlock’s fingers. In the same movement, he captures his wrist and turns it over, feeling his pulse. Racing, of course. The veins in his arm lie close to the surface, the needle marks vivid against his pallid skin. To John’s surprise, Sherlock doesn’t pull away, but he does turn his head and glare into the empty fireplace. Shame or defiance, John isn’t sure. “I could prescribe something,” he suggests, “to help you sleep.”
Sherlock makes a derisive noise. “You have no idea...”
“So tell me, then.”
He shakes his head. “Pointless.”
John drops his arm, retreats to his own chair. “You think about it a lot, don’t you? That day – it’s on a loop inside your head, the events replaying over and over.”
Sherlock jumps to his feet as if stung, shaking his head. “Shut up.”
“Come on,” John presses, “do you think I don’t know what’s going on?”
Retreating to the window, Sherlock is silent, staring out. Staring at the pavement, the place where it happened. Christ, he’s living right there. Right on top of it. “Look,” John says, “I know what you’re going through.”
“I understand what—”
“It’s not the same. Don’t pretend it is.”
“Of course it’s the same, it’s exactly—”
“You were in a war!” He spins around, white with anger and something that looks horribly like self-loathing. “You were in a bloody war zone, John. And I...?” He barks a derisive laugh. “I was the victim of a petty criminal not even worth my—” He takes a breath, clearly struggling for control. “It’s not the same.”
John just stares at him. “Petty criminal? Come off it, Sherlock—”
“Spare me your pity,” he snarls, “I don’t need— Just leave me alone.” Stalking away from the window he grabs his coat from behind the door.
Alarmed, John gets to his feet. “Where are you going?”
“I’m sure you’ll work it out.”
“Just piss off!”
And then he’s gone, thundering down the stairs and slamming the front door. John’s paralysed by indecision, considers racing after him but worries it would do more harm than good. In the end he goes to the window and watches Sherlock storming down the street and away.
He can’t help feeling like he’s failed him.
He considers texting Mycroft, but it feels too much like betrayal and he saves the message to drafts. Eventually – when waiting up becomes pointless – he goes to bed. In retrospect, that’s a mistake.
The next morning he wakes to an empty flat and finds his phone at the bottom of the toilet.
He doesn’t see Sherlock for the next three days.
At the end of the second day, Lestrade turns up. The knock makes John jump, and he’s halfway down the stairs by the time Mrs Hudson’s opened the front door.
The sight of Lestrade standing there, grave, on the doorstep makes him feel ill. “What?” he blurts, leaning suddenly on the banister for support and talking over Mrs Hudson’s friendly greeting. “What’s happened?”
Lestrade meets his gaze, frank as ever, one eyebrow quirked in surprise. “I don’t know. Why don’t you tell me?”
Upstairs, John makes them both a coffee and explains. Most of it, anyway.
Lestrade listens, sitting on the edge of the sofa and stirring sugar – three sugar’s – into his mug. “The thing about genius,” he says, “is that it’s bloody unstable. Look at Spike Milligan.”
“Hmm,” John hedges. “Well, the thing about getting shot is that it fucks you up. Genius or not.” He offers an apologetic smile when Lestrade frowns. “But Sherlock seems to think he’s immune to any kind of human reaction, so…”
“In the force we have counsellors for stuff like this,” Lestrade says, taking a sip of coffee. “I don’t suppose Sherlock would—”
“Not in a million years, no.”
Lestrade smiles. “Looks like it’s just you, then.”
“You’re his friend, aren’t you?” He glances around the flat and John wonders if he’s trying to weigh the truth of the rumours about them. When he looks back at John he smiles again, “Not sure he’s ever had one of those before.”
Although he’s not surprised, he’s taken aback to hear it put so starkly. “He’s not an easy man to be friends with,” he admits. “But…well, things are never boring.”
Unlike Mycroft, Lestrade smiles at that. “I can imagine.” Then his smile fades and he shifts, suddenly uncomfortable. He takes another sip of coffee and says, “Look, there’s something you should probably know. About Sherlock.” He puts his mug down on the coffee table and laces his fingers. “In the past,” he says carefully, “he had a habit. He’s been clean for a couple of years, but… Well, you know how it goes.”
“Yeah,” John says, not wanting to give too much away. “Yeah, thanks.”
“I’ll, um, keep an eye open for him in the usual places.”
John winces at the thought of ‘the usual places’. Aside from a little pot at uni, his only first-hand knowledge of illegal drugs comes from the cases he’s seen in casualty. The thought of Sherlock like that, corpselike and strung out in A&E, makes him feel so angry he can hardly sit still. “I shouldn’t have let him leave.”
“Don’t imagine you could have stopped him.” Lestrade finishes his coffee in one gulp and gets to his feet. “Listen,” he says, “when he gets back, tell him I’ve squared everything with Anderson. That’s why I came over, to tell him that.” He frowns. “By the way, there’s something wrong with your phone. I tried calling.”
“Yeah,” John says, also standing, shoving his hands into his pockets to keep them from shaking. “It broke.”
Lestrade doesn’t comment, just nods. “Okay. Well, let me know when he’s back. If he’s up for it, I’ll have some work.”
“Good,” John says. “That’s good.”
He tries not to think of ‘If he comes back’.
On the third day Sherlock’s missing – and he is missing, John decides – he finds Mycroft sitting in the living room when he comes down in the morning.
Well, not sitting exactly. Perched is a better word. He’s perched on the corner of the table, umbrella in front of him and hands folded on top of its handle. He looks like he might have been there for hours. Or just five minutes.
“Ah,” he says, when John stops in the doorway. “There you are.”
“Have you seen Sherlock?” He’s got no patience for games today.
Mycroft smiles. “Naturally.”
“And that’s why I’m here, for your assistance.”
John rakes a hand through his hair. “Okay, how? Is he alright? Where is he?”
Lifting a hand for silence, Mycroft pulls out his phone and hands it over. On the screen is a grainy black and white image, it looks like CCTV footage. It shows a cheap café that John doesn’t recognise, outside of which sits Sherlock with his coat pulled up around his ears, nursing a coffee and lighting a cigarette against the wind.
“Oh thank God.” John finds a chair and sits, eyes fixed on the screen. “When was this taken?”
“About three seconds ago. It’s a live feed.”
“He’s okay, then.” He looks up with a smile. “I was afraid—”
“He’s not ‘okay’,” Mycroft corrects, irritation in his clipped voice. “He’s high as a kite and has been since he left here.” His eyes narrow. “Why did he do that, by the way?”
“Why?” John shakes his head, glances back at the screen. It feels a lot like spying and he looks away. “You know where he is, apparently. Why don’t you ask him yourself?”
“Because I’m the last person he wants to speak to at the best of times, and this is hardly the best of times. Trust me, I’ve been here before.”
John believes him, on both counts. But if Sherlock’s really been high for three days, sleeping God-knows where with his chest wound barely healed… “Look – okay.” He doesn’t want to tell Mycroft everything, it still feels like betrayal, but Sherlock needs help and what else can he do? “The thing is, he’s… I mean I don’t know for sure, but I think Sherlock’s having trouble dealing with the trauma.”
Mycroft frowns. “What trauma?”
“What trauma?” He can’t believe his ears. “Christ, what’s wrong with you? He was shot. He nearly died!”
“But that was months ago.”
“Oh for the love of— Okay. Right, I get it now. Yes, this makes perfect bloody sense.”
Mycroft stands, umbrella planted on the floor next to him. “Good. Then you can go and talk to him.”
“Me?” John shakes his head, more than a little disgusted by the idea of popping up like Mycroft’s sock puppet. He holds out the phone. “I don’t think so.”
Taking it, Mycroft glances at the screen and watches for a moment. “I could have him brought in,” he muses. “But that would only make things worse; he still hasn’t forgiven me for last time. Yet, if I leave him out there…?” He looks at John, and for the first time he thinks he sees something human in the man’s eyes. A plea, perhaps. “You’re his friend.”
“Yes,” John nods. “That’s right. And he knows where I am if he needs me.”
“And if he doesn’t realise he needs you?”
Outside he can hear the pulse of the city: sirens and car horns, the buzz of traffic. Impersonal, indifferent. And somewhere amongst it is Sherlock, snared in a memory he can’t shake – that fantastic mind trapped in a perpetual loop, a downward spiral of fear and anger that John knows all too well.
He doesn’t really have an answer to Mycroft’s question, he can’t talk for Sherlock. He only knows about himself, how it was for him. “He’ll have to work that out for himself,” he says at last. “It’s not something you can be told.”
Mycroft’s phone bleeps and he glances down, eyebrows rising. He turns the screen toward John. The image is frozen on the spot where Sherlock had been sitting; scrawled across the plastic table, in what looks like ketchup, are the words ‘Piss off, Mycroft’. Then the picture judders and switches to a different camera that tracks Sherlock walking along a busy street – John thinks it’s somewhere near the British Museum – before he darts down a side road and disappears from view.
John can’t help smiling, despite everything. “Good luck,” he says, handing the phone back to Mycroft. “I’ll let you know when he’s back.”
That night he gets home from work to find a fire in the grate and a plate of homemade biscuits on the coffee table. Mrs Hudson’s work, no doubt. He hasn’t told her about Sherlock, but she must have noticed his absence. This is her way of helping and he appreciates it, he really does. She’s only their landlady after all, not their housekeeper.
But there’s no sign of Sherlock, and John’s come home with hands raw from the cold after only a short walk from the tube. There’s a bitter rain falling, a miserable drizzle that’s been coming down without relent since the grubby afternoon dimmed into evening, and he almost hates the warm fire and cosy flat because he knows that Sherlock’s out there, somewhere. Lost inside his own head.
He tries a biscuit, but he’s not hungry and it sticks in his throat. He’s beginning to think that maybe he should have cooperated with Mycroft, found Sherlock and staged an intervention. Sherlock might never have forgiven him, but at least he’d have done something – not just sat here in the warm, waiting. At least he’d have acted like a friend.
Outside, the wind blows rain against the window, a sudden gust that sounds like a punch. John curses. “When he gets back,” he tells the empty flat, “I’m going to bloody kill him.”
He’s woken later, much later and in the dark of his bedroom, by a cough. Not a polite cough, but a nasty, hacking cough that rattles with infection. Bolt upright in bed, John listens again. Someone outside, someone passing by on their way home?
Another cough and it’s not outside. It’s coming from downstairs.
John almost falls out of bed in his hurry, then stops to think. It could be Sherlock. Equally, it could be anybody – life in Baker Street has taught him to be cautious. So he slips the gun out of his bedside table, flicks off the safety, and holds it behind his back as he creeps down the stairs, quiet as the creaky old floorboards allow.
Whoever’s down there coughs again, and as he reaches the bottom of the stairs he can smell cigarette smoke. Keeping to the shadows he loosens his right arm, feeling the weight of the pistol in his hand. He’s not going to shoot.
Unless he has to.
In the darkness of the living room he sees a single red dot and his heart stutters. Sniper. But then the dot glows brighter for a moment, moves like the flick of a wrist, and a smoke-scarred voice says, “Put the gun away, John.”
“Bloody hell.” He takes a breath, controls the sudden surge of adrenaline, and safeties his weapon. In the darkness the embers of the fire are still glowing, and by their feeble light he finds a lamp and switches it on.
Ghost-white beneath rain damp hair, Sherlock looks at him from the darkness. He’s sitting in his chair, still wearing his coat and scarf, and the cigarette flares again as he takes a drag, blowing out a long stream of smoke.
“You’re back then,” John says, approaching with caution.
“Are you alright?”
Sherlock doesn’t answer, just takes another drag on his cigarette and knocks the ash into a mug on the floor. “I see Mycroft was here.”
“Yeah, looking for you.”
He snorts, then coughs – a nasty, wheezing cough that makes him hunch over in pain. When he puts the cigarette to his lips again, his fingers are shaking. “Why didn’t you help him?”
Sitting down opposite, John studies his face. He looks ill, fever-grey and so cold his lips are bloodless. But at least he doesn’t look high. “Did you think I would?”
Silence. Quicksilver eyes meet his, then dart away. “Couldn’t be sure.”
“Come on, we’re friends.” Leaning forward, John’s close enough to pluck the cigarette from Sherlock’s fingers. He resists the urge, and instead says, “I want to help you.”
Sherlock turns away, taking another shaky drag. Then he coughs again, deep and painful, dropping his head into his hands. He stays there for a long time, unmoving.
Outside someone shouts, drunken and full of laughter despite the rain.
John crouches by the fire, stirs it with the poker and dumps a few more lumps of coalite into the grate. They hiss, damp against the embers.
“I can’t stop it, John.” Sherlock’s voice is muffled, as if the confession is too frightening to speak out loud. “I can’t make it stop.”
“I know.” John favours his bad leg as he stands. Odd, how the mind works; it hasn’t troubled him for months. He drags his chair closer to Sherlock and sits back down. “Tell me about it.”
Sherlock shakes his head, still not looking up.
“I can’t think. I can’t—” His voice is on the edge, hovering between laughter and something terrifying. “It’s quite possible I’m going mad.”
John nods. “Yeah, you’re not.”
White fingers curl into his black hair, knotting tight. “This is all I have, if I lose this…”
“You’re not losing anything, you’re—”
“I am!” He shoots to his feet in a swirl of panic, stalking away from the fire. “I’m losing my mind. Can’t you understand how intolerable that is?”
John tries to look calmer than he feels. “You feel like you’re losing your mind, there’s a difference.”
“Sophistry,” he spits, but the end of the word is lost in a cough that drives him down onto the sofa to catch his breath. The bloody cigarette is still dangling from his fingers.
Carefully, John says, “Tell me what happened when you got out of the cab.”
“I got shot.”
Sherlock doesn’t answer, just blows smoke and coughs.
“He said something to you, right, before he shot you?”
Sherlock’s hand starts shaking so hard he can’t hold the cigarette to his lips, he blinks and in the low lamplight John’s dismayed to see the glitter of tears in his eyes. “‘I fucking hate you, you arrogant cunt’.” He presses his forehead with the heel of one hand, brittle voice hardening. “That’s what he said – as articulate as his wretched brother.”
“London’s finest,” John sighs. “Did you see the gun?”
“Nine millimetre Beretta, in his pocket,” he dashes a hand over his face. “Probably the brother’s because he wasn’t holding it right; he hadn’t used it before. Should have known he was going to shoot, though. Should have seen that coming.”
“You probably didn’t have time,” John points out.
“Time enough.” His head drops into his hands, muffling his voice. “I saw the bullet coming, heard the waitress in the orange top screaming – I can still hear her screaming... And then— His eyes were exactly the same colour as his brother’s, John. Dull, like rainwater. Lifeless. As though there wasn’t a single spark in his head, and I thought ‘How can he be standing there, shooting me, when he’s so insufferably stupid?’” He laughs, or chokes. It’s hard to tell the difference. “And then it— And then I was on the ground and it hurt and I couldn’t breathe and I kept thinking it was so dreadfully prosaic to die like that, shot by a moron with a gun, when there are so many more fascinating ways to die.”
“That’s what you were thinking? That it was boring?” John can’t help but smile, and Sherlock makes a sound that could be a chuckle. Maybe. After a moment John says, “Were you afraid?”
There’s a long silence before Sherlock nods, knocking ash from his cigarette into a half-empty mug of cold tea. “I can’t stop thinking about it,” he says harshly. “I can’t think about anything else.”
“Yeah.” John gets to his feet. “That’s normal.”
“Normal?” He spits the word like a curse. “I abhor normal.”
John sits down next to him on the sofa; he smells of stale cigarettes and his rain-soaked wool coat. “I didn’t mean it as an insult.”
The heels of Sherlock’s hands press against his temples, fingers rigid with frustration. “I can’t bear this. I want to be me again, not this pathetic, snivelling—”
“You will be. This won’t last, Sherlock, you just have to give yourself time to deal with it.”
“It’s been months!”
“Eighteen months, for me. So far. And don’t say it’s different, because it’s not. Trauma is trauma.”
“My father would have called it weakness,” Sherlock snaps, bitter as winter. “Mycroft agrees.”
John shrugs. “Then your father would have been wrong and Mycroft… Well, he’s even more screwed up than you. No offence.”
Sherlock laughs sourly, then coughs until he’s doubled over, arms wrapped around his chest. They look like the only things holding him together. “I can’t live like this,” he wheezes. “John, I can’t live like this for months…”
He rests a steadying hand on his back. “It’s okay. You’re going to be okay.” But through the palm of his hand he can feel Sherlock’s chest vibrate with every rattling breath and he decides he’ll write the scrip himself. Tonight, if he can. He’s about to say something about it when he realises Sherlock has gone very still. And then he tilts, ever so slightly, against him and his laboured breathing descends into rough, soundless sobs.
John’s heart clenches and he tightens his arm around Sherlock’s shoulders, drawing him closer. He’s walked this path himself, sat alone in the dark and cried because he felt so utterly broken. So he says nothing, because there’s nothing to say that isn’t platitude, and just stays with him until the storm has past, listening to the rain against the windows and the soft crackle of the fire in the grate.
They’re very British about it all the next day, of course, which means neither of them say a word about anything. Real men don’t cry, after all. But that’s fine with John; there’s nothing more that needs saying out loud.
Sherlock swallows antibiotics and paracetamol without protest and even lets John listen to his chest and take his temperature. “Unnecessary,” he mutters as John asks him to breathe out and in, but there’s no venom in it. And he even smiles when John pronounces his temperature as just over forty. “Sometimes I get fever dreams,” he says, as if the prospect is quite delightful.
And for the rest of the day he just sprawls on the sofa, alternating between coughing and snoozing – proof enough, to John’s mind, that he’s pretty bloody ill. But by the evening his temperature has dropped to a less drastic 38.5 and boredom is threatening. Inevitably, Sherlock reaches for the violin.
Warm by the fire and reading the paper, John mostly ignores the tuneless doodling; he’s used to it and lets it wash over him like the white noise of traffic. It’s only when Sherlock starts playing a recognisable tune that he puts the paper down and listens.
It’s something he knows, though the name escapes him. Slow and melodic at first it builds like rising emotion and John watches in fascination as Sherlock’s fingers dance over the neck of the violin, this talent as mysterious to him as everything else Sherlock does. The music is beautiful, one of his favourite pieces, and he finds himself unexpectedly moved to be hearing it played like this, so intimately. And as it drifts to its end, the last notes hanging in the air between them, Sherlock lowers the violin and looks at him expectantly.
“That was...” He doesn’t quite know what to say. “That was brilliant.”
Sherlock smiles, satisfied. “Yes. I knew you liked it.”
“It’s, um— I’ve heard it loads of times, but I can’t remember what it’s called.”
“It’s Johann Pachelbel’s Canon; you’ve got it on your phone.”
“Right. Yeah.” Or at least he’d had it on his phone, before it got flushed. “I didn’t think that would be your kind of thing – too Classic FM.”
Sherlock shifts uncomfortably, picks up the violin and fiddles with the strings. Without looking up he says, “I could play it again. If you like...?”
And that’s when he realises it’s a gift, that Sherlock is deliberately playing this for him – an unspoken apology, perhaps, or a wordless thank you. It’s as close as Sherlock will ever get to voicing his feelings, but it’s enough. It’s more than enough; he’s genuinely touched. “That would be—” He has to cough to clear the emotion from his voice. “Yeah, thanks, that would be good.”
And so he closes his eyes, leans his head back, and lets the music sweep him away.
After a week the infection is in full retreat and Sherlock’s sporting nicotine patches instead of track marks on his arm.
On his first day off after a long seven day stretch, John comes downstairs looking for breakfast and finds Sherlock up, dressed, and reaching for his scarf.
“Ah,” he says, with a quick smile. “Good. You’re awake.”
Heading into the kitchen John opens the fridge. “Is there any tea going?”
“Yes, but no time.”
John turns, recognising what he should have noticed right away. “Lestrade’s been in touch.”
“Triple murder,” Sherlock says gleefully. “Same place, same night. Exactly three weeks apart. No suspects and the head, hands, and feet of all three victims are missing.”
“Isn’t it?” He loops his scarf around his neck and reaches for his coat. “Coming?”
“I haven’t had breakfast...”
“Can’t wait; have to get to the scene before Anderson tramples all over it.” He pulls his coat on. “Text me when you’re on the way.”
He’s almost through the door before John remembers, “I haven’t got a bloody phone!”
Sherlock stops. “Ah, yes,” he says, turning back around. “Here.” He pulls something from his coat pocket and tosses it over.
It’s a phone. A new phone. A very, very nice new phone. “Sherlock...” He’s stunned. “I can’t take—”
“I took the liberty of cloning your old SIM card and updating your contacts list,” he says, blustering through the awkwardness. “Oh and I downloaded some better music.”
“Some better music?”
“Really, John – Dire Straits?”
“I like Dire Straits!”
“Hmmm,” Sherlock says, then spins away and runs down the stairs. “Don’t be long!”
John’s left holding his new, expensive phone with the familiar sensation of having passed through a hurricane. Suddenly it beeps, vibrating in his hand. He looks down and reads:
Found a cab. Forget breakfast, come now.
John smiles and grabs his coat. He isn’t really hungry anyway.
Thanks so much for reading, I hope you enjoyed it! :)