Eight days. Eight children dead.
Each of them had been taken in the dead of the night, but that was the only thing the victims had in common. They were from different neighborhoods, different ethnic backgrounds, different social classes. The killer left no clues behind; not the slightest trace of DNA, not even a hint at his identity. No one could get inside the bastard's head.
Not even Sherlock Holmes.
And it tore Sherlock into pieces. Despite John's nagging, he hadn't slept except for quick naps he'd take during the cab rides to and from the crime scenes, when the lull of the car's engine would bring him quickly to rest. He hadn't eaten, either, saying the food made him sick to his stomach. John tried not to nag but kept a supply of hard candy in his pocket and slipped a piece into Sherlock's mouth as often as he could.
Sherlock found the killer when he kidnapped the ninth child: Carisa Asher, age 12. Her parents had reported her missing that morning and by afternoon, Sherlock had found the man's lair, led the police to his arrest and rescued Carisa.
Except it wasn't Carisa.
It was her twin sister Catherine, who had been spending the night at a friend's house. The girls' parents hadn't even known she had been taken.
An hour later, police found Carisa's body in a dumpster.
And then there were nine.
The horror, the irony, the senselessness of it affected them all, to the point John needed to help Sally breathe into a paper bag to keep her from hyperventilating. Even Lestrade had vomited behind the dumpster after finding the child's body thrown carelessly among the garbage.
Sherlock, on the other hand, had not reacted at all. He'd gone completely blank. He hadn't protested when the paramedics had wrapped him in another ugly orange blanket and he'd obediently taken the bottle of water offered to him. He never unscrewed the bottle cap; he just sat there on the ambulance bumper, ripping off the label in tiny strips, watching numbly as the crime scene crawled with police. Lestrade stood beside him, trying to talk to him, but Sherlock couldn't seem to hear him.
When John was certain Sally would remain upright, he came to Sherlock's side. "There's nothing else we can do," he said gently. "Let's go home, all right?"
Lestrade nodded in agreement. "The girls' parents will be here soon," he said. "You don't want to be here for that, mate."
In a stupor, Sherlock got to his feet; John kept his arm around Sherlock's shoulders, not caring if anyone saw them as he led his friend from the crime scene.
Mrs. Hudson was waiting at the door when they arrived home. "Oh, poor dears," she fussed. "I saw it on the news, how awful. Are you two all right?"
Sherlock pushed past her, walking up the stairs as if she was a ghost in which he didn't believe. She and John exchanged worried glances.
Mrs. Hudson nodded briskly. "I'll be right back with blankets," she said as Sherlock disappeared into the flat.
"Blankets?" John repeated. "We have plenty of blankets, Mrs. Hudson."
"For the nest," she said, as if that explained everything. She disappeared into her apartment, emerging a moment later with a stack of bedding.
"I don't understand," John said.
"When Sherlock was a child, he was prone to bouts of depression," she explained. "His mother would make a nest of blankets for him to hide in. It always helped him. On occasion, it helps still."
The idea sounded ridiculous to John, but he took the blankets anyway. "He's not a child anymore," he protested.
"A part of us always remains a child," Mrs. Hudson said. "Now, you go on up and I'll bring you a tray."
By the time John had arrived in their flat, Sherlock was sitting in the corner of the sofa with his knees pulled up close to his chest, his eyes shut tightly.
"Are you all right?" John asked quietly.
"I don't know," Sherlock whispered. He held tighter to his knees, beginning to rock on his haunches. He clutched the orange blanket near his body, burying his face against its scratchy fabric.
"Do you want some tea?" John asked.
"I don't know."
John sighed. "How can I make this better for you?"
"I don't know," Sherlock closed his eyes and pressed his forehead against his knees.
John was afraid to touch him when he was this raw, and he didn't know what else he could possibly do to make Sherlock feel better. So he spread one of Mrs. Hudson's quilts on the floor beside Sherlock, retrieved the pillows from his bed as well as Sherlock's and spread them over the blanket. Three more blankets topped the nest. John had to admit it looked like a cozy spot.
John knelt in front of him. "Sherlock, I made you a nest. Do you want to come?"
To his surprise, Sherlock murmured, "Yes." Still clutching his shock blanket, he stood up and shuffled to the nest John had constructed. John held up the top layers of blanket and Sherlock crawled inside. Despite his long lanky body, he looked very small while he lay on his stomach beneath Mrs. Hudson's worn old quilts. John sat down beside him, reaching to touch his hair with the lightest of touches. "Is that helping?" he asked.
"Yes," Sherlock mumbled.
"Will you eat something?" John asked. "Mrs. Hudson said she'd bring up a tray."
"You must be starving."
No response from the lump of blankets.
"Staying in there?" John asked.
Sherlock nodded against the pillowcase.
"Do you want to be alone?"
Sherlock paused, thinking about it for a moment. Then he whispered, "No."
"All right. Then I'm coming in." John lifted the blankets and burrowed underneath them, settling down so his face was only inches from Sherlock's.
It was surprisingly cozy beneath the heavy thickness and John felt safe and warm, like he had as a child. It was astoundingly comforting after the terrible day they'd had. He sighed gratefully.
Sherlock watched him, his vibrant eyes shining with tears.
"It wasn't your fault, Sherlock," John said.
A tear fell down Sherlock's cheek. John reached to wipe it away with his fingertips.
"You did the best you could," John whispered.
The blankets trembled as Sherlock began to fall apart under the strain of it all.
"John," Sherlock whispered.
"I'm here, Sherlock."
"It's okay. I'm right here." John was petting Sherlock's hair now and Sherlock's long fingers were clutching his pillow as if it could keep the pain at bay. He began screaming without making a sound, his mouth downturned and open, his body shuddering, his eyes squeezed shut against the assault of grief.
"Shhh… it's all right. You've stopped it," John murmured. "It's all done now."
He looped his arm around Sherlock's shoulders, pulling him gently until Sherlock was resting close beside him, his face hidden in John's shoulder.
John watched over his friend as the shivers began to ease from Sherlock's body and the tension slowly drain from his shoulders, leaving his muscles loose and pliant. Sherlock's breathing changed, and John knew he was going to finally fall asleep in a moment.
"Sleep, Sherlock," he said. "When you wake up, maybe we can find some coloring books and crayons."
Sherlock murmured his assent. Smiling, John pulled Sherlock closer and allowed his own eyes to drift closed.
::: Author's note: This was inspired by a cartoon found here. /nest. Thank you for reading! ::::