Sherlock comes to slowly, sluggishly, and tries to shake away the bright little stars forming behind his eyes. It's futile; does nothing but intensify the powerful headache he's only just become aware of. He extends his awareness out to the rest of his body to realise he's lying on an uncomfortably thin rubber mattress, splayed out on his back, his hands handcuffed behind him awkwardly. He's wearing nothing but sweatpants.
Sherlock bolts up to a sitting position, ignoring the pain that surges through his body. Flings his eyes open in panic, only to panic some more when all he sees is darkness. There's not a light source around, he cannot see a thing.
It takes him an hour to rid himself of his handcuffs, and then he explores his new confines.
The mattress takes up more than half the space. He feels around to find a toilet, a sink, a door. Tries to open it for approximately three hours. Fails.
Sherlock curses and kicks the door, 'Hello! Anybody out there!' He shouts through, banging against it with his fists. 'Why am I here? I'd love to have a chat, surely you're dying to speak, after going to such lengths to secure my person!'
But he listens and no one comes, and then nothing happens when he shouts some more, so he furiously plops back down on the mattress and fumes.
He's awoken from his trance by the grumble of his stomach, and he grimaces as he realises it's been approximately twelve hours since he discovered himself locked in this place. Or, he believes it to be twelve hours. The lack of any visual stimuli really is disconcerting.
He's come to realise, through some heavy meditation and a lot of thought, that he has probably fallen to the clutches of Moriarty. It is the opposite of reassuring, but there is a certain comfort to knowing more about his situation.
By hour thirty five of pacing around, feeling the walls for any escape route, trying the door again, tinkering with the sink and shouting into nothingness, he feels so irritated that he decides to sleep.
He wakes to the sound of a lock being opened and jumps up immediately, eagerly pacing closer to the door. But it doesn't creak open at all. Only the little flap at the bottom is unlocked, through which something passes through, he can't tell what, he only hears it clattering to the floor. Before he can even think to try to do anything like speak to whoever has left it there, the little flap shuts again. The locks click.
It's food. Two chicken legs, plain white rice. An apple. It all smells normal, he can't detect anything wrong with it.
Still, Sherlock doesn't care for it. He is sick of being ignored. He isn't a dog to be thrown a bone at, kept in a cage and not spoken to. Miffed, he bangs at the door again, 'Moriarty! This is all rather cliche for someone like you, do you not think? Why hide behind doors? We both know there's no need to hide your identity!'
Sherlock grabs the tray and smashes it against the door in frustration.
He picks up the chicken legs and the apple, washes them in the sink and eats them.
There's been no new food through the flap, the tray he left by the door hasn't been removed. The room smells of rotting chicken bones and apple core. He lacks the energy to do anything but lie on the mattress and speak to himself about trivial matters, solve equations and mathematical riddles in his head, and try to mentally write a book on apiary colonies.
When food thankfully arrives again Sherlock devours it without even thinking to speak to whoever left it there.
He awakes every morning and feels around the room, memorises every touch of wall and sink and cloth. He exercises in place, for lack of anything better to do and to keep himself alert. Speaks out loud of trivial, mundane things, thinks about what to do to escape. He calls loudly for Moriarty to come, knowing even as his voice goes hoarse from shouting that it all falls on deaf ears, or perhaps no ears at all.
After around a month, he feels like he can barely count the days anymore. They blur into one another, and the darkness engulfs his thoughts.
He tries all he can to fight against his situation, but after escape attempt number fourteen, after breaking the sink and two trays and throwing insults at his guards for months on end, he comes to accept there is no possible way out, not until something changes from the other end.
Patience was never Sherlock's virtue. How many times had he been chastised for his lack of patience? Yet here he is, waiting and waiting. For what, he does not even know at this point. Is he waiting to be rescued, or to be confronted by Moriarty? He is almost sure there is nothing to wait for but death. He is going to die here, he thinks.
At times he just pleads with the guards who leave food, he just wants them to say something, anything. Sometimes he bothers them with questions and statements and insults, hoping to elicit some form of response. But they are professional as always, and Sherlock can imagine how funny some people would find it, if he admitted he's gotten tired of his own voice.
Stuck in here with not even his own shadow, he imagines what it would be like to be back in his world of light, to hear Watson or Bell or Alfredo, Ms Hudson, the mailman, a taxi driver, anyone, tease him.
Sherlock's counted four months when she shows up. His constant stream of nothingness is interrupted by the light coming on.
He'd been pacing the floor, round and round in an endless circle in an effort to preserve muscle mass, just like he did almost everyday. But the sudden blinding light causes him to jump backwards. Shielding his face, he retreats to the corner closest to his mattress and curls up.
The bright intrusion is painful and jarring. He has become as accustomed to the darkness as he is to having hands. He's unsure whether he even wants to be able to see anything anymore. The darkness is comfortable.
After a while, he blinks and looks around. His room is familiar yet unfamiliar. The cracks on the wall, his sink, his wooden floor. He knows them but he has never seen them.
He wishes the lights would turn back off.
The door swings open and she strolls through, confident, taking his room away from him with every movement. She grins and says; 'oh, my dear Sherlock, I'm sorry I've not come sooner. I've been otherwise engaged.'
He wonders how she can have kept him locked up for four months and been busy doing other things, but he doesn't say it. He doesn't think he can even speak, anyway. He hasn't spoken a word in months.
'What are you doing over there, come on,' her voice is a cacophony of ringing bells. Her smile turns sour when he does nothing but blink up at her.
'Now, really, Sherlock,' she snaps, crouching down to face him straight on, 'this is no way to be acting.'
He clenches his fists tightly and he doesn't care that she seems to notice; his heart is pounding with fear and only the anger he feels can calm it down.
'Don't look at me like that,' she says angrily, and his own anger wilts away. He feels like he is choking with panic, pressed up against the wall, with her pressing in closer to him. She smiles sweetly, 'I got you this.'
She tries to press something into his hand, but he flinches away. She smacks him. It stings.
She throws the square object at the ground and marches out of the room. The light turns off after her.
It's a small box of matches.
He hasn't lit a single match yet, but he's run his fingers around the tiny course box. He's counted every single match. When he shakes the box, it makes a tinkling sound, when he scratches the sandpaper, his nail gets filed down by a millimeter.
He lays them out in a neat little row, from one end of his room to the other. There are fifty matches and his room is fourty-two by fourty-two.
If he goes diagonally, he doesn't have enough matches. His mattress is thirty matches long. He wants to measure out the toilet and the sink, but he is terrified that any of them might get wet.
He gets the courage to try one. But just one, he promises himself. It will be tempting to keep lighting them until he runs out. He grabs the small one with a shaking hand; this one is splintered and almost broken, one of three matches that will probably barely work. 'Goodbye,' he whispers to it, almost laughing at how pathetic he sounds, and flicks it against the sandpaper. It blazes up immediately, making a hissing noise, then dulls down to a small flame.
The smell of kerosene is lovely, but all Sherlock can pay attention to is the little dancing flame. It seems like it takes forever to burn at the stalk. He is transfixed with it's colours, and so seems to be his whole room. It's all drawn to the middle of the tiny spot of light. He has to angle the match certain ways to keep it from burning out, and at one point, the splinter on the wood catches fire so that there are two flames, one trying to keep up with the other.
Then it is over, and he is plunged back into darkness.
But his index finger and thumb are still warm at the tips. He stashes the charred piece of wood under his mattress, and thinks about the flame for the next few days.
Moriarty returns, this time when he is organising his matches back into the box, after using them to create some equations.
When the light comes on, he jams the cardboard box shut and stuffs it under the mattress.
'You don't have to hide them from me,' she laughs, carrying in a tray of food, 'I'm the one who gave them to you.'
He steps back from her and blinks at the overwhelming amount of light. He can barely see her, and his heart is once again beating furiously. He tries to put out the panic in him but it is burning a hole in his chest.
'Thank you,' he rasps out, his voice rough like sandpaper, 'I like them.'
'I believed you would,' she says sweetly, 'it must be incredibly difficult for you, deprived of one of your most useful senses.'
He nods once.
'I brought you your food.' She holds out the tray. From what he can see, she's brought spaghetti bolognaise, juice, and a bowl of fruit salad.
After a few seconds of her holding it out, Sherlock realises she expects him to take it. It takes everything he has to take the short steps forward and reach out. His hands shake so violently that it is a wonder he doesn't drop the tray when she relinquishes it.
He stands like a soldier to attention, holding the tray as if it were his lifeline, his knuckles going white from the strain.
'Do you want to eat?' Asks Moriarty. A twitch of her lip. She's amused, he thinks, she's amused that he is so fearful.
He thinks he might throw up were he to eat a bite right now, but it seems like the less dangerous course of action is to do as she wishes. And he knows she wishes him to eat, because her goal is clearly to control him. Her matchbox and this tray of food- she wants him to accept them, to be grateful for them.
She nods and beckons him to sit, and he does so, criss crossed on the floor with the tray placed in front of him.
He glances up at her and she raises an eyebrow. 'May I please,' he rasps, and feels heat spread up his cheeks in shame, 'may I please eat?'
The victorious glint in her eyes is proof enough that he has said the right thing. His heart eases up with its relentless thumping.
She visits him almost daily after that, bringing his lunch tray, and it helps him keep track of time, but it simultaneously causes him unendurable stress. She is unpredictable. His body feels like glass and he knows that making a small mistake will be enough for her to destroy him to a million pieces.
Yet sometimes, she stays for long and he is too exhausted to stay on edge. Those times, he listens to her speak of what goes on outside his little room and tries to catalogue each and every word.
He won't admit it to her, will barely speak to her even as she chatters endlessly, but her voice is the most angelic thing he's ever heard.
Sherlock lights up another match. It is the fourth one he's used. Moriarty hasn't come in days and although he is glad to have a respite and to once again be alone in the comfort of his cage, he misses the light.
When the flame has traveled halfway down, the impulse hits him out of nowhere, and he sticks it under his palm and lets it burn at him, gritting his teeth, until it dies.
The sharp smell of kerosene mixes with the stench of burning flesh as he sparks more and more matches to burn himself with.
There is barely a second for Sherlock to prepare for her entrance. The light comes on and immediately Moriarty is through the door. He notices she has no tray in her hands, and he turns off the sink he was using to wash his face, waiting.
'Sit down, Sherlock,' she says quietly. He does so before she has barely finished ordering it.
She looks down at him and sighs. 'No more of that, if you want to keep your matches.'
He starts, wide eyes meeting hers. What does she care if he hurts himself, when she herself has hurt him far worse?
As if she's read his mind, she says angrily, 'if I see it fit to punish you, I will, but you yourself are in too weak a mental state to realise what's good for you.'
'I'm sorry,' he whispers so quietly he can barely hear himself, and she snarls, 'Show me!' Crouching down and grabbing him painfully by the wrist.
She inspects the spots of blistered flesh running up his arm and laughs viciously, 'you're disgusting.'
His voice sounds even more hoarse when he repeats, 'I'm sorry.'
'You will be,' she replies.
Then she calls her men and the next few hours are much, much more painful than what he did to himself.
His left arm is left alone, an uneven line of match burns he caused himself. His right arm bares the marks of a white hot iron pressed repeatedly from his wrist to his shoulder.
He used to know her as Irene, he remembers, as if that makes a difference. They used to do this all the time, and he would want it. He repeats it to himself, over and over. He wanted it back then. It is not that different. It is the same body on him now as it was when he would delight in grabbing her, in being grasped tightly, and bites and kisses and tongues and everything else. He focuses on the memories of when it was something he craved and delighted in.
But she is not Irene and he does not want this. He would rather she tased him or beat him or broke his every limb. He would rather all that than this.
He is unable to move his bound hands, but in a moment of panic, he kicks her away from him. The moment he realises she is on the floor, and he put her there, he forgets how to breathe.
The look of fury on her face makes him feel sick, his stomach turning and his mouth opening to throw up. This is perhaps the most terrified he's ever been before. She stalks towards him and then stops.
His eyes closed tight with dread, he doesn't realise she's reached under his mattress. But when he understands what she's going to do he goes white, 'no, please,' he rasps out.
She smiles sweetly at him and takes his little cardboard box of matches in her hand.
'Please, I'm sorry,' he whines, 'I didn't mean to.'
As she leaves with his most prized possession, not bothering to free him from his binds, he shouts out, 'Please!' One more time, and then the door slams shut and the room goes dark.
Moriarty has not returned. One of her men came in, undid his binds, and left.
He does not care. He lies in bed for a very long time, getting up only to use the toilet and fetch food from the door.
After a while, he doesn't bother with the food. He ignores a tray of porridge and bananas and it stays there for days.
'You'll die if you don't eat,' he hears he say, but he can barely open his eyes to acknowledge her.
She speaks for a while, gently. There's a cool hand at his head, brushing his hair back. Then something is pressed onto his palm and when he closes his fist around it, he recognises the blocky, sandpaper texture of his matchbox.
'I saw Watson yesterday.'
Moriarty says this in the middle of one of their long one-sided conversations. Sherlock had been eating, but he stops mid-bite, drops his fork with a flinch, and feels his chest clench up. Watson.
'She did not see me. I have had my people watch her for a while now.'
Sherlock stares at his tray, waiting for her to continue, but when she doesn't he looks up.
Moriarty's face is blank, yet he can tell by her eyes that she was waiting for his reaction. She continues, 'she doesn't live in the Brownstone anymore, of course. I don't know if I should tell you this, but you deserve honesty; she's with someone now, has been for the past few months. She's even resumed her medical practice.'
He feels something else in his chest that he cannot recognise. It rises up his throat like bile, but is entirely too different. He nods shakily and lowers his eyes, blinking furiously at the blurry chicken breast in front of him.
'I thought you'd want to know. But you musn't feel too bad that she's moved on from you, you have been gone for almost a year.'
He's tried not to think about Watson. He never wanted to bring her into his world of darkness, she doesn't belong here. But she is always in the back of his mind. Like a ghost, the memory of her sometimes lingers around his room, yet he feels as if he should banish it away.
He is almost grateful that Moriarty has told him this, feels as if he has had one last glimpse of her. Almost.
When Moriarty leaves, Sherlock flushes his matches, one by one, down the toilet.
He thinks maybe it's better when Moriarty is around. She rarely visits him anymore, and sometimes, when the lights come on and the door opens, he feels a sense of relief. That he will not rot alone in his room. That someone exists in this world, a real human, someone who speaks and breathes and moves. That he exists too.
But it is usually not worth the pain she brings with her.
'I didn't wish for this,' Sherlock speaks, his voice hoarse from disuse.
Moriarty looks over at him, her eyebrows shooting up in surprise, 'didn't wish for what, Sherlock?'
'I wanted someone to speak to, I didn't want you to hurt me, I do not know what I- what did I do to you?'
He's sat on his bed, curled up and afraid, watching as Moriarty sorts out tools and oddities in the corner that she'll use on him. She puts the objects down and slowly walks toward him, making him shrink back into himself. She's just as dangerous without her weapons, if not more so, and he recognises the glint in her eye.
But she sits next to him and runs a hand through his hair, grabs his chin and smiles softly, 'you didn't do anything, don't worry about that.'
He wants to ask her, then why? Why has she hurt him so much, how could she do this to him, if he has done nothing to deserve it? He wants to tell her it is all so wholly unfair, it makes absolutely no sense, it is wrong. But the words all get stuck in his throat.
'My dear Sherlock, even though your mind is not what it used to be, you should be able to understand why it is I'm doing what I'm doing,' she says, 'It's an experiment. You used to conduct experiments, remember?'
She speaks to him as if he were a child. Used to conduct experiments. He used to be a detective, used to do things, used to be someone. Now what is he? Now he's nothing, now he's just an experiment.
Moriarty has stopped hurting him. But she has also stopped doing much either way. She comes into his room his food tray once in awhile. He eats on the floor and she details one anecdote or another. Mostly she leaves him on his own for weeks.
The sink is broken so he's been hearing an endless stream of drip drip drip for days. He counts three point four seconds between each drip. He's been playing a game with the blackened, old matches he left under the bed and the cardboard box. In the dark, he attempts to score them into the box at the same pace as the drops of the sink. There's something greatly entertaining about it, no matter how badly he fails and how childish and repetitive the game gets.
When Moriarty comes back after a few weeks she stays with him every day. He despises it. She forces him to eat more than he wants to and punishes him for the smallest of things, such as forgetting to say thank you or standing up without her permission.
It scares him, all day he thinks only of what to do to prevent her anger. It's like dancing without knowing the steps. Half of her rules were never in place before, but when she smacks him for looking her in the eye and he voices his confusion, she drags him to the corner of the room and handcuffs him to the wall.
She doesn't come back for three days, only her henchmen do to make him drink water.
She uses that corner as a punishment so much he begins to wish for her other methods.
The problem is, he can hardly stand up anymore. He is sure he will die soon. He cannot exercise anymore, his body weight is down to dangerous levels and he feels sick and feverish almost daily. He does not know if it is Moriarty's intention to let him die or to move him somewhere else, but he knows if he stays here much longer, he will pass.
He thinks she has realised his death is coming too. She is much more careful around him and barely hurts him anymore. Her men come into his room daily, silent as ever, and feed him or pull him out of bed when she wants to handcuff him.
Moriarty's reading him a book but he can't hear a word. He's thinking about Watson. She's happy now, Moriarty had said, she has moved on from everything. He finds himself content with the knowledge.
He counts all the old matches again and again, all eleven of them. One breaks in half and he puts them away, fearful he'll break any more. Then he takes them out again to check they are still there.
Delighted, he realises that by breaking one, he now has twelve. He breaks all the other ones in half so he has twenty-two tiny charred matches.
Moriarty is speaking to him like one would to a very young child. She speaks so slowly and deliberates each word that it makes is even harder to connect each one.
She slowly helps him stumble out of bed, brings him to his corner. No, no, he doesn't like the corner, that's where the handcuffs are-
And he limply hands her his wrists so she can attach him to the wall, and she does so.
Then she kisses him on the forehead and says something, but the panic's building and he can barely hear her, like the radio is going back and forth and back and forth between channels, static growing louder and louder. 'Please,' he whispers, hearing himself over the static. 'Don't.' Whatever it is she's going to do, he knows it's different.
He doesn't realise she's left.
And then it's over. The next time the door opens, for the first time the door opens in days, it's no longer her.
There are too many voices all speaking so loudly, when the only one he's heard in so long was hers. And there's someone right next to him, he can feel it, even though his eyes are shut tight against everything, his closed fists pressed against his face as a shield.
Speaking softly. Gently. Saying, 'Sherlock, Sherlock, it's okay, it's okay.'
Repeating the same things over and over, gentle hands not so gently pulling at the handcuffs, setting his hands free.
'Sherlock, you're okay, it's me,' it's so gentle. 'C'mon... c'mon, you're okay, come with me.'
He shakes his head behind his fists, doesn't know why, doesn't know what's happening.
'Open your eyes, you'll see, just open your eyes, c'mon, that's it.'
Sherlock lowers his fists, tries to concentrate on the softness of the voice, the familiar voice, and he squints his eyes open.
Marcus Bell is hunched by him, his grasp on Sherlock's wrists as light as feather. His eyes are furrowed, his mouth moving, quiet assurances spilling from his lips, over and over.
'Detective,' Sherlock breathes, staying still as he can.
Bell's whole face softens into relief, Sherlock can almost hear the sigh.
'Yeah, that's it, now let's get up. C'mon,' he helps pull Sherlock up, someone wraps a blanket around his shoulders, but Sherlock barely takes note of it. he only concentrates as Bell helps him up, steadies him, half guides, half carries him away, away from the corner, towards the door-
'No,' he whispers. He struggles away from Bell, who lets go of him, caught by surprise. He loses his footing, falls backwards on the floor.
The gentle hand is on him again, placed on his shoulder as its owner says, 'it's okay, c'mon, you're with me, I'll help you.'
He struggles to his feet, and manages to lean against Bell while standing. But as he's being half-carried out of his room he remembers something and fights to make Bell stop again.
'Please,' he hears himself say hoarsely, 'I- I need. Wait.'
Bell relents. He follows Sherlock's gaze to the mattress and helps him walk the few steps over. Then follows Sherlock's pull to crouch down and helps him lift the mattress up.
There lies his tiny box.
Bell takes it, then helps him back up and tries to hurry him back out of the room, keeping a constant train of assurances when Sherlock seems to struggle again, 'It's alright, I promise, it's okay. You're with me.'
And they head out of the room, his only room, his home. Out into a corridor outside of his room, a stairway leading away from him room, another corridor, another set of doors. Outside.
Sherlock registers brightness, and people, policemen, swat men. But mostly brightness. Noises. People walking towards him, paramedics. He can barely distinguish their white uniforms from the bright day surrounding them. Everything blurs together- the people, their noise - the only solid thing is the man next to him, holding him up.
And a figure running towards him, her cry above all other noises, drowning everything else.
He detaches himself from Bell and stumbles forward as far as he can before his legs give way under him, but he reaches her and they clash together, him falling forwards as she grabs him and lowers both of them gently to the ground.
'Watson.' Watson. Watson. He wants to look at her, can't because she is wrapped around him, squeezing him, grasping at him until it almost hurts.
He lowers his chin onto her shoulder. 'Watson,' he sighs, warmth washing over him. Watson.
He hasn't spoken that name since the moment he woke to find himself locked up. He didn't want to bring her in there with him by speaking of her. He thought of her, though, every moment he was able to think.
She pulls back, still grasping his shoulders to examine his face. Taking the opportunity to look at her, he studies her face; her watery dark eyes, freckles, cheekbones, shaking bottom lip, 'I'm sorry, Watson.'
She pulls him back into the crushing embrace. She's shaking. Slowly, trying not to pry himself away from her, he pulls the blanket from around his shoulder so it's covering her as well.
'Don't say that,' she says in a trembling voice, 'don't say sorry, you have nothing to be sorry for.'