"...it was one of his peculiarities that in his more intense moments he would permit himself no food, and I have known him to presume upon his iron strength until he has fainted from pure inanition."
- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 'The Adventure of the Norwood Builder'
The glass was three-quarters full and had been sitting stagnant long enough for dust to accumulate on the surface of the water. It took Sherlock thirty seconds to realize that he had become distracted by it, watching the lazy float of particles, held up by surface tension, clinging to the smudged sides and gathering in the center, gently out of focus in the grey light through the lounge window. Thirty seconds to come back to the feeling of his arms against the spread of papers on the table. He was working on something. He knew what it was; it just presently just outside of his grasp, and pulling his eyes from the glass to the files did nothing to help. Inconsequential scribbles, ink, manila envelopes, thousands of minuscule letters in piles before him.
His eyes were back to the softly glowing water glass before he realized that he perhaps hadn't eaten much of anything in the last few days. Distraction. Disorientation. Low blood pressure. Dehydration.
He knew that standing was a poor choice but did it anyway, the number of times he had experienced this exact moment doing nothing to combat the urge to shake himself out of it and avoid the unpleasantness of fainting. It was a largely insurmountable weakness, hunger; only able to be put off for a certain amount of time before there were consequences. The physical need was easy enough to ignore until the body hijacked itself. He found the hijacking fascinating. His mind and his limbs felt at great distances from each other and made him feel as though he contained multitudes, standing unsteadily at the center of the lounge, watching the edges of his vision darken, the wallpaper disappearing. Absolutely fascinating, almost worth the aggravation, to feel himself losing consciousness. The weight of his head and his arms. The legs of the table and chair in his line of sight without warning, having fallen to the floor without feeling any shift in gravity at all.
He heard the rattle of keys before the room disappeared for a moment.
John let the front door close behind him and sighed in relief, pulling back the dripping hood of his jacket. The plastic handles of two shopping bags bit into his palm and he flexed his fingers to relieve them, wiping his feet on the old rug at the entrance. Mrs. Hudson was watching some daytime television programme, the faint laughter of a studio audience drifting through the glass of her closed door. He couldn't hear anything from upstairs. He assumed that Sherlock was still hunched over the same mess of papers, mumbling softly to himself. He'd been at it for a week, a new case dragging him in, making every outside factor nothing but tinny little noises, and John had been spending more time away to leave him to it. John disliked these sorts of cases, the ones where he was entirely useless, where it was all down to Sherlock and the files spread out before him, all down to a moment of enlightenment. John knew that he was only physically useful to Sherlock. It didn't bother him; it was good to be useful at all. He knew that he was an intelligent person, as a doctor, but nowhere near the level of Sherlock's uncanny mind; in Sherlock's life, John was put to much better use as a soldier, and he couldn't honestly argue with the job.
He climbed the stairs, boots loud and heavy on the wood, still flexing his fingers against the sting of the heavy bags. Sherlock had yet to do the shopping since they had moved in together. John would have left it until Sherlock was forced to go, but he wasn't certain that Sherlock would notice the lack of food, and even if he did notice, John doubted Sherlock would have tried to fix the problem in a reasonable way. For a man who prided himself on being entirely rational, Sherlock tended to find the most roundabout methods of solving problems. Or perhaps not roundabout, but certainly not expected.
He was passing through the doorway, looking down to take one of the bags into the other hand, when he felt that something was wrong. It was something small, some hair-on-the-back-of-the-neck knowledge that there was a piece out of place. He looked up. Saw Sherlock on the floor. Dropped the bags and crossed the room to the sound of newly-bought apples rolling towards the kitchen.
Sherlock was splayed on his back with his eyes open and out of focus, staring towards the legs of his desk and chair. When John knelt next to him, he muttered, "I'm fine."
John lifted his arm and hooked his thumb against Sherlock's pulse point, looking at his watch. His coat was dripping rainwater onto Sherlock's white shirt. "When did you fall?"
"Just a few seconds ago." His voice was blurry, a bit distant. His pulse wasn't dangerous, just irritating.
"How many days since you've eaten?"
"Are you not sure, or are you thinking of how best to lie to me?"
"Perhaps a little of both."
John let Sherlock's arm flop back to the floor and sat back on his heels. "You've got to stop doing this."
"Your concern is appreciated." Sherlock turned his head to look at John. "Are you going to help me up?"
"You won't be standing long," John said. He unzipped his coat and tossed it towards the empty fireplace. He glanced toward the sofa, considering the distance, then bent over to take Sherlock beneath his shoulders and haul him upward. As expected, Sherlock was immediately unsteady, the rush of blood from his brain almost forcing him to black out again, but he managed to stay conscious enough to grip back and stumble forward until they reached the other side of the room, where John tumbled him gracelessly onto the leather cushions. He took Sherlock's feet and propped them up on the sofa arm, then added two pillows to elevate them higher. The affect made Sherlock look childish and small, not aided by the indignant look on his face.
"A bit of bedside manner isn't too much to ask, is it?"
"Yes," John said. He stalked back to the dropped bags of shopping, gathering spilled items. "I don't know how anyone can just put off eating because they're wrapped up in something. For days! You're still mortal, you realize, yes?"
"Only out of habit," Sherlock muttered, rubbing at his face with the heels of his hands.
John was collecting the rolled line of apples on the way to the kitchen. "No matter how amazing your mind is, it's going to be affected by hunger eventually." He set the bags on the table and took a glass down from one of the cabinets. Then another, because the first one was for some reason put back with the rim shattered and jagged. He ran the cold water for a moment, then filled the glass, talking over the faucet. "One of the first things to go when you're hungry or dehydrated is your concentration." He walked the water out to Sherlock and made him sit up very slightly to accept it. "Slow. Try not to spill any."
"I'm normally able to work past hunger," Sherlock said. He gripped the glass in his hand, obviously frustrated by the angle and wanting to sit up higher, but deciding against it. He sipped very carefully. "I only ever lose concentration just before I'm about to collapse."
"And how often is that?"
"Not often," Sherlock said. He sipped again. "Though perhaps more often than most people."
"I shouldn't be surprised," John muttered. He stood up and watched Sherlock struggle with the glass of water. "How did you manage before you had someone to remind you to eat?"
Sherlock sighed. "Mycroft would text if he thought I'd been ignoring meals." Sherlock's phone chimed. "Ah," he said, waving a hand vaguely in the direction of his desk. "Talking of."
John crossed to the desk. "How did he know when you were-"
"I'm sure he has his ways."
The mobile was sitting nestled amongst the papers. John slipped it out and opened the new message.
He is fond of apples.
John smiled very slightly at the screen. He considered it for a moment, then deleted the message and set the phone back down.
"What was it?"
John looked over at him, then shrugged. "He says you're working too hard."
Sherlock tipped his head back and closed his eyes. The half-empty glass dangled in his fingertips, held from the rim over the side of the sofa. "He doesn't know what he's talking about."
"At least he cares about you." John was just talking now. He went back to the kitchen, picking two apples out of a bag along the way and washing them in the sink.
"One of his many duties in life. It isn't the sentimental attachment you're thinking of. I hardly think that Mycroft is capable of that."
"Like you?" John called. He cut the apples into thin slices; the knife made a satisfying sound against the wooden cutting board. There was no answer from Sherlock. "All right in there?"
"Drinking, as instructed."
"Slow, I said."
Bread. Fresh, finally; the old loaf still sat on the counter, stiff and never opened. Peanut butter, not new, but also never opened. John hardly knew why they had it, but the expiry date was a long way off, so it was a recent purchase. Salt and protein, fruit, bread; all good things for very minor malnutrition. He cut the sandwiches with the apple knife and brought them out to Sherlock.
"Sit up," John said. He set the plate on the coffee table. Sherlock followed his instruction, slowly, and set his three-quarters empty water glass beside the plate. He looked at the sandwiches with his eyebrows raised in a question. "Apples and peanut butter," John said.
"I can see that." Sherlock looked up at John's face, searching. He frowned.
"Nothing," Sherlock muttered. He reached out to pick up one of the sandwiches, lifted the top piece of bread, put it back and took a very small bite out of a corner.
John crossed his arms. "Is it to your liking, Your Highness?"
Sherlock waved a hand carelessly at him. "You weren't required to help. I've done this before. But I recognize the effort and thank you for it."
John sighed and rubbed the back of his head. "The gratitude. I'm overwhelmed." He crossed to Sherlock's desk, leaning over the papers but not really reading them. "Are you close to finishing this one?"
Sherlock took a bite of the sandwich. He chewed and swallowed. "I'm not certain. In all likelihood, yes."
John tapped his fingers against the loose files. His brow was furrowed, mouth pulled down, and he knew that somewhere in his peripheral vision Sherlock was waiting for whatever it was he was going to say. "You've been hospitalized for this."
The sandwich stopped at Sherlock's mouth. He looked at John with briefly narrowed eyes. He shook his head with a sigh. "You're a doctor, with friends in the field. I shouldn't wonder you got your hands on my medical records."
"If I'm living with you, and going through all of this madness-"
"You want to know what I'm not telling you. Medically, anyway. I know." He set the food back on the plate, annoyed. "It was a particularly absorbing case. Mycroft was out of the country, so there was no one spying on me, or at least not with such a compassionate eye. Just a few days in the hospital, intravenous fluids, a firm slap on the hand from a few incompetent nutritionists-cum-psychotherapists. I solved the case from my hospital bed and I was none the worse for it." Sherlock stared glumly down at his plate. "The obsession which you and my idiot brother share over my health is borderline ridiculous. I'm perfectly capable of caring for myself."
John watched Sherlock's unhappy expression pointed down at the neat plate of childish food and came to a slow realization. It was written in the hunch of Sherlock's shoulders, the tap of the fingers against his knee, the small bites he took, the argument. He was embarrassed. He'd been found human, succumbing to natural human weaknesses, and it bothered him. Sherlock wanted to be a calculator. John had always known that. Sherlock considered the pleasures and discomforts of the body entirely uninteresting, profoundly base – distracting. He wanted to be above the basic needs that tethered him to the physical. And being found on the floor, weak and disorientated, after forgetting that he was not a deductive machine, was embarrassing.
"Hm," John said.
Sherlock looked up at him. "What?"
"Nothing." John started across the lounge, headed for the shopping bags to begin putting things away.
"John," Sherlock said.
John stopped and turned around. Sherlock looked uncomfortable, hunched over the coffee table, his long fingers touching one of the sandwiches. He was frowning as though uncertain what it was he meant to say. He let out a breath.
"I'm not entirely dispassionate," he managed.
John's eyebrows rose in surprise. "What are you talking about?"
He watched Sherlock struggle with the wording, growing increasingly agitated. "You compared me to Mycroft. I dislike being compared to my brother under the best of circumstances, but-" He stopped. He thought for a few long seconds. He shook his head. "Nevermind," he murmured.
John frowned. "No, what was it?"
Sherlock lifted a sandwich and sighed. "Ignore me. I'm fatigued. Possibly concussed."
"You aren't concussed." John moved once again for the kitchen, stopping to pick up the coat he'd thrown. "Do you want anything else?"
"Tea would be nice."
"Drink the rest of your water. Slowly."
John heard Sherlock lift the glass as he went through the doorway and settled the coat onto the back of one of the chairs. He filled the kettle and turned it on, then stopped to look out of the window into the back alley through Sherlock's assortment of beakers and equipment on the sill. It was still raining. It didn't look as though it would let up any time soon.
The shopping went into the refrigerator and the cupboards; frozen pizzas, beans, tinned foods, milk, jam. He was glad he'd foregone the eggs. They would have been hell to clean off of the floor when he'd dropped the bags.
The kettle clicked off, and John made up two cups of tea.
He stopped in the doorway to watch Sherlock taking larger bites of his sandwiches. They were mostly gone. Crossing the room, he said, "It isn't my responsibility to remind you to eat."
Sherlock looked up at him when he stopped in front of the coffee table. "No."
"And if I tried, you would hate me for it."
"I'm just making certain I know where we stand on the issue." He handed Sherlock his tea. Sherlock accepted it with both hands wrapped around the mug. They were steadier than they had been. "Feeling better?"
John sat on the floor with his legs crossed under the table. He set his tea down and reached across to take a piece of Sherlock's food. Taking a bite, he said, "Tell me about your case."
John was fairly certain that he wasn't hallucinating the beginnings of a smile on Sherlock's face as he watched John share his food. "You won't be able to help."
"I'd still like to hear."
Sherlock shrugged, then started to explain.
John understood where Sherlock was coming from, with his need for mechanical perfection. It wasn't something he had ever felt, physicality being a benefit and not a hindrance to him, but on some level he knew that it made sense. Sherlock valued nothing over the workings of his mind. If he could be nothing but that mind, he thought he would be better for it.
But it was a relief, watching the color come back to Sherlock's face as he got more and more passionate in his explanation, watching him gesturing, drinking his tea, laughing. John knew that any argument of the point would be ridiculous; pointing out that machines needed fuel, calculators had batteries, computers had electricity. Pointing out that the mind was the product of something physical which should be taken care of. The moving parts of machines were regularly oiled, parts replaced. To John, it would be difficult to oversell the importance of the physical, but it would mean nothing to Sherlock.
So John fed him sandwiches and distracted him with explanations, and hoped that someday the idea would come to Sherlock by itself. Until then, there were text messages, and there were apples, and he supposed that would do.