By Alone Dreaming
Rating: T or PG-13 for blood and a mild amount of language
Disclaimer: I don't own it but I often rather wish I did...
Warnings: Bad psychology, owies, a lot of hurt, a little bit of comfort and drama (according to Sherlock)
Author's Note: So, I was bouncing around on the Sherlock Kink Meme and found a lovely prompt. It basically requested a story that definitively showed Sherlock wasn't a sociopath. Of course, when I clicked on it, there was a long discussion about how Sherlock did fill all the symptoms. In my John Watson way, I decided there must be some evidence (somewhere) otherwise and I would use that evidence to build a case for Sherlock's non-psychopathic nature.
Um, the result was this story and utter failure. Unfortunately.
John Watson was well-aware that in normal circumstances he would never top Sherlock Holmes in deduction because Sherlock could deduce more from a smashed flower than a PhD candidate in botany. With proper information and rapid mental construction, Sherlock Holmes could reach the conclusion of any mystery in mere seconds while John hobbled about like a two legged, flea-bitten dog in need of a friendly bullet between the eyes. On some level, it bothered him, because he'd always considered himself fairly intelligent (he did well in grammar school and at Barts) and analytical, but, overall, he found himself so impressed by the sheer magnitude of Sherlock's mind that he let his frustration pass. He could live as a sounding board to a genius; he could not live—and it set his teeth to grinding when he thought about it—as the play toy of a sociopath.
He'd typed it into his computer one night, just so he could sort out the truth from society's propaganda. The fairly reliable source he found made his stomach twist slightly; it listed the symptoms out in a cold, medical fashion, tiny little bullet points with explanations for lay people who couldn't decipher the longer words. As his eyes swallowed each of them, his mind put a little red check at the end when he thought of a moment where Sherlock portrayed that behavior. By the time he reached the bottom of the article, every bit of reason he had concluded one fateful thing; Sherlock's self-diagnosis was incredibly accurate, to the point that Sherlock's picture could be the definition.
He'd mulled over it for a few days, frustrated, uncomfortable. Bitter recollections of Donovan's warning gnawed at him as he double checked the list again and again, trying to twist things about so that Sherlock had some other mental condition. He tried for autism, borderline personality disorder, and even a vaguer grouping of "lack of social skills"; but then Sherlock would do something so utterly obvious—twist Molly to his whims or pilfer another of Lestrade's things—and he'd find himself on square one.
In one last desperate attempt, he kept a chart as he followed Sherlock around, two columns, adding a note whenever Sherlock did something that did or did not fit the condition. The "did" column filled a bit more quickly than the "did not" but he found, to his pleasure and relief, that some of Sherlock's actions did not fall under typical behavior for a sociopath. "High-functioning" he'd sneered at Anderson "get it right" but within a few weeks, John found himself hazarding upon a far different idea. Yes, Sherlock fit the symptoms—at least, the ones that John had the pleasure of witnessing—perfectly; almost too perfectly, almost like something out of a textbook. No one ever fit the symptoms completely—John knew that from experience—not this perfectly, anyway, so it had to be a façade. Sherlock had read the symptoms at some point and chosen to construct that image for himself, for what reason, John wasn't sure. Maybe he needed to protect himself from the world or have an excuse for his awkward social graces.
Deep down, he realized he was slowly building a delusion for himself but it did not bother him; because nestled next to that honesty, almost tainting it, was the solemn hope that Sherlock Holmes, underneath all the cranky, acerbic attitude, was, in fact, a good person.
He had that book in his pocket when it happened, when the knife caught him below the ribs and a shadowy hand grasped his face to block his view. He even had that list on his mind as the weapon fell away and his would-be murderer fled into the London night. A hasty whisper echoed in his ears, "Tell him, he was warned" and it rebounded as though his mind was a canyon. Another check note for the symptoms, he thought, his knees trembling. Damn it all.
In front of him, Sherlock still pursued their suspect while he fumbled at the front of his shirt to look at the injury. It barely bled at all, he thought, dazed, because his jumper—dark blue and baggy—didn't have much blood on it. Maybe it had prevented the blade from sinking deep and perforating his vital organs. Maybe it was just a scratch and all he had to do was shake off the shock of the weapon—shock he'd never suffered from before in all of his wanderings with Sherlock and his previous ones in the army—by joining Sherlock around the corner. He even stepped forward to follow this unsound advice, his fingers shaking as they touched the alley wall.
He managed to prop himself against that wall after he fell.
He'd expected to die in the pool that night when Sherlock pointed the gun at the bomb vest and he and Moriarty had their stand-off like a pair of Greek gods fighting over Olympus. He'd expected to die as the explosion occurred by drowning or shrapnel or a sniper bullet. After the situation resolved itself and he was ensconced back at Baker Street, life normal, he expected he'd die old, fat and happy surrounded by family, or some romantic drivel of the sort. The possibility that he'd die in a dark London street on the trail of a petty crook (and, hopefully, snitch) with London's most law-abiding sociopath never crossed his mind after Moriarty was gone. Even with the facts splayed right out in front of him, he'd never considered that one day, Sherlock's lack of regard would apply to him as well.
The front of his jumper felt heavy and damp, and the front of his trousers, down as far as his knee, had a dark, shiny stain. He needed to call someone for help, maybe call and alert Sherlock that he could use a doctor, an ambulance, a cab, but his voice caught in his throat. A text could work, he decided, fumbling for his phone, only to discover it not in his pocket. Oh, yes, Sherlock had taken it to send untraceable messages and had yet to return it. Somewhere within Sherlock's large dark coat, bounced John Watson's key to salvation, forgotten and dreadfully distant from where it was needed. Eventually, it would return, if Sherlock didn't have some grand revelation and skip home to sort things; eventually, it would travel back with Sherlock to the alley. If it was soon, Sherlock would make some flippant comment about John's fading physique; if it was later, he would peer over his flat mate's body, gloves snapped upon his fingers, his calculating face searching for clues.
With effort, and growing pain, he shed the jumper. It balled up nicely in his trembling hand—not his left hand, only his right—and he pressed it hard against the injury. He blacked out as the first wave of agony struck, only to rise back to the surface again, stomach lurching, heart rushing, heat growing in his face. Tiny puffs of air rushed between his lips accompanied by embarrassing whimpers. He had to gain his feet, soon, too, and reach the open street so someone could take pity on him, but his legs were leaden rods and his hands preoccupied with their current task. His mind cart wheeled, thinking of how he probably should've returned at least one of Harry's recent calls, or how he really, really should've kissed Sarah goodbye this morning even if it would've woken her, or how he really, more than anything, didn't want to die like this.
Donovan's words were there; stay away from him. Why hadn't he listened?
Because of that tiny column, the right hand side column, with its list of notes that told him Sherlock was playing a game. That tiny list where Sherlock did something so out of character for a sociopath that he wondered if the greatest game for the detective was creating a psychotic persona; they were so ephemeral that he'd convinced himself Sherlock missed them, overlooked them in favor of portraying the really obvious faults. What did it matter if he reached out and scratched a dog behind the ears if he didn't even blink at death? In the end, John Watson's downfall hinged on his unfailing ability to empathize and believe the best in people. Sherlock would be utterly disappointed. No doubt he would never have the same problem.
"John," he jerked as two hands touched his own, still weakly clutching at his stomach. A ghost hovered nearby, slightly sweaty, slightly winded. "Always with the melodrama."
"Trying to fit in," he whispered. "Mycroft said you had a flair for it. Didn't want to be left out."
"There are better ways of going about it," Sherlock informed him, leaning hard so that he thought he may very well die right then. "A trip to the hospital just brings bills and unnecessarily long and boring hours spent waiting for an idiot to come tell you irrelevant drivel." John blinked but it took a very long time to complete the action and Sherlock pressed harder. "Talk to me."
"About what?" he mumbled, distracted by Sherlock's hair. It needed cutting, he observed; it nearly covered Sherlock's eyes. It would be detrimental to his career if he couldn't see the clues.
"Anything," Sherlock said, unhelpfully. "The weather, Sarah's cat, your blog, the ruddy notebook you make tallies in all the time."
"S'a list," he corrected, happy he would perish with one up on the detective. "Very important list."
"How so?" Sherlock latched on to the thread of conversation and John noted that his expression appeared a bit wild. It reminded him of chlorine and red laser beams and the uncomfortable heaviness of explosives hanging from his limbs. Two fingers, crimson and glistening, reached towards his face and tapped hard. "John? Tell me about the list."
"The dog," he replied, as bright lights floated in his vision.
Sherlock sounded displeased. "What about the ruddy dog?"
"You like the dog," he tripped over the middle words and ended up stuttering.
Sherlock's response took longer than he expected. "I don't like the dog, John. I endure him because he is, at times, useful."
"He sleeps with you," he pointed out. The pain hit him again and he drifted for a moment. "You feed him."
"And I'd just as soon as toss him out the window to see if he bounced as pet him," Sherlock snapped. "What's the point?"
He had all the concentration of a pachinko machine. "Mrs. Hudson, too."
"Mrs. Hudson doesn't sleep with me, nor do I feed her. And I wouldn't toss her out the window. She'd evict me."
"You hug her… frequently…" His lips had gone numb.
"To prevent the previous statement," Sherlock informed him. "What does this have to do with the list?"
He licked his lips, and closed his eyes. The moon had gotten unbearably large, like a gigantic fingernail clipping floating down to haunt him. "Don't like… loosing… people…"
"Not useful ones," Sherlock agreed. "It's a waste of a tool. Do you—" He paused. "Ah, so that's what it's been about. I noticed your browser history but I didn't think you continued much after the initial research." The hands pressed harder, hard enough to push his organs against his ribs and spine. "I'm sorry, John, but whatever you're trying to prove, you're wrong. I am a sociopath."
Of course; he knew that deep down. He just didn't want to believe that his loyalty was one-sided, that his utter regard and care for this man was unreciprocated, that every laugh and smile that they shared was utter manipulation and cunning; he wanted to believe that Sherlock actually considered him a friend, not just a colleague or a roommate or a doctor. He wanted to believe that Gladstone—still just a puppy, rolly-polly fat and brown eyes—had an innate sense of goodness that led him to adoring Sherlock more than John. But wanting to believe and reality didn't coincide well; if they did, every five year old girl would have a unicorn and no one would ever die.
"John?" The pressure released from his stomach, just the weight of his hands resting limply on the sodden jumper. "John?"
"Always wrong," he muttered. "Sorry. Skull's probably… better… to talk to…"
"But less responsive," Sherlock replied. "John, the ambulance is almost here. I can hear them. You'll be fine." He felt cold, the ground sucking up the last of his energy and releasing it towards action-reaction. "John?"
He didn't hear the ambulance or the paramedics unloading. He didn't end up feeling the pressure bandages or IVs or any of the life-saving measures. His mind wrapped around ten slimy fingers pressing against his cheeks, prying open his eyes; a forehead, cool with sweat, touching his own forehead gently.
"I am a liar, John. I have no regard for the rules. I use people to my advantage. I lead them into dangerous situations with little notice of whether or not they'll survive. I am perpetually bored and I will do anything to make that stop, be it violent or dangerous or depraved. I care little for how my actions affect others. The other day, I tossed a cat in a bin just so I wouldn't have to listen to it yowl. I don't care for the law, only the games it produces. And I have never, ever, once felt a moment's worth of empathy for anyone, not even the children in the commercials on the telly with their little swollen bellies and their hollowed out eyes. I am, by all rights, a sociopath." The grip tightened, the head rolled back and forth against his. "You are wrong, John."
He knew this was manipulation even as his eyes rolled back into his head. "S-sorry…"
"Don't be," Sherlock whispered. "I'd expect no less from my conscience."
John felt his breath hitch in his chest, felt the steady downfall into darkness starting, mixed with Sherlock's funny smile when John caught him being blatantly rude; his slight frown and knit eyebrows as he said, "Was that bad?" and his interested eyes when John gave him an answer. The pauses in his ramblings when John gave him a direct, raw and honest response coupled with the utter confusion that ate his calm visage when he found himself reacting with emotions other than anger or frustration. It all fell into place suddenly, one last clear thought in the face of utter upheaval. Instead of Donovan, he heard Lestrade saying that Sherlock Holmes was a great man and maybe, one day, if they were lucky, a good one. That list of symptoms and the list in his pocket didn't bother him anymore; and neither did dying, in an alley, with a sociopath covered in his blood.