A series of eight connected vignettes written in response to a prompt in which Sherlock isn't equipped to handle someone's mental health. My first fic in many years, but this show fairly demands it. A great many thanks to krazykoodles for the beta and britpick; all remaining errors are mine.
It starts a few days after the business with the cabbie comes to an end. As if in celebration of the pill-popping driver's demise, London fails to produce anything of sufficient criminal interest to rouse Sherlock's attention.
Instead, he is in the kitchen using carbolic acid to remove the fingerprint from a disembodied human finger. He pulls it out of the cup and examines it: too much exposure. He drops the finger back into the cup and moves the mess, bubbling slightly, to the counter before reaching for another cup.
No response. Sherlock glances into the sitting room and sees that John Watson is, in fact, still sitting in his armchair. There's been no turn of a page and the telly is dark, and from the angle of his head Sherlock knows he's staring out the window again.
A little more forcefully: "John."
This time he jerks a little in the chair and turns to peer into the kitchen. His eyes are still a bit distant, but at least his attention is back to where it should be: squarely on Sherlock.
"We're out of cups. I need you to go get some more."
"What do you mean we're out of cups? What's happened to the ones in the cupboard?"
"I need sterile vessels. These are currently less than."
Sherlock hears him sigh and he knows with smug satisfaction he'll soon have what he needs. He watches John's right hand reach along the side of the chair before stilling, remembering that the cane is no longer his constant companion. There's a slight hesitation as John pushes himself out of the chair, his weight squarely on the left leg. After a quick glance over his shoulder at Sherlock, he gingerly tests his footing and, after a moment, he takes a step forward and Sherlock is relieved to see a relative evenness in his stride.
John stands before him in his coat. "Anything else we need?"
Sherlock has grown accustomed to a certain amount of warmth and humour in John's manner and feels a bit put out by the flatness of his tone now. Turning abruptly back to the kitchen table, he tosses out a "No" that's a clear dismissal.
After hearing the slam of the front door, he peers out the window to watch John head up the street. His hands are stuffed deep into his jacket pockets, his head is bowed, and Sherlock watches him list to the right with each step.
"If you're not going to actually use your computer, then I suspect it would be of greater use right now in my possession."
Sherlock is stretched out on the coach nursing a trio of nicotine patches. He doesn't actually need the computer, but he's grown tired of listening to John not type.
Any forthcoming response is pre-empted by the rumble of Sherlock's mobile phone vibrating along the table. It's Mycroft, requesting a meeting and certainly not worth responding to.
"Nothing new from Lestrade, then?" There's a spark of life in John's tone that has been lacking enough of late that Sherlock is almost loathe to answer. He reaches for another patch and that is answer enough.
John thrusts the open laptop at Sherlock and goes to put the kettle on. Sherlock had known from the lack of typing that John had been at his blog, but he sees now that he'd stopped on an old entry, one from before they met.
Nothing happens to me.
Sherlock is used to solving other peoples' problems, but boredom-induced pathologies remain beyond his purview. He closes the laptop and listens for the whistle of the kettle.
When they finally do get a case – a pair of identical murders having taken place at approximately the same time but in adjacent apartment buildings – both John and Sherlock come alive. Sherlock sweeps around the rooms cataloguing every detail and John enthusiastically follows along as best he can.
The back and forth between crime scenes starts to over stimulate Sherlock and he closes his eyes to centre himself.
"Do you have your phone?"
"Yes, of course," comes John's answer from just behind him.
"As I can't actually be in two places at once, we will make do with what we have. Go to the other scene and call me once you're there."
They methodically work through the two crime scenes looking for points of departure. Finally, Sherlock leans back on his heels and rattles off what he knows of the suspects. As he speaks, he hears a slight hitch in John's breathing.
"What is it?"
No answer, but John's respirations have increased. The answer comes to him immediately.
"You see him, don't you? Just a 'yes' or 'no' will suffice."
"Yes," says John with false calm.
"Act normally and keep him in view if possible. I will get Lestrade and…" he trails off and his sharp eyes dissect the gathered crowd of gawkers. Near the back, he sees a frightened young woman frantically sending a text. Of course, the girlfriend…
He signals to one of the uniforms gathered in the hall and they advance on the woman just as she hits "send."
Into the phone: "He's been warned and is going to run. Watch where he goes; we're on our way."
Sherlock arrives breathless at the second crime scene three minutes later and is directed down a back stairwell.
Sherlock reaches the basement corridor and rounds the corner in time to see the glint of the slim blade in the young man's hand as he faces off with John. He can see in the man's stance that he is going to lunge; the slight tic of John's jaw indicates that he's seen it, too. But rather than keeping a prudent distance, John steps into the man's space aggressively, startling him into taking a swipe with the knife. John dodges and then thrusts his elbow into the man's jaw, sufficiently distracting him enough for Sherlock to come in from the side and subdue him.
There's an adrenaline-soaked grin on John's face as he leans against the wall and watches a few of Lestrade's men haul the young man away. He uses a knuckle to wipe a bead of sweat from his brow and is stopped mid-motion when Sherlock's hand darts out to grab his wrist.
"You're bleeding." Sherlock doesn't like to state the obvious, but he makes an exception since John is apparently unaware that it is the obvious.
Twisting his arm awkwardly, John peers at the damage and huffs out a laugh. "Guess he was faster than I thought. I'll know better next time."
The casual manner in which John dismisses the whole situation sits oddly with Sherlock. It irritates him, he decides, that his flatmate's impulse is to run headlong into danger without consulting with him first.
"Had you waited thirty seconds longer, this unpleasantness could have been avoided altogether."
"Isn't it worth the risk, though?" John protests. "Aren't you prepared to take risks every time you step onto a crime scene?"
"Hardly. The necessity of taking risks decreases substantially when one properly orders the data beforehand."
"What of the rush, then? I've seen you fairly prance around the flat at the mention of an interesting case."
Sherlock taps his head. "It's more cerebral than that. It's the problem I need." His fingers flit in a dismissive way. "When I can manage it, the heavy lifting and clean-up is better left to others more practiced in busy work."
John shakes his head and looks at his arm again, placing the palm of his other hand there to stem the sluggish trickle of blood. The wince is followed immediately by a strange little smile that Sherlock considers long after the paperwork on the case is signed and filed.
The high from the solved case carries them through the next few days. Sherlock starts in on a new study of biological marine toxins. John, in response, industriously cleans the flat, stocks the cupboards, and, surprisingly, doesn't complain when he finds their only baking sheet transformed into a dissection tray. He insists, instead, that Sherlock join him for dinner at the Thai place down the road and actually eat while they are there.
John is quick to smile and his hands are steady and Sherlock relaxes into their easy companionship.
A few days later, Sherlock rushes into 221b Baker Street. "The key is in the acetic dilution; 18% is closer to the natural balance found in the body of the…" He trails off when he finds the sitting room empty.
He knows John is home, but the empirical evidence indicates that the man has yet to leave his room. No dishes in the sink, no folded paper next to John's chair. Even the bathroom door is at the exact same precise angle it had been when he'd left.
Sherlock isn't sure what to do upon returning home to find John still in bed at three in the afternoon. He's awake, of that he feels certain. The floors are thin and Mrs. Hudson's old mattress is creaky and Sherlock knows precisely how often John rolls over when he's asleep.
He plops onto the couch feeling diffident about his audience apparently deciding to have a lie-in.
John shuffles in some time later and drops into his chair as though the walk from his room has exhausted him. He listens in a distant way as Sherlock explains his findings and the certain resultant windfall and can't muster anything more than a grunt in response.
Thinking caffeine might help, Sherlock offers to make tea, which on its own should provoke a reaction from John, but he merely inclines his head and utters a soft "yes, thank you."
They sit in silence, John staring in the direction of the telly and Sherlock staring in the direction of John. The effort it is taking John to just sit upright and pretend to watch The Jeremy Kyle Show is written all over his face and Sherlock isn't surprised when he excuses himself after only twenty minutes and returns to his room, leaving his cup of tea to grow cold on the table.
When Sherlock reaches for his violin, he isn't entirely certain whom the notes are designed to comfort.
Requiring more data, Sherlock conducts an experiment and agrees to help Lestrade with a case he would typically decline. From the scant details Lestrade shares over the phone, it sounds like a simple, if deplorable, domestic murder. But it has the desired effect and John puts on his coat and leaves the flat for the first time in several days.
The crime scene is grisly: a pretty young wife and daughter found dead in their beds, husband and son missing from the scene.
Lestrade approaches them immediately. "We're looking for the husband; he's the most likely suspect. The neighbours heard them arguing yesterday."
Sherlock waves him off and goes to inspect the master bedroom.
"No sign of a struggle," murmurs John. "Except…" Sherlock raises an eyebrow to encourage him to continue. "Well, the bedding. The coverlet is pristine, but her face has creases on one side. She couldn't have gotten those creases without rolling over, and she couldn't roll over without disturbing the blanket." He looks hopefully at Sherlock.
"Precisely." They share a brief smile and Sherlock drops to his hands and knees to peer beneath the bed, following a trail only he could see to the window. John ghosts his hand over the array of pictures on the bureau and Sherlock glances over just as he pauses over one of a young man in military fatigues and posing in front of a toppled statue, the desert sun bright behind him. The hand trembles and he shoves it into his pocket before leaving the room.
The shared children's bedroom is much the same and after only a couple of minutes, Sherlock has seen all he needs to. Definitely the father, but with the help of someone recently released from prison, likely a brother or close cousin. He reluctantly informs Lestrade that he is correct, secures his scarf around his neck, and glances around for John.
His phone buzzes in his pocket.
He isn't like us. MH
Sherlock, used to Mycroft's surveillance, looks around not for his brother but for his flatmate. He's standing apart from everyone else, unobtrusively leaning against the wall. His head is tilted back and Sherlock watches the bob of his larynx as he swallows hard.
But he isn't quite like them, either. MH
Sherlock gathers John and they walk silently from the building. Down the block, Sherlock spots a familiar black car. Lip curling, he instructs John to find them a taxi and he stalks over to the car.
"Mycroft," he says coldly as the backseat window slides to half mast.
"Sherlock. I was just looking in on your doctor friend. I've noticed he's become a bit of a homebody these past days."
"John is not your concern."
"That may be true, but I wonder if enough people are concerned about John Watson. If he's as valuable as your actions indicate, I'd think you'd welcome my attention." He pauses and his words seep into Sherlock's skin. "Dr. Watson has the addiction without the detachment, a decidedly difficult path to tread. Moreover, he's chosen to align himself with you, to act as a bridge between you and your latent humanity. Now, perhaps it is not my place" – he holds up a preemptive finger – "but it seems to me that this bridge of yours could use bolstering."
"Brother of mine, you are right about one thing. This is not your place." Sherlock turns abruptly and retreats to John and the waiting cab, Mycroft's words sowing seeds of doubt in his head.
Sherlock isn't surprised, precisely, to catch John coming out of the shower with just a towel around his waist a few days later, but he acts the part the best he can.
Ever since John had revealed the actual location of his war wound, Sherlock has been curious. It had started as a passing thought, but he noticed as the days passed that John was fastidious in keeping covered up under layers of cotton and wool. Granted, that was hardly unexpected for the tail end of winter in London, but the precision with which he dressed, even around the flat, extended beyond what could be attributed to the weather or his military background.
"Sherlock, what…?" John sputters, unable to finish the sentence. He fumbles for his dressing gown and wraps it around his still-damp torso.
"Apologies." His eyes dart quickly to the side. "I left a straight razor on the sink earlier and I need it now."
John's face flushes pink and he has trouble meeting Sherlock's eyes for more than a few seconds. He flashes him a tense, toothless smile and turns away from the door.
Sherlock understands now, more than he did before, the power of the bullet. He'd seen its fatal effects on many corpses and had experimented himself with a few post-mortem volunteers, but he'd rarely stopped to consider what it meant to survive such an injury.
His own pale body is near pristine, a combination of quick thinking and sure footing having prevented most permanent damage.
On John, the mark stands out starkly against his otherwise pale skin, an angry purpled pit just below his clavicle and a pair of incision scars flanked with pinpoint suture marks. It's of undeniably violent origins; anyone would be able to see that. The angle suggests he was bent over when it happened, over a plate of rations, a card game, a patient. Sherlock doubts he'll ever know for certain.
He experiences a rare pang of regret that he'd been flippant about John's limp. He'd gone ahead and treated the symptoms without addressing the cause. Reviewing the time they'd spent together, he can't recall ever seeing John favouring his shoulder. A clean wound, then, through and through. Perhaps a little stiffness and a restricted range of movement, but nothing that would strike anyone as being unusual for man of his age. He can almost hear John's voice in his head – 'Nothing worth putting an end to my usefulness over.'
Of course, he thinks, wishing he'd seen it before. Particularly before Mycroft.
In time, Sherlock knows, the colour will fade and hopefully take some of John's guilt about it with it.
For now, neither man mentions the incident over tea a scant fifteen minutes later.
That night, John dreams.
Sherlock can hear his sleep grow restless and is prepared for the strangled shout that accompanies John's violent awakening – the end of a name, perhaps, or a command.
After the initial outburst, John tries to be quiet, which Sherlock finds oddly endearing, if pointless.
Sherlock has observed enough traumatized people and how others respond to them to know this would be the right moment to go check on John, to offer him support or a steadying hand on his shoulder. But the words taste wrong in his mouth and he suspects John would realise that and read the attempt as pity, which would break their unspoken social contract.
Instead, he listens to the sound of John's mattress as he eases himself into a sitting position and the soft thump of his feet touching down on the floor beside the bed. A few more minutes pass in silence and Sherlock resumes digging through the box of papers before him. The sun rises and Sherlock realizes that John had never laid back down.
John slumps into the sitting room around 8:00am and greets him in his usual manner.
He's mildly affronted that John insists on maintaining the façade, as though Sherlock hasn't caught him in the act of falling apart. And it is an impressive show; he's a doctor, after all, and his repeated attempts to put himself back together are nearly seamless. But Sherlock is the bright light in the room, harshly revealing every crack and wrinkle and eliminating any shadows to hide in. John has proven a rather tough case to crack, but Sherlock is nothing if not persistent, which ultimately pays off.
Sherlock wonders if Ella Thompson realises she entered the field of clinical social work as a coping mechanism for her own mild OCD. Such a pathology would be the only reason he can fathom for someone enduring such an ordered, banal existence.
It is only his third day of tracking her movements around London and he's already fairly certain he could predict her location at any point between 8:00am and 6:00pm with accuracy. The same train, the same coffee house where she orders the same drink, and even the same momentary hesitation at the same lurid shoe display down the road. His disgust for her predictability aside, Sherlock grants that it does make his task simpler.
The following morning, Sherlock recruits John for some reconnaissance.
"What sort of criminal gets up this early?" asks John through a yawn. He's had a few more nights vacillating between restlessness and sleeplessness and he looks exhausted.
"Not your usual cup of tea, then."
"It's more of a personal favour this time," Sherlock says dismissively.
They settle in at a round table along the front window of the coffee house a good eight minutes before Sherlock expects Thompson to arrive. They both order a coffee and John waves off the server when she hard sells the scones.
Sherlock is gazing out of the window at the time, but he can hear the moment Ella Thompson comes into view by the change in John's breathing and a stiffening in his posture. He perceives John's head moving to track her over to the counter
Then nothing. Sherlock knows that she'd seen John by her double take while standing at the counter, but she receives her drink and leaves again with nothing more than a polite nod. John relaxes again when she's out of sight, but he continues to gaze in the direction she disappeared.
In order to maintain the charade, Sherlock insists they remain at the coffee house for another twenty minutes before heading back home. They're an introspective twenty minutes for both men, Sherlock wondering where precisely his plan had derailed as he waits for the furrows of John's brow to relax.
On their way out the door, he receives a text: Nice effort, but I'm afraid it's not enough. MH
While he's typing out his retort, John casually requests that he say 'hello' to Mycroft for him. "You only type that angrily for your brother," he points out.
Medical professionals are discouraged from approaching patients in public. A basic understanding of how society works would not be remiss, Sherlock. MH
Sherlock hates when Mycroft has a point; it's the basis for much of their enmity, in fact. But Sherlock feels certain he has the upper hand this time because he knows John Watson in ways that closed-circuit cameras and pilfered personnel files can't disclose. If given the opportunity, John will make the right decision.
With that knowledge lighting the necessary path, Sherlock orchestrates more opportunities. He and John catch glimpses of Ella Thompson in the envelope aisle of a stationary store, the line at the automated bank teller, and even as she exits a theatre with a group of girlfriends. Sherlock is mindful not to act as though he is doing anything more than pursuing a suspect with his usual doggedness and John remains carefully blank.
When Sherlock comes across a stiff white appointment card in John's coat pocket while he is scrounging around the flat for matches, he says nothing. And when John excuses himself for two hours one Thursday morning, Sherlock only fleetingly allows himself to feel a combination of smug and hopeful.
John returns that Thursday looking a bit subdued and goes to make tea. While he's waiting for the water to boil, he leans casually against the doorframe and asks Sherlock how the case is coming.
"I think it's worked itself out, actually." He's digging through a stack of Lestrade's files and he glances up when he realises John is still watching him. The knowing smile John gives him reaches his eyes for the first time in weeks.