Title: Tea and Sympathy
Summary: Sherlock is sick and Mrs. Hudson is Mrs. Hudson. Long suffering, indeed.
Word Count: 5,142
Genres: Character Piece.
Characters: Mrs. Hudson, Sherlock, John
Warnings: not really slash. Sorry. Though there are appropriate hints to the allusion? The entire point of this exercise is to watch Sherlock get owned.
A/N: Hello! I haven't written anything for myself in a while. But this series is far too fun and I've read so many brilliantly done stories on this site that I can't resist playing too.
I'm hopelessly needful for h/c and sick!Sherlock is just the kind of thing I'd like to curl up to on a chilly afternoon. As scenarios go, this is rather cliche and I daresay it writes itself. It could probably read itself too, for that matter. It was inspired by that delightful interaction in the beginning of The Great Game when Mrs. H scolds Sherlock about her wall.
Sick!Sherlock has been done so well by many others on this site. Much as my flaming maternal instinct is tempted to indulge with tea, sympathy and coddling, a whip like Mrs. Hudson is too sweet to waste on such dallying.
Besides, Sherlock should get what he deserves.
Tags: character: Mrs. Hudson, Sherlock, John, sick!Sherlock, colds, maternal blathering
She was washing the china when it started.
"Damn." Mrs. Hudson frowned when the ache began clawing its way up her leg. Blasted thing, always with the rain. She could feel the wretched joint complain just setting dishes on the rack. Soon not a flick of the wrist nor a turn of the head would go unheeded. It would cut an inflamed path round her hip, render her lower back useless and then she'd be well and truly buggered. Best to nip things in the bud when they began.
She was fresh out of soothers. Digging deep into her handbag, she half-hoped to find a forgotten box of fags buried at the bottom but no luck.
She tried being passive, treating it like a sulking two-year old. It helped, at times, to simply ignore problems with a sit down, a cuppa and a rerun of Connie Prince. The hip, temporarily mollified by the monotony of daytime telly, schooled itself into a sullen pout. As soon as the credits rolled, however, its protests were back again with panache.
Mrs. Hudson cursed aloud, startling the cat. Paracetamol was about as effective as gum drops. She never bothered buying it anymore these days. She hated to barge in unannounced but maybe that nice doctor upstairs would be in to take a peek at it? Surely, he'd have some clever remedy or that Oriental procedure with tiny needles that her eldest swore by. Needles, chemical patches, she'd take muddy leeches at this rate.
It had been quiet and still upstairs all morning. No shuffling of feet, shouting, or door-slamming. Not even the frightful din of something being destroyed. He did that sometimes as though it were perfectly normal to dash a ballroom chandelier to the floor. A study in advanced aerodynamics, he'd say. He was never good about fully explaining himself, that one.
"You'd better be in, Dr. Watson." She muttered. Squeezing her hip into begrudging compliance, she stepped into the hallway.
Climbing the staircase proved to be more of an ordeal than she'd anticipated and she was unsurprised to find the room upstairs in a barren state. It was dark, curtains drawn against whatever weak sunlight made it past the weather outside. The squalor was significantly more pronounced. The lights and telly were both shut off.
She rapped on the doorframe anyway. "Anybody home?"
"He's not here." Croaked a masterfully pathetic voice from the sitting room.
"Sherlock? That you, dear?" She asked. "I can hardly see for all this-this-" Picking up what looked to be a greasy chicken's foot on the cluttered work desk, she made a face. "-is this one of your cases or dinner, love?"
Sherlock lay draped across the sitting room sofa like a saint in his final days, buried in several blankets and an alarmingly random collection of afghans among the faux leather cushions. The sitting room was looking much more dreary than it was, downright Victorian for all the shadows. He made no move to acknowledge her, pale eyes fixed on the ceiling as though a fascinating picture show were lit up on it.
"Your hip will have to wait, Mrs. Hudson. John's out and left me to wither." He was using a tone actors used on telly when their lovers drove themselves off cliffs or purchased plane tickets. The overgrown baby never managed to include useful details like where the doctor had gone or when he might return.
"Serve you right, the state you're in. Where'd he trot off to, then?"
An infuriating pause lived and died as he drew in an audible breath.
"Manchester." Sherlock rolled heavily onto his side to face the remains of her abused wallpaper. "Something about his licensure. Won't be back anytime soon."
"Oh dear." Mrs. Hudson sighed, rubbing a particularly stubborn sore patch on her lower back. "And I'm all out of soothers."
He offered no response which was about as much charity as she might expect. She pressed her thumb harder into the spot where the ache had concentrated and gnawed her bottom lip.
Now that he'd begun using language instead of grunts, she could hear something distinctly off about his breathing. A dry rasp, a wheeze left untended for some time. The rumbling from his chest spoke of congestion ignored for days. Probably hadn't even the sense to pop a menthol under his tongue. In fact, there was not the slightest physical sign about the room—no Lemsip wrappers, forsaken mugs, nor even a discarded flannel-of any attempt to care for himself. By the frenzied disarray of blankets and the gravelly thickness of his voice, he'd not even managed a decent night's sleep.
The clock on the wall chimed and Mrs. Hudson waited for something to happen. What, precisely, she did not know. Perhaps for Dr. Watson to climb the stairs and timidly say "Hullo". Or for Sherlock to go into a dramatic fit of seizures. Failing that, the roof might cave in or the windows explode like last month's dreadful gas leak.
But nothing of the sort happened.
No stir from Sherlock, not even a blink as he resumed his study of the ceiling cracks. She could hear the steady tick of the second hand tapping out its migration, like a wasp zipping around her head. Content as she might have been to leave him to his melancholy, it had been a thoroughly unproductive day, her hip was positively screaming, and if anyone in the world was more deserving of an ungentle ribbing…
Either way, John had been no fool going missing for a day.
"So you've been morose-ing up here, then?" She folded her arms across her chest. "Waiting for someone to pop in and notice your death rattle?"
His eyelids lost their fight with gravity.
"Dear lady, I'd offer you a soother of my own making but then you've quit smoking, haven't you."
She knew better than to stay on that subject, directing her criticism to her surroundings.
"Really Sherlock, the state of the place..." Swatting the sagging arm of the sofa produced a waft of dust large enough to rouse the dragon asleep in Sherlock's lungs. His next inhale exploded into an impressive fit of coughing. She didn't bat an eyelash.
"I've a right mind to report you to the housing commission!" She made brief scan of the living room and paused in disbelief. "Is... is that a bloody chainsaw on my floor?"
He gasped into his upturned shirt collar, still recovering. "E-essential, that. N-need for the d-decomposition of-of-HARUGH!"
"Rubbish!" She snapped. "When d'you ever intend to tidy up? It shouldn't take an act of Parliament!" Involuntarily, her hands moved to readjust the lopsided armchair cushions, moving on to the disaster that was the bookshelf. She gave the chainsaw a good kick on her way.
"This flat has, of late, been my sanctum and will soon be my sepulcher." Came the limp reply from the sofa. "Kindly be civil enough to let me decay in it peacefully."
"Here! You're not doing any decaying with rent due!"
The downtrodden lump did not vocalize a response but his shoulders twitched a little from under the blankets as though he found that amusing. She, on the other hand, was far from amused. She could barely find her own thoughts in these surroundings. Shifting her foot, she nearly backed into a precariously stacked pile of tatted periodicals.
"Really Sherlock, how many pairs of handcuffs does one household need?" Her eye caught on a dozen strewn across the ottoman. "You renewing your vows or something?" Helpfully, she began piling them into a decidedly unassigned wicker basket.
"By the Eurminendes!" He howled though the intimidating volume cost his tortured larynx. "Landladies are designed for one sensible care in the world and that is rent! Why must I be graced with the only one in this city with a degree in meddling?"
"I'm past 50, love." She gave the shapeless lump on the couch an affectionate swat. "I've a doctorate by now. And I'll thank you not to rub it in!"
"No time like the present to put one's schooling to use." He shot back with contempt, twisting round again to inspect her activity. "For preservation's sake, are you just editing your dissertation or will stampeding in to harangue me about my work habits become routine?"
"Work habits my eye!" She scoffed back. "How does that nice doctor put up with it? Deserves a knighthood, that chap."
Sherlock deflated grandly. A disgruntled snarl, a mighty shift of weight and Sherlock disappeared as far as he could into the recesses of the sofa. The nest of blankets twisted further around him as though they could offer escape.
"I've said it over a hundred times, dear. I don't mind eccentric so long as you clean up like a decent sort." Though it murdered her back, she bent to snatch up a collection of empty lab beakers that had somehow been placed (or arranged?) in front of the fireplace. While she was already on the floor, it wouldn't hurt to peruse what belonged there and what didn't.
Her ears picked up more undignified carousing from the pile that was her tenant.
"Do stop whining, Sherlock." She told him. "John's out and left me YOU to sort. I can tell you all about how happy that makes me!" The sound of her own grousing had always been therapeutic to her though she preferred to inflict it on the cat who never had a word in edgewise. If her scolding affected him, he made no sign except to retreat ever deeper into his tangle of blankets.
At least that Dr. Watson had an idea of where things ought to lie. Even the damn remote was underneath the coffee table. Nothing was where it should be, least of all Sherlock. She was about to launch into a diatribe about this when she was distracted by a halting display of spray paint on the wall.
Brought up short, she paused to examine a collage of photographs in varying states of age tacked to the plaster above his work desk. Severed hands on bloodied stumps, a lifeless gaping mouth, what appeared to be a dental record of some kind. She tore her eyes away from the dreadful photos to confront the equally alarming horror of a discarded plate of toast on top of the telly. Curiosity and or frustration seemed to get the better of Sherlock because he threw aside the covers with an exhaustive huff and that's when she got a decent look at him.
"Laws! You're not a proper color, Sherlock!"
"Neither is your cardigan." He sniffed. "Ought to have gone with the mauve."
The charming thing, she decided, about Sherlock was that he fancied he knew all the right things to say. How to make her shut up, go away or drop it. Her husband (good riddance) had been much the same way and he'd had just as much success derailing her. She knew her enigmatic tenant to be terribly clever when he wanted to be-a right sloppy genius- but she'd raised several children (her own and others), been wed to a criminal and kept her primness intact through the Sixties. As tenants went, it wasn't too bad a thing to require only her wits as insurance against him.
"I'll have none of your cheek this after noon, young man! The place for you is bed."
She watched as the entire clumsy mass of him ignored her, lurching and twisting into a sitting position. The fitted black jacket and dress shirt he'd obviously worn for days was rumpled beyond hope. Pale dots of lint and other mess clung to his sleeves and collar. The coat would need professional steaming if it was ever expected to be worn again. His hair was a right disaster, falling damp and lopsided against his face.
"Bloody hell, what day is it?" He dug the heels of his hands into his eyes.
"Thursday." She snapped, feeling a dart of pain shoot up her side.
"God, Lestrade will be a terror." He reached groggily for the contraption in his pocket and pressed his thumbs into the control panel. The glow reflected off the LCD screen made his pallor downright ghastly.
"Damn." Bloodshot eyes scanned up and down the tiny monitor. It made her wince just watching him. She'd never be able to make out such tiny letters in this light without her glasses.
"Nothing dire, I hope?"
There came no reply at first, so intent was he on the flickering screen. The explosive "Damn!" that cracked the air was like a safe door slamming shut.
"Bloody hell, what's got into you? You started m-"
Sherlock was now looking more defeated than annoyed. All the strength seemed to go out of him at once, replaced with an alarming, unnatural docility.
"Forgive me, Mrs. Hudson." He tilted his head to one side in apology. To her recollection, she was the only person she'd ever heard him vocally apologize to.
"Well, for heaven's sake I…" His expression made her pause in mid-indignation. His grip had tightened on his fancy mini computer, knuckles white and trembling. He was speaking in a rapid string of impolite litanies, frantic words that made no immediate sense to her but were all very important to him. She caught snatches about a brand of paint thinner, a settlement date, and fingernails. Momentarily disturbed by this shift, she broke his concentration by speaking.
"What is it?"
Resigned, he shut the device off and thrust it back into his pocket. The room went quite dark again as he slumped forward, elbows on his knees
"Really Sherlock, why the fuss?" She shook her head at him. "The police are doing their jobs."
"Not well enough." Spindly fingers combed anxiously through his disheveled mop. "They're blind without me and I've left them in the lurch since...since...what day is it?"
"Don't be a martyr, love, one of these days it'll kill you." She picked up the blanket that had fallen to the floor between the coffee table and shook it out.
"Then I wish it would have the decency to hurry the hell up." He muttered, wiping his face with his hands. "All of London up in flames and all because I failed to check a damned mail! Stupid! Stupid!"
He was beginning to sound delirious though with him one could never be absolutely certain. His face was flushed brighter than she'd ever remembered seeing it, eyes dull and glassy. He was never the right color. Always too pale or too gray from never having enough time to mind himself. But the hectic pink at his cheeks was familiar. When children ran high fevers and became desperate, weakened impressions of themselves. That was enough to draw conclusions on.
"Where d'you keep the Paracetamol in this morass?" She looked about the room as though it might logically appear from behind the picture frames.
"Nowhere sensible, I imagine." He sighed, then reconsidered. "Try the breadbox?"
"I'm not your housekeeper." She spun briskly into the kitchen.
"Nor, may I remind, my mum." He called after, throwing himself petulantly back into the sofa.
"Well a right proper job she's done teaching you survival! Look at yourself! How you manage to keep your head on! Now THERE'S a topic for research!"
"If I wanted to be hounded by purportless old ladies with feeble questions, I'd have bedded down in Scotland Yard! Please go away, Mrs. Hudson? I've got an already exquisite head intent on ending me! I'd appreciate it if didn't have an accomplice!"
"Boil your head if it would quiet my hip!"
"Isn't it beginning to throb savagely?" He hissed. "Aren't there some coupon codes in the foyer not being cut? Or better yet, I've heard Mrs. Katon across the way is boarding a delightful couple of racing drag queens you can place bets on!"
"Oh shut up, Sherlock!" She popped open the latch on the suffering breadbox, rummaging until she spied a tiny yellow box. Triumphantly, she marched back to the sofa and without a word, ripped the musty caftan away. Shuddering, he convulsed in on himself like a bug.
"Here. Take twice the recommended." She dropped the box of Paracetamol unceremoniously on his head.
"Is there no end to this invasion, Mrs. H? What will it take to vaporize you?" He moaned, clutching a velvet throw pillow to his face, the Paracetamol falling ignored to the carpet.
"I've lived through the Blitz, young man. Don't talk to me about invasions. Now enough of this! Get up now and change out of those clothes. You're a disgrace." She folded the caftan and tossed it into a bin she had dubbed the hamper.
"And you are my landlady, jailer and torturer eternal." Sherlock's temper was doing a piss poor job of tolerating her but his body, at least, had sense enough to comply. "Would it be so much of a stretch to ask you to be my executioner as well?"
"Inside!" She forcefully pushed him in the direction of his bedroom door. "Into your bedclothes, useless thing!"
While he busied himself with changing, she went about the kitchen and cleared off a half decent space among the piles cluttering the sink. Somewhere she found a kettle and a space on the burner (she'd had to remove a smelly collection of half-empty beakers and glass tubes to accomplish this) With a shrug, she dumped them and their contents into the sink.
Sherlock hadn't the sense to collapse conveniently into bed as she'd hoped but instead reappeared in a blue silk dressing gown and gray pajamas. He lingered about the sitting room to impede her as she tidied.
"Hell!" His voice was more of a pained sob, taking in the reorganized state of the kitchen table. "You're compromising everything! Don't touch that! Put those over-! No, that belongs-! Augh! Three months vital research and now you've gone and wrecked the bloody-" An advanced fit of coughing shut him up right well.
"Nonsense!" She snapped. "What could be more vital than a cuppa on a day like this? There now, I've managed to locate your thermometer. Open up!"
To show cheek, he regarded it blankly.
"Sherlock..." Ample warning in her voice dispelled him. Scowling, he gave up and placed the blasted instrument beneath his tongue, casting a baleful glare on her progress.
"Don't glower, love. It's unflattering." She left him to pout, moving around to see if she'd missed anything.
Schadenfreude wasn't a very Christian frame of mind but she couldn't deny his venomous glare egged her on a tad. He managed an incredulous noise behind his pursed lips when she dumped the contents of a plastic bin into the sink. It smelled like cheap floor cleaner though she could not be sure of its original intent for the unidentifiable solids swimming about in it.
His foul air did not improve as she shook the thermometer down from its red hot height.
"Thirty-nine point four!" She gave him a firm prod. "Christ Almighty, Sherlock! You're burning!" He was a living mess, shivering visibly, cheeks blushed and hot with aggravation.
"Bed!" She ordered. "And if that cough don't break up, it'll be a mustard plaster in the morning."
"That a threat?" He raised an eyebrow.
Lethargically he moved to obey, casting a serious look over his shoulder.
"On the honorable condition that you neither disturb, displace or rearrange a single atom more in this flat! Are we agreed?"
"Up!" She seized his arm and pulled him from the armchair. Wisely, he went without a fight, letting her herd him down the hallway to his bedroom.
She was relieved and a little surprised to find his room in a reasonable way. No clutter, sheets stiff and clean, cases on the pillows. In fact, it looked hardly lived in at all. There were more books on the shelves and a stuffed taxidermy owl perched on the wooden writing desk that, by the look of it, hadn't seen any writing since Sherlock left his teens.
Sherlock unfolded himself onto his pillows to show her that he was well and truly done in. The awful rattling sounded worse when he tried to smother it into the duvet. A darkened V of sweat had begun to form on the front of his T-shirt. In a sudden show of sympathy, she pulled the covers up to his neck and reached out to stroke his head. Being too occupied with breathing, he took no notice.
Feeling more useful in the kitchen, she retreated to fix him a mug of tea, two sugars as always. When she returned Sherlock was breathing much too fast under the comforter, rubbing his temple weakly.
"I-I think I had better try to ring John then, hadn't I?" Setting the steaming mug on his night table, she tried making her voice more pleasant.
"Phone in my pocket." He sounded every bit as done in as he looked. She picked up his discarded trousers from the desk chair and pawed them until she found the plastic deck of cards he called a phone.
"You're in a real mess this time Sherlock. He isn't picking up." She somehow managed to find the button that clicked it off.
He coughed miserably and squeezed his eyes shut, shifting against the pillows. "Ah. He's abandoned me to your savagery, then. Do as you will Mrs. H, God save me. "
"Don't breathe, dear. You'll only worsen yourself." She wrapped the blankets tighter around him, thinking at a speed that drowned out the venom in her joints. "There now! I'll turn up the thermostat in the basement. A good sweat will fix you right up."
"I might better begin the process of 'fixing', dear lady." He whispered, eyelids already fluttering. "In your absence."
"Well then." She quipped, patting his chest reassuringly. "I'll be on my-"
"Wait." He croaked suddenly, nearly comical as her hand touched the knob. "D-don't trust you...out there." A ghost of a smile flickered on his pale lips. "You'll be waxing my floors next, you fiendish woman."
"Sherlock…" She sighed. She was fresh out of ideas. She didn't know what pill he normally used to induce unconsciousness but he looked so uneasy and ill, she decided a quick end would be merciful. "I know!" She plucked the first book she touched from the shelf-Death Be Not Proud by Gunther-and planted herself in the chair next to his bed.
"Christ, what now?"
"I'll read to you!" She set her reading glasses on her nose. "Always worked with my children, wonderfully soporific effect. You won't stand a chance." Deftly, she licked her thumb and opened to page one.
Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so,
Muffled by the pillow, Sherlock whimpered gratefully.
It was darker when she woke to a curious sensation tickling under her nose, something like a frond with a very sweet smell. A wonderfully fresh, damp scent had overtaken the room. Her eyes focused blearily on a bouquet of flowers suddenly in front of her face. John was on the other end of them, smiling in that sheepish way men pulled to look less imposing.
"Oh!" She jolted straight up in her seat, readjusting the glasses fallen on her nose. She grappled blindly for the lamp on the night table, hands shaking.
"John, you gave me such a fright, love!"
"Pardon." His coat was dripping with moisture from outside. The book was now face down on the floor. She must have nodded off completely. Straightening her skirt, she bent to pick it up but John swooped down and beat her to it, placing it back on the night shelf.
"What are those for then?" She busied herself with fixing her hair. A girl should never take gifts without explanation.
"As though I'd forget my landlady's birthday?"
Melted speechless, she flashed him her best company smile. He really was a love and good looking to boot. As she was admiring the arrangement of roses and baby's breath, John cleared his throat and extended his other hand, offering something in a crumpled white chemist bag.
Distracted, she pushed the flowers aside and snatched it up.
"Stopped by the druggists on the way." He fiddled charmingly with his gloves. "I er, took the liberty of writing you a scrip for some hospital grade relaxants. Sherlock texted me you'd run out of your tablets?"
"Now there's a right gentleman" She cried, seizing his hand and planting a sincere kiss on his knuckles. It was such a pleasant change to the feng shui having a sane man in the house. Her offered her his arm with a cool grin. Not moving for so long had made her wonderfully stiff and her back cried out in protest as she attempted to rise. He chuckled, shrugging out of his wet coat.
"Just keeping you in habit, Mrs. Hudson. For all those long-suffering cups of tea and plates of biscuits!"
"Who on earth told you it was my-?"
"He did." He nodded to Sherlock's prone form, motionless under the blankets. "When I first moved in. Military men, we ah, don't forget things."
"Oh…" Her voice trailed for a moment but she composed herself. "How was Manchester, love?"
"Never made it. Train rerouted. Flooding."
"Shouldn't wonder." She sighed. Sherlock was deeply asleep, chest rising and falling steadily under the covers. A line of perspiration shone clear down his face and into his neckline.
"John…" The shivery voice barely registered to her other tenant but she had ears like sonar. The corners of her mouth twitched upward slightly.
"Gave you hell, did he?" John rested the back of his hand against Sherlock's cheek before taking his wrist. She shrugged.
"No worse than my hip, dear."
"I see." John glanced at his watch, nodding. "He 'et anything today?"
"Not that I know of."
"Seems like you had some success with 'im, though."
"Cheeky sot's in a bed, isn't he?"
"Was a living terror when I left." John huffed an amused sigh, replacing Sherlock's hand on his chest. "Said he never wanted to see me again unless it was in a lineup."
"Love is fickle." She gathered the bouquet to her chest. "Blast, look at the time! Will you be-?"
"Takeaway will do for me, thank you Mrs. Hudson."
John cast a wary look over his shoulder at his sleeping flatmate.
"I'll be sure to drag him to a clinic in the morning, get him on the right side of a stethoscope."
"Good night then, John. Thank you for the flowers. They're lovely."
It was no surprise to her that the dismissive nod she got was distracted. John was a well-meaning bloke and he'd have the devil to pay when Sherlock woke up. He was really a very nice bloke. Men like him were good with troublesome sorts.
She tucked the chemist bag into her skirt and nicked Sherlock's untouched mug of tea from the desk. Carrying it back to the kitchen, popping one of the doctor's hospital grade relaxants into her mouth like candy, taking a satisfying swig from the now ice cold mug. She was about to turn the front door knob when she paused, attention drawn to that ratty sofa Sherlock spent so much time in. She made her way back to it, delicately lifting the shapeless center cushion between thumb and forefinger.
If he fancied himself clever enough to hide fags from her, he was a much bigger idiot than he was letting on. She nicked the half empty box and slowly made her way downstairs.
Not a lost day completely.