A Friend's Help
Chapters: one shot
Type: vignette, hurt-comfort, drama, angst
Main characters: Sherlock Holmes, John Watson
(not slash, unless you're really want to see it that way)
Timeline: After season 1, nothing really specific
Summary: A case goes horribly wrong and John is left with picking up the pieces of a very distraught Sherlock Holmes.
Beta Reader: Kate (aka love_like_burning)
Disclaimer: Don't own the show; don't own the characters (sadly).
Written: January, 2011
Doctor John Watson's fingers left the neck of the woman who was lying on the ground. He sighed and closed her eyes with his left hand, which was trembling lightly.
He had seen his fair share of death during the war but he had never managed to become accustomed to it. Letting out a deep breath he looked up then to consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes, who was pacing nearby. The man had a distant look to him and for a moment John wondered if the genius even realised, even cared for a second that this young woman had died because of them or if his damned logic-and-facts-only lenses through which he seemed to view the world overruled even that.
He was about to voice his questions when his medical mind realised something was wrong with his friend. The younger man was trembling, not quite shaking but the doctor could clearly see slight tremors run beneath the coat laden silhouette. He stood up and took the two steps that separated him from the detective and tried to look in his eyes. The other man quickly diverted his gaze, turning his head slightly to the wall on his left.
"Sherlock?" the doctor asked with a faint trace of worry as he raised his hand to grab his colleague's arm and make the taller man face him. "Are you okay?"
The detective didn't reply, but John could easily feel the tremors increase beneath his hand. Shock, his medical mind quickly supplied and he felt callous for thinking that his friend didn't care. Sherlock may not always seem it, but he was human under the cool and analytical exterior.
He grabbed more firmly onto Sherlock and led the man away from the mangled corpse. Both men left the gloomy back alley they were in and found themselves back on a well-lighted road with the occasional traffic. The blonde quickly dug his phone out of his pocket and dialled Lestrade. He tersely indicated their location and what had happened before informing the D.I. that he and Holmes were leaving the scene, and that they would drop by Scotland Yard the next day for a full statement. The Inspector tried to argue, but Watson quickly dismissed him and shut his phone off before hailing a taxi.
The ride home was spent in silence, save for John quietly announcing "221B Baker Street" as he entered. Sherlock's gaze was lost on the scenery, but John could tell from his face's reflection on the window that he wasn't paying attention; which he realised was rather unusual. The detective was normally always aware of everything, overanalysing some small details that common people wouldn't even look at twice and then throw in a random deduction that would take John off guard and amaze him at the same time.
The doctor's worry grew, and he felt a surge of relief when the car took a familiar street and stopped in front of Mrs Hudson's porch. He quickly tossed a twenty to the cabbie, not even asking for his change. Sherlock had already opened the main door and was strolling up the stairs. John followed him inside and found the detective standing in the middle of their living room, looking somewhat lost.
The younger man seemed to have no idea what to do with himself, something that John might have considered with fondness in another situation, but that felt slightly frightening at the moment. He walked up to him and found himself suddenly at a loss for words. What was there to say anyway? Any patented phrase of comfort would be downright insulting right now.
"Why don't you go lie down a bit?" John offered lightly, trying not to sound too obvious. "Maybe get some sleep."
No response came from the taller man, but he soon got his feet working towards his room as if on autopilot.
John took off his coat which he carelessly dropped on the back of the sofa. He contemplated making himself some tea but couldn't muster the energy to do so. He closed his eyes for a second and the familiar face of Jenn Linely, twenty three from Hampstead flashed quickly to his mind: blond hair, blue eyes and cute dimples when she smiled.
She was just a secretary who had unfortunately crossed path with their investigation on a possible lead to Moriarty. The lawyer cabinet she was working for was doing business with Sherlock's nemesis and she was going to provide them with confidential copies of emails and files. She was supposed to hand those over tonight. Instead of the wanted documents, it was poor Jenny's body that they had found: a note pinched to her trench addressed to S. Holmes which read "This one is on you, pal. Why don't you give up already?" It wasn't signed, but you didn't have to be a world-renowned consulting detective to guess who it was from.
John sighed deeply and got his own feet working toward his bed. There had been much running around town for the past couple of days and a few hours of shut-eye sounded strangely appealing. If only the nightmares would let him be for once.
He stopped along the way to the stairs, rethinking his path and set for Sherlock's room instead, thinking he'd just throw in a quick glance to make sure his friend was okay. He walked to the door, thought about knocking but decided against it, not wanting to wake Sherlock should he already be asleep. Quietly, he opened the door a little and peered inside. All the lights were out, but the curtains hadn't been drawn. The streetlamps were casting an eerie yellow glow over the furniture, the bed and the dark silhouette perched at the end of it. John froze, taken aback slightly, eyebrows rising; then he opened the door completely and walked inside. Sherlock was sitting on the bed, still wearing his coat and scarf. It was as though he had just walked in, sat on the bedside and shut off for the night. His face was unreadable, eyes boring a hole in the wall.
John stood, with his hands in his pockets, feet shuffling uncertainly for a minute, deciding on the best course of action to take. If only this was a normal patient: he'd know what to do, but he'd been living with Sherlock for about a year now and he still had no idea how the genius' mind worked. His own tiredness and achy muscles decided him to sit next to the detective for now. Sherlock said nothing and gave no indication he'd even noticed his colleague's arrival, however the doctor was sure he was very much aware of it.
It was barely noticeable and most people would have missed it, but it seemed to him, the younger man was somehow a little less tensed in the shoulders. They sat there in complete silence for awhile, the occasional car driving by, the only disturbance in the room. John was rattling his brain, hoping to finally come up with the right thing to say. He was feeling like he had when they'd entered the flat earlier. All of the phrases he could conjure up felt somewhat hollow and meaningless "It's going to be okay; it wasn't your fault."
Boring, dull, Sherlock would say! Even something as trivial as "Are you okay?" sounded out of place and it didn't take a genius to deduce that the man clearly wasn't. Finally tired of the stretching silence John spoke up.
"I'm not feeling so good either," he said truthfully.
That elected no reply from his colleague and silence surrounded them once again.
"Penny for your thoughts?" he asked suddenly; his desperate attempt at humour falling short. He was very surprised when his joke earned him a stern reply, a little moment later.
"Retracing our steps… find where I went wrong," the detective said, voice barely above whisper and words detached, gaze still directed straight ahead unseeing.
"Where we went wrong," John corrected automatically. "My fault as much as yours, Sherlock."
A disbelieving huff was his only reply as silence began to envelop them again, seconds stretching into minutes.
"Can't find it," the brown-haired man finally said, blinking rapidly as if his mind was back from wherever it went. The comment caught Watson off guard and it took him a few seconds to go back to the detective's last phrase and make sense of these new words.
"Can't find where we went wrong?" John asked prompting him to continue although he wasn't sure he really wanted to press the issue, but this was better than not talking at all, he figured.
"Didn't," Sherlock breathed curtly and John could hear the suppressed emotions through the single word.
He turned his head slightly toward his friend; his sharp features and fair skin contrasting strongly against the darkness of the room, his inner turmoil was now evident over his face.
"What do you mean?" he asked, uncomprehending.
"Didn't make a mistake. It was a trap all along. Moriarty-" His voice caught a little on the name, as though it left a bad taste in his mouth. "-played me. This was his intent from the beginning, she… she was just a pawn in his game."
It took a few seconds for John to fully understand what his friend was saying, and suddenly it made sense. In fact, it made an awful lot of sense, which left him with a deep feeling of disgust.
"Bastard!" The doctor said on impulse.
So this was all it was: one more of Moriarty's stupid perverted games? God someone really needs to put a bullet through his brain, John thought bitterly. This was sickening, and suddenly he was glad he hadn't had a decent meal all day because he might have been retching already otherwise. He forced himself to forget the image of Jenn's bloody corpse which was assaulting him again. He let out a long breath to calm himself then realised Sherlock had one more time fallen silent. Try as he might, he couldn't begin to fathom how bad his friend had to be feeling right now. Holmes and his brilliant mind which saw through everything and everyone; questioned and overanalyzed even teensy insignificant details. The most brilliant man John had ever met and he hadn't seen it coming, not at all.
Moriarty knew his opponent really well, John realised. This was a low blow, which had cut deep in his friend's heart. Because as Moriarty had dutifully pointed out in that swimming pool Sherlock did indeed have a heart. Sure, it was buried under massive protective walls that Sherlock had carefully built over the years to steel himself from those who thought of him as a freak or worse. But John had long since found out he was definitely no sociopath. His heart was still there, beating and hurting. John looked back at his friend and noticed a lone glistering tear making its way down his left cheek and he barely managed to refrain from reaching his hand to whip it away.
"You should really get some sleep Sherlock," he said instead.
The silent man gave no hint that he was going to comply so John stood up tentatively and inched closer to him. He softly untangled the blue scarf and set it on the corner of the nearby desk. The detective gave no indication he was against this invasion of his privacy so John started unbuttoning the man's coat, which he quickly got off of his shoulders and onto the chair's back. He hesitated a second when his hands came near Sherlock's vest, but the hollowness of his friend's gaze decided him and he bent down a little to reach the black buttons. He worked the cloth off of his colleague's back with as much delicacy he could muster and folded it neatly.
"Kick off your shoes," he instructed while setting the vest down on the desk, next to the scarf.
As he turned to look back at his flat-mate he found him with his shoes still on and a bit of a puzzled expression on his face. He had already seen this expression before: on patients who had just received a really bad diagnostic staring at him quizzically, their brains shutting off, unable to process the information for a moment. This look felt so wrong on Sherlock. Usually, the man was always so alive, brain going a millions miles an hour and so ahead of everybody else's.
"Your shoes, Sherlock. Kick them off, would you? You'll sleep better," he explained patiently as he would to a child, trying hard to keep his voice from breaking and failing a little.
That seemed to do the trick though and the man complied. The doctor started then to toss back the different layers of blankets and linen and he finally managed to get his friend to lie down properly. It seemed to him once again that his flat-mate was acting on autopilot, following blindly his instructions. He wondered briefly what would happen if he were to order him to jump out of the window. Poor sod would probably obey for once, John bitterly thought as he reclaimed his spot on the bedside. He distractedly rearranged the blankets to make sure his friend was well tucked in, hoping that Sherlock would manage to find some rest tonight. The grey eyes were back to harbouring a vacant look; Sherlock's expression as blank as he had ever seen it.
John took it as his queue to leave, sighed and murmured a soft "Good night, Sherlock," barely resisting the urge to rearrange some of the dark curls on his friend's temple, instead patting him slightly awkwardly on the chest. He was about to get up and head for his own room when a hand grasped his wrist with unexpected strength. John looked down in surprise and found some long porcelain-white fingers softly locked around his arm. His eyes moved up and met with Sherlock's and what he saw in those grey orbs hurt like little else. Emotions ran unchecked for once and John was tempted to avert his own gaze to escape the pain he was reading in his friend's pupils. He fought against the idea and maintained the connection, knowing with clear certainty that Sherlock needed this as much as air to breath in that moment.
The detective finally blinked and refocused his attention on the ceiling, his breathing suddenly coming faster. His fingers remained around John's wrist; the message albeit not spoken, was eloquently clear.
John had never seen Sherlock like this before. He'd never lowered his defences this much, never openly showed to John that he... felt. His friend needed him and John had long since discovered he could never say no to Sherlock. He nodded in agreement, and proceeded to kick off his own shoes. He removed his jumper and manoeuvred himself under the blankets, lying next to his flat-mate who had let go of his hand the moment he had understood that the blond wasn't leaving. Sighing softly, John realized that this should feel weird, he should be embarrassed or something… two grown up men sharing a bed! Oddly enough, it felt rather natural and he found he was relaxing. The body heat slowly ebbing from his friend was starting to feel comforting and he thought maybe Sherlock wasn't the only one who needed this then.
He tried to relax some more, hoping his exhausted body would fall in some kind of slumber but every time he closed his eyes, the image of Jenn Linely reappeared, forcing him to inhale deeply to regain some composure. Finally through with the idea of sleep, he decided to turn his attention back to Sherlock instead. He turned to his side and gazed at him for the first time since he'd lain down. The dark-haired man was lying on his back, all tensed up, face white as a chalk and breathing definitely still coming too fast, his medical mind noted. The doctor contemplated their situation once more. Comforting words were still eluding him but he reasoned that any kind of small talk would be more than awkward seeing as they were lying in a bloody bed together. His resolve to remain silent lasted a mere fifty seconds, before the slight itch in the detective's breath was tearing at his own heart enough for him to reconsider.
"Sherlock?" he asked, hesitantly trying to latch his concern to the word, while studying his friend's face for any sign of acknowledgment.
It looked as though he was going to answer him, Adam's apple bobbing and lips parting slightly, but whatever words Sherlock had conjured up never made it past his throat. This tore a little more at John's heart and his next reaction was purely instinctive and he had moved before he even had the time to fully consider his actions. His right hand gripped softly on Sherlock's left shoulder, anchoring him in the real world; a silent testament that he wasn't alone. John watched as the grey eyes slowly fell shut and his friend inhaled deeply.
And then, under his hand, the tremors returned: soft but persistent. They were shaking his flat-mate's entire frame. He acted on instinct again, reaching over Sherlock's torso with his free hand to grab his right shoulder and turn him slowly towards him. The taller man seemed to resist for a fraction of a second before allowing to be pulled in a slightly hesitant and timid hug. John closed his arms around him, the only comfort he was able to provide at that moment and Sherlock accepted the offer, quickly melding, nuzzling closer and resting his head in the space between the doctor's neck and shoulder. John let him gladly. If this was what it took; if it could help his friend get over this bleak evening, then so be it. He would give in to the sentimental any day if it could keep some of the pain at bay. That dreadful catch was back in Sherlock's breath he observed, stronger than ever, and the tremors were getting worse. Shortly, his flat-mate's breathing pattern changed again, turning somewhat more wet and whimpering. Sobs, comprehension dawned on the elder man. Oh my god, he's crying, he realised as he tightened his hold on his younger friend, allowing one of his hands to lose itself in the mess of dark curls in a gesture that he hoped was comforting.
Tears were falling in earnest, and John felt his own eyes water as he remained silent, fighting the urge to hush him and fall in a patronising and altogether useless pattern of it's okay and it's going to be alright. He was determined to let his friend make it through this with what little dignity he had left. After what felt like an eternity, the tears finally receded and the vice grip Sherlock had over John's arm loosened a little, but he never let go and neither did the elder man. They both fell asleep at some point in the wee-hours of morning, Holmes first and Watson shortly afterwards.
The sun was already high when John woke up the next day. He quickly realised he wasn't in his own bed and then the thoughts came rushing in. As he sat up, he discovered he was alone in the room. He picked up his discarded jumper and shoes and went to his room for a change of clothes. When he came down to the living he found Sherlock perched on the sofa, a large map of London spread all over the coffee table. The doctor paused at the entrance of the room, a little unsure of himself. Was he supposed to acknowledge the events of last night, or was it better to just brush it off under the never-happened carpet?
"Tea?" he asked aloud: satisfied to realise he had managed to sound only slightly hesitant.
"Yes please," came the neutral reply which had John thinking that if Sherlock was feeling even a little bit embarrassed, he surely knew well how to hide it.
Shaking his head a little, the blonde went to the kitchen and busied himself with the kettle and the mugs.
When he returned to the living, a cup in each hand, the detective was tracing lines in bold red marker all over the map. Need to add a new map to the shopping list, John mentally noted as he set down Sherlock's mug. The seated man quickly made a grab for it and his fingers brushed ever so slightly against John's. Both men froze instantly. Sherlock decided to look up then, eyelashes slowly revealing unusually open eyes, shining and burning with intensity.
"Thank you," he said softly and with a rare gentleness and John knew he didn't mean just for the tea.
"Any time," he replied in a tone much similar with a soft smile, and he hoped Sherlock understood he wasn't talking about the drink either.
The moment ended and the younger man returned his full attention to the map before him. Back to normal then, John thought happily.
"So what are you working on?" he finally asked with curiosity.