A Mile in His Shoes
John slammed the door behind him, as hard as he could. Then, for good measure (and to signal to any bloody-minded, sociopathic bastards in the near vicinity his extreme displeasure) he opened it, and slammed it again, even harder. The stack of books beside the couch slumped over with a papery sigh.
John clenched his jaw. He stalked to the kitchen without once looking at the figure hunched primly over the laptop on the coffee table, busying himself pulling out coffee and mug (with unspeakable stain, of course, damn him to hell), and slamming cupboard doors shut. He pretended he didn't hear the superior little sigh that wafted from the middle room.
"So you're angry. Judging from the fact that you won't meet my eyes, I assume you're angry with me. Now, from the behaviour you will and will not put up with, I think I'm safe in deducing that it had something to do with today's events…"
"You left," John span violently on his heel, to face the man who was now leaning languidly on the doorjamb of the sliding kitchen doors. "You knew what I had on tonight, you knew it was important, there's no way you could ever not know, so why the hell did you leave the station alone? It wasn't safe, Sherlock, and you acted like an arse and left!"
Sherlock Holmes shrugged loosely. "Had a lead. Had to see where it went."
"And it couldn't have waited until I had seen my sister and come with you?" John almost roared. His fingers twitched. Sherlock noted them absently, his mind racing.Excess of emotion. Thus there is a deeper meaning to current rage, not just guilt for useless sibling or fear for my survival. John does not give way to emotional excess often – military, younger sibling, stoic, ashamed of pain, prefers to direct attention elsewhere, competent in midst of crisis, uncomfortable out. John has another, possibly sublimated reason for being this angry.
"I was perfectly safe," was what he said instead.
"He's still out there, you idiot, still sending you little messages, still leaving breadcrumbs. You might have been safe before, Sherlock, but that was before he came along. I told you to wait. You said you'd wait. Why the fuck didn't you wait?" John's eyes were snapping with his fury.
Excuses are not going to be acceptable here. I have to hope he understands this, as he has understood everything else…"I can't, John. I can't wait. I can't stop, not ever. I... simply can't."
"Harry is fucking dying, Sherlock. All I asked for, all I needed, was one night. Spend one night with Harry at the hospital. Then we could go after him, and you wouldn't have been alone in the case there were another forty snipers and another fucking bomb!" John snarled viciously. Sherlock noted that John didn't even tear up at the mention of his sister's impending liver failure. An inability to show weakness. Stoic to a fault, though he continues to internally practise his grief in advance so it will not sting as much when the time comes. Practical.
John had obviously had enough of Sherlock standing in the doorway and staring at his hands. "Get out of my way," he said in a tight, level voice. "I'm going to bed."
"You were making coffee a moment ago," Sherlock pointed out.
"Well deduced," John's voice didn't change. "But the company I'm keeping is making me too tense for caffeine, so I'm off to bed. Just… just think about it, Sherlock. Think about what you just pulled on me." And John pushed past him and started for the stairs. Sherlock's next words stopped him dead.
"Don't you even want to know what I found at the warehouse, John?" he murmured.
John rounded on him. "You didn't hear a word of what I just said, did you?" he grated.
"Oh, I heard them. I heard most of what you weren't saying, as well. Irrelevant. Boring. Come, John, you can't expect me to sit about twiddling my thumbs once I'veworked it out. It was so obvious, really, once I'd deciphered Erlish's numeric coding system… and so we come to the next breadcrumb. Look at what Dear Jim left us." Sherlock pulled his hands out of his pockets. The gleam of enthusiasm shone in his eyes like madness as he held up the rusted, ornate pendant in his left hand. "I can't wait to find out what it means, where it leads, what it's for."
John's mouth was slightly open in disbelief, and he shut it with a small click. "A necklace. You risked your life… for a necklace."
"A pendant," Sherlock corrected.
"Pendant, necklace, ornate bellybutton ring, WHO CARES!" And this time it really was a roar. Sherlock tipped his head, wanting to study how John dealt with apoplectic fury. "I was pulled away from my dying sister by a man I barely know, telling me that the human computer I live with had gone after the most insane person on the planet alone - risking his life alone - and it turns out it was for a tawdry old piece of crap like that!" John's face had gone quite red. His hands no longer twitched. "You really don't know anything about people at all, Sherlock, you know that? You know everything about them in seconds, but you still know nothingimportant."
Sherlock's shoulders barely slumped. "Lestrade isn't a man you barely know," he said in petulant protest, but John's reddened ears and blazing eyes stopped him.
"Sherlock," John growled. There was a threat in his name.
"John…" Sherlock said slowly. "I can't…"
What he wanted to say was that he couldn't stop, couldn't help himself. The lack of impulse control that had broken his leg at age 8 and put powder up his nose at age 15 and a needle into his arm at age 19 now hurtled him into his work. He disappeared down labyrinthine corridors of thought and only found himself when he was running out of the other end again. Outside those corridors, he never quite felt alive.
John's breathing had quickened by at least 20 percent, and Sherlock estimated his heart rate had accelerated even more. "Can't what?" he barked. His spine was ramrod straight.
"I don't know how to explain it, John," Sherlock ran a hand through his hair, leaving it standing out on one side. "I haveto know these things, I have to. I can't ever stop. The whole world shouts, and if I can listen hard enough, run hard enough, maybe I'll… I can't turn my brain off, John. It's just…"
"You don't get to excuse what you did tonight by being you," John said flatly. His parade-ground stance had not faltered. "Anderson told me, idiot, not Lestrade. And he loved hearing me panic over the phone, rubbing it in. And not a fucking word from the Great Sherlock Holmes, oh no. You didn't phone, you didn't even text, off to face a lunatic on your own when you said you'd wait. And now Harry no doubt thinks I don't care whether she lives or dies, running off like that."
"Your sister can barely recognise her own face in the mirror, her mind is so rotted by drink," Sherlock muttered acerbically, his own ire beginning to rise. Honestly, John was being so… so normal it was beyond dull. It was farce. "She's probably raving half the time, some more won't be beyond the norm."
John rocked back on his heels as though struck, his red face paling as though paint had been splashed on him. Then he swallowed hard, his eyes going flinty, and pulled himself up even straighter, if possible. He walked slowly, deliberately to Sherlock, swung back his arm and delivered a textbook punch to Sherlock's jaw.
Sherlock of course had seen it coming – John had given him plenty of time to watch it, after all – but forced himself to stand still and receive the blow. Afterwards, massaging his stinging mouth and chin, he wished he hadn't. "Feel better?" he spat.
"Very," John spat back, rubbing his hand. Faster than Sherlock could follow, that hand shot out and grabbed the pendant. "You bastard."
"My parents were very, very married, I think you'll find," Sherlock reached for the pendant, but John was inspecting it. "Give it back."
"You know what?" John looked at him sidelong. There was no softness, no friendship in that glance. Sherlock felt something inside him quail. "No. I don't think so. I want it, you see, I just can't stop wanting it, and so I'm going to do what I want, and damn the consequences, and that goes double for anything you want. You go exercise your mind, as it's all that's important to you. I'm going to bed. I'll be moving out in a couple of days."
"John!" Sherlock was actually stunned. "You can't…"
"Can't I?" John lifted his chin. "Watch me."
And Sherlock watched a small, neat figure in a rumpled black coat and jeans walk out of the door, the last piece of evidence in his reddened fist.
That sinking feeling wasn't anything out of the ordinary.
John put the pillow over the pendant and lay back down, his heart still beating rapidly with the force of his anger. How dare he. How dare he.
He'd been warned, hadn't he? But he thought he knew better, thought he could reach the human within the glittering clockwork man that was Sherlock. He'd been wrong. Sherlock had allowed him close because he was useful, had become part of his work – but when John had stood outside that work, Sherlock could care less whether he hurt someone. Hurt John. All that mattered was the criminal and the chase. People, even John, were just soggy walking evidence factories to Sherlock.
He wished Sherlock would apply his prodigious brain to what it felt like to be John, right now.
John squeezed his eyes shut against the ache in his throat and stomach, and fell into a restless sleep.
Sherlock paced back and forth in the living room, occasionally stopping as yet another way of getting the pendant back from John offered itself up. Then he would shake his head and keep pacing. The sinking feeling had well and truly sunk, and now Sherlock's own anger was winning.
Stupid little doctor who thought his stupid little problems were more important than catching the most dangerous man Sherlock could imagine, outside of himself of course. Stupid little John with his stupid little emotions and his stupid family loyalty and his stupid need to make sure Sherlock was safe. Honestly, Sherlock was always fine – and anyway, John was always just missing conflicts, barely catching the signs of a struggle in some cases. He couldn't even tell if a man had been choked, or poisoned, or… Yes, stupid John.
Perhaps he could replace it with a stone? No, John slept lightly. It made violin practice more entertaining. But, as he had surely placed the pendant under his pillow (standard kit practice), stealing into John's room and sticking his hand under his pillow was a good way of getting another punch.
It had been a good punch, Sherlock winced, feeling along his jaw.
But what did John expect? What did anyone expect? All Sherlock had was his mind. All he had to be proud of was his intellect. He had nothing else. No-one understood. He'd thought John had, but… no. Not even John knew what it was like to be him, to never relax, to never fit in, to never be wrong, to never be wanted, to never stop.
Stop it, he chided himself, those thoughts lead to violins, and violins would no doubt lead to angry John becoming apoplectic John. Stupid angry John who no doubt thought Donovan was right now.
Sherlock threw himself onto the couch, and pulled himself into a tight ball and willed his mind to turn off, for John, stupid John, who wanted it to. If only for a minute.
If a passer-by on Baker Street had looked up into the windows of 221B that night, they would have seen absolutely nothing out of the ordinary.
This proves absolutely nothing.
John woke blearily. His teeth were still gritted. He'd fallen asleep angry.
And then the memory came flooding back.
Oh god, did I really punch Sherlock? he thought in dismay, groaning a little. To his sleep-fogged mind the groan sounded a little… deeper than normal. But then, another memory slotted into place and the groan became a growl. Saying that about Harry… bloody hell, he deserved it. Fucking cheek of it.
He sat up and rubbed his face slowly, noting that his hair really had got out of control and really needed a cut. He could feel it on his forehead, which normally never happened – his hair tended to stick up rather than droop. Harry had always laughed at it, and tried to convince him to use a dab of product… oh, Harry.
John swung his legs over the bed and stood with a surprised jolt. Wasn't the bed higher than that? He'd thought… but then, it was an old bed, perhaps the mattress was compressing slowly, under his sleeping form. Scratching at his stomach (he'd lost weight, it seemed, all that running around) John wandered down the stairs to the bathroom, absently noting that he'd have to buy some new pyjamas that didn't shrink in the wash. He pushed open the door, yawning prodigiously, snagged his towel and caught a passing glimpse of the mirror as he stepped towards the shower.
The towel hit the floor with a soft thud.
John took a shaky step towards the mirror.
Black hair, curly. Tall. Very tall. No wonder… grey eyes, bowed lips, pale skin and gobsmacked expression. Everything in the reflection - except the expression - was Sherlock Holmes.
John raised a hand. Mirror-Sherlock raised a hand. John wriggled his fingers. Mirror-Sherlock wriggled his fingers. They were long, elegant and thin, not like John's short nimble fingers, his broad, callused palms. These hands were for fastidious work – these were the hands of a jeweller, or a…
Or a Consulting Detective.
John raised the hand up and pushed it experimentally against a sharp cheekbone. Right. Definitely his face. But not. Not. His face. Not.
The hand was shaking as he tentatively dragged it through the mass on top of his head. The curls were thick and snagged on his fingers. "Ow!" he hissed, unlacing himself. He'd never had that problem with his…
His own hair.
"What. The fuck." John leaned forward, and pulled at his - Sherlock's - hair again. Surely, his own hair was under all that… surely, dark blond spikes, ruffled from sleep, would soon come into view.
"Ow! Shit!" John unlaced his fingers again, and scowled at the mirror. Sherlock Holmes' patented 'why are you all so abysmally dull' expression glared back at him. It would seem that curly hair was hard work.
Waist around the same. Longer torso. Slightly hyperextensive elbows. Shoulders narrower. Unnerving to be so tall. John didn't think he liked it. It made him feel… conspicuous, even in the bathroom in his own flat. Ostentatious, even, to take up so much space and attention. John didn't like being conspicuous, preferring to practice his own brand of competency away from the limelight.
No chance of that now, Johnny his sister's voice floated to mind. Seen whose body you're wearing?
John resolutely refused to think of that. Too many larger issues closer to hand, or hands, or feet (narrow, long toes) or legs (knobbly), or stomach (hungry, does this body ever eat?) or… god, the whole thing. And he needed to go to the bathroom, and really, really, really didn't maybe sort-of want to. Another thing to not think about,right now. John looked out of Sherlock's face at a reflection of Sherlock's face, and some clinical part of his mind informed him that he was in shock, and then promptly went and hid.
Oh. Shock. Goody.
He'd needed another blanket for a while now.
His arms… were so long. And lanky. John hadn't felt this gawky since his adolescence, when he'd gone through his one and only growth spurt, and his height had momentarily outstripped his ability to keep up with it. He'd felt like he was made of knees. Staring into grey eyes over a hard-planed face, a cupid's mouth with a sneer in the corner, John felt dangerously close to losing it. He'd woken up in the body of his flatmate, and as a result was now once more made of knees. Oh god.
"Who's going to believe this?" he murmured, touching one slender finger to the mirrorpane, "who'll believe I'm actually me?"
The sound of his voice, even? He didn't even have his own voice?
"So…" he tried, and his voice, rather than being a light tenor, came out a smooth and velvet baritone. John swallowed. Oh no. Oh god. No-one would believe this. And he was definitely losing it. Right. So he didn't even have his own voice. Right. Right.
Then who does? his mind piped, and John blinked.
John stamped down the stairs and bashed on Sherlock's door. "Sherlock Holmes, get yourself here right now!" he thundered in his brand new baritone. Bizarrely, he noted that this new voice was much better at shouting. "RIGHT. NOW!"
"Mpphhh!" came a protest from inside the living room, and John stormed into the mess-strewn area to see a head with straw-coloured hair lift briefly, then tuck itself determinedly under the blanket haphazardly thrown over the recumbent body on the couch.
A body far too small to be that of Sherlock Holmes.
Aha! thought John viciously.
"Get up," he barked. "Now. Sherlock, we have a problem. For god's sake, get up. Sherlock! For all I know, this is all your fault! Get the hell up, now!"
"G'way, M'croft," came a decidedly tenor mumble from under the blanket.
John rolled his eyes. Well, that answered the question of whether there were two John Watsons – one in the wrong body - or not. "I'm not Mycroft, Sherlock. Get up."
"Know it's you, M'croft. Sound just like y' did when y'were 30. Before y'started dyeing y'hair." Sherlock's snigger was apparent, even through a blanket, a layer of sleep and John's voice.
"It's John, Sherlock." John crossed his arms and waited for the penny to drop. If Sherlock had slept for three hours or less, it might take a little longer than…
"John? Why d'you sound like M'croft?"
"You might want to take a look at this, Sherlock. Or better yet," John took a deep breath, "look at your hands."
There was a pause, then a rustle of movement under the blanket, another pause (and then another)… and then Sherlock sat bolt upright on the couch, staring at his hands in alarm with John's own faded blue eyes.
"Surprise," John said sardonically.
Sherlock's blond head snapped up and he stared at John in absolute disbelief. It was a shame, John thought, that shock and awe sat so naturally on John's own face. It robbed the moment of something.
"Yes, I'm you, well done," John sat down on his chair, and found it appallingly uncomfortable for Sherlock's long limbs. He squirmed a little more, before giving up and taking over Sherlock's usual chair. It fit perfectly, naturally. "Now that we've established 'what', can we skip over 'how' and go straight to 'fix'?"
"John?" Sherlock asked faintly.
John gave him a slow clap. "No wonder you're a detective," he mocked.
Sherlock flushed, though his expression didn't change, and John wondered if the man even knew he'd done it. Perhaps his normal body, the one John now wore, couldn't blush or flush at all? Interesting. "Stop it," Sherlock snapped. "Stop mocking me in my own voice."
"Why not, you've got mine," John retorted, and scrubbed at his eyes. There was a beat, and then John sighed. "Sorry. I'm sorry. I'm… still in a bit of shock and I'm taking it out on you."
"Not very professional," Sherlock said.
"Well, I don't have to be, do I?" John pointed out sharply. "For all intents and purposes, I am now Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective. You're the medical professional."
"You are not me!" Sherlock struggled with the blanket, pushing it back over his knees. The suit pants he had been wearing the previous night were bunched and gathered about his legs, and the crumpled white dress shirt bagged comically around the smaller body of John Watson, too tight across the shoulders.
"No," John sighed, and put his head in his hands. "Sorry again."
Sherlock didn't answer. He was staring at his – at John's hands again, memorising the grooves and indents, stretching the short, strong fingers. "You played the piano as a child," he murmured.
"Yes," John said impatiently, "for eight years. Gave it up to study. Bigger problems here, Sherlock."
Sherlock's eyes snapped back to John, and then seemingly slid away. He stood shakily, and swallowed. "You are really very small, aren't you," he murmured, walking unsteadily to the kitchen, the pants flopping ungracefully around his legs.
"I get by," John rolled his eyes. "Where are you going?"
"And a nicotine patch."
"What? No – my body isn't addicted to nicotine, you're not…"
"It's not for me."
"Ah." John looked down at where his bare arm stuck out from the t-shirt (too small now) that he habitually wore to bed. "So. That's what that is."
"You are more irritable, even… allowing for these circumstances, than what would be within your usual parameters. It is a logical conclusion."
John closed his eyes and cleared his throat. "I suppose I am." He opened them again to see Sherlock, scowling faintly, holding out the box. "Thank you."
Sherlock only nodded and walked back into the kitchen to see to making tea. John watched him go, almost more surprised that Sherlock was willingly making tea than at his strangely calm demeanour. He pulled the box open and peeled a patch out, sticking it onto the long, pale forearm. A nagging feeling he had barely noticed began to dissipate slowly, and John felt something uncurl and relax inside him.
John's head whipped up, another memory from the previous night thudding into place with a sickening finality. "Don't."
Sherlock smirked faintly and held out John's mug. The expression was all wrong on John's open, slightly weathered face. "Tea. Now let's think about this."
John accepted the mug and leaned back in Sherlock's chair as Sherlock himself tried to fold himself onto the couch as normal, and found he couldn't. With a huff he stalked over to John's chair and flopped into it, slurping noisily from his mug. Abruptly, he burst out, "I had to stand on tiptoe to reach the tea."
John tried not to, he really did, but he burst out laughing. "I always have to. I try not to let on when you're around."
"It's humiliating. I wonder how you manage, with this shoulder. From now on, tea shall be kept in a place where you can reach it."
John smiled. "That would be brilliant."
Sherlock nodded decisively, and slurped at his tea again. "So we have swapped bodies, but not minds."
"I can remember everything," John offered.
"As can I. The circumstances. We had a fight."
John looked away, the anger in the pit of his stomach beginning to prickle, but Sherlock waved a hand airily, dismissing it. "I am not interested in the particulars of our fight, more the motives."
"I can give you motives," John began a little heatedly, but Sherlock cut him off.
"And you did. But I am considering the circumstances precipitating this… conversion."
"Do you stay awake and read dictionaries or something?" John groused. Sherlock tried to raise an eyebrow, and couldn't. John snickered.
"Well. Before I fell asleep, I remember…" Sherlock suddenly looked very small indeed. "I remember wishing someone knew what it was like to be me." The admission looked like it had cost him something. John blinked.
"I remember thinking something along those lines," he offered cautiously. "But wishing doesn't ever make things happen. Or I'd never have to go to work again… Work!" he leapt up, spun on his heel towards the door, and then turned back helplessly to Sherlock. "I can't go like this!"
"You will have to be sick until we figure out what caused this," Sherlock said matter-of-factly.
"Right. Right." John blinked. "I'll get my phone."
After the call was made ('Sherlock' called in on behalf of John. Sarah was slightly amazed at how concerned 'Sherlock' seemed to be), John found that he really couldn't wait any more. Excusing himself, he went back into the bathroom, looked at the tall pale reflection, sighed, and walked over to the toilet. After some adjusting, he looked down gingerly.
"Well, Sherlock," he murmured in genuine surprise. "No wonder you're always so damn confident."
When John had showered and gone to change into one of Sherlock's suits, he walked back downstairs to find the man in question standing stripped naked in front of the mirror over the disused fireplace. All crime scene evidence had been cleared from the frame, and he was prodding curiously at the angry mass of scar tissue covering one shoulder.
"What. Are you doing," he asked flatly.
Sherlock threw a look over his shoulder, and grinned. "Investigating," he said, almost cheerily. "Did the idiot who butchered you actually have a degree, or are apes allowed scalpels in the Royal Army Medical Corps?"
"It was a difficult extraction," John said stiffly. "There wasn't much time."
Sherlock studied John for a beat, and then stated, "you had to dig it out yourself."
John sighed, and nodded. "No other medical on the front line, except the combat techs, and they had their hands full with dying at the time. Usually the doctors and such are only second-line personnel, attached to mobile field hospitals. I still don't know why, but the powers-that-be decided that a doctor was needed on the ground, and I fitted the psych eval. So off I go. Good thing I was the last one shot that day."
Sherlock tilted his head, and raised the arm experimentally. "Scar tissue prevents you from raising it completely," he noted softly. "You've exercised it religiously, however, to keep the muscle and nerve damage as limited as possible. The scar is soft, meaning you treat the thickened skin regularly to stop it pulling at your undamaged skin and limiting your movement further."
John tipped his head back a little in frustration. "Please, put some clothes on. I know what I look like, and now so do you. We're even, anyway. So, go and put some clothes on before you catch cold, and we can go on with figuring this thing out."
"No need," Sherlock was now inspecting a shallow knife wound along the side of the ribs. He looked up questioningly.
"Not now," John said sternly. "You've worked it out?"
"Oh, please, John, even you could work this out," Sherlock's tone was pitying, his expression scornful. John once again experienced the horrible dizzying feeling of looking into a distorted mirror. "Go on."
"You mean…" John pointed a narrow finger at his chest, and then ran a hand through the mop of curls, catching his pinky in a particularly stubborn one. "Um… okay. Well. Something new, then, something in the fight, mayb… oh, the necklace!"
"Pendant," Sherlock corrected him again, flopping into John's chair and steepling his fingers. It didn't have quite the same effect, thought John. "Quite."
"It's… not science. It can't be. This isn't anything like anything ever developed in modern science."
Sherlock shook his head, "No. This is old. Older than science." He dug under the cushion of the chair and pulled out the pendant. John scowled at him. Sherlock rolled denim-blue eyes. "Yes, yes, I went into your room whilst you were admiring me in the shower. Back to the point. This is Welsh, though the period is uncertain."
"Magic," said John flatly. "Are you serious." What his tone meant was you're not serious.
Sherlock shrugged. "Any better explanations? I am all ears. Astound me, Doctor Watson."
John crossed his arms. "All right, leave it out." He sighed, looking down at the expensive leather shoes on his feet, then back at Sherlock, who oddly enough looked slightly chagrined at the idea of magic himself. "Really, magic?"
Sherlock ignored the plaintive question and carried on. "Welsh. No fixed period. But the language, however, is translatable. The pendant gives those who hold it in true passion a chance to change their circumstances…."
"Wha… sorry, you what?" John had to clear his throat before trying again, slightly more coherent. "You said what, now?"
Sherlock shrugged imperceptibly. "Loosely."
The floor of John's stomach had dropped through Sherlock's fancy shoes, and his heart was fluttering in his throat. "So when we wished…"
"Oh god. Wait!" John grabbed the pendant, holding it like a promise. "Can't we just wish ourselves back?"
"With true passion, John?" Sherlock sighed. "Already tried. But do carry on, maybe your trusting little heart will get further than mine."
John held the pendant even tighter, screwed up his face, closed his eyes and wished in every single way he could think of to be himself again. But when he opened his eyes, the fingers clutching around the rusted metal were still long, still pale, still curiously spiderlike. John let go of the breath he'd been holding. "Not me either, it seems," he said trying hard to keep the crushing feeling out of Sherlock's voice. "So we're stuck like this… maybe for good. Maybe forever."
Sherlock was regarding him curiously. "I haven't seen that expression on my face since I was, oooh, six."
John slapped the bloody thing on the mantelpiece and turned back. "Sometimes I wonder if you were ever anything as natural as a child," he retorted. Sherlock didn't reply, but his silence and curiously fixed expression spoke louder than a scream. "Oh hell," John moaned. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, Sherlock."
"I am used to over two patches at a time," said Sherlock, his eyes sliding away from John. "You will have to monitor your moods to-"
There was a knock at the door.
John met Sherlock's eyes, which were also round with horror. "You're sick, remember?" John hissed. "Also, naked!"
"You can't pretend to be me!" Sherlock growled. "Anyone will see right through you!"
"We have no choice! It's this or we get sectioned! Go on, my bedroom, run!" John hauled Sherlock from the chair.
"No time," Sherlock said breathlessly. "I'm in your room for the moment because my illness makes it illogical to go up and down the stairs innumerable times to care for me. And I don't cross my arms, it makes my elbows too pointy."
And with that, he disappeared into his own bedroom, John still working out whose pronoun was whose.
"Sherlock? John? Mrs Hudson, dears, there's visitors for you. Those policemen again. Can I come in?"
John pinched the bridge of his nose and stifled a scream. "Ah… let them in, Mrs Hudson," he said instead, striving for Sherlock's cool tones.
"One day you'll answer the door yourself, and I'll probably keel over from the shock," commented Mrs Hudson mildly as she opened the door with her key. Behind her Lestrade, Donovan, and Anderson damn it all to hell and buggery loomed in the narrow stairway.
"Thank you Mrs Hudson," John said, raising the pointed chin as the woman tutted at him and then went to fuss in the kitchen. "And uh, what can I do for you today, Lestrade? Is there something I missed yesterday?" He was improvising, but at least his hands were steady.
"Where's John," Lestrade demanded immediately. John's brow snapped together.
"He's ill. Why?"
"You bastard," Lestrade shook his head and glared at John, who was taken aback. "You utter bastard. You have no idea why going off half-cocked without a plan and without back-up and even without telling your only friend in the world who - and there's no way you of all people haven't realised– would be utterly lost without you. And there you are, calm as you like."
John had a warm feeling blossoming in his chest. He'd had no idea the inspector regarded him that highly. "As you say," was all he could manage, but his borrowed baritone was a little faltering, and he cleared his throat. Lestrade gave him a hard stare.
"Why didn't you wait, Sherlock? We could have sent a team with you for safety, we could have gone this morning, or something. Next thing I know, Anderson tells me you've started yelling something incomprehensible, trashed half the lab, and dashed off into the night."
Suddenly thankful that he'd fought with Sherlock over this very issue, John was able to say confidently, "when I have analysed a problem, I am not able to stop until I have unravelled the whole thing. It's… well, I can't stop. That's all."
"One day someone will stop you if you keep that up," Lestrade growled, and suddenly John could see the concern for Sherlock in the lawman's eyes, well hidden to be sure, but there. Perhaps 'only friend in the world' was wrong, and, John considered, the DI doth protest too much. The moment passed as Lestrade sighed gustily and flopped into John's customary chair. "What did you find?"
"A warehouse. I, er, I am still processing the available evidence."
Anderson crossed his arms and leaned against the doorframe, his whole body radiating belligerence. "Hear that sir? Freak just confessed to withholding evidence. Again."
"Drugs bust time," said Donovan sweetly, and John felt his skin crawl at the antagonism the pair displayed towards him – towards Sherlock.
"No! That isn't – that's not what I meant!" John said heatedly. "Call off the dogs, Lestrade."
"I'm tempted to let them get on with it, the stunt you just pulled," Lestrade said darkly, but then held up a hand. "But not this time, if only to spare the sick man."
"Oh yes… John," said John, feeling strange about referring to himself, and not.
Donovan rolled her eyes. "Probably can't even remember he has a friend, must be quite the new adventure." John scowled at her.
"I have been caring for him, if you must know," he said as frostily as Sherlock ever could.
"Colour me amazed you can care for anything," she mocked, and John bristled.
"Anyway," Lestrade interrupted, "the purpose of this visit is to get you to provide the data behind that kidnapping case, the one with all the astrological mumbo jumbo."
"The Sign of the Drowned Fish," murmured John, referring to his own name for the case on his blog.
Anderson shifted uncomfortably. "So if you've got a moment, when you're not playing nursemaid," his lip curled, "we need to write up the report."
"And you can't figure out how he - how I did it," John caught himself. Close one.
Lestrade looked significantly at his crime scene forensic investigator, who pursed his lips tightly and grated out, "no."
John grinned triumphantly.
And then noticed that all three visitors were looking at him oddly. "What, is there something in my teeth?" he asked crossly.
"I have never seen you… grin," Donovan said slowly, "and I've known you five years. Five miserable years."
John was getting tired of that. He had no idea how Sherlock put up with all this constant hostility, for nothing other than his phenomenal intelligence – which of course the same people were quite willing to exploit. "Not at you," he retorted.
"Stop it, children," Lestrade said wearily. "I wouldn't have brought them, Sherlock, but they were part of the team sent out looking last night, and we were all in the same vehicle, so…"
John was flabbergasted. "You… were searching for me." And then at the truly suspicious expressions, quickly added, "of course you were. Your shirt isn't ironed, your coat has creases, you have at least a two-day beard, and your eyes are bloodshot…"
"Yeah, thanks for pointing all that out," Lestrade snarled, but all three relaxed somewhat at John's hasty attempt at deduction. Note to self – never not know things, John thought a little desperately. "A thanks would be nice."
He really hoped Sherlock wasn't listening to all this. No doubt he'd get a critique on mannerisms and personality traits, and the word 'sociopath' would be used at least twice. "Uh… of course. I apologise, and I thank you." His eyes flicked to Anderson and Donovan, and he grudgingly added, "and you, too."
All three mouths were hanging open now, and John was starting to feel a little wild. He couldn't do this, couldn't pass for Sherlock. Even he knew that Sherlock never apologised for the sometimes appalling things he did in pursuit of a case. The man had crashed his date, for pity's sake.
"So if that's all…" he trailed off.
Lestrade closed his mouth first, and shook his head. "John's really affecting you, isn't he," he murmured.
You have no idea, thought John hysterically.
Lestrade stood wearily. "Right. Well, I'm going to sleep for at least fourteen hours. Don't throw your life away again until I'm awake, all right? And I want that proof for the star sign case by the time I feel fit to interact with an animal more complicated than my cat." Lestrade pinned him with his gaze, but John could outstare a drill sergeant and just returned it firmly and steadily.
Donovan and Anderson had recovered mostly from the shock of the apology and thanks, and Donovan simply nodded curtly and walked from the room. Anderson sneered at him slightly. "The good doctor must have been some sort of dog trainer in a previous life, he's done wonders."
John didn't dignify such a clumsy insult with an answer.
Lestrade stopped in front of him, and poked him in the breastbone, hard. "Don't do it again," he growled.
John couldn't even begin to know how Sherlock would react to that, so he just maintained his stare as Lestrade sighed and walked out the door. When he heard the front door click shut, his breath left him in an almighty whoosh and he flopped the gangly limbs onto the couch, feeling drained.
"I'd love a cup of tea, Mrs Hudson," he called fervently.
"Not your housekeeper, dear," came the usual answer, though John knew that a cup would be placed at his elbow in at least three minutes. He put his head in his hands and tried not to think of anything, anything at all.
Whilst John played at being him, Sherlock huddled under the covers of his bed, still stark naked, and felt the panic begin.
He'd kept himself together in front of John, because really, the man was on tenterhooks enough as it was, and Sherlock hated having anyone see him display a weakness.
But now, with his body no longer a match to the long indentation in the cheap mattress and a defective arm and shoulder (despite the best of remedial practices) and worse, short - Sherlock could feel something hot and fluttering make a nest in his throat. He hated it.
Question, explore. Take your mind off this. So. John's body, then.
Five foot seven, abysmal. Lined forehead, skin slightly tanned still, extremely pointed nose, only this side of being beaky by virtue of a slight uptilt. Broader shoulders than he was used to – it gave him a slightly bullish feeling where he usually had a racehorse quality.
No. Concentrate. No feelings.
Hair is ridiculous, but easy to maintain. Very flyaway, and finer to the touch than he'd have expected. Large ears, thin lips, strong chin, expressive brow – and only the left eyebrow could raise independent of its fellow (not the right – he'd discovered that in humiliating circumstances earlier). Narrower waist than could be detected under those bulky jumpers.
Sherlock raised up the hand again. There, the telltale muscle memory of a hand that has played piano, the fingers relaxing into a curve almost automatically. Another scar (John seemed to be peppered with them) in the meaty heel of the palm – childhood most likely, possibly the spoke of a bicycle wheel?
Intrigued, Sherlock threw back the covers to look for more, latching onto the (admittedly flimsy) excuse to ignore the impending panic. Scars. So many of them. He'd spotted some of them in the mirror earlier, and of course had noticed the ones on John's arms when he rolled up his sleeves to do the washing up, and there was no missing the silvery crisscrossed mess that stretched between the left shoulder and collarbone. But there was also a thin white gash on his upper thigh (which was sparsely covered in fine blond hair) and a truly ugly ridge on his breastbone, as well as the vicious slice along the ribcage, amongst others… and most were within two years old. He would hazard a guess (though he hated guessing) that most were, in fact, from the very same incident.
John had been captured. Most likely hypothesis. He'd been captured by insurgents in Afghanistan after he was shot (thelast one shot, he'd said) and tortured for information or ransom, though the last was less likely, as John was not from a wealthy family. He'd finally escaped, or had been rescued.
Sherlock suspected the former. John Watson was not a man made for passive inaction.
A snippet of the conversation from within the room drifted to him, and Sherlock stood and crept to the door, placing one ear against it. He immediately wished he hadn't, as Lestrade had obviously taken 'Sherlock' to task over the events of last night, and John was floundering, saying the wrong things, and trying his best… to…
Wait… stop. Sherlock pressed John's ear closer, his breath catching. There was real concern in Lestrade's voice.
He half-heard John make the excuse he'd made only last night ("I can't stop") and he realised how weak it sounded. Then Lestrade revealed they had been searching for him all night, and his breath stopped completely, trapped in his chest. He'd not ever thought to consider that perhaps…
Maybe it wasn't just one, after all…
And then his blood froze as he heard the reaction to John grinning - no doubt in vicious triumph at Sherlock's ability to stump the obnoxious Anderson – and then…
Sherlock never apologised. People manufactured their own hurts and wants and if they chose to feel distressed by another's actions, then that was their own, highly illogical lookout. Sherlock had the insane urge to stamp into the room and demand that John do it right, for pity's sake. He began to formulate a curriculum for acting lessons.
Finally he heard the door shut behind the Yard's Finest, and his breath decided to return from wherever it had been trapped, and on its heels, the long-suppressed panic.
Sherlock pushed himself from the door, and grabbed one of his shirts and a pair of pants – nothing to fit his current circumstances, but he had to get out of the room, had to be with others to distract him from the churning of his mind.
After all, he had to learn to be a doctor, not a sociopath.
Mrs Hudson looked over at where Sherlock was slumped over in his chair. The poor dear, he looked worn out and that policeman turning up was never good news. His head was cradled in his hands, and he was quite still. She put the cup of tea on the chair's armrest, and put her hand on the poor lad's thin shoulder.
"Cheer up, Sherlock," she said kindly. "It might never happen."
A muffled choking sound came from within Sherlock's hands, and then he mumbled, "thank you, Mrs Hudson."
"Do you need anything else then?" she asked sympathetically. She really didn't mind being a help when Sherlock was quite so obviously down in the dumps. As long as he didn't start treating her like some sort of (and the word was tinged with disdain) housekeeper. She'd done quite enough of that in her lifetime.
Sherlock took a deep breath and looked up at her, a faint smile tugging sadly at the corners of his mouth. "No, I'm fine," he said, and patted the hand on his shoulder gently. "Thanks for the tea."
Mrs Hudson's worry deepened. She'd never seen an expression like that on Sherlock's face – it was always determined satisfaction at a case in the works or petulant boredom. He only smiled – if you could call it a smile – in the presence of Doctor Watson.
Who was stumbling out of the lower bedroom wearing a shirt and trousers far too big for him. Her eyebrows shot up.
"John, dear, did you want tea? Kettle's just boiled," was what she said, but her mind was shrieking Knew it! Oh wait til I tell that smug Eugenie Turner!
John was very pale. "No, no tea." He made it to the sofa and threw himself down. Then he grabbed a cushion, batted at it viciously and curled up around it in a petulant sulk. "This is intolerable," he announced to no-one in particular.
Sherlock grunted assent, and took a sip of his tea, grimacing. "You take far too much sugar in your tea," he muttered sourly.
"Now you do too," said John snidely, and rolled over so he was facing the wall. Mrs Hudson mentally tutted. Obviously bad habits were transferable.
"I'll leave you boys to sort yourselves out, then, shall I?" she said, wiping down the front of her dress. "John, I'm sorry to hear you're not well. I've left a lemon cake in the fridge, and Sherlock, I want that thing out of my building, you hear me? Give it a decent burial."
Sherlock looked vaguely confused, and then his expression cleared and he looked darkly at John. "Certainly," he said with satisfaction.
John's head jerked upwards, and he looked like he was about to protest, but thought better of it. Sighing, he tucked himself up even smaller.
"Get some rest, I'll leave you to it," Mrs Hudson ordered, and she shut the door behind her with a careful click.
Oh, she'd have a lot to tell that unbearable Mrs Turner, that was for sure!
A week had passed.
Sherlock had briefed John in every aspect of the star sign kidnappings, so John was able to go to the Yard and fumble through the report. The fact that Sherlock had even provided him with crib notes, however, was slightly alarming, as was the fact that they began, "STOP ACTING LIKE YOURSELF."
Molly, when he ran into her, was the only remotely friendly face beside Lestrade. Her attention was fawning and a touch star-struck, and John found it a trifle irritating, as she couldn't really speak to him. Everyone else he encountered treated him with a touch of awe, a smattering of envy and absolute hostility. The pressure of pretending to be relentlessly brilliant was exhausting and isolating. John didn't find it hard to emulate Sherlock's cold demeanour any more.
It was actually very lonely.
On the upside, however, he barely needed to shave. Sherlock's beard was near non-existent.
Sherlock had gone to the surgery after three days, just for something to do. He couldn't believe how many screaming children, hypochondriac idiots, and need-a-Doctors-Certificate-to-explain-a-sneaky-'sickday' patients he saw. Those were easy, although he made a few cry. It was when someone who was genuinely sick walked through the door that he became lost. He knew something of medicine, but diagnosis or how to prescribe the correct medication eluded him, and so he amused himself by researching symptoms and asking John when he got home.
He was surprised at how many people considered John a friend. His co-workers were positively genial towards him, joking and laughing over the coffee in the cramped little kitchen. Sherlock made a ham-fisted effort to copy John's quiet but cheerful manner, however, no-one noticed anything out of the ordinary which gave him some relief. It was ridiculous how many people relied on John. Sherlock was beginning to understand that.
The worst, and the best, was Harry.
John had begged Sherlock to go with him to the hospital. Sherlock, with something like guilt, agreed. And so the pair found themselves in a ward for the terminally ill, and Sherlock looked into a drawn face that looked painfully like the one he wore.
"Johnny," Harry Watson smiled weakly, "you look how I feel. Sit down."
Sherlock glanced at John, who gestured at the hospital chair. Sherlock sat gingerly and awkwardly clasped Harry's outstretched hand. "Hello, Harry," he said quietly.
"Oh, none of your funeral faces," Harry squeezed his hand, and Sherlock heard John give a choked laugh. "Watsons are too good at funeral faces, if you ask me, hangdog all the time. Wish I'd looked like Mum instead of Dad. She had laughing eyes. Bet I wouldn't have ended up here if I'd got them."
"You have laughing eyes," Sherlock told her. He felt a long-fingered hand rest on his shoulder and tighten painfully. "They're laughing now."
"That or cry, little brother, and I've done enough of that," she sighed, shaking their clasped hands a little. "So, this the mysterious flatmate?"
"Er," John said, "yes. Sherlock Holmes."
"I know," she grinned up at him. "You're all he talks about. Wish Mum and Dad were still here – I'd give them hell about never getting a grandchild."
"Harry!" John scolded, and then realised he was wearing the wrong face for that. Sherlock dived in to cover the situation.
"I've been telling him all about you, too," he tried to smile, "I think he's picked up a few things."
"Naughty, Johnny, talking about me behind my back," Harry chuckled. "I should hope he's picked up a few things!"
Sherlock rolled his eyes.
"Sit, Sherlock, no need to stand on ceremony," Harry told him, and then pressed the button that tilted her bed upwards slightly. "I'd offer you something, but that's sort of what got me into this mess."
Sherlock could see John's resolve quavering, his façade starting to crumble. "Don't, Harry," he said softly.
"Well, you warned me, John," she said sadly. "You warned me time and again. And now my eyeballs are yellow and my liver's turned to stone and I can't remember anything that happened only last week, and I'm last on the transplant list because I'm an addict with a high risk of relapsing. Oh, and I look at least five months pregnant," she added sourly, her free hand smacking her puffy abdomen.
Sherlock could feel the hand on his shoulder starting to shake. "Look on the bright side, he said helplessly. "Free room and food."
Harry looked at him blankly, then burst into peals of laughter. "Oh, I needed that," she giggled as her laughter died down. Sherlock tried another smile. John's face was certainly more practised at them. And the hand on his shoulder had stopped shaking. "Aren't you ever going to sit, Sherlock?" she asked then. "You like 'em tall, dark, handsome and above all, quiet, do you Johnny?"
"Oh stop it," Sherlock muttered, aware that she had just called him handsome.
"I'm not always that quiet," John himself muttered, grabbing the other chair and sitting beside Sherlock. Harry smirked.
"So when are you 'not always that quiet,' Sherlock? I want details. Where, when, how many times, and with a presentation, if available," Harry leaned forward, grinning.
Sherlock almost laughed himself at the expression on John's borrowed face – dying to tick Harry off for the insinuation but holding his tongue. "Ah, I believe it goes; crime scenes, any time as criminals aren't exactly fussy, I've lost count how many times he's shouted at the police, and as you don't have a murdered corpse surrounded by idiots who call themselves detectives lying around handy, we'll have to skip the presentation," he said dryly.
John was grinning at Sherlock now, relief at the intervention apparent. "I also play the violin at 3am," he added. "That gets noisy."
"You two are no fun," Harry complained, but there was a twinkle in her eye. "Tell me about the last case, then. I could use some Murder-She-Wrote escapism."
Sherlock scowled at her for trivialising his work, but a sudden stillness from John made his mind jump tracks. The last case… no, not a good one to talk about. At all. Ever.
"Dull," he waved his free hand airily. "The last case wasn't anything out of the ordinary. Let me tell you, instead, about how we met."
"Oooh," Harry propped her head up onto her hand. "This is going to be good, isn't it?"
Once they'd told the (heavily edited) story of a Study in Pink, bickering the whole tale, Harry was giggling again. "I can imagine you leaping about the rooftops of London," she said to Sherlock.
"It's the coat, isn't it," deadpanned John. "Everyone mistakes me for Batman."
Harry laughed harder, and then flopped back onto the bed, her eyes closing. "Oh, I'm tired just hearing about it. All that running."
"We should let you rest," Sherlock said, but Harry growled.
"You're going nowhere."
Sherlock's estimation of the woman shifted yet again. That was a very… Watsonesque trait, it seemed, the ability to change things through sheer stubbornness. "We're going nowhere," he nodded.
"He fixed your limp, Johnny," she half-smiled, her eyes still closed. "I'm glad."
"His therapist is an idiot," John offered, and shared a small smile with Sherlock.
"She is," Sherlock agreed.
"Are you happy?" Harry asked abruptly, opening her yellowed eyes and staring into his. "Johnny, are you happy?"
Sherlock opened his mouth, and closed it, nonplussed. The silence stretched, echoingly loud, and he tried to think of anything to say, to reassure Harry and John simultaneously. Though his mind threw up possibilities by the dozen, he couldn't seem to find one that worked. People were always so hard. And then, John spoke.
"I think he's happy," he began quietly, and both pairs of eyes swung to him. "He doesn't limp anymore, so he doesn't think he's damaged anymore. He's got a job and friends and a purpose and someone to share it with him. He's not happy unless he has a cause, you know that, Harry. And he's… he's needed. He's the biggest thing in my life, and I'm the biggest in his. So yes, I think he's happy. Mostly. When he isn't livid with me."
Harry nodded slowly, eyes on Sherlock.
Sherlock swallowed hard, and trained his eyes away from John.
"Good. That's good." Harry smiled at John. "Thanks, Sherlock."
John only nodded.
"Um, do you mind if I have a private moment with my brother?" Harry asked then, and John's eyes widened.
"Ah… well, ah, no? I'll just – just wait for you outside the door, shall I, John?" John stammered, and reluctantly dragged himself from the chair. He looked pleadingly at Sherlock as he left, who tried to reassure John with his eyes. When John slipped around the corner, Sherlock turned back to Harry, who was surprisingly sombre. From what Sherlock gathered, this woman was never sombre if she could help it.
"John," she said seriously, "did you know that man is in love with you?"
Sherlock felt like he'd been slapped. "What?"
"It's in the way he talks, the way he looks at you – hell, you even fight like an old married couple. You can't possibly have missed it."
Apparently he possibly could. "I… don't think so, Harry. Sherlock… prefers other company." He couldn't begin to explain it – Sarah and Abigail, then Mary, Suz and Rebecca – John was never without female companionship. This 'hangdog' face, as Harry put it, plus a war hero's record (and a penchant for solving crimes in his spare time) made him an attractive prospect to many women, Sherlock knew. And John came without any misanthropy or bizarre habits, unlike Sherlock.
"Then they're substitutes," Harry said bluntly. "He's in love with you. Probably doesn't even realise it."
"You're wrong," Sherlock shook his head, a bit too violently. "Part of your teasing, as earlier. You like teasing me about my sexuality."
"Only because you're one of those bloody bisexuals who can't pick a team and stick with it," Harry nudged him with her elbow. Sherlock blinked. That wasn't something he'd known about John.
"Yes, well," was all he said.
"And you're completely besotted with him, Johnny," she continued. "He's all you ever talk about, Sherlock this, Sherlock that…"
"Well, we do live together," Sherlock said dumbly, his mind somehow on pause. "We work together, too."
"Just," and Harry leaned over and grasped both of Sherlock's hands hard. "Just promise me you won't let something wonderful slip between your fingers," she said in a low, urgent voice. "Promise me."
Sherlock looked into her eyes, and saw the flames of a failed marriage, the shape of a woman Harry had loved and lost. "I promise," he said quietly.
"Good," she said, slumping back into the pillows. "Then go get him, tiger."
When John pressed him about what Harry had said in private, Sherlock made something up about Clara. And wondered what it was he'd promised, or whether John had actually promised and didn't even know.