The Tangled Web
Disclaimer: The author does not own any part of the BBC's Sherlock and is making no profit from this work of fanfiction.
-Non-slash and could be viewed as strong friendship or preslash, if you're so inclined-
For the third time in a quarter-hour, Sherlock crossed to the window, glanced briefly out, and then returned to the living room.
John, who was trying to catch a nap on the sofa, sighed heavily. "Everything alright?" he asked, rather pointedly.
"Yes yes, fine of course," said Sherlock. "Wrapping up a case does leave one at odds, as I have often noticed. Really quite dull."
They had just recovered a famous jewel stolen from the British Museum, and while John was content to rest on their laurels for a while, it was clear that his flat-mate was not. Another twenty minutes and he'd be taking his destructive urges out on the toaster again.
Sherlock merely snorted. "Really, John." He glanced out the window again, returned to the living room, and mused aloud; "It must be very pleasant, to be so easily diverted. A cup of tea and a comfortable place to sit, and you're perfectly satisfied. Extraordinary."
"It's really not," said John patiently. "That's how it is for most people, you know."
"No, I wouldn't know." Sherlock returned to the window.
"What's going on out there?" John demanded finally.
"Ah." Sherlock came back into the living room, rifled through the papers on his desk, and dropped into a wicker chair. John gave up on his nap and turned to the half-finished game of cards he'd set up that morning.
"Red Jack on the Black Queen," Sherlock sniffed, from over his shoulder. "Honestly, John, even monkeys can match shapes and colors." John shot him a sharp look (but made the play).
Seconds later Sherlock was up and pacing again, drawn inexorably back to the window.
John huffed audibly.
"Is something on your mind, John? You seem agitated." Sherlock tipped his head his head inquiringly to the side. He picked up his battered violin and plucked out a few broken notes.
"That's it," said John. "You're driving me mad. I'm going out to grab a pint … whatever you're plotting out there, please have it done with before I get back, alright?" He snatched up his coat and headed for the door.
The doctor turned back, to find Sherlock's grey eyes riveted on his face. "Yeah?"
For a second Sherlock's expression twisted into what looked like – agony? – and then reverted just as quickly to his usually impassivity. "No, nothing," he said. "Sorry."
John shrugged at this latest example of insanity from his flat-mate – honestly, he'd never understand the man. He patted his inner pocket for his wallet, checked that he had his cell, and ducked out into the hallway. "Back soon."
The London streets were packed, and John grumbled under his breath as he ducked and weaved around the throng, trying to keep out of the puddles. He glanced up to see Sherlock's dark shape, watching from the window. He waved.
Two blocks later the crowd had thinned and it was easy to cross the street, heading for his favorite pub. As he came around the corner someone bumped into his bad shoulder – hard – and he gasped and stumbled forward. "Sorry, so sorry," said a voice, too close to him, and hands were gripping him, steadying him on his feet. He barely felt the sting of something cold as it pierced the skin under his ear. He managed a weak cry but his vision was already narrowing - down to a pinprick, then flickering out, and he was gone.
John flashed awake and immediately tried to sit up, but when the blood rushed to his head it seemed to explode on impact. He groaned, gripping his skull and instinctively clawing at the skin, falling back.
"Easy, John. None of that." His hands were taken in a cool, firm grasp and tugged away from his head. "Open your eyes."
He did so, peering blearily around the room. He was in his own living room, lying on the rug (which was disgusting in his own right, as the rug was filthy - God knows what had happened on it over the years).
"What the hell," he gritted out, unable to carry the sentence any further.
It was Sherlock kneeling in front of him – of course it was. In the dim room, his face was shadowed, his expression impossible to read. "John?"
John tried to swallow, his whole system pitching and heaving. "I'm alright," he managed to say. His voice came out rough and faint, as though he'd been screaming.
"Yes, you're fine. A slight reaction to the drugs, I understand. You'll be fine."
"They tried to grab me," John remembered, trying to scramble again to his feet. "Injected me with something …"
"Yes yes," said Sherlock, sounding impatient as he pushed him back down. "A few steps behind as usual, John. You are fortunate that my brother happened to be watching on one of his interminable cameras; they didn't get anywhere with you. They've all been apprehended. Mycroft's men carried you up here; I was assured you'd be fine when you woke up."
John nodded slowly. Sherlock leaned forward and set one pale, cool finger on the pulse point of his neck, apparently judging his heart-rate. After a moment of thoughtful reflection, he withdrew.
He was strangely silent, which was unlike him. Usually excitement gave him energy, made him jittery and giddy. But now there was nothing.
John managed to ask, through his gritted teeth; "You alright?"
"Of course" Sherlock replied a little too quickly.
John tried to push himself up more carefully, but any movement seemed to make it worse; he clenched his eyes tight and took some shallow breaths.
"What is it, what is the matter? Symptoms, John!"
"Stomach," grunted John.
He felt hands pulling impatiently on his clothing, evading John's attempts to keep them off. Finally Sherlock succeeded in pushing aside his shirts, clearly checking for some wound: there was none. "Really, John" said Sherlock, his voice tight and angry, "No need to be over-dramatic."
John blinked. Of all the things he had ever been called, that was a new one.
"Ridiculous," Sherlock muttered, with one of John's wrist still gripped tightly in his spindly hand. John tried to tug it away, and Sherlock scowled and held on tighter. "Sit still," he snapped irritably. "Don't be an idiot, at least not more than you can help."
"Shove off," said John, wheezing. The pounding in his head had increased. He closed his eyes, as the ceiling was spinning alarmingly, and tried to collect his thoughts. "Who would have -" he started to say, but was cut off by a wave of nausea that left him panting. "What did they – want with me? Sherlock?"
John tried to see his face, but the detective kept it turned away. "Sherlock?"
"It's obvious, isn't it? They must have thought you had the ring, or knew where it was."
The ring? It had been used to smuggle the jewel, and Sherlock had tracked it to the private collection of a Russian heiress, where it was recovered. "But we – gave it to Lestrade. Why would they think … ?" Before he could finish the thought, the nausea he had been fighting came on in a rush. He managed to roll onto his side and threw up, coughing and choking, as Sherlock hissed and hurried to haul him back from the puddle of sick.
"It's just a minor reaction, John," Sherlock said, "you're alright, you're fine." His voice was pinched, painful sounding.
John was humiliated to be making such a mess in front of Sherlock, a man of unusual composure and panache in any situation. He turned his face miserably away from the hands that sought to examine him, but Sherlock was persistent. "Alright, now? John?"
His abdominal muscles were as hard as a rock, uselessly clenching to expel whatever he had been exposed to, but there was nothing left to come up. He tried to curl into a ball, but Sherlock was pushing his knees down, hoisting his upper body up.
"Steady, now," Sherlock was saying, "Steady, John."
There were hands on his shoulders, pulling him up to his feet; Sherlock was half-carrying him to the sofa with rather insulting ease. John clung to him automatically, trying to keep his feet under him. It was instinctive to panic when he couldn't breathe, but Sherlock was talking and John strained to listen. "Enough, John!" said Sherlock, "Here, sit here, lean forward, just take slow breaths."
Sherlock let him down onto the cushions, and John dropped his head between his knees, still coughing and spitting something vile onto the rug.
"Relax," Sherlock ordered, as if that would fix everything.
They waited together as the spell passed.
"Think it's alright now," John croaked. There was a cold cup of tea on the side table and he used it to wash out his mouth.
"I don't understand - none of the other victims reported anything like this," said Sherlock fretfully.
"Everybody reacts differently to toxins, I've told you before."
"Shall I go and fetch Mrs. Hudson?"
"Mrs. Hudson?" John rubbed his forehead. "Sherlock, it's the middle of the night, why on earth … never mind that, just get me up the stairs to bed, I'll be alright to sleep it off."
"Yes, sleep, of course" – Sherlock sounded like that might not have occurred to him – "it's only that you're looking a little grey."
"You'd be grey too if you just turned out your stomach," John grumped.
"You're sure you shouldn't ought to see a doctor?"
"I am a doctor."
"Ye-es, well, I'm not sure about the applicability of that here," Sherlock said doubtfully, "but fine, bed, yes. Erm, is it very hard to start an IV line, would you say?"
"For God's sake, don't be putting any holes in me," said John, alarmed.
"Alright, just a thought, no need to overreact ..." Sherlock looped one of his thin, wiry arms under both of John's and pulled him to his feet, pausing when he saw how John's shaking muscles worked to support him.
Moving like a pair of old men, they made it up the stairs, where Sherlock lowered him carefully onto the end of his bed. John immediately flopped back, moaning softly at the pain in his head.
He felt hands tugging off his shoes, and then – less acceptably – his pants.
"Your clothes are dirty, John," said Sherlock calmly, "they need washing. Lift up."
John realized he must have sicked up on himself, and groaned.
"Not to worry, not to worry," Sherlock muttered, bustling about. "Covers?"
When John couldn't work himself up to answer, Sherlock apparently took it upon himself; John felt something warm and soft pulled all the way up over his shoulders. He grumbled, just barely audible, "Leave off,"
He felt Sherlock's steady, competent hands drifting over his forehead, checking for fever, he supposed.
He couldn't imagine why Sherlock was making such a fuss – really, he seemed more the sort to leave John in a pile of his own vomit, if it came down to it. But his flat-mate seemed genuinely concerned. "S'alright," he muttered, his eyelids heavy, dragging him down into cobwebs. "Doan worry." He wanted to make Sherlock understand; he was fine, this was nothing to worry about, he'd had worse, God knew.
But before he could try to explain anything, he was asleep.
At several points in the night he thought he awoke to be confronted with Sherlock, eyes glittering in the lamplight, staring at him from over steepled fingers.
But he must have been dreaming, because in the morning he woke up alone.
He stumbled out of the shower feeling sore and stiff, as though he'd slept on the tracks of the Underground and been run over several times. But everything seemed to be working normally, and his headache was only a dull roar; it was a definite improvement.
He came downstairs planning to ask Sherlock if he'd sat next to the bed all night, but that train of thought petered out when he witnessed Sherlock leaning over to check something in the oven. "Baked something, did you?" he asked cautiously. Was it just fingers again, or something really disgusting? Oh God, he hoped it wasn't another set of lower intestines – he didn't think he could stomach it, this early in the morning.
"What are you doing," said Sherlock, sounding positively irritated. "Why are you downstairs, at least sit down, you fool!"
"I've got to go to work," John explained, dodging the proffered chair.
"I already called them, my good man, explained everything," Sherlock said, frowning, taking John's arm to lead him not-too-subtly back in the direction of the sofa. "Not to worry, not to worry."
"Sherlock, I can't take a sick day for something as minor as this," said John, smiling. "You know they are limited." Except that Sherlock possibly didn't know, having presumably never worked a regular nine-to-five.
"Don't be ridiculous," said Sherlock plainly. "You can't be running after sick people when you're worn down like this. You need to rest. No, sit back down, John, I'll fetch your tea if you want it. Or would you like a coffee? Or your laptop? I have it here."
"Sherlock," said John, equal parts amused and puzzled, "you do realize, there's nothing seriously wrong with me. This is the equivalent of a hangover."
"Dehydration," murmured Sherlock, nodding. "From the vomiting, of course. Alright. Well, forget the tea, perhaps some juice? I think we have some …"
John knew full well they didn't, but he was still touched by the offer. "Really, old chap, don't put yourself out," he said, "I'm feeling much better, honestly. But I've got to go, I'm running late."
"You haven't eaten," Sherlock objected.
The hypocrisy here was unbelievable. "Sherlock, you go days without eating. I'll pick something up on the way, and we'll have a proper dinner tonight. I'll bring you home a curry, if you like."
"No, thank you," said Sherlock, sounding strangely forlorn as he watched John collect his bag and his jacket. "Have a good day, John."
John smiled. "You too." It was only as he crossed the street to the clinic that he thought to wonder who had replaced the spoiled rug, and when.
He came home ten hours later, completely done in. Another news story about the risk of bird flu had sent hundreds of people to the nearest walk-in, with everything from a cold to food poisoning - at this point John was wondering if he might not have it himself, given the wide range of symptoms with which it apparently presented.
He almost made it to the landing before his knapsack slipped off his shoulder, weighed down by a reference book he was bringing home for Sherlock (Compendium Pharmacologicae; he shuddered to think why he wanted it), and the zipper pulled apart. Everything spilled out in a waterfall, bouncing down merrily down the steps. Blast.
He was back to the twelfth step, just collecting the coins scattered across the carpet, when Sherlock's voice rang out, clearly audible through the crack under the door; "I owe you 150," he said, "and I'm paying you that. They'll be no more."
The voice that answered was sullen and low, the words impossible to make out, but John tensed involuntarily; if someone was threatening Sherlock, they'd have him to answer to as well.
Then the door was flung open, and John heard someone's heavy footfalls coming from above him. He kept crouched, one hand on his pile of coins.
"Ought to have figured you'd no good for it," the same coarse voice grumbled, "But mabbe you'd think higher o' the value, considering the goodly result you got."
"Be quiet, you fool," said Sherlock, "don't talk in the hallway."
The man shuffled closer, muttering aggrievedly; "Weren't easy, finding the right people to put it out to that he had the ring."
John sat down hard on the stairs, all the air forced out of him. Of course, he thought, closing his eyes. He should have put it all together sooner; Sherlock would have done.
"Be on your way," Sherlock was saying, "and next time I'll be sure to do business with someone more discreet."
A crude-looking, rather odiferous man - no doubt one of Sherlock's homeless irregulars - came around the stairwell, smirking when he saw John on the stairs. "Wouldn't trust a man like that, for anything, a man as would set them crooks on his own friend," he said. "Hallo, gov'ner." He nodded, mock-courteously, as he went down.
John waved weakly back.
It was Sherlock's voice, sounding the same as it ever did; imperious, demanding.
John stood and limped his way up the last five steps. "Evening," he said. He came through the door that Sherlock held open for him, and dropped the suddenly-too-heavy knapsack on the floor. "I brought you a book," he added, inconsequentially.
"You overheard that," said Sherlock, directly.
"I think I'll have a lay-down," said John, not meeting his eyes as he made to step around him.
There was a pause.
"I suppose I ought to apologize," Sherlock said, stiffly.
John cleared his throat. "I wouldn't expect that of you," he said.
"We captured the actual thief," Sherlock explained. "But I realized there must be members of the gang still on the loose – the way the window was broken from the inside – "
"Yes, I see. How clever of you."
"I had to lure them in," Sherlock continued. "Putting it out that the police hadn't recovered the jewel itself yet, that we might still have it …"
"I think I understand the plan," said John, politely.
"I would have made myself the target," said Sherlock intently, "of course I would. But they would have already seen me at the police station."
"And I was at the surgery that day," said John, the pieces coming together now. "So it had to be me."
"And the reason, no doubt excellent, why you couldn't have at least mentioned it to me?"
Sherlock had the good grace to look ashamed, but he lifted his chin and persisted. "You are – a very expressive person, John. You would have no doubt altered your behavior if you had known these people were looking for you. They would have been suspicious."
"Well," said John, quite calmly. "I'm certainly glad that you had such an excellent chump at your disposal."
Sherlock's mouth twisted in a spasm of pain. "I didn't think the toxin would make you sick," he said, his voice low. "None of the guards at the museum were similarly affected. And there was never any danger of them actually getting away with you, I was watching and so was Mycroft, the whole time."
John considered for a moment that it was probably significant, that Sherlock had been concerned enough to draw upon his hated brother's assistance.
"I – I almost started to warn you, before you left," Sherlock continued. "It was unaccountable, of course, but for a moment – "
"But you didn't," said John.
"Well, thank you for explaining," John said. He stood quietly, his fingers flexing at his sides, looking at the new, identical rug. "I think I'm just going to have a lie-down now. I'm not feeling very well."
"It's alright, Sherlock," said John, gently, "I know … I know how the case is everything to you."
"These were dangerous men, John," said Sherlock anxiously. "It was necessary."
"Yes, very necessary. I'm going to go up and lie down."
"Wait, John!" Sherlock's hand shot out to grip John's sleeve before he could turn around to leave. "You can be angry, I – I expect you to be angry." His eyes were a little wild. "You can yell, if you like."
John felt that he was trembling all over, with the force of his restraint. He let out a deep, slow breath. "I'm not angry," he said finally.
"You're – not?"
"No. I shouldn't – I shouldn't have expected anything else. You've tried to tell me before, about how you are, and maybe I wasn't listening." His voice was soft. "It's like – like getting bitten by a spider."
Sherlock's breath went out in a rush.
"You can't blame the spider for doing it; there's nothing – nothing personal in it. You just shouldn't – try to keep one as a pet." Shouldn't believe it cares about you, he wanted to say, but didn't.
John finally looked at Sherlock, whose eyes were fixed upon his face, like he was reading a puzzle.
"Spiders don't know any better," said John. "Now, if you'll excuse me. I've – got to have a lie-down." He turned, and staggered, his psychosomatic knee giving out. Sherlock darted forward and grabbed his shoulder.
"Don't touch me!" said John. Sherlock dropped his hand as though he'd been burned.
"I'm sorry," said John, looking down. "Excuse me. I'm overtired."
Carefully, he turned away and limped slowly up the stairs to his room.