Up the Waterspout
A/N: I am a fussy editor, and although I was satisfied with the story last time I posted it, I kept thinking of additional things I wanted to say.
Finally it came down to adding a short third chapter or just completely rewriting chapter two, which is what I eventually decided to do.
Apologies to those readers whose comments were lost (I still enjoyed them!).
Sherlock knew that the principle of 'apology' was for the guilty party to humble themselves in some way before the one who had been wronged. Although he was unclear on the details, this was clearly intended to restore the social order somehow.
It was possible, he knew, that an equal exchange of material goods could serve this purpose, as in the case of husbands having forgotten significant dates in their marriage. They estimated the monetary value of their wives' anguish and purchased an item ranging in cost from a dozen roses to an expensive piece of jewelry, which was then presented to the wife as recompense for their suffering.
However, he doubted John would understand the significance of an envelope of cash slid under his bedroom door, even if could have borrowed the money from Mycroft. Ditto some kind of wire transfer into his account. Also, the exact financial reckoning of human suffering somewhat escaped him, and he felt it would be injurious to his case to get it wrong.
A guilty party, failing to secure forgiveness with the material offerings, might also attempt to demonstrate their remorse, as was commonly seen in politicians who were caught with underage prostitutes.
Therefore, Sherlock attempted several non-material gestures, such as tidying the flat (John didn't seem to notice), manually producing dinner (which John refused to touch), and finally, being conspicuously nice to Anderson (John merely appeared puzzled).
These rejections of his attempts to apologize, Sherlock knew, were signs that he was explicitly not forgiven, and would continue in this state until John accepted some token of his remorse.
It was decidedly uncomfortable.
After all, he had already said that he was sorry once (well, to be strictly accurate he had said, I suppose I ought to apologize, but surely John was not going to argue semantics?). And the entire thing had been for a good cause, the kind of cause that John could get behind: John was a humble man - entirely self-effacing, in fact - not one to consider a small risk to his personal safety to be of any great significance.
And yet, he was suddenly busy every night with apparently limitless mates all over London. Colleagues at work, fellow former soldiers, women (!) – John had never been so popular. Every night he came home late and tipsy and "knackered," which gave him the opportunity to stagger directly up to bed without any conversation with Sherlock. He had no questions about ongoing cases and made no offers to help with them. And this had been going on for weeks.
Never mind that John was still damnably considerate of Sherlock's sleep and Sherlock's space and Sherlock's need for peace and quiet to think. Yes, he saved leftovers in the fridge in case Sherlock wanted to eat them. But these actions were no substitute for their former rather excellent understanding.
It was making Sherlock increasingly fractious.
The most extreme form of apology he had encountered in his internet research involved the actual physical restitution of the offended party. Lex talionis, that is, punishment equal to the offense. Colloquially referred to as an eye for an eye, this method was, Sherlock felt, the last one which was available to him.
Granted, it seemed a little dramatic, but when he thought about John's purple face as he'd vomited up whatever he'd eaten onto Mrs. Hudson's rug, Sherlock conceded that a little abasement might be in order.
Now, he turned to his improvised laboratory bench (the kitchen table, of course), where a buret was slowly titrating into a glass beaker. Thoughtfully he examined the clear, colorless liquid he had produced. He did not know, precisely, to what chemical John had been exposed – it had broken down in the bloodstream before the police could identify it, in the previous victims – but he had a reasonable guess as to its composition, based on the effects.
He tilted the solution in the beaker, sloshing the contents until he was satisfied that there were no dissolved solids remaining. It would still require time to hydrolyze fully. He set it aside, checking his watch.
It was very important to get the timing right. John would probably be home within the next fifteen minutes and would likely head straight to the shower.
He rolled up his shirt sleeve in preparation.
He heard John come in, heard him call out Hullo and I've got to be off, directly, then heard his footfall on the stairs to his room. Sherlock said nothing. He counted down a minute in his head.
He had the syringe ready, one that had not served its other purpose for some time, although it was still kept safe in its morocco case on the bookshelf, just in case. When his mental alarm signaled the passage of precisely five additional minutes, he checked that his final product was fully saturated.
He filled the hypodermic carefully, tapping out the air bubbles, and squirted the excess liquid from the tip. A tiny, perfectly spherical drop of blood welled up at the point where the needle sunk in. He depressed the plunger and watched with detached interest as his vein swelled up in protest. A trivial bite, then the tingling spreading outwards from the wound.
He heard the shower shut off, upstairs.
He was immediately aware of an increase in his heart rate and respiration, which might also be merely the effect of adrenaline. He had adjusted the formula so that the compound would not be so fast-acting; he did not want to be unconscious as quickly and profoundly as John had been, as that would defeat the purpose of the endeavor.
Carefully he kicked the box and the needle under the sofa, where John would hopefully fail to locate it.
His vision was starting to blur. Just at the edges. The wallpaper appeared to be sliding sedately down the wall. Sherlock blinked the sensation away.
He remembered the sight of John, slung between two of Mycroft's men, his head drooping down like a marionette with all the strings cut. One of them had briefly checked him over - He'll be fine, let him sleep it off - and Sherlock hadn't liked the sight of hands running carelessly over John's neck and his chest. John was a soldier, he didn't deserve to be treated like that. They should have some respect.
He had never taken very good care of his toys, Sherlock thought muddily, trying to take slow breaths as the ceiling revolved on a point above his head. He had lost them trying to hide them from Mycroft, because he didn't like to share, or else he broke them trying to see inside. Things were only good once you'd taken them apart, spread all the pieces across the carpet, and learned the furthest limits they could handle, the precise point at which they would snap. And then you could toss them, they were rubbish. It had driven Mummy to distraction.
But he didn't really want to break John.
John, who had been so pathetically grateful - stupidly, slavishly thankful to be pulled back from his own sick, as though he might not be worthy of that, as if Sherlock might just leave him there. He'd been so puzzled and pleased to be picked up and put to bed. The memory of how he'd clung to Sherlock's arm, trembling and sick, struggling to hold himself up …
He'd done that to John, he realized.
And Sherlock was ashamed.
There seemed to be a pressure, building in his skull, gathering like it might soon blow the top clean off, and what a mess that would make, the sheer volume of brains that Sherlock's head must contain. And why the devil was it was so hot in the flat - Sherlock could feel the flush racing through him, as he broke out in a sweat. The plan, thought Sherlock, stick to the plan. This was most likely just his temperature regulation, gone off. No matter.
Was John there? It seemed important. He needed to come, or he'd be too late, for - something. Sherlock closed his eyes and tried to think.
He could hear the sound of somebody coming down the stairs; perhaps John had already traded his dreadful jumper for one he deemed more appropriate for evening. But he wasn't coming into the living room, towards the pitching, heaving couch where Sherlock had elegantly draped himself. He seemed to be headed straight for the door.
No, thought Sherlock thickly, aware that he might not be quite in his right mind - but if John headed out then Sherlock would be left alone. This could not be, or all his efforts would be in vain. Action was necessary.
John, he called. Did he? He thought he did. Where was John?
Reluctantly, clumsily, he sat himself up, although it seemed to be rather a bad idea as unconsciousness seemed imminent. "John," he said, distinctly, braced against the arm of the sofa. "Don't go. Wait, John."
From here he could vaguely see the door, or two doors, actually, where John was paused with a hand on each of the knobs.
"What?" he said. His tone was not especially encouraging. He sounded wary. Oh well, best to press on, or risk having to repeat this wretched apology more than once -
"Don't want you to go," Sherlock muttered, trying to get his feet under him, but even as he tried to lift up he felt a wave crash over his head, and everything blurred and rolled in the wake of it, he was not going to finish the sentence, he was not going to keep standing, and thank God John was rushing towards him because, by his own estimation, he wasn't going to make it back to the sofa before he passed out.
Hands, on his shoulders, shaking him, fingers lightly tapping his cheek.
Sherlock, what have you taken? Sherlock? What did you take. Look at me. Answer me, Sherlock! What did you take! Damnit, Sherlock!
He woke up just as John was wiping his face with a wet flannel. "Head," he managed, thickly. "Hurts."
"Yes, Sherlock, you're in a bit of a state," said John. He was dabbing something crusted from the corner of Sherlock's mouth, hastily, as if Sherlock might not notice if he was quick about it.
"Sick," said Sherlock.
"Mmm," said John, "well, lucky I'm a doctor, isn't it then?"
Sherlock wanted to say something, something like lucky to have John – but he couldn't concentrate through the pounding of his head. He was leaning back against the sofa, he thought, with pillows propping him up. He was warm. He glanced down – he was covered with his own coat. John was there. He let his eyes drift closed.
The next time he woke up, it was because of the terrible ache in his head, which seemed to be working towards blasting clean off, like a rocket. Then something cool was being draped over his eyes, blocking the light, soothing the throbbing pain. Launch aborted.
"How's it now, then?" John kept his voice low.
"Give it a minute."
John was good at this, he thought, distantly - the caretaking. He seemed to know instinctively what was hurting, how to quiet it. Perhaps it came with being a doctor, but Sherlock didn't think so; he'd met loads of doctors who were brisk and unpleasant. He thought it was just John's compassionate nature.
"You absolute nutter – daft, mad git. What the hell were you thinking?"
Sherlock didn't need to see John's expression. Of course he wouldn't understand, couldn't understand. "Was trying to apologize."
A sigh that stirred the hair on Sherlock's forehead. John must be sitting very close. "Sherlock, I don't want you to hurt yourself for me," he said. "That's not what this - whatever this is, that's not what it should be about."
Sherlock grunted and adjusted his head on the pillows. He felt John reach to smooth down the cloth, and cool drops slid slowly down his cheeks.
"M'sorry," he muttered.
"I know you are, shh. Just rest a minute. You'll be fine."
Had it worked, then? Was he forgiven? Sherlock peered at him through slitted eyes. "Tea."
"Alright, I'll get you a cup." That sounded encouraging.
"Wouldn't dream of it."
There was a change in air current as he departed. Footsteps, moving away roughly the length of the room. The faint sound of bare feet sticking to tile. Sherlock counted out the time it would take John to locate the kettle, which had been stuffed into the oven to clear lab space. Then the familiar sound of things clattering in the kitchen, a long silence.
Sherlock let the flannel slide down the seat-back, to soak the cushions; John would clean it up later. Lord, he felt ghastly - contrition was even more taxing than reported. No wonder he didn't do it much.
John was already coming back … he must have heated the water in the microwave … how had he deduced that Sherlock had been boiling silicate in the tea kettle? Oh, obviously no – it was the noise he was trying to avoid, the whistle of the boiling water. To spare Sherlock's delicate head. Of course.
"Did you know there are - social spiders?" Sherlock asked, faintly. "You can find them in ... Paraguay, and Australia."
"Stop trying to talk, you idiot," said John.
"They can cooperate - to build - giant nests that can ... trap bats and birds."
"Sherlock," asked John reasonably, "in this metaphor am I a giant bird-eating spider? Because I don't like this metaphor, Sherlock."
"They're not large," corrected Sherlock. "There's just ... many of them."
"This conversation is horrifying." John had come back with the cup, but set it out of reach to cool. "You can have it in a minute," he said.
Sherlock nodded, sleepy now. "Hurts." He'd always found his own pain tedious, but he wanted to share it with John, let him look after him the way he liked to do. It was good for him to feel needed, after all.
"Hmm." John laid his hand just lightly on Sherlock's temple, as though he could locate the pain through osmosis, cure it like an American faith-healer. Sherlock obediently closed his eyes in case it worked. He felt the rough skin of John's fingertips, curling over his forehead, felt the lines and creases of John's dry palm. "Alright, then," said John softly.
And suddenly, it was.