Disclaimer: I do not own Sherlock or any of its characters.
Nothing to Fear
It was just a stainless-steel box, manufactured by Evans Lifts before it was purchased by the Otis Elevator Company, approximately 2.5 square meters, and could hold up to 1000kg. And even though Sherlock knew that the collective weight of the six various police officers currently filing inside only amounted to about 375kg, that didn't exactly mean he felt comfortable joining them, shoulder to shoulder, with John standing next to him and adding to the tightness of the squeeze, watching the doors slide shut, enclosing him into that stainless-steel box which was manufactured by Evans Lifts and was only 2.5 square meters. Six officers: five men and one woman; two leftenants and four forensics analysts; three married and three single; one has a new baby at home, one is a homosexual, one is having an affair, one has a spouse that is having an affair, one had a blind date last night (which turned into a one night stand), and one has not had any sexual intercourse in several months.
Sherlock closed his eyes, breathed slowly and steadily, concentrated on the amount of blood the average human body contains, and then made sure he was the first one out of the lift when he heard the sharp ding and the doors slide open once again. If anyone had bothered to look at him, they would have noticed his face was quite pale (even paler than usual) and his breathing was heavy and irregular. But no one noticed because they never notice anything in the way that Sherlock is able, not even John, who was already too busy mentally preparing himself before seeing the corpse du jour.
"Third victim in two months," said DI Lestrade, as Sherlock and John joined him outside the room which contained the dead body. "Someone's been slitting their throats and dumping the bodies in abandoned buildings." The three entered the room and saw the victim laying supine on the floor, his skin pale from the lack of blood. "The only reason we found this one was because some kids broke in. All we know is that whoever's doing this isn't killing these people in the same places he leaves them."
Sherlock silently made his way over to the body, crouching down to examine it closely. "Looking at the incision, I can see that the knife was electric," he began.
"Brilliant," said John. "How do you figure?"
"See the jagged edge of the incision?" said Sherlock. "This shows that the knife was serrated, and thick enough that it must have been double bladed. Additionally, the incision was angled in a way which the electric knife would naturally slice. From this, I can conclude that the killer must not be exceptionally strong, as this sort of knife requires less effort to use than a regular blade.
"As for the victim himself," he continued. "He's a businessman, middle management. Owns a dog. Divorced- she ended the relationship. Just recently started dating again."
"So," said Lestrade. "What do you think?"
"I must think about it some more," said Sherlock. "Send over the reports of the other victims."
"Right," said Lestrade. "So that's about it for now."
"Good," said Sherlock. "Come on, John."
Sherlock then turned and made his way back down the corridor. He was just turning toward the staircase when John called out to him. "Don't you want to take the lift? It's eleven stories down."
"Oh," said Sherlock. "Fine." He came to stand next to John, and a few moments later, there was a ding and the door slid open. They both stepped inside, and Sherlock was pleased that only two other officers entered with them, allowing him more room to spread out. He felt his body jerk at the sudden acceleration, but quickly accustom itself to the sensation. At least he had something to concentrate on in order to ignore the feeling of being trapped: a slashed throat instead of a tightening chest, and the frozen expression of a corpse instead of sweaty palms fisted inside his pockets.
Then, suddenly, his mind was thrown out of its thoughts as the lift jerked to a halt and the lights blinked momentarily. It must have been only several seconds later, probably half a minute, when the lift resumed its course.
"Ow, Sherlock!" John yelped. "That's my bad arm."
"Huh?" Sherlock turned to him with a dazed expression, unable to solve the riddle of his words, until he finally looked down to see his hands wrapped around John's bicep, nails digging deeply into his shoulder. "Oh," he said, sheepishly removing his hands from his flatmate. "Sorry."
"Were you scared just now?" John asked.
"What?" said Sherlock, completely affronted. "Of course not!"
"Then why'd you scream?" John said, his lips quirking slightly upwards.
"Scream?" Sherlock repeated. He quickly turned to the other two people with them, and one of them nodded in confirmation. Sherlock could have died right there.
"John, there are six lift-related deaths per year," said Sherlock. "Not to mention injuries."
"So you were scared then?"
"I'm not scared," said Sherlock, defensively. The lift finally reached the lobby, and Sherlock rushed out as fast as he could, John struggling to keep pace behind him. Together, they left the building and walked down the street until Sherlock hailed a cab.
They rode in silence for several minutes. Sherlock stared out the window.
"It's okay to be afraid sometimes," said John. "Believe me, I was plenty scared in Afghanistan, enough for a lifetime. Then, when I came back to civilian life, I had to deal with a new type of fear: Will I ever heal? Can I find work? A place to stay? Will I ever get to do anything I find meaningful again? What now?"
Sherlock continued to stare out the window. He could see John's reflection layered on top of his, adding to the jumble of images along with the sight of London whizzing past them.
A few moments passed. John sighed to himself, and turned away from Sherlock once more. "I'm claustrophobic," said Sherlock, slowly and barely above a whisper.
Through the window's reflection, he saw John nod once. And that was all that was said between them until the cab stopped in front of 221 Baker Street and they walked up the seventeen steps to their flat on the second floor.
Three days later, Sherlock and John found themselves running through the streets of London hoping to reach their destination in time. Sherlock texted Lestrade the location and knew that back-up would arrive shortly; in the mean time, he would focus on using all of his intellect to stall the serial killer before he could attack again. Sherlock burst his way through the front door while John covered the back entrance of the converted home that had been left as an inheritance from the murderer's parents. They met in the living room and no one else was there. Then, after a pause, Sherlock's eyes opened wide with inspiration and without a word, he ran off again.
John followed him back outside to the side of the house and watched in amazement as Sherlock started to beat at the old wooden cellar doors. "Stand back," John said, reaching out to Sherlock's shoulder, pushing him aside. He then took hold of his trusty service revolver and aimed it at the rusted lock. In a flash, they were in the dusty, moldy, cramped, very empty cellar. There was only darkness and silence save for their heavy breathing and Sherlock's angry grunt upon realizing that there was no trace of the murderer or his workspace.
They stood staring at each other silently for a minute or so. Suddenly, Sherlock shifted his mouth into a frown and shushed his flatmate because he needed to concentrate. Slowly, he stepped forward and wandered around until he hit the perimeter, and tentatively reached out his hand to touch the wall, tapping it with a gentle rhythm. "Aha!" he exclaimed, now gliding both hands over an area of the wall he had been feeling. "Hollow."
"What?" asked John.
"This wall is a ruse," said Sherlock. "There's another hidden room behind it."
"But how to do you enter?" said John, stepping forward.
Sherlock looked around. Near the corner, there was a large wood pile. Quickly, he began to move the logs away, and when John came to join him in the task, they soon revealed a small door, just large enough for a person to crawl though if he bent down low enough.
John instinctively crouched down first, ready to swing the small door open. He glanced up again briefly to Sherlock, who gave him a quick nod, before pointing his revolver forward and making his way into the secret room.
A few moments of silence passed before Sherlock whispered, "John?" No answer. Sherlock called to him again, this time a bit louder. "John? What do you see?" Finally, Sherlock knelt down to find his way inside as well. The room was completely dark, and if Sherlock hadn't quickly adjusted his hearing to take precedent over his currently unhelpful use of sight, he would not have sensed the looming body above him, ready to strike.
Sherlock moved out of the way just in time to avoid the blow to his head, which instead hit him in the shoulder. Sherlock countered by swinging his fist hard, which resulted in a grunt from the invisible attacker. A few more hits, and Sherlock then knelt to the ground where he felt John's limp body. He fumbled around until he found the revolver which John still clutched in his hand, grabbed it, aimed in the direction of the most recent strike, and pulled the trigger, silently praying that the bullet not ricochet off a wall and hit him instead.
There was a gasp and a scream. Sherlock hurriedly swatted his hands around until he found a metal cord which turned on the lone light bulb strategically placed in the center of the ceiling. He found himself forced to close his eyes until he could readjust from the darkness. When he opened them again, he scanned the room. It was a lot smaller than he realized, now that he was able to see the dimensions of the space. It was threadbare with only a table in the center and shelves filled with the murderer's kill instruments all along the walls. There were no windows and the air felt thick and stale. Besides that, there was barely enough room for the three of them, so that the murderer was actually lying partially on top of John. Sherlock felt no sympathy as he watched the murderer gurgle in pain as a stream of blood pooled beside him. He then knelt down to move John away and to sit him up against the wall, quickly checking his head wound and deeming it painful looking but non-fatal; John should regain consciousness in a minute or two.
Sherlock just focused on the symphony created by everyone's breathing: John's shallow exhalations, the murderer's harsh wheezing, and his own heavy pants. Finally, John began to stir, muttering silently until he slowly opened his lids, his eyes initially focusing on Sherlock and then making a cursory glance around the room to assess the situation.
"Are you all right, John?" Sherlock asked him.
"Huh?" John asked, immediately clutching at his head due to the sudden pain caused by the sound of his own voice. "Yeah. What happened?"
"Coleman knocked you out," said Sherlock.
"Oh," said John. "Who did that?" he added, indicating the other man with blood seeping out of him.
"I did," said Sherlock.
"Good," said John, deciding to keep his sentences to one word or less.
After a few moments, they could hear sirens in the distance.
"In here!" Sherlock yelled.
Following the sound of his consulting detective's voice, Lestrade was the first to reach the scene. He called in for medics, requesting the need for two ambulances. Sherlock waited until the paramedics arrived to look after John before even considering to leave the confines of that tiny compartment. But once he did, he took a long and heavy breath, unaware that he had been holding it in for so long.
But the ordeal was not over yet. As Lestrade followed John and Coleman to the ambulances outside, he ordered Sergeant Donovan to take Sherlock's statement. Sally insisted they go back down into the hidden room so that Sherlock could explain what happened in detail, and Sherlock, for once, complied with her wishes.
The space felt even smaller now that Sherlock didn't have to worry about subduing the murderer or watching over John's health anymore. But he ignored the tightness in his chest and instead reenacted the previous events to his audience of one, who only nodded silently and asked one or two stray questions as she jotted everything down in her notepad. He could tell she wanted to finish up in here just as much as he did, but for a different reason altogether.
Suddenly, his story was interrupted by a loud clang and the shuffle of something heavy. He quickly turned to find the door currently closed, and he fell upon it to test that he could reopen it. He failed. There was something blocking the other side. He pounded his fists, yelling, "Oi, what happened? Open the door!"
"What's wrong, Freak?" Sally asked, a hint of a frown of her lips.
"Someone's barricaded the door," said Sherlock, his voice a bit higher than normal.
"Let me try," Sally offered, jiggling at the handle. "Haha, guys, very funny... Now let us out."
The space felt much smaller now; he could feel the walls closing in. Soon, he would be too big for the room, and he would be just like that girl from the story Mummy had read to him when he was a boy, only there were no windows to stick his arms out, and instead he would be squashed. Sherlock's breathing suddenly became heavier and less-controlled, and he fell to floor, leaning against the wall with his knees bent to his chest. He understood that he was hyperventilating, but there was nothing he could do about it.
"Damn it," he vaguely heard Sally say, her face suddenly in front of his, studying him in a way he wished she would learn to do at a crime scene during an investigation. Then she was sitting beside him, her hand on his belly just below the ribs. She whispered soothingly into his ear, "Just take deep, slow breaths, okay? Good. Try keeping your lips together; can you do that for me? Just relax. It'll be okay. Shh... Just breathe." Sherlock listened to her voice, concentrating on following her instructions, and soon his breathing was slowly returning to normal.
As his senses returned, he could also hear a faint commotion that seemed both very near but also too far away. There was a succession of squeaks and bangs, and finally the door was opened with a loud clang. Sherlock felt it the moment Sally left his side, but that was fine because John was there.
John helped lift Sherlock up onto shaky knees. "You okay, Sherlock?" he asked.
"Yes," said Sherlock, finally having regained control of himself. "I'm fine."
"Come on," said John. "Let's get you out of here." They finally exited the space in favor of the larger dimensions of the cellar proper.
"I had heard a rumor going around from earlier in the week that the Freak was claustrophobic," said Sally. "But I didn't think it was true."
"Do you have any idea who did this?" asked Lestrade.
"No," said Sherlock, softly.
"Listen up you lot!" The group of officers suddenly silenced and everyone turned to face John, who looked quite deadly at the moment, commanding their full attention in his rigid, military pose. "I know some of you here think what happened just now was funny, but I can assure you that it was anything but. You've actually caused a living human being to suffer from a traumatic experience and to go into a panic attack. Believe me, I know he can be a bit of a git at times, but no matter how much you may dislike someone, you are officers of the law, and, as such, you should uphold yourselves in a manner befitting your position. Claustrophobia is a psychological illness and is anything but humorous. You should have known better... You should have been better."
John ended his rant and took a deep breath. The entire room was silent and everyone was staring at him, dumbstruck. He glanced at Sherlock, who had a curious expression on his face.
Lestrade cleared his throat, breaking the silence. "Right," he said. "Everyone, let's just finish up here. Since I don't know who the culprit or culprits were, there's nothing I can do. But keep in mind that if I did know, you'd be in very serious trouble for putting a civilian in danger. However, you're all at fault for not coming to his aid. I'm very disappointed with everyone here today, and I expect you all to prove yourselves in the future.
"Sherlock, John. I'm very sorry. You can both go home."
They both nodded to him and moved to leave, feeling everyone's stares until they were finally outside and far enough away to hail a cab.
Once they were safely in the cab and on their way back to Baker Street, Sherlock turned to John. "What you did just now... in there," he said, fumbling over the words. "It was good."
"They just got me so angry," said John, frowning. "The words just burst out of my mouth. But I meant all of it."
When they eventually reached the flat, Sherlock stopped short of the door. "Aren't you coming in?" John asked.
"No," said Sherlock. "I think I'd rather stay out here for a bit, get some fresh air. You just go on ahead." He then turned to sit down on the top step, looking straight ahead, and letting out a deep breath.
He noticed out of the corner of his eye when John closed the door and sat down beside him. They sat together in silence for a good hour before finally returning inside.