F IS FOR: freak

"I really appreciate you dropping him off like this."

"Yes, well it was a bit of an unusual circumstance and I felt it best he stay home with you for the day." Lestrade's face was grim and his mouth was set in a stern, thin line as he stared at John from the outer edges of the doorway. Clasped in the Detective Inspector's arms, wrapped tightly in a blanket that he clearly felt he need not be wearing – was Sherlock. His left wrist was bandaged, a worn white cloth loosely swaddled around it. He kept his right arm out of sight, a dark and glowering look upon his features. John reached out, holding a steady hand to his flat-mate's cheek momentarily before ushering him through the threshold.

"Sherlock, Mrs. Hudson's made you some tea. Why don't you go upstairs and join her? I'll be up in a minute," John said gently, easing the blanket off of the younger man's shoulders before handing it back to Lestrade. Wordlessly, and with eyes still downcast, Sherlock slipped past the doctor and clambered up the stairs much like a sullen child would. Sighing heavily, John wiped his fingertips down along his face and crossed his arms against his chest. "So – what in the ruddy hell happened today?"

Mirroring the doctor's sigh, Lestrade exhaled noisily. "I wish I could tell you. I've been getting all sorts of mixed stories. Either no one really knows or everyone bloody well knows and is covering for whoever did it."

"Whatever it was I can almost guarantee that cretin, Anderson, is behind it," John grumbled angrily.

"You're probably right," Lestrade said with a shrug. "But Sherlock won't say anything either way and I've got no proof."

"Well," John said with a slight and approving nod, "you were right to bring him home." He paused. "But what exactly happened?"

"As far as I can tell it was a prank gone wrong. Apparently someone thought it would be funny to take a permanent marker of some kind to him. The most that I could get out of everyone was that someone or multiple someones – who knows – grabbed him while he was in the morgue and held his arms down so that they could write something on them over and over. Sherlock wouldn't show me what they wrote but I can only imagine it wasn't something nice."

John winced. "Bloody bullies." His chest swelled with a feeling of hurt for the younger man. He knew Sherlock never really cared what people said but the words that came out of people's mouths often nearly killed John. "Had to be more than one person then, if they were successful keeping him down that is."

"That's what I thought but you know how Sherlock is. Doesn't eat. Doesn't sleep. Mentally he's strong as a fox, he is. But physically – at least these days? Not so much, I'm afraid."

"So I trust someone came and got you and alerted you to the situation?" John could hear Mrs. Hudson clinking about in the kitchen, babbling to Sherlock though she was clearly getting no response whatsoever.

Lestrade sighed once more. "Unfortunately, no. And as soon as I get back I will be having a very serious conversation with everybody."

"So everyone knew and no one said anything?"

"I'm guessing that it wasn't everyone but yes, people knew and did nothing. And I won't stand for that. Not in my office."

John frowned immediately, a wave of nausea burning inside him. "So damned cruel." He shook his head. "I can only assume this was quite the morning for you, then."

Lestrade's eyes were worn and tired as he stared at the doctor. "Honestly? When Sherlock's involved, you kind of get used to it as horrible as that may sound."

"Fair enough."

"Anyway, I only found out when I went to the loo and found him wrist deep in a sink full of bloodied water. Apparently he'd tried all sorts of chemicals and soap to get it off and when it didn't work decided that simply slicing off the skin with a knife was a far better solution," Lestrade said a bit sarcastically, clearly disapproving of the consulting detective's methods. "He got a good chunk of it off too. I managed to stop him before he got to his other arm, though. Told him I'd be taking him home for the day and that was that."

"Well like I said, I appreciate you bringing him. I suppose I'll take it from here." The two men both nodded and John shut the door quietly behind him before plodding up the stairs; Mrs. Hudson's voice still floating through the air as she tried to coax any form of conversation out of the consulting detective. Flashing a slight smile at the elderly woman as he rounded the top stair, he glanced about. "Right – where'd he go then?"

"In his bedroom, dear," Mrs. Hudson offered sweetly. "Won't say a word, poor thing. Wouldn't even drink his tea!" she continued, bending over to collect the untouched teacups that had been set out.

"Not to worry," John assured. "I'll go check it out." Trudging through the flat, he made his way towards the younger man's bedroom – knuckles rapping against the shut (and most likely locked) door. "Sherlock?" he called through the wooden frame. "Come now – let me in." As he had expected, there was no response. Fingers winding around the doorknob, he gave it a short twist – pleasantly surprised to find that it was not locked.

"If you're here to mother hen me, I'm afraid I have no use for you." Sherlock was perched atop his bed amongst the clutter of experiments and discarded knickknacks. His knees were drawn upwards, though not quite against his chest while his head was bowed low. He had his right hand cradled, a paper towel in the left as he performed a rough sort of scrubbing motion at his skin. The gauze that had been hanging loosely from his left wrist was now practically unraveled and John could see the visible angst that crinkled along the consulting detective's brow. To the untrained eye, Sherlock appeared calm. Stoic. Relaxed.

But John knew better. John knew Sherlock. In fact, he'd never seen the younger man quite so worked up. Cautiously, he walked towards the bed before easing himself atop the soft mattress – leaving his legs to still remain on the floor so as not to impede the detective's space all too quickly. With Sherlock you had to work in steps. There were no hugs, no embraces, no sudden outbursts of affection. It took time – and it was time John was willing to take.

However, medical instinct taking over, John reached out and grabbed both Sherlock's arms – holding them steady as the younger man fidgeted, trying to snake them back from the unwanted grasp. "Mother hen or not," John stated calmly as he allowed his grip to remain firm, removing the paper towel soaked with God-only-knows-what mixture of chemicals from the detective's hand. "This clearly isn't the solution. Now let me take a look."

"I'm fine."

"You most definitely are not," John dismissed. "Now relax your arms and let me have at them." Sherlock glared furiously, yet when realizing there was no swaying the doctor from his determination, he allowed his shoulders and hands to ease. John smiled gently, bringing his legs up onto the bed at last until the two men sat side-by-side.

Gingerly he began to unwrap the bandages, holding the detective's wrist to his lap as he did so. Sherlock winced as the rush of cool air whipped across his now bare and open cuts. Beneath the clots and smears of blood John could make out the faintest of black marker – though unable to read just what it had once said.

"They wrote freak." Sherlock's voice was beyond grave. Practically silent – emotionless to those that didn't know. Again, John knew. He heard the hurt.

"Anderson?" Sherlock said nothing. John sighed, shaking his head as the sight of his flat-mate's shredded wrist sunk back into view. "Sherlock, you could've killed yourself."

"I was just removing the ink, John." Sherlock sniffed indignantly.

"Yeah, well, you're bloody lucky you didn't hit any major veins." John wanted to shout at him – shake him. Something to make him see how dangerous his behavior was. All of it. The lack of food, the lack of sleep, the complete and utter disregard for his own well being. "With all your smarts, why on earth would you ever think slicing your skin was the best option?"

"It wouldn't come off," Sherlock responded, eyes narrowing as though the answer were obvious.

Swallowing at the air around him, John closed his eyes and took a calming breath. "Right." Sliding the detective's bloodied arm off of his lap, he pulled the right hand in to take it's place. "Let's let those cuts breathe for awhile, why don't we. I can bandage them proper in a bit." Rolling up the younger man's sleeve, he found the right arm to be far less bloody – though still slightly raw and red from all the scrubbing.

"You can still see it." Sherlock was clearly bothered by this fact, squirming more at the sight of this wrist then the bloodied one as though he were somewhat ashamed of it. "Roll it back down," he commanded curtly with a nod towards his sleeve.

John, however, shook his head in silence. Tracing his fingertips lightly against his companion's skin he felt himself aching. Sherlock had done quite the job getting most of the ink out. He could still see a few scattered letters though they were faint at best. In fact if he hadn't known the story he wouldn't have even noticed them at all. Sherlock, though, seemed to be burning a hole through them. It was though they were all he could see – his eyes intensely fixated upon every inch of his skin.

Most visible were the F and the E. The rest had been washed away in a bath of chemicals and intense rubbing, no doubt. An idea striking him, John held his hand up. "Don't move," he instructed firmly. Before the detective had even a moment to response he was off the bed and dashing about the flat in search of what he needed. Seconds later he reappeared – of course to find that Sherlock had ignored his demands – his sleeve already rolled back down against his wrists. "I thought I told you not to move."

"I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about."

Eyes rolling, John reclaimed his seat atop the bed and snatched the detective's arm back into his grasp. Sherlock protested, growling slightly against the doctor's touch. "Stay still, Sherlock," John grunted as he wrestled against the younger man's squirms.

"John, please. I don't want to see it again." Sherlock's voice was practically a whimper now. And John knew in that moment that no matter how many walls the detective put up and no matter how many times he swore none of their taunts or jokes would ever get to him – well, they had finally done it.

They had gotten to him.

He could ignore their passing jeers. He could even ignore their blatant hatred. But what he couldn't ignore was his own skin maliciously spelling out to him what he never wanted to be: a freak.

"Sherlock, listen to me" John murmured. He kept his gaze level with that of the detective, speaking slowly and carefully. "You are not a freak. But this - this is what you are." With that he produced a marker that he had grabbed from the kitchen just minutes ago, uncapping it loudly before taking his flat-mate's arm gently and beginning to sweetly scribble against the younger man's skin.

When he was finished, he displayed the final product with pride.

Where it had once read: FREAK in garishly cruel black scrawl, it now read: FRIEND.

"Oh, one more little thing." Scribbling once more, John added the final touch with a brightly crooked grin. "Forgot to sign my name. Can't have that, now can we?"

Sherlock stared at his arm.


John's friend.

Smiling to himself, he nodded. He wasn't a freak at all. He was Sherlock Holmes. He was the world's first consulting detective. He was brilliant.

But most importantly, he was John's friend.