He has practically just finished talking to Lestrade when it happens.
It had been quite a difficult case, requiring a lot of legwork and, of course, many hours of intense concentration. It has been four days - now nearly five - since Sherlock was first brought in to view the body of a middle-aged woman with a bad spray-on tan. John had joined him for the initial overview of the crime scene, and then accompanied him on what forays he could - that is, those that took place when he didn't have to be at the clinic. Sherlock had of course poured every ounce of his energy and intellect into analyzing the scant number of useful clues he was able to find, and driven John somewhat to distraction with pacing, muttering, frantic violin playing, periods of extended silence, and a refusal to eat anything beyond half a biscuit that he had accidentally picked up absentmindedly.
Finally, at 6:00 in the morning on the fifth day, Sherlock, after spending all night going through the various notes and photos cascaded over the coffee table for the 16th time, happened to see one of the photos upside down - and realized the missing link. He refrained from shouting - John was upstairs sleeping and he was a bit lacking in energy anyway - but he did immediately whip out his mobile and send a text to Lestrade. When the Detective Inspector didn't immediately answer him back, he sent several more texts, one after the other, until finally his phone rang and he answered to hear Lestrade on the other end, his voice a bit rough and dull from sleep.
"Sherlock? Wha... what i's it? Has -"
"I've figured it out, Lestrade," Sherlock interrupts him feverishly. "It was the nephew - you can tell by the photo of the terrace, if you turn it upside down you can just see the inconsistency in the ivy. He was there that night!"
"Uh, what?" Lestrade sounds a bit more awake, but just as confused. It takes several minutes of impatient explaining before Lestrade finally catches on to what Sherlock is saying, presumably turns on a light, digs out his own copy of the photo, and, after a few moments silence, gives a stunned agreement to Sherlock's deductions. "Right... I'll send somebody to collect him right away. Thanks, Sherlock." Sherlock nods, too excited to think about the fact that Lestrade can't see him. Lestrade pauses, then asks hesitantly, "Are you all right?"
"Hm? What? I'm fine."
"Did you get any sleep tonight?" The question is a stupid one - it exasperates Sherlock.
"Of course not!" he retorts. "I've been busy solving your case!"
"Well, you've solved it," Lestrade says gently. "Why don't you get some rest, then?"
"I will when I need to," Sherlock agrees.
"I'd say you need to now."
"Right, let me know how the murderer handles himself when you arrest him. Talk to you later."
Sherlock rings off. Lestrade tends to worry, which is somewhat flattering, but mostly annoying. Sherlock pockets his phone and runs a hand through his hair, dropping the crucial photo on the floor, unnecessary now that its purpose has been served. He scratches an itch below his right ear and is just turning toward the kitchen at the thought of a cup of tea when the world lurches. A sudden dizziness assaults his brain, things tip sideways, and he barely catches himself on the arm of the sofa to slow his descent before he collapses altogether to the floor. Sherlock knows exactly what's happening before his cheek even hits the carpet. As the adrenaline of solving a difficult case and explaining just how brilliantly he had done so begins to ebb, the physical complaints of his body are catching up to him. He has neither eaten nor slept in four days, and such consequences are to be expected.
Sherlock blinks slowly from where he remains on the floor, trying to focus his eyes and failing. He twitches his arms experimentally, and finds that his limbs are similarly useless. He is not going to be moving from this spot anytime soon. He allows his eyelids to drift shut, the tiredness washing over his brain in sombre waves. He remembers the last time this had happened to him - several months ago. He had lain unconscious for the better part of a day, before finally waking up with just enough energy to crawl into the kitchen and get half a jar of peanut butter into his stomach. The protein had helped him get to his feet, and he had spent the next hour demolishing the contents of his fridge and pantry before going back to sleep and waking up the next day with a mild headache. He frowns, wondering how long it will be before he can, like last time, get to some source of food that will help him regain his strength.
There is a pounding in his ears and his throat feels dry - he had been drinking tea off and on during the case, but he can't quite remember the last time he had a cup. Not that remembering things is particularly easy, he reflects, while in a semi-conscious state. But his last cup must have been a while ago... He wishes he could lapse fully into unconsciousness, but he seems stuck in a strange state of limbo, half-aware and confused, unable to string thoughts together properly. He tries to reopen his eyes, but finds it difficult. Perhaps if he lies quietly, the pain will go away until he's rested enough to deal with it. He waits, running The Blue Danube over and over in his head in an attempt to put himself to sleep. It doesn't work. He's got just enough adrenaline left that his body is afraid to go completely dormant.
He's developing a headache, and it will probably be a bad one. He sighs, and decides to try moving again. He has limited success - his arms obey the commands of his brain, but they're weak and clumsy, while his legs still seem to be jelly. He struggles with his eyelids again, and manages to crack them open enough to get a blurry impression of the floor. His head is killing him now and he groans as a series of thumps from somewhere assault his ears. Not helping - and they're getting louder. Annoyed, he tries to cover his left ear with his hand - the other is squashed into the carpet, so it's already muffled. Unfortunately, if he uses his left hand to cover his ear, he's only going to have his right arm to use in order to drag himself to the kitchen, and that's really not nearly enough to tow his entire body, five days of fasting notwithstanding. He's trying to work around the problem, which is difficult when his mind is fogged, when the thumping finally comes to a stop. He sighs in relief.
The shouting does nothing to improve his mood. Not to mention the thumping starts again, in a slightly different tone.
"Sherlock, what happened! Are you all right? Sherlock? Can you hear me?" Of course - John. He'd been stupid to forget it, but it is forgivable considering the state his mind is in at present. It is sometime after 6:00 in the morning, and John is getting up from his nightly rest. John has never seen this happen before. John is a doctor, and consequently worries far too much about everyone's health, although he probably worried about people before he ever became a doctor, in fact that must be why he became a doctor, John's always so concerned about everybody... Sherlock loses his train of thought. Where was he? Oh, yes - John has never seen him in this state before, and John is a doctor who worries too much. So this must be quite a shock for him.
The thumping has stopped, because the thumping has been John's footsteps all along, but John has stopped stepping and is kneeling beside him on the floor. John's hands are on his face, brushing his curls back from his forehead to check his temperature, which might be running a little hot. It's not uncommon for him to develop a low grade fever after a particularly trying case. John's other hand reaches down by his collar, and his fingers press into Sherlock's neck, monitoring his pulse. John's hands are warm and gentle, and it's rather nice having them here, instead of just the carpet. He didn't have them last time. He's enjoying the sensation of being touched, which is unusual for him, because he normally tries to avoid most physical contact beyond a handshake.
But he's enjoying it now, so much in fact that he's not paying any attention to anything else and he might just be starting to drift off but then suddenly there's a sting of pain in his left cheek and it takes him a moment to recognize that he's been slapped. It takes him another moment to understand why - the last time it happened was a couple of years ago and was the result of a misunderstanding on the part of a woman who fancied him and didn't seem to understand what "not interested" meant. But this isn't her hitting him now, it's John, but why would John hit him, John likes him, doesn't he? There's another slap, this one on his right cheek, and he realizes that John has turned him over onto his back and it feels like his head is pillowed in John's lap. He has a faint, grey impression of a crack of light coming through his eyelids again, and suddenly his brain seems to have reconnected to his ears, because he finds that John is shouting at him again.
"Sherlock! Sherlock, come on, wake up! What have you done to yourself? Can you hear me? Sherlock?"
The slaps are getting harder because John's panicking ever so slightly - he can hear the strained note in his flatmate's voice, the incessant worry - though John is in control of himself, no doubt about that. But he's not responding to John's slaps or shouts, and John is beginning to get desperate. Disregarding John's pain, however, his own is increasing. The slaps are really starting to sting, and on top of that the shouting is aggravating his headache. He manages another groan which, thankfully, causes John to pause.
He needs to explain to John that there's nothing really wrong with him, he just needs to get something to eat now that the case is over is all, but he's having difficulty getting the words out, as his brain is having trouble formulating the proper thing to say to begin with and his lips are having trouble moving in the correct pattern once he does get it figured out. He settles for blinking his eyes mostly open and trying to wave an arm about in a vague gesture that's supposed to set John's mind at ease. It doesn't. John catches Sherlock's wrist and holds his arm down gently, the hand that is still on his forehead rubbing through his hair.
"Don't try to get up, Sherlock, just tell me what's wrong," John says softly. The words make him indignant. He wasn't trying to get up, he was trying to soothe his flatmate's fears, was all. It's not his fault he was misinterpreted. But this does have the affect of redoubling his efforts to speak, which is what John wants. He swallows, shudders, and licks his lips with a dry tongue.
"'m fine," he croaks. John actually chuckles.
"Yes, you're fine," he says with a touch of sarcasm. "I just found you collapsed on the floor, is all."
"No, really," he manages to say. "It's only... I'm just..." He has to pause to swallow again, and he finds himself trying to make the room come into focus while he's at it.
"You're just what?" John's hand has come to rest on his forehead again, and it feels a little cooler this time. "Did you take something?"
"No!" Again, he is indignant. Why should that be John's first assumption? He never takes anything when he's on a case - he doesn't need any extra stimulation when he's got a case to solve, and besides, that sort of thing could cloud his judgment, slow him down. Of course he wouldn't have taken anything recently!
"Are you coming down with something, then?" John asks. "You feel hot." He finally manages to get the ceiling into focus. He struggles to tilt his head far enough back to see John. John solves this problem by leaning forward to look at him.
"It's... just... the... case," Sherlock pants slowly. "Happens. I... need... sus-t-s-ten-st-en... food." John face changes. Before, he looked concerned, and a little relieved that Sherlock had regained enough of himself to look around. Now, he still looks concerned, but also shocked and a little angry.
"Do you mean to tell me," John says slowly, deliberating over each word, "that you haven't eaten anything since the case began?"
"Yes," Sherlock answers, wondering briefly how John could possibly have failed to notice this before remembering that John's capacity for observation, though above most other people's, falls far short of his own. John is familiar with his habit of not eating on cases, but John has never worked with him on a case that has taken this long before. John has not been with him every minute - John has been at the clinic some of the time, usually while he's been sitting at the flat thinking. And John is an ordinary person, at least as far as eating habits go, so of course he would assume that after a couple of days Sherlock would have been hungry enough to have eaten something, case or no case. John is clearly not quite familiar enough with his peculiar constitution.
"Are you serious?" John asks, just in case this is all some sort of silly prank, or he has jumped to a mistaken conclusion and Sherlock is just kidding him about it. He is not.
"Yes," Sherlock repeats, his voice a bit stronger now. John's presence is helping him to stay coherent, although his head is still pounding viciously. John is shaking his head, shutting his eyes involuntarily.
"And what about sleeping?" he asks, a creeping suspicion in his voice. "Have you been sleeping? At all?"
"No," Sherlock answers. John laughs disbelievingly.
"I knew you weren't sleeping much, but I didn't think... Well, this explains why you collapsed, then."
"Yes. See? I'm fine."
"No! No, you are not fine, Sherlock!" John snaps angrily, and Sherlock is taken aback by John's vehemence. "You haven't eaten in nearly five days! You haven't slept! I wake up to find you on the floor because you can't be bothered to take care of yourself!" Sherlock winces - the tirade is cutting through his brain like a knife, and John is only getting louder. "I mean, are you completely off your head! Do you have any idea what you've done to your body! This isn't a joke, Sherlock! You might as well... have... have..." John trails off, because Sherlock has shut his eyes and is moaning in agony, clutching his head in his hands and trying to curl in on himself from his awkward position on the floor. John swallows guiltily. "Sherlock?"
"Headache," Sherlock says in a muffled voice, turning over on his side so he can draw his knees up to his stomach.
"Well, you deserve it, treating your system like that," John says critically, but it lacks a good deal of conviction. John's sympathetic side is taking over, whether he wants it to or not. His hands find their way into Sherlock's hair, and he rubs the detective's temples gently, his fingers moving in slow circles to combat the angry flares of neglected tissue. Sherlock's moans die down and he relaxes slightly under John's ministrations, though the tension left in his shoulders and his permanent frown give away his remaining discomfort. "I'd offer you an aspirin, but you'd probably throw it up," John says quietly. Sherlock doesn't answer, just curls in on himself a little more and finds himself absurdly grateful for the pillow of John's lap. After another minute, John's hands still and move to Sherlock's shoulders.
"Here, can you get up at all?" he asks. "I'd like to move you to the couch." If there is one thing Sherlock doesn't want, it's to move. But the couch, he knows, will be so much more comfortable once he gets there, and so he nods and braces himself to help John as much as he can. John catches him under the arms and pulls him up carefully. Sherlock winces again as his head is jarred, but he reaches a hand out toward the couch, his right foot scraping for purchase on the floor, and John half-drags him the few feet over to the sofa, where he collapses into the cushions on his side. John lifts his head and puts the Union Jack pillow beneath it. Sherlock groans and shudders. He is beginning to feel rather hot.
"Would you like the lights off?" John asks.
"Yes." His voice is rough and gravelly, but he doesn't trust himself to nod. He can hear John flick the switch, and the room is plunged into blessed dimness in an instant. There is a little weak morning sunlight coming through the window, but John crosses to the curtains and pulls them mostly closed, leaving Sherlock in the shadows.
"I'll get you a glass of water." John moves into the kitchen, where Sherlock can hear him clinking quietly about, trying not to make too much noise. A moment later he comes back into the main room and helps Sherlock sit up just enough to sip from the glass. The water is a relief on his parched throat and tongue, and Sherlock drinks the whole thing quickly, enjoying the coolness trickling down his esophagus. John frowns, which Sherlock senses more than he sees, and lays his hand on Sherlock's forehead again.
"You're burning up," John says fretfully, an accusing note in his tone. He takes the glass from Sherlock's fingers and goes into the kitchen again. He comes back with it refilled and an ice pack, and hands the glass to Sherlock while he sweeps his flatmate's curls out of the way and lays the pack against his hot skin. "Your immune system is probably shot. It's going to make it harder to fight off whatever you've caught." John is so accusing at this point that Sherlock feels the need to defend himself.
"I don't always get a fever when this happens," he says. "It's just bad luck this time." By the change wrought in the room he can tell immediately that this was the wrong thing to say.
"When this happens?" John repeats in a furious whisper. "How many times, exactly, has this happened?" Sherlock debates briefly telling John the truth, but decides that John will probably find out eventually, and will probably ask embarrassing questions of Lestrade in the meantime.
"This happens once every dozen or so cases," Sherlock says casually. "Only on the ones that are particularly difficult."
"Once every dozen!" John's voice has risen involuntarily back to a shout - he looks positively scandalized. Sherlock almost drops the glass of water to clutch at his head, and John immediately quiets, placing his hand on the icepack and sighing angrily. He looks as if he'd like to say a lot more, and a lot louder, but won't for fear of Sherlock's headache. Sherlock resists the urge to smile - he knew this was the best time to admit his track record, since if John did get angry he wouldn't be able to shout. "We'll talk about this when you're feeling better," John practically hisses. There is a pause, then, "I'm going to make you some toast." He stomps a bit as he heads off into the kitchen again.
Sherlock finishes the glass of water and sets the empty on the floor. He really is getting oppressively hot, and he struggles with his jacket, causing the ice pack to slip off his head and fall to the couch. When he finally gets free of the sleeves, he hurls his jacket as far away from himself as he can manage - which, in his less than optimal state, is about a metre. He leans back against the Union Jack pillow, breathing heavily. He rests for a few minutes, and is struggling with his shoelaces when John returns with a tray.
"Here, I can get those." John pushes Sherlock back into his half-sitting position, fishes out the ice pack from between the back of the couch and the cushions, lays it back on Sherlock's forehead, and sets the tray down in the detective's lap. Sherlock blinks at the contents of the tray while John sets about tugging his shoes off. John has brought him four slices of toast and a tall glass of orange juice, two slices with marmalade and two with peanut butter. Sherlock remembers the peanut butter and takes a bite of that toast first. As usual, it opens a spigot. The first few bites have no sooner hit his stomach than his body becomes ravenous. All of its previously ignored complaints of hunger are finally being listened to and his appetite has consequently reawakened with a vengeance. He steamrolls his way through the first slice of toast and is reaching for the second when John suddenly snatches the tray out of his hands.
"John!" He is startled. And his body is not in the mood to tolerate its fuel being withheld.
"Slow down!" John insists, though still in a whisper. "You'll make yourself sick eating that fast. Well, sicker than you already are," he amends.
"John," Sherlock says impatiently. "I'm hungry. I'm finally eating, isn't that what you want?"
"Yes, but not like that!" John maintains. "I swear, you were barely chewing. I don't want you throwing up, Sherlock, especially not when you absolutely need to keep your food down. Do you always eat this quickly when you start again after cases?"
"And do you ever throw up?"
"...Yes. Sometimes, not all the time!" But John is looking satisfied with himself. He sets the tray down on the coffee table, out of Sherlock's reach, and hands Sherlock the glass of orange juice, which he has yet to have touched. Sherlock blinks in annoyance and presses the ice pack more firmly to his forehead to soothe his persistent headache.
"Here." John digs a bottle of aspirin out of his pocket and shakes two pills into his hand. "Now you've got a little something in your stomach, you should be able to take these - as long as you eat more slowly." Sherlock rolls his eyes and snorts a little, but after he takes the pills and downs them with the orange juice, he accepts a second slice of toast from John - this one with marmalade - and chews it as slowly as he is able. It's still faster than he would usually eat, but it seems to placate John, and he gives Sherlock back the tray after a few minutes of sustained slower eating. It is a gesture of trust, and the fact that such a gesture consists of letting him have food irks Sherlock. But he finishes the second slice at an appropriate rate all the same. John goes back to getting his shoes off, as Sherlock's mad eating rampage had interrupted him before he'd quite finished with the laces of the first one.
He sets Sherlock's shoes on the floor a few moments later, and picks up the jacket that landed on the far edge of the coffee table. He folds it and lays it on one of the chairs. Sherlock is halfway through the third slice of toast and he is beginning to feel exhaustion pull at him again. John picks up the empty water glass and disappears into the kitchen again. Now that John's out of the room, Sherlock is tempted to scarf down what's left of the toast immediately, so that he can get to sleep faster. But he doesn't. As irksome as it might be, John did give him the tray as a gesture of trust, and Sherlock has no desire to break that trust. It is nice having John here to take care of him. He has never had this before. He doesn't want to disappoint his... friend.
He can call John a friend, can't he? Perhaps John doesn't think of him in that way, but he did haul Sherlock off the floor and feed him and help him with his headache. And he shouted at him, but in a nice way, the way Lestrade does too sometimes when Sherlock has done something to worry him. Sherlock doesn't have friends, but John... John is different. Sherlock chews the final piece of toast thoughtfully, and decides to consider John a friend until proven otherwise. John doesn't have to use the designation, but Sherlock would like to, if only in his head.
John comes back into the dim room and smiles as he watches Sherlock polish off the toast and orange juice. He takes the tray away next, and gets Sherlock a fresh ice pack for his forehead. Sherlock leans back onto the couch, his eyelids drooping. He is still uncomfortably hot, but the ice is definitely helping, and his headache is finally starting to fade. The second half of his body's ignored complaints are surfacing quite hard, and he can feel his brain beginning to surrender to fatigue. From somewhere to his left, John is putting his shoes on. When did he close his eyes?
"I've got to be at the clinic in half an hour," John says. "I'm leaving the aspirin out, and a glass of water, in case you need any when you wake up." Sherlock mumbles an acknowledgment. "I'll tell Mrs. Hudson to come up and check on you later. She'll probably go all mother hen on you." Sherlock is vaguely annoyed by this concept, but is far too tired to care. "I'll be back tonight, I can bring you some sweet and sour soup from across the street if you want. But this isn't over, Sherlock - when you get back to normal, we're going to have a good, long talk about what constitutes proper care of yourself. All right? All right? ...Sherlock?"
Sherlock can no longer raise his eyelids, but he can hear the rustle of John's clothes as he steps close to the couch to look at the recumbent detective. He feels John place a hand on his cheek to check his temperature one more time. He feels John adjust the ice pack on his forehead and ruffle his curls gently. He feels John move to leave him and suddenly he wants John to know that he likes having him here, that he appreciates John's warmth and kindness, that he is grateful for John's help in this and everything else. He reaches blindly out and somehow catches John's hand, stopping him in his tracks as he heads for the door. With his last threads of consciousness, Sherlock forces out three slurred words.
"Thank you, Joh'."
John feels Sherlock's hand let go of his and drop over the side of the couch as the detective finally falls into slumber. He picks up Sherlock's arm and lays it back on the couch cushions next to him.
"You're welcome, Sherlock."
He smiles, shakes his head, and walks out the door.