A/N: Sorry for the delay! Life got in the way, and I haven't been feeling up to par, either. Hopefully the updating will be more reliable from hereon out, and thanks so much to everyone who provided feedback! I hope this chapter lives up to your expectations, and my apologies if there are any mistakes I've missed.
'round and 'round
John considers himself a patient man.
There are few things that completely set him off, and when they do, it's more often than not caused by the man who shares a flat with him. Experiments at ungodly hours; the theft of certain items of his clothing that he still has yet to locate; the absence of his gun on so-so days. When one lives with Sherlock, one must accept the eccentricities that come with him—and John has. Absolutely, completely has. But the black moods—it's a sort of claw that winds its talons around Sherlock's mind, gripping and pulling him in all directions until he can no longer fight off the black-eyed fiends that push him closer and closer to the edge, until he's hanging precariously, where one more gentle touch will have him plunging into the dark depths that lay behind the iced eyes.
It's on the second day that John realises Sherlock is basically a prisoner, and neither of them hold the key.
How uninteresting, Sherlock thinks, sprawled on the sofa, an arm dangling uselessly off the edge of the cushion like deadweight. His mind races obscenely fast, a pursuit of unobtainable thoughts he can't keep up with, and it irritates him to be so far behind his own brain; going and going, never ending, constantly moving like the Earth itself, an insult to his intelligence and caliber as a detective. He finds himself drowning, weighed heavily by the ineffectiveness just lounging around exudes—where is the stimulation, the adrenaline of fresh scenes painted crimson with a touch of mystery? He's rotting on this sofa, eyes laden with much-needed sleep that he refuses to indulge in. His stomach, oh, his stomach, it's traitorous as it lets a low growl of hunger echo quietly in the empty room.
The rain continues to beat against the window, a drumming of droplets catching on the glass, descending down to gather in puddles on the sill. A bit of lightning illuminates the darkened space, and Sherlock blinks against the intrusion, counting to four in his head before a dull crack rumbles through late night London. Watching the weather holds no significance at the moment; he reaches forward, picking at the Chinese left over on the plate John had prepared for him. One bite, two, and he swallows carefully, the noodles tasteless as they slide down his throat.
He wonders if he'll be able to keep it down.
The itching begins once again, and he goes to scratch the crook of his arm, red and raw from previous encounters with his growing nails. He'll give anything, anything, to feel that release white powder-turned-liquid brings, coursing through his veins, rain pounding the concrete in tune with the waves of substance rolling in his blood. It dredges up long-forgotten memories and familiar highs, but that's all they are: past joys, not to be experienced again unless he desires the wrath of not only his brother and a certain inspector, but John as well, and it's an unnerving thought to be caught plunging a syringe of poison into the web on his arm with an angry spectator.
"How human," he says out loud, tone laced with bitterness at the very accusation. He's above emotions, above guilt and sympathy and giving a damn what others think. But John—John isn't just 'others', no, he's something much more and Sherlock, frankly, does not have the patience to sift through the obvious.
His mind, it's a jumbled mess of various deductions attacking him at once, a disjointed cabinet of mismatched papers and unorganised files. His hard drive has been infected with a virus, tearing through the space and polluting it with its vile clutches as the system tries to reboot, tries to reformat it into its original state. It's a lost cause and frustration wells up inside him as he pushes himself into a sitting position, legs swinging over the piece of furniture while his hands tug harshly at strands of hair.
He tries pacing. It agitates him more.
But he needs to escape.
It doesn't matter how; he'll settle with anything, just to quell the disorderly mess raging inside his head. Calm, what is that, he wonders? It hasn't touched him in over twenty-four hours, and he's trapped, a prisoner of his own mind, and damn the boredom, he thinks, throwing himself on the sofa with the air of someone filled with lead. He is, in a way—blood replaced with metal, slicing him from the inside out and pulling him into a dark grip of misery. He flips his body heavily, facing the blanket-covered back of the abused furniture, and curls his hands into tight fists so that blood seeps out of the broken skin; angry crescents stark against the pallor of his flesh.
He closes his eyes. Breathes.
How terribly predictable.
It's three in the morning when he's awakened by the sound of a hoarse scream, followed quickly by a crash. John stumbles out of bed.
Sherlock recalls a vague memory as he's hunched over the sink, dispelling the little Chinese he had consumed before falling into an apparently restless slumber. It's the same scenario, just a little more violent, an unfamiliar bathroom surrounding him as he retches and sobs into a porcelain bowl thinking let this end, just let it end, I need something, anything. A hand on his back, soothing and cool against fevered skin, blood soaking the inside of his white sleeve because he can't stop scratching. Cold waves of addiction clinging to him, desperate to hold on and Sherlock, he's willing to give them a lifeline, an anchor if it means he can just sleep—
"Sherlock," a voice says, and it's not Lestrade, the white walls fading into peeling wallpaper and a rain-soaked window. The heaving subsides, leaving him gasping for air, the lingering taste of bile disgusting as it coats the inside of his mouth like saran wrap; there's a hand on his back this time, too, hesitant but there and it reminds him that this isn't withdrawal, but it might as well be.
A cloth-covered hand comes up and gently wipes the corners of his mouth; a cool glass of water is pressed against his cracked lips, and he takes a sip before reality hits him, pulling him under.
"I'm fine," he croaks harshly, pushing the glass away and staggering back to the sofa. The trip is long, hazardous, and when he finally reaches his destination, he sinks heavily into the cushions, hoping that they'll swallow him whole and release him of this... this thing that's seated on his chest.
"You're not fine, Sherlock," John says tiredly; Sherlock watches him rinse the cloth before grabbing a fresh one, wetting it with cool water. "You've just thrown up the only food you've eaten today, not to mention the fact that you're clearly bleeding."
Sherlock frowns, aware of a slight throbbing in his temple, and he touches the spot gingerly, only to grimace in response as his hand comes away with droplets of blood dripping down the length of his fingers.
It's fascinating. Like some kind of paint, leaving a trail of dark red that will no doubt dry into a crusted path. He stares at the digits until John finishes cleaning up the wound and wraps Sherlock's hand; pulling the cloth away slowly, softly, it erases the blood trail with friendly precision.
Sherlock is disappointed when the stained material reveals his pale skin beneath the crimson.
Once he finishes, John forces him to follow his finger (I'm fine, John, I do not have a concussion.) and answer pointless questions (Sherlock Holmes, 221b Baker Street, Mycroft is still fat and Lestrade is still inept, now get away from me.) until it's deemed that he's not in immediate danger of succumbing to the results of a head wound.
"I told you I was fine," he says impatiently. He wants to be left alone; he doesn't need John coddling him over some trivial lapse in his unconscious mind. Nightmares always did leave bitter aftertastes, and he can tell from John's rumpled pyjama bottoms, the jumper thrown on hastily over the gray dishevelled t-shirt, and the shadows beneath his eyes that John didn't have the smoothest sleep either.
"Just in case," and John sounds defeated, but Sherlock can't bring himself to apologise or acknowledge the remorse—and tendrils of guilt get away—that curdle in his stomach.
So when he's ushered into his bedroom, he protests greatly because John should just leave him alone, he can handle this by himself without the aid of a man who needs more sleep than he does. It's ridiculous, and yet—
And yet he lays down anyway, the sound of splintering wood almost comforting as he tugs the blanket on his bed tightly over his frame.
He manages to convince Sherlock to get some rest, though it's by no means easy. In this state, Sherlock is agitated, angry, frustrated and downright horrible; it's a deadly combination, but out of concern for the other man's wellbeing, John doesn't take 'no' for an answer. By the time Sherlock is enclosed within the walls of his bedroom, the slamming of the door still ringing in his ears, John scours the flat, both curiosity and apprehension gnawing on his nerves. Nothing turns up, as he had expected, but it doesn't lift the tension from his shoulders. It's a stifling anchor that keeps him grounded, his head clear—he's Sherlock's doctor, watching out for him, rather than a friend, sitting by idly for comfort alone.
There's a line he has to draw in order to handle this, and it's chipping away at his shell.
"Jesus," he breathes, slumping into the sofa and rubbing at his eyes resignedly. This should be like any other time: a day or two or more of boredom and mood swings before all is back to normal, whatever their normal is. But there's something, something that's telling him this is different, that the thing which stalks his best friend is closer than ever before, and it's only going to get worse.
And John doesn't know what to do.
And, in the end, he's afraid.
He wakes up, stiff and uncomfortable, five hours later.
His joints crack and his muscles ache as he sits up; stretching does little to satisfy what a night of sofa-sleeping and constant check-ups on a possible concussed patient has done to his body. He should have known better, but the idea of immediate relief from the waking world had won over crawling all the way upstairs, and he can blearily remember closing his eyes only minutes after ensuring Sherlock was at least somewhat safe after the sixth trek into his room.
He wonders for a moment if the debacle from earlier has cleared Sherlock's mind, but he highly doubts it. He may not have the same deductive skills, but he's learned a thing or two from Sherlock, and one of those things is to never assume without hard facts.
And the facts remain that Sherlock is not fine, despite being free of physical ailments for the time being.
Craving something strong, John makes his way into the kitchen, absently digging out the kettle and two cups. Just for good measure, he hunts down the bread (fresher than usual, thank God) and sticks it in the toaster. While the water is boiling, he retrieves the buried butter in the fridge, this time hiding behind a bag of what looks to be wrinkled toes, and sets it on the table.
It takes a few minutes for the toaster to spit out Sherlock's soon-to-be breakfast, and he leans against the counter while waiting, staring unseeingly at a particular stain on the floor, six steps to his left; it's fairly recent, only a week old from Sherlock's last experiment, but his lips quirk up nonetheless.
The flat is fairly silent without a Consulting Detective roaming its halls; it's sort of eerie, in a way. The constant fidgeting that Sherlock could always be counted on for breathes life into the still walls. Now, that very man is quiet, no doubt caught up in a restless sleep; he can hide all he wants, but John knows that Sherlock suffers from nightmares, even if they are few and far in between.
The whistle of the kettle brings him out of his reverie, and John quickly prepares the two drinks and sets them on the tray. He can't be bothered to go searching through all of Sherlock's paraphernalia for a knife, so he makes do with a spoon, spreading the butter on the newly toasted toast and grabbing a plate to add onto the tray. Once he reaches his destination, John knocks carefully once, twice, and doesn't receive an answer, not that he had expected one.
"Sherlock," he calls, quiet enough to mirror the early morning but loud enough so the detective will hear. "Sherlock, I'm coming in."
There's a disgruntled noise and no more, so John takes that as indication to enter.
"I brought tea," he says, balancing the tray in one hand and closing the door behind him. "Hopefully you'll be able to keep some toast down, if you're up for it."
Sherlock offers up something resembling a shrug from his position beneath the mound of blankets he's tangled up in, and John sighs before setting the tray on the bedside table and taking a seat on the edge of the mattress. He contemplates placing a hand on Sherlock's shoulder but thinks better of touching him in this state, even if they are separated by a few layers of cotton material.
"How are you feeling?"
John notes that his voice is barely above a whisper, and it's burdened with a kind of emptiness John knows all too well. It leaves a cold feeling in his gut, slowly running through his veins.
"As I just informed you," the other man snaps, whipping his head around so fast that John actually recoils, "I am perfectly fine. I'm not hungry, so you've wasted your time, not to mention you're wasting mine. If that's all, kindly leave."
"Right," John concedes, swallowing the anger that wants to surface. Yelling gets them nowhere, and he's not in the mood to drag out an argument with Sherlock. It's just not worth it.
"Right," he says again, standing up and wincing as his leg flares momentarily. His voice is hard when he continues. "When you're done with this little fit of yours, give me a call."
That said, he leaves, resisting the urge to slam the door on his way out. He doesn't bother to retrieve the tray, holding on to the thin thread of hope that Sherlock will pick at it once his mood abates. It's when he reaches the sitting room that he realises he left his cup of tea as well, but he forgoes the notion of going back, instead dropping onto the armchair and running a hand over his face. It's not that he doesn't know how to handle this—it's just a matter of actually doing so. Sherlock's moods only surface during the downtime he has, when there's nothing to keep his mind going at an acceptable pace and he can't apply himself to something fully. When experiments fail to rouse him of this, it's Very Bad. When nothing, nothing gets through to him, it's Very, Very Bad.
He has to restrain himself from searching the flat once more.
It's only the second day.
Sherlock briefly contemplates counting the hours, minutes, seconds until another case arrives, but he can't be bothered. He also considers slipping into the sitting room and acquiring his violin, but that requires the ambition to do so, and moving himself from the shelter he's locked himself in doesn't appeal to his current frame of mind in the slightest.
He taps out an errant beat against the mattress with the fingers, all harsh edges and lacklustre rhythms.
Danger night. Be cautious.
John scoffs, pockets his phone, and agrees belatedly that Mycroft is indeed getting slow.
Lestrade phones in around noon, but all John can tell him is that Sherlock is suffering. He asks if there's any available cases, but London is relatively peaceful; even the trivial cases are simplified beyond belief.
"Thanks anyways," he says, rummaging through the kitchen to find something edible. There's leftover Chinese, and he prepares a plate one-handed before tossing it in the microwave.
"Take care of him, John. I don't remember it being this bad."
Lestrade sounds incredibly sincere, and he smiles a bit, adjusting the phone against his ear before replying.
"He's bored. I'm more worried about what's going to happen if he manages to get his hands on something, but he's locked himself in his room."
"Sounds like you have your hands full."
Sherlock is capable of taking care of himself—he's a full-grown man, for Christ's sake!—but John understands exactly what Lestrade is implying, and he frowns before a weary sigh escapes him.
"You could say that. It'd be easier if he'd just talk instead of playing the quiet game."
The microwave beeps and they wrap up their conversation, but John doesn't feel any better than he had before Lestrade had phoned in for a check-up. He slips his phone into the pocket of his jeans, heading back into the other room and switching on the telly. A re-run of a soap opera he used to watch with his mum plays in the background as John picks absently at warm sesame chicken.
No, he doesn't feel better at all; if anything, he feels worse.
3:36 in the afternoon, John swallows his pride and knocks on Sherlock's door.
At the lack of response, John believes Sherlock to either be sleeping or ignoring him, but both are proven wrong when the door opens a crack and Sherlock peeks out. It's only for a moment, and he catches a glimpse of pale skin and bruised eyes before Sherlock disappears altogether. The door remains open, so John takes that as a cue to enter, and he pushes against the much-abused door before leaning against the doorframe.
Sherlock crawls back into bed, doesn't say a word. John doesn't expect him to.
Rather than attempting conversation, John takes a look around; the toast is half-eaten, a weak attempt to provide his body sustenance. One cup of tea is drained, the other untouched, and the sheets on the bed are so badly rumpled that John is provided with the sudden image of Sherlock tossing and turning and rolling onto the floor. The wound on his head hasn't split open, at least; it's red around the edge, just above his left eyebrow, but it's not agitated and John breathes a quiet sigh of relief.
"Is there something specific you wanted?"
John focuses his gaze on Sherlock, though the man's back is turned to him. He weighs his response carefully.
"I came to see how you're holding up."
"Don't give me that, Sherlock. Don't say you're 'fine' when it's a lie," he forces out calmly. He folds his arms across his chest, evening out his breathing and keeping himself in check. He's not angry—he's not even frustrated. Sherlock can toy with his patience all he wants, but John will not give in.
"Then there's nothing more to say."
You're Sherlock bloody Holmes, there's always something else to say.
He doesn't give voice to his thoughts, though he's tempted.
"Is there anything I can get you?"
It's not a dismissal, not really, but John isn't sure what else to say and Sherlock is clearly not in the mood for talking. Uncrossing his arms, John bites his tongue to keep from saying something he'll regret. He grabs the tray before beginning to pull the door shut.
"I'll be around," he says, but Sherlock doesn't acknowledge the fact. John nods to nothing in particular. "You know where to find me."
He ends up watching more telly, alternating between bad talk shows and looking through old posts on his blog. Dinner comes and goes, but he doesn't hear a thing from Sherlock's room, and the heavy storm outside prevents him from venturing into the city. He checks in on Sherlock a few times, just in case, but it's always the same.
John nearly gives in to the temptation to call Mycroft for assistance, but that would be giving up, and he's not ready to reach that point yet.
He shuts off the television and heads to Sherlock's room.
He's expecting see Sherlock as he had the last few times—curled up beneath the blankets like a hibernating animal—but this time, after knocking on the door and only receiving strained noises in return, he walks in to find Sherlock almost suffocating himself in his cocoon, brow soaked with sweat and his breathing heavy. John isn't sure if it's a nightmare or something worse, something he doesn't want to even consider, so he runs to the side of the bed and disentangles the other man. His eyes are closed (sleeping, then), there's no new dots on his arms (still clean), and he's calming down as John hesitantly runs a hand through the dark curls, sweat plastering hair to his forehead.
It's an awkward angle, leaning over Sherlock the way he is, but he doesn't pay any mind to it. The detective's breathing eventually returns to normal, and his face relaxes; John attempts to pull away, but a hand grasps his wrists in cold grip.
"I'm fine," is the mumbled response he gets, blue eyes glazed as they're slowly revealed.
"Sure you are."
John takes a seat on the edge of the bed for more comfort, and Sherlock rolls onto his side, facing John but his eyes unfocused.
"I want it."
He doesn't want to have this argument.
"It'll make things worse in the end."
"Just one hit."
Sherlock lets up and John's lips quirk up a bit, his thumb moving in a circular motion over the icy skin of Sherlock's hand. While it's not the first time they've been in a scenario like this, there's a touch of awkwardness that separates the two. Easily ignored, but still there, and John's just grateful Sherlock isn't screaming at him or thrashing around.
They sit like this for a while, Sherlock eventually fading into a light slumber, and John makes to leave. He removes his hand from the man's hold, checks his pulse for good measure, and exits the quiet room, keeping his footsteps light until he reaches the kitchen.
It's still raining.
"Tea," he says to himself, and it isn't long before the kettle is boiling and John is back in the sitting room, drowning in silence and the monotony of his own thoughts.