Title: Otitis Media
Characters: Sherlock, John, Abby, Sarah, Gladstone
Spoilers: Uses a character introduced in Christmas Future (also uploaded here). It's set before that, though.
Summary: John pays a late night visit to Baker Street with a very sick child. Disrupted experiments, hair-drying, and unscientific remedies ensue.
Author's notes: This was originally written to fill a request, and then I realized halfway through that I had completely failed to fill the request. So I've turned it into a sort of exercise in Sherlock and Sarah's narration voices. This is set in the same 'verse as 'Christmas Future', which is also uploaded here. You can find it by going to my profile page, but all you really needed to know is it's a future AU where John and Sarah got back together during the Hiatus.
I know 'Gladstone' is the name made-up by the Ritchie!films, but I've borrowed it for this version of John and Sherlock's dog. Because it's a perfect name.
Sherlock froze with his pipette poised over the Petri dish on the kitchen table. Someone had just entered the building. As it was nearly one in the morning, it seemed an unusual time for visitors. The door hadn't been forced, so it couldn't be a burglar, unless he or she was very skilled with a lockpick. Besides, the only time anyone had dared to burgle 221, he had been tracked down, taught a very valuable lesson and been brought back to apologize to Mrs Hudson in person. Sherlock was fairly sure there were now horror stories about 221B spread around amongst London's criminal underground.
The tread on the stairs was John's, and he relaxed his posture. The step was slightly too heavy, however, as though he were carrying bags of groceries.
Or a small child.
Sherlock turned expectantly when John made the landing. He held a bundle on his hip, a humanoid shape wrapped in a baby blanket and topped with a beanie. A few blonde tresses peeked out of the bottom of the hat. There was a car seat in his other hand, the kind that fit in a pushchair, and he dropped it on the floor.
"You smell like the A&E," Sherlock said, as the scent of industrial grade cleaning products wafted his way.
"I've spent the last three hours there, makes sense," John replied. "Abby has otitis."
He entered the kitchen and unwrapped the blanket from around the child, hanging it over a chair while he took off her pea coat and beanie. Her cheeks were flushed with bright red spots, almost perfectly circular. The rest of her was pale.
"Why so late?" Sherlock asked. "Surely you knew she was ill earlier."
"By the time we realized what was wrong, the walk-in clinics were closed," John explained. He moved in a bobbing motion while he spoke."She had a fever when we picked her up from the minder's, but it wasn't until she started doing that—" he nodded to where Abby had put a hand to her ear, "—that we figured out it was anything more than a cold or something. No point in taking her in for something they can't treat. We took a look in her ear with an otoscope, and it's a mess in there. Textbook bullous myringitis. Then we thought we'd wait until morning and bring her into the surgery, but she's been so fussy that we decided around ten we weren't going to get any sleep anyway, so we might as well take her in. Apparently every other parent with a sick child reached the same conclusion at the same time, and the A&E was packed with screaming kids." John sighed. "Anyway, she's been prescribed antibiotics, and we stopped at the twenty-four hour chemist to get them. She's had her first dose, but she still won't sleep. I've convinced Sarah to go home. There was no point in both of us being up all night, and she has to work in the morning. I figured you didn't sleep anyway, so I came here. If I'm at home, Sarah will be up fussing about her."
Sherlock thought this was highly overcomplicated for a simple ear infection, and far more information than he needed to understand the situation. "Couldn't you have prescribed something for her yourself?" he asked.
"No. We've been over this, it is morally, if not legally, dodgy to prescribe things for family members—and best friends," John said. "Is it okay if I pace around the living room?"
Sherlock shrugged. "I suppose so," he said.
"She'll only settle when we're moving," John explained.
"Ah, I wondered what the jig you were doing was about," Sherlock said.
Abby let out a small whimper, and tears streaked down her cheeks.
"I know, sweetie," John said. "I know it hurts."
Sherlock watched as John continued his bobbing dance around the room. Abby tugged on her ear, and whimpered on and off, sometimes growing into a full blown wail.
"My father used to blow pipe smoke in my ear," Sherlock said. He hadn't realized he had that stored in his hard drive until he went looking for something to quiet her.
"My mother stuck a glove of garlic in my ear," John said.
Sherlock couldn't see any scientific reason for that. "Did it help?" he asked.
"I can't remember," John said. "I just remember Harry pissing herself laughing. My nan used to make us drink hot toddies, too."
"She give you spirits?" Sherlock asked.
John shrugged. "She was Scottish. It think the point was to knock us out, so we didn't care if it hurt or not."
"And you wonder why your sister is an alcoholic," Sherlock said.
John made a face that suggested that might have been a 'not good' thing to say. Sherlock ignored it.
"I don't have garlic," Sherlock said. "But I do have spirits."
"No," John said. "Let's not get my one-year old pissed."
"I have a pipe, too," Sherlock added.
"No," John said.
Sherlock thought for a moment. "I know it felt better," he said. "After the pipe smoke. There must have been a scientific basis for it. Perhaps we could replicate it with something similar, but without the carcinogenic component..."
"You're not experimenting on her either," John said. "Just ignore us and do whatever you were doing."
Sherlock attempted to do this. He was usually very good at tuning out distractions. He was able to force the creaking floorboards and John's cooing murmurs out of his mind, but every time he prepared to do something important in his work, Abby would let out a wail. It pierced right through his barriers, and he couldn't block it out. He imagined it was some sort of evolutionary instinct, to be distracted when a child cried. It was very inconvenient.
"I have some low-strength paracetamol," Sherlock said. "Would that—" Shut her up. "—Help? They gave it to me because of that whole heart thing."
"Someone tried to defibrillate you to death, Sherlock, that's more than a 'heart thing'," John said.
"Whatever," Sherlock said. "Will it help?"
"We've given her something already," John said. "And paracetamol isn't good for kids. It can cause Reye's Syndrome."
"That's disputed," Sherlock said.
"I'm not risking it."
He very seriously contemplated kicking them out. It was no longer John's home, after all. He couldn't bring whomever he pleased into it. Sherlock sensed that this was one of those friendship requirement moments, however. He thought of them as 'dues'. Like belonging to a union, there were certain payment requirements to keeping a friendship. He didn't understand them, but he did want to retain John as a friend, so he tried to comply when they came along. Thankfully, they didn't happen often.
That didn't mean he couldn't try to make the situation more amenable to him, though. He went out to his laptop to see what he could find on earache remedies. John continued his dance around the room, singing mindless, off- key songs to Abby, and telling her what a brave girl she was.
Most of what Sherlock found seemed to have no scientific basis whatsoever. The explanation seemed to be 'they work because they work'. He did not accept that as a valid reason. He did manage to find a few that seemed to make sense. Most of them required food, but one of them he thought they could try.
"Hair dryer," he said.
John turned in place, still bouncing. "Sorry?" he said.
"Apparently blowing a hair dryer on the affected ear is supposed to be soothing," Sherlock said. "It's the same principle as pipe smoke—warmth and drying out of fluid in the ear."
"You want to help?" John asked, looking surprised.
"I want her to be quiet," Sherlock said.
John shrugged. "I guess there's no harm in trying," he said. "All right."
Sherlock found a hair dryer in his box of experiment refuse—those items that were surplus to requirements, but he kept in case he needed them again. This particular object had been purchased to be dropped in a bath, but he'd found his solution before he'd used up all the options he'd bought. He took it out to the living room and plugged it in. John bounced his way over and sat down on the couch. Abby started fussing the moment they stopped moving.
Sherlock trained the hair dryer on her ear and turned it on to the lowest setting. Abby gave him a look not dissimilar to the one John gave him when he thought he was doing something idiotic. After a few moments, she sighed, and settled down.
"Look at that," John said. "Huh."
They sat there for several minutes, John holding Abby steady while Sherlock held the hair dryer. Abby's her eyes fluttered closed, and she rested her head on John's shoulder. John suddenly snorted and started to laugh.
"What?" Sherlock said.
"Sorry, I was just thinking what this would look like if Mrs H or Sarah walked in," John said. "I think this might be one of the weirder things we've done."
"You say that about everything we do," Sherlock said, dismissively.
"Everything we do is weird," John said.
Sherlock cocked his head to the side in tentative agreement. What they did made sense to him, so it didn't seem weird. Things that were illogical were weird. Sherlock was not illogical.
John leaned back against the couch and looked on the verge of falling asleep. They'd been up working on a case the night before, and if he had been to work that day, he hadn't had much sleep yet. On average, John required eight times more sleep than Sherlock did to function at full capacity. Once he was down to less than three times as much sleep, he started to lose all ability to be useful. Sherlock guessed he was currently somewhere in that range.
After about fifteen minutes, the hair dryer was too hot to keep using it, so Sherlock flicked it off. Abby stirred and started screaming again. John jolted upright, sighed, and got up to pace.
"Well, a bit of a break at least," he said. "Thanks for trying."
Sherlock shrugged. He went back to his work, building up even thicker barriers to the noise. It was going well until a change in John's gait filtered through. He was getting lazy, and looking off-balance. Sherlock sighed and gave up all hope of getting any work done.
"Go and lie down," he ordered. "I'll mind her."
"What?" John said. "I mean... what?"
"You're tired. Your steps are faltering. You'll trip and break her—or something important," Sherlock said. "Have a nap. Go to my room."
John turned away like he was trying to shield Abby from him. "I've got it," he said. "I'm fine."
"I can carry a baby," Sherlock said. John giggled. Sherlock rolled his eyes."You're laughing at inane things. You do that when you're borderline exhausted. If you collapse, you'll injure her, and then I'll have to listen to you moan for weeks about your inadequacies. Give her to me."
It took a few moments before John came round. "I'll set your alarm," he said."I'll just lie down for an hour."
"Very well," Sherlock said.
John transferred the child to Sherlock. She started wailing immediately. Sherlock refused to give her back.
"If she gets really fussy, or if her fever spikes, or if she starts to seem obtunded, get me," John said, looking conflicted. Sherlock turned him by the shoulder and pushed him toward the bedroom. John sighed, and stumbled down the hall. Sherlock took up a pacing route around the living room.
"Shut up," he said, as she continued to screech. "You're not helping yourself. Crying is a mechanism for getting what you want, but what you want is impossible at this moment. There's nothing to be done until the antibiotics start to work. You're just expending energy. You should be resting so your body can fight the infection off."
Abby's cries quieted a little. Sherlock was surprised; he'd found logic was not very useful with small children. After a few moments, she started to wail again. He explained about white blood cells. She calmed down. Then she started to cry again. Some experimentation quickly discovered that it was the sound of his voice that calmed her, not his words. So, he kept speaking.
He told her about his experiment, and then about the case they'd solved the day before. She pressed her sore ear to his neck, and put her thumb in her mouth. He recited the Periodic Table of Elements, forwards and backwards. He found he was able to sit down, with her in his lap, and she remained calm. He dragged the laptop over and did some research, reading out the pages he was looking at. She started to doze off. He retrieved the car seat and placed her in it, putting it on John's old chair. He quoted from "The Raven". She fell asleep.
He found himself oddly satisfied by this accomplishment. He put her blanket over her, and placed some cushions on the floor in front of the chair, in case she somehow managed to knock herself over. The car seat was obviously made to withstand collisions, but Sherlock had noticed she had a distinct talent for finding ways to defy all logic and reason in her ability to put herself in danger. John suggested it was learned behaviour from her 'Uncle' Sherlock. Sherlock had replied that perhaps she should spent less time around him, then.
He returned to his experiment. John emerged from the bedroom in a rush, ninety minutes later.
"Sorry, I turned the alarm off and fell back asleep," he said "Is she—?" He came to an abrupt halt. "She's sleeping."
"Excellent observation," Sherlock said.
"How did you do that?" John demanded.
"I spoke to her," Sherlock replied.
John nodded. "Oh. Yeah, I always get sleepy when you talk too," he said.
Sherlock glared at him, but John laughed, and that made Sherlock laugh as well. John moved over to the couch and flopped down on it, falling back asleep within minutes.
Sherlock returned to his experiment, pleased to have some quiet. He didn't know why John complained about parenting so often. It was really quite easy.
Then Abby started screaming again.
Sarah unclipped Gladstone's leash, and he ran ahead of her, up the stairs to 221B. He'd arrived with his leash in his mouth when she'd tried to leave the house. He did that when it was time for a walk, and he carried his bowl around when he wanted to be fed. She was never sure if that was a skill that Sherlock had taught him, or some sort of survival mechanism from his time living with a man who barely remembered to feed himself, let alone a dog.
She followed Gladstone upstairs, somewhat afraid of what she was going to find. In theory, John had been sweet and kind to think of her, and she understood that, for him, Baker Street was some sort of sanctum, where nothing could go wrong. But for her, it was the place where his former flatmate tried to blow himself up on a daily basis. She trusted John, and, she supposed, she trusted Sherlock, but she'd still spent most of the night worrying and trying not to worry and want to ring to see what was happening and trying not to ring to see what was happening. She had a massive headache, and didn't feel rested at all. It sort of defeated the whole purpose of the exercise.
She was relieved to find everyone alive when she entered the flat. John was sleeping on the couch, Abby was in her car seat on the coffee table, and Sherlock was sitting at his laptop, apparently blow-drying her hair. Abby looked calm until she spotted Sarah, then she started screaming at the top of her lungs. Everything was always fine until you saw your mum.
Gladstone whined, and jumped up on the coffee table to get to Abby. John didn't move. She admired that ability to sleep through anything as much as she hated it.
She plucked Abby out of the car seat, and settled her on her hip. "Hey now, shhhh. You're fine. I saw you. You're just playing up, now. Hey, Sherlock."
Sherlock turned the hair dryer off. "I hope you slept well," he said. His tone suggested that what he really hoped was that she'd lay on a bed of nails and hadn't got a wink.
"I only managed about ninety minutes," she said. He looked pleased. "How did it go here?"
"She was very disruptive, and John was useless," Sherlock declared. "I think the antibiotics are working now, though. John gave her the second dose when I woke him up to change her nappy. She was calm until you arrived."
"Were you bothering Uncle Sherlock?" Sarah asked Abby. "Hmm? You should tell him what it was like when you woke up every two hours for the first six months you were alive. He would have liked that."
Sherlock narrowed his eyes at her. "If you're suggesting I missed some sort of torture, I will point out that she is not my responsibility," he said. "You chose to have her."
Sarah grinned at him. He rolled his eyes at her. "I have to go to work soon," she said. "Can you mind her until John wakes up? And is it okay if Gladstone hangs out?"
"Yes, by all means, let's invite everyone in," Sherlock grumbled.
Sarah laughed and gave him an affectionate kiss on the cheek, which only made him grumpier. "You're a good man," she told him.
"I am not," he said. "Go to work."
She gave Abby a few more minutes of snuggling before she returned her to her car seat. "You be a good girl," she said, kissing her until she giggled. "I love you. I hope you feel better soon, sweet girl." She suddenly frowned, sniffing at Abby's ear. "Sherlock, why does she smell like garlic?"
Sherlock's eyes dodged around. "Mrs Hudson had garlic in her kitchen," he said, like that should explain everything.
"I... nope, I'm not going to pursue it," Sarah said, raising her hands in surrender. "And I'm not going to ask about the hair dryer either."
"It all has a sound basis in science," he said.
"Oh, well, then it's all fine," Sarah said.
He sighed, and returned to his laptop.
John finally stirred on the couch, his eyes opening a little. He gave her a dopey smile. "Hey, Sarah," he said.
She went over and found a perch on a few inches that wasn't occupied by him."Sleeping on the job, soldier?" she asked.
"Mmm?" he said. "Oh!" He pushed up on his elbow to look at Abby. "She's fine." He lay back down again. "Did you sleep?"
"Not as much as you, apparently," Sarah said.
"Sherlock was surprisingly helpful," John said, yawning. She wanted to smack him, but she resisted. "Cheap rates, too. We should hire him full time."
"If you even consider asking me to this again, I will kill you and myself," Sherlock declared, typing forcefully on the keyboard.
John and Sarah smiled at each other in amusement.
Sarah looked down at her watch. "I better go," she said. She stood up and gave John a kiss, even though he didn't deserve it. Stupid, well-rested, arse.
"Love you," John murmured, sleepily.
"You too," she said.
She checked on Abby one more time. She had dropped off to sleep. If she was up all night, she was probably exhausted. Poor thing. Gladstone was curled up on the coffee table, his nose touching Abby's feet.
"I'll come collect everyone after work," she said, to Sherlock. He gave her an absent wave. "Thank you." Another absent wave. "Don't kill anyone." He made a non-committal gesture.
Sarah left, greeting Mrs Hudson on her way out. At least there was someone there who was responsible.
"Sherlock Holmes!" she heard Mrs Hudson yell, as she left. "Why are there bottles of spirits all over my kitchen table?"
'No', she told herself firmly. 'It's best if I don't know.'