A/N: This is an odd one. I'm not sure how I feel about the whole shebang but I've spent enough time writing it so someone's going to bloody well read it. It's technically a one shot but it has three distinct sections so I'm posting in three parts (but all at once, if you get me, and if two and three aren't up yet it's because I'm still proofreading, Speedy Gonzales). Anyway. Yeah. Thanks to the folk who reviewed Trust Issues, I've missed you lot since I finished Schoolgirl Crush. Nice to have you back. And in other news I have a tumblr these days. Be a dear and follow so I can work out who to follow in order to stalk reblogged pictures of Benedict and loveable gifs of Jennifer Lawrence (that's what it's meant for, right?). Username is flaignhan, link on profile, etc etc. I'mma stop typing now. Let me know what you think of this!

The New Normal

by Flaignhan

He's going through the motions these days. He has to be careful, with those at the top keeping their eyes on him. Everything is done by the book. It's boring. He gets fewer results. Sometimes, he doesn't even try to get a result. Just to prove a point.

"He's hiding something," Sally says, folding her arms. "I know he is. There's something in that house, and we need to find out what it is."

"Not gonna happen," Lestrade says, turning the page of the report.

"Sorry?" Sally asks.

"You'll need a warrant."

"Yeah, and we'll get one."

"Based on what? Gut instinct?"

"Don't you feel it too?" Sally asks, fixing him with her dark eyes. Lestrade spares her the briefest of glances before lazily perusing the file once more.

"Well," he says sarcastically, "if you're offering up two gut instincts as sufficient grounds then -"

"Well maybe we don't need whatever's in there as evidence. Maybe we just need a shove in the right direction so we can catch him red handed."

Lestrade frowns. "Sergeant Donovan," he says, "Are you suggesting we break into the home of a suspect?"

"You say 'breaking in', I say 'exploring'." She smiles, just a little.

"And I say Chief Inspector." Lestrade slams down the file, and Sally flinches. "If you think one of my team is going to do anything illegal on my watch, you've got another think coming."

"But sir -"

"I don't care."

"No," Sally says, digging the toe of her shoe against the carpet tiles. "That's the trouble, isn't it?"

Lestrade doesn't rise to the bait. "Your doing," he says cheerfully. "Now, get out of my office."

Sally slams the door behind her and Lestrade puts his feet up on the table, smiling to himself. If nothing else, he can do his friend the courtesy of making sure Sally Donovan regrets the day she ever named him as a suspect.

The fridge is empty. It's been empty for months. There's not a speck of human tissue to be seen, no suspicious stains, no unpleasant experiments that cause her to wrinkle her nose in disgust. She pulls on her marigolds regardless, and with the spray bleach in one hand, and her cloth in the other, she scrubs it. When she's done, she goes at the sink, and then empties out all of the cabinets and cleans the insides of those too. And then, when she's put everything back in its rightful place, she mops the floor until it shines brightly under the fluorescent strip lighting.

She thinks, rather sadly, that if he were here, he'd be terribly cross with her. She'd give anything to have him shout at her again. Anything for a snide comment or a demand for tea. She tries to ignore the trembling of her hands, putting it down to old age, but she knows that's got naff all to do with it.

Thinking about him causes her heart to whine in her chest, as though there's a little hole in it and all of the lovely things in the world whoosh through and go to some place else. Dabbing at her eyes with her hankie is second nature by now, and so she busies herself by doing some laundry. She can't have his second best dressing gown getting all musty, it wouldn't do.

"I bet you miss him too, don't you?" she says wistfully.

The skull on the mantelpiece doesn't reply.

"Still," she says, feigning brightness. "I'll be going to John's for tea tomorrow. That'll be nice, I'm sure."

She starts straightening the books on the shelves either side of the chimney breast, and when she finally accepts that nobody's moved them since the last time she did this, she gives up and turns around.

When she sees the bright yellow smiley face spray painted on the wall, she bursts into tears.

He spends every waking moment not thinking about it. And, as such, spends every waking moment thinking about the 'it' that he's not thinking about. He hates his brain. He wishes he could switch it off. He's tried everything, from trashy television to audiobooks, even crosswords and whatever kind of brainteaser he can find in the pages of the newspaper.

But no. None of it works.

Because in his head, all the time, he can hear him. He narrates John's life like it's some tragic little art house film where nothing really happens. And the worst thing is, it's so horribly close to how he was, that it drives John insane. Perhaps he could cope if the voice were comforting, saying things like 'John, you're fine' and 'don't worry, John'. But no, of course it doesn't say that. Instead, what John hears all day is 'well the answer's blatantly obvious, isn't it?' and when John tells the voice in his head that no, the answer is not obvious, the voice puts on a sulky, arms-folded sort of tone, and says 'well I'm not going to tell you, it'd do you good to work it out for yourself'.

John's coffee has gotten stronger. He needs something sharp to push him and his sharpness out. In fact, he's taken up a lot of unpleasant habits in order to drive him from his mind, as though the voice might just one day throw his arms in the air in a hissy fit, grab his suitcase and walk out, so he can go and bother somebody a little bit more accommodating.

John knows why he stays though. John indulges him, John talks back to him, and most of all, John argues with him. The voice in his head loves that. It seems that it's about as much fun a disembodied voice can have in this day and age.

Or maybe it's less a voice-in-the-head thing and more of a...him thing.

He doesn't tell his psychiatrist that he's got a voice in his head. It's not something he's prepared to reveal to someone who can sign the paperwork that'll get him a nice new jacket with a really interesting sleeve design.

He'll just have to make do with the voice. And really, if John were to be completely honest with himself, he's not sure he'd have it any other way.

That worries him far more than the voice does.