Something was wrong with Sherlock this morning.
John could spot it right away. He was oddly quiet, and seemed to lack the energy to insult anyone. Even Anderson had gotten by him unscathed so far. John knew better than to assume that all his teachings about manners and tact had finally sunk in, so the only conclusion he could come to was that something was wrong. The mission, then, was to find out what.
But Sherlock wasn't having any of it. The moment John got his Are you okay look on, the consulting detective would glare and redirect his attention elsewhere - in this instance, to a waterlogged footprint in the sand. What use it could possibly have was beyond John.
"What's with him?" Lestrade questioned, drawing close to John's shoulder. The two of them were standing out of the way, letting Sherlock do his work on the first fresh crime scene of the day. They were on the banks of the Thames, where the body of a suspected smuggler had been found in the wee hours before dawn.
Hunching his shoulders against the chilly wind, John shook his head. "Don't know," he admitted. "I tried to ask him on the ride over, but he just started mumbling about water rot. Now he won't even look at me."
"Maybe you offended his delicate sensibilities."
"Huhm," huffed John.
The DI rolled his eyes. "Oi, Sherlock! I said five minutes. I have to let forensics in - what have you got?"
Rigidly, Sherlock straightened to standing and snapped a latex glove off his left hand. "Enough to go on," he said, striding over to where Lestrade and John stood waiting.
"He's definitely one of your smugglers. The tattoo on his wrist matches the description given by the waiter from the hotel. Furthermore, the killing was not a message to anyone - if it was, he would have been beaten, or left somewhere to be found. Instead he was asphyxiated and dumped in the river - clearly the killer was trying to hide the body."
"How do you know that?"
"His shoes are missing. I guarantee you will find them at the bottom of the river, weighted down with blocks."
"Well, how did he get out of them?"
"I'm getting to that. Anyway, the killing was to tie off a loose end - if he talked, the whole game would have been up. Enter the accomplice. He - or she, but statistically more likely he - developed a guilty conscience shortly after dumping the body. You can see from the bruises... er, the bruises round..." It was then that Sherlock appeared to lose his momentum. His face crumpled into a grimace of concentration as he tried to grasp at what he'd been saying, blinking rapidly into the middle distance to clear his head. "The ligature marks around... no, that's... that's not right..."
John and Lestrade exchanged a brief look, each of them wearing identical frowns. "Sherlock?" John said slowly. "You okay?"
"Fine..." Sherlock replied, but he was pinching the bridge of his nose, his dark brows knitted in consternation.
"Okay, mate, you just lost your train of thought," said Lestrade, shrugging it off. "Just give it a minute, it's in there somewhere."
By now, however, all the colour had drained from Sherlock's face. "No... John, I..."
"Yep - sit down." With sudden understanding, John briskly pushed him down into a sitting position, one hand bracing his back so that he wouldn't fall over - and not a moment too soon, for Sherlock's knees were already buckling, and he gave way like a ragdoll under John's light touch.
"Jesus," Lestrade cursed as John knelt before his flatmate. "Wasn't it your turn to feed him?"
"It's not that," John said over his shoulder. He knew very well that Sherlock had eaten a full meal yesterday evening and had even had a solid nap directly after. He could go for days without eating or sleeping; this was not low blood sugar or sleep deprivation. Something was actually wrong with him. John peered closely into his eyes, watching the color seep gradually back into his face. The detective was sitting quietly now, breathing slowly through parted lips as he waited for the spell to pass. Two bright brushstrokes of pink were beginning to blossom on his cheekbones.
"Sick?" The DI's voice held a note of dread. A sick Sherlock was no picnic. For anyone within shouting distance.
"I'm fine," Sherlock said faintly.
"Sherlock," said John in his best paediatrician voice, "you look like you're gonna throw up."
"No - no, I'm fine. Let's get on with it."
"Uh - yeah, no. You need to see a doctor, because that's what people do when they're sick. Come on. It's probably food poisoning from that awful Thai takeaway the other night..."
Sherlock sighed plaintively. "John, I'm - "
"And if you say 'fine' one more time," John interrupted, "I will sedate you and drag you to hospital."
And to this, Sherlock had no argument.
John sat in an uncomfortable waiting room chair for what seemed like an eternity while he waited for his friend to return with the diagnosis. His bet was on food poisoning still, but it had occurred to him that stomach flu could very well be the culprit. Either way, he was looking at several days of fighting to keep Sherlock tied down to the sofa instead of running around chasing drug smugglers.
At last, when John felt he could not read another issue of Junior Magazine, a pair of immaculate white trainers appeared in his field of vision.
"You the partner?" said the person attached to the shoes.
"Sorry?" John blinked.
"Sherlock Holmes? You the partner?"
"Oh - uh - yes." By the time John realised that partner probably didn't mean colleague, he had already said it and it was too late. He dropped his magazine on the side table and stood to address the young doctor. "So, food poisoning or stomach flu? Or, knowing him, something more obscure?"
"Yeah, okay, my honest medical opinion - Mr. Holmes is suffering from acute stress."
That had to be a joke, right? "Sorry - what?"
"Stress," the doctor repeated flatly. "Overwork. Exhaustion."
"You have got to be kidding me."
"I'm not. I see this all the time. There is nothing medically wrong with him right now, but I highly recommend taking a holiday - or at least some time off to rest."
"A holiday," John repeated. "Really."
The doctor sighed, nodding. "Look, it's true what they say - stress can lead to episodes like this at best, and heart disease at worst. So yes, a break would probably do him well. What does he do? For a living?"
"Uh - he's a detective..."
"Right." He whipped a prescription pad out of the pocket of his lab coat and started scribbling. When he was finished, he tore the page off and handed it to John. "This is a note he can take to his captain, and they'll allow him to take a leave of absence. Often, this time off is paid in full as long as he's in good standing with his superiors, so - take it. Go somewhere, take a holiday."
John absently accepted the note, pocketing it messily as he stared uncomprehendingly at the doctor. Sherlock Holmes - seemingly inhuman, even superhuman, and yet human enough to experience attacks of stress. Of all things to knock him clean on his arse: stress. "Oh... kay," he said, feeling half in a daze of his own. "We'll... do that. Um... is he on his way out?"
"Just signing the papers now. Questions?"
"No... no, I don't think so."
Within moments of the doctor departing, Sherlock was arriving, shrugging his great coat on and looking extremely put-upon. But at least he had his colour back.
John, for his part, was beginning to smile. He really shouldn't have been doing - it wasn't funny, after all, that Sherlock had nearly knocked himself out at a crime scene. But he knew that the diagnosis must have annoyed Sherlock to no end, and that certainly was amusing.
"Preposterous," the detective grumbled as he reunited with John. The two of them fell into step together toward the door. "Ridiculous. I cannot believe you subjected me to such - "
"You're not immune, you know. Nobody gets to sprint as long as you do and not pay a price." John slipped his jacket back on as they exited the hospital.
"He said you should take a holiday - I think it's a good idea. You know, Spain could be nice. Enough culture there that even you couldn't manage to get bored."
"John, no," Sherlock said firmly, hailing a cab with more gusto than was necessary. As if to prove he was in perfect health. "We are going straight back to the crime scene. I may have missed something in my momentary lapse, and the smugglers could slip through our fingers."
John could not help but laugh. "That's what you think."
Sherlock's glare turned questioning.
John brandished the doctor's note. "I have here a lovely little slip of paper stating that you are medically unfit to work. All I have to do is hand this to Lestrade, and you are officially on sick leave for at least... what's it say here... ah-hah, two weeks."
The detective made a desperate grab for the note, but John was quicker, and it disappeared back into his pocket.
"You know," John said coolly, "the more I think about it, the more I like the idea. We should take a holiday. For your health. And my sanity."
The cab pulled up and Sherlock ducked inside first. "Please. Where would we get the money for something like that?"
John shrugged. "I'm sure we could manage something."
"Ridiculous," Sherlock said again. He knuckled his eyes, possibly in the hopes that he was dreaming and might wake up. It did not work, of course, and Sherlock was left staring at a very triumphant John from across the back of the cab. "John, don't. You know what I'm like when I can't work. You don't want that."
John's only response was to wave the note about again, and Sherlock groaned, collapsing back against the leather seat, defeated.
"Sick leave?" Greg stood framed in the doorway of 221b with his arms crossed over his chest and his feet wide apart, eyebrows lifted in muted surprise. "Him?"
"Yep," John confirmed. He handed the crumpled doctor's note to the DI. "Doctor's orders."
Sherlock groaned from the couch. "It's ridiculous. Lestrade, tell him."
"No... actually, I think it's a rather good idea..." said the DI, thoughtfully, as he examined the note. "I mean, you've been going nonstop for too long, you've probably pushed yourself too hard. We can do without you for a couple weeks. A holiday might be just what you need."
"Just what I - oh God, not you, too. Would you listen to yourselves? Somewhere out there, a murderer is on the loose, and you're suggesting we go sun ourselves instead of catching him."
John grinned and pocketed the note once more. "Now we just have to think of where to go that he won't be able to get into any trouble."
Sherlock buried his face in the sofa cushions.
"I might be able to help with that," Lestrade said brightly. "Listen, I'll come round tomorrow, okay? Don't make any plans just yet."
"Um, alright, but listen - will you, uh..." John lowered his voice and pressed close to Greg so that a certain consulting detective couldn't hear. "Will you really be all right without him?"
The DI rolled his eyes as he turned for the door. "Scotland Yard functioned without him once, I'm sure it can manage again."
"Right then. See you tomorrow."
When Lestrade had gone, John turned gleefully to Sherlock. "What do you suppose he's got up his sleeve, then?"
Sherlock lifted his face to glare at John, his cheek lined with imprints from the leather cushion. "If it's not murder, I don't care," he stated petulantly.
The next afternoon, Lestrade arrived as promised, brandishing two small yellow slips of paper as he sauntered through the door. His expression was delightfully devious, and John leapt up to greet him. "Here you go," the DI declared, shoving the slips of paper into John's hand.
"What's this?" John inspected one of the papers by the light streaming in from the window. "Cruise tickets? You're giving us cruise tickets? Don't you want them?"
With a mischievous smile, the DI reached into his coat pocket and produced a third ticket. "I'm coming too."
"Greg, this is too much, we can't..."
"I won them in a radio contest a month ago. Still hadn't figured out what to do with them, but this seems the perfect way to use them. After all, Sherlock can't get himself into that much trouble confined to a boat, can he?"
John barked a laugh and shook his head, wondering if the consulting detective was prone to seasickness at all. "I should hope not. Hell, he might even be forced to relax and enjoy himself. This is brilliant."
"Leaves next Saturday. How do you suppose we break the news to Sherlock?"
"No need," said a new voice from the hallway. Sherlock slumped in the doorway to the sitting room, dressing gown hanging off one shoulder as he glared at the two men. "What makes you think I can be convinced to set foot on a cruise ship?"
"Oh, between the two of us, I think we can manage," Lestrade mused, exchanging a look with John.
"Ugh," was all Sherlock managed to that, before he slunk back to his microscope.
Greg and John could only grin at one another.
TO BE CONTINUED