Title - Shadow Child
Author - Kourion
Summary: I take a step back, my heart fluttering in my chest. The look of rage I had seen a moment before is rapidly draining from my friend's face. "Did I - did I hurt you?," Sherlock clarifies, his eyes closed. Unwilling to look. / Hints of Johnlock. Angst. Warnings for child abuse/ non-con.
A/N: I'm a new Sherlock fan, just learning the ropes. All concrit very much appreciated. This may turn into a ficlet with a few more parts depending on interest/ response. It may turn into a larger fic in the future, but at present time I am completely behind with updating some of my other WIP's and don't want to start on anything too bulky. :) Reviews are absolute love!
Warnings/notes: This fic deals with pretty weighty material, not the least of which is child abuse. Please proceed with caution if you think any of these issues could trigger you in any way.
"For in every adult there dwells the child that was, and in every child there lies the adult that will be." - John Conolly
The anger is making my hands tremble. I clench them to get the shaking to stop.
Sherlock seems unrepentant. Wholly disinterested in the subject at hand, and it's making my anger even worse.
Currently he's attacking the top of a new Horlicks container with the tine of a fork, messily trying to open up the container. His motions seem almost frantic even though his facial expression is one of forced calmness.
I've never seen him actually make himself a beverage before. Aside from black coffee, Earl grey tea, or pouring himself the odd cup of water.
An old snippet of conversation flitters into my brain - random and off-putting, and in no way related to the issue at hand:
'Do you have a girlfriend? Someone who feds you up?'
'Is that what girlfriends do? Feed you up?'
I turn off my mobile. Take in a bit of air.
Debate how to begin.
"You are off, Sherlock. You know that, don't you? Off this case. Lestrade is furious. You're lucky if decides that he wants to work with you ever-"
My voice quavers with emotion and I stop speaking. Sherlock's motions have come to a pause, as if he's actually listening to me somewhat, before he resumes his stabbing at the Horlicks container.
'It's all transport.'
'This body is just transport, John. The only thing that matters is the mind.'
When he speaks again, he gives no indication that he's heard anything I've had to say even though I distinctly saw his brief flash of anger at my earlier words.
So it's all an act. This calm disinterest.
This deliberate avoidance of the subject at hand.
"Damn foil lids. Those idiots. Absolute cretins. They basically glue them to the-"
"Did you hear what I said? Do you understand the harm you may have caused to this case? Does any of this register?!"
My volume has increased over the last few seconds, and Sherlock closes his eyes briefly as if overwhelmed by the noise. I see him rub his hands back and forth together as if rubbing sticks together to start a camp fire. It's an odd motion - one I haven't seen him do before. But it's something.
It's a reaction.
"I didn't do anything wrong," his voice is soft when he speaks again. Not quite a whisper, but soft. Something about it seems almost dangerous.
"You didn't do anything wrong?," I repeat slowly, as if trying to ascertain that - yes, that's really what he's said. "You punched a man, Sherlock! A child's parent! For all intents and purposes - a victim in his own right. You broke his nose! There may be real consequences here! There may be charges - do you even understand that?"
Sherlock picks up the Horlicks jar, ignoring me and eyeing the directions.
"Can you just put down the damn drink mix for one bleeding second and deal with this like an adult?!"
My flat mate glares at me. His blue eyes seem fuller and paler in the weak light of the evening. The pupils have constricted and seem small.
He's off put.
"I haven't even had dinner yet, John!"
Some part of me is alarmed at how easily Sherlock thinks a drink of Horlicks constitutes as a possible 'dinner.'
"And that deviates from a normal evening, how?"
"I haven't had dinner in days, and I deserve to be able to have some dinner! I'm hungry!"
Well, that's a first.
"Which you can have in all but five minutes, Sherlock. After we are done talking about this."
"Well maybe I'm done talking about this now!," he seethes; I reach out to grab his shoulder, to turn him around, to get him to face what he's done and...
His face contorts.
It goes from seemingly disinterested and unconcerned, if somewhat irritable - to a mask of gargoyle-like rage in a matter of seconds. Without meaning to, I suck in a breath. A moment later I am jumping back at the sound of breaking glass.
I look down dumbly and away from Sherlock's line of sight and see Horlicks powder - creamy and pale - coating the floor. Shards of glass, thick and typically unbreakable, lay near Sherlock's feet.
It's only then that I realize: the jar didn't just drop.
He threw it.
He broke the jar deliberately.
He smashed it.
My heart is fluttering in my chest. The look of rage I had seen a moment before in him is rapidly draining away.
I open my mouth to say something - I'm not sure what - when my shoes interact with the edge of a glass splinter. It generates a scratchy sound against the tile.
"Did I - did I hurt you?," Sherlock clarifies, his eyes closed. Unwilling to look.
I stare down at my legs, and brush at my jeans.
"No, but-," my eyes catch sight of Sherlock's feet. One is turning purple. A curlicue ribbon of red is swirling away from his bare legs. It almost looks too pretty to be blood.
"Don't move, Sherlock."
I grab the broom from the hall closet and return quickly. Sherlock seems fixed in his position. His arms are wrapped around his midsection.
"I need to clear a pathway first. I'm sorry. I don't want you stepping on any more glass."
It's obvious, and I know it's obvious, but I can't help the clarification.
When I've removed the majority of glass debris and deposits from the kitchen floor, I assess the damage to my friends' limb.
A small pool of blood is outlining Sherlock's feet. His legs have taken on a pale, unnatural chalk colour. A flap of skin hangs apart slightly from his right shin; this is the wound that is generating the majority of the bleeding.
"Can you walk?," I ask tentatively.
He gives me a look.
"I didn't break a bone, John! Of course I can walk," he hisses out at me, his face contorting in pain as he moves.
I usher him into the bathroom, and Sherlock deposits himself into a chair that's been placed under the medicine cabinet. It's wicker, and he's going to bleed on it, and it's unlikely that I'll be able to get all the blood out of it later.
But I could care less about that right now.
I move his dressing gown away, slightly. Gingerly, so as to not generate more pain. His black silk pant leg has been torn, and the skin peaks out in identification of the injury.
"These were my best pajamas," he says moodily. "What a shame."
I shoot him a look and then go to grab the hydrogen peroxide and a bag of cotton balls from under the sink. When I return to his side I begin by saturating one in the solution of antiseptic.
"I don't get it. I really don't get it. Your behaviour has been-," I speak in low tones, inspecting the skin, and getting a butterfly bandage ready for application. As gently as possibly, I press the cotton to the wound and Sherlock sucks in his breath quickly, as if shocked by the sting of the peroxide. "Too shallow for stitches, so no hospital," I mutter. "It should stop bleeding soon."
I keep my hand pressed against Sherlock's leg. It's bleeding quite a bit still so I remind myself that glass wounds are like that. They are like head wounds: they bleed profusely.
Still, the tremulous movement of my friend in the chair has me concerned.
I place the bandage against his leg, then wrap with additional bleached-white gauze and secure everything down with hospital tape. When I look back up, Sherlock has closed his eyes and he's making panting noises as if he's nauseous.
"John!," the sudden insistence in his voice is unmistakable.
For one brief second, I think he's going to vomit.
"What's wrong? Sherlock? What's wrong?"
This - all of this - is not a response I would have expected for him. He's not phobic of blood, and he's endured far worse physical injuries in the past. And whatever has come over him has come quickly.
"I feel funny. I feel- John!," his voice contains a keening, needful sort of plea. But I have no idea what is going on.
And suddenly he's gasping for air, and the doctor in me is kicking into high gear because even if I don't understand the why's just yet - I know what is happening. As even though I haven't experienced it myself, I've seen it countless times.
He's having a panic attack.
"It's okay," I say with greater calm than I feel. Because it's not, and because his entire body is shaking like a leaf and because two bloody minutes ago - he seemed fine, "head down. Bring your head down. No - don't bring your legs up, you'll make it bleed again. No, just focus on my voice. Take in a shallow breath. Come on, Sherlock. Right, just like that. No - no, just hold it. Not too deep. You're breathing too fast, Sherlock."
He's breathing too rapidly. At this rate, he's going to start hyperventilating; it's then that I realize he's not simply woozy from shock of the injury or the blood loss as I had supposed in the past. He's been steadily becoming more and more anxious over the course of the evening and his deviation in routine was a giant, neon warning sign of this.
And I didn't even see this encroaching. That this attack is just the final culmination of what I didn't see.
Because suddenly: it's here.
"I can't - I can't breathe!"
"Yes, you can! You're having an anxiety attack. A panic attack. I know it feels awful, just awful - but you're going to be okay, Sherlock. I promise. You're not going crazy and you're not dying. Come on, just listen to my voice. It's going to go away soon, and you will feel much-"
Sherlock's head now shakes back and forth in rapid succession.
"No. Noooo," he wheezes, "can't. breathe. John - help me! Call Mycro-"
His eyes are wide and owlish, and he suddenly looks profoundly younger.
Something twists in my guts when he grabs my hand. Because Sherlock Holmes never just grabs anyone's hand, and never in fear.
I cup my hands and bring them up near his face.
"Just breathe into my hands then, Sherlock. It'll help. It's all about regulating the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in your blood. That's what's worsening the panic and making you hyperventilate - it's just simple biochemistry. And we'll get everything fixed and then you can read up on it, huh? I'll even let you steal my laptop, eh? Come on. That's good - just keep breathing just like that-"
I know I'm blathering on and on, but I keep the wording and the pacing even and regulated. I hope the very act of explaining why he's experiencing what he's experiencing will help him through this with minimal anxiety.
For some individuals, it wouldn't make a whit of difference. But Sherlock likes scientific explanations. It's how his mind works. He likes to know the in's and out's of things. And beyond all that - I'm just hoping I can distract him a bit.
Sherlock's hands have grasped onto my wrists now and I can't help but take in how cold and clammy they are.
Suddenly, I feel a surge of protectiveness and faint affection bloom in my core. I push it away and focus on his breathing, instead.
After a few minutes the shaking starts to reduce and his gasping gulps of air diminishes. I unfurl my hands and slowly scootch over to where he's sitting, lowering myself down on to my haunches so that I can look him in the eyes.
It's only then that I realize his eyes are full of tears. Genuine tears, save - possibly - for the time in Baskerville.
My hand comes up carefully, and finally rests on the small of Sherlock's back. I move my palm in slight clockwise movements and see him brush at his eyes with the back of one curled fist. He starts to calm down a bit, although his face is now infused with pink.
"You don't have to be embarrassed, Sherlock. Panic attacks are-"
Sherlock's entire jaw is clenched.
"That wasn't a panic attack," he says slowly. "Why would I have a panic attack?"
I squint, try to really take him in.
"Okay, well - from where I am standing it sure looked-"
"I've had panic attacks before! I know what they are. What they were, and they were always-"
His lean arms have come to twist around his waist and he brings his legs together until he's almost sitting cross legged in the chair.
"Alright, well - you used to have panic attacks. And I just so happen to think that you may have had another one again tonight. Did you used to have them often when you were younger?"
Sherlock nods. He looks tired as he bites at one thumb nail.
"I used to have really bad attacks when I was a little boy."
Something unfurls in my heart. Not only is the statement unexpected, and terribly honest - but...
"You did? I wouldn't have pegged you for being an anxious kid."
I give a hesitant smile, because the tension in the room right now is so thick it's almost unbearable.
"Why what? I don't know what you mean."
Sherlock breathes out in a rush. I can hear something layered in the air.
"Why wouldn't you have?" Something that sounds almost like a cry, but spirited away under the typical Sherlock snort of irritation.
"Because you don't seem to get anxious too often. You do and say things that would cause almost anyone else anxiety, except you."
Sherlock looks troubled. Not amused.
"Maybe that's because I'm a sociopath," he says at last, not meeting my eyes.
He sounds different this time too, when he says the word. It doesn't come off as sounding arrogant, or like he's branding the term 'sociopath' about like some twistedly beloved title.
And then, like a thunder clap: I get it.
Damn it, Sherlock.
Why did you take on their labels?
When they weren't truthful?
"I don't think you are a sociopath. I've never thought that."
The suggestion seems to stymie him, and he's quiet for a moment.
"What do you think I was like when I was a child then? If someone asked you - what would you say?"
I frown at the question. Rub my hands on my thighs.
"I dunno. I'd probably guess that you were much like you are now, I guess. Smaller, of course. Probably just as much a smart alec, I bet."
Sherlock looks at his knees then, letting out a sigh. He doesn't look happy with the analysis even though I kept it brief on purpose.
"I wasn't a bad kid," he whispers a few moments later. "I know everyone thinks I must have always been like this, but I wasn't bad then."
My heart is pounding so strongly now in my chest and I can actually hear the blood swishing through my skull. The pressure is enormous. It feels almost like the onset of a migraine.
"I never thought you were bad when you were a child, Sherlock," I say carefully. Feeling as if I am walking into emotional land-mine territory, and having no idea why. "Did someone say you were bad as a child?"
He shakes his head slowly, as if uncertain by the movement. But that's his only response.
"I don't think you are bad now, either. If that helps you in any sense."
God - what are you trying to tell me Sherlock?
What are you trying to get out?
"I wasn't bad when I was little, and Toby Thiesen wasn't bad either," he adds a minute later, as if I haven't spoken at all.
I take a few seconds to get my bearing, to actually GET that it's actually Sherlock whose speaking these words. Not one of the children from our recent case from hell. And these nonsensical words feel wrong. They don't fit the puzzle that is Sherlock.
They fit a different puzzle. One I don't want to call by name, for fear of making it true.
An image flashes into my mind...
a child on one of my earliest rotations. Long before the army.
Small little boy, baby face. 4 years old.
Light brown hair, almost red-brown.
Serious hazel eyes, like an adult's.
Skinny, like Sherlock must have been.
Burn marks between his thighs.
Made with an iron.
I stand up abruptly, feeling suddenly sick, and so I rub my hands through my hair.
My head and back feel sweaty, and Sherlock is looking away from me.
His teeth are gnashing away at his lower bottom lip.
"Sherlock," I whisper. "Do you need to tell me something?"
No sound, no air, no breath. A moment later, his mouth opens - but not for speech. His nose is congested from tears, I realize.
"No," he mutters. "I'm fine."
I grapple with what to say. With how to say 'no, you are not fine - you are assuredly not fine' - without making him feel like he needs to go on the defensive. Most of all I don't want him to clam up on me. Not now. Not when something is so wrong that every cell in my body is screaming with the weight of it. The truth of it.
"You don't seem fine, Sherlock. You must realize, at some level, that how you're behaving right now is very disturbing. Would naturally be disturbing to me, as your friend."
His teeth have now cut into his bottom lip hard enough that I think he's going to draw blood soon.
"Why does it disturb you that I care about them? That I care about those kids?," his baritone voice is flat. Dead. "That I care about little boys who've been hurt like that? Why does it disturbs you that I can feel something for them? Do you just think I am beyond caring in general?"
A 4 year old with hazel eyes, skinny and sad.
"I know that you care about them. I know that you care about people a great deal more than you let on. I also know that you're aware that's not what I'm talking about right now. That there are other things about your behaviour that make me think that something else is going on."
Sherlock looks to his lap. I clear my throat. Decide to bite the bullet. Ask the hard questions, since no one else ever will.
"Is there a reason - beyond impulsivity - for why you hit Mr. Thiesen this afternoon?"
"What do you mean?," Sherlock asks mockingly. And I suddenly see his mockery for what it is. A veil. A defense against anyone coming too close or seeing too much. "There is a reason for why humans do everything they do, even if the reason is illogical. Even if the reason is simple base emotion, there is a reason."
Sherlock's body is rigid which only pronounces his angularity and thinness as he speaks now. He's also leaning away from me, seemingly subconsciously. His entire composition concerns me.
"But this case seems more personal to you than most. I guess what I am asking Sherlock is... do you understand what these kids went through?"
"What happened to them was awful, John," he hisses. "Isn't that enough?"
"I know that, Sherlock! But it doesn't explain, to me, why-"
"And you think, what? The fact that I am angry about what happened to them means something more? Something's wrong with me too? Because I'm Sherlock Holmes, and I'm not supposed to feel anything for anyone?"
"I don't think there is anything wrong with those children, Sherlock! I certainly don't think there is anything wrong with you for being upset about what happened to them; on the contrary! And if you are asking me if I think there is something wrong here, with this case, let me only say this once. That I certainly don't in hell believe that someone is somehow less of a person, less worthy or less able to receive love - if they've been hurt in that way. Only the abusers are wrong. Not their victims. Never their victims."
Sherlock's lips are now pulled tight like the strings on his Stradivarius.
I pick my next words carefully.
"You typically are able to better reign in your anger. Especially if it is likely to get you booted from a case. But you didn't - or couldn't - on this case, and that leads me to think that there is something very specific about this case that is making it hard for you to emotionally deal with whatever you are dealing with right now."
Sherlock's face is tight. The muscles in his arms stand out like cords. Corded, twine musculature. No fat.
When he finally speaks he looks me straight in the eye. His eyes are cold and blank and hauntingly dissociative.
"You think someone raped me too. When I was a little boy. Just like Toby."
It's not a question but a statement.
I try to swallow down the ache in my throat at his pronouncement. At the rawness of the words. At the ugliness of the sheer possibility that something like that could have happened to him.
"I've considered that as a reason for your behaviour tonight, yes Sherlock."
Sherlock's eyes are glistening and his mouth is contorted into something barely holding back a scream. But he stays completely silent, his chest rising and falling as if even breathing requires considerable strength for him.
"I think it's a possibility that I didn't want to consider for this entire case, to be honest - but one that makes sense given your behaviour with the children, your anger with Toby's father, your panic tonight. And if it's true - and I want nothing more for me to be wrong here, please know that - but if it's true it explains a lot. About you. It makes sense. For why you've struggled with some of the things you've struggled with for so long. For why you push everyone away."
"'Sense'?," and his eyes are angry and hard, but when he speaks, it sounds like a sob, "How does it make sense? In your professional opinion, how would something like that explain me away? Go on! You tell me how something like that makes sense! How it could ever make sense, Doctor Watson!"
And it's then that I realize: I've not insulted him.
The look in his eyes, the horror-
You took a chance, John.
A shot in the dark.
But you didn't miss, did you?
You got it in one.
I have never felt less pleased with myself for being right.
"So tell me! Go ahead. How does something like that define "someone like me"? How do you think I've struggled all these years?"
My throat is paper. It's dry and it's parched and I feel like my knees have turned to jelly.
"I never said that something like that defined you, Sherlock. Or could define you," I say slowly, knowing that any wrong word right now could set off a chain reaction of emotions that neither of us is prepared to face yet.
Stay calm, stay calm.
Don't let this get out of hand.
"You said it made sense!"
And - God - he looks like a wounded animal. He actually looks like I've betrayed him.
So risks be damned.
I just can't sit by and be quiet when he's so clearly hurting.
"Because it does! Because you don't take care of your physical body, Sherlock. You push anyone away who could possibly be interested in having a romantic relationship with you. Your eating is atrocious. It's like you try to keep yourself underweight, because I know you get hungry and I know you ignore that hunger! You ridicule others when they express an interest in anything sexual, as if the very idea is something beneath you. Need I continue?"
"I just can't get them out of my head, John. That's what I was going to tell you. That's all it is. But you don't believe that, do you? If I say that - if I tell you that's all it is - will you think I'm lying?"
And Sally Donovan calls him a psychopath...
God, what did even that label, that slur alone - do to him?
Sherlock's face is made of stone and I have no idea what to say any longer. The fact that he's looking at me with an almost desperate need for a response has me unnerved.
"Answer me! You brought this up! You had to know! So answer me! If I tell you that nothing happened to me - that I was never hurt like that - will you believe me? If I promise you that I'm speaking the truth?"
My throat is choked and I don't want to hurt him. He's the last person in the world I want to hurt.
Which is why I can't lie to him.
He suddenly looks so crestfallen, I think he's going to cry.
"I don't believe that 'nothing' happened at all. I think you very badly want to convince me of that, and you very badly want that to be the case, but I don't think that's the truth."
Sherlock suddenly looks furious with me, and a small part of me is almost fearful of his response. Especially considering I've said far more than I had ever intended tonight. More than I think he may be able to cope with, and so all I can do now is dumbly watch him as he closes his eyes, clenches his hands together.
After a moment, he tries to speak again. And I know right away what he's doing.
He's changing tactics.
And he's avoiding what he doesn't want to face.
"I want to go to bed, John."
I help him to his room.
He limps on his leg, and leans into my shoulder as I help him up the stairs.
My mind is a whirlwind of activity as I help Sherlock to his bed.
"There's likely to be some swelling around the site of the injury. But if it feels hot at any time-"
"You said that already," Sherlock says quietly.
"Because it's important. If you get an infection, in a deep glass wound - it could advance quickly. Yellowing is a bad sign too, so I'll apply some Polysporn in a few hours, okay?"
I get no verbal response. I don't even get a nod.
I bring over an extra duvet and put it around my flatmate. Once the main room light has been turned off, I can see the blackened smudging of exhaustion under Sherlock's eyes with greater pronouncement.
He really didn't get much sleep during this case. Almost no sleep. And no food.
"One last thing," - and I'm stalling, I know it. But he's hurting, and I know he's hurting. And I hate it. "Do you think you might start listening to me now when I tell you that you need to get more sleep? This whole...incident...could have been avoided with rest. Minimized, most certainly. You must realize that."
Sherlock shakes his head, petulant to the bone.
"It couldn't have?," I clarify.
"I was too angry," he mumbles.
Which is really not that specific a response. No doubt he was furious at Kevin Thiesen.
Lestrade had to restrain him.
I've never seen Sherlock angrier.
"I get it. Loud and clear. You need to sleep now, and you don't want to talk. Certainly not to me," I say resolutely. "If, however, you decide that you want to explain yourself then I will listen. I will sit down and I will listen, and I will do my best to understand. But I'm not talking in circles around this issue, Sherlock. I'm not going to pretend something so serious never happened."
He makes no motion, no sound.
Sherlock has literally curled in upon himself.
"Sherlock - about earlier, I'm sorry if you thought-"
He pulls the duvet up to his neck now. Creating a physical barrier.
"I'm sorry I got so angry. I'll wash the floor in the morning, John. I'll make sure I get all the glass."
And like that - just like that - I've been dismissed by Sherlock Holmes.
By promises of house work, no less.