Day six started dramatically, and way too early. The summer sun was barely rising when John was woken by Sherlock calling him, his voice unusually high-pitched and panic-stricken.
He found Sherlock sitting on the floor in the living room, leaning against the sofa, trembling madly, his hands pressed against his temples. He was talking to himself feverishly, seemingly at the edge of hyperventilation. What the hell had happened? When John had turned in last night, Sherlock had been in an extraordinarily good mood, doing further astronomical research on John's laptop. But atypical depression came and went in cycles, John knew. Most likely it had only been a short relief.
In order not to alarm him more than necessary, John approached him directly from the front, making as much noise in the process as possible. "Sherlock?" he asked softly as he came closer. His shaking hands still pressed against his head, Sherlock looked up, stared at John with eyes so haunted it hurt John instantly.
"It won't stop, John. It's started again, and I don't know why. I want it to stop and I try to make it go away again but it won't STOP! And now I can't breathe and my heart beats too fast and it hurts and I can't think!"
John knelt down in front of him, his mind racing. Was there anything Sherlock could have taken to end up like that? But no, he was sure that Sherlock had not consumed any kind of drugs while being here with him, and it seemed highly unlikely that he could have purchased any out here in Achitlibuie.
"I don't know why it started again," Sherlock went on, and John noticed the sweat that was forming on his forehead. Not good. "Last night everything was fine and now it's trying to pull me down again and everything is bad and dark and my legs are heavy and even last night doesn't seem to be right any longer and I WANT IT TO STOP!"
With that, he started hammering his hands against his temples, so hard that without thinking John reached out and grabbed his hands forcefully. "Sherlock," he said, louder now, not knowing what else to say. Sherlock just stared back, breathing way to fast, trembling badly. At least, John understood now what was wrong. Panic disorders often occurred together with atypical depression. A knowledge that did not seem to help Sherlock right now.
Still holding Sherlock's shaking hands in his, John leaned closer. "It's all right, Sherlock, calm down." He was half expecting him to snap back at him. Instead, Sherlock closed his eyes, leaning forward until their foreheads touched. Instinctively, John reached out with one of his hands, the other one still covering Sherlock's, and placed it gently on his friend's neck.
"I can't stop hyperventilating," Sherlock gasped, "why can't I stop hyperventilating? I never hyperventilate." John felt Sherlock's sweat dripping onto his own face. It was cold. He moved his hand a bit down the neck and felt Sherlock's pulse. Much too fast.
"You're having a panic attack," he stated as neutrally as possible, while his mind raced along everything that had happened yesterday. He had no idea what could have triggered it.
"I DON'T HAVE PANIC ATTACKS," Sherlock shouted, but still did not move away from John's touch.
"Well, you do now." John let his hand slide down Sherlock's back, supporting him. He still did not like the shallow breathing, but Sherlock was more concerned with another aspect of the attack right now.
"My heart rate is 186, John," he pressed out, "and I can't will it down. It hurts, and I can't bring it down." There was so much fear in Sherlock's statement that John's stomach clenched painfully.
"There's nothing wrong with your heart," he explained in his best doctor voice. "It will stop beating that hard as soon as you relax a little. And your body is perfectly capable of dealing with it for a while. Trust me."
For some time they both concentrated completely on breathing, John inhaling and exhaling louder than usual, Sherlock trying to fall into pace with him. It took him some time to achieve it, and even more before he dared to move his head away from John's.
John watched his head fall heavily against the sofa, and only now could he see the dark circles underneath his eyes. "You did not sleep last night, did you?" he asked.
To his surprise, Sherlock looked away sheepishly. "I fell into a doze, but only long enough to have a nightmare." The trigger?
That got him a resentful glare. "What do you want me to do," Sherlock snapped angrily, "talk about my bad dream and then everything will be fine?" But John had dealt with depressed Sherlock long enough now not to be impressed by him.
"I just want to know what goes on inside your head at the moment," he stated calmly, and when he saw Sherlock opening his mouth again, he quickly added, "because I care for you!"
Sherlock grunted at him, but did not comment otherwise. After some time, he said quietly, "It's the same dream every night. It's neither brutal nor shocking, really. To you it must appear to be the most boring nightmare ever!" When John patiently waited without saying a word, he continued reluctantly, "It's my mind palace. It … deteriorates. Then I wake up. That's it, nothing spectacular."
Considering the fact that the mind palace probably was Sherlock's one refuge in the world, the only place he had found consolation in during his hiatus, John would disagree, but knew that it wouldn't help now. "Did that dream start when your depression started?"
The word "depression" made Sherlock look at him sharply. John hold his glance without wavering, and finally Sherlock nodded. "I had expected it to hold off tonight," he admitted, sounding lost.
"Because you had felt better?" John explored carefully and was slightly surprised when Sherlock nodded again.
"Watching the stars with you had been … enjoyable," he said, and John noticed how his breathing had finally calmed down again.
"I was happy last night, and that doesn't happen often," Sherlock went on quietly, whispering, still not breaking eye-contact. "Why hasn't that been enough to chase the depression away?"
John looked back at him sadly. "We are not talking about being a bit blue, Sherlock," he tried to explain. "We are talking about an atypical depression. It's a disease, not a simple annoyance. Your mental state has already improved, but you need to be more patient."
At that, Sherlock's face fell significantly. "What?" John prompted instantly, not understanding what was happening inside Sherlock's mind once more. What he did understand, though, was that Sherlock's breathing was picking up pace again. Without giving it much thought, he pulled him close, his hand cupping Sherlock's face, breathing regularly for Sherlock's sake.
"Why does the thought of being patient scare you so much?" he implored when the acute attack seemed to be over again.
"I'm not scared," Sherlock spit. Not believing him at all, John waited, and really, just like before, after a while Sherlock said feebly, "I can't deduce it!"
"How long you will remain patient before you will leave."
"How long… what? Me?" For a second, John was taken by surprise, then he felt anger swelling up inside him, mixed with pity and … well, love, of course, but he was not willing to explore that one right now. "Now, genius," he said, shaking his head slightly, "why do you think I packed my warm jumpers?" He let Sherlock ponder it for a moment, and then he made it clear, just in case, "I'm not going anywhere, no matter how long it takes. Trust me."
To his surprise, Sherlock let his head drop, touching John's forehead once more. He did not say anything for a long while. "Promise?" he asked after some time, raising his head enough to look into John's eyes.
"Of course," John answered quickly, ignoring the lump that was forming in his throat.
"Good," Sherlock sighed, a very, very small smile touching the edges of his mouth.
Only then did John discover that one of his hands was still entwined with Sherlock's. He squeezed it gently, then got to his feet, dragging Sherlock along in the process. "Come on," he stated, "six o'clock is way too early to be awake!" Sherlock followed him to the bedroom.
"What now, are you planning to tuck me in?" he tried to huff, but looked so hopeful that John had to smile.
John woke up again later that day, the cottage empty once more. The smell of freshly brewed coffee lingered in the air. Another post-it was attached to John's cup. "Thank you" it read. He felt himself smile. Lord, he really should try harder to tell himself that nothing would ever happen between the two of them. Yes, they had moved distinctively closer, but hoping for more than friendship was really stupid.
He needed to repeat that inside his head several times over the day. The fact that the memory of Sherlock's head resting on his belly at the seaside sneaked into his thoughts quite regularly did not help. Neither did the memory of their foreheads touching. Or the fact that Sherlock's biggest fear was not losing his mind, but losing John.
Knowing that Sherlock preferred ranging the mountains, he stayed at the seaside to give them both some space. Of course, that did not help to stop thinking about last night. Nothing will happen between us, he repeatedly told himself, nothing will happen. No matter how much you might want him. It. Want it. Well, if he really believed that, why did he scan the mountains regularly to see if he could make out Sherlock's elegant shape?
He finally had to acknowledge he probably needed to change his point of view when he belatedly realised that last night he had been patting Sherlock's head occasionally while observing the stars. An action Sherlock had silently accepted, if not enjoyed.
John continued to stare at the ocean for a long while, still realistic enough not to let go of "Nothing will happen" completely. But not ruling out something could happen altogether, either.
When John entered the already familiar pub later that day, the atmosphere was different than before. He instantly thought it was because of Sherlock's appearance yesterday, but then he felt that something more profoundly was wrong. "I've just googled you," Toby greeted him, smart-phone in his hand, looking serious for the first time. "You and Sherlock are doing this crime solving thing."
"Well, yes," John answered, looking around more closely. The room was unnaturally quiet, people talking in hushed voices if they talked at all. It was more crowded than usual, too. That couldn't still be a reaction to Sherlock being completely himself yesterday. "What happened?"
"Maria. She's dead." Toby shook his head while speaking, as if he could not believe it. "Found at Thor Bridge, shot to her head." John looked at him in sympathy. It was not only about the death of a nice person everybody knew, he realized. It was also about the alarming question which of the other people around had done it.
He frowned at the thought. "Do the police have any idea who ..."
"Grace," David chimed in, pale and looking lost, "They think it was Grace." Now that was a surprise.
"Why do they think so?", John wondered, not expecting any answer. The murder must have happened that day, so the investigation would be currently running and …
"There was enough evidence pointing at her" Toby explained, while John sat down, reaching for the beer that had been instantly served without being ordered. Noticing John's inquiring look he explained, "My sister is in charge of the case. Said there was really clear proof."
"But Grace, that's ..." David was at a loss of words.
"Nobody can believe it" Toby explained. "I mean, Grace is such a nice person. Neil, on the other hand ..." He did not finish the sentence, but a few of the other people nodded in agreement. Marlow raised his pint in a silent toast.
"Look, John," Toby went on, lowering his voice a bit, "I've read your blog. Don't you think you can make your friend take a look at the matter? I mean, the way he figured out about Henry and Martha, that was brilliant."
John frowned at the very thought. "I don't know," he said, hating how their faces fell instantly. "Sherlock's not been well lately," he tried to explain. "That's why we're here in the first place. Besides ..."
"Besides, the proof is clear," a familiar baritone chimed in, drawing everybody's attention to its owner. Leave it to Sherlock Holmes to make a dramatic appearance even in the smallest pub.
Despite the grave mood John couldn't help noticing how much Sherlock looked like himself again, upright and confident and somehow glowing and posh enough to be noticed in a place like that, even in his casual outfit and boots. Damn, he did look breathtaking. John took a mouthful of beer just to hide his face for a second.
When John put the glass down, Sherlock had already started to explain the evidence to everyone. He must have talked to Maggie before coming here, John thought. So he felt up to dealing with a case already. John only hoped Sherlock was right about that.
Victim found dead on bridge, Sherlock explained, shot to left side of her head, suicide not an option as victim was right-handed. Text on victims mobile shows that Dunbar made an appointment with victim at estimated time of offence at said bridge. Bullet in victim's head matches gun found in Dunbar's wardrobe. Motive: Dunbar is said to have had an affair with victim's husband. Simple. Boring.
John inwardly flinched at the reactions Sherlock's explanation would evoke. Sputtering your thoughts at an impersonal crime scene in London might be a bit inconsiderate. Doing so in a pub filled with people who had known the victim, the suspect and everyone else involved personally for years was brave at best.
But the people of Achitlibuie were generous and already surprisingly used to his behaviour, and some of them were surely still hoping Sherlock might help poor Grace after all. And so their reactions were more forgiving than usual, more patient than John had expected them to be.
Anyway, John noticed how sensitive Sherlock reacted to their politely shown rejection, a subtle hint the atypical depression was still there. He had quite some way to go before he would be his old, arrogant and unimpressed self. With every inquiring question he stiffened a bit more. His movements became slower, his eyes grew darker, no matter how much he tried to conceal it.
After a while, the good people of Achitlibuie left John and Sherlock alone, quietly muttering to each other, throwing furtive glances at them from time to time that only seemed to irritate Sherlock even more. Finally John's protectiveness took over, and he faked a yawn to get them out of the pub and into the still fragile peace of being alone with each other.
"So," Sherlock said as they walked down the dark, quiet coastal street, with only the ocean to be heard and no other soul in sight, "Grace is the one who always touches you when you meet?" How did he … John eyed him curiously. Of course Sherlock knew who Grace was for he had met her at the pub the other night. This statement implied that Sherlock had had a closer watch on him during those last few days than John had been aware of. Did it also imply Sherlock minded Grace touching John? Weird.
"Um, yes," John finally answered, wondering how much of his curiosity would show up in his voice, but Sherlock seemed to be completely unaware of it. "Hard to believe she's a cold blooded murderer," John went on, still wondering if he had imagined that jealous twinge to Sherlock's voice.
"Not cold-blooded," Sherlock said, unusually softly, "rather the opposite. A murderer out of passion and love."
"You, too, believe she's having an affair with Neil?" John wondered. For some reason it was the wrong thing to say.
"Do you rather want to believe she was only waiting for you to take her away from this godforsaken town?" Sherlock snapped back, his sharpness cutting deep into John's already irritated mood.
"I ... what? No," he corrected, wondering what this was about now. "If I were interested, I would have flirted back, don't you think? It's just that this whole concept ..." He stopped in mid-sentence, not sure how to explain himself. How could people seriously believe that killing someone to win someone else's love would work? How could a love that started with a murder ever lead to something lasting and good?
"I just don't get why people kill for love," he said.
"Well," Sherlock answered to John's surprise, "I do." That left John quiet for a moment. Before he could decide how to reply, Sherlock went on, still looking at the moonlit ocean instead of John, "I would not kill to put a rival away, but if someone hurt you I wouldn't think twice before killing him." That was … what? Wait. Did he just …
Obviously without realising what he had just said, Sherlock went on, "But something is wrong about this case. I just can't put my finger on it. My mind is still too slow." John fell out of pace, now a few steps behind Sherlock, feeling suddenly light-headed. He hadn't really just said … But he had. He had, hadn't he?
Had Sherlock just said that he loved him?
Yes, he had. Jesus. No wonder he was so grumpy when it came to Grace. But why did he not say something? Well, he just did. He just did not know he had. He must have deduced John's feelings long ago. Why had he not … If he was content to leave things the way they were … But why would he, if he knew the feeling was mutual? Or did he not know? Impossible.
The distance between them increased while John's steps got slower and slower, deeply lost in his strange thoughts so that he missed the fact that Sherlock was still talking about the murder. Why, why, why? And what should Sherlock mention it now? Oh Lord, how could life become so confusing from one second to the other?
He looked at Sherlock guiltily, not having the slightest idea what his friend had said, "Um?"
"I said I'm tired." Oh. John gave Sherlock a second look, the nearly full moon illuminating his friend's face in an extremely attractive manner. He swallowed, trying not to think of how romantic that could … No, don't. Damn!
"Are you all right?" Sherlock asked, quite uncharacteristically.
John looked at him, feeling caught. No, you sod, I'm not, because you just have told me you're in love with me and then you went on with business as usual.
"Yes, sure," he lied. "I just … I need … I'd like to go for another walk," he stuttered on, probably making a fool of himself.
If Sherlock agreed with that notion he did not let it show. "Good" he answered, not sounding hurt, and without another word turned around and entered the cottage, leaving John alone with tens of millions of thoughts.
For a while, John wandered along the moonlit coast, absolutely unable to make head nor tail of his own thoughts. So Sherlock was in love with him. That should be fine, especially as John was in love with Sherlock, too. But … But! He had spent such a long time suppressing that love to keep their precious friendship safe that he was completely unable to decide what to do now.
After all, the depression was still lingering very prominently behind Sherlock's eyes, and the last thing John wanted was to force him into something he would not even consider when at the top of his mental health. But then ...
But then, the prospect of really being with him was oh so tempting. To be finally able to hold him and kiss him and … well, do all the other things lovers do … The thought alone made his heart beat faster in anticipation. And made other parts of his body react as well. Surprisingly fast, for a man who always considered himself straight. But then …
But then, Sherlock was still depressed, his guards probably much lower than usually. And he had not confessed his love for John, but rather accidentally blurted it out unknowingly.
John's mind was spinning in circles, not getting anywhere. This was getting ridiculous. He took a deep breath, grabbed this phone and called the only person he trusted enough to talk about it.
"John, love, what can I do for you?" he heard Mrs Hudson's voice. He hoped he hadn't woken her, not sure how late it was anyway.
"Mrs Hudson, I ..." He was not exactly sure of how to go on.
"Is something wrong with Sherlock?" she asked, sounding concerned.
"No, no, don't worry. It's just … he loves me." Now it was out.
"Yes, I know. Has he finally told you?"
What? WHAT? He took in a deep breath. "Well, more or less. I don't think he realised what he said. How did you know?"
"Oh," he heard her delighted voice, "he told me so only yesterday. Was quite confused about it when he found out."
Oh. Now that shed some light on his strangely inconsistent behaviour. Still …
"You love him too, don't you?" Mrs Hudson went on, not really sounding like that was a question.
"Yes," John heard himself say. Sounded strange. Felt good. "I just don't know what to do with it now," he admitted, just in case she hadn't figured that one out herself, too.
"Oh dear, why do the two of you always have to make everything so complicated?" she tutted. "No matter how messed up Sherlock's funny mind might be, it all comes down to two simple facts: he loves you, and you love him. So what's the problem?" Yes, if you looked at it like that it really sounded simple.
"Why don't you just spend some time together at this lovely place and let nature do its thing?"
"Yes," he agreed ruefully, "we really should. Thank you for ..."
"Just make sure you are both protected and ..." "YES, thank you, Mrs Hudson!" John nearly yelled and hung up on her, really, really not wanting to find out where else the conversation would have led them.
The cottage was dark and quiet when John finally came in. After the phone call he had spent one more hour on the beach, sitting on one of the big stones, watching the moon and the stars and wondering when his life had switched from Charles Dickens to Jane Austen.
He had tried to get his mind to rest, but it hadn't worked. So he sneaked into the bedroom, coming to a halt in front of Sherlock's bed. The moon was shining into the room, illuminating Sherlock softly. John noticed how his face was tense again, fists clenched into the duvet, a slight frown on his forehead. Must be the mind palace dream again.
He carefully sat down on the edge of the bed, and reached out for Sherlock once more. The way he touched him now had changed, John realised. It was softer. More loving. Sherlock stirred at the touch, but did not wake up, his face still caught in a sad frown.
"What am I going to do with us now?" John whispered softly. He watched his fingers moving through Sherlock's hair, watched his thumb carefully stroke Sherlock's temples. "I really wish I knew what's going on inside there, you know?" He watched Sherlock's face relax more and more, his hands slowly letting go of the duvet. Then he mumbled something unintelligible, still sleeping deeply. It could have been anything. It could have been "John".
Sighing, John finally got up and went to bed. His mind would not stop spinning though, and for a long time he was caught in this unpleasant semi-sleeping state where your body is too awake to fall asleep but your mind is already too sleepy to get up again.