Note: Again, if the mentioning of suicide is a trigger for you, please don't read this chapter.
The next morning, it was their seventh day in Achitlibuie. John woke up to find the living room empty once more, and part of him was happy to get some time to find his way back to his normal, confident self.
At first he thought Sherlock had left without leaving any kind of note, but then he found it. On the kitchen counter there was a thermos jug, filled with hot coffee. Next to it, there was a box of breakfast biscuits with an attached post-it. It read, "I made breakfast". One of the bars was missing, its wrapping placed distinctively next to the coffee mug.
John smiled a little, poured himself some coffee and took a biscuit. So, what to make of this? Was it just another proof that Sherlock was getting better and felt sorry for the moods he had had? Or was it something more affectionate? Well, better not be getting his hopes up.
But then, why not?
The place on the shore where Sherlock was sitting
(mica schist, 5.2 feet long)
provided not only an idyllic view of the sea, but, and that was more important, was part of John's usual midday-walk.
(judging from the footprints he'd been sitting here last night for about 50 minutes, why?, will pass by today, I'm visible for him from half a mile before he reaches me, leaves him the opportunity to turn around without being noticed if he does not want my company now. Hope he won't turn around)
Still, the salty wind and sunny sky and the sound of the ocean provided a calmness to his mind Sherlock was not used to.
(pleasant, need to tell John that finding this place was genius)
His thoughts wandered to John, as they did rather often during the last few days. He found it unbelievably hard to control his thoughts,
(thinking about his kind face, his warm hands against my head, eyes shining with compassion)
(did all his girlfriends find John's eyes that breathtaking? Why think about former girlfriends now? Unpleasant train of thought. Stop it)
(will Grace Dunbar be new girlfriend?)
(even more unpleasant, stop stop stop)
especially as he held no hope whatsoever that he himself would ever play another part in John's life than as his friend.
(given that friendship survives current mood crisis. Says he will be patient, but can he really? Maybe, as he's a genius when it comes to handle me. Need to stop hurting him. Need to stop worrying him. Need to stop)
After contemplating fears of loss and loneliness for another while, Sherlock managed to lead his trail of thought to the more delightful aspects of John
(imagine to run fingers through his hair, imagine him liking it, then imagine letting fingers run across his face. Would be warm and soft, would make him smile. Would touch his lips with my thumb, his mouth would open with pleasure)
(someone feeling pleasure because of me? Unlikely. Unheard of.)
(But in my mind John will. He will open his mouth with pleasure, will move closer to me, I will lean down a bit, our mouths will meet, he will become more hungry after a while, grab my hair, press himself against me, won't let me go, never letting me go).
While the larger part of his mind needed all the concentration it could get to imagine someone really being attracted to him, a smaller part of his brain wondered about how promptly his penis reacted to these chaste fantasies. A seldom, yet pleasant experience.
It made the appearance of Marlow Gates even more annoying. As the stout man came closer
(Neil Gibson's secretary, between 32 and 36 years old, 5ft10 tall, six pounds excess weight, used to be more, has lost at least 20 pounds over the last three years, red eyes, dark circles underneath them, yellow stain on jumper)
Sherlock clearly showed his annoyance
(barely looking at him, frowning, turning down corners of mouth, pointedly looking away)
which Gates seemed to miss completely.
He also missed the nature of the thoughts Sherlock had been lost in.
(not annoying, grateful for that, could have been very embarrassing!)
"You are Sherlock Holmes," Gates said as he reached him.
(really? brilliant deduction)
Sherlock made a non-committal sound
(no need to encourage him)
and waited for him to go on.
(expression on his face shows that he is missing the fact that he's not wanted, will go on with voicing his request anyway, better get this over with as fast as possible)
"I'm Marlow," he explained, stretching out his hand for a proper introduction
(boring, ignore hand)
"You want me to investigate the Gibson murder," Sherlock stated,
secretly enjoying the mild surprise on Gates' face. "Tell me," he went on,
(easy deductions, really)
"what crossed your mind during breakfast that made you leave your scrambled eggs on the dining table and search for me in such a hurry?"
(surprised, looking at me in awe, idiot)
"Well," Gates started to explain, "I'm Neil's secretary and ..."
(about to give unnecessary explanation, must cut it short)
"... you've been working for him for three years now, disagree with the way he treated his wife and plan on resigning now."
(look on his face means all three statements were correct)
"How did you ..."
"Please, Mr Gates";
(excessive use of first names is irritating)
"... you've read the blog. Let us assume that I am indeed as marvellous as depicted there by Dr. Watson
(thinking of John causes body to react immediately, need to control that)
and proceed with what you really wanted to ask me."
(and having been told some of these facts by the local police officer is not cheating)
"Yes, yes, I ..."
(this could take some time)
"I've heard that the police think that Grace did it, but I tell you ..."
(nervous, emotionally attached, to Grace?)
"... she's such a lovely person, she would never be able to do anything like that."
(no, flush does not increase when talking about her, someone else then)
"But if you had seen the way Neil was bashing his wife, day after day ..."
(ah, emotionally attached to Maria apparently, that also explains signs of grief in his features)
"... but she stayed by his side, no matter how hard he was trying to shake her off."
(unrequited love, would be more sad and less bitter if they had had a love affair)
"Maria was such a … She was from Brazil, you know? Exotic and passionate and full of temper ..."
(or possibly a short but finite sexual relationship? Why not ask him?)
"Mr Gates," Sherlock cut him off, "have you had relations with Mrs Gibson?" Marlow stared at him with uncertainty.
"Um, of course, we've seen each other regularly when I was working. I've been working rather closely with Neil."
(big idiot, let's rephrase)
"I meant," Sherlock explained impatiently, "has fornication ever been commenced between the two of you?"
"Have you ever copulated?"
(Do you need me to draw a picture?)
"He wants to know if you had sex with Maria", he suddenly heard John's voice from behind.
(amused, smiling, warm, approaching quickly, no reserve why not? Force down bodily reaction to John saying "sex"!)
"Oh", Gates sighed with relief. "No, no, never. I would have … But no."
(why are people always happier when John explains things? Need to ask him some day)
"Why not?" Sherlock asked Gates, trying to read him and John at the same time.
(Gates: honest, regretful, had been in love, boring
John: hair looks nice in the sunshine, should I tell him? No, might irritate him, looks at me closely, concerned about me, searching for signs of depression or irritation, had the breakfast biscuits, is in a good mood, current shirt matches eye colour, love his face when he tries to apologise on my behalf without words, looks good)
"She wouldn't hear about it. She was so deeply in love with Neil even after all these years, nothing could have changed it."
(still in love with her, would I be in love with John after his death? Yes, of course, frightening idea, thought of John's death is even more frightening, don't go there)
Sherlock shot a hidden glance at John
(relaxed facial expressions show he's unaware of my thoughts, good! hair slightly ruffled by wind, touched by the concept of loving someone after their death, easy for clients to appeal to his romantic side, he'll be happy if I investigate)
and sighed in a scarcely audible voice, "Mr Gates, I am sure that the case of Mrs Gibson's passing will be unavoidable for me. Be assured that I will take your statements into consideration."
(surprise on John's face, thought I would send Gates away with another insult. So did I. But then, I was also surprised when I felt the wish to prepare breakfast for John)
(can't make up for how I hurt him at home with breakfast)
(need to think about it)
(will be painful, but will keep John by my side for now)
When Marlow finally stumbled away after thanking Sherlock again and again, John sat down on the rock next to him and watched him thoughtfully. "That was … almost nice of you," he stated, trying to sound not too surprised. He waited for a response, but none came. Instead, Sherlock was staring thoughtfully at the ocean, frowning once more, looking like he was completely lost inside his mind again.
John waited for a while, taking this chance to inspect Sherlock closer without being noticed. There were still dark circles underneath his eyes, less obvious than a few days ago but still there, and a certain tenseness to his body that had been there ever since this depression started. Whatever his reasons were for getting involved with the Gibson case, John hoped that he was really up to it already.
"I wanted to hurt you," Sherlock said all of sudden, sounding calm, still watching the waves crashing on the shore, "back home, when Lestrade was around." Being at a complete loss of words, John just gazed at him.
Sherlock went on with incredible speed, like spitting out a very clever deduction: "I've thought of what you've told me about your adolescence, linked it with my most gruesome childhood memory and came up with the three most wounding remarks possible. I knew how much it would hurt you before I said it. If my mind hadn't been that slow I would have referred to your mother first and then mentioned your father to inflict even deeper pain."
Jesus. John took a deep breath. He opened his mouth to speak and closed it again when he realised he still had no idea what to say. "Sensitivity to rejection is one symptom of atypical depression," he said then, sounding lame even in his own ears.
Of course Sherlock shook his head, "That does not make up for it afterwards."
"No, it does not," John agreed quietly. No need to lie to him at that point. They sat next to each other in silence, and John spent some time debating with himself whether or not he should simply take Sherlock in his arms. Then something else crossed his mind.
"What was that about your most gruesome childhood memory?" he asked, and Sherlock seemed to freeze.
"Stop doing that, John", he hissed.
"Stop caring for me when I'm being an absolute arse."
"Yeah, well," John said, not even trying to hide the sad smile on his face, "I'll tell you what. You stop caring for me first, and then I'll see what I can do about not caring for you any longer. Deal?"
For a moment Sherlock just stared at him with a bewildered expression on his face. Then something changed, something John couldn't quite put his finger on, and Sherlock's entire body seemed to sag. He closed his eyes for a while, resting his head in his hands, looking incredibly young all of a sudden.
"I was six," he finally said, so soft John could barely hear him without leaning closer. "The preceding months had been hard. My parents had been fighting constantly, mostly over the fact that my mother was having a love affair with one of our neighbours."
John watched the bitterness flickering over his friends face as he went on, "I was too young to understand. All I knew was that sometimes she smelled like Mr Benson, but when everything was all right she smelled like father. One day the fighting ended, and everything seemed to be fine again. Better than fine." His gaze went back to the waves, avoiding John's eyes.
"That day was probably the happiest of my life so far. We spent it at our park, Mummy, father, Mycroft and me. Mummy and father were kissing and laughing, and I was so … content." For a while a sad smile played around his lips, then his eyes went darker than John had ever seen them.
"At dinner I must have been smiling happily the entire time, because father playfully asked me why I was grinning like a little Cheshire cat. I told him it was because he and Mummy were so happy even though she smelled like Mr Benson again." The memory alone made his cheeks flush, and John tried to picture little six year old Sherlock sitting in the middle of hell breaking lose without even getting the point. His stomach clenched in empathy.
"Father accused Mummy of doing 'it' again, Mummy accused me of lying and called me a bastard and Mycroft was ordered to see me to my room. Up there he explained it to me as well as he could, and then we heard father playing the violin in his office. Not the angry tunes he usually played after fighting with Mummy. The soft, sad ones he usually played before he stopped talking for days and wouldn't get dressed or leave his room."
Sherlock drew a quivering breath, and John dropped his guard completely. He slid his arm around Sherlock's shoulder and pulled him in to him. When Sherlock leaned against him instead of moving away his concern grew even deeper. He was no longer sure he wanted to hear how the story ended.
"I sneaked down to his office and listened to his music for what seemed to be a lifetime. When he finally noticed me, he stopped playing and cuddled me onto his lap. Told me it hadn't been my fault. Told me not to feel guilty about seeing those things when actually the people doing those things should feel guilty. He kissed me, gave me a long embrace and sent me back to Mycroft. I had barely reached my room when the gunshot rang through the house."
John closed his eyes for a moment and could barely resist the urge to place a consoling kiss on those curls. He had always guessed that Sherlock's childhood might have contained dark moments, but that …
"I was the first to find him, but everyone else seemed to appear only seconds after me. Mummy was screaming and screaming. I ..." His voice broke a little, his breath quivering even more. "I still remember all the blood, on the curtains and the walls and the ground, and the weapon next to his hand. He ..."
Sherlock stopped his horrid tale, clearly struggling for composure. John briefly wondered if he was aware of the fact that he had grabbed John's hand during his tale and was clenching it desperately now. John started stroking his arm with the other, holding him tight.
"Mummy stopped talking to me that day, for more than a year," Sherlock finally concluded, his voice steadier now, sounding like a lifetime of bitterness was seeping into it. "When she started again, I really could have done without the things she said to me regularly. When I moved out at the age of eighteen I wanted to take his violin with me, the one he had willed to me. She smashed it against a pillar in front of my eyes."
He fell silent again, still clinging to John's hand, still leaning against him. They sat like that for a long, long time. "I miss him," Sherlock whispered. "And I try to believe in what he told me, but sometimes I just can't."
When John finally did place that consoling kiss on Sherlock's head he knew it had been exactly the right thing to do.
"We haven't dealt with too many murders yet," Police Sergeant Maggie Coventry explained later with a remorseful flush on her cheeks. She was watching Sherlock and John looking around the tiny morgue at the tiny police station in Ullapool. Sherlock gave her an ironic little smile in return. "This is the first one ever," he stated in John's direction. "See, someone couldn't even fill in the forms correctly."
John glanced back at Maggie apologetically. They had left their coastal hiding place about two hours before, made Toby lend them his old Triumph and drove all the way to Ullapool in silence. Sherlock had neither explained why he was suddenly willing to look at the evidence of the Gibson murder nor had he commented on what he was hoping to find.
But it was good to see him working again, appearing to be closer to his confident and smug self than he had been in weeks. Was it because talking about his father's death had lifted some weight from his soul? After all, talking therapies have helped in cases of atypical depression. Or was it just mood reactivity, a short lift of his dark temper as was normal for many people with atypical depression?
No matter what, he looked better, and he seemed about to move closer to John than before. A casual bystander would not have noticed the fact that he was looking at John more often than normal, or that he was drifting in and out of John's personal space constantly. A casual bystander would not have noticed that his smile finally reached his eyes again.
"John, when you are done adoring me, hand me the eye-witness accounts." They shared a quick glance, and John shook his head, trying to grin not too broadly. Sherlock seemed to do the same. He wasn't flirting. Was he?
"I thought there were no witnesses to the murder?" John asked when he grabbed the papers.
"These are the accounts of the people who found Maria afterwards," Maggie leapt in to explain when it became clear that Sherlock was ignoring him. "According to the tenants of the Gibson's estate, they heard a gunshot shortly after nine o'clock. It seemed to come from the backyard of the estate. A group of three went looking, Marlow, Jackson and Emma. They found poor Maria on the mouth of Thor Bridge."
Maggie closed her eyes for a second, and John could not help but feel compassion for her. When she had decided to become a police officer in Wester Ross, she had surely never expected a murder investigation.
"Where was Mrs Dunbar at that time?" Sherlock chimed in, suddenly standing so close behind John that he could feel his breath in his neck. A rather enjoyable position, John had to admit. He did his best to keep himself from shivering with pleasure, not sure if he wanted it to go undetected by Sherlock or not.
"Oh, she came back to the bridge shortly afterwards."
Now John's attention focused completely on Maggie, "Back?"
The Police Sergeant shifted uneasy. "Yes, back. Apparently she had met Maria at Thor Bridge at nine but left before the gunshot."
"Tell me again, why do you all believe Mrs Dunbar is innocent?" Sherlock inquired sharply, looking at both of them. At that, Maggie shook her head with certainty.
"Mr Holmes, no matter what I believe personally, I have actually taken Grace into investigative custody. No matter how unlikely it is for Grace to be a murderer, I am able to see that the evidence leaves little hope for her innocence. Grace had sent Maria a text with their appointment. It was still open on the display of her mobile when we found her. And the murder weapon was found inside Grace's wardrobe."
John had to admire her for standing up for herself like that. He knew she had read the blog and knew whom she was dealing with. Still, she raised her chin in defiance, crossed her arms, locked eyes with Sherlock and showed no intention of being the first to look away. He briefly wondered how often he looked exactly the same.
To his surprise, Sherlock suddenly smiled. "Thank you for showing us what you've got, Sergeant Coventry," he said swiftly and hurried out of the little police station without any explanation. John apologised to her half-heartedly for the sudden rush and followed Sherlock out.
"What was that about?" he wondered, and nearly bumped into Sherlock when he stopped abruptly.
"The gun in the wardrobe," he said mysteriously, "I need to think about that." They drove back in silence again. It was probably a good thing that they passed only three other cars on their way to Achitlibuie, for Sherlock's mind clearly was not on the road.
"The text on the mobile," he said after they had returned the car, "I need to think about that one too." John had barely opened the cottage door when Sherlock flopped down onto the sofa, steepled his hands under his chin and was gone.
That night, John did not go to the pub. Instead he lingered around Sherlock unobtrusively, – not that he would have noticed him in his current state anyway – wrote a mail to Mrs Hudson and continued updating his blog with the harbour case. Every now and then he stole a glance at Sherlock, and the gruesome story he had been told found a way back into his thoughts again and again.
He knew perfectly well that tonight he would not be in for a deep, restful sleep once more.