Chapter 1: Carved from Stone
The kettle is singing, and even though it’s Sherlock who wanted tea, it’s me who gets up to make it. Not much of a surprise, is it. Sherlock is sitting in his armchair, his fingers steepled, his chin up, his eyes glued to the ceiling. Don’t ask me why, I haven’t a clue. I know he’s got two nicotine patches on, which suggests there’s a problem to be solved, but there’s no case on right now. I haven’t bothered to ask him yet, though there are a series of newspaper articles torn from various papers resting on his knees. I could deduce.
I’m planning to ask about it when I bring him his tea. Place it on the table: then ask: what’s that you’re working on? And, genius that he is, he will take advantage of his ready and willing audience. Sometimes he can talk for hours, just connecting dots and musing on their meaning. A skull, you see, doesn’t ask. It just stares, unblinking. Me, at least: I make tea.
Two mugs, two tea bags: pour the water; most of the way to the top for him, an inch of space for me. Sugar in his, milk in mine. It’s such a simple process, I have no idea why Sherlock refuses to make his own. Probably because someone else will always make it for him. Why is that? What is it about him that makes the rest of us scamper around taking care of him? His genius, I suppose. And that he looks a little bit like a lost boy, gripping onto the only reality he can make sense of. Generally, when you think of the kinds of people others long to care for, the abandoned ones that get taken in, you think of truly kind people, people with great big hearts and a generosity of spirit, adorable do-gooders with big, teary eyes. Sherlock has none of these things, and yet everyone in his life (his brother, Mrs. Hudson, Lestrade, and of course, me) twist themselves into endless knots just to make sure he’s all right. That’s a special kind of gift he has, I think. Being all at once domineering, difficult, rude, thoughtless and sometimes straight out mean, but also earnest, confused, helpless and lost. Oh, don’t tell him I said “helpless”, he would flay me for that, no doubt. But I still think it’s true.
Set his mug beside him on the table. He hasn’t moved at all; fingers steepled, eyes on the ceiling, unblinking. I’m about to ask, what’s that you’re working on then, Sherlock? but instead I notice something.
A doctor is pretty much always a doctor, always mentally ticking off a list of signs and symptoms in the people he cares about. That’s true for me, at any rate, and every other doctor I know. We try to leave it at work, but it just doesn’t shut off. See a strangely-coloured bruise, or a limp, or hear a complaint about headaches a few too many times, you can’t shut off the part of you that starts looking for patterns, starts diagnosing. Most of my career has been about caring for extremely healthy young men and women with traumatic wounds, not run-of-the-mill family medicine, but the instinct, and the knowledge, is still there. If I’d been more like Sherlock I would have deleted large swaths of that knowledge once I accepted a commission, but I didn’t. I treasure it, I find it comforting. In the most dire and disturbing moments of my life I have retreated to it, mentally cataloguing the most mundane, ordinary signs and symptoms to keep myself sane and focused: there’s nothing like quietly diagnosing your captors with anemia, asthma, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, or hepatitis. I suppose it’s a means of feeling like you have some kind of control, or power, in a situation where you have none of either. At any rate: signs and symptoms of disease, any disease, are things I’m always unconsciously watching for.
So at this angle, leaning forward slightly to rest Sherlock’s cup of tea on the table beside him, with his head flung back and his eyes on the ceiling, I see something. A lump at the base of his throat, a protrusion. Something that shouldn’t be there. I stare at it for a second, the incongruity of it: his thyroid, too large, visible when his head is at an angle. How have I not seen it before? Immediately the causes rush into my head: iodine deficency? Unlikely. Hashimoto’s? Grave’s? Then finally: cancer? Unlikely. Rare. It’s probably nothing. Surely not.
He’s not a patient of mine, though we often act as if he is when it’s useful. He’s not my patient, he’s my flatmate, my friend, my best friend in fact, so my stomach does a little turn when cancer flashes through my head. But thyroid cancer is the “good” cancer, it’s the cancer you’d choose if you had to choose one. If he were my patient, really and truly, if he were just a bloke from off the street and I had my usual medical objectivity, I wouldn’t be feeling this spike of worry, this fear for him. I would know that the statistics are on his side. I would tell him that he’ll be fine, but he needs treatment. I would go back home and not think about him again. But he isn’t a bloke from off the street, and my objectivity is compromised.
The moment I opted to take the room upstairs, the moment I realized that Sherlock is not just my flatmate but is, in a way, my saviour, the cure for my depression and my psychosomatic limp and terrible nightmares, the deliverer of my newest purpose in life, the person around whom my life will now revolve; in that moment, I took on the job of making sure that Sherlock is all right, in conjunction with Mrs. Hudson and her biscuits and Mycroft Holmes and his formidable resources. That’s the trade off. Sherlock saves me; I save him in every way I can. I knew I’d have to save him from himself: keep him clean and sober, keep him from throwing his life away on pointless risks (like cabbies with pills and assassins with a penchant for throttling wayward consulting detectives). I didn’t realize finding and fighting cancer was part of the package.
It’s not cancer. This is a silly train of thought, and it’s time to hop off.
“Sherlock.” There’s a space for my own cup of tea on the table. I put it there, milky brown next to the filmy black of Sherlock’s. He takes a breath, but doesn’t move. “Sherlock.” Still nothing.
I move around behind him and put my hands on his shoulders. He starts. “You’ve got...” I’m not sure how to finish that sentence, so I don’t.
I don’t know which words to say; I’m a bit out of my element, standing here in my own sitting room, with my own flatmate. I’m wearing slippers, there’s no white coat, there’s no office around me, no receptionist giving me that look that means, can’t you move them through any faster? We’ve got a queue out here.
“I’ve just noticed something on your neck,” I try again. “I need to check it, okay?” He doesn’t resist. He relaxes, continues looking up at the ceiling, his fingers still steepled. It’s as though I’m reaching into his pocket to get his mobile, or some other oddly intimate thing Sherlock doesn’t think twice about. I move my hands up against his throat, fingers first against his clavicle, and feel.
His skin is warmer than I expect it to be; he’s so pale, so thin, I always imagine him being cold to the touch. Carved from stone. A perfect, marble impression of a man. But he isn’t; his skin is warm, soft like skin always is. I can feel his breath in, and then out again. I lean down and feel his hair on my face; he smells like shampoo (apparently he used mine this morning) and, strangely, gun powder. (What was he up to this afternoon?) I can smell his skin, a familiar smell that he carries around with him, impossible to describe. He smells alive. Whole.
I can’t imagine Sherlock being seriously ill. It’s as though there’s a part of me that doesn’t believe he’s entirely human, like he can’t possibly be susceptible to the frailties of the human condition. I smell the laundry detergent on his clothes, the smell of his skin, his hair, human, real, alive, I’m trying to put Sherlock and cancer in the same room and I can’t do it. If I have to take him through treatment, I think it might be the death of both of us. But no: it’s ridiculous to think like that. An inflamed thyroid gland is just an inflamed thyroid gland. It’s probably just a run-of-the-mill goitre. Maybe all the Holmes’ have one. It doesn’t mean anything. Why am I assigning him the worst possible outcome at a glance?
It’s unlikely. Not impossible, but highly unlikely. He will sense my concern; it will frighten him, even if he won’t admit it. Think of the statistics, not the fear. Not the concern. Reality. Shift fingers up from Sherlock’s clavicle: locate the gland, find its contours, feel for any abnormalities.
I know what it feels like, what I’m doing to him: it feels to him like I’m trying to choke him. I need to feel the edges of it, press in: it’s pressing against his trachea now, he’ll feel it, it’s uncomfortable, but he doesn’t move. I can feel him swallow once, twice: almost as if he’s trying to throw me off using only his esophagus. He sighs lightly, doesn’t move, doesn’t resist me.
His thyroid is definitely too large: about twice the size it should be, maybe a bit more. How have I not seen it until now? It’s been hidden by his tilted head, his chin dipping down toward his chest, behind a scarf, behind collars and fingers, but I should have seen it. Not paying enough attention. Damn it. Too large, and two distinct nodules. Hard; calcified? Can’t make that diagnosis now, need an ultrasound, a biopsy. Impossible to tell like this.
Sherlock rolls his head back farther and tries to look up at me upside down. He quirks an eyebrow. I take my hands off his neck and pick up my cup of tea, walk over to my own chair and sit down. I can feel his eyes on me the whole time. He says nothing, but his eyes don’t leave me.
“I think,” I say, trying to find the most neutral words possible, picking up a piece of newspaper that doesn’t appear to be earmarked as part of Sherlock’s current project, “I’m going to order an ultrasound and a biopsy of that, if you don’t mind.”
Sherlock stares at me, and I look back at him, but focus mostly on his right cheekbone. Ridiculously prominent. I can visualize his skull far too easily. He looks like an otherworldly creature, like a flower fairy, a Victorian etching. Maybe he’s a changeling, a fairy child added into the Holmes family, with magic in his blood. Would make him resistant to these human curses, that’s an advantage.
“Why?” His hand moves to his throat, he rubs the place where my fingers have been.
“Your thyroid is inflamed,” I explain, trying to keep my voice calm and certain. It’s much easier to do when I’m in the office, with a white coat on, with a stethoscope handy. “It’s probably nothing, but best keep an eye on it.” I take a sip of my tea, pick up the paper and pretend to read it.
“Right,” he says. A pause. “Will you do it?”
“No,” I say, glancing over a headline, trying in vain to concentrate on it. “Don’t have the equipment. Don’t know how to work the equipment, actually. I’ll write up a requisition for you. All right?” I look up at him. I can pretend to be nonchalant, I’m really trying, but I know he can see right through me. “It’s probably nothing. Goitres are usually nothing. Hereditary.”
“Right,” he says again. He closes his eyes, then re-steeples his fingers.
He never does drink his tea. It gets cold, and the following morning I pour it down the sink.
Chapter 2: A Patient is a Battleground
They won’t let me stay with Sherlock while they do the biopsy, which isn’t a surprise. Why would they? It’s a simple procedure, I’d only be in the way. I’ll wait here for him, eyes trained on the door.
I went with him when he picked up his gown and took off his tailored shirt and the t-shirt he wears underneath; that was an odd thing for me to do. Very odd.
No one looked askance, but he didn’t really need me to help him put on his gown, did he? He didn’t object, though. He let me come along, didn’t even say anything as he unbuttoned his shirt, handed it to me, pulled the t-shirt off. I’ve never known him to wander around the flat half-naked; I’ve never actually seen him in any state of undress. So it was odd, I realized it was odd as I was standing there, the fabric-door pulled shut behind me, watching him unbutton his shirt and draw it off, pull his t-shirt off, stand in front of me naked to the waist. I took his clothes from him, as if they were a weight he didn’t need to carry. Why? I don’t know; again, he didn’t object.
Maybe he finds it comforting to have me here, for me to come with him. I’d like to imagine that that’s true. I’m his friend, his best friend, he knows he can trust me. I’ve killed for him. I’m his doctor; getting undressed in front of me shouldn’t be an issue in a context like this. It’s not too intimate. It’s not strange. It’s not a prelude to something sexual. It’s just medical science. It’s just care.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel something though, seeing him like that, stripped of his feathers. Smooth chest, his flat, awkward stomach. Sherlock is not the sort of person who does nudity with grace; he leans, he shuffles his feet, he tries in vain to find some kind of cover using his flightless wings, his too-thin arms. Self-conscious. I wouldn’t have imagined that; prior to that moment, I would have imagined him stripping off his clothes with abandon, thinking nothing of revealing the flesh that is his transport. But not so. He closed his eyes then, and I put a hand on his arm. I wanted to help hold him up, give him a bit of strength. He didn’t shake my hand off.
I have no idea how he feels about this, about any of it. I don’t know how to ask. His face is simply blank. I can presume some things by the lack of his usual bluster, but I’m not sure if any of it is correct.
So I didn’t ask, not then. I just folded his clothes and put them on the bench; I took the gown and helped him into it. I looked down at his gaunt body, his thin shoulders with the over-washed blue fabric stretched over them; so vulnerable. So painfully vulnerable. It shouldn’t hurt like this, caring for a patient. I can lie on the forms, I can say I’m his GP, but he is my friend, I am biased, I am emotionally involved. I’m afraid for him. I tied the gown at the back, then took a second gown, helped him get his arms through it, and tied it at the front. I had one hand on his shoulder, one on the back of his neck, I don’t really know why. I can still feel the warmth of his neck in my palm, hold the memory of the fabric under my fingers.
“It’s not going to hurt much,” I said, probably betraying more concern than I meant to. It’s impossible to keep anything from Sherlock. “Just pressure.”
I couldn’t go in with him for this procedure, though I did try, I made an argument for it. Sherlock was silent; I don’t know if he wanted me there or not, frankly. They’d let me in to watch his ultraound, though; possibly they sensed that they might need a hand keeping Sherlock docile. They did; he watched the screen the entire time, tried to correct the angle, made suggestions. Two calcified nodules, that was clear. Sherlock announced each of them as they appeared on the screen; he’d done some research, knew his way around an ultrasound image. I didn’t need to wait to see the report to know he was right. But the report said so anyway: recommended a biopsy. I’d already booked it, of course. I had a feeling. I don’t much like my feelings these days.
I hear nothing from the other side of that door, where they’re sliding a thin needle through Sherlock’s skin and into his thyroid. But of course I wouldn’t. He wouldn’t shout, he wouldn’t make a fuss, overturn the instruments, kick the doctor in the shin, run screaming from the room with the needle stuck in his throat. Sherlock isn’t afraid of pain, but he doesn’t like being helpless.
I’ve never considered just how much a patient must feel helpless in the face of the medical profession; a patient is a battleground, the scene of the war, not a soldier, not the general. We are the ones with the weapons: the doctors, the surgeons, the technicians. We control the equipment, take the pictures, send field notes to each other. The patient needs to lie still and be an object, the playing field, don’t swallow, Sherlock. Don’t swallow. Sherlock is not an object, and he will not behave as one. He will not be silenced.
I wish they’d let me in there with him.
It takes about twenty minutes, no more. He comes out alone, he’s got a series of red pin pricks and angry blotches on his neck and he’s sticky with ultrasound fluid, yellow with iodine. It’s stained down the front of the gown, my careful knots coated in it. He looks at me, nods. I stand up and walk with him back to the change room.
“Wait,” I say, and dash off to the nurse’s station. They provide me with a bowl of warm water and soap, a flannel; I draw the fabric door shut behind us. He sits: I kneel in front of him.
“Don’t want to stain your shirt,” I said. He lets me wash the iodine and lubricant from him, though he winces when I move the flannel over the red spots. I count them; seven. Seven different entry points. They struggled to get a sample, obviously. I wash the iodine from his neck, and catch the drips of it that made it onto his chest. They should have cleaned him off before they sent him out; they’re treating him like a tissue sample, like something to be stained and sent to the pathologist. Sherlock’s eyes are shut. My fingers against his skin. Skin is always soft, and his is always warm. He shivers. I use the back of the gown to dry him off.
“Are you alright?” I ask, finally. I feel like I’ve been avoiding asking.
“Fine,” Sherlock says. “I’m fine.” His eyes are still shut.
Chapter 3: No One Chooses a Cancer
Mycroft knows the results before I do. He walks into my office as if he had an appointment (he doesn’t), and sits down across from me. He’s holding the file; he drops it on the desk in front of me without any flourish at all.
Papillary carcinoma. The nodules are large; 2cm and 3cm, respectively. His thyroid is even more enlarged than I thought it was when I had it under my fingers. Recommendation: total thyroidectomy, ablation therapy. For cancer treatment it looks relatively simple. No chemo, just surgery, and a radioiodine pill. Easy. I look up at Mycroft, read the concern on his face.
“If you have to choose a cancer,” I say, “This is the one.”
“That’s nonsense,” Mycroft snaps. “No one chooses a cancer.”
I nod. That’s true. No one would. I don’t know what else to say.
“Are you going to tell him?” Mycroft asks.
“Of course.” Does he want me not to? I can’t not tell him. I can’t imagine how I will tell him, how he will react, what he’ll say. But of course I’ll tell him.
“I’ll find the best surgeon in the EU,” Mycroft says. “I’ll fax the appointment information to you. Please tell him quickly.”
“We should check you as well.” These things are largely genetic, and when they’re not, they’re related to the environment. Mycroft and Sherlock have clearly shared enough environment over the years.
Mycroft gives me a patronizing smile, as if a little amused that I would even consider laying hands on his person, as if he doesn’t already have a cadre of the best doctors available, then stands and walks out the door without another word.
Fifteen minutes later the appointment information appears on the fax machine. The operating room is booked is for tomorrow.
Chapter 4: I'm Fine
I’m not sure why, but I immediately knew I would talk to Sherlock about this at Baker St., not in my office. All of this started at home, in the sitting room, with an casual, completely inappropriate examination; I feel as though it needs to continue there, staying inappropriate. It’s comfortable, homey. Shouldn’t every patient have the comforts of home when they get their cancer diagnosis? Bringing him into my office feels too cold, too awkward. He’d know the moment I asked him to come in. He is not, after all, a patient like any other patient.
But maybe that’s not entirely why I decided to do it this way; I think it’s really because of how I’m feeling about it, how scared I am, how much my own emotions are tied up in this. It doesn’t feel right to be this compromised with a patient in my office. It’s something I need to keep at home.
So I pick up some takeaway, make him a cup of tea. Nothing out of the ordinary. I watch him eat, notice the lack of patches on his arms. The marks on his neck are gone now. The results have come back faster than normal, what with Mycroft’s intervention. I know what I need to do: break the news, fill out some forms to send on to his surgeon. Pre-op. He’ll need to have a physical before his appointment, I’ll need to declare him fit for surgery. I should have passed him off to a colleague long before; even Sarah would have been more objective than I am.
Sherlock quirks an eyebrow at me. “Problem?”
My heart nearly breaks. Problem? You might say so.
“I’ve received the results of your biopsy,” I say. I feel a wave of terror wash over me. What will he do when I tell him? Will he be angry? Will he be angry with me? Will he thrash and cry and tear the house down?
Sherlock only nods. “Cancer,” he says. It’s not even a question. He actually sounds bored. His face is unreadable, impenetrable. I remember the way he shivered when I washed the iodine off his chest, the very human feeling of his (soft, warm) skin. I want to touch him now, but it seems inappropriate. He is so self-contained.
Sherlock lifts some lo mein to his lips and places it carefully into his mouth. He chews, swallows, then says, “Did Mycroft make me an appointment with the best surgeon in the country?”
“Yes.” I guess I shouldn’t have expected anything different from Sherlock. Of course he already knows everything, or guesses. What must it be like in that brain of his, knowing every surprise before it appears? “You don’t even really need me to tell you any of this, do you.”
“You do know that you’re likely to be cured, though, right?” The statistics on this variety of thyroid cancer are very good. I can tell him all about the statistics, but I’m certain he already knows them. I’m a bit at a loss.
“Yes.” He seems almost a bit offended that I even asked.
“Are you...” I want to ask, are you okay, are you upset, what do you need, but I don’t know how to force any of these words out of my throat. His face is still unreadable, untouchable.
“I’m fine,” he says. He drinks his tea.
“Do you want to talk about the treatment?”
“No,” he says. “I’m fine.”
Chapter 5: It's a Good Sign, Really
After dinner, and after more than a couple of shots of whiskey on my part, Sherlock accedes to my request and undresses, wearing just his dressing gown, and lies down on his bed. I’ve made it just for this purpose; Sherlock’s bed doesn’t get made otherwise, but for this occasion I did it myself. Hospital corners and everything. Examining your naked roommate on his bed whilst having had a few drinks could be seen as entirely unprofessional otherwise.
We already gauged his height and weight in the bathroom; I noted the results on the form Mycroft faxed me that afternoon, along with the pre-filled sections that indicated Sherlock’s blood type (O-, surprisingly: somehow I pegged him as an AB) and his STD status (negative on all fronts). He has no allergies. I shook my thermometer and glanced at my watch.
“Please tell me that’s going in my mouth,” Sherlock says, his arms over his chest and his ankles crossed. I can’t help but laugh.
“It is!” I hover it over his lips until he opens his mouth, tongue conveniently raised. I press it in and his closes his mouth around it. “Excellent.” Check my watch again; wait sixty seconds. Probably shouldn’t have had that last shot of whiskey. Sherlock looks like a twelve year old with a lollipop in his mouth. The image makes me laugh.
After a minute I pull the thermometer out and make a note of his temperature. Very slightly elevated, but that could be the two shots of whiskey he had. I note it as normal. I have him sit up.
His blood pressure, surprisingly enough, is entirely normal. I examine his ears, his nose, his throat: normal. His lips are a little chapped, but then again, so are mine. A quick examination of his major joints shows no problems there. I put on my stethoscope and listen to his lungs as he takes deep breaths; there’s almost music to it, the sound of Sherlock’s breathing. I have him lie on his back again and take my stethoscope to his chest, his abdomen, tapping as I go. I spend a good two minutes listening to his heart. It’s perfect, and I like the sound of it.
“Alright, mate.” This is a bit awkward. “Up you get.”
“If this the point where you’ll ask me to turn my head and cough?” He seems more amused by it than distressed.
“I’m afraid so.”
He stands and undoes his dressing gown, and clasps his hands behind his back. It’s while I’m standing next to him weighing his testicles in my hand that I realize I’ve performed this entire examination without gloves on.
“Turn your head and cough,” I say. He does. He doesn’t have a hernia. He does, however, have an erection, which we both discreetly fail to acknowledge. I debate for a moment whether to do a visual check of his penis and foreskin whilst he’s in such a condition, and I have to admit that curiosity had a hand in my decision to go ahead and do so.
“Do you want a moment?” I ask. It seems only polite. I probably should have waited to ask once I wasn’t holding onto to his penis in a loose grip. The whiskey might have gone to my head a little quicker than I realized.
“I’m fine,” Sherlock says. He’s a bit flustered.
“Is this unusual for you?”
“Yes,” Sherlock says. And then I saw something I never thought I’d see: he blushed, from his chest right up through his face. I didn’t think it was possible. I have a quick look, examine his foreskin, and let him go, and make a note in his file. Normal.
“It’s alright,” I reassure him. “It happens all the time during examinations.” What I don’t mention is that it doesn’t usually inspire a mirror reaction in the doctor. “It’s a good sign, really.”
“Right,” Sherlock says. Not exactly disbelieving, but certainly sarcastic.
“Nothing to be ashamed of there,” I say, glancing down again, then wondering what the hell I’m doing. “Something you can be proud of, though, definitely.”
He smiles that crooked half-smile of his. I have to wonder: at what point did Sherlock become a sexual and/or romantic interest for me? Was it entirely during his various tests and procedures? On some level I’d like the answer to be yes, because that would be simpler; I could chalk this up to wanting to comfort him during a very difficult time. We have a strange but very close relationship, after all. He means more to me than anyone I’ve ever met, probably more than anyone I ever will meet. It’s easy to confuse one’s feelings when you’re standing in front of the man who metaphorically (and sometimes literally) saves your life, makes you whole, gives you purpose. The body is very simple, really: it reacts to all kinds of stimuli, whether it makes perfect sense to your brain at the time or not. It’s easily confused. I thought I’d be more distressed about the homosexual element of all this, but oddly enough I’m not. I guess that’s a mark of my relative maturity.
“One more thing, that’s all,” I say. I take the dressing gown off of him, just like I took off his hospital gown. He’s standing in front of me entirely naked now. He’s a long flash of white under all the lamps, with a visible blue network of veins traced over him like paint. He’s like a work of art. His eyelids look heavy and I wonder if he’s thinking the same thing I am. “I just need to check your back for moles. Can you lie down on your stomach?” It comes out a little huskier than I mean it to. As I said: I don’t usually do examinations in my flat, or on a bed, or on my flatmate’s bed. He complies.
I pull over a blanket to cover him; it’s getting a little cool now. I do a quick visual inspection, shifting the blanket when I need to, and then I rub my hands across his shoulders, his back. I push my fingers into the tension in his muscles, rub them until they relax, and I feel him melt under my hands. I switch off all the lights but the one on his bedside table. No need for medical grade lighting anymore. There’s something in his breathing, and I just know.
I lie down next to him, he turns, and before I can even work out who started what, or moved toward whom, his lips are against mine and my tongue is against his. I can taste the whiskey on him, the takeaway, a hint of tea. He’s hot against me, desperate, all need and pain and fear. This is the first time I’ve sensed the fear in him; fear of the surgery, or the cancer, or the treatment, fear of dying, fear of living with impending death in the form of wayward carcinoma. Even this: fear of not expressing something, of letting something go; it seemed like we had our entire lives to sort out this complicated relationship, and now we’ve distilled it into just one night of skin, and hands, friction, kisses, the uncontrolled and beautiful sounds from deep in his chest. He tries to catch his breath and I feel him about burst into tears, but he doesn’t. The evidence of this experience ends up as a damp stain on my shirt and jeans, which, like all the rest of my clothes, I never did manage to take off. He finishes the evening curled up around me, his hand in my hair, his face, finally relaxed in sleep, against my chest.
Chapter 6: Drowning
It’s a longer surgery than I thought it would be. I met his surgeon; seems like a nice woman. Small hands; probably a benefit for a surgery like this one. It’s nearly four hours after I saw him walk into the operating room, looking more frail and fragile than I’d like, before I see him again in the recovery room.
It’s a miracle that they let me into the recovery room at all. Probably a miracle called Mycroft Holmes.
He’s still intubated when I first see him, and it’s the starkest contrast I can imagine from the night before. He went from being entirely alive under my hands, all heat and flesh and sound, to having a machine pushing air into his lungs. There’s a large dressing over his neck; all the work of the surgery covered up with cotton, including the drainage tube they sewed in. He’s wearing the drain on his gown like a badge of honour. He’s got an IV in his hand, morphine dripping into his veins already. A kindness. He wakes; his eyes take me in, there’s panic there. They tell him he’s all right, they tell him they’re going to take the tube out. They tell him he needs to cough. He does, like a weak kitten. They pull the tube out and he collapses.
He’s drawing breaths in a panic, as if he’s been drowning, his eyes half closed. He’s only partially conscious. The nurses draw back, move on to another patient, making room for me. I step closer, take his hand. There’s a pulse monitor clipped to his finger. It’s beeping lightly, but quickly. I avoid it, stroke my fingers against his palm.
“You’re okay, Sherlock,” I tell him. “Perfect surgery. You’re all right. You’re fine.”
He’s groggy, but the panic on his face seems to recede slightly. The nurses are keeping an eye on him, as they do.
“Sherlock,” I say, moving closer to him, closer to his ear. I fold my fingers into his hair. “I love you.” It’s an odd thing for me to say, even after the closeness of last night. I know it is; but I also know it’s true. I took him to the hospital this morning, one hand on his elbow. We did not hug, we did not kiss. I have no idea if we will ever do those things again. But the truth remains. “I love you,” I say it again, because it’s true.
He looks at me. His lips are dry, nearly cracked. “John,” he whispers, his voice rough from the tube, rough from the anesthetic and the morphine. His eyes close and he’s out again.
You think that’s a brave thing I said? It’s not, really. Sherlock won’t remember it. I know he won’t.
Chapter 7: Nothing if not Efficient
I wake up when the door to Sherlock’s room opens. That means I wake up every couple of hours. The nurse bustles in, makes the I’m so sorry to wake you again face in my direction, and then moves toward Sherlock, who is consistently awakened by her presence, just like me. She measures his neck using the cloth ruler they have draped around his shoulders; the swelling is going down hourly. A good sign. She takes his hand and touches his palm; she taps his cheekbones and runs her fingers down his cheeks. She asks him quietly if he feels any tingling in his lips or fingertips. Each time, he doesn’t. A sign of a good surgeon; no jostling of his parathyroids, no rising calcium levels. She checks the status of his drain, flips over the badge and eyeballs the contents, then clips it back onto his gown. He’s going to come home sooner rather than later. As the nurse leaves I get up, each time, stand over Sherlock, touch his hand or his hair, his face, and his eyes meet mine. We don’t speak. His eyes eventually close and he sleeps a little more. Until the next interruption.
After the third, Sherlock has void his bladder. I unplug his IV from the wall and push it behind him, take him into the bathroom. His gown is weighed down with his drain, pulls at a weird angle, makes it open at odd places. I see his long, skinny legs, his big feet, long toes. He doesn’t look at the mirror in bathroom, he doesn’t move his hand to touch the hard-packed dressing at his throat. His legs are wobbly, so I get him to sit instead of trying to pee standing. He doesn’t object. The IV in his hand isn’t morphine anymore; it’s saline. So after this first visit to relieve the pressure on his bladder, he starts having to make a return trip every hour and a half or so. I go with him every time. He doesn’t seem to mind.
I wake up again somewhere around 6am to the sound of hard shoes on the floor outside, and the door swinging open again. Mycroft. Sherlock’s eyes flutter open.
“I hear everything went well,” he says, more than a little stiffly.
“Yes,” I answer, because I’d rather Sherlock not try. He’s closing his eyes again, pretending to be asleep. “She says it went perfectly. He’s recovering very well, I think he’ll come home today.”
“Let’s not rush things,” Mycroft says, and I fear we have at least one more night ahead of us in this wretched place. Hospitals seem so exciting to me as a doctor, but as the friend of a patient, I want nothing more than to get out of here. “He’s booked for ablation in a month.”
“You are nothing if not efficient,” I say.
“He’ll need help for the next six weeks, at least,” Mycroft says.
“Of course,” Mycroft says. “He’ll have severe hypothyroidism. Can you help him?”
“Yes,” I say, feeling a bit stupid. Of course he’ll have severe hypothyroidism. He doesn’t have a thyroid anymore. “Yes, of course I can.”
“I’ll hire someone,” Mycroft says. “To help out. To keep an eye on him.”
“No,” I say, wondering why I’m so sure I don’t want help. It might be nice to have someone around to tidy up and do the dishes. But in my gut I don’t want a stranger in the flat. This is my job, my role. Sherlock’s care is my responsibility. “I can handle it.”
“I’ll transfer funds to your account,” Mycroft says. “If you’re going to help, I don’t want you going to the surgery, even part time. You aren’t to leave him on his own.”
“Hypothyroidism isn’t the like a seizure disorder, he doesn’t need to be babysat.” I feel indignant on Sherlock’s behalf. He can handle this. He’ll be fine.
“Nevertheless,” Mycroft maintains. “If you insist on taking shifts at the surgery in the next two months, I will hire someone to look after Sherlock.”
What else can I do? “All right,” I say, sighing. “Sarah won’t like that much at all.”
“I’ve already informed her of your leave of absence,” Mycroft notes. “I’ve provided a replacement.”
Typical. I look over at Sherlock. He’s still pretending to be asleep, but now he’s smirking.
Chapter 8: Everything is Normal
We’re standing over a body in the mud on the edge of the Thames. I thought we wouldn’t be doing this sort of thing until after Sherlock’s treatment was completed, and Lestrade clearly thought the same, but here we are. Donovan’s eyes are wide; she can’t seem to keep from staring at Sherlock’s incision. Though: you can’t actually see the incision yet. It’s taped over with surgical tape, vertical strips of it making a kind of bizarre tribal necklace. There are bloodstains on the strips, but they aren’t ready to come off yet. Sherlock is pretending everything is normal.
Mostly, it is normal. The only difference is that I’m nervous about the incision, cautious about him jostling it or tearing it open. He acquiesces to my requests: no sitting straight up from bed when he’s on his back, no lifting, he’s to be careful whipping his head around. I help him to wash his hair, though with those strips he really doesn’t need my help. I stay with him though, as he steps into the shower in the morning. I pull the shower head down and aim it, gently, at the incision. I end up with a damp t-shirt and pajama bottoms, but I don’t mind. I just hang them up over my door during the day, and they’re dry by night time.
“He’s been in the water for a while,” I use the tip of my shoe to lift of the dead man’s arm. “Three days, I’d say.”
“Agreed,” Sherlock says, completely ignoring all the curious eyes staring at his incision.
“Obviously, he’s recently separated, based on the depression on his ring finger, minus the actual ring. Unlikely to have fallen off, given how much he’s bloated. Lestrade, you’ll need to find his wife as soon as possible.”
Lestrade looks distinctly unsettled, and I can’t blame him. Sherlock left the hospital two days ago, and here he is, turning up at the crime scene as if nothing at all happened. With an obvious, six-inch surgical incision across the base of his throat and the marks of the IV still in his hand. He hasn’t been very interested in taking any painkillers, but other than some restricted movement in his neck, it doesn’t seem to be slowing him down at all. He’s still terribly pale from the anesthetic. I keep preparing myself to catch him in a swoon.
“Sherlock,” Lestrade says, as gently as I’ve ever heard him, “Are you sure it’s a good idea for you to--”
“From the look of his fingernails,” Sherlock continues, as if he had not been interrupted, “he was an auto mechanic; given the kind of oil under his fingernails, I’d say industrial. Petroleum lorries. BP or CPL. One of them will have reported a missing mechanic.”
“Are you mad?” Donovan says. She has her arms crossed in front of her, her stance is a little angry. “Well, we all know you’re at least a little bit mad, but you’ve just left the hospital! Won’t you get infected or something, standing around poking at corpses? Or does that not bother you at all?”
“How is your new boyfriend, Sally?” Sherlock asks. “Have you told Anderson about him yet?”
Donovan turns pinkish. Anderson, who had been hovering near the body, ignoring Sherlock until just then, perked up. “What?”
And Mycroft thought Sherlock would need help. He’s entirely back to his old self, I’d say. More or less.
Chapter 9: No Whisper of Heat
It’s about half past ten and Sherlock’s already gone to bed, a sign that the hypothyroidism is starting to take over. It’s a slow process, slower than I expected. It’s been over a week, and only now am I seeing the obvious signs that he’s being affected by it at all. He’s getting tired. He can’t stay up all night anymore. He wakes up tired and groggy. He snaps at me, frustrated, angry, but I don’t take it personally. He actually apologizes for it, acknowledges that he’s feeling irritable.
“I know,” I say, each time it happens. “It’s to be expected. It’s all right.”
I peeled off his surgical strips this morning with a pair of tweezers. His incision is large, over six inches across. It’s swollen and red and his skin didn’t much like the drainage tube, the strips, or anything else about the experience. It’s not jagged or rough, it’s a perfect line; the surgeon started in the middle of his throat and then cut right, then left. It’s puckered where the stitches meet underneath, and its swollen and dotted with angry red spots. He wears a soft scarf around his neck when he goes to bed, against my better judgement. I think he’s trying to keep himself from touching it. It’s a foreign body, something he couldn’t remove if he tried. It’s part of him now.
I took him into the shower afterwards, got right in with him, and washed his incision for him under the hot water. I think it’s going to heal well. I held him against me, held him up in the shower, washed his hair and lathered him up with soap, rinsed him off, stroking his too-white skin. I kissed him then, lightly, gently, on the lips. He kept his eyes shut, let the hot water sluice over him, his arms wrapped around me. I would never have imagined him like this. Helpless. The idea of him going through this without me here to take care of him appalls me.
I daubed his incision with vitamin E before I put him to bed, and felt the hard line of the scar tissue underneath. He let me, just watching me with his curious eyes.
We spent the day solving puzzles in the park, wandering from place to place, picking up lunch as we went. I want to keep him moving, get him a bit of exercise without him noticing it. It was a good day. We stopped by a fountain, watching children playing on the cobblestones beyond it, and he took my hand. It was cold, and I drew it up inside the sleeve of my coat to warm him up.
“John,” he calls, from his bed. His voice is weak and strained. I thought he was sleeping.
I drop my book and go into his bedroom, hovering at the foot of his bed. “You all right, Sherlock?” He’s lying on his side, in the dark, curled up into the tightest ball he can manage.
“I’m freezing,” he says, his voice muffled by the bedclothes. “I can’t seem to...warm up.” I piled on three extra blankets when he went to bed, but he’s still cold. I lean down and touch his neck; chilly. Body temperature starting to drop. Constant hypothermia.
I don’t ask him, though I probably should. I’m in my pajamas already, so I just pull off my jumper and climb into bed next to him. It feels like an empty bed; there’s no whisper of heat coming from him. I pull him into my lap, wrap my arms around his thin chest, press my cheek to the back of his neck. I can feel the chill radiating out of him. Within a few minutes my body heat warms up the bed and I can feel him relax. He takes my hand and squeezes it lightly. Then he falls asleep, and his even breathing lulls me into dreams as well, his hand still wrapped around mine.
Chapter 10: Intolerable
We are halfway to a crime scene when Sherlock himself pulls the plug. I didn’t want to say anything about it, but he’s slowed down so much he almost seems like an average person. And then, not even that.
I'm determined to ensure that the cancer doesn't kill him, but this admission very well might. He can't do it. He doesn't have the energy to get to the crime scene let alone chase criminals and dodge fists, bullets. No dashing down cobblestones or climbing balconies, not now. And even if he could manage to arrive, a flourish of coat and his typical arrogance, he's losing his lightning-fast mind. He's still more observant than anyone else, he's still a genius, but I can see the gears slowing down, and so can everyone else. It takes him longer now to find the vital clue. We have to wait for him.
“I can’t,” he says to me, quietly. His voice has gone all rough, as if he has a cold. He doesn’t. He woke up with a voice rough from sleep and it never returned to normal. It started a couple of days ago and has me worried; it’s an advanced sign of his degeneration. I’d been hoping it wouldn’t come to that.
“I know,” I tell him. People are dashing around us in real time and Sherlock is in slow motion, every movement deliberate and slow, even his thoughts slowed down with him. I’ve slowed down too, matching his rhythms. I wake him slowly in the morning with a cup of tea, I walk at his pace when we go to Tesco, which we now do together. (I don’t like leaving him alone, and the walk is good for him.) Without others bustling around him,he hasn’t had a gauge to see just how slow he’s gotten. He must have just seen the truth of it, here in the heart of London, with business men with their briefcases zipping past them, glaring at him for being slow, shouldering him out of the way; he can’t keep up. His joints have swollen up a little, his fingers are freezing. He is listless and weak, and a brisk walk is out of the question. “It’s not permanent.” I answer the question he's not asking, because he knows better and wouldn't want to ask even if he didn’t. "it will come back."
“Is this what your brain is like?”
I smile. “Yes, I’m sure it’s exactly what my brain is like,” I say. I flag down a cab and text Lestrade.
He’s not dropping in on your crime scene today. Won’t, I don’t think, until he’s better. Thanks for your patience.
“Intolerable,” Sherlock says, but without any bite. He’s tired. His eyes are puffy. The skin on his hands is rough. I spend some time every day rubbing him down with cream, but his knees and elbows are still dry and cracked. The sadness in his eyes is hard to see; it’s like staring into the sun. Terrible. Impossible. Blinding.
“I think I’m dying,” he says.
“You’re not going to die,” I say automatically, but I think he’s right. This is a form of dying. It’s very slow and hard to see, but without an essential organ like the one that surgeon removed, without drugs to replace it, he will die. He’s only got a week to go before the next stage in his treatment. I’m looking forward to getting this over with. It’s hard to see him slow down like this, aging fifty years over the space of three weeks. Mycroft was right. He needs help. I’m glad I’m not at the surgery. I don’t want to leave him alone.
“I will,” he corrects me. “Die. Eventually. Everyone does.”
“Well, I suppose so,” I admit. “But it won’t be from this.”
I think about his treatment, how easy it looked on paper. It’s easy for a doctor, a distant doctor who doesn’t have to watch a great man with a great mind disintegrate like this. Waiting. The life draining out of him. It’s easy because his body is shutting down without our help or intervention. It can poison itself without any chemo at all. It’s the perfect treatment. It’s killing him. It’s destroying his mind, the only part of himself he cares about in the slightest.
I help him into the cab, and he doesn’t resist. His skin in cold to the touch, but he rarely complains about it anymore.
Lestrade texts back: Good. Take care of him. We want him back as soon as he’s ready.
I take him home and he beats me at chess. Three times in a row. It clearly makes him feel better. I wasn’t even letting him win, honestly, I’m just not very good at chess.
Chapter 11: Me, At the Very Least
He’s still asleep when I wake up. I switch on the electric blanket, unwilling to leave the bed if it’s going to get cold once I do. I run my fingers through his hair; it’s gotten dry and too much of it comes off in my hands. I kiss his temple.
Once the bed is sufficiently warm, I untangle myself from him without waking him, and go into the kitchen to make tea. Me, at the very least: I make tea. The skull would have been useless at this. I bring the hot mug into Sherlock’s bedroom and his eyes are open. He turns and watches me walk in, sits up in bed.
“One more day,” I say to him, and smile. “You’re going to start feeling better soon.”
He looks at me blankly. “What?”
“Tomorrow you go in for your radiation treatment, remember. This will be over soon.” His blank look has me seriously concerned.
He sighs heavily. “I can’t...” he starts. There’s a look of utter despair on his face. “I can’t understand.”
I hand him his tea and crawl back into bed with him, let him lean against me, his hair against my nose. “Drink your tea,” I whisper.
After a few minutes he turns and looks at me. “Say something.”
“How are you feeling?”
“Tired,” he says. “You were talking before, but I didn’t understand you.”
“Oh?” I wonder how long it takes to die from this. I think it’s another two months, and I can’t even fathom what another two months would be like.
“My brain has become even slower than yours,” he says sadly.
“I won’t tell anyone,” I say. “It will be our little secret.”
He smiles at me fondly, but it doesn’t take the sadness out of his eyes. He drinks his tea.
Chapter 12: More Dangerous than Ever
It’s the quietest night in history, as far as I can tell. I can hear the clock on the wall in the sitting room, and I’m lying on Sherlock’s bed. Mine has been abandoned for weeks. I don’t want to go up there alone. At least I can still smell Sherlock in here. His absence is palpable and I hate it.
I left him at the hospital this evening, with nothing but a second hand book, an old pair of slippers, a bag of lemon candies, a tube of vitamin e, hotel shampoo, and my old phone. It’s the night before his treatment begins; they want him in the hospital overnight tonight. I was pleased to get this stage started, but once I saw the room, I felt a lump in my throat that wouldn’t go away. It’s so sterile, the floor covered over with paper in a path between the bed and the bathroom, the single chair in the room papered over as well. A room prepared for a dangerous victim, for someone about to become dangerously radioactive. He’s not allowed to go barefoot on the floor. Anything that goes in with him cannot come back out again. A miniature Chernobyl. That’s what he’ll be. More dangerous than ever.
At least the room has its own thermostat. I turned it up to 28. The bed only has sheets on it, only what’s easy to wash. He’ll be cold. He’s not used to sleeping alone, providing his own body heat. No clothes but the gowns. I undressed him, packed his clothes away, then helped him into the hospital gowns one more time. Tied one at the back, one at the front. Another I draped over his shoulders for a bit more warmth. I tucked him into the bed, adjusted it slightly to account for his height. Smoothed some vitamin e across his scar, reminded him to do it himself twice a day. I stroked his forehead, knitted my fingers in his hair. His puffy eyes hold mine. I leaned down and kiss his forehead. I had to go. Not because I wanted to, or because I had anywhere to go. Only because the hospital staff expected me to. We become a slave to their expectations. Helpless in the face of them.
He laid his hand on my shoulder, looked into my face, searching for something. Pulled me in close and kissed me. His lips, his tongue, the feeling of his dry hair under my hands. He’s so weak, it breaks my heart. He’s saying goodbye.
“Three days,” I said, trying to be as cheery as I can. “Three days and then this whole thing is almost over.”
I cried when I left him there, not in front of him, but in the hallway beside his closed door. He looked so lost, so confused, so helpless in that little bed, alone. Four nights, three days. It’s not that long. It feels like an eternity. I can’t see him, I can’t go in there. Not once he’s taken the pills. No one can go in, and he cannot come out.
My phone beeps. A text.
Mycroft brought me a geiger counter of my very own! SH
How thoughtful! What’s your current reading?
Two. Possibly that’s just the room itself. SH
He was allowed to visit after they told me all visitors had to leave? Psh.
Mycroft lives in a world with no rules. SH
I’d like to live there too.
You’d hate it. SH
It’s weird here without you.
I imagine so. That’s my bedroom. SH
I’m not going to ask how you know where I am.
I know you. SH
I suppose you do. I miss you.
You surprised me. SH
Did I? I didn’t know I could surprise you.
It appears you can. I didn’t think I was interested in this sort of thing. SH
Which sort of thing? Oh...that? That sort of thing?
Yes that sort of thing. Never been interested before. SH
Well, you’re compromised. If you don’t want to pursue it once you’re better, that’s okay too.
Is it? SH
Well, of course. Perhaps I’ve been taking advantage.
I wouldn’t say so. SH
But you’re currently compromised.
I’m not stupid. Well, I guess I am a bit stupid right now. Fair enough. SH
It was a surprise to me too, really.
I imagine it was. SH
Yes. I guess this kind of thing forces you to look and really see.
Observe and deduce. SH
If you sneaked in and spent the night with me, I don’t think anyone would notice. SH
So that’s what I do. I sneak into the hospital, go up to the 5th floor where Sherlock’s isolation room is, watch to see that no one at the nursing station sees me, and I slip in. He’s breathing so slowly, tucked into that little bed where I left him, I think he’s asleep. But he’s not. He shifts himself over a little, makes space for me.
He takes my face in his hands and he kisses me. He undoes my shirt and pushes it off me; he tugs at my trousers until I pull them off and drop the on the floor. He doesn’t stop until I’m as naked as he is under his gown. He strokes me, explores me, kisses my jugular, my hip, the inside of my thigh. We fall asleep in a tangle of limbs and bodily fluids. I wake up once in the night with his fingers tracing patterns against my chest, my stomach. I feel his breath against my neck.
“John,” he says. It feels filled with meaning. I kiss his closed eyes, and we go back to sleep. His exhaustion is so heavy, I can feel it like weight against me.
The next morning I strip his bed and remake it, wash Sherlock from top to toe and change his gown. I sneak back out again. No one knows I was there. Within minutes of me disappearing down the hall they come to his door with the lead-lined case containing his two pills and a glass of water.
When I get back to Baker St., there’s a geiger counter sitting on the kitchen table, one that matches the one Mycroft gave Sherlock. I know instantly what he meant me to use it for. Someone does know where I was last night.
Chapter 13: The Chalk Outline
There is an outline in chalk around the bed now, which is the demarcation line of where a visitor can safely stand without being irradiated by Sherlock when he’s lying down in bed. Exactly on the edge is a red plastic armchair, which is where I sit. My geiger counter sits on the armrest; Sherlock’s sits on his lap. We check at intervals. There was a brief period where we had to widen the radius of the line, almost shoving me out of the room, but not quite.
The nursing staff are not delighted about this set up, but with Mycroft’s support and no actual demonstrable danger to me (as long as Sherlock doesn’t move toward the window, and as long as I don’t step inside the chalk outline), they accept the compromise. Sherlock is the first patient in the history of the hospital to have a regular visitor every single day of his radioative isolation.
I remind him to drink more water. I remind him he has to flush the toilet three times every time he uses it. I remind him when he needs to change his sheets (three times a day), and change his gown (same). I remind him when he needs to bathe (three times a day). He’s so weak and so tired it’s physically painful to watch him do all this work to take care of himself and not be able to help him. To say nothing of how painful it is to see him suffer and not be able to touch him at all.
On the first day, I read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe aloud to him. He lies with his eyes shut through most of it, and I’m half-certain he’s asleep until he interrupts to remark on how ridiculous some plot element is.
“Where did this witch come from, anyway?” he asks.
“Oh, that’s in another book, it’s a whole other story.”
“The lion created this world, right? Didn’t he create her? If so, why did he do that? Did he create someone more powerful than he is? And,” he goes on, “if so, he’s entirely to blame for the neverending winter and all the creatures that are turned to stone. Why don’t the Narnians blame him?”
“Well, he didn’t create her, actually, she’s from another world entirely.”
“It’s hard to explain. I’ll read that story next, if you want.”
“Why did the lion stay away and let this witch woman do terrible things? It seems truly irresponsible.”
“I think it’s time to change your sheets again, Sherlock. Strip the bed and take a bath, I’ll remake it for you.”
I read him The Magician’s Nephew in the evening, after his third bath of the day, and he fell asleep partway through.
In the afternoon on the second day, I read him Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. He likes Dumbledore best. He suggests that I would be a Gryffindor, but he would clearly be a Slytherin. “I would have thought Ravenclaw,” I say.
“Dull,” he says. “They don’t seem to ever do anything but read books and do well on government-issued exams. Sounds like Mycroft. Go on. What happens next.”
In the middle of the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, just as the nurse brings his dinner to the door, the nausea hits him. He grabs his stomach, his feet reach for his slippers on the floor. If he throws up the radiation in the room might spike and I might have to leave. No one will be able to help him clean it up, either. I run out of the room and find a plastic pail, but by the time I come back in he’s in the bathroom. I can hear him breathing, but not retching. I want to throw caution to the wind and run in there with him, but I know I can’t.
“Get,” he says, “the food,” he breathes heavily, “out of here.”
I take a deep breath, cross the boundaries and shift the food across the line and out into the hall. I put it on a tray table and push it against the far wall. It’s pretty innocuous: soup, bread, an apple. Not exactly Michelin star quality, of course, but nothing terrible. The nausea was just waiting for a trigger, then.
I come back into the room. He’s still in the bathroom. “All right?”
I hear him breathing. He doesn’t say anything. Clearly not all right. I go to the nurses station and convince them to give me some dramamine for him. I put the pills in a cup and step over the chalk circle, watching my geiger counter. I get partway to the bed before I have to stop. I put the cup down the edge of the table alongside the bed and move back to my safe location.
“Sherlock,” I say. “All right? I brought you some dramamine, it’s on the table by your bed.”
He takes the dramamine, gets back into bed, and he doesn’t throw up. But the nausea only recedes, it doesn’t stop. I finish reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and he’s fast asleep.
Chapter 14: How Things Have Changed
A text wakes me up at about 2am.
It’s counterintuitive for a small minority population to reject members based of their parenthood. SH
It takes me a groggy minute to work out what this means. He’s talking about Harry Potter.
Hatred is rarely logical. I think it’s meant to be analogous to racism.
Ability to talk to snakes seems interesting, but I doubt they have anything of value to share. SH
Yes. Too quiet. Your absence keeps waking me up. SH
I’m going to take you home tomorrow.
You can’t sleep with me, though. SH
At first that sounds like a rejection, but then I realize what he means. It’s true. He will still be too radioactive to be that close for an extended period of time. I’ll have to spend a few days in my own bedroom again. How things have changed. That will be agonizing.
You got used to sharing your bed pretty quickly.
I did, didn’t I. There are other parts of that experience I would like to get used to. SH
I know exactly what he means. I think he’s trying to flirt with me. It’s working. It seems like all the most true things Sherlock has to say come to me via text. He did say once that he preferred it to talking. I don’t respond, I’m too busy imagining exactly what he has in mind. I feel like I’m fifteen again, a little mystified, curious, a little more desperate than I want to admit.
I miss you. Terribly. SH
Oh god Sherlock I miss you too.
Chapter 15: The Attention of a Thousand Eyes
Mycroft strolled into my office at the surgery as if he has an appointment. (This time it seems he does: the patient was listed as “George Clooney.” Must have made the receptionist eyes go a bit wide until she saw him.) He drops a file onto my desk. Scan results. He sits on the patient chair across from me, crosses his legs, smiles that prim smile of his.
I look over the documents and glance up at him over the top of the file. It’s the radiologist’s report from Sherlock’s whole body PET-CT, showing radioiodine uptake. It’s covered over with hand-written notes, crossing out areas of concern. His thyroid bed is glowing like a Christmas tree in the images, but the notes indicate this is normal, expected, completely routine. “Well, this looks like good news,” I say. Normal is good news. No further steps in the immediate future; follow up blood panel in three months. Referred back to J.H. Watson.
“Indeed,” he says. “Good.”
“There’ll be more follow up, of course, and to be honest I’m not sure if his thyroxine dose is quite right yet. He needs an endocrinologist, not just a GP.”
the prim smile stretches wider. “Don’t underestimate yourself, John.” I look down at the file. Of course Mycroft has someone monitoring every dose I prescribe, every scan result, every blood panel. I scrutinize the notes written over the radiologist’s typed remarks a little harder. Small, sharp letters, written in ink. I should find it annoying, but frankly it’s reassuring. No telltale signature on the file, though. If Mycroft could procure the services of the best surgeon in the EU on such short notice, I’m shouldn’t be surprised if he’s managed to keep the UK’s best endocrinologist on retainer as well. “No one can give my brother better care. I fear no one else has the patience to deal with him.” He leans forward slightly. “Certainly no one else has so thoroughly earned his trust.”
I’m going to choose not to read too much into that statement; there are some conversations and revelations I’m not quite ready to have or make. Not that anything that happens on British soil would be much of a revelation to Mycroft Holmes, and it’s not that I’m ashamed, or anything. Some things are just...personal. Private. Tentative. Not quite ready for the attention of a thousand eyes, which is exactly what Mycroft feels like.
“Thank you for for finding a replacement for me here,” I say, then add, “You were right. He needed help.”
Another stiff smile, but, I think, a genuine one. “He wouldn’t have accepted it from anyone else.” He sighs, then stands, looking down his nose at me in a not-unkind way. “He still needs help, obviously. I think he always will, much as he refuses to acknowledge it. You’ll continue to keep an eye on him, yes?”
“Of course,” I say. As much as I try to repress it, I feel the hint of a blush creeping up my neck. “Absolutely.”
“And you’ll report back to me about his...activities?”
“Still no, I’m afraid,” I say, leaning back in my chair. “I’m not really a very good spy.”
Mycroft smiles and shakes his head. “No, I suppose not.” The pleased look he gives me just as he turns to leave makes me think it was the answer he was looking for.
Chapter 16: Watch This
Dimmock doesn’t have Lestrade’s patience for Sherlock, not at the best of times, but even he is cautious and quiet while Sherlock inspects the body. Anderson is sticking around the ground floor, peering up the stairs like an impatient dog; clearly he’s been told to give Sherlock a wide berth. Donovan has, thus far at least, failed to use the word “freak” even once. Scotland Yard is on its best behaviour today, clearly.
If Sherlock notices, he isn’t letting on. He’s just getting down to business; gloved hands along the man’s jacket, checking pockets, the bottoms of his shoes, cards through the dead man’s hair, pries his eyes open, briefly, flips up the back of his jacket for a moment, then rises to his full height.
“Any ideas?” Dimmock prompts.
“A few,” Sherlock says, a glimmer of a grin at the corners of his mouth.
Here he goes. He’s about to blow them out of the water again. He still has a (slowly fading) red scar across his neck, mostly obscured by a scarf, but his mind is as sharp and fast as it ever was. Maybe moreso; there’s something to be said for losing something so precious, so entirely key to your life and sense of self, only to get it back again. It didn’t take nearly as long for Sherlock to shift back to full-throttle as I had feared it would. It’s only been a few weeks since his first tiny green pill. I’m still keeping an eye on a couple of swollen joints, but his voice has returned to normal, his energy levels are going back up. Still not the manic energy he used to have, but he’ll get there. He doesn’t need the electric blanket anymore, or, in truth, his flatmate’s shared body heat, but only one of the two is resigned to the second bedroom.
Sherlock glances over at me with a look that says, are you ready? Watch this. And he begins to lay out the story of the dead man’s life and death, in fine detail. He speaks so fast Dimmock is struggling to keep up. Extraordinary. Quite extraordinary.
Chapter 17: A Single Syllable
The kettle sings and I put two mugs on the worktop: a teabag in each. Pour the water; most of the way to the top for Sherlock, an inch of space for me. Sugar in his, milk in mine.
Sherlock is working on four cases at once. He has papers and photos taped to the wall in what looks like no particular order, and he zipping from one side of the room to the other, verifying details from a set of opened books, a laptop in the lounge (mine, again), and another on the kitchen table (his, obviously), and he’s texting.
He stands for a moment and ponders the wall, so I hand him his tea. He takes it, smiles.
“Thanks,” he says.
“Sure.” I take a sip of mine. “Which one’s going to get solved first?”
“This one,” he says, pointing to a photograph of a severed arm. “Simple.”
Without disrupting his tea, Sherlock leans over and kisses me on the lips. “It’s going to be a late night,” he warns. “I might not sleep at all.”
I nod. That isn’t exactly a surprise. I don’t mind. It’s good to see him back on his feet, after all. At some point he will need to collect evidence, or rush off to catch someone, and he will pull me along, filling me in along the way. I know how it goes.
Since my laptop is otherwise occupied, and Sherlock doesn’t appear to need me at the moment, I plop myself down in my armchair and pick up a book. This way I stay out of Sherlock’s direct path, but I’m not far from his reach. Once in a while he rubs his fingers through my hair as if it helps him think.
My phone buzzes. A new text message. “Is that going to be for you?” I ask. Old habits and all that.
“No,” Sherlock says. “It’s for you.”
I pick it up and check. It’s not for Sherlock; it’s from Sherlock.
“Why are you texting me?”
He’s chewing on the end of his pen, staring up at his wall of evidence, his eyes tracking fast through it. He doesn’t answer.
I’m not compromised anymore. SH
No, you’re not. I reply. Definitely you’re not. I feel a bit silly, texting someone who’s less than ten feet away from me. I hear his phone buzz in his pocket. Do normal people communicate with each other this way?
I’m still interested in that sort of thing, in case you couldn’t tell. SH
I smile. “I can tell.”
Wouldn’t want you thinking otherwise. SH
“Very kind of you,” I say. “I worked it out when you didn’t kick me out of bed.”
“An impeccable deduction.” He lays a hand on my shoulder and leans down, presses his lips against my neck. “Impeccable.”
I pick up my phone and stare at it for a moment as Sherlock taps at my laptop, his pen shoved behind his ear.
I love you, I text him, and hit send. I hear his phone buzz. My stomach does an odd turn. The tapping of Sherlock’s fingers on my laptop keyboard stops. I look over at him and he’s looking at his phone, that disarming half-smile on his face. He looks over at me. I don’t think anyone else would understand or believe how much warmth he can convey with a single look. He cuts right through language with his eyes and goes straight through to meaning.
“John.” So much conveyed in a single syllable. And I understand. I smile back at him.
“You want to help me?” he asks.
“Sure,” I say. He hands me my laptop. It’s a dense page of nonsensical text. “We need to find a pattern in this.”
I sigh. Sherlock’s eyes are sparkling with delight; it’s not me, or just the case: it’s both. Both at the same time. He’s helpless in the face of this much evidence, the answer just beyond his reach, but not quite. It doesn’t get better than this.