Pain: dull, aching, brain-numbing, distracting, radiating from … nowhere. Everywhere. Heart: pounding (tachycardia). Hands: twitching (magnesium deficiency again, how irritating). Wound site: hot, tender (severe bacterial infection). Breathing: fast and erratic (hyperventilation imminent). Eyes: skipping, unable to focus (the room is spinning or is it him). A rapid tattoo of blood beating in every (junction, transport hub) pulse point. The world is going dark at the edges.
Something is wrong.
Somewhere in London, nasty creatures are perpetrating nasty deeds and this is how it feels. The Knowledge stirs, takes stock, and reports: here, see, you have a broken rib here, this is assault and battery there. Facts begin to pour in. The evidence begins to coalesce. Bruising on the shoulders--look there, feel that, someone has been robbed. Cramping biceps: identity theft in Chelsea. Do you see/feel/hear? A fresh spreadsheet appears and fills itself in: data, data, data. The incidents come flooding in, a suffocating extra layer of skin as London's hurts come to light, actus reus and mens rea dripping from every pore. Fact: Something Is Wrong. Fact: Something Must Be Done About It.
(There is a carjacking in Chiswick--your left ankle confirms it. Here, this, this is a blackmailer in Epping, this sharp stabbing pain in your temple. Help. Please help. Please--)
If only it didn't hurt so much.
It will be all right. Get up, go, find the pain and stop it, all of it, and then the wrong things will be fine again. It'll all be fine.
Focus. Find the pain. The body is a map: use it. Track to the source. Find them. Stop them.
"I'm going to kill him," John says to the empty room. "I'm going to strangle him with my bare hands, throw him in the Thames, and they will never find the body."
Sherlock's bed (untenanted, blankets rumpled, pyjamas a guilty jumble of fabric at the foot) doesn't offer a reply. John scowls at it, tamps down hard on his initial panicky reaction, and goes to search the rest of the flat. Sherlock had been sleeping fitfully when he left, the low murmur of the (encrypted wireless, totally secure, absolutely unhackable) police radio keeping him company. John had judged it safe enough to leave him for a short while. He'd only been gone for an hour; long enough to buy a few essentials for the week. Somehow, in that time, Sherlock—bedridden, feverish, with a first-class infection of his recent, life-threatening stab wound—has managed to get up, get dressed, and leave the flat, going God knows where.
He's only been home from the hospital for three days. He shouldn't even be upright yet. Unless …
John goes out to the landing. "Mrs Hudson!"
"Yes, dear?" She peers around the bottom of the staircase. "Is something up?"
"Sherlock's not in bed. Have you seen him?"
"Sorry, love. I've been hoovering, didn't see a thing." Her brow wrinkles. "Should he be up and about yet?"
"No, he should not," John says, biting off each word precisely. "A fact of which I will remind him once I find out where he's gone." He stamps out another tendril of panic that tries to form in his gut.
"He can't have gone far, can he?" Mrs Hudson says. "Not with that fever. He's been too weak to stand up."
"I didn't see him on my way back," John says, half to himself. "But I wasn't looking."
He pulls out his mobile and sends a text.
12/11/2011 | 2:17pm
From: John Watson
Can't leave you alone for five minutes. Where are you?
As soon as he hits 'send', he hears something that makes his stomach drop: a soft buzz emanating from Sherlock's room. Ten seconds later he's holding Sherlock's phone in his hand, and finding him suddenly becomes a lot less simple.
"Do you want me to help you look for him?" Mrs Hudson says from the doorway.
"No, that's all right. You stay here in case he comes back." John shrugs back into his coat and comes down the stairs two at a time. "Would you mind putting the shopping away?"
"No worries, love," she assures him. "I'll call you if he turns up."
John barely pauses to nod, already halfway out the door.
It started out splendidly. There was progress--slow, halting, but progress nonetheless. Transport for the transport, moving along London's veins, feeling out the epicentres of (pain) wrongdoing and plotting a course to all of them. And then it wasn't fine, it was dizzying and nauseating and it was either sit down or fall down, and.
Everything has suddenly become too much.
It's too hot: too dark and too bright at the same time; too loud. There are people getting in the way, and then there aren't but that somehow makes things worse. It's very confusing. And sweaty. Sweat is revolting. Best have a shower. The only time sweat is acceptable is when John makes it happen.
Where is John?
Vocal cords non-responsive. Interesting, but highly inconvenient just now. Speech is imperative. Contact John.
An idea, forming slowly. A concept. Phone. Text. Text John. Bring him.
Where is the phone?
Panic, trying to lodge itself in brain and limbs and nerves. Dull-edged and ineffective. Fuzzy. Several fingers twitching, but that's all. Tired. Very tired, shivering, and so hot …
"John." Lestrade frowns into the phone. John never calls him. "What's up?"
"Have you seen Sherlock?"
"Not today. Wouldn't expect to see him for a while yet after that stabbing." He blinks as the situation becomes clear. "He's gone AWOL?"
"Yeah." John sighs. "I ducked out for an hour to do some shopping and when I got back he was gone."
"Hell." Lestrade blows out a breath. "How far is he likely to get in his condition?"
"Two hours ago I would've said he can barely walk," John says. "I don't … I don't know where he'd go in his state. He's been delirious, off and on." He pauses. "He left his phone behind."
Shit. "Look, I can't leave the office but I'll pass the word to the beat patrol in your area, okay?" Lestrade offers. "You check the surrounding streets, any nearby parks, that sort of thing. He might've passed out somewhere."
"Thanks. I'll call you if I find him." John sounds tightly controlled, letting nothing out. Lestrade knows all too well how he's feeling.
"My shift's over at six," he says on impulse. "If you haven't found him by then, I'll come out and join you."
"That's—thanks. Thanks. That'd be good."
Lestrade looks at his phone for a moment after they hang up, still hearing the minute tremor in John's voice. Sherlock, you daft bastard. Where are you?
John sections the neighbourhood into quadrants and begins a systematic search. He's working blind, without any clue as to where Sherlock might want to go. Crime scene (Lestrade would have said, but there was also Dimmock—damn it, why hadn't he checked the incoming messages on Sherlock's phone?). St Bart's. Regent's Park. A hundred unremarkable back lanes across the city. Christ, he could be anywhere.
No, John realises a second later. Not anywhere. He's taken his wallet, but John has his debit card again and he knows Sherlock doesn't have much cash. So wherever he's gone, he hasn't gotten a cab. Which leaves walking—and John is expecting (hoping) to see Sherlock crumpled on the footpath every time he turns a corner.
Then he does turn a corner; the corner of Baker Street and Marylebone Road. And there is the ubiquitous red-and-blue sign, something to be seen and dismissed almost unconsciously on a daily basis. John focuses on it now as another, more worrying alternative presents itself.
He's right; he can feel it. Somewhere in the midst of his fever-ridden brain Sherlock has stumbled to the end of Baker Street and is now probably halfway to Watford. Half-conscious, unable to defend himself if some enterprising thief spots him for an easy mark … it doesn't bear thinking about.
John doesn't pause to second-guess himself; he breaks into a run when the lights change and fumbles for his mobile at the same time.
"He's somewhere on the Tube," he says before Lestrade can even utter a greeting. "He doesn't have much cash or his card and he's not anywhere near the flat. He's on a bloody train, Greg."
"All right, okay." Lestrade's voice falls into the soothing tone he uses with upset witnesses, and John tries to calm down. "I'll get onto the BTP guys and see if anyone's seen him."
"I'm at Baker Street station now," John says. "I don't know what—where he might have gone. I don't—"
"John!" Lestrade snaps. John flinches in response. "We'll find him. He'll be fine. Get someone to check the CCTV feed."
"Okay. Okay." John runs a hand over his face and breathes deep. "I'll check with the staff. Maybe someone saw him."
"Good. I'll let you know what I find out here."
John puts his phone away and looks around the station. It's the middle of the day—not exactly rush hour, and Sherlock is unforgettable even from a distance. John blows out another heavy breath and approaches the ticket window.
Ten minutes and some awkward flirting later, he knows where Sherlock went. Well, he knows which train he got on, anyway, and he has a promise that the platform staff across the entire Jubilee Line are on the lookout. Someone's bound to spot him sooner or later.
A wave breaks, damp and cool, recedes slowly like a tide.
This is better. Thinking is easier now. Take stock: disoriented, limbs shaking with fatigue. Arms and legs heavy, refusing to respond to silent commands to move, get up, go home, move.
Movement: train, Underground, Northern Line. Somewhere between Mornington Crescent and Hampstead. Total absurdity. Must get home. John will be frantic.
Marshal some energy. Find a public phone, call John. In a minute. Just a few more minutes …
Another train rumbles into the station, disgorging passengers in a warm rank cloud of fumes. John stares at blankly at the gaping doors for a moment; as they start to close, he steps onto the train, prompted by an impulse to be doing something. Anything. Even riding aimlessly around the entire Underground would be better than simply waiting for the phone to ring.
Over the next hour, John changes trains and lines at random, walking the length of the carriages every time. At each stop he pokes his head out of the doors to check the platform, searching for long legs and pale hands and finding nothing every time. Every fifteen minutes he goes up to street level to check his phone, hoping to see a missed call message. The rest of the time, the fingers of his right hand worry ceaselessly at his phone in his pocket.
And then … there.
Slumped across two seats as though John has dreamed him there, Sherlock's dark head and blue-grey coat and, incongruously, John's too-big tartan slippers. Sherlock's face is tipped against the window and he is deeply, peacefully asleep.
John sits down across the aisle. It's not a planned thing; his knees simply give out, and he's lucky there happens to be a seat to break his fall. He lets out a hard, short breath and very quietly says, "Fuck."
Sherlock sleeps on, oblivious. His colour is much better, though one arm is curled protectively across his left side. John sits and watches him for a few minutes, until they pull into Hampstead. Then he nudges Sherlock into semi-wakefulness and manhandles him off the train.
"John?" Sherlock's eyes are closed, but he dips his head and rubs his cheek against John's hair, and his whole body relaxes. "Found me."
"Yeah, no thanks to you," John mutters, but he kisses Sherlock's neck anyway. "Come on, give us a hand here. We need to get out to the street."
They stagger outside, Sherlock shuffling and mostly draped over John's shoulder. John aims them toward a bench and pulls out his phone. He has to look at the screen for a few seconds before he remembers how it works.
"Oh, thank Christ," Lestrade sighs when John tells him. "Do you need anything? Ambulance?"
"He's fine. He fell asleep. Just—sitting there quietly, wearing my—he's fine. I think his fever's broken." John scrubs a hand through his hair. "It's all right. We'll get a cab. Thanks, Greg."
"Don't mention it. Or do, rather. When he's on his feet again." Lestrade is smiling, John can tell. "I'd love to see his reaction to being the subject of a citywide manhunt for a day."
"Done," John says. "I'll save it for when he's being particularly annoying. Thanks again."
Once they're settled in a cab, Sherlock falls asleep again, turning his face into John's shoulder with a wordless murmur. John strokes the dark tangle of hair away from Sherlock's eyes and presses his wrist to his forehead. No fever. He'll need to check the wound once they're home, but it looks like the new round of antibiotics is finally kicking in.
Sherlock curls a bit tighter against him, both hands clamped firmly around John's arm. John presses a kiss to Sherlock's temple and wills the traffic to flow faster.
Baker Street. Sitting room. Sofa. John in the kitchen; background noise indicates tea. Late afternoon, from the angle of light filtering through the windows. Attempt to sit upright: partial success. Recline on elbows until pain and vertigo subside.
Thought process much clearer—antibiotics taking effect. John will be pleased. Vague memory of negotiating the stairs (leaning on John, warmth and strength, attempted rape in Charing Cross averted by a passing bike courier). Substantial residual weakness from the fever. Thirsty. Also, surprisingly, hungry. Scent of toast wafting from the kitchen. John's slippers are very warm. Curl into a careful ball in the corner of the sofa and await developments.
John, with tea. "Oh good, you're awake. Feeling better?" His hand is warm and dry on forehead and neck, lingering. "You had me worried for a bit. Disappearing like that."
"Sorry." Rusty-sounding voice; steal a sip of John's tea. "Didn't plan to."
"I know." John sits close. Lean against him; feel his fingers come up automatically to card through hair. "Still, try not to do it again, all right? Or, you know, try not to get stabbed again, that'd do me."
"Also not my idea, but noted for future reference."
Sit quietly, feeling John's chest move with his breathing. (A young man contemplating a home invasion in Clapham decides to try the job sites one more time.) Eyes close of their own accord. Exhaustion pulls, after-effects of delirium and the knife. Sutures itch; a good sign, they're healing. The bedroom seems very far away.
"I was really worried, Sherlock," John says suddenly. Whispers, as if it's a secret. "I didn't—you didn't have your phone. You always have your phone, even if you don't answer it. You were just gone, and—"
He stops, breathes. Fingers tighten. Sink a little heavier against him, a reassuring weight. Presence. Solidity. Resilience.
"And then I saw the Tube and I thought—of course. Even when you're off your head with fever you don't stop thinking. Where were you going?"
Shouldn't be embarrassing. Fever is unpredictable. Still—lack of control is vexing.
"Out. I don't know. There was. A crime, somewhere, everywhere, and it felt—I could feel it happening. In me. An ache in my bones: a robbery in Wembley. Muscle spasm: attempted rape in East Ham, do you see?" Pause; clear throat. "It was intolerable. So I went to stop it, and then maybe I could feel better. Sleep."
John nods. "I see." His kiss is feather-light, but its warmth stays. "Well, you can sleep now. The crime can wait."
"And you?" The words slip out, unintentional. Irrational. How long has this been a concern?
"Me?" John's eyes widen briefly. "What about me?"
"Will you … wait?" No, that's not right. Accuracy. "Will you stay? Here?" Not saying: even when this happens, this (sub)conscious urge to seek out trouble, leaving John in a world of difficulty when he has to put everything else on hold?
John seems to understand anyway. This is why he needs, must, has to stay. He smiles.
"Don't be an idiot. I'm not going anywhere. No point without you, is there?"Warm. Warm everywhere, without burning, melting fingertips and toes and everything in between. Turn into his chest and breathe deep, ignore the twinge of pain from the stab wound (probably not the echo of an armed hold-up in Mayfair--but check the papers tomorrow just in case). Kiss John's neck, feel his hand across vertebrae T4-T6, warm and comforting (a Good Samaritan hands in a dropped wallet to a police constable in Dulwich).
"Come on. To bed with you." John stands, offers his hand. "I wouldn't mind a kip myself, if you'd like the company."
Follow John into the bedroom, wondering: if pain equals crime, does John equal redress/balance/healing? Logic says: impossible. Knowledge says: yes, of course, obviously.