There are days when Sherlock wakes so heavy that the idea of crawling out of bed is laughable.
It is as if someone has taken a syringe full of lead and pressed the plunger. His veins are full of poisonous metal, atomic number eighty-two.
John wanders into the room when all the lights are off and Sherlock is still buried beneath crumpled plaid blankets. He must think Sherlock is still asleep because he leaves immediately, his footsteps soft. He places his thumb between the frame and the door until the last moment, so that it will shut with only the tiniest of clicks.
Sherlock was fifteen the first time had a black mood. One day, he’d been shrieking through the woods behind his house, and the next he was curled up on his side in the center of his bedroom with this awful weight pressing down on his sternum. He’d hoped that he was sick, because sickness could be cured with NyQuil and a hot water bottle.
He had seen Mummy with the black-cloud sickness. She cried on the steps and locked herself in the bedroom for days. When she hauled herself out of the cave of her bedroom, there were deep circles beneath her eyes. Often, she smelled of sweat and vomit and sometimes of the perfume she used to cover it up.
She snapped at them, then. They didn’t talk to her enough, or they chattered incessantly. Their footsteps were too loud when they knew she needed to rest.
Mycroft learned to walk quietly. Sherlock, recognizing a lost cause when he saw one, stomped through the house to make a horrible racket.
When Sherlock was fifteen, Mycroft was in university, but he had been visiting when the black cloud settled around his shoulders then refused to lift for days. On the third day, he walked into Sherlock’s bedroom. He stood by the door, his arms crossed over his stomach.
“Mummy says you aren’t getting up,” he’d said. “Are you ill?”
Sherlock, who had seen enough to draw his own conclusions, shook his head. “I think I’m depressed.” The admission hurt.
Mycroft was quiet for a long time. He steepled his hands against his mouth, which Sherlock knew meant he was thinking. Later, he’d borrow that gesture. It would center him, that quiet pressure against his lips, the dry flaking of his lips on his fingers.
“No,” Mycroft said. “That’s her. You are simply selfish.”
It’s not medical, then.
He twists beneath the blankets with limbs so heavy he’s surprised they don’t crack through the bed. His teeth are gritted against the thing-that-isn’t-pain.
There are no track marks him his arms. Those have faded, and he is determined not to make more.
He needs something. He needs anything. Stimulation, a case, a song, an anything, but he can’t stand the thought of leaving the covers.
When he hasn’t moved by the end of the day, John walks in again. He’s got a laptop, which he sets on his knees and reads from out loud.
“There’s this one here. A woman’s husband has gone missing, and he’s left behind a dozen roses instead of a note.”
Sherlock swallows to wet his throat. He hasn’t spoken all day, so he knows that it will be hoarse. “He ran out. They’re an apology.” This is so painfully obvious he can hardly bear to speak. His own voice sounds horrible. John pauses for a moment, then goes on.
“This fellow’s racing-horse has been stolen. It was --”
“A competitor seeking an edge. Dull. Moving on.” Beneath the covers, Sherlock presses two fingers to the place where a nicotine patch would go. He can’t stand the thought of getting up to fetch the box.
“Er -- this couple’s child had been kidnapped --”
There’s a long silence.
Sherlock struggles out of the covers. He has to fight to keep his head up. He’s sure he looks ridiculous, and hateful.
John means well -- he knows this, even though the flashes of anger and irritation his presence causes -- but his voice is abrasive and loud, and Sherlock doesn’t understand why everyone thinks he wants that sort of thing.
“None of it’s interesting, John. I take cases, not schoolyard riddles.”
John looks at him for a long time. Then, with a shrug, he shuts the laptop. “You haven’t even heard the case.” He stands up and walks out, the door falling shut behind him.
They have to be dull. It must be the cases, it must be that they’re hopelessly boring, because if the problem is Sherlock’s own head he won’t know what to do.
If you wanted, you could fill your pockets with lead filings, then walk into a lake and drown.
He hears mumbling from outside. John’s voice, low, and then Mrs. Hudson’s rising and dipping like a broken-winged bird.
I can’t figure ... what to do with ...
... dear. Let me. I’ll ... put right.
He curls tighter around himself.
He doesn’t want cruelty and he doesn’t want kindness. He wants blackness -- the proper sort, not the kind that hangs heavy around his head but the kind that will envelop him and devour his mind, make it so that he no longer has to think about all the ugliness and all the hate.
The door opens. The light which spills through the crack hurts, so he pulls the covers tight around his shoulders and shuts his eyes. He knows he’s behaving like a child.
There is a clatter of dishes as she sets a plateful of tea on his bedside table. Mrs. Hudson sits on the edge of his bed. Light though she is, her weight displaces him.
“When I was living with David,” she says, “I often used to get very sad. There wasn’t much anyone could do to make me feel better.”
He presses his fingers to his lips. They’re shaking.
Mrs. Hudson pats his shoulder. “You take your time, dear. When you’re ready, there are some biscuits here, and I’ll make you a spot of breakfast to eat in the living room.”
She gets up. The mattress shifts again, and Sherlock turns with it, to see her shoulders as she walks through that door and out into the hallway. She shuts the carefully, so that it doesn’t click too loud.
He can smell the tea, and the biscuits. He is aware that he is horribly hungry.
Her soft voice and her gentle hand -- they aren’t enough to simply pull the lead out of his veins. They are, instead, like a whisper of helium -- not enough for him to crawl out of bed but enough that he can lift his head and lean back against the wall to take a sip of tea and nibble on a digestive cookie.
The tea is chamomile, which is supposed to be good for sadness. He’s sure she knows this. He lets it settle in his stomach.
It does not make him less heavy.
It will be days before he emerges from his room, unwashed, yawning and snatching up the newspaper as if he’d been there all along. All it does is lift relieve the pressure on his chest, that awful weight, just enough that he can breathe.