The Adventure of the Flawed Man
Well, what do you call this then?
It's a drugs bust.
Seriously? This guy - a junkie? Have you met him?
You could search this flat all day, you wouldn't find anything you could call recreational.
John, you probably want to shut up now.
But come on...No...
"You have to stop, Sherlock."
Without deigning to look up from his microscope to his flatmate, the consulting detective replied distractedly:
John's brow clouded, and the air in the room quivered from the rising of the tension that had been latent for weeks.
"I'm serious, Sherlock," the doctor said simply, his tone so deep and grave Sherlock ceased his experiment at once, finally turning to him.
"Serious about what?" he kept pretending, growing more nervous by the second. His voice, however, wasn't inquiring at all, and revealed that he was well aware of what John was referring to.
"Please," John insisted, and Sherlock couldn't tell whether his friend was truly pleading, or just very annoyed. Both, perhaps.
"You don't understand. You can't," he murmured.
As Sherlock started pacing around the room restlessly, John stared.
"I understand you're addicted, Sherlock. Your dependence..."
"This isn't dependence!" the detective snapped acerbically.
"Yes it is. Your mood swings have got so much worse – and seriously, Sherlock, that's saying something – and you haven't slept in days. You're not even on a case!"
"That's the problem!"
"Cocaine is the problem!"
They glared heatedly at each other for a second, before Sherlock broke eye contact dejectedly and let himself fall onto the couch. Slowly, very carefully, John went to sit next to him. He knew such situations were most fragile, and Sherlock could break any second.
"Sherlock... You know how much brain damage cocaine addiction can cause. You know..."
"I do," Sherlock cut in curtly. He sounded very tired, and the ex-soldier's heart clenched.
"Look, I understand it's hard, but..."
"No, you don't! Stop saying this, it makes you like everybody else!"
Sherlock stood abruptly and resumed pacing in such a way John wondered if he wasn't going to knock over the table or some other piece of furniture.
"See what I mean?" he asked darkly. "I've never seen you so angry for no reason..."
"But there is a reason, John! I'm bored, bored, BORED! What's so difficult to understand about that?" He turned to his friend violently, and John had to repress a shiver at the bloodshot eyes glowering at him. "What am I saying... Of course you can't understand. You're so stupid, you have no idea what boredom is..."
"I know better ways to deal with it."
"Well, good for you!"
He was now seething, but John remained composed and imperturbable. Enough, he thought. Walking up to his friend, he grabbed him by the shoulders and forced him to look him in the eyes, his touch caring, but firm.
"You need help, Sherlock. I can try to provide it, but I can't do it without you."
Sherlock's eyes fell on the doctor, heavy with the iciest scorn.
"You can do nothing without me."
John swallowed the words hurled at him, unblinking and voiceless. Sherlock felt something break in him, and dashed off the room with a deepened self-loathing.
He had no idea how it had happened. One moment, he was in complete control of the situation, already gloating mentally about catching the killer, and then suddenly there was another victim lying before him. Sherlock tasted blood in his mouth and thought he heard a gunshot. Instantly, he turned to John in panic, only to see his friend's eyes glass over, as he fell dead against the wall. The consulting detective choked with horror.
"Sherlock? Sherlock! Hey, what are you seeing?"
Sherlock blinked, confused and disbelieving. John was right here, holding his arm and shaking it slightly, as if to wake him up. What am I doing? He had just messed up – badly. Another man was dead because of his miscalculation. He had rushed the case because of the unbearable craving gnawing in his chest, and he now became painfully aware that he had in fact been looking forward to the end of the case, just so he could shoot up again. Sherlock was appalled.
"What the hell do you think... oh God." Lestrade froze as he saw the bloodied corpse. "What happened here?"
For some reason, Sergeant Donovan sent Sherlock an accusing glare, and he couldn't hold up his gaze. Naturally, Sally was implying he was the actual murderer, which was preposterous. But for once, the blame she put on him hit much too close to home. Sherlock turned away and left the room swiftly, ignoring the D.I.'s protests. John had seen the fury and the shame in his every gesture. He followed silently.
The ride home was deadly quiet. John was waiting for Sherlock to speak, and Sherlock was waiting for the cab to arrive home. It did, eventually, and as soon as they were in the flat, he went to lock himself in his room.
Wordless at first, John had to stop himself from knocking on his door after an hour or so. After two hours, he could no longer pay attention to the show he had been watching. After three hours, he prepared some tea, and wished nothing more than bring a cup to his friend and beg him to come out and talk to him. But he knew it would be counterproductive. The ball was in his court. If he didn't take action himself now... John didn't want to think about it.
He considered going out for a walk at one point, so strong was the temptation to go and talk to Sherlock. But he feared that if he wasn't there when his friend did come out, any possible desire on his part to make some effort would be shattered. And so he waited in agitation, unable to act and put an end to his torment, and unable to do anything to distract himself from it. In the end, he spent the rest of the day on edge, and retired to his room only when he no longer found the strength to resist sleep, upset, and most of all worried.
In his room, Sherlock had not made a move since they had come back from the crime scene. He knew Mycroft had been wanting to intervene into his life again and send him into an institution. He knew John had been opposed to it, and kept saying that if it didn't work once, it wouldn't work any better the second time. He knew Lestrade had been supportive too. Now, he also knew that the D.I. no longer would.
Not only had he completely messed up, and caused the unnecessary death of some innocent person. What he had seen at the scene... Psychotic symptoms, he mused sombrely. Cocaine was no longer a way to deal with boredom when there was no Work. It had become a threat to the Work itself...
Sherlock chuckled bitterly. He had never been a good man, and he was starting to lose all claims to be a great one. He had always known cocaine would stop being profitable at one point, and would damage precisely what he was trying to save and stimulate: his mind. He just hadn't expected it to come so quickly. Well, these things always come too early anyway...
He could deal with insomnia and tachycardia: but he dreaded any cognitive impairment. If he lost his capacity to think, he would lose everything. There was nothing else, never had been. Without his brain, he was worthless. But with his brain, he needed constant stimulation, something only the Work could provide – a job he had invented for himself, created to fight the boredom away. With cases, he could consider things logically, and through induction, reveal the truth. Outside of cases, nothing made sense, and the world was absurd. Consulting detective... Working so close to victims and criminals, in the heart of human passions' outburst, was the only thing that allowed Sherlock to dispel the unbearable absurdity of the human condition. He had never understood easily the thought process of his peers: Asperger's syndrome, John had said. High-functioning sociopathy, preferred Sherlock. Either way, people's actions – and reactions – weren't obvious or natural to him. Deducing them was his way of understanding how their minds worked. But ordinary people were so boring... Criminals were more of a challenge.
It hadn't been enough, though, and he'd never been able to get rid of cocaine completely. He was usually fine during cases, but then the devouring emptiness was back and he could positively feel himself rot. Cocaine sparked life back into him, expanded his mind palace exponentially: its powers were marvelling. The fact that it would most certainly kill him eventually only made it all the more alluring. Sherlock had never been known to flirt with anything but danger.
Now though, the situation was different. Cocaine was making him pathetic. It was stripping him of his last shreds of intelligence and dignity. It no longer empowered him: it defiled him, and left him dumb and incapable. Sherlock suddenly threw at the wall the syringe he was holding. He had no idea how he could get out of this mess. Nobody seemed to understand just how terrifying boredom could be. Boredom was a void. Nothingness took more space than reality, and it felt like sinking in a quicksand of meaninglessness. Rotting away... Just living to die, dying already...
The image of John shot, sliding dead against a wall, flashed before his eyes and he shivered. John... When would one of his stupid mistakes cost his best friend's life? He wasn't just a threat to himself, but also to others. And most of all to those close to him. He had never really thought about cocaine leading to aggressive, compulsive, even criminal behaviour... not for him, not for Sherlock Holmes.
Lamentable. I'm lamentable. In this instant, he felt so utterly alone, completely cut from the world and all help, that he wondered why he was even bothering. He had another syringe. He could just keep this up. What if you end up killing John? No! He wouldn't. Why would he ever kill him? Why would you ever fail a case so pathetically? Sherlock shut his eyes tightly. This wasn't working. Mycroft would be full of contempt and disgustingly patronizing again. Lestrade would no longer trust him, and would stop bringing him cases, telling him he must end this and seek some help. John... Sherlock felt as if he were falling even lower. John would probably leave. And why hadn't he left yet? John... John truly was both a good man, and a great one. Why hadn't he left yet? Why was he putting up with him? Because of the thrill I provide. He needs the danger, the "adventure", as he so romantically puts it... He needs me... No. He needs someone like me. Something that provides him with the thrill he needs. But even if that was the case... didn't Sherlock need someone like him, too? Someone who would support him unconditionally?
It was nearly four in the morning when Sherlock made up his mind and willed himself to stand and unlock his door. It had been pointless. John hadn't come. Sherlock had eventually hoped he would, then he had even craved his presence, to chase away the consuming emptiness. He had waited, and waited, but John hadn't come. Sherlock had hated him for it, until he realized John was waiting too.
Noiselessly, he made his way through the oppressively quiet flat, climbed up the creaking steps of the stairs, and stopped before John's room. His hand trembled as he reached for the handle tentatively, then suddenly, on impulse, he pushed the wooden panel open and stepped in. He swallowed what little was left of his pride, and he went to sit softly on his friend's bed. His hands were no longer trembling, but clenched into fists resting on his lap tensely. It was high time to struggle against the tightening grip of solitude and emptiness. Sherlock's deep baritone voice broke the silence of the night.
"John. I'll need your help."
The crash struck Sherlock like lightning. The effect was so drastic, and Sherlock so tragically aware of it, that he refused to leave the flat at all. John had to find ways to occupy his hands to prevent him from scratching relentlessly, as his arms especially never ceased to itch. Sherlock had never been so irritable, but he was also profoundly depressed and so exhausted he was terrified John would give up on him and leave. He was all at once unbearably anxious to keep his friend by his side, and incredibly angry with him for refusing him what he craved.
Because he did crave cocaine, like he never craved it. The pining was so intense it threw him in a contradictory sea of fury and fatigue, never allowing him to rest. Not even at night: sleep was escaping him, and he was left exposed to the onslaughts of his craving.
"John. I can't do this. Give me some."
"I won't," John replied inflexibly for the umpteenth time.
"I need it!" Sherlock exploded, desperate. "I can't sleep, I can't eat..."
"You must eat. Here. Your diet is key to the success of your withdrawal."
"I'm not hungry. The nausea is so bad I'd just throw it all up."
"Then I'll prepare something for you again. Just eat, Sherlock. Please."
The tone wasn't pleading, but the word snapped Sherlock out of his irritability, and he was drowned in guilt and self-hatred. Why do you have to say "please"? Why are you still here?
He ate, his throat constricted with the unsaid words.
Between endless nights of craving, filled with outbursts of anger and despair, and days Sherlock was beginning to wish would end, the withdrawal became harder and harder.
"You can do this, Sherlock."
"I can't. I'll end up killing myself. I'll end up killing you." More than fear, there was almost a threat in his voice. John didn't reply.
Every passing day, the devoted doctor and friend would prepare Sherlock's meals, and wait by his side until he swallowed it all. When in a fit of rage the detective threw the plate off the table or at the wall, John simply made something again, while Sherlock cleaned up in silence. This was their tacit agreement: that John would keep offering, and Sherlock would keep trying to fix things.
"John... I think I don't want to sleep."
The doctor looked up from his newspaper and stared at his friend curled up on the couch.
"Why? I thought it would on the contrary..."
"I have nightmares," Sherlock let out in a whisper, fear flickering in his eyes, his traits the most blatant figure of exhaustion.
"Do you want to talk about it?" John asked, his tone careful. But Sherlock still snapped...
"Isn't it what I just did? God, John, I'm asking only one little thing from you, only one. Little. Thing. Stop being so daft."
He stood and stormed out of the living-room, slamming the door of his own room behind him. John didn't blink, used by now to his partner's violent mood swings. It didn't make the harshness of the words any less painful.
The more Sherlock snapped at John, the more contrite he felt, and so the more irritable he became. This resulted in him being even more cruel to his friend, when all he wanted was to apologise, and beg for his forgiveness. He couldn't, though, and John knew. He forgave him anyway.
Mycroft came, once – and never a second time.
"You must come with me, Sherlock. Don't you understand what a heavy burden you're being for John? He can't leave you alone for one minute, he doesn't work, he doesn't date anyone..."
"I go out for the groceries," John cut in sharply, but his remark was brushed off with all the scorn a Holmes could muster.
"I'm not coming with you."
"Fine, then. Go by yourself. Here is the address of the institution I..."
"I won't be going at all!" Sherlock burst out, exasperated to feel like a trapped animal in his own flat. He sent John an imploring look, but the doctor wasn't even looking at him.
"I think you got your answer, Mycroft. Please leave."
"It is for your own good, Sherlock. You know I only want what's best for you. Now stop being so childish and imposing on—"
"God, Mycroft, can you stop ignoring me?" John snapped. "He isn't imposing on anyone. This is his home. And it's mine, too. I want to be here. And I am perfectly qualified to deal with such situations." He glared, his stance military, his expression resolute.
"You will not take Sherlock away from here unless he truly wishes to leave. I won't let you."
Mycroft had arched a doubtful eyebrow, but had left just after that.
All daily scenes were merging together into a blur, and Sherlock wasn't sure when his brother had come. A week? A month?
"John... I need something. Please give me something..." He was far too exhausted to feel shame at the begging.
John stood, and came up to him. He looked him in the eye, then held out his hand. Sherlock blinked, and stared at the exposed palm, then at John. Finally, he took the offered hand, holding onto it as if it were an anchor.
"Why aren't you leaving?" Sherlock suddenly asked one day. John was preparing lunch, and didn't freeze, as if he had been expecting the question.
"I live here, you know," he retorted playfully. Sherlock, however, did not wish to take the matter so lightly.
"You could live somewhere else. With someone else."
At this, John turned to him, still holding a cabbage and a cutting knife. Sherlock felt a pang of remorse at the sight. Playing housemaid didn't suit John. John was cut for chases around London, confrontations with criminals, and overall dealing with life and death situations. Cut for action and danger. He deserved much better than playing nurse for a drug addict – and an obnoxious one to boot. "Why do you stay?" Sherlock insisted in a murmur.
"Because I want to stay."
"Why?" the detective snapped, his voice burning with the same intensity his eyes were filled with.
John fixed his gaze on his friend, and Sherlock felt ashamed he had even asked. Feeling the need to justify his inquiry, he pressed on:
"I'm not giving you anything but trouble. I'm always horrible to you – no, don't deny it, and don't say I've always been horrible. Never to this extent... I can't even provide the thrill you need, the very reason you put up with me until now, I..."
"Sherlock. Sherlock! Shh, calm down," John soothed, stopping what he was doing to sit next to him. He put his hand on his friend's arm, giving a soft pressure of support.
"I am calm," Sherlock growled. John smiled tolerantly, if a little tiredly.
"I'm not leaving, Sherlock. Not until you're well again."
"I'll never be well, John. I'm crooked and twisted and..."
"And I was a cripple when I met you. I was useless."
"No you weren't..." Sherlock protested weakly, his hand crawling up his arm unwittingly, and scratching uncontrollably. But John's hand was soon on his, pulling down gently. Sherlock shivered, but let him.
"Look, Sherlock, this is fairly simple. You don't want to go to an institution, do you?"
Sherlock tensed up visibly, and shook his head. John kept his hand on his and went on.
"And you do want to break free from dependence?"
Sherlock was starting to get annoyed at the tone, which sounded much like John was talking to a child. He nodded nonetheless. John felt his friend's irritation increase, and smiled in what he hoped was a reassuring way.
"Good. That's what I want too. So it's only natural for me to stay and help."
It didn't seem so natural to Sherlock, and he had no idea how to express his gratitude. He had never felt so unworthy in his life.
"You overestimate me, John... I was never a hero."
John stood and resumed cutting his cabbage earnestly.
"Neither am I without you," he said.
In this instant, the sense of intimacy they had shared from day one and which Sherlock had thought he'd lost irretrievably was back, pervading the room with its warmth and stalwartness.
"I can't let you go out in this state, Sherlock."
"I'm free of my movements, John!"
"You won't stay free for long if you go out like this. You look murderous."
Sherlock glared and growled threateningly: "Then shouldn't you be worrying for yourself rather than for people outside?"
"I'm worrying enough for you already. Come on, let's go back to the living-room and—"
"Oh, shut up. I'm so tired of your stupid suggestions to keep me occupied. It doesn't work!"
He knew he was being unfair. Every day, John tried to invent something new for them to do. He had even accepted to play Cluedo again, even though it had ended with Sherlock throwing the game and everything else that lay on the table to the floor. They played cards, memory games, and John bought for Sherlock each and every music score the detective mentioned, even those he didn't explicitly demand. John had saved the violin, too, diving in and catching it in time before it could crash on the floor. Sherlock had been so horrified and disgusted with himself that he'd refused to touch the instrument ever since. John had ordered books and new chemistry material for his experiments. He never ceased to try, even though all his efforts were usually greeted with irritability or even suspicion. Since the first withdrawal symptoms had started to show, John hadn't snapped at his friend even once, hadn't left the flat to "get some air". He had always been there, long-suffering and determined.
But right now, the craving was too intense for Sherlock to care. He wasn't even thinking straight. All he knew was that this was impossible, that he would never make it to the end and would rather throw himself out of the window than spend another hour without injecting. There was nothing left in the flat, of course, as John had carefully removed everything that could even remotely represent any risk of relapse. But Sherlock knew where to go to find exactly what he wanted, and right now, nothing could have stopped him.
Not even John.
"Clear off," Sherlock ordered icily.
John remained straight and firm, standing before the door and not moving an inch.
"You've been doing great. Don't give up now."
"I said clear off!" Sherlock suddenly broke out, shoving John aside so roughly the doctor's head hit the wall with a sinister crack.
Sherlock froze, petrified by his own savagery. His hands started shaking, and he thought the option where he jumped out of the window might be a better one after all. He hated this. Falling suddenly from ungovernable fury to overpowering despair, from obsession with cocaine to self-destructive impulses. What never seemed to pass, however, were the cravings and the exhaustion, even though he had begun sleeping again, and was in fact always drowsy.
He stepped back as John stood up again with difficulty, never extending his hand to him, not even daring to touch him, for fear of what he had just done. There was no way he could apologise, because this would happen again, countless times maybe.
"I should really leave," he whispered brokenly. John must have heard the hopelessness in the shattered voice, for he walked up to the trembling figure of his friend and embraced him tightly, like a mother holding a crying child, or a father hugging his son good luck.
He did not say a word, because he had noticed gestures to be more effective on Sherlock. But the detective pushed him away feverishly.
"This can't continue. Get out."
John frowned. Seeing he was hardly convinced, Sherlock insisted, something like desperation in his clear eyes:
"I hate you."
Nice try, John thought. But his friend's voice was far too weak to be taken seriously. And so John took it as what it was: a despondent attempt to break their bond and free him from what Sherlock considered to be a burden. Him. Their friendship.
"I won't get out," John replied without any elaboration.
"Then let me leave..."
His voice broke as he fell into a chair in prostration. Burying his face in his shaking hands, he murmured:
"I'm so tired, John... So, so tired..."
"I don't want to... The nightmares..."
The sheer terror and the agitation enveloping his friend made John shiver.
"I'll stay by your bedside," he offered.
The doctor sighed quietly and gently pulled the detective back to his feet.
"Come on. You know it helps. I'll wake you up if it gets too bad, I promise."
"But you won't sleep..." Sherlock protested weakly.
"You'll make up for it later," John replied somewhat teasingly, friendly banter filling his voice.
"By doing what? You know I'm useless now."
"What about music?"
"You know I can't play anymore..."
A discreet smile graced the doctor's face, committed and trustful.
"Who knows what tomorrow may bring?"
There was a lot of light where he was standing, blinding his vision. He could hear Sherlock's voice right next to him, but his words remained unintelligible. It was, however, doubtlessly his friend's deep and low tone. John thought he even heard a chuckle, soon covered by the soft music that was emanating from the warm glow. I know this melody, he thought. It was familiar, indeed... this part especially... what was it called, again?
As his eyes opened to the morning sun rays pervading Sherlock's room, John realized the music was truly being played. A largo. He had never heard such playing before. The violin was weaving the air with affliction and hope, filling the flat with the apology and the troth it conveyed. John closed his eyes, stirred. He had remembered the name.
The New World Symphony.