Six months or so after his return from supposed death and disgrace, Sherlock Holmes began to take a particular interest in orchids.
Psychilis cogniauxii, read the invoice from South America, and then some other things John Watson didn't understand, but he comprehended the total at the bottom of it perfectly well and it was a hell of a lot.
The flowers were pretty enough, if you cared about flowers, but they smelled like new shoes.
He did not ask what they were for. John had already long since learned to stop questioning these kinds of things (heads, limbs, scorpions in the fridge, horrible horrible things in the microwave) in the time Before, as the answers were never as illuminating as they were disturbing; but in the time Since, he was even less inclined to complain, even when he wanted to. John would have thought he'd get used to the smell of the orchids, or that the smell would fade, but neither of these things seemed in any hurry to happen.
It wasn't that he felt he had no right to complain. Neither was it a fear of pushing Sherlock away... exactly. It was more a fear of letting out the anger inside him, because expressing it would give him no relief and solve nothing. There was too much of it and only one thing he could say, over and over, and once would be too much.
Sherlock had a new microscope now, and he spent quite a lot of time fiddling with extracts and gazing into the eyepiece. He never made notes. John wondered if such things went into the Mind Palace or if there might be some other structure for chemistry and experiments. A sort of Mind University with its various Mind Colleges. And anything he didn't want to remember got chucked in the Mind Bin.
Since Sherlock came back, John's orbit around him would swing sometimes close and sometimes distant. He stayed around the flat for days, then he went wandering around the city, and perhaps while he was gone Sherlock would say things or ask things and John did not happen to be there. John knew the feeling, but Sherlock did not know the feeling of remembering, over and over, that the person you were carelessly talking to was not just absent but dead. Absent forever. Sherlock didn't have any idea what that was like.
It would have been a day to go wandering, to get away, but John never got the chance. That was the day the stalker started posting comments on John's blog... and then Sherlock's blog... and later, some other places. And the free floating cloud of darkness that had been hanging around John blew clear immediately at the suggestion of threat. Towards Sherlock.
On John's blog, an anonymous commenter wrote: Did you pick up all his pieces?
John stared at these words, and the more he stared at them the less he liked the look of them.
There had been plenty of awful things on his and Sherlock's blogs - After. He'd just turned comments off on his last entry, but he hadn't had the password for Sherlock's. And right after Sherlock came back, and it was in the news, one or two crazies had got into it for a while, one attacking what Sherlock had done, one defending him tooth and nail, and it was impossible to say which of them was worse. Someone was always wrong on the internet, and someone else was always eager and ready to point it out. But it had all died down after a couple of months.
This comment had been posted the night before. The entry to which it was attached was about the last case, the second one they'd done Since, and it was weeks old now. The 'his' could only mean Sherlock, and as for pieces... John checked the IP address. It was not the same as that of either of the loonies from back then.
But it wasn't so awful a comment, really - it was just disturbing. Mildly disturbing. Pretty tame for the internet, all things considered.
He would have to keep an eye on it.
It was a mistake that led him here, but Sherlock is on to something new.
A misunderstanding (that is to say stupidity) at the horticultural supply had sent him belladonna lilies instead of atropa belladonna, and this had led him to the thought of orchids. Thousands and thousands of species. Narrowed down to hundreds, dozens, one. Psychilis cogniauxii, very promising.
He licks his lips. He wants a cigarette very badly. He glances up: John is frowning at his computer, completely diverted. Without a word Sherlock gets up and slips downstairs.
Mrs Hudson is in a smoking phase herself and is not only sympathetic but positively enabling. She makes the usual I-won't-tell gesture, finger to her lips, but Sherlock shrugs as he draws deep on his cigarette. John used to watch him like a mother hawk for signs that he was smoking, but it seems that he doesn't care anymore.
Still, Sherlock doesn't try to test this by actually smoking in front of John, or in their flat. It couldn't be good for the orchids, anyway.
"How is it with your flowers, dear. Interesting?"
She's not asking about that, she doesn't care about that at all. She's amused by the flowers, actually, but much happier in general with botanical experiments than those on human parts. "Mm," noncommittal noise. Sherlock doesn't particularly want follow-up questions on the subject of the flowers, and anyway she is about to say something about John.
Mrs Hudson taps her cigarette at the side of the chunky glass ashtray. It was a wedding present from when she married her first husband. "Sherlock dear, don't take this wrong, but I need to ask you about something."
He waits, smoking. She knows him better than to expect him to prompt her. All the while he is more than half listening for sounds from upstairs, any hint of John moving around. None yet. He hasn't even noticed Sherlock is gone.
What a strange feeling.
Mrs Hudson says carefully, "Since... since you came back... Have you two been getting along?"
"Of course." Why is she asking this? They haven't been getting into arguments or causing any destruction. Hardly any destruction. None really worth mentioning.
"Well. I worry about you. When you were gone, he - "
Floorboards creak upstairs. Sherlock crushes out his cigarette and smoothly stands up. "Everything's fine," he assures her, bending to kiss her cheek. "May I take this," taking up, at random, a tin of biscuits. "John wants some," lying.
"Oh, go on then," and her sigh is a plume of smoke that zigzags as she shakes her head at him.
Sherlock mounts the stairs two at a time till he reaches the odd one and bursts back into B, brandishing biscuits. John looks at him from the kitchen, eyebrows inquiring. Sherlock holds up his prize.
The orchids are, admittedly, in the way. He needs them alive when he harvests and processes them, so there it is. John has complained more than once that they smell funny, but Sherlock thinks they at least smell original, not like other flowers' sweet cliches... the banality of jasmine, the utter tedium of roses.
Besides, they're pretty enough. And much safer to leave around than the belladonna. Not because of any risk of accidental poisoning - because of John and what he might think it was for. He has become... twitchy on some topics. It isn't that he's lost his taste for danger altogether, but in the time since Sherlock has come back, John has reacted badly more than once to perfectly ordinary situations, hardly dangerous at all. And he hates seeing Sherlock in high places. It gives him the kind of dreams he used to have about the war. Sherlock had assumed they were dreams about the war, until he heard John calling out his name.
Which doesn't make any sense at all. John understands why Sherlock did what he did, Sherlock explained it, John said he understood, he understands. He understands every part of it. Why Sherlock had to do it. Why he stayed away. Why Molly could know the truth, why Mycroft could know the truth, but not John. To save his life. So why it is still a problem is not something Sherlock has patience with. He shook off that psychosomatic limp by the second day. Why can't he shake this off? Why can't everything just go back to the way it was before?
Sherlock is still standing there in the living room, lost in thought, when John brings in mugs of tea, sets them down, and gently takes the biscuit tin out of his hands. John turns away, pulling the lid off the tin, then pauses and turns back, sniffing suspiciously at Sherlock.
"Jesus. Are you smoking again?"
Sherlock blinks at John's suspicious frowning face, the bulldog stance, the suggestion from his posture that he'd like to throw the biscuit tin at Sherlock's head, and he smiles at John.
"What are you grinning about," John scolded. "Jesus, this is Mrs Hudson's fault isn't it, I know she's been smoking again, even if I couldn't smell it I can hear her coughing." Shaking his head, "Or whoever's fault it is, you're egging each other on. WHY do you have to smoke at all??" John had never smoked and had simply never been able to understand why anyone did it - let alone someone as smart as Sherlock. Then again, Sherlock had been known to do many not smart things. But he wouldn't be doing them right in front of John and not hear anything about it.
"There's your tea," John pointed it out brusquely and set the biscuits down beside the mug. These things had to share the tiny end table with two pots of orchids. "I hope you know you smell bad," he added as he turned away again.
"Nicotine patches just aren't the same," Sherlock sighed, taking up his tea and ignoring the biscuits, which John knew now were just his excuse for having gone downstairs to smoke. But later he did catch Sherlock sniffing at himself, and almost had to laugh. Almost.
He was telling the truth, as it happened. The cigarettes did smell bad. They smelled bad on Sherlock, though Sherlock did not himself smell bad. Generally the opposite, unless he were studying something that happened to be very foul or acrid, and then Sherlock just ignored the unpleasantness in favour of what he stood to learn. Those unpleasant summer weeks with all the drowned corpses from the river was a standout in the mind in that department. There was only so much that dry cleaning could do.
That evening, John fell asleep in his chair in the living room, and then woke in the wee hours to find Sherlock standing in the middle of the room, looking at him.
"What," said John, rubbing at his face as though to scold the brain behind it back to life. It wasn't working. Darkness outside, middle of the night sort of quiet. Sherlock in pyjamas and t-shirt and dressing gown. He had his mobile phone in his hand, down by his side.
"You called me," Sherlock said, slowly. Very slowly. Staring intently at John. There was only one light on in here, and not at all bright, so Sherlock's pupils were wide in the dimness.
"You called me, I thought you called me." Pause. "You were dreaming."
John wondered if perhaps he were not dreaming now. Maybe they both were. Maybe that happened after a while when you lived with someone and were always together but - weren't anything else. Your dreams intersected. Your dream selves bumped into one another as they wandered about the flat. Look where you're going. Oh I'm so sorry.
John started to close his eyes again.
"Was I falling?"
It was like a bucket of cold water dashed over him. John opened his eyes and recoiled and gripped the arms of the chair all at once. He was awake now!
"Shut up!" he snapped. "You don't - you don't have the right to even ask me that."
"Why don't I?"
John pushed himself to his feet, feeling as though all his bones were creaking, how long was he sitting there, Rip van Watson covered with cobwebs, Sherlock walking by and never noticing. Except, maybe, if he wanted some of the spiders. John picked up his laptop.
"Where are you going?"
Upstairs, John paced back and forth across his bedroom several times, gritting his teeth, and was only able to stop himself with the thought that Sherlock could hear him pacing. He was wide awake now. The alarm clock said three thirty-one. He was never going to get back to sleep.
John sat down on the bed, woke the computer from hibernation and opened a blank new text file.
Were you falling? You have the nerve, the gall, to ask me that, were you falling? Don't you understand - no, what am I thinking, look who I'm asking. UNDERSTAND, then, because I'm telling you, that you're always falling!
He'd never written about this on his blog, he'd never been able to speak any of the details to his therapist, or to anyone. Oh, Mrs Hudson though, she had heard some of it. She was there in the early days After, a few times - quite a few times he got drunk, and God knows what he'd said, what all he'd said. He remembered her crying, and he remembered her petting his head, making soothing noises while - it made him clench his eyes shut in embarrassment, remembering - while he sobbed with his head in her lap.
And I don't have to be asleep and dreaming to see it. You made me see it so completely I will never stop seeing it. Were you falling, YES. And not just falling but looking down on me from above and controlling what I saw and lying to me, right to my face. Your fucking note. I know, I know, I KNOW WHY and I know why you did what you did but dammit, -
He almost typed 'Sherlock' here but restrained himself,
you came back, but that doesn't mean you're not still falling. And you know... It's not just the falling. It's the rest of it. It's the part where you've fallen. It's blood on your face and pouring out from under your head, your hair all in it, your eyes open, Jesus, how did you keep from blinking. You didn't mention that part when you were crowing about how clever you are with your fucking stress ball and your homeless friends. And Molly.
He was typing a lot. Probably Sherlock could hear that, too, downstairs. Furious flurries of activity, then laborious click click clicks of the backspace key whenever he made a mistake, which was reasonably often. He was angry. He was sweating. His heart was pounding as though he were saying all these things aloud to Sherlock. No, his heart was pounding, and he was sweating, because war wasn't the only thing you could have PTSD about. He was reliving it again. The dizzy nausea, the disorientation after the man on the bicycle knocked him down. The pain all along his side and in his head where he struck the pavement. The terror and panic and the scream trapped in his throat.
It was worse than anything John had ever seen or felt in Afghanistan. So much worse. Worse than being shot. Though he couldn't say so to anyone. It was worse, because it was deliberate. It was worse, because it was Sherlock.
And you are back now, for you to be alive was all I wanted, you're alive like I wanted. So why do I want to kill you almost all the time?
He frowned at the screen. He didn't like what he had just typed. He took his hands away from the laptop keyboard and laced his fingers together, trying to still them, but they got loose again and reached for the keys.
Smoking again now, another flavour of suicide?, you complete and utter twat. STOP KILLING YOURSELF IN FRONT OF ME!!!
But that was the thing, wasn't it. Sherlock wasn't ever going to stop falling, arms flailing at nothing, falling, coat flapping in the wind of the plunge from the rooftop of Bart's. Down, down, down.
Sherlock can always hear John walking upstairs, but his senses are especially acute just now and he can distinctly hear typing. Emotional typing. Bursts of activity cutting off in silence.
Why doesn't he have the right to ask about something he's done?
Sherlock tries to ponder ways of finding out the answer to this question but he is having trouble organising. The dose may have been too much. The delivery method wasn't very efficient either. He frowns at the nearest pot of orchids.
"He's right, you do smell funny," he tells them, spitefully.
They just sit there refusing to look at him. He huffs in annoyed impatience and ignores them even more.
Distantly he is aware that the dosage is definitely, definitely a bit too high, too high to be useful or even diverting. He goes reeling around the living room with the sides of his dressing-gown held out like wings. Not flapping wings. Undignified. Soaring wings, coasting wings, like a flying squirrel.
Flying squirrel... does not sound cool. He lets go of his wings and scowls at the orchids. Well. Some orchids. It is a different pot. But they are all the same aren't they.
John is still typing. He's typing so much that it has to be about Sherlock. He's typing so late at night that it has to be about Sherlock also. But then he stops typing and doesn't start again. Why did he stop??
It would be terrible if he ever runs out of things to type about Sherlock. Could that ever happen? That can never happen. He will have to be clever, clever, clever. He will have to be enigmatic. He will be annoying, that happens even when he doesn't want to be. What else can he do?
Thirsty. And nauseated. Both at once, annoying and inconvenient. Saliva keeps filling his mouth. Horrible. He gets water and struggles for a while with the nausea. Vomiting is a last resort. He'd rather avoid it. It would do nothing to alleviate too much orchid extract absorbed under the tongue. The thought of how it tasted makes his stomach lurch inside him.
Too too much too much. Self titration is so tricky. Absolutely no question of using John as a test subject again, it made him so angry, and that was before. Sherlock had scoured the internet but as he seems to be the first to be trying what he is trying there was little help apart from superfluous semi-practical tips in refining the extract and making the tincture. Dosage information is sketchy enough on known drugs, and as far as Sherlock is able to determine, there are no drugs forums devoted to orchid use.
He finds himself standing in front of John's chair again as though John were still sitting there asleep, but the chair is empty and John is upstairs and quiet now, no typing, no footsteps, all clear. Sherlock curls up in his chair and wonders why he can't ask whether he did something wrong. It used to be easy to ask John and John would always tell him. Now John is filled with things he doesn't say.
Really, next time, a much smaller dose, much much much increased in smallness. Fortunate that it's not like with belladonna, you can have too much without it killing you, there is a margin of error for having a beastly time and your mouth filling up with spit. Ugh, appalling.
It does seem to be easing off a bit now, or perhaps it goes in waves?
Then the shivering starts. Yes. It goes in waves.
This is not at all what he wanted. He grips the arm of John's chair as though he were gripping John's arm, trying to convince him. I wasn't trying to get high, he imagines explaining. This isn't the same as boredom, he imagines adding. Then he imagines the angry incomprehension on John's face.
And the smoking, it is hardly even his fault, except that he stopped trying to resist it. It happened in the time when he was away and John hates that time and talking about it is not good. But Sherlock was in eastern Europe for almost a year and the nicotine patches there were not worth having and though the cigarettes were hardly better, at least they worked, and even smoking is not about pleasure but about the Work, about making his brain function better, that's all any of it ever was.
Well, smoking is also pleasure, but Sherlock didn't even know that until he tried it for the other reason. So the pleasure is a sort of reward and nothing worth worrying about or mentioning to anyone. Mrs Hudson doesn't even believe him when he tells her they help him think. Or, she sounds like she believes him, but then blithely goes on to talk about John, making him too self conscious to fully enjoy the cigarette.
Sherlock closes his eyes and feels the chair, the flat, the world swaying around him. Distracting body effects. Does not help with the nausea.
He can't even tell right now if this is on the right track, chemically, but definitely, definitely, he will be using less next time.
It is around this time that the visual effects really get going.
But there's nothing at all useful about them, they're not even of aesthetic interest, such as that is. Loops and streamers of light hanging around Sherlock's retinas, pointlessly. They are of no interest, except as a sign of overdosage. Also they are distracting. He closes his eyes. Streaks of light continue to strobe behind closed lids. But with his eyes closed his sense of smell seems to heighten and the chair smells like John. Oh, it also smells like a chair, of course, but overlaid on its original nature, the scent of its owner is clear to discern.
For some reason it helps his stomach to settle down. Familiar. Reassuring.
He went a little over two years without smelling that scent. He didn't realise he was missing it till he smelled it again. Oh, it's not that he didn't realise he missed John - that went entirely without saying - but the scent specifically, it is like the smoking, really - the pleasure is a side effect. It has nothing to do with the rest of it. It? Anything.
Right at the moment it is more than a side effect, it's keeping him grounded. Chaired. He snorts with laughter and pushes his sweating face into the back of the chair, breathing in, and he's all curled up in order to be able to do this, one leg hanging off. He spreads his toes out. This provokes a cramp that feels as though it will curl his leg up into a knot. It hurts. He has to jump up out of the comforting smelling chair and stomp around to relieve it. Then he collapses back into John's chair.
Why is he doing this, again?
Something to do with his brain. Right, his brain. It's not working properly. He was trying to make it better but this is worse, he's made himself stupider than John. Has he? No, wait, because John is not actually stupid, he just seems that way sometimes.
How long will this take to wear off? How long has it even been? What if this damages his brain?
Yeah, now you think of that, that's great, that's just brilliant, says John in his head.
Sherlock hasn't heard John in his head since his time away. He's been able to hear the real John's voice since then, and so he hasn't needed to hear the John in his head. In that time back then, John's voice had reminded him when he was dangerously in need of food or rest. Once it warned him that someone was behind him. He had tried to delete the memory of that, but it bobs up now regardless.
It is nothing to worry about, it's just a coping mechanism, he'd got used to John being there and even though Sherlock was the one who left, it was hard to go back to being alone. The skull got left behind, of course. John nicked it and put it in his office. Sherlock has it back now, but it's not in the living room. It's in the bathroom.
Music. Music would help. The violin seems a long, long way away, though. Even if it were in his hands, it seems that it would be a lot of trouble to have to lift it up. And his brain might be too stupid for his hands to play it. This seems distinctly possible.
He starts humming, Mendelssohn's Lieder. His voice is a poor substitute for a musical instrument, though he can use it as one when he's talking. Sherlock just gets - impatient with the rhythm of melody, it's not communicating anything, just... reciting. He always hated reciting. Humming notes, however, is an interesting compromise. Sherlock closes his eyes, follows the song, tries to imagine some construction of words that would naturally incorporate that exact rhythm... and then realises that he is inadvertently composing lyrics to go with the Song Without Words.
You prat, says John in his head. Shut up and go to sleep.
Emma Hudson has always been a light sleeper. This has on the whole been more a good thing than bad in her life (which has been a bit more exciting than some might suppose), but with Sherlock living upstairs, sleep is an elusive sort of animal sometimes. While it's true that the bedroom, just over hers, is as quiet as her own is, and sometimes quieter, ahem - the goings on in the living room and the kitchen are just not to be believed and there it is again, not just pacing about but actually jumping up and down. Pacing could be John, though not likely at this hour - not anymore. Jumping is always going to be Sherlock. He's a bratty great child in a grown body, a dangerous combination, because he can buy cigarettes and smelly chemicals and things that explode. And bring home bits from the mortuary. To keep in her fridge!
Mind you, she likes this childishness about him sometimes, sometimes it's very nice. He treats her like she was his mum, and she knows he has a mother living, because she's heard Mycroft talk about "Mummy" in present tense when trying to get Sherlock to do something at Christmas. Emma would be glad to pretend not to be listening to the things she overhears, but there's no need because they seldom notice she's there, except of course when they want something.
The jumping abruptly stops and all is quiet again above. She adjusts her position, cuddles her head against her pillow, and tries to go back to sleep, but it's no use. She's wide awake now, and lying here will do her no good. She may as well get up. Besides, she'd like a cigarette, and she has an iron clad rule to never, never smoke in bed.
It's cold: she puts on her warmer dressing gown over her nightie and gets her slippers on, having to dig one out from under the bed where she'd accidentally kicked it. She goes into the kitchen, bleary eyed and yawning.
There are only a few left in the pack. Emma lights one and inhales. She could put the telly on, the little one here on the kitchen table, but although she is alone, and no one could possibly hear it even if she turned it up, and even though they would deserve to hear it upstairs for waking her up, she doesn't turn it on.
In the old days, before Sherlock pretended to die, there had been shouting upstairs sometimes, sometimes just John, sometimes both of them, but there has been little of that since Sherlock came back from pretending to be dead. There hasn't been much of the violin either, but that was nothing to complain about, not that there is anything wrong with the violin and he plays it very well, but she really only likes it when he plays tunes she knows, like at Christmas. All those special things, with composers, they're pretty, but you couldn't really tap your foot and hum along to them, could you?
She'd had to hide the violin for a while. John had kept looking for it and she was sure he meant to smash it. It wasn't right for something like that to be smashed, no matter the reason. And suppose Sherlock's ghost had known about it, imagine how awful an angry, clever ghost could be. Now imagine as clever as Sherlock, and how much he loves that violin. No, she pinched it and hid it from John's grief and rage and she didn't give it back till Sherlock was alive again. She's glad. Sherlock had looked so glad when she brought it up to him. John had looked startled.
But Emma never even said why she had it, and it hadn't been John's fault, of course it hadn't. It was simply awful what Sherlock did - what he must have had to do, because no one could be so cruel to John Watson. It's a miracle, honestly a miracle. Not that Sherlock could come back. If anyone could, Sherlock could! But it's a miracle that John is still alive. He wanted to kill himself, she knows he did. He told her so.
He told her so, a lot of times. He told her... a lot of things. Only some of them surprised her.
Back in the happy times she'd seen him drinking once or twice. A beer, a glass of wine, and once she'd come home at the same time as he did when he'd been down the pub with old soldier friends he was singing and fragrant with beer. And gallant to Emma, bowing and holding the door for her and bowing again before singing on up the stairs. That had been her mental picture of 'John pissed' until the bad times came. Now that picture is a lot different.
And who could blame him. Oh, the poor darling. She'd never seen such grief, ever. Not like this. Her own sadness at the loss of Sherlock seemed pale and thin in comparison.
And she still thought that even after she understood that they had not, they had not ever been lovers. She had truly, honestly thought that they were! She had just thought John was denying it because he was the sort that did - military and all, who could blame him? But she saw them together, all the time, saw how much like a wife John was, (like a wife could be to a good husband), lovingly nagging and scolding; and she saw Sherlock change in the time they were together. Not completely, of course not! But he did change. He did soften a little toward someone other than herself. She'd thought those two were really rather sweet as couples went - both a bit mad, both a bit broken by the world - a good fit, a good match. Good for each other.
So how shocked she'd felt to learn, once John was widowed, that they'd never been like that at all. And how sad to realise from everything he said, in broken little bits, how he had wanted to, but had been afraid. That was the thing she had seen and assumed he was lying about. She believed him when he said he wasn't gay, in general; she did see him try with women, however pathetically, but Sherlock is special, isn't he. And lovely, surely even a man can see that. Not even fair, the way some men look.
He hasn't tried in the longest time - since Sherlock has been alive again, John hasn't brought any women back to the flat.
Maybe he sees someone when he goes out, he does go out sometimes, but somehow Emma doesn't think so. He's lost a little bit of that friendly nature that used to help him connect with girls, and without it, well. He might be a doctor, but he does seem sort of invisible sometimes, and when he doesn't even try...
If only, now that Sherlock is back...? She had tried to ask Sherlock just yesterday if they were getting along all right, but he only said 'Of course' and then he was off and away like a snake had bit him. Stealing biscuits! a child again. Honestly.
She stubs her cigarette out and gets up to make the coffee. No sense going back to bed now.