“Every plant is an individual.
Wrong again. We are not individuals at all, we are all connected. We are individuals the way each blossom on an apple tree is an individual.”
― Dale Pendell, Pharmako/Poeia: Plant Powers, Poisons, and Herbcraft
“You really shouldn’t go by yourself,” the hotel manager insisted, holding the door as Sherlock carried the different pots and plants inside his room. “Those woods are huge!”
Sherlock sighed, checking that he hadn’t forgotten anything in the too bright and crowded hallway before closing the door in the man’s face. He didn’t have time for useless small talk and unwanted concern, especially coming from a man who clearly had the habit of spying on the hotel residents. He alreadyhad one annoying brother to do that job. For all he knew, Mycroft probably had men already placed in various rooms in the hotel, ensuring Sherlock wouldn’t get into too much trouble during his stay.
“I can find you a guide!” The manager called from the hallway and Sherlock considered telling him about the two different maids stealing from the clients just to make him go away. But the man’s voice resonated once last time, “I’ll be at the reception if you need me!”
Sherlock waited until he heard him walk away before grabbing his bag and keys, making sure anyone no one was paying him any attention before going for the emergency exit. He had spotted a path into the woods earlier and if everything went according to plan, he could be back in London by tomorrow. Lestrade had found him a week ago, talking about this a series of murders in some small and boring town in the countryside and practically begged Sherlock for his input on the case. Sherlock had jumped at the occasion. It had been months since he last worked a case, and soon it had become apparent the murders were all related to a plant he had planned to study for his next blog entry anyway.
“Sir, that is an emergency door,” an old woman called as Sherlock pushed the door open.
“Good thing it’s an emergency!” Sherlock replied, forcing a smile before walking out.
The woods were close, barely five minutes away by foot. Sherlock checked he had everything in his bag one last time before taking the path directly into the forest. He only needed to find a humid spot, devoid of trees and the plant should be there. If the murderer managed to find it three times already, it shouldn’t take long for Sherlock to get his own sample. If he was right, and he clearly was, it would take less than three hours to prove the killer used the poison inside the plant to kill his victim in their sleep, and he would be back at Baker Street with brand new samples for his newest study.
Almost too easy, Sherlock thought with a smile, and began to scan the ground for any sign of the plants.
It took exactly two hours and twelve minutes for Sherlock to realise he was completely lost. He had searched for the plant everywhere, almost fallen twice, and had mud and grass all over his shoes and trousers. Taking out his phone, Sherlock cursed out loud at the missing signal. How was he supposed to find his way back through there, he was seeing the same trees over and over again, and despite his ability to name them all, he couldn’t seem to find his way back to town. Sighing, he looked up, remembering the time he spent bored to death at home, learning how to travel with only the sun as a compass, but of course he couldn’t even discern its position in the sky with all the trees around him.
“Now would be a good time for you to just show up, Mycroft,” Sherlock muttered, avoiding branches on the ground.
He needed to find his way back before nightfall. He couldn’t spend the night lost in these woods, he needed to-
Sherlock found himself face down in the grass before he could do anything about it. Cursing again, Sherlock began to straighten up when he froze. The plants. Right under his nose. Sherlock hurried to kneel, forgetting entirely about the state of his clothes as he took his knife out of his bag. There were enough plants for both the case and his personal study. He was just about to cut the last one when he heard a whistle, somewhere near. Placing the plant in his bag, he stood up, searching for the source of the sound, and then crouched back down, hiding behind a bush as the whistle got nearer and nearer. Looking through the bush, Sherlock felt his heartbeat quicken as a man passed in front of him. Sherlock frowned, trying to get a closer look despite the bush. The man was wearing a red plaid shirt rolled up to his elbows, and Sherlock couldn't take his eyes off the man’s arms. Muscular, slightly tanned with golden hairs along his forearms. For some unknown reason, Sherlock found himself imagining them around his waist, holding him tightly.
Closing his eyes for the briefest second, Sherlock shook his head. Opening his eyes and looking back to where the man stood only a moment prior, he found himself alone.
Great, now his only chance to find his way back to town was gone.
“Why are you wearing a suit?”
Sherlock jumped in surprise, the knife that was still in his hand cutting deeply into his palm with the movement. The very same man was hovering above him frowning, his eyes fixed on Sherlock.
“Are you alright?” He asked, honest concern in his voice.
“Fine,” Sherlock snapped, standing up. “I’m fine.”
“You don’t look like you’re fine,” the man remarked and Sherlock allowed himself to take a proper look at him.
He scanned over the blond hair, bright eyes, beard and small smile before glancing at the logs by the man’s foot. Lumberjack then.
“I cut myself,” he explained, already searching through his bag for some bandages.
“Let me see,” the man replied, stepping closer and taking Sherlock’s hand in his.
Sherlock froze again, eyes fixed on the fingers around his wrist. He felt himself blush and took a deep, steadying breath.
“I’m fine,” he repeated, trying to escape the man’s hold.
“It’s a pretty deep cut,” the man said, “You’ll probably need stitches.”
“Great,” Sherlock sighed.
“My house isn’t far,” the man declared, looking up and catching Sherlock’s eyes, “I can take care of it.”
“Not far? We’re in the middle of the woods,” Sherlock remarked, removing his hand.
“Quite observant, I see,” the man laughed, picking up the logs. “I’m John, by the way.”
Sherlock frowned, his skin still warm from John’s touch, “Sherlock.”
John smiled, a genuine smile that made Sherlock’s heart beat just a little faster, and he hurried to pick up his bag. John was still staring at him when he looked back at him, and Sherlock busied himself by checking that the plants weren’t damaged too badly.
“So, are you coming or not?” John asked.
“Obviously,” Sherlock sighed, earning another laugh from John before he turned his back to him.
“Follow me then.”
Sherlock tried not to stare at John’s back, or lower, and focused on the ground beneath his feet. He really didn’t need to fall again, not now. He was quite certain they were going in the wrong direction, but John kept going, oblivious to Sherlock’s train of thoughts. An axe in one hand, he seemed in his element here, but somehow, Sherlock felt as if he belonged to an entirely different world.
“So, what were you doing there alone?” John asked, glancing back at him.
“I’m a botanist,” Sherlock answered honestly.
“That explains the suit,” John laughs.
“Are we really going to your house?”
John stopped, turning to face him again, “You don’t trust me?”
Sherlock frowned, “I’m following you, no?”
“I could be a serial killer.”
Sherlock snorted, “You’re clearly not. The instant I cut myself, you offered to help me. Your touch was gentle, your eyes evaluating my wound quickly and quite efficiently. You waited until you were certain I was alright before letting go and implied you had all the medical equipment you needed at your house. You’re clearly used to taking care of people, and so, not a serial killer.”
John stared at him for a long minute, mouth stretched into a half-smile before saying, “What was that?”
“I’m quite observant,” Sherlock smiled.
John laughed again, clearing his throat as he adverted his eyes from Sherlock, “We’re almost there.”
They remained silent for the rest of the walk, but Sherlock could almost hear John thinking, questions on the tip of his tongue, but he didn’t say a word. After ten minutes of walking together, John began to slow his pace, looking around as if he were checking for something. Sherlock followed his stare but only noticed trees and flowers here and there.
“We’re here,” John finally said.
John’s house stood in the middle of the woods, small and somehow part of the landscape.
“You’re not allergic to dogs, are you?” John asked as he put the logs by the front door, Sherlock following right behind.
John nodded, opening the door and a large dog jumped at him, “Yes, dogs!”
Sherlock couldn’t hold back a laugh as John tried to stay upright, hands petting the dog’s head and ears.
“I had to leave him home today, he hurt himself a few days ago,” John explained and the dog suddenly noticed Sherlock, coming to greet him as well.
“Not allergic, then,” John smiled, staring at them both before grabbing the dog’s collar, “Toby, get back inside!”
The dog licked at Sherlock’s hand one last time before following John inside, Sherlock right behind him. The inside of the house was simple, there was barely a photograph or a painting, but Sherlock felt its warmth surround him.
“You can sit there,” John said, pointing at one of the chairs facing the fireplace, “I’ll get my emergency kit.”
Sherlock put his bag at his feet, sitting down. Toby came to rest his head on his lap looking up at him, and Sherlock pet him slowly. He could still remember Redbeard jumping on his bed late at night to do the exact same thing.
“Toby, go away,” John said when he came back, sitting next to him. “Let me see that hand.”
Sherlock watched in silence as John cleaned his wound, fingers gentle and eyes focused. He didn’t glance at him once, Sherlock doing enough staring for the both of them. On first glance, Sherlock could assert John’s hair was at least five different shades of blonde, from plain blonde to a hint of grey by his ears, and Sherlock felt the oddest urge to thread his fingers through it.
“Earlier,” John suddenly said, making Sherlock jump with surprise, again, “What you said, about me not being a serial killer, you didn't tell me how you knew all that.”
“I did,” Sherlock replied, a small shiver running up his arm as John’s thumbs caressed his palm as he inspected the rest of his skin, “I simply observed.”
John glanced up at him, “What do you observe now?”
Sherlock waited for a second, waiting to see if John was serious but he only looked down at Sherlock’s wound again, still smiling.
“You live alone,” Sherlock began, “have done for at least two years now, but you didn’t always live in the countryside. You grew up in London, studied medicine and served two years in the army.” Sherlock stopped, looking more closely at John before continuing, “You were shot, shoulder, but had a limp ever since you came back. This,” Sherlock looked around him, John staring up again, “All this is the only way you found to keep busy while avoiding people’s stares.”
John stayed silent, eyes fixed on him and Sherlock guessed his question before he could open his mouth, “How?”
“There are two different coats next to the door, one you use everyday, the other there just because you haven’t managed to get rid of it yet. It’s a city coat, two to three years old, well worn, it has a sentimental attachment. You used to live in the city and loved it, the nearest is London, it’s hardly a difficult guess.” Sherlock took a breath, John still staring at him. “Then there is the emergency kit. You have much more there than any random citizen in England would keep in their home, and your stitches are perfect. Medical training. Besides, there are the army tags on the fireplace mantle, so, army doctor. But why would a doctor live in the middle of the woods?”
John leant back against his chair and Sherlock tried not to be disappointed, repressing a shiver as John let go of his hand.
“Now, an army doctor who now lives in the woods and works as lumberjack, why indeed?” Sherlock continued, “Invalided home, obviously. The shot in the shoulder is easy, you automatically choose your other arm to carry heavy things. The limp, that, I almost missed. It was very light in the woods, you feel at ease out there, but it came back when we arrived here and you noticed the open enveloppes on the sofa table. Something stressful apparently, probably reminding you of the past you’re trying of forget, hence coming to live in the middle of the woods.”
Sherlock stopped, inhaling deeply. He hadn’t meant to say that much. He knew too well how people reacted, how they stared and cursed and told him to go away. He should have kept his mouth shut.
“That,” John began, shaking his head, and Sherlock got ready to stand up and leave, “was amazing.”
Sudden warmth, spreading throughout his chest and making his face heated.
“Extraordinary,” John breathed out, smiling at him.
Sherlock found himself smiling back, “You think so?”
“Yes, you really see everything!” He paused. “Observed everything.”
“I can’t help myself,” Sherlock replied.
“You had one thing wrong,” John said, leaning towards him, “I’m not alone, I have Toby!”
The dog looked up at them at the mention of his name and Sherlock laughed, “Yes, Toby.”
“Botanist, you said?” John asked, “You never thought of, I don’t know, joining the police?”
“I don’t get along with rules,” Sherlock replied. John’s laugh echoed in the room and warmed Sherlock’s chest even more, “I sometimes help the Yard on some cases, but I’ve been fascinated with plants and flowers since I was a kid, so I choose to make it my profession.”
“And what do you do?” John asked, seeming truly interested.
“I mostly study rare plants and flowers and collect data,” Sherlock explained, “Some of my research got published, some didn’t.”
“So a famous Botanist, then?”
Sherlock rolled his eyes and John laughed again. He put everything back in the emergency, kit, eyes lingering on it before asking, “And what were you looking for here?”
“It’s for a case, actually,” Sherlock answered.
“Oh, really?” John grinned, “Are you allowed to talk about it?”
Sherlock smiled, “I told you, I’m not good with rules.”
John laughed, the sound filling Sherlock’s head, and he realised he had to find a way to hear the light sound again, to collect more data before he had to leave.
“So, what happened?”
Sherlock started explaining the case in detail, following John to his kitchen when he suggested he could make them some tea. He asked questions, actual interesting questions that made Sherlock stop and think for several minutes, ignoring John entirely, but John didn’t say anything. He waited, sipping his tea until Sherlock answered, talking too fast for anyone to follow. But John smiled and laughed as Sherlock confessed his fall earlier and managed to make Sherlock blush again as he smiled, proposing to check for any other possible wounds.
“I had no idea three people had been killed in town,” John declared when Sherlock was finished, setting their two cups by the sink.
“It’s a small town,” Sherlock remarked.
“I know,” John replied, “but I don’t go there often.”
Sherlock nodded, eyes lingering on the bandage around his hand, “I should head back, I need to study these plants before it's too late.”
“Yes, sorry,” John smiled, “I’ll take you back.”
Turned out John lived barely twenty minutes away from the woods frontier, and they spent the entire time talking about John’s work. Sherlock listened carefully as John told him about the different contracts he had for the year, explaining in detail the different ways of uprooting a dead tree. Sherlock found himself hoping they could get lost again, just so he could listen to John’s voice and watch him smile some more, but soon he could discern the first houses and road, and John slowed down as they arrived at the end of the path.
“Your hotel shouldn’t be far,” John said, still smiling, and Sherlock considered lying so John would walk with him a bit more.
“Thank you,” Sherlock replied, his phone vibrating in his pocket with three new messages, “For your help and everything.”
John smiled, shrugging, “It was my fault you cut yourself in the first place.”
Sherlock’s phone vibrated again, and he took it out, glaring at Mycroft’s name on the screen.
“Someone’s worried about you,” John remarked.
“My brother,” Sherlock sighed, “Annoying as ever.”
John laughed, looking around them before saying, “I was thinking, I should check your bandage tomorrow,” he shrugged again, “You know, in case it gets infected.”
Sherlock tried to conceal his smile, certain he was failing miserably as he responded, “You're the doctor.”
John looked back at him, eyes smiling, “I’ll meet you here around noon?”
“Sounds good,” Sherlock replied.
“I should head back before Toby finds a way to get out.”
Sherlock nodded, “I’ll see you tomorrow then.”
“Yes,” John smiled, “tomorrow”.
He stayed still for a minute before walking away, nodding at Sherlock one last time before disappearing into the woods. Sherlock remained there for a moment, contemplating chasing after John and spending the evening with him. He still had so many questions, and John had been nice to him, had truly seemed interested in Sherlock’s work. Sherlock couldn’t remember the last time he had felt this physical need to be with someone.
His phone rang, the melody breaking the silence and Sherlock hung up without even glancing at the screen. It was probably Mycroft or Lestrade, and he wasn’t in the mood to talk to either of them. He made his way back to the hotel quickly, avoiding the hotel manager and the two different clients staring at the state of his clothes. His room was strangely cold when he arrived but Sherlock didn’t pay much attention to it, taking the plants out of his bag and placing them carefully on the small desk by the window. He had brought his microscope and other necessary equipment for a proper study of the plant’s poison with him, and he needed to get it to as quickly as possible.
It was four hours later that Sherlock leant back against his chair, back aching and eyelids closing on their own. Night had fallen a long while before, and Sherlock stretched, suppressing a yawn. He turned off the light, practically falling on top of the hotel bed and buried his face inside the soft pillow. It felt as if he hadn’t slept in days, which was probably the case, and he could already feel his brain shutting off. He fell asleep, a strange warmth spreading throughout his entire body.