Chapter 1: The Two Sherlocks
Longed for him. Got him. Shit.
- Margaret Atwood
John is asleep beside him, warm breath ghosting on Sherlock's cheek.
At times he finds this proximity reassuring, but right now, left to his own devices at night-time, it's claustrophobic. This intimacy, so freely offered, is something that he doesn't know how to counter with his own.
He refuses to sleep. Insomnia is something he's skilled at. Or at least, it had been. It's not the only ability of his that seems to have evaporated.
Sleep sometimes sneaks up on him, now, which is annoying — yet another sign that he isn’t really in control of his body anymore. These days, when he wakes up, there's a sense of plummeting down a chasm, when he mistakenly thinks that he has been locked into himself again, like he had been at the hospital. Before his mind catches up with reality, he almost succumbs to panic, convinced that this isn't his bedroom; that this is still the same white ceiling he had spent months staring at, because it had been the only thing he could do. All that gives way to an even greater transient fear: that everything good that has happened lately, in regards to his relationship with John, has merely been a figment of his imagination.
He's like an amnesiac now - someone who has to be told over and over again each morning what he has lost, and the impact never seems to lessen. He's tired; exhausted in a way sleep doesn't cure. Not even John’s presence and the lovely warmth the man is radiating are of any help, because Sherlock can't possibly sleep here.
As he has done on too many nights before this, Sherlock slips out of bed as quietly as he can because, if John wakes up, he'll ask why Sherlock wants to leave the comfortable confines of their - their, not just Sherlock's anymore - bed. That enquiry will then invariably be followed by a suggestion to talk about it, and an offer of some sort of assistance.
He's not a child. He's not an invalid. He doesn't need anything... except for his life back.
If only that were John’s gift to give.
He makes his way to the bathroom. The cold, draughty hallway floor makes his still infuriatingly oversensitive soles ache. He's quite certain he can feel every uneven surface more keenly than before: every grain of London grit brought in on a shoe feels like a boulder, every fleck of dust like a coin discarded on the floor. He would appreciate this refined sense of touch if it weren't so distracting - if it didn't cause him outright pain. He has enough trouble filtering the constant barrage of signals the universe offers his senses to start with - this added burden of false information is too much to handle.
Months ago, his nerves had gone mad, cannibalized by his immune system. They're still mad, and his brain seems to be adding a further layer of processing errors upon their lies. Most of the time he can't even tell the difference between pain and touch. They turn into one another like shapes in a kaleidoscope. It's like his very own version of Chinese water torture: he never knows what to expect, or when. Will this touch feel like a branding iron, or this pain like nothing at all?
In the bathroom, he places his palm on the mirror above the sink. The world seems to shift; reality bends and distorts. He isn’t in the bathroom anymore, but on the other side of the mirror, looking in at a reflection of himself. Trapped, imprisoned, where he cannot escape, but on that side at least it's safe, and things still work the way they are supposed to. He can hold on to the illusion for a moment, not longer. For a longer blissful period out of mind, he'd need chemical assistance.
The version that is on this side of the glass is faulty. The other him, holding an identical hand against the glass, is the one who knows how to operate this body, how to properly govern his life. The Sherlock on this side doesn’t match the reflection in his mind of how his mind and his body are supposed to be connected.
Ill fit. Such an apt expression.
There are ways, of course, to transform this body, to sculpt it back to how it was. Some of those ways are illegal, some plain tedious, and some he simply can't even try out at his current level of fitness or energy. The lethargy left behind by his illness is still so pervasive, and his appetite - what little there had been of it to start with - is gone, eaten away by the hell of recent months, and probably the useless medications John insists he swallow down several times a day.
He often wants to laugh - incredulously, hysterically - when he sees his own reflection in the mirror during daylight hours. What used to be pale is now sickly wan, what used to be slender is now borderline emaciated; what used to be lush is now dull. In the darkness, at night, he can usually lie to himself that this isn't actually how he looks now, that it's just the shadows distorting everything.
Tonight, he can't fool himself like that, because the other Sherlock seems to be taunting him.
John doesn't seem to mind these changes in his looks, at least some of the time he doesn't, when he looks at Sherlock like he used to - with open adoration but still like an equal. Those times are all right, and when they are paired with the still-careful touches of a fledgling relationship, Sherlock can momentarily imagine that things are as they should be. Imagine that he's still the man who lives here, who works these cases, who plays the violin, who belongs in a fit body; the man who wakes up in his own bed and feels happy about it, instead of succumbing to panic and the disorientation of knowing he'll never be safe again, not even in the self-deceptive way that most people live their lives believing that illness and tragedy won't touch them, at least not today. As much as he's tried, he'll never be able to file away or delete the past months. It's all permanently etched into his memory.
It's incontrovertible proof that The Transport is destined to betray him. Evidence of this is now engraved on the shape and angles of his body. It stares back at him in his reflection, and against such a backdrop his old fondness for danger, spontaneity and unexpected things now feels rather naive.
Sherlock turns away from the mirror and sits down on the floor, back against the side of the bathtub. He should have brought his phone, set an alarm just in case. He always tries to make sure he gets up before John, and pretends he has spent the night in the bedroom. John wouldn't understand the reasons, or possibly consider them worrying. Three nights ago, when Sherlock's vigilance had failed, John had found him sleeping on the bathroom floor. Sherlock had claimed that he'd simply been too tired to drag himself back to bed. He doubts John had taken that at face value. There are cracks in the construct of the two of them, and they are getting bigger.
It's chilly, and the sharp angles of the furniture and the hard floor make his limbs and back ache, but he welcomes it. Pain helps, at least momentarily, to connect his mind to what remains of his body, at long as it's the real sort and not a confusing false sensation produced by his misbehaving nerves.
Not that he actively wants more of pain , of course - he has experienced plenty enough of it recently. It's merely that some of it he welcomes. Pain means that his brain and body momentarily understand one another. It's a rare thing these days. It's a good reference point - this is what unpleasant feels like. This is what it feels like to hurt. Avoid it. If someone should ask about it, Sherlock wouldn't know how to describe this in a way that makes sense. I need to feel the pain to feel real sounds demented and alarming. Even he knows that. So he keeps quiet.
John insists he knows what this must be like due to his war-injured shoulder. It's not the same, not at all. What had happened to John had been simple - a piece of the body had broken, and the injury had been too devastating to heal well. End of story. No one had cut the wire that connected his physical reality to what goes on in his head.
People keep reiterating their astonishment at how they think he has bounced back from several months of hospitalisation in what they see as a remarkably short time. Many others afflicted by severe Guillain-Barré take much longer to regain their ability to walk, if they ever do. By all accounts and opinions, Sherlock should be content, but what others fail to understand is that it's all so infuriatingly relative.
What other people see is this: he has been discharged from hospital, he went through rehabilitation, he's back home. He has jumped through the hoops, so he's made what they call progress. They think he should be fine, that he should be happy.
If he only knew what those words even meant. Surely someone can think they're fine, when everyone else sees the opposite and vice versa? He knows he isn’t fine, no matter how many times he repeats that meaningless word when people ask him how he is feeling.
Has he ever really been happy, in the context of how normal people feel? What is the definition of such a state of happiness? Is it something to be pursued, or something one simply is, without much effort? How tied is happiness to the state of the corporeal body?
Some of the time, when he thinks that Sherlock can’t see him, John looks at him like he's fragile - as if he were one of Mrs Hudson’s fine china tea cups that might break, or a rare bird he doesn't want to startle into flight.
That's when Sherlock wants to scream and smash every mirror in the house.
It's too cold in the bathroom. He sighs, and scrambles to his feet. As he walks out and heads for the sofa, he feels as if the pitying eyes of the other Sherlock are still on him.