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Driven to Distraction (The Thingness of the Thing Remix)

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Joan sighed, and Sherlock pushed back his chair so abruptly it screeched against the hard wood floor. She looked up, startled.

“Enough, Watson. You’ve been listless yet restless for days. You’re either anxious about something or in need of tactile stimuli. Normally you self-regulate admirably in this area, usually with a trip to the gym, a run, or a bout with Bob if you don’t want to leave the Brownstone. Which you obviously don’t, as you haven’t crossed the threshold despite the recent thaw. What’s the problem?”

Joan sighed again, half resignation and half relief. She’d been on edge all week, but none of her usual cure-alls had any appeal, just as he said. She didn’t want to pummel her mood into oblivion. She didn’t want to run away from it. She was tired of defending herself from it. She’d been trying to sleep through it, with middling results, and the tossing and turning certainly hadn’t helped. He wasn’t wrong, but any minute now he was going to start scolding her about not having had sex in however long it was. That wasn’t a topic she was going to discuss with him. “I don’t know.” She looked away. “It’s nothing. I’m fine.”

He sighed this time, his mouth pulled to a tight line. “Far be it from me to demand your confidences. My trampoline is always at your disposal, should you seek a new means to put the bounce back in your step. But if you insist on your current course of inaction, I would appreciate you removing your malaise to the confines of your own room.” He shifted his chair back into place, shoulders stiff with silent recrimination, and returned to his work.

She scowled in frustration, irritated with herself as much as with him. Why did he have to be all respectful of her privacy now, when all she wanted was for him to tell her what her problem was, and be right, like he always was? She wasn’t any good at this, herself. She shoved the blanket tangled at her feet out of the way and got up from the library couch to stomp upstairs. She didn’t want to slog through childhood disappointments and adolescent slights and grown-up trauma, all to find whatever stupid crossed-wires were screwing up her life now. There, she didn’t slam her bedroom door, how’s that for managing malaise? She slumped to sit on the edge of her bed and flopped backwards across it, staring up at the cracked plaster ceiling.

She was very good at solving other people’s problems. Why did she have to solve her own as well? Isn’t that was friends were for? Isn’t that why she had a partner? Ugh. She was sick of herself. Bored with being bored. Probably just as well she knew too much about addiction to attempt self-medication because it was feeling quite tempting right about now. A couple of shots would do it; she was a light-weight, always had been. Anything but trying and failing to figure out what the hell her problem actually was. She groaned and rolled over, pulling a pillow across her head.

Joan had taken a meditation class once, a workshop offered to medical students in what felt like a rather hypocritical gesture to encourage self-care even as the pressure and expectations mounted. Just one more thing they were expected to do, and do well, or else. Her expectations were low, but but it was something for the resume, at least. As it turned out, she’d actually made use of the techniques from time to time, to breathe through the mad itch of poison ivy after an ill-advised short-cut through Fort Tryon Park or to hold back the wildfire of exam-week panic for a few moments. She was surprised to find out how much relief could come from pretending for a just a few seconds that “this too shall pass.”

The teacher had noted that just like painful, intrusive experiences you tried to escape, boredom also came with a kind of craving: for newness, for difference, for change. Thinking about it like that was more helpful than her father’s tedious refrain of her childhood that only boring people got bored, but it felt no less judgmental: Boredom was still her flaw, her mental weakness. Yes, she could observe it and realize it was as fleeting as every other mental state. It was still boring. She was still the boring girl who was bored.

Surgery gave her the thrill of living on the edge: she literally held lives in her hands. Sober companion had that too, but not in a way she could actually control. Of course, as it happened, she didn’t have that control as surgeon either; her entire understanding of herself was upended: She’d known the risks that came with the scalpel; it wasn’t arrogance that made her unprepared for the worst but inadequacy, that same old flaw, the failure of imagination to face nothingness and figure out how to cross it.

She threw the pillow off her face and scrubbed at her forehead with both hands. She could always blame her father for planting that glib cliché in her head in the first place. Talk about boring. She knew he loved her and Oren, but he’d never planned to have kids, and he never actually tried to do it right. His free-spirit attitude did not a good parent make. The ham-fisted attempts to be closer to her through the crude mechanism of sleazy detective novel stereotypes demonstrated that all too clearly. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for the power of imagination, was it.

In the study, Sherlock’s chair scraped against the floor again, and she heard his faint footsteps disappear into the kitchen. He’d been right about how her old job rebuilt lives from the ground up, but of all her clients, he was the only one whose work meant other people’s lives were saved too. Of course he’d been blowing hot air when he’d said that, but she’d seen enough by then to acknowledge the truth of it. And detective work did give her that thrill again, even if over time she found it was more about restitution than rescue. It was still challenging and satisfying. So why wasn’t that enough?

When the recent nor’easter kept them housebound with three feet of snow, Sherlock had gone out of his way to try to assuage her restiveness, pretending to need her, asking for her assistance in this or that project which absolutely required her very particular skills or perspective. His facade never cracked, no matter how transparent his antics, all in the service of helping her out of her funk, elaborately enacted so she could save face, not have to admit that she needed him. It was utterly ridiculous, and he kept it up for days. For her. It was one of the kindest things he’d ever done, and she couldn’t stand how much she resented it.

It was infuriating on occasion but most of the time Joan admired Sherlock’s immunity to embarrassment. It was something he practiced, she knew, and not just because he told her so in admonishment when it was an obstacle she struggled with in her training. Their work required the ability to act in ways that occasionally provoked judgment or disapproval: from their law-enforcement colleagues, from their clients, from passers-by. And when the reason was justified, she was able to keep her cringing inside and make the necessary scene to distract or misdirect. It did get easier with practice, and Everyone was there to demand some new humiliation from Sherlock that made whatever antics she needed to perform seem tame by comparison. Still, she wished for a thicker skin at times. Or maybe that was the wrong metaphor. She didn’t need more protection that could dull her perception; she needed fewer pain receptors. Whatever. Sometimes it would be nice not to care what others thought of her, is all. Nicer still if she could stop judging herself.

All right. Enough. She was a mass of contradictions, an utter hypocrite. No wonder she didn’t want to delve any deeper. No wonder Sherlock finally decided to give up: no doubt he knew what sort of nonsensical quagmire lay behind her walls. Her nose itched, and she felt the scratch of crumbs under her cheek. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d washed her duvet; that was never good. Laundry was a suitably boring task for pathetic bored boring people. Another sigh. She’d get up in a minute.

Downstairs, a crash of many things falling all at once, and she was on her feet before his yell.