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The Chemist

Chapter Text

 

 

2016 - Day  1

 

Sherlock tried to roll to his other side, but the pain in his joints – especially his shoulder and hips - made it an agonising endeavour. The last moment he remembered people where listening and stifled a moan. John, Mrs Hudson, Molly and Mycroft were in the living room. They had brought him home from hospital a few hours ago, but he was far from recovered.

He had refused to go through withdrawal at the hospital and since his kidneys were responding well to treatment and had resumed their work, he had been released. Against medical advice of course, at least against the hospital doctor's one. John had agreed with him that he needed to get out of there.

Also, he wanted to recover at home.

In his own bed.

During the long nights at the hospital he had so much yearned to be at home.

But now that he was here, the world was still rubbish. Hard edges and odd lights wherever he turned, physically and mentally.

Something about home felt foreign and not home at all.

Also, going through this alone would be preferable, let no one witness his misery.

But it seemed right now he didn't have a choice.

It was either doing it with them present of at a rehab centre.

Another thing was, that after the recent events Sherlock was desperate to have John around, no matter what cost.

He had felt bad for too long, now. His patience was wearing thin.

Withdrawal was always a very ugly endeavour, he had known that.

The past weeks - in which Mary had died and then John had refused to talk to him - had been the most miserable ones in recent history.

Sherlock had no doubts Mycroft would knock him out and cart him to a rehab centre if he refused to have them present. His sibling was well aware that going through withdrawal in a hospital would worsen his mental state. Mycroft was aware he was everything else than fine, but not willing or able to put one of the main reasons he was in this state into words.

During the past two days withdrawal symptoms had started to become more severe, though he was still in the 'crash phase' mostly. At the hospital he had been given reduced doses of some of the stuff he had taken to soften the whole ordeal as well as other meds to help him with the process. Now John was the one administering everything and deciding what would be given when.

To his surprise Mycroft and John agreed that 221b was preferable to a clinic because such a place usually caused the detective more stress than it was worth. They acknowleged that - most of the time - it was counterproductive; due to the personnel, the noises, the scents, and - to Sherlock's annoyance his brother had argued with - loneliness.

The reverberations of his solitary confinement after Magnussen left Mycroft with a sour understanding what it did to his little brother and that it should be avoided at all cost.

In hospital, John and Mycroft had discussed this as if he hadn't been there. It had irked him, but he was much too tired to bother really.

He knew his ailments would get worse soon and he was desperate to find a way to escape all this, for a bit at least. In his current state visiting the mind palace was difficult, but he was sure he could manage.

Keeping up the concentration when his body was plaguing him with the side effects of his abstinence was sometimes a problem, but he had no choice, he needed a healthy break from this to get through the night.

During his hospital stay, he had tried to escape to his mind palace once already. The result was some seriously freaked out nurses, who then had tried to convince a doctor to delay his release and do more test. It was sheer luck (and Mycroft maybe?) that he had managed to avoid the impending psychiatric assessment.

If he was honest with himself, he was aware that he felt quite depressed.

Luckily, he had been able to sleep a lot, which was just another issue during the crash phase.

Massive exhaustion and tiredness had hit him like a brick wall.

But at least being aware of the symptoms and conscious enough to handle them was improvement.

Although he was in quite some pain he felt more present than during his medical treatments.

More present, more himself.

He could hear John and Mycroft in 221b's kitchen, now, talking softly, before steps came down the hall and John entered his bedroom.

The doctor stepped close to his bed.

"Hey?… Can I touch you?"

John had learned before that touching Sherlock was what could tip him over the edge, cause a meltdown.

That hadn't been pretty. For the past few days Sherlock had been hypersensitive when it came to all kinds of sensory input.

And he had woken half the ward yelling at John and the nurses who had touched him when he couldn't stand it.

"No," he breathed.

His whole body seemed to itch and that was one more argument for escaping to the palace as soon as possible. His transport was just too difficult and annoying to endure.

"It's time for your meds."

Of course.

Mycroft had supplied them with the best drugs there were to soften withdrawal and help with the symptoms, but it was all a drop in the ocean.

"I can't keep them down," Sherlock mumbled, wishing they would in fact do work as they should, which at least half of them didn't do.

"I know. Dehydration will become a problem if we don't stop this soon. I have an antiemetic here for starters."

John held up a small syringe.

Sherlock reached out for it, "I'll do it."

"No, you won't. Hands are shaking," John pointed at his friend's outstretched hand.

Sherlock growled when he saw the other man was right, but being touched seemed currently a much worse idea than hurting himself by using his own uncoordinated hands.

He groweled again.

"No, Sherlock. Just no!" John produced a piece of gauze and carefully rolled up his sleeve.

Sherlock closed his eyes and concentrated on ignoring the touch.

Within a few seconds John had injected the medication, overall he was good at it, Sherlock was aware, able to do it with little discomfort due to long years of practise.

"Let's wait a bit before we try a bit of tea. This should work fast. Need anything?"

"No," Sherlock closed his eyes and John left without another word.

For god's sake, he needed to escape this for a few hours. Rest while he could. Things would get worse soon.

During his solitary confinement after shooting Magnussen, he had been close to losing his mind due to boredom and the endless emptiness around and inside him. The sorrow and anguish were getting to him, back then he had tried using the mind palace.

Most of the time it hadn't worked.

But now, John was here.

Since he could hear his friend while inside the palace the risks of it being a negative experience were lower.

He knew it would be an escape - kind of.

Pathetic and cowardly.

But this - waiting for worse things that lay ahead to come - was amplifying his mental distress and the typical psychological side effects were starting to become hard to endure. It lowered his resistance profoundly when they had started, and he feared severe complications of the mental kind might be ahead because of it.

He had hoped to prevent that John witnessed the state he was in.

His former flatmate was unwell, one alarming sign was that John's eyes seemed smaller, swollen, somehow.

Sherlock had seen this on several occasions, when the doctor was sick or very exhausted. It hadn't happened often, though. But the last times had been when Sherlock had pulled him out of the bonfire and on the plane after he had come out of his case in the Victorian era mind palace.

John was still in deep grieving mode and also he was having enormous problems with the fact that he had beaten Sherlock in the morgue only a few days ago.

He himself had been too busy being in pain, being drugged, and trying to hide both to really pay attention to the emotional after effects this event had – on both of them.

Sherlock had given John a lot of his attention when his friend was visiting him.

It seemed John was in a very bad place, he had finally understood Sherlock had gone on a suicide mission to save him and was now even beyond anger.

Though Sherlock did not understand why he was. There was still a great amount of anger, yes, but at what exactly, Sherlock was not sure. The silence John's sorrow caused was far worse than any obvious anger.

There was so much regret in his gaze that Sherlock felt uneasy – maybe even guilty - for having caused it all, although a good part of it was in fact caused by Mary's past.

This version of regret was an intense feeling... one with an aftertaste and Sherlock didn't like it at all, it added to his distress.

He tried to hide from John how poorly he felt, he was ashamed, wanted to sleep it out, wait it out, ignore it all.

A year ago, his excursion into Victorian England had been more comfortable and enjoyable than he had thought.

And now he felt a need to dwell in that decade a bit more to distract himself, while tossing and turning on the bed and fighting his cravings.

Breathing deeply, he started to roam through his mental index of interesting cold cases from that period.

But his mind was muddled and dark, the palace's lighting was insufficient, he needed another source of outside input.

Slowly, he shoved his feet over the edge of his bed to get his laptop from the dining table.

It took some effort to reach his bedroom door and he had barely stepped into the kitchen on weak legs when John came his way.

"Sherlock? You okay?"

"Laptop."

"You want to sit in the living room or shall I bring it to your bedroom?"

Sherlock said nothing but shuffled past him, barely lifting his warm socks from the wooden floor.

Apparently, Mycroft was not in the flat any longer, probably glad to escape the situation.

"Right."

As soon as he had booted the device John placed a cup of steaming tea next to him and silently sat down opposite.

Within minutes Sherlock found some of the files he was looking for in the police database. Using Lestrade's login was always handy. The man was quite uncreative when it came to passwords.

Sherlock considered to print out a list of what might be interesting, one of those seventeen printers must have some toner left... or ink... but he was too tired to plug them in, so he just created pdfs and saved them.

He couldn't get the data itself on his own anyway, it was in paper form or in the MI5 archive, he needed someone to get it.

"There's a tablet computer, in case you need to lie down and want to go on with that," John pointed at a still packed touch screen device that must have been left by Mycroft, it looked quite expensive.

Sherlock looked at John again, silently asking where it came from and then the deductions started coming in.

The doctor looked awful, indeed. They had both lost weight and were both quite broken currently.

Sherlock had known his friend wouldn't take a relapse lightly but had never expected things to go bad to this amount. John seemed to suffer immensely from the fact that he hadn't gone to save Sherlock from Culverton on his own - and the fact that Sherlock had turned this self-destructive.

Would this observation pop up in his mind every time he saw John from now on?

Make him see only that guilt when he looked at the person?

It was a bit annoying.

And counter productive.

His mind was returning to foul thoughts quite frequently these days. The spiral down into depressing thoughts had started right after Mary's death and he had been unable to slow it down. Struggling to stop the decent, he had realised it was a lost cause.

He was here now because now there was a chance that he could remain in John's company, stay alive near him.

He found it was all he wanted...

After Mary's death, Sherlock had assumed it would probably be more merciful to John if he just stayed out of his life, as John had demanded.

Leave him to be a father.

But recent events made him aware that his friend wasn't safe just because Sherlock wasn't there to cause trouble.

Mary had mutated into a source of trouble thoroughly on her own.

His absence wouldn't mean John was out of danger, therefore leaving him was not worth both their sacrifices, or grief, or the horror of loss.

There were lousy days ahead.

Also, whoever had broadcasted the Moriarty video was still out there.

John would be far safer with than without him, not just because of the external factors. Sherlock had deduced John had drunken himself into numbness on more than a few nights after Mary's death and this also needed to stop soon.

Sherlock was more relieved than he could ever express that they had been given another chance.

He was also well aware that Mycroft had worked hard on that solution, had been a proper big brother in fact, although Sherlock would never admit that in his presence.

John must have felt his gaze because he looked up.

Their tired eyes met and John gave him a small smile, which's sadness was more than the detective could handle.

Lost for words Sherlock lowered his eyes, his emotions unclear and surrounded by a heap of unknown needs.

Frustration.

He had been told it was not enough to name his emotions with this single term.

His lack to differenciate between negative feelings was hindering him a lot these days and the counsellor at the hospital had stated they were against letting him go because Sherlock was not cooperating with her and opening up, talking about his feelings.

Mycroft had finally interfered, understanding Sherlock's lack of cooperation was not only caused by the inability to sort through all the distress he experienced but also by the incompetence of the woman to see the finer issues that were really the ones that mattered.

Now, Sherlock carefully tried to collect whatever he might be feeling, trying to sort it out. Not to share it with anybody, though, just to have it clear.

Gratitude.

Pain.

Resentment.

Discomfort.

Loss.

Uneasiness.

Sorrow.

Shame.

Guilt.

Grief.

Affection.

He had not the slightest idea how to show gratitude for John's grumpy presence, or any other of those weakening struggles with himself.

Those things were surrounding him, causing disorientation and dismay and he couldn't really sort them out or process them just because he was able to name them.

How does one get over them, as long as working through them was not possible?

"Sherlock? You okay?" John frowned.

Lost for words, the detective shook his head and the doctor stood up.

Only when his friend stepped closer he realised his headshake might be interpreted as a 'no' to the question if he was okay, not - as he had meant it - as a sign that he would not grant that question an answer.

"Get these files from Lestrade. Make Mycroft get into the MI5 database again, find out what..." he rudely shoved a piece of paper towards John, who looked taken aback.

Sherlock closed his eyes, clenching his teeth.

He was not a good friend right now and not easy to be around, he was aware. John was the only one who had ever caused reflection on himself like this. But he felt like going mad and his body tried to kill him with feeling worse than he had in a long long time.

He simply didn't have the energy to behave in the way John deserved and needed.

Saving John had wrecked him.

He lowered his gaze, "Sorry," he whispered.

All he wanted was John to stay.

Correction... needed.

Now that he expected to live - the shock about that still hadn't worn off since he had been sure Culverton would kill him... or that he had doubts anyone would come to save him - he wanted the other man close by.

The only thing that could ease the path that was ahead of him, the things he'd suffer through, was John.

Taking drugs again had woken demons that he had forgotten existed – no, he had never forgotten they were there, he had just buried the memories of them deep down where he couldn't stumble into them accidentally... and it had worked.

Until now.

The thing was those demons were easier to keep incarcerated while sober and also easily dismissed as bad dreams.

But now they had returned full force and he was too weak to fight them properly. Also, he wasn't twenty any longer. The side effects were much more vigorous than he remembered them, as was the hangover.

Lost for words and lost in his crippled emotions, he stood up and shuffled back towards his room, aware that John's gaze followed him.

"Sherlock?"

"Hm?"

When John didn't speak Sherlock turned back around.

For a moment they were just looking at each other - the same desperate silence like on the tarmac - a thousand things needed to be said but they couldn't say them.

Lost for words.

Finally, John shook his head.

"Will you be able to say so if you need anything?"

Quite a dumb question.

John should know better than to ask this.

Sherlock did what he knew he shouldn't, he turned away, but he just couldn't stand the heavy auburn mist in their communication and he felt mentally nauseous once more.

Also, the anguish hovering in the room made it hard to breathe.

He returned to his room and fetched his violin.

An hour into playing whatever came to his mind, the doorbell rang.

Sherlock ignored it, not wanting to see anyone. A minute later John knocked at his doorframe, the door was not closed, one of their agreements, and he held a large bundle of manila folders.

The old files, obviously.

That was fast. How had he managed that?

John must have seen his eyes lit up at the sight, because he smiled at him.

After only an hour of reading in the living room, next to a warm flame in the fireplace, John sent him to bed, arguing he was looking too pale to sit up any longer.

Unnerved - about the fact that he felt weak and tired - Sherlock shuffled into his bedroom, ignoring the bathroom entirely.

Groaning in pain he rolled into the bed as he was, in his dressing gown and warm socks, and clumsily pulled his duvet over his legs.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Sherlock opened his eyes in the same position and the same room he had closed them what felt to have only been moments before.

He was in his bedroom, which looked quite similar to the one in modern times. This was the room that was the least different form the modern version of his reality.

Case, there was a case, he needed to get up.

The moment he pushed back the extra heavy duvet that must have been made of some kind of animal hair due to its weight, he winced.

It was February, which meant it was cold.

Very cold in fact.

He must have let the fire die. His breath condensed and he sighed.

Right.

Mrs Hudson was not his housekeeper... and - he exhaled noisily – his Victorian self must have taken cocaine the night before, he felt the aftermath of it quite vividly as well as the leaden tiredness the drug left in its wake - or at least this was what fitted to his mental scenario.

Maybe it had been a bad idea to come here, he was as uncomfortable as he was in reality.

Distraction, right.

Take care of this era's problems to get his mind off his awkward real life.

He needed that.

All inconveniences would be less horrible than the real ones.

Also, he could vent his frustration at his mind palace version of Watson, but he would - under no circumstances - burden the real John with any more distress than he was already dealing with.

So this was the place to be for letting it go wild.

The warm beige dressing gown was draped over a chair nearby.

Right, he needed to set the stage, but was it really time to get up?

Obviously, it was early morning. He had slept then... or just skipped the night?

With the dressing gown on, he curled back into bed, surely he could use his own illusion of being able to rest to get some more sleep.

And he slept.

.

He woke some time later.

Someone was loudly hammering at his bedroom door.

"Holmes!"

It was John - or more precise - his alter ego.

"I'm awake, what is it?"

The man sounded as if his hemline had caught fire.

"I was just wondering when you'd finally get up. Lestrade is waiting."

Oh, someone else must have set the stage, then.

He opened the door, ruffling through his hair. He should have taken a long hot shower before coming here... and he also needed to stop thinking in his modern mindset! Believing there were those kind of contraptions easy available in every home would do him no good.

He should think of cleaning himself in terms of a bath in a gas heated bathtub that needed forever to heat up and was a serious fire hazard as well as a danger to any user's 'behind'.

"Good grace, what happened to you?" Watson said the moment he saw his flatmate.

"What?"

Right, his Victorian ego kept his hair neatly greased back and was always clean shaven.

When he rubbed his chin he realised that for some reason he still wore the itchy stubble he had grown in real life.

Why was it so hard to set the stage this time?

Probably because he was too exhausted to do it properly. His ailments were making him sloppy.

His mind was so very tired.

This time he'd keep anyone out who criticised the stage and the silliness of it all. He was well aware he was ridiculous, no need for Moriarty to remind him. But it was beyond the point, he was here as a relaxation exercise, not to solve an urgent case.

No pressure.

No, that wasn't true; there was a fair amount of pressure – to get back to his feet. People like Lady Smallwood and all the others who were involved in granting his pardon were still waiting for results.

Not to mention Mycroft's pressing expectations. He would surely get on his nerves quite frequently in the next days and weeks, and not only with the Moriarty thing. He'd show up to 'visit' him. Sherlock hoped he hadn't informed their parents on one hand, on the other, if he hadn't he would use that as blackmail material sooner or later.

"Holmes?"

Right, he needed to focus on the Victorian reality. Watson was there, he should make tea.

He shuffled past his friend to his laboratory table and turned on the Bunsen burner.

"Holmes, can you hear me?"

"Of course, I can. Be quiet."

"Demanding night?"

"You could say that."

"You took cocaine, didn't you?"

"Yes. I needed to think, apparently."

Watson huffed in annoyance. "About what?" The other man had followed him and turned the burner off again. "I asked Mrs Hudson to make proper tea."

He looked down at the newspaper, the date was Monday, February 11th, 1867.

'Aftermath of snowstorms still causing problems,' The headline stated.*

"So, we have a case," John pointed at a folded sheet of paper and fetched his pipe, then sat in his armchair.

"Oh," he picked the note up from the table and read the handwritten words, someone must have brought it by earlier. "As you said, Lestrade is waiting for us. But we have time for tea," Sherlock sat down with his own pipe and started to stuff it.

A moment later Mrs Hudson came in with a tray.

.

When they climbed into the cab Sherlock was glad Scotland Yard was on this side of the Thames, crossing it would have taken ages.

In 1867 it was just around the corner, Nr 4 Whitehall Place, even easier to reach than in modern times coming from Baker Street. They moved to 'New' Scotland Yard in 1890...

The historical facts washed over him. Knowing history was so very ensuring - in contrast to living through the present, or the future from his current view - which was unwritten and therefore an unsecure place.

History was so much more predictable, very relaxing.

He watched the houses on Regent Street pass by and tried to ignore the obnoxious smells of Victorian London at the end of winter.

They needed almost an hour to reach Scotland Yard, the weather was bad and temperatures had started to melt the mass of faeces, sewage, rotting food, and waste that had frozen to a solid cover on the ground in the past two months.

The winter had been cold and long*², but now it was getting warmer and that was creating the usual horrible mess of a town suffocating from overpopulation, industrialisation and clogged streets – and it was the late 1860s, the work on the new sewer system caused permanent traffic jams, but the intercepting sewers had been finished three years ago. Nevertheless, currently extensive works were done at Victoria Embankment that now caused traffic issues in addition.  

Sherlock felt nausea stir in his stomach and wondered if it was something that was slopping over from the real world or if it was related to the overwhelming smell.

He managed to gulp down the raising bile twice.

"Holmes?" Watson's voice was near his face.

He realised he had closed his eyes.

"Hmm?"

"Are you sick?"

"Of course not."

"You look unwell."

"Might be caused by the stench."

"Right, I forgot. Your overly sensitive senses," Watson said with a huff of disbelieve.

Sherlock rolled his eyes. Real John had needed some time to understand how difficult it was handling his sensory input and how overwhelmingly intense it could be. But a doctor in the late 1860s must be sceptic that this was a real issue at all, back then the nervous system and how the five senses worked was overall quite unresearched. 

"Although I have to admit, they are getting worse. Before, the smells must have been immobilised by the low temperatures," Watson added.

"Obviously," Sherlock added, glad that in this decade the theory of the 'Four Humors' was not really an issue any longer. This was the era of invention and research, things like bloodletting and purging were no longer up to date, albeit a decade earlier they were standard treatments. People did no longer believe in things like that. Nevertheless, he needed to keep in mind that medicine and forensics were far from being as 'advanced' as they had been during his first stay in this era, in the 1890s. This was a decade where people only started to try to understand the mechanisms of the body.

.

Half an hour later they arrived at Scotland Yard and picked up Lestrade and headed for the crime scene, located in one of the less densely populated areas of suburb London.

The first thing Sherlock observed at the site was that it was probably not the where the victim had died.

A boy was lying face down in a rubbish dump. Some policemen were carefully removing the dirt from the body, obviously not happy they had to do this.

Even after inspecting the body closely with the good doctor's help they weren't able to find the cause of death.

"He's from a family who's wealth is sufficient to pay two maids and live in one of the better areas, though not from around here," Sherlock deduced.

Of course this statement had to be discussed, as usual Lestrade needed an explanation and all the constables stood there and watched in disbelieve. Sherlock was unnerved, his patience worn thin by being cold and low spirits.

Why didn't they just believe him?

Most of them were unable to understand even with proper explanations.

"The clothes are in a well kept state. They were washed and ironed at the house, not folded but hanged neatly, which means not elsewhere and then transported to the home, so more than one maid. Also, the dirt on his shoes is not from this area, it's from further southeast, but of course your training failed to teach you things as important as earth compositions in the town where you work, so...."

"Holmes..." Watson interrupted and Sherlock understood he was rude, although he had just wanted to point out this was needed and people responsible should be informed by students or Lestrade or whatever that this was necessary.

Right, he needed to live up to Watson's standard of professionalism and show he was well behaved, so he forced himself to be polite.

"Clearly not an accident. Boys his age have all kinds of things in their pockets, this boy has nothing in his pockets at all. So it must have been taken. Probably not a robbery, because at his age children usually don't carry an amount of money that is worth the crime; but none of the last can be sure, it is just a temporary working thesis."

He looked at his flatmate with a questioning look.

John shrugged, not understanding what he wanted.

"As soon as we find the family we can ask them from what sickness he recently recovered, since Dr Watson seems to be unable to diagnose it, which is not surprising, since he – by the time of his death – had mostly recovered from it," Sherlock finished.

"What?" John asked, irritated.

"His pallor makes it quite clear."

.

Watson's sulking on their way home was sign enough he had said something wrong.

Sherlock spent all the way back wondering what it might have been. The doctor was not forthcoming when he downright asked about the reason.

But the mental pouting disappeared suddenly when Sherlock felt his stomach twist once more due to the unbelievable disgusting smells on the streets - the dumpster hadn't smelled this bad - and he swayed when they exited the cab in front of 221b.

"Holmes? Do you feel faint?" Watson was steadying him before he even realised he had moved towards him. "May I advice not using any substances tonight due to the fact that you already suffer from a bit of ill health? Or is this problem caused by those substances?"

Sherlock winced and was happy that the spell was over.

"More by the lack thereof," he answered.

"What?"

"Nevermind."

They entered the house.

To their luck Mrs Hudson had kept the fires going and the house seemed well heated.

God, modern heating was such a luxury.

Sherlock wished everybody knew what a difficult thing heating was in the past and how lucky people should be the Victorian era was over. Then he scolded himself for wasting so much time on thinking about creature comforts.

But he was stressed and he knew it, withdrawal always worsened the sensory issues he struggled with on a daily basis. Everything felt much worse, the lights in his eyes, normal sounds in his ears - even wind or cold on his skin. And it was bound to get worse over the next days.

Which meant he'd need a lot of energy just to try to keep it out of the mind palace's reality.

The next moment he silently cursed, he wanted his 'modern' thoughts to be gone, they interrupted the illusion.

Why couldn't he manage to keep them out?

Right, he wasn't as high as he needed to be for that and also his body kept reminding him of the actual present, the very one he tried to leave behind for a bit.

Then he realised, that maybe trying to block out symptoms would be unwise, would suck away precious energy and by that weaken him further, maybe integrating them into the Victorian era would be the better choice.

This would be harder than his first visit to this era, which – in his personal timeline – also happened before and after the Ricoletti case.

Before in the sense that it was earlier in the century and that Watson was again living with him as a flatmate.

Later in the sense that they both had all the memories of his first stay in the past, including Mary and her death. They would both remember her as something from their past... a temporal paradox they'd ignore, for the sake of not needing to set the stage from scratch again. But this Mary had been dead for three years, he decided, for Watson's sake, made it less fresh.

He needed his companion to remember those things... and wanted to remember them himself. They had been so distant due to the dynamics of the decade... and so very close. He couldn't put it into proper words, but he needed this closeness to get through withdrawal. And maybe even a save room for his own grief he couldn't confront the real John with.

Damn the mechanics.

Right, he was a gentleman, he shouldn't curse... but he felt like shit and some part of him was beyond caring for that.

"Holmes? Can you hear me?"

He blinked and found he was staring his friend right in the face.

"Alright, let's get you upstairs."

Sherlock felt a hand under his armpit, helping him up the first step.

"Can you make it up the stairs?" Mrs Hudson was there, too.

"Of course," he straightened and started to slowly put one foot on the second step. He felt an astounding wave of tiredness and exhaustion hit him hard, his limps felt leaden and stiff. Although he had doubts he could do it at first he managed to then lift his other foot on the next step.

While he slowly moved up the stairs he heard them whisper behind his back for a moment before the doctor hurried to follow him in case he might slip.

It was ridiculous, he wasn't that bad.

So he mobilised some energy, born out of frustration and sped up. A few moments later he was in his room. He let his coat and hat fall, kicked off his shoes and then sank into the bed, which was quite not following proper etiquette, but he didn't care.

He turned away from the door but sleep eluded him.

The clothes were too restricting and tight. Modern shirts were so much more comfortable when it came to sleeping than starched collars and waistcoats.

He was still trying to decide if he'd manage to fall asleep when he felt Watson nearby.

Without speaking the doctor helped him out of the collar, removed the sock suspenders and unbuttoned the waistcoat.

Once it was all gone, sleep took him within a few minutes, although the original plan had been to just lie down for a few moments.

 


 

*In early January 1867 Britain was hit by a big snowstorm that caused enormous railway traffic problems (6m high snowdrifts). Some regions were completely cut off.

 *² Author made that up, due to a lack of information about 1867's entire winter. Writer's freedom.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

It had been John's turn to do the first night shift after coming home from the hospital. He was relieved that Sherlock had slept through the night without much trouble.

The evening before, Sherlock had rudely demanded that Mycroft or Lestrade needed to get old files from the MI5 database. So John had called Mycroft half an hour after that conversation, determined to do whatever would make this easier for Sherlock.

Mycroft had the papers delivered within the hour, and the younger Holmes had read quite a bit of them immediately.

It was only a few days after the last drug use and Sherlock was still in the first stage of withdrawal, which in this case meant exhaustion, energy loss and a lot of sleeping.

This was the quiet before the storm, John was very aware of that.

He was also very aware that the flat was monitored by Mycroft 24/7, it was another condition Sherlock had to agree to before they had made the decision to allow him to go through detox at home.

From a medical point of view this was not a light decision for John and there had to be rules. There were a lot of those, one of course was that Sherlock was never alone in the flat, no matter what. Another was that he would surrender to any medical choice John or Molly made and that he wouldn't try to leave the flat or try to organise drugs.

There were a few more, all to make sure Sherlock would succeed in getting clean.

Up to now Sherlock had complied to the letter and not even complained, but John saw how bad he really felt, although his friend was obviously trying to hide it.

.

This was the morning of day two at home and John made a cup of tea before he went to wake his charge.

Sherlock's friends had all agreed that he needed monitoring around the clock and therefore they were doing shifts.

The last 24 hours at the hospital had been a catastrophy, not only for the patient but also for the staff. In the end two doctor's playing private nurses and the British government putting their efforts behind an early release left little resistance from the clinic doctors. That was at least the official version.

Medical equipment to monitor the patient had been brought to Baker Street, commandeered by Mycroft.

Molly would arrive soon, giving John the chance to get some sleep, not that he thought he would be able to manage to fall asleep at all, but he knew he should at least try. He was still not really down from all that had happened during the past week.

Culverton had tried to kill Sherlock and it felt as if it had only been hours ago, but John was aware, it was more than two days.

He had lost count and something told him that he had only been allowed to do this shift to wear himself out so he would sleep. He had been at Sherlock's side most of the time at the hospital, the need to make sure his friend was treated properly and watching over him overwhelming and his first priority.

John was sure either Greg or someone else was on standby, ready to step in the moment he'd show any signs of falling asleep or of distress.

More of a farce to make him feel useful and responsible. John doubted Mycroft was this trusting right now.   

At the moment, Sherlock was deeply asleep and John decided to let him rest a bit longer. For what was ahead the detective needed all the rest he could get.

Deep in thoughts, John returned to the living room and flinched when he heard someone silently coming up the stairs.

"It's me, Dr Watson," Mycroft said in a low voice.

"What are you doing here?"

Mycroft entered and looked around for a moment, then found what he needed and slowly pushed his ever-present umbrella into the gap between a pile of books and a small table.

After scrutinising his makeshift umbrella stand for a moment he took off his jacket.

"I called Miss Hooper and told her I would undertake her shift. Rosie is with her at your flat, enjoying her familiar environment for a bit."

John sighed.

He was aware that Rosie should be there sometimes, but it was so devastating for him to be there he avoided it.

The lonely nights he had spent there, sitting in the dark with only booze for company had left a shadow on him, as had the worry that he might follow Harry's path soon, failing completely to be a proper father to Rosie, seeing it all go downhill and being unable and lacking the energy to stop it.

He was happy to escape experiencing those kinds of nights.

Holding vigil over his best friend was way better, though filled with an equal amount of distress and dark thoughts.

He frowned, looking up at the other man, who sported his usual as neat as a pin appearance. Suddenly, he wondered if Mycroft was in fact watching over them both.

Was this whole thing a completely different operation for him than it was for all their friends and family?

Was he the second 'patient' in this?

He thought this was about getting Sherlock clean, but now he wondered if this was – for everyone else than him – also a help-John-get-past-his-grief-and-survive-the-experience-mission.

Mycroft had cancelled most of John's meetings and provided a substitute doctor for his surgery.

"Why did you cancel Molly's shift?" the doctor asked suspiciously.

"I will be spending the morning with my brother. Mrs Hudson will provide lunch and take over in the early afternoon... I expect you to get some sleep and pick up your daughter in the late afternoon... and bring her here."

"That's not..." John started, but Mycroft interrupted him by raising a hand.

"I am aware, but my brother seems to profit from a certain dose of being exposed to the basic needs of childcare – or the child itself. Therefore, it seems a good option. After dinner Mrs Hudson will take over once she needs... bathing," there was something close to disgust in Mycroft's features when he spoke the word, "and you can do another night shift if you please. Greg Lestrade will be ready to jump in in case you don't feel up to it."

John grimaced, then took breath to argue, but...

"You are far too exhausted by the events of the past week, so just comply and do as suggested."

This comment made John actually growl, though he was well aware that decision-making being taken away from him was wonderful. He currently struggled with even the tiniest decision and was well aware it was part of the grief/depression thing.

So, as long as he agreed that this was good for Sherlock he probably shouldn't argue.

Mycroft meanwhile ignored his reaction and worked himself out of his suit jacket. Then he busied himself by opening a large bulky suitcase he had carried. He pulled out another thick manila folder, which he then placed on the coffee table.

"My brother can have this, as long as he gets out of bed to read it. I understood it was necessary he moves around regularly. Something I failed to make him do during past episodes of withdrawal."

John just nodded, tiredly. He actually felt his eyes were sore from being open this long.

"Go and sleep," Mycroft didn't look at him when he went towards the kitchen, "I assume there is water for tea?"

"Yeah," John scratched his stubble. He hadn't shaved since Sherlock had been admitted and it was starting to itch.

"I know where to find the good tea, go to bed."

Quite speechless, John checked on Sherlock and then headed towards the stairs, there was nothing else to say.

He wasn't sure he could manage to sleep but would try, for Rosie's sake.

.

"Sherlock, I brought another one of those files you requested," Mycroft entered his brother's bedroom and pulled away the curtains, it was way too warm and fuggy in there and he wondered how his brother was able to sleep any longer.

Slowly and obviously aching, the younger man turned around, blinking up at him. His eyes were swollen and bloodshot. The bruises were still very dark and fresh looking and although Mycroft thought his sibling deserved a punch for his obnoxious behaviour now and then he certainly hadn't deserved this.

Sherlock looked even worse than the day before. And although his eyes had been open for a few seconds, they drifted shut again immediately and Sherlock's breath evened out again, too.

Mycroft didn't stop him. It was actually quite odd seeing his brother sleeping out of his own accord.

Inevitably this brought back distressing memories from the last time Mycroft had seen Sherlock go through withdrawal, over eleven years ago. Once more a familiar heavy weight seemed to settle itself in Mycroft's stomach area. He was well aware what was ahead of them. And he still wondered why Sherlock thought that John was worth all this. But this was his decision and he would respect the choice his sibling had made.

Mycroft was well aware that the fact that Sherlock had survived the past eight years were to a great amount due to the fact that John cared.

The doctor shoved him in the right direction on a regular basis, and Mycroft was of course grateful for that.

He was very relieved that they had Sherlock home and surrounded by people who cared about him.

Sherlock had never had the luxury of having friends before.

The last day in hospital had been a bit of a disaster – Sherlock had a meltdown and the nurses had ignored him help-wise, had even made it worse by not providing things he direly needed because they thought he was clamouring and diverting them from important things - like texting their loved ones. His brother had had a hell of a night without pain meds and in a soiled bed because people were incompetent and lazy.

John had filed a complaint without Mycroft's encouragement.

It seemed some still didn't believe what Culverton had done, were still convinced of the innocence of the self-proclaimed philanthropist, at least that was what Mycroft had read in between the lines when he had read into the files. Some nurse had noted Sherlock just wanted to annoy them and all his issues were psychosomatic and that he loved to be high-maintenance.

Sherlock hadn't spoken about it, but the aftermath of the night's meltdown was hard on him. John had brought earplugs and his own pyjamas to address his most urgent needs.

Those events had been one more reason why Mycroft had hurried to get his sibling out of there.

He did trust John with Sherlock's life in general, just not right now, not fully.

But overall that was probably only a matter of days. John's anger was already mostly replaced by guilt and remorse.

Grief made people do odd things.

Mycroft sat down in a kitchen chair that somehow had found its way into Sherlock's room, watching his little brother.

Once more holding vigil during withdrawal.

Above him, John's movements died down, too.

He hoped the doctor would find rest, he needed it.

Mycroft was glad the time span between this and the last episode of drug-taking had been longer than any time before. But he was also tremendously unsettled about what was ahead of them.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

"Mr Holmes? Mr Holmes?"

Frantic knocking on his door, accompanied by Archie's tiny voice.

"Mrs Hudson sent me to wake you - for the fourth time!"

"I am up, thank you."

"Lunch will be ready in half an hour. I will bring warm water for washing."

Sherlock slowly opened his eyes, it was probably around noon.

Still kind of drowsy he struggled to wake up fully, he also felt slightly nauseous.

The bedroom was unpleasantly cold and he was covered with three blankets.

Although Watson had removed the less comfortable clothing items he was still dressed in yesterday's clothes. He groaned silently, aching all over.

Carefully he rolled off the clammy bed.

.

Half an hour later he was in the living room when Mrs Hudson brought in tea and lunch.

She had barely put the tray down, when Sherlock frowned.

"Who bought this?"

"I sent Archie."

"He needs a lesson about food."

"Pardon me?"

"This food is not food."

"What?"

"It seems you buy 'proper' food due to what tastes you prefer... your own liking. He bought what was told was good quality by the seller. It is not. Didn't you check?"

"I am sorry, Mr Holmes, I didn't have time. It's washing day."

Sherlock opened the door to the flat and yelled for the young boy, who immediately ran up the stairs, looking afraid to have done something wrong.

"Sit down," Sherlock urged him while he sat opposite him.

"We will analyse what you bought today and try to figure out how to prevent such mishaps again in the future."

Obviously Mrs Hudson was afraid a thorough chiding would follow because she tried to stop Sherlock.

"You might want to listen to this, too, it appears this hadn't happened in the past by accident. Maybe you are just not often enough invited to fancy dinner parties, or otherwise exposed to what modern food should look like. Or maybe your rural upbringing is unknowingly good for all our health, Mrs Hudson," Sherlock smiled up at her.

Her eyes went wide and she blushed. Present society would deem that an insult, to mention a rural upbringing, but from Sherlock remarks like this were always hiding a deeper meaning.

"Try a piece of the bread."

He took a slice of the very white bread and parted it into several pieces, then handed one to the boy - who still looked afraid - and one to their not-housekeeper.

"Taste it," he put a small piece in his own mouth and carefully started to chew, then spit it out into a napkin.

"Eugh," Mrs Hudson made, but her good manners made her actually gulp it down. Spitting things out was not particularly lady-like.

Archie chewed and raised his eyebrows, obviously lost what he was meant to taste.

"It's sweet," Archie added.

"No, it's astringent," Sherlock explained.

"It's way too... the texture is odd. And the taste is vile," the landlady said.

"What you taste is potassium aluminium sulfate, Alum in short. This is an exemplary case of food adulteration. One that will harm your body if you eat it too often. Unfortunately, this society is working more by how things look fancy than if they are healthy. The needs for foods to have certain looks and colours has changed in the recent years. One also might say it has become a very silly fashion."

"They put things in there that are bad?" Archie wanted clarification.

"Yes, this chemical is bad."

"Why do they put it in there?"

"This decade and the last are marked by advancement and mass production in every part of life. Food is no different. We have been the victim of an unscrupulous merchant, Archie," Sherlock explained.

"As a consumer you were at his mercy since adulteration is very popular to increase profit. Alteration is a big business. When in rural areas people wouldn't add things to food they sell because they know their consumers and don't want to harm them. The anonymity of the big city and the lack of personal bonding make it easy to use harmful cheap things to make foods look attractive to buyers."

"Oh, Mr Holmes. I am so glad I still buy my bread from our neighbour's sister who brings it in all the way from her farm. Although, I have to admit I did it because people in the countryside suffer a great lot from all the industrial made food. They hardly earn any money at all and they work their hands of... More and more work these days and less and less money. It's a shame. I was kind of trying to help out by buying from them... besides this really tastes like the good old times when I was a child."

"You buy more from them, not only the bread, right?"

"Yes," the landlady agreed.

"The milk as well. Taste this milk," Sherlock encouraged Archie.

Mrs Hudson and the boy did, but this time, Sherlock only smelled it and had to stifle a gag.

"There is more than one chemical in there that doesn't belong. One is probably Boracic acid and Sodium borate, used to prolong shelf time and remove the sour taste once it turns bad. So they can sell it and people won't notice it is old. The problem is, it tastes fine for most people, but the bacteria are still there, making people sick."

Sherlock put a finger in it and watched the liquid hang on his digit in a drop.

"This one also seems thinned down and has a grainy white substance in it to mask the added water... to make it look right," he added.

"But that's horrible," Mrs Hudson said, "I was aware it was happening, but... you know it is in the paper now and then."

"That is why we are glad that Mrs Hudson buys from the countryside, Archie. Get the rest of that shopping and we will analyse that, too. After that, I want all of it thrown out."

The boy hurried down the stairs to get the bag of still packed goods.

When he came back, panting, he asked, "How do you know that all."

"Remember, I'm a chemist?"

"Oh, right," Archie stammered. Aware he had asked that before but since the word didn't really hold a meaning for him, he had apparently forgotten.

"There are efforts to establish food adulteration laws. But the problem is, this is difficult to prove, people don't know what adulterated food looks like. And even if they do, to find out where it really came from and who added things is also very difficult."

"Shouldn't that be a case for you?" Archie asked while he unpacked meat, tea, cheese and other items.

"I fear that will be a case for our government and the politicians," Sherlock evaded the topic.

He checked the cheese, meat, vegetables and all the items, most of it was all fine, for one exception.

"Ah, look at this tea. This looks wrong," he poured a bit out of the paper bag and onto a saucer.

"This looks like... tea."

"Correct... but if you touch it... take it into your hands, touch it... You'll feel it is way too heavy for dried leaves... I assume it is black lead. Some of those leaves also seem to have the wrong colour."

They continued to analyse the food until Watson arrived and found them in a mess of groceries, all laid out in samples while Sherlock was explaining how to how to spot those adulterations, distinguish good from bad quality.

The doctor joined in and listened with interest.

.

An hour later a telegram arrived that informed them a family had reported their son missing and therefore the dead boy he had been identified.

Sherlock decided to go and pick up Lestrade and then try to meet child's family.

Lestrade was not happy to interview a mourning family, but aware it should be done soon.

On the way to the mansion, Lestrade and Watson both took their time to remind Sherlock to be tactful.

It was a wealthy family with ties to politics and money and it would do no good to upset them any more than they already were about the fact that the police deemed it necessary to interview them so soon after they had found out about his death and while they were grieving.

The front door already made it clear the house was in mourning. The obligatory wreath was present, as well as the black draped doorknob.

The inside of the building was another show of superstition, wealth and other stupid rituals Sherlock's didn't point out loud but rolled his eyes about mentally. The clocks had been stopped and all mirrors and reflective surfaces had been covered, also family pictures had been turned face down.

After introductions and excuses about the disturbance they were assured the family wanted the murder solved and would therefore assist in any way they could.

They were seated and served tea, but Sherlock finally lost patience and interrupted the exchange of empty mourning phrases between John and the mother of the child by asking directly.

"What illness did he suffer from recently?"

"A very bad case of influenza," the mother answered without hesitation, though looking a bit taken aback about the tactless interruption.

"He was bed ridden for weeks and we feared for his life, the doctor wasn't sure he'd..." her voice broke and she turned away briefly to regain her composure.

"The sickness weakened him and he was only recovered enough two weeks ago to leave the bed. He returned to school only this week. He was just seven years old. Why would anyone do this to my child?"

Sherlock and Lestrade asked for problems at school, rivals of the father, or anyone who might have wished the family ill, but even the older children and grandparents who were soon also involved in the interview knew nothing.

Finally, Sherlock encouraged Watson to ask more about the sickness. It turned out the boy had taken medicine that was well received and was still taking pills to aid his recovery and strengthen him.

The only odd fact they discovered was that the box of expensive pills - the boy was supposed to take at least once a day - had vanished.

In the end the session was interrupted by the arrival of a photographer and his large boxes of equipment. He was there to take pictures of the dead child with his family.

John found it was a bit morbid, although it was completely normal in this era.

A family of this status probably could afford many pictures of their children, and had not to rely on only one after an untimely and unexpected demise, but they seemed to want to do it anyway.

.

The detective and the doctor returned to Baker Street in the early evening and were served dinner by Mrs Hudson.

Sherlock refused to even try to eat, the smell made him slightly nauseous and the ill feeling intensified and became harder the later the hour.

Later, he dozed off on the settee, which felt stiff and unused.

.

What must be hours later he was shaken awake. The obnoxious touch was almost as uncomfortable as the springs of the seating furniture.

No, it was his bed he was lying in, 2016.

"Hey? Come on, I need you to get up. Walk around for a bit. You've been in bed for almost twenty-four hours, and if you don't move enough I have to worry about thrombosis, again."

Really?

A whole day?

He couldn't have slept that much. He had spent most of the time in his mind palace, in 1867.

But it was the same problem, not moving around, not getting up.

John was probably right, he needed to go to the loo and drink some tea to maintain function of his body.

It took quite some effort and as he had managed to sit up, something very distressing hit him full force.

It took him a moment to realise it was an odd mixture of anger and aggression that made his skin crawl. The fact that he couldn't find a source for the negative emotion made it hard for him to determine which sentiment he was suffering.

Some seconds ticked by until understanding hit him and he gasped from the intensity.

He completely failed at figuring out how to channel this or get rid of it.

"Don't touch me!" he hissed.

Only then he opened his eyes.

John raised his hands in surrender, not too surprised about his outbreak.

He needed John out. The last thing he needed was letting off steam in John's direction.

"Get out!"

"I really need you to get up and walk around a bit, sorry, mate."

"I said get out!"

"Sorry, can't. I let you down more than once in the past four weeks, I will not do it again."

The sorrow in John's voice made Sherlock's blood freeze, and the anger unexpectedly and suddenly turned into desperation and fear.

He couldn't do this.

It was too much.

Too complex.

He had ruined it all.

John might say the opposite, but he'd never ever truly forgive him.

Because it was his fault!

He didn't deserve John's care.

He couldn't do this.

His thoughts were so sluggish and he was so very very tired.

He doubted he'd ever be able to think clearly again on his own.

Cocaine, he needed some cocaine to be able to focus again.

To think.

"No, Sherlock. No, you don't. We will get through this."

Had he spoken out loud?

Was John able to hear his thoughts?

"Sherlock, you're scaring me. Calm down."

There it was again, the anger, running wild in his reality.

He was off his bed before he knew what was happening – and had John pressed against the wall next to his wardrobe by his shoulders.

"I realise I do deserve your anger..." John stammered. "... but this doesn't change the facts, either we walk, or you need to get anticoagulants."

Sherlock let go of him as if burned.

He felt in fact burned – by the guilt the words caused, by the suggestion that John deserved his anger.

The insight that they were both so guilt ridden it paralysed them made him feel as if every chance of things returning to normal - or even the slightest bit of positive thinking - had been eradicated from the world.

He turned away from the other man, stumbling back to the bed and falling into it.

John was right behind him, trying to keep him from lying back down. But he didn't touch him again.

"Leave me alone," the detective groaned.

It was all too much.

"Your body needs fluids and DVT prevention," John disagreed.

"Give me a shot."

"Nope, can't do. You need the bathroom, too."

Baring his teeth in irritation, Sherlock forced his body up again.

It hurt.

His head hurt, his muscles hurt and he felt weak.

"I turned down the light and made you some sweet tea," John explained.

Grinding his teeth, Sherlock allowed him to carefully take his elbow and escort him to the bathroom.

He did not completely trust his body to remain upright so John being ready to catch him was probably necessary.

With pure force of will he held back the agitation the pain and the sensory input caused, and he managed to refresh himself a bit, use the loo, take the meds and walk around the living room three times.

When he tried to drink some tea, though, it all went downhill.

Within five minutes he was leaning over the toilet bowl vomiting it up again, John by his side.

And a short time later John had helped him to his bed again.

By then he was seriously trembling and panting.

Also, he felt the distress built in his mind.

He needed to get out of this reality again as soon as possible.

"Hold on, just hold on," John soothed.

It took him several tries to enter the mind palace and when he finally managed, the door to 1867 had vanished.

Desperate and with panic on his haunches he ran through the mental building.

"Sherlock, I need you to calm down, can you do that? You're getting a bit agitated."

He wished John would shut up.

In desperate need of some historical remains he leapt for the cellar, where he finally found the richly decorated door to historical Baker Street.

The moment he passed the door his transport's ailments were dulled enormously, as was his distress and deep anger.

.

He wasn't aware that his eyes rolled back and that it threw John into a frenzy.

The doctor thoroughly examined him, checked his limb form over, took his vitals and noted his temperature.

Sherlock also didn't feel John injecting him with an anticoagulant and a small dose of morphine, which was the only thing they weren't weaning him off currently. Though Sherlock had wanted it, get it all done at once, but John had disagreed. Withdrawal would be hard enough, and they could delay that for a bit, especially since Sherlock still needed pain relief. The downside were side effects like vomiting, sweating, headaches, and so on.

Sherlock was also not aware that his friend stayed with him through the entire night.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Sherlock woke several times during the small hours of the morning, exhausted and with a profound headache.

Watson was there once, talking to him, asking if he was in pain. Sherlock ignored him.

A bit later the doctor came back and offered him medicine.

Victorian medicines wouldn't work, at least not the ones he would agree to take. Even modern drugs only succeeded in taking the edge of some aspects of withdrawal - a very small edge.

He drifted off again.

 

With a groan he blinked at the man who had just entered his room again and he realised it was modern John, wearing modern pyjamas and his awful plaid dressing gown.

"How is it working?" the doctor whispered.

"Not at all," he hissed through his teeth. "Go away, please."

"Hey," John rested his hand against Sherlock's shoulder, which increased his physical unease threefold.

He must have made some kind of noise because his friend jerked his hand away.

"Sorry," he murmured. "Need something else?"

Sherlock just closed his eyes, not able to deal with this reality and his transport's malaise for the time being.

 

A moment later the touch reappeared and he came close to yell out of sheer frustration when a careful voice asked, "Holmes?"

His eyes opened wide without a conscious effort.

He stared at Watson's face, who was now beside his bed with a ringed chamber candle holder in his hand. The light of the small candle stump was so poor he needed a moment to realise he was back in Victorian reality.

"Are you still feeling poor?"

"I'm fine," Sherlock answered, unnerved.

"Well, you always say that, it doesn't relieve me to hear this worn out phrase."

Without asking for permission Watson reached for his wrist and took his pulse. At this point Sherlock had to admit modern John was quite a bit more respectful of his wishes when it came to his needs as a patient.

Sherlock pulled his wrist free without waiting for him to finish counting.

"What is it?"

"I can't endure your fussing any longer!"

Watson raised his hands, "Surely you must have noticed you're not well, I heard you tossing and turning upstairs. You even made noises that are clearly the one's of a suffering being. Let me examine you."

"No! There is no need. You can do nothing for me," he yelled.

 

"Shit, Sherlock. Shut up, you'll wake the whole street! Come on, calm down!"

He blinked and was back with modern John, who obviously had just taken his blood pressure - an open cuff was next to him on the bed.

This unintended mixing of the two realities was getting annoying.

Also, he felt chilled and the muscle aches had worsened.

"I'll be finished in a minute. Stay with me and tell me how good you are able to handle the cravings."

He wanted to stay in the past, being diverted from this, or even better, wanted to not experience existence for a bit. When he was honest with himself, what he wanted was a few hours of drug filled oblivion just to get away from all this. Although, this weren't really cravings – those would start soon, probably within the next twelve hours – it was a constant urge to provide what his body missed.

"Hey, is there something I can do?"

"Remove my jacket and the shoes from this room, I can't stand the smell... I let the top hat fall, can you store it properly... I should have left it all downstairs," Sherlock mumbled.

"Are you starting to hallucinate, mate?"

"Of course not. That stage is at least two days away, if it happens at all."

"Sherlock, just look at me?"

The detective just grunted in annoyance.

"Hey?"

Finally, he raised his tired gaze to his friend who smiled when their eyes met and he understood Sherlock was coherent.

"Can I do something?" 

"Get a rubber mallet. Knock me out," Sherlock suggested, wanting nothing but oblivion.

"Sorry, can't do that," John chuckled.

"There's ginger tea in the kitchen if you want."

Too tired to think, Sherlock sighed and closed his eyes.

A few moments later he had drifted off into sleep again, he had not dared to hope he'd be able to do so.

But he was caught in REM sleep and his dreams were vicious.

 

Two hours later he woke again, soaked in sweat.

He wanted to shower but found he was in the Victorian era and there was no shower installed, although they had a water closet since last spring.

This time he tried to actively switch realities, it had happened so often in the past hours without him wanting it, he hadn't expected it might fail to work.

But no matter how much he tried, he was stuck in his 1867 self.

Panting, he shuffled out of his room and sat down at his working table in the room that would be their kitchen in modern times.

Why hadn't he chosen a cold case from the 1930s? At that point there would have been proper hot showers and better heating.

Watson once more appeared at his side, holding out a wet towel.

"My dear fellow, are you running a fever?" he asked.

Sherlock ignored the question, too tired to think about it.

There was a moment of silence and then he asked, "Does your practitioner's case contain something to help me sleep? Something herbal... non addictive?" Although herbal and traditional remedies where quite out of fashion in this decade, they were still available and used.

"Yes, there's some syrup, non-addictive and even advertised to be to be suitable for people suffering from addiction. Let me get it."**

Sherlock wasn't ready to talk about what his problem was, although he was sure Watson would welcome it if he took lesser drugs. He would realise sooner or later what was happening.

"But I must insist, you let me take a look at you before. See what is ailing you."

The detective resigned and the doctor left to get his bag.

"Alright, you seem to be quite exhausted, you have probably overdone it again," Watson said after he finished his examination.

Sherlock remained silent, letting him believe in his diagnosis would be easiest.

The detective didn't think about it, but as long as it wasn't laudanum or opium, he should be fine, and if John said it was non addictive he had to trust him. It was not as if medications had labels that listed the ingredients, yet. Also, his mind palace didn't list every receipt of every historical medication there was. He should do a chemical analysis, but he was way too exhausted and unnerved.

The doctor brought a small bottle and diluted the syrup with water. Sherlock gulped down the sweet liquid, the taste that assaulted him almost made him wretch, it was quite intense.

"This should start to work within 20 to 30 minutes, my friend. Go back to bed, relax."

"Er!" he made in disgust, "What's in it?"

"Don't start to analyse everything. Besides, I don't really know. Corporate secrets, you cursed that before, remember?"

Sherlock rolled his eyes in disbelieve, from the modern point of view this was still kind of hard to understand, but it had taken ages, too, to have nutrient information on every piece of foods. In his childhood those hadn't been on packages either.

Watson once more eyed him carefully.

He got up and returned to his bedroom to escape the scrutiny.

"I will stay close by in case you need assistance," Watson followed him down the hall and watched him cling back into bed.

God, it was warm and cozy, at least for almost a minute, until the joint aches returned.

"Why would I need assistance?" he grunted.

"Just in case," Watson left the room and Sherlock felt distantly reminded of the day Irene Adler drugged him.

They had had a similar conversation, hadn't they?

Soon, the medication made his appendages feel heavy and his thoughts uneven.

He realised he didn't associate the feeling the medication caused with being intoxicated, so the rest of his scepsis vanished, he just felt a strong urge to sleep.

He was out before he knew he was drifting off.

 

With a wildly beating heart, he jerked awake, dragged from a bad dream into reality.

Immediately, he sat up and placed his feet on the ground, the world was unsteady and he was aware he was swaying.

Horror was creeping up on him, his heart beating so intense it was highly uncomfortable, but he wasn't sure about what had caused this, yet.

He was no longer in Victorian England. Something had pulled him out of the past.

"Sherlock?" John was suddenly beside him.

"Huh?..."

"What is it?"

"I took something... It... it was working way too good to be harmless... also it tasted..." and then he grimaced when the realisation hit him hard and the memory of the vile taste came back.

"I should have recognised the flavour..." he gasped, "probably Chloral Hydrate..."

"What the hell?.... Where did you get this? Shit, Sherlock! Where the hell...?"

Sherlock raised his hands, realising John was about to throw a fit as a result of a misunderstanding.

"Really? While we are trying to get you clean?!" John griped.

"Shut up! It was a nightmare," easiest way of explaining that he didn't actually take it, "I dreamt that I took it... or to be more precise that you gave it to me."

"What? What the hell are you talking about?"

"What about the word 'nightmare' is hard to understand? I didn't actually ingest it, I dreamt that it was given to me," Sherlock yelled back, irritated as hell.

The irritation was so intense, so sudden, it made his thoughts grind to a halt for a moment in astonishment.

"Shit... Don't do that!" John said in a low voice

"So glad you're such a soothing presence when it comes to haunted sleep - get out."

Sherlock was unnerved by John's reaction and by the fact that he had been given a medication that was in modern times actually known to be highly addictive if taken over a period of time. It was also known nowadays as a date-rape-drug.

Of course this wasn't real, but he should stay away from such things even in his private mental Victorian reality.

"Sorry, Sherlock. I'm sorry... I guess I'm a bit strained by this whole detoxing thing, too. Let me get you some water."

With that John was out of the room and the detective assumed he was quite ashamed about his own distrust he had jumped on immediately.

The doctor was back a few moments later.

By then Sherlock had managed to calm his pulse. He sat on the edge of his bed with closed eyes, unnerved, trembling, and also slightly disgruntled by John's reaction.

The last days had left their marks on both of them.

It was a whole pool of guilt they were swimming in.

Sherlock felt not guilty for having taken drugs for weeks, he just still felt guilt that Mary was no longer with them and that he had failed her.

That sacrificing himself had almost failed because the drugs had affected his thinking in a bad way, he had also failed to see that coming. For the first time in his life he had actually catalogued minutely his decent into drug induced madness and how bad it was for his thinking.

In earlier years, while he had been under the influence, he had felt like a proper genius, unable to do anything wrong. This time, though, he had noticed the wrongness of that believe, it had been work to convince himself it was working. The effects hadn't been as positive and promising as he remembered them. The drugs hadn't 'helped' as much as he expected, they had compromised his thinking, too.

He was kind of able to – at some level of his consciousness – observe it all go wrong and downhill this time. But he had been unable to change course or improve what was happening. Maybe it was because he was so broken about John's refusal and his own grief.

He had tried to do what Mary wanted but since this was about reaching John on an emotional basis and he was rubbish at that, he had ignored things that were important and underestimated others.

"A few months ago, you accused me of leaving you at a graveside - which only happened only in your head - not helping the one time you actually asked for help... And now you dream that I give you addictive memory impairing drug? What is that supposed to mean?" 

John had sat down in front of him, on a chair.

"You felt abandoned, is that it? Well, I guess I deserve that your subconsciousness has to deal with the rubbish I've done. I was a lousy friend."

Had that chair been there before?

Sherlock remained silent.

John's reactions when he had tried to reach out to him after Mary's death... and the beating had indeed left him sensing something – but it had taken him a long time to conjecture what it must be what irked him, and he still wasn't sure if this really could be described as abandonment. Though he was sure the first 'stages' of this disharmony had appeared before the wedding and multiplied after it, and ten folded after the birth of Rosie.

But at least for now, he needed to try to shove it all away, deny the existence of those facts and sentiment, he couldn't handle it on top of it all.

The thing was they seemed to creep back in from his subconscious, as he had just experienced.

They had to go!

It was another reason why he had turned to drugs, to kill the hurt, he understood that now.

But no matter how he wanted them gone, the memories stayed with him.

He had tried to lock them away repeatedly but they didn't stay hidden.

"Sherlock?"

A hand landed on his shoulder and this time he managed to receive the touch as it was meant, a soothing warm comfort and a helpless plea for forgiveness.

"You didn't do it on purpose, you didn't know it was addictive," Sherlock elaborated.

"Oh, glad to hear that..." John sounded as tired as he felt, "Feeling better?"

"God, I'm so tired of this."

John's face fell, he bit his lip.

"Yeah, I know. Get some sleep, you need it and it will pass the time."

Sherlock huffed in annoyance, the unspoken things between them were making the room seem to be filled with mental molasses.

They had discussed several medications that could smooth out the symptoms a bit, even had things like bupropion and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors ready to use, to name just a few, but Sherlock had decided against it. His kidneys would be happier without all those and also he was not ready to experience another odd drug reaction to something he had never taken before. He had had a share of those in the past and had no desire to repeat things like that.

He was well aware though, that in case he'd suffer from severe paranoia, suicidal thoughts that turned into more than thoughts, aggressions, or dangerous hallucinations John would administer any drug that would keep him in check, they had discussed this, too. Although chances were small since Sherlock had only experienced hallucinations and medium severe paranoia in the past.

"Too tired to sleep," he huffed.

They had started him on antidepressants that were safe to use with his issues at the hospital, though, aware the detox would bring forth severe depression. When at home, John had refused to allow him to stop them. This type of medication needed weeks until it worked properly and was playing havoc on his system, too already. But he understood why John thought it was necessary and knew depression would hit sooner or later... and that he was already suffering from depression before. Molly had pointed it out repeatedly in the past weeks.  

"Want your Laptop? - Oh, and Anthea brought a box with comfort food."

"Give me the files, I need a bit more background reading about the cold case."

"You should rest."

"I need something to occupy my mind."

"Right."

John seemed to understand and after bringing in the folders and the Laptop, he left him to it.

Sherlock's sense of time was lost, he slept in between reading and missed the fact that what he thought was roughly 48 hours were in fact only 24.

John was glad he was able to rest, well aware the fatigue was one of the withdrawal symptoms for more than one of the drugs he had taken, and also well aware there would be times ahead were insomnia would probably turn into a real problem, but that was probably about a week until then, before that phase it would get a lot worse.

Severe cravings and problems to concentrate were about to hit and they would make it a seven day lasting nightmare.

 


 

* If you want to assume the 1976 film 'The Seven-Per-Cent Solution' is canon, then Victorian Holmes will undergo withdrawal in Vienna in 1891. I for myself am not sure if I accept this film as Victorian canon. It was well received but… I don't know, it feels kind of odd, but I nevertheless used some of the facts they built the film on for this story.

** Chloral Hydrate was advertised in the Victorian era to be non-addictive, which was not true.

Chapter Text

 

Something touched his face and he immediately went into 'red alert' mode, tensed up.

A second later Sherlock recognised the smell and the hands.

Mrs Hudson.

Not a hospital, just his bedroom.

"It's me, Sherlock."

It took effort to relax again, the memories of being suffocated while lying down in a hospital bed still fresh and much more distressing that he dared to admit to even himself.

"Oh, dear! You seem so hot to touch."

"Mrs Hudson, please refrain from touching me unannounced, I feel quite unsettled by it," he informed her, fighting the adrenaline rush that was grinding on his nerves.

"Any telegrams?"

"What? Are you dreaming, dear?"

Sherlock blinked up at her, the confusion in her voice encouraging him to make an effort.

Oh.

2016.

"No... just...."

Explaining was way too much work.

He felt the urgent need to sit up, feeling too exposed and vulnerable lying down when another person was present, which had caused some trouble at the hospital.

"You really look awful, Sherlock. I'll make you some tea. Why don't you get up," she ordered while pulling open the curtains and opening the window.

Sherlock sat up and winced when he felt the cold winter air seep in immediately.

It was her 'shift' then this morning, the detective deduced.

Taking a few pieces of dirty clothing with her she vanished into the kitchen.

"You have five minutes then I'll come in with a cold washcloth," she threatened and Sherlock heard her fill the kettle. Her voice was warm though and revealed the lie.

She knew how sensitive he was to cold recently.

And to smells.

And to light.

And noise.

And any other kind of sensory input.

This state was disgusting.

He was disgusting.

Hating himself and therefore not opposed to torture himself for being an idiot and a failure he rolled out of bed - to make himself feel even more miserable.

It was colder than he had expected and his warm socks were gone.

With a growl he snatched his warm dressing gown from the back of the door and hastily wrapped himself as tightly in it as he could, hoping the pressure would be a soothing sensation. It used to be, but these days nothing that had felt good did any longer. His senses had gone haywired and even relying on former withdrawal episode's experiences had turned out to be dodgy.

When he slowly stumbled out of his room, he realised that something was off.

More off than yesterday.

There was a sudden urge, a need - familiar and devastating.

When he passed the bathroom, she came towards him again and then went for something else in his room.

He shuffled into the kitchen and the smell of the leftovers of Rosie's baby food made him work hard to prevent retching.

God, what had the poor child been given for breakfast this time?

Most of the time John fed her home cooked baby food Mrs Hudson had prepared, but some days, when there was little time or John was not up to it, he gave her the revolting stuff from supermarkets you could buy in little glass jars.

No matter which brand John bought, Sherlock found it all loathsome.  

"I expect you to eat something, too. What do you want?"

Now he actually gagged at the thought of chewing something.

Probably a side effect of the morphine he was still taking.

But he remembered that one morning, John had fed Rosie something that had in fact smelled good.

Something that seemed to be some kind of biscuit-flavoured puree or porridge.

Mrs Hudson was suddenly next to him, shoving him into a kitchen chair and holding out his pills.

Six of them.

Sighing, he reached for the half-full bottle of water on the table and washed them down one by one with tiny sips, careful not to make himself sick.

Up to this moment he had had his cravings in check without too much work, but now the need hit him full strength, like a force of gravity pulling him against his will.

He would not give in!

"There you go," she praised.

Not give in!

"Could you be so kind to shut up?" he demanded, trying not to be rude but feeling the cravings and the discomfort catch up with him.

For a long moment she froze and scrutinized him, he evaded her gaze, annoyed about being such a wimp.

She was the least person who deserved a rude tone. She had been so patient and had also probably saved his life by kicking John into the right conclusions.

"Sorry," he whispered.

Giving in was not an option!

"Cravings setting in then?" she concluded.

Was he really such an open book in this state?

Devastated, he closed his eyes.

The ugly, overpowering-all-thoughts-need would get even stronger soon.

He hated it, as well as being an open book.

The kettle started to boil and he was glad she switched it off and poured the water over some special blend of tea he liked.

Desperately trying to concentrate on the welcoming smell of one of his favourite brands he inhaled.

The upside of having over reactive senses.

It smelled wonderful.

"Did you just moan?"

"Hm?"

Had he?

"Smells good," he confirmed.

She raised her eyebrows and grinned.

.

 

Two hours later he was trying to read the newspaper, but it barely registered what he read. He had repeatedly gone through several paragraphs twice to get the information when he realised that it was getting worse.

Like he couldn't think about anything else his thoughts returned again and again to... the feeling of holding a syringe in between his fingers. The sensation of piercing the skin, pushing the plunger down, feeling the release when the substance hit the bloodstream.

He needed to fiddle with something, hold something else in his hands.

One of Rosie's sensory toys was on the table next to him, the obnoxious tawdriness annoying him, hurting his eyes.

But then he realised it was the perfect choice. Some kind of octopus, every stuffed blunt tentacle filled with a hidden form or noise.

He squeezed the first one.

Some kind of marble hidden in the stuffing.

The second had a small bell.

The third some kind of grains.

He kneaded the tentacles, feeling his body tense up and his blood pressure slowly rise, a side effect of his desire rising.

Desperately, he tried to read on.

Next tentacle: something that produced a clicking/snapping sound when pressed.

That felt good. Somehow satisfying.

But he couldn't concentrate, his thoughts returned to the glorious rush he would feel if he injected cocaine.

He found he wanted it.

No, he couldn't.

A rush of panic washed over him.

The fear of being unable to fight it.

Disappointing John by sneaking out and getting high.

He could if he wanted, he knew that. They wouldn't be able to stop him. No matter how much they assured him they would make sure to keep him in the flat.

If there was a will there was a way.

He fought the cravings, tried to block the thoughts out.

But reading was not working.

Violin.

He needed his violin. Do something that needed a higher level of concentration. She had always been a substitute in situations like this.

.

Playing helped for a bit longer than half an hour, in which Mrs Hudson dared to leave him alone, knowing both his hands were busy. She went downstairs to start the washing machine.

But finally, he had to put down the instrument, his shoulder and arm joints hurting from use.

It took a lot of effort to carefully store the fragile instrument in its case, because his frustration was building up and he felt the almost overwhelming urge to smash something.

Running up and down the room in desperation he found the toy again and picked it up, fidgeted with its appendages.

It only took a few moment until Mrs Hudson was dutifully coming up the stairs again.

But all he wanted at that very moment was to be left alone in his misery.

"Go away!" he hissed through gritted teeth when she entered the living room.

"Sorry, can't do," she bustled around the room, picking up things and bringing them into the kitchen.

"Stop making noises!" he exploded and threw the obnoxious toy against the window glass.

Without much haste or being affronted, she just calmly sat down in John's armchair, her colourful apron getting on Sherlock's nerves immediately.

"Get that off," he spat.

And she did, balled it up and hid it behind the chair.

"It's getting bad, isn't it? Do I need to handcuff you to something?" she asked calmly, it was not a joke.

His still working brain provided that the only object heavy and massive enough to keep him in the house (if she could weld the keyholes shut) was the metal crib in John's room.

"Rosie's bed is the only object with poles and bars you could use for that purpose," he provided, "and I doubt John would like to find me in there. Too much of a sexual undertone to being chained to a bed. The crib would be highly inappropriate."

"Sherlock!" she looked scandalised, "I'll find something else, be sure of that. I doubt he'd like to find you relapsed and therefore he'd approve of anything I might do to keep you off the drugs. So be careful what you suggest!"

Sherlock nodded, frustrated by his own weakness that made it necessary to even discuss this.

"That bed was made pre-war, you know," she wallowed in memories.

It had been quite some work to get it up there, he remembered, John had been very creative when cursing.

"Had it in the basement all these years, never bothered to throw it out. You know, one of the ridiculous things that was left behind by a former tenant. Probably left it behind because it was so heavy, solid metal and all."

For a moment he had the impulse to tell her to shut up because all those mundane stupid boring little things were so very unnerving and irrelevant.

But then he stopped himself, when another uncomfortable wave of 'need' crashed into him.

It was starting full force, starting to dominate his thoughts... and flooring the ability to think about anything else.

Like an obsession.

No thought free of the topic, the abnormal desire to 'get some'.

Every distraction was important!

Get his brain off the topic.

The thing was, he was capable of managing quite complex tasks and it wouldn't do a thing to keep him off the other thoughts.

Discomfort was building up.

"Sherlock?"

"Yes, Mrs Hudson?"

"Are you listening?"

He nodded, feeling numb.

"How about you read some more in those case files of yours?"

"It's not working!" he yelled, frustration gushing out. "I can't read! My eyes won't focus properly!"

"Is that normal?" she looked a bit shocked while he fought his impulse to throw something fragile against a wall.

"I don't care!" he burst out.

And then saw how she flinched. He knew she wasn't afraid of him, that was probably one reason why he trusted her so much and dared to rely on her to a certain degree.

He was hurting all over and well aware that a good dose of cocaine would help with all his ailments.

But he couldn't.

He was doomed to endure this to get John back.
And John was more important than anything.

More important than drugs.

He needed to dominate his transport.

Fight the urge.

Then, his shoulders sagged in defeat, "I am sorry. I'm going back to bed," he said, feeling spent and like he didn't deserve her affection.

"Oh, no, you don't! Get on that sofa," she ordered, no nonsense style.

He considered ignoring her and retreating to his room anyway, but he had started to feel mentally incarcerated in his room.

Heavily, he let himself fall into the cushions and raised his eyebrows when she fetched the folder of case files and held it out to him.

"Pick the ones you need to read, I will read them out to you," she said, once more her tone was more of a stern order than a suggestion.

"I don't think this is-"

"Shut up and pick one!" she finally shed all kid-gloves, using a voice louder than Sherlock had ever heard before and dumped the folder on his thighs, the only area that wasn't hurting too much.

He bit his lips for a moment, trying to adjust to how ridiculous he would feel allowing her to do something like that.

The urge was growing.

As was the discomfort.

He would control his need for drugs - as he controlled most of his bodily functions.

He was good at that, had learned it from an early age.

Use every distraction available.

The first priority right now was to stop himself from planning how to get his hands on some cocaine or evaluate how to get past Mycroft's men so they wouldn't stop him.

He didn't really want to leave to get something, but some aspect of his mind was thinking about it. And his transport was pushing the issue by screaming at him to ease the agony.

Despicable.

Right, a distraction was needed.

Exhaling slowly, he closed his eyes.

"Read the autopsy report on the frozen body, please," he suggested.

She started to browse the folder for said report and Sherlock tried to breathe.

Just breathe.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Chapter 7

February 13th, 1867 – Wednesday - Day V3

 

Sherlock woke early, from the first carriages going down Baker Street. He was miserably cold and fetched another blanket.

The lack of noises made him assume that John wasn't up yet. Since he felt still very exhausted, he returned to bed. The echoes of nausea and pain he felt were not the worst of it all, he was aware that his real life self had started to feel the cravings for real.

He briefly considered to get up and do some work on the case, but the tiredness was so intense - or the imaginary aftermath of imaginary chloral hydrate - it caused the inside of his eyelids to hurt. So he closed them again and concentrated on going to the floating sensation he needed as a landmark to find sleep again.

.

A bit later Mrs Hudson woke him when she brought tea, fussing about, asking if he was sick or unwell.

She also handed him a telegram from Lestrade who invited them to another crime scene.

On his way to the location, Sherlock stopped at John's surgery and collected him.

As planned, the doctor had just finished his last patient for the day when he arrived.

The ride to the outskirts of London took quite some time and the doctor used it to once more complain about Holmes' palour.

He was probably right, Sherlock felt drained of energy and was shivering from the bleak weather.

At least the snow continued to melt, it had in fact started to rain non stop.

Sherlock knew the February of 1867 was the wettest Britain has seen in a long time, and all the frozen waste was now smelling and rotting.

Finally, they reached a large area that seemed to be in a state of early preparation for some building project. A sign at the entrance hinted that another large manufacturing plant for some popular goods would be built there in the near future.

They asked to cabby to actually pass the extemporary gate and try to bring them in further because no one could be seen amongst all the heaps of earth, felled trees and vast areas of mud.

The man drove the carriage inside but after a few more metres he refused to go in further, explaining all the mud and ice from the snowmelt would get the wheels stuck. This far outside of the city the snowmelt was slower. The open landscape held the cold much better than the city with its chimneys and fireplaces.

Sherlock exited the cab, the man was probably right and he could see a few carriages and men in the distance.

They would get dirty anyway, so they could walk.

John cursed the weather and the mud but followed his friend to the cluster of people in the distance.

.

The new victim lay partially hidden in a heap of leaves, which had been piled up during the past autumn deep inside a small forest.

Now that the forest was cut down to make room for the new buildings the heap had been revealed.

Obviously the killer had not been aware that there would be dramatic changes to the environment when he chose where to hide the evidence of his crime.

The building process had been put on hold when snow started to fall, which had been quite late last year, but now as the weather begun to warm the workers had started to chop trees again.

The body was in an advanced state of decay and therefore it was not possible at first to determine the gender.

Clothing that would have given hints were absent. The body was completely naked, which in itself was rare.

Of all the murder victims Sherlock had read about in the Victorian age, most were dressed, at least partially.

Another issue was that the ground was still partially frozen and so was the body.

Someone quite stupid suggested to light a few fires nearby and to Sherlock's horror Anderson and Lestrade started to prepare for that.

Sherlock spent almost ten minutes trying to conjure up a solution how to do it better, but although all his ideas were good in theory, they were impractical.

Finally he surrendered to the suggestion, accepting that evidences would be destroyed, but he could do nothing about it. It was either warming the area up or wait for it to melt on it's own, which would be equally damaging to the scene. He suggested to erect a tent or something to keep the heat at place, prevent winds to carry small things away, and shield the scene from rain.

It would take days until the body would arrive at the morgue.

Sherlock felt impatience creep up his spine like a poison, bile couloured and itchy.

.

February 15th, 1867 – Friday - Day V4

Two days later they stood inside the morgue, Hooper present, Anderson luckily had other things to do.

Sherlock preferred Hooper, who – although being difficult – didn't complain about the smell, didn't waste too much time with ridiculous self-praise, and who was at least moderately competent for this period.

Hooper tried to throw him out repeatedly, but he just ignored her. For hours the remains brought no important clues.

The corpse turned out to be a woman, who had born a child, but except that there was little knowledge they could gather, the decay was too far advanced.

Or maybe the fact that they found nothing just meant that science was not developed enough to do so.

Sherlock ran into one mental brickwall after another when trying to figure out ways in which he could try things with the resources he had at hand, but other than keeping his mind busy nothing came out of it.

Finally there was just one last thing to do, cut open the lungs. It was then that the first moderately interesting fact was revealed.

"Oh!" Hooper exclaimed and Sherlock stepped closer, having already given up the hope to find anything at all.

When he inspected the tissues in the dim light he found they looked wrong.

"She must have inhaled something that caused the damage... or swallowed and it went down the wrong pipe," Hooper stated.

"Take a sample," Sherlock instructed and she trew him a nasty look. He had probably ordered her around, which she wasn't too fond of.

"Here," she said two minutes later, handing over three small segments of lung tissue on a slide.

They looked at it through his magnifying glass, speculating what might cause this kind of damage while Watson just stood nearby, taking a closer look at the outstretched organs laying on the half decayed chest.

It was obvious the obnoxious smell of the cellar was getting to him and he therefore rarely spoke.

Sherlock knew Watson wasn't squeamish, but something about this corpse was getting to him. He kept his distance, which was unusual.

Sherlock cut the samples into smaller pieces and transferred them to separate plates, then added test liquids to each of them.

"Caustic..." he concluded a few minutes later, "Enough to severely impair the woman's ability to breathe."

"You mean she died because she inhaled acid fumes."

"Probably."

"Then this wasn't murder but an accident?"

"Don't draw premature conclusions," Sherlock reminded her.

"Right."

"Did the autopsy of the first victim show any signs of lung problems? Why didn't I read the report already?" Sherlock asked.

"I only finished it yesterday, we had a busy few days," Molly justified. "The DI has a copy for you. But there was no lung damage like this, although the boy's lungs weren't healthy. We found no cause of death, it is very mysterious," she added with a fair amount of sarcasm.

"Not healty, in which way?" Watson asked.

"He had asthma, not too bad, though, but it certainly prolonged the recovery time of his pneumonia," Hooper explained.

"Oh."

"But it was not the cause of death," she insisted.

Sherlock was rather disappointed by the lack of information. He wished he had been there, even with his lack of medical knowledge, he might have found something. But it was no use, the information were lost... not available.

The mystery of both deaths was certainly the most interesting clue they had found so far and Sherlock felt the rush of the case finally hit him, though in slow motion.

"I will then visit the DI after we are finished here. I insist to take a few samples of this lung with me and test it to find out what substance she might have inhaled. I will send you a message as soon as I know."

Hooper nodded appreciating his willingness to share information and the respect he showed her medical knowledge – and also that he was keeping her secret.

.

2016

John woke with a start, instantly noticing what had woken him once more.

Rosie seemed to be having a bad night, as was he.

It was a few minutes past 2:30 and it was the fourth time she was awake.

Overall she was difficult since Mary's death, which was to be expected. Babies don't cope well after losing the most important person in their life.

Understandably she was moody, frustrated, not eating well, and overall quite distressed by the absence of her mother.

John had barely managed to fall asleep twice this night and he was starting to feel a headache coming up that was probably caused by the tension he couldn't shake these days.

He stared at the ceiling, waiting if she would settle down again. He couldn't take her out of the crib every time she was a little frustrated. He and everyone around would regret that. Small children needed to learn to sometimes just calm down on their own again.

As did he.

He couldn't just get up every time his nightmares took him to the aquarium and go to fetch a drink.

He would not ruin his life the way Harry had.

This time the dreams had been vicious, not only Mary had died, but Rosie too. The bullet had travelled through the baby carrier Mary was wearing for some odd nightmare reason and killing them both.

He had not only held his dying wife but also their bleeding out baby.

Mary had screamed and the simple memory of that noise was so horrible that tears started to well up in John's eyes.

Pressing his palms into his eyesockets until it hurt, he tried to gulp the distress that was rising in his throat down. But he couldn't hold back the choking sound that was the result.

Rubbing his eyes he sat up, hoping Rosie wouldn't take that as a 'someone is coming' noise.

With his head he knew she was okay but he wanted to check on her, to cling to her, make sure she was fine.

Now.

There was no use, she wouldn't sleep anytime soon, he decided. According to the noises she was sucking on her fist and lifting her sleeping sack clad legs, playing with the fabric covering her legs.

It was only a matter of time until she realised she was actually hungry, it would be her usual mealtime soon.

There were no toys in her crib and no pacifiers, Mary had set that as a ground rule. Although John had agreed back then he now needed to rely on the pacifier more often than he liked.

There were times Rosie just needed one to calm down enough to sleep and it was the only thing that helped.

The sudden stop of breastfeeding was highly disturbing for the baby and John had to switch to alternative foods earlier than he and his wife had planned, although they had discussed weaning her off, they hadn't started.

While still thinking about how Mary had held Rosie and smiled up at him while she fed her, he suddenly flinched when he heard something fall downstairs.

He shoved the duvet to the side and stood up.

The day hadn't been easy. John had been to a baby check-up with Rosie today and it was the landlady's turn to watch over the detective. After the appointment at the paediatrician John had taken Rosie to baby swimming for some quality time and they had spent a few hours at their house after that.

Mrs Hudson had babysat Sherlock and she reported he had been difficult when John came home in the evening, a sleeping baby in the carrier.

Overall John hadn't seen his flatmate more than a bit over half an hour.

And during those minutes Sherlock had been grumpy and taciturn. It had been difficult to make the detective eat dinner. He had tried to do conversation but Sherlock had just sat there and picked at his foot, silent and pale and staring into the distance.

The cravings had set in, that much he had understood. But Sherlock himself was not so forthcoming to inform him about this little fact, Mrs Hudson had told him.

Also, Sherlock had not allowed the doctor to touch him, had sent him away whenever he tried to interact with his friend.

When another unrecognisable noise made his worry start in earnest.

What the hell was Sherlock doing?

For a brief moment he considered leaving Rosie behind in her crib, but then he picked her up and headed down the stairs. She was happy about the change of scenery and so John concentrated on listening to the nightime flat.

He had almost reached the landing when another odd sound could be heard. And he realised there was a constant low knocking sound accompanying it.

And why was the person watching Sherlock not stopping him?

Who was on duty tonight?

When he entered the kitchen he saw Mycroft sitting on the kitchen table, his laptop open in front of him and his smart phone showing the feed from Sherlock's room beside it.

"What's he doing?" John asked without a greeting, leaning over the phone, but Sherlock was out of sight - except of his outstretched legs.

It seemed he had retreated into the only area of the room the cameras weren't showing.

A small spot on the ground behind the door.

"Why aren't you in there stopping this? The deal is he stays in sight."

"Strictly speaking, he is in sight," the older Holmes answered in an uninterested voice. He didn't even look up from his work.

"What's he doing?"

"Banging his head, probably."

"What the hell, Mycroft!"

John went into the living room and put Rosie down in her playpen, then hurried back towards Sherlock's door.

To his surprise he found Mycroft was blocking his way.

"Don't."

"What the hell is wrong with you? He's hurting himself!"

"He always does that, he needs the stimuli to keep himself from going crazy."

"Always?" John echoed, getting angry now and pushed past him.

"Please Dr Watson, I have seen him go through this more often than you have and trust me, it is better to let him do this than...."

"Sherlock, can I come in?" John asked, knocking carefully.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

2016

 

"Sherlock, can I come in?" John asked, knocking gently.

On the other side of the door Sherlock closed his eyes. He should have known the noise he was trying to keep down might draw attention to him.

He was torn between letting John in and needing solitude.

Just a few days ago he had let people see his state deliberately, but he had enough of that now. It had been necessary to get John's attention to reach his goal to make his friend safe him.

But now that the deed was done and he didn't want to be seen, wanted no one to pity him. He was miserable enough without having to endure people around.

Suffering through this was a private matter - as was being high, which he had been very private about all his life - until a few weeks ago. It had been difficult to get used to letting other people witness it, but necessary for his mission.

Now that it was done and he wanted privacy.

The fact that they wouldn't let him alone and had surveillance in place as part of the deal he had needed to accept to be allowed to go home instead of to rehab made it difficult.

The drugs had made him feel invincible and dulled his need for privacy, although his mind had provided the input that it was only the chemicals and it was not real, but his very state had shoved aside that knowledge. No matter how meticulously he had planned to be careful and be not too psychotic when he was alone, that plan had totally failed.

He seemed to have hallucinated Culverton's daughter and all tries to prove that she had in fact been in the flat had been futile up to now.

The sudden memory of the moment in the morgue, when he saw her and realised he had never met her before worked itself into the forefront of his mind. That horrible moment when time had stood still and he realised everything was collapsing around him, like a house of cards. He had felt that lost in his adult life once before, in Baskerville when he thought he was losing his mind because his senses told him the opposite of what his eyes were.

This was similar.

Questioning his mind was one of the most devastating things there was. The only real constant in his life, the only thing he really trusted - failing him. Without the capabilities of his mind he was no one and useless.

It was one of the most vulnerable and horrible sensations he knew; and in this compromised and exposed state John had raised his hands against him.

Sherlock had known of course that this might happen, but had relied on John to wait for privacy and a moment where Sherlock could actually handle it. He had been prepared for this, but not in this setting, not while still fighting the shock about it all going so enormously wrong.

In slow motion, he saw his entire carefully prepared plan go wrong.

Losing control was something he feared and it had not just happen on one level in the mortuary. 

He needed to find out what had gone wrong but couldn't concentrate enough to find a conclusion, not even now.

Once more, the events played out in his mind, it made his ribs start to ache as well as the wound on his forehead, triggered by the memories. But the plan going wrong resulted in fear that was sucking away all the smart thoughts, as it had happened back then, preventing him from even drawing the tiniest logical conclusion.

John's anger and Culverton's laughter added to it, distracted him, floored his intelligence and he couldn't hang on to it. Impulses took over, hurt him by purely existing and having a life of their own he was unable to control.

A state he hated.

It was similar to the one he was in now. The only path of thoughts present in his mind an impulse, no matter what he did to distract himself.

The all encompassing impulse to get drugs - right now - it was maddening. His senses and mind seemed fogged by the need.

He needed cocaine and it was the one thing that dominated it all, made everything else meaningless.

He remembered the other times he went through withdrawal. It was always a detestable experience that left dread and dismay in its wake. Being shot had been bad, but withdrawal was – although only slightly – worse. One aspect of it that was yet to come and that he dreaded were the psychological issues. By now he also was no longer suffering from the delusion that this was the last time he'd have to do this. Although he hadn't had a relapse in the past ten years, it had happened again. In addition, he wondered if he could have figured out another way to make John save him than to bring a criminal down in combination with the drugs.

Would it have worked better without the drugs?

Had him being high added to John's anger?

Probably.

Maybe John would have been more sympathetic if he had looked in need of help in some other way. Maybe if he hadn't been that messed up the plan would have worked better.

Had he used this to warrant his relapse?

Because he had tried to drown his grief about losing Mary and John and it had been the easiest way?

He knew he had asked himself all this before and realised the psychological issues had already started to get bad. His thoughts were going in circles and although it had started days ago, it was getting worse.

As was the anger at himself.

There was more anger about being unable to do anything good on a personal level, at failing to lessen John's agony and grief. As well as about being useless and unable to help the most important person in his life.

He despised his own helplessness.

"Sherlock?" John's low voice came through the door again. He sounded worried, and as if he hadn't slept... and defeated.

As defeated as Sherlock felt.

Nevertheless, he was too tired and too fed up to deal with John right now. He didn't deserve John's care. If he hadn't been so smug to believe he was able to handle everything Mary wouldn't have died.

But not only his mental state was getting worse. Every nerve ending in his body seemed to have been sandpapered and was now a source of piecing agony.

The muscle aches added to his pain, even if he didn't move at all.

At times moving felt necessary and he had walked from the door around his bed and back for the past hour to get rid of the restless tingling in his legs. It felt like he needed to run and he fought the urge to do so. Mycroft would misinterpret it – as would everybody else. It felt like he needed to do a few rounds on a race track but there was none at hand, which irked him in addition. 

"Go away," he mumbled, loud enough so John could hear, trying not to sound rude. Maybe he was overcompensating, because he knew his level of aggression had risen during the past days. It was an aspect of withdrawal he tried to fight all the time and reminded himself to fight it, all the time, too.

Even if he wanted to go to a gym where he could run alone in the dark, he'd not even make it there; he was too weak and exhausted. The combination of restlessness and tiredness were driving him crazy.

"Mate, come on, let me in."

He had spent the first part of the night in his mind palace with the cold case but after a bathroom break had been unsuccessful to retreat there again. His tries to enter had ended after only a few seconds, something had kicked him out again.

Maybe he should make another try.

"Sherlock. Please..."

John seemed to be nearing his breaking point if the light trembling in his voice was any indication.

Some tiny aspect of him wanted John to make it better, although he knew there was no way he could. Maybe even talking to him would distract him for a few minutes. Even a John as bitter and gruff as he was, was better than no John.

If only Mycroft would go away.

"Send him away," he requested.

The doctor's steps moved away from the door and Sherlock could hear a silent discussion going on, then the lid of a laptop that was shut.

A minute later John was back, tipping the door with some fingernails as a silent way of knocking.

Sherlock hesitated for a moment longer, still wanting to be alone but needing something, too. Something that wasn't drugs but that he was unable to name.

God, he wanted to shoot up so badly.

With one hand he unlocked the door, slowly so that it wouldn't screech, then he lifted his knees so that John wouldn't bounce the door into his lower legs.

The doctor opened the door carefully and poked his head in first.

"Can I come in?"

"Stop asking stupid questions. I wouldn't have opened-" Sherlock spat.

"Right. Sorry, sorry."

Slowly, John stepped into the room and went down on his haunches.

As so often in the past days Sherlock didn't look at him, evaded his gaze. He stared onto the old wooden floorboards.

"Cravings getting to you?"

Sherlock closed his eyes, already overexerted by the interaction. But then he nodded.

"You're shivering. Chills?"

Sherlock actually needed to open up his senses to notice the other man was right. He was just trying to block sensations out, they were too much.

"Want to go back to bed? I can bring you the cherry pit pillow again," John offered. Mrs Hudson had introduced the thermal pillow to them, it could be heated up in the microwave within a few seconds.

"No," Sherlock hissed, the smell made him nauseous. "Hot water bottle."

"Alright."

When John held out a hand Sherlock ignored it, but started to use the wall to lean on when he staggered to his feet. The doctor knew better than to touch him nowadays and Sherlock was glad for it.

"There is Thai takeaway. Your favourite."

It was the second time John tried to make him eat, but in contrast to most people withdrawing from cocaine Sherlock wasn't suffering from increased appetite. Or maybe one of the other drugs he was withdrawing messed up his appetite.

Overall many of his symptoms were atypical, it made checking into the average rehab facility useless, where underpaid and overworked staff had no time to do anything but to go off pat would mean more stress than necessary, luckily on this Sherlock had received support from Mycroft.

The pain intensified when he made the first small step and he stifled a groan. Out of the corner of his eyes he saw John raise a hand, ready to stabilise him, but he managed to start walking on his own and John backed off.

"I'll be back in a mo with your meds. You're almost due for the next dose of painkiller."

Morphine. John meant morphine.

Two hours ago Sherlock had been sure he'd make another try to refuse further doses, wanting to get it all over with at once, but right now the small relieve the drug would give him was desperately welcome.

Sherlock carefully lowered himself into the bed, it felt cold and clammy.

In the kitchen someone filled the kettle and switched it on.

He felt another wave of desperate want for a syringe full of bliss and all he could do to soothe his agitation was starting to rock again. A habit he had been broken off by his parents early, and he only came back to during withdrawal or severe distress.

It wasn't enough... and it felt pathetic.

He needed space, less sensory input, and less being watched.

Desperately trying to drown the paraesthesia he started hitting the headboard with the back of his head, only pain stimuli would be enough to do so. The pain was so refreshingly different from the dull piercing aches and also brisk since it came from only one spot he could focus on, it was good.

But then suddenly it stopped when the surface behind his head changed texture. He jerked his eyes open and realised John was next to him, had pushed his own hand in between Sherlock's head and the wood.

"Jesus, Sherlock! Please don't hurt yourself."

The softness of John's hand felt so disgusting and was so sudden Sherlock almost jumped out of his skin in frustration. He barely managed to stifle a loud holler working its way up from his chest.

It felt bad and then John had switched on the bedside lights, which send tendrils of pain into his eye sockets.

"Sorry. Take your meds," John spoke way too loud and all the sensation piling up was too much.

It overwhelmed him.

He felt the urge to hit something - hard... and scream until all the built up distress was gone.

But he didn't, managed to hold back – by pressing his thumbnail into the soft flesh of his other hand's palm to create pain in another way.

"Get out!" he yelled, not able to keep that need secret.

"Sherlock, I-"

"I said get out!"

"Hang on. Tell me what is bothering you?"

"Stop asking stupid questions! I need some damn stimuli, and it happens to be pain, so leave me be."

"Sorry, can't let you hurt yourself."

"So you are allowed to hurt me but I am not? If you have the right, I have, too!" he shouted.

The comment hit John like a punch; Sherlock saw it but was way too unnerved to be nice any longer.

"No, I didn't have the-"

"Shut up and get out!"

John's mouth closed and his expression hardened.

Why hadn't he left him alone as he had wanted from the beginning?

Why had he been so demanding?

Sherlock had known something like this might happen, that's why he had wanted to be alone.

But right now he didn't care any longer.

For a moment, John stood frozen and shocked in the middle of the room, pills and a big glass of water in his hands.

It took him visible effort to actually step closer to Sherlock and place the items on the nightstand, risking getting closer again and thereby agitating Sherlock even more.

"You need to drink more, you're getting dehydrated and that is the last thing your kidneys need. So drink the water and take the pills," his voice was cold and dead.

The speaking and being told what to do worsened Sherlock's mood, the voice grinded on his brain – it felt like a grater moving over the inside of his skull. And when John stepped closer, Sherlock smelled his Rosie-smell and bed-smell and aftershave and sweat.

Sherlock lashed out to protect himself from the additional olfactory assault, swept the glass of water from the nightstand in his anger. It flew across the whole room and collided with the wall. Only then the detective realised it was not glass but plastic.

They were treating him like an imbecile, using unbreakable stuff. He was angry to be denied the satisfaction if it breaking.

"Shit, Sherlock!"

"Get the hell out!" he yelled on.

In the living room Rosie started to cry and finally John retreated. He had the presence of mind to actually switch off the light before he left the room.

The door remained wide open and Rosie's obnoxious noise was making it all even worse.

Hurting all over and in overwhelming pain now Sherlock got out of the bed with closed eyes, slammed the door shut, which he regretted immediately because of the noise and locked it again.

Then he stepped into the spilled water and his senses went into meltdown mode. The sensation of cold wetness in his socks, was so overwhelming he had to work hard not to scream.
Feeling blindly for the pills he found them and gulped them down dry.

Then sank back into his bed.

When he pulled off the wet socks something ripped from the violent movements.

With shaking hands he pulled the duvet over his head.

Cravings mixing with adrenaline and sensory overstimulation made him feel his heartbeat in his head, which throbbed and hurt fiercely now. However, he couldn't stop the input, which made him feel helpless.

He felt wetness in his eyes, not because of sadness but because of the senselessness of it all. Life was just a waste of everything. It was never worth going through all the shit just to stay alive. John was only staying because of his guilt, not because he wanted to. Sherlock was not worth it, he knew.

The damn pills had an effect-delaying component he cursed about – to make addiction less likely to happen.

He wanted cocaine.

No one would miss him, so why go through this?

As soon as John was better he would return to his life as a father, needing to work double parenting because he was the only parent left.

Sherlock would be alone soon again. And although John would have been saved Sherlock would not.

Not in the long run. So what was the use in staying alive if only misery was ahead.

It would never be like old times again. John would never really get over losing Mary. His bitterness about how his life had gone downhill was easy to spot and he was probably still unconsciously angry about Sherlock faking his death and Sherlock had broken his promise to protect them.

Even if John wanted to display forgiveness and friendship, it felt wrong, like a facade that might fall at any moment.

In addition, he didn't deserve John's forgiveness.

In fact, he was guilty of failing John and Mary... and Rosie. The child's presence rubbed that in whenever she was here. Sherlock realised he was angry with her but should in fact be angry with himself. He didn't deserve care or affection.

So why try any longer.

Maybe he had succeeded in saving John but their friendship felt shattered beyond repair.

He dwelled in these thoughts until he finally pulled the mental emergency break.

In an epiphany of analysing his own behaviour he realised that he had just been rude to John because he had been kind to him, punished him for being worried.

It also made him understand that this was the depression talking, turning every detail sour no matter how neutral it had been originally.

This was bad for detective work.

He had pinned a large note on a mental wall inside his head that said he had to push those thoughts away and be aware that it was all nonsense. Another note reminded him, that John was here because he cared and because he wanted to help.

But it felt like a lie to remind himself of that.

This felt like he was starting to lose the battle.

He was beginning to doubt what he had written down – aware he'd doubt it eventually, which was the reason why he had pinned the mental notes to a wall in the first place, to remind himself that it was not true.

No one had ever really truly liked him because he was himself.

He was socially inept, appeared to be arrogant and uncaring, and he was unable to show affection – people had told him that all his life, and he should be aware that they were probably right.

Why would anyone want him around?

He had never understood why John did from the beginning, and he was wondering why John had stayed before.

Focussing on his meandering self-loathing thoughts was making it all worse, he finally realised. Luckily, the pills kicked in while he tried to get rid of this kind of thoughts and he was finally able to focus on entering his mind palace enough for it to actually work.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

February 27th, 1867 – Wednesday – Day 6 in the Victorian Reality

"Holmes?"

God, he hated being woken by someone banging on the doors.

"Get up, you git!"

So John was in a bad mood, too.

His eyes jerked open.

He had tried to enter 1867 but it seemed he wasn't successful, it was clearly modern John's nuance of voice.

But when he looked around, it was only the words that were out of place, his room was its Victorian self and filled with 19th century furniture.

"I am awake," he answered, his voice unexpectedly hoarse.

"You better get out of there, we have a visitor," the doctor exclaimed, apparently still a bit ruffled about being held at distance last night - no that was real life John - this one had no reason to be gruff at all.

Why the hell was it this cold in London?

The fire had died again - which was his fault and no one else's, he realised - and his dressing gown was not even remotely warm enough.

Although terry cloth should have been invented by now... and produced and imported from the US... his gown was made of a thin fabric and fine wool. For modern standards it might have been considered warm, but for places without central heating... no chance.

"Holmes?"

"On my way!"

He tried to find the warm hand knitted socks made by Mrs Hudson but they were nowhere to be found.

.

Fifteen minutes later he had skipped shaving but had managed to dress himself.

For some odd reason his stubble connected him to his current future look and some aspect of his ancient self needed that. He probably needed something to ground him. He was aware that he had difficulties with the two realities mixing up and losing control over them or losing himself.

He was losing it. Even though he fought it had, he knew he was.

The thought was unsettling and he tried to shove it away. He needed to stay focused.

"Good morning, Mr Holmes," a voice greeted him the moment he entered the living room.

"Gregson?"

"Another body was found," Gregson stated without an introduction, but said no more.

Sherlock had an unnerved expression on his face, he knew he had.

What was the man waiting for?

"Details?" he finally pressed out beckoning with his hand in frustration, trying not to sound too unfriendly, fully aware his withdrawal issues were affecting his patience in a bad way."A young woman was found floating' in the Thames."

"Where is the body?"

"Currently being recovered."

"I will be ready as soon as possible," Sherlock turned towards the doctor, who had just stood by; obviously he had had breakfast already. He spotted the newspaper and saw the date: February 27th, 1867. He was sure it should be the 15th.

From his point of view it was his sixth day in the Victorian Era, but it seemed time was passing faster than he noticed.

In addition, it was also passing much faster than in the real world; he had kind of lost count but it must be a bit more than four days since he had returned from the hospital. He realised that his sense of time was totally out of whack.

But he had no time to sort that out now. Feeling no need to eat anything, the detective strode towards his room to dress.

This took so much longer than in modern times and he skipped the suspenders and the pair of braces. The trousers fitted well enough without them.

When he returned to the living room, already in his coat and with his leather gloves in his hands, Gregson's eyes widened and Sherlock frowned, unaware which odd etiquette he had broken this time.

When no one pointed it out, he decided to just ignore it.

No real consequences if he misbehaved here.

He felt too bad to care about much else than the case anyway. He wasn't in his underwear, it should suffice.

A cab was waiting outside and after another loud and straining carriage ride they arrived at the scene.

A constable and Lestrade were bent over an unmoving form, while several onlookers were kept at bay by two others. A fourth was talking to some workers. Sherlock deduced those had pulled her out of the water, their sleeves and lower trouser legs were wet.

When they stepped closer, Lestrade and the first constable were going through her apron's pockets, which clearly had been a bright white before, but was now of a muddy pale green brown, the pollution and the smell of the Thames was incredible, far worse than Sherlock had imagined it ever being.

"There's something in here," Greg's voice was full of anticipation as he pulled out a piece of paper and immediately tried to unfold it.

"Don't!" Sherlock interfered with a sharp voice and a hand on his shoulder, "You'll destroy it. We need to dry it first. Put it in an evidence bag."

"Evidence bag? What's that?" one of the men asked.

"Probably what the name says, go get some paper bags from the nearest bakery," Greg addressed the constable.

With desperation, Sherlock noticed that his eyesight was hazy and even here his thoughts had started to drift towards cocaine repeatedly.

He needed to concentrate!

It was getting harder and harder.

"Wax paper ones would be better," he addressed the man who was now hurrying off, then knelt down next to the body. John joined him and Greg a moment later, after shifting his weight off his bad leg.

He blinked several times and picked up one of her hands. She was stiff and he needed to bend lower to see better. The victim's skin was dirty and swollen but he was able to spot something that looked like eczema or some other type of skin problem near where her cuff started. They would have to open up the blouse to see it properly.

Next, Sherlock started to pat the sides of her hips looking for pockets in her skirt.

"Holmes!"

"What?"

"She's probably a virgin; don't touch her like this in public!"

"She's dead," he argued and slipped his hand into the pocket hidden by a fold in the wet and clingy fabric.

"Bit grumpy, today?" Greg addressed the doctor, who wisely decided not to answer.

Sherlock pulled the pocket inside out and revealed another piece of paper, smaller than the first and obviously a part of some packaging cut to pieces.

"High quality, contains rags. Part of what is probably a brand name on it, and some text, advertisement likely."

Carefully, he placed it on a boulder a few metres away.

"Anything else?"

Greg looked horrified when he realised Sherlock expected him to look for more pockets, but finally looked for more clues, gingerly.

"Empty," he reported once he found the other pocket.

"Which heightens the chances that this is a murder, then," Sherlock explained.

"What? Why?"

"Because if it was an accident, she would have carried keys, worn a jacket and have some kind of money with her, although some of those items could have been in a handbag that was lost… or just fallen out of her pockets due to the currents…. This couldn't have stripped her of her jacket. Aprons are usually provided by the employers and remain at the employer's household. I therefore assume she made it to work and something happened there. We need to find the family she was working for."

"How?"

"Skipped the morning coffee, Lestrade? Or spent all night arguing with your wife? Not really awake yet, are you?" Sherlock chided and John gave him a warning look.

"The paper you found first is probably a telegram, folded. Right size, right cheap paper quality. Either she received it, or her employers did, which is the more likely option."

"Right, sorry. Yeah, rough night it was," Lestrade agreed, "She hates my job."

"Then we better solve a few murders so you get a pay rise, to bring back her peace of mind," John tried to change the topic.

Sherlock wondered briefly if John disapproved of Lestrade's wife or why he implied all she cared for was money, but then decided it was irrelevant.

"Any ideas about the cause of death, doctor?" Sherlock asked and Lestrade gave a nod in permission.

Watson started to check her over.

"None so far. There is a light discolouration of the skin of her right palm, probably some kind of eczema."

"So we need to wait for the autopsy."

"…And check if someone misses a wife or daughter."

"Daughter. Young, no ring," Sherlock stated, "but she might have taken it off before cleaning, not wanting it to get ruined by aggressive modern cleaning agents."

He felt the inside of her palm for the callus a working class woman would get from wearing a ring.

"No horny skin that indicates she usually wears one."

No use looking for tan lines, every fashionable female would do everything she could to avoid getting them.

"Watson, let's go home and dry those pieces of paper carefully," he reached for the bags.

"Oi, that's evidence," Lestrade held out his hand.

"Feel free to join us, inspector. I might need to iron it and I doubt you have a flatiron at your station, so better do it in Baker Street. See, faster if I do it, and probably higher rate of success, too. Especially when it comes to not burning it in the process. Can't risk Anderson trying this, can we?"

.

An hour later Sherlock was heating the iron himself, while Mrs Hudson, Greg and John watched.

He first tried it on an old sheet of paper he had wetted himself, but it was too hot and browned the paper, so he let it cool down a bit more before starting to carefully dry the evidence.

After only two minutes he was able to unfold the thick wrapping paper with pincers.

John and Greg leaned closer.

"2 to ¼" was the only thing written on the inside, it was badly written and barely readable.

"What does that mean?" Lestrade wanted to know.

"Could mean a wide variety of things."

Carefully, Sherlock ripped open the second bag and produced the other sheet of paper. He repeated the process, though much more careful. The cheap paper was more likely to be easily damaged.

A few moments later they were able to read a telegram.

"Family Bernard Hollister."

"Alright, I'll send a constable to find out the family's address and their maids names."

"Better, let's go ourselves, their first reaction to the news might provide valuable insight and clues."

"Right, right," Greg agreed.

.

An hour later, they arrived at the family home. Two almost adult daughters and a mediocre housewife stated the maid hadn't shown up for work at all.

Furiously, the Missis had declared she would fire her as soon as she turned up.

When Lestrade explained she was dead, she had fainted and the daughters had to take care of her and asked them to leave.

"So what do we think about this meeting?" John asked the detective on their way back to the cab.

"They are lying… They were already quite stressed out when we arrived," Sherlock explained.

"Yes, her complexion was very pale when she understood who we were," John agreed.

"The younger daughter seemed quite nervous, too. At least she told us our victim was suffering from some kind of dermatosis. So we can exclude the thing about her hand," he added.

"You think they killed her?" Lestrade asked.

"No."

"No? Really? But you just said…"

"No premature assumptions, how often do I have to say this?" Sherlock hissed.

Immediately, Watson's eyes moved to his friend's face, in a galvanic movement, noticing that something about his tone was off.

They reached the police carriage that had waited for them the entire time, the horse was stamping impatiently at being left to wait, it whinnied lightly upon seeing passengers return.

"Holmes?" John tried to move into a position from where he was able to see the other man's face, but Sherlock turned away.

Then, suddenly, his legs seemed to become weak and he had to use his hand to stabilise himself against the carriage.

"Holmes?"

The doctor was by his side in an instant, wrapping his hand around his upper arm to support him.

"Don't!" Sherlock hissed.

"You will let me examine you this evening! Your behaviour is not normal and you, too, are pale as a ghost."

"How many real ghosts have you seen then?" Sherlock straightened and grinned, referring to the old argument they had during the Ricoletti case.

"Stop it!" Watson's voice was sharper than expected.

"My theory is they knew she was dead but it wasn't their fault. They - for some reason - tried to hide it nevertheless."

"What did you see?"

"There were several buckets outside to dry. The hallway was recently mopped, the kitchen used and dirty. She came to work, started work, then she died. It shook them, but as I understand sentiment it would have shaken them, too even if it wasn't their fault. Maybe it was the father, or she had an accident… or a burglary. Those people are more interested in their reputation than in what is right. They might fear for that. All those might result in distress that has the same outward appearance. Psychology is mainly still uncharted territory."

"Right, so what do you suggest next?" Greg asked.

"Get her address, talk to her relatives," Sherlock's voice was hoarse again.

"I will do it. You go home and take a break. I'll come by later," Lestrade stated in a surprisingly order like tone. John raised his eyebrows.

Greg had changed a bit since his last advancement, his leadership abilities were slowly surfacing since he had to manage more subordinates now. However, he frowned when Sherlock nodded silently and opened the cab's door.

The detective's hand was shaking and both those facts alarmed the doctor and the DI to a very high degree.

But instead of climbing into the carriage, Sherlock hastily moved towards a side alley, where most likely the bins were located.

A moment later the unmistakable noise of retching made both, the inspector and the doctor winced in sympathy.

"God, I thought he just got the morbs. But this sounds a bit more physical now, does it?" Lestrade asked. "He's not up to Dick."*

Watson rolled his eyes and went after his friend to make sure he was all right.

.

Nevertheless, he had barely made it to the corner when Sherlock reappeared, still very pale and wiping his mouth with one of his handkerchiefs.

Before John could say anything Sherlock had passed him, heading towards the cab.

"Holmes, are you alright?" Lestrade asked and stepped in the detective's way.

When Sherlock swayed, John stepped closer, ready to come to his aid.

"Go home, I'll take care of this," Lestrade urged when Sherlock gagged once more, turning away from them.

"Alright, I'll take him home," Watson agreed in a soft voice.

"You'll do no such thing!

"You need medical care, mate," Greg said in a caring voice Sherlock found was completely out of place - and out of time.

While Sherlock slowly climbed into the cab, Lestrade whisper to John, "What's wrong with him?"

The doctor shook his head, in a 'no idea' sort of gesture.

"Can we go?" came the urging voice from the inside of the carriage.

"Well, once he's decided to go he's impatient as hell, isn't he?"

"Probably afraid he might vomit again. I am really worried, Lestrade," the doctor admitted.

Watson followed his friend inside and the carriage started to move.

The horse was eager to move again and the ride was not as smooth as Sherlock had hoped it would be, although he was aware it was probably a perfectly normal ride, his senses were just too sensible due to him feeling sick.

.

Back at Baker Street Sherlock vanished into his room and locked the door before Watson had even gotten out of his jacket. The last thing he needed was more emphasis on how bad it felt. It would solicit more attention than he had to spare if Watson started to try to treat him. Paying attention to how bad he felt would worsen his state. It was the whole point to flee from withdrawal, he could not allow it to affect the Victorian reality, it would spoil the whole idea why he was doing this. Therefore, Sherlock was a bit unsettled by the idea that things were starting to spill over to this amount. His only solution was the same one he chose in the real world. Not a good one, but he was too exhausted to try better.

He hid.

The doctor tried all evening trying to assess his friend's condition but only silence answered when he knocked.

Shortly after midnight, he finally gave up and went upstairs to get some sleep.

 

 

 

* Got the morbs: Phrase from the 1880 that indicated temporary melancholy

Not up to Dick: Victorian Slang for 'Not Well'

Chapter Text

 

 

Day 4 in 2016

 

Greg's phone bleeped loudly and he opened his eyes to the darkened bedroom before reaching out for it and hitting the answer button.

"Yeah?" the inspector blurted out automatically, squinting at the bedside clock, which read 4.09am

"Lestrade?"

The DI had been fast asleep and he knew Mycroft wouldn't disturb him without a reason.

"What is it?" He was in fact quite alarmed to be called by the older Holmes and the adrenaline rush made him awake almost instantly.

Had something happened to Sherlock? Had he worsened? Or relapsed?

"I am aware that-"

"Is he okay? What happened?" Greg interrupted him.

"I'm not sure. John asked me to leave a few hours ago; apparently, Sherlock had asked him to. The doctor must have been sure he'd be able to handle my brother but things turned sour and he threw John out. Since the reason we are in this dilemma is the very fact that Dr Watson has issues asking for and accepting help I assume he hasn't called you and he is trying to handle it on his own which is currently causing for things to head south from what I am observing. Sherlock hasn't left his room – not even his bed in the past two hours.

"So, it's withdrawal at its worst at the moment?"

"No. The reason for my call is Dr Watson, actually."

"What?" Greg climbed out of his bed.

"John is neither in control of the situation nor of Sherlock's health currently. I need you to go there and take care of things. At this very moment, you are the only one equipped to do this. I fear my presence would do no one any good."

"Alright. I'll head over. Anything else I should know?"

Mycroft explained to him what had happened during the night and finished with a, "Thank you, Gregory."

Flabbergasted about being called by his first name, Greg needed a moment to answer.

"Well, have to run. Laters," he hung up and reached for his trousers.

 

Half an hour later the DI climbed the stairs to 221b, trying to be as silent as possible. He entered through the living room door, not wanting to spook John who had been in the kitchen for the past hours according to Mycroft.

When he peeked around the glass sliding doors, he silently knocked on the wooden frame to announce his presence.

Greg was alarmed, when the other man didn't react to his presence.

John was sitting on the floor to the left, his back leaned against one of the white cupboards. His posture screamed defeat, his legs outstretched, the left foot resting against the socket of the fridge. Between his legs, he held a half filled whiskey tumbler and the bottle was next to him on the ground. Greg feared John had consumed the missing half in the past two hours.

"John?"

The doctor jerked in surprise, blinking up at the DI who was now crouching down next to him.

"Hey, mate. How-?" Greg stopped himself. John wouldn't answer how he was and it was bloody obvious in what state he was in.

"Any news on Sherlock?" he asked instead, trying to assess John's state by letting him talk.

"How would I know? He doesn't talk to me," John slurred slightly. He didn't look as if he had emptied half the bottle. "I probably deserve it... He locked the door and won't let me in."

"Don't worry mate. It's what he's like. He won't want you to see him like this, in pain, craving and vulnerable, I suppose."

"I...."

There was just silence for a moment, in which John blinked heavily.

"John?"

"I don't know what to do. He needs something... and he won't tell me and..."

"He's probably suffering from intense cravings at the moment. That's when he locks himself in..."

Greg knew Sherlock going through withdrawal was a first for the doctor... and that it would be hard on him after the events of the past weeks. But it wasn't a first for Greg sadly. He had seen Sherlock go through this but John hadn't, not really.

After Magnussen's death and the events on the tarmac, Sherlock had vanished for withdrawal and everyone assumed he had either gone through it at Mycroft's home or in a private facility. John had been quite frustrated about being kept at a distance.

Greg also knew Sherlock had detoxed at home at least twice in the past, but that was before John. One of those times Greg had found him, and had prevented things from going really bad.

"What?... You've seen him go through this before! Jesus! Why didn't you tell me?" John stared up at him with glassy eyes, his gaze showed more than a hint of betrayal.

"Well, I... This is not a topic one talks about over a pint, mate. Was quite a difficult experience for me, too. And I imagine this is nothing Sherlock is eager to share."

"Sorry," John murmured. "I just feel a bit left out of my best friend's history. Especially if I accidentally stumble into facts that I really think someone should have told me earlier... or that I only learn after I blunder because no one bothered to include me."

"Where's Rosie?"

"In her bed," John's voice sounded chocked.

Greg understood that the other man probably needed a break to stay sane and that Sherlock was particularly difficult because he was ashamed and in a bit of a delicate state due to all the personal and confusing emotional things that had happened.

In the weeks since Mary's death Lestrade had seen Sherlock's grief and had understood that the detective had no clue how to deal with. It had been painful to see his desperate tries to be there for John fail, which put Sherlock in real distress right now on top of his self-recrimination.

Pausing for a moment Greg took in his friend's appearance, he looked worse now than the last time he had seen him, as well as guilt ridden and grieving, which was to be expected.

John had clearly lost another few pounds and his complexion seemed almost grey. The dark circles under his eyes looked almost like bruises.

"Blimey, John, when have you last slept?"

John just shook his head, emptied the glass, then picked up the open bottle and refilled the tumbler.

"I don't know what to do. He won't let me in, won't let me check him out, won't let me help him," he babbled. "I heard him making distressed noises several times over the past hours and..."

"You spent the past three nights ready to do whatever he needs, haven't you? Wasn't it Mycroft's turn last night?"

John didn't answer, just stared at the floorboards, then he raised the glass and drank another large gulp.

"Right. I think you need some sleep, mate. I will do the night shift. Come on."

"No. I need to check on him."

"Let me see him first. See how he is," Greg stated after an uneasy few seconds.

"Door is locked, although we agreed not to do that."

"Yeah, I have a key and I will go in there. Stay here, you need a break, let me take over for a while."

John was out of words too lost in misery, which Greg understood completely.

Greg stood up and headed for Sherlock's door.

As silent as possible he unlocked it.

Sherlock was on his bed, cover drawn up to his chin, even in the dim light it was clearly visible he was shaking.

Careful not to spook him, Greg stepped closer.

He found Sherlock fast asleep – curled up on his side. His features weren't relaxed, neither was his posture. The expression and the stubble once more reminded Greg of a Sherlock fifteen years younger and it horrified him.

Here they were again.

Greg was aware the nightmares and crazy dreams withdrawal caused were an issue Sherlock had always struggled with, as was the severe depression.

In this phase exhaustion and the intense cravings were quite prominent, as were a long list of other issues that made the detective miserable.

From the first time Greg had witnessed this he was quite sure Sherlock was completely out.

"Hey," he said in a soft voice, there was no reaction at all.

He watched his sleeping friend for a minute and brought a fresh glass of water from the bathroom. Before he left, he checked the room for drug paraphernalia, but only found a puddle of water next to the nightstand. He mopped it up and Sherlock didn't even stir due to the noise.

When Greg had visited Sherlock in hospital, he had assured him they would get through this, had offered his support and presence. Sherlock hadn't refused it, which made him both hopeful and worried.

Nevertheless, he also knew the severe depressions his friend would go through would be quite an issue. Sherlock would never be able to voice his suffering, and would be more likely to act physically upon his emotions, most likely ending in some form of self-harm one way or another.

Two severely depressed people in one flat trying to survive this entire ordeal - the idea had not only turned Greg's senses on high alert.

He, Mycroft, Molly and Mrs Hudson had made plans how to deal with this, and this had just left stage one of the withdrawing process.

Currently, John was the one needing more attention. Sherlock was out cold and as long as he stayed this way was not really an issue, but he would need attention at some point, fluids, nutrition and a medical assessment.

When Lestrade returned to the living room, John had moved over to the sofa, the open bottle nowhere to be seen, but the tumbler was full again.

 

"He's asleep," Greg reported in a low and reassuring voice. "He seems fine, but it's not the easy kind of sleep."

John took another sip of whiskey and nodded, not looking up the whole time.

"Slept a lot during the past days, and spent a lot of time in his mind palace, probably trying to figure out the cold case," he mumbled.

"How's Rosie doing?" Greg tried to guide the conversation away from Sherlock.

"Missing her mother," John said in a chocked voice and took a rather great gulp.

"Sorry… Just…" Greg was suddenly dragged into the overwhelming general sense of sorrow that was fogging the flat.

He fought it, he needed to remain the neutral point, stay strong and help them.

But it was hard - like a maelstrom trying to pull him into the dark.

"God, I didn't mean to…" John started, but the desperation remained in his voice.

"It's alright mate," Greg offered, "Did she learn something new today?" Small kids were just a great source of talking material for the new parents and he planned to use all he could to manage this crisis.

"I… I don't know," John stammered. A moment later Greg cursed inwardly because it seemed this too was the wrong topic when John started to look even more distraught.

The other man rubbed his eyes in a bid to hide his distress.

For a moment, Greg tried to desperately find another topic, then he decided there was just nothing that could soothe this existential anguish. All tries to ignore the issues would probably just end in disaster.

He had seen John in this state before, his expression hard but his composure barely present, in the days after Sherlock had jumped off the roof of Barts. He had also seen him drink like this, then.

Greg fetched a chair and sat down, then bent forward and rested a hand on John's shoulder.

"What's happening, mate?" the need to observe gone, he asked directly.

There was a long silence but finally John leaned over and just stared at the glass in his fingers.

"I..." his voice died.

"I..." he tried again.

John rubbed his face with his hands. After a moment of hesitation he continued.

"I didn't protect her. I didn't protect him... I blamed him and it forced him to protect me... and it almost killed him... and I can't lose him, too... I am such an idiot. I can understand he doesn't want me here. He's in a bad state... and he doesn't-"

"Oi! Slow down. He wants you here, John. In fact, he did this because he wants you here, it was the whole point."

The doctor covered his eyes with his free hand for a moment, then started staring at the cluttered table, but not focussing on anything.

"This is very hard for him," Greg said to kind of underline why Sherlock was behaving the way he was. "I've seen him do this before. On his own - and it almost killed him. He knew what he was getting into and I don't think he's pushing you away, he's just too miserable to let anyone to see it. The fact that he is allowing us all to be present while he goes through this is a remarkable change, even if he shuts us out for periods of time. Usually he is very opposed to having people present at all."

"He knows how dangerous this can be and he refuses my medical help nevertheless."

"Maybe the only thing he needs is not medical... maybe he just needs your friendship. Are you ready to give that to him?"

"Of course, why else would I be here?"

"I don't know, maybe because you feel guilty?... And guilt is the last thing he needs, because he is already drowning in his own guilt."

"Shit," John downed the booze in one go and went for another shot.

"When you refused to see him, it wasn't the drugs that killed him, it was the guilt, the grief,  and the resulting self-loathing. It made him take more drugs than necessary to get your attention. I've never seen him hurt like this before, I don't think."

Greg stopped himself after this remark, realising it was his own anger finding its way to the surface. Anger about John blaming Sherlock for the death of this wife.

He hadn't understood this train of thought from the beginning and he still didn't.

From what he had leaned Mary's former life had sparked a backlash and had killed her, and she had expected it and even prepared videos for the two of them to make sure her demise wouldn't kill them both.

Greg himself was in fact still a bit angry at John for what he had done to his best friend. He had listened to John's and other people's accounts of what had happened in the morgue and he couldn't believe it.

At first, he thought they were somehow trying to frame John, until the doctor himself had told him what he had done. The amount of remorse had been way too little in John at that moment and about that he was still disgruntled a little, too. John had an angry side, but he had never ever beaten Sherlock in such a way he had that day. Greg had been horrified when he read the list of injuries. 

"In a way this was Sherlock Holmes being suicidal," Greg tried to explain the seriousness of the situation John had not seen back then. "And I think he was well aware of what he was doing. He cared little for his own life and I gave him hell for that when I saw the state he was in. Only solved a single case, the rest of the time he cut himself off from the rest of the world. I told him not caring for himself was the worst he could do to both of you. From then on he evaded any attempts I made at making contact."

John's alarmed expression told him this was kind of new information for him. The doctor then got himself another glass of whiskey.

"How could I be this stupid, Greg?" he asked.

"Yeah, we all tried to talk some sense into you, you know that?"

"Yes. And I ignored you. Makes me an ever bigger arsehole."

"I tried to keep an eye on Sherlock, but he vanished for days, sometimes weeks, probably afraid Mycroft or I would interfere with his plans."

"You know, after I..." John's voice almost broke, "After I bashed him up... when he was in hospital, I said goodbye to him, still angry. I was probably trying to run away from what I had done." John gulped repeatedly, trying to keep his voice steady. "Maybe also because I was afraid of rejection, because I knew I bloody deserved it. What kind person does that to his best friend?" his voice broke on the last two words.

There was a long moment of silence, before he composed himself and continued.

"I am not here out of guilt, Greg, but I do feel guilty. And ashamed, more ashamed than I have ever been in my whole fucking life."

Not really knowing what to say Greg kept his silence, it was time John was getting this out. Intoxication had lowered his walls and since Greg doubted he was this honest with his therapist it was probably the best option. He was glad John was finally opening up, after months of only interacting with a mask on the surface he felt this was what was going on on the inside.

"I wrote him a note, it said 'Piss off'...I chose those words because it was actually one of the topics of the first conversations we ever had, the first day we..." John choked on his words and his eyes started to fill up.

"That was quite mean," Greg agreed in a low voice.

"I know," John bit his lips, seeming fighting tears once more. "And kicking a man on the ground is something I never thought I was capable of and I don't know how he can ever forgive me for that."

"He will. You know him. He will. It was the way to get what he wanted so he accepts it. And that is the point where we need to protect him, because it is where he doesn't understand how to do it."

"I know," the doctor said once more. "I don't recognise myself. And I can't even look into the mirror at the moment."

"Mate, sorry that I ask, but... are you talking to your therapist about that?"

The other man shook his head.

"Why not?"

"I don't know... She's... kind of odd. Her questions and remarks are not really what I expect sometimes."

"Er, well... If you can't really trust her maybe you should get another one."

"Not that much of a choice, besides, she said she just works with another approach than most therapists do nowadays."

Greg realised John's voice was getting more impaired by the booze by now. Maybe this was another aspect, he was talking about this because his tongue had been loosened profoundly by the alcohol. This amount of opening up was out of character for John, who barely talked about feelings, especially while he was sober.

After Sherlock's death the only time Greg had seen him break down was after they had a few pints. But back then John had managed to get a grip on how much he drank before it got out of hand. But now, that self control seemed to have evaporated.  

"When he arrived at my therapist's house he was so high he had problems walking. I... I examined his arm for needle marks, gripping his hand so he couldn't move away and..." John gulped down his tears, "... and he kind of... He held onto my hand as if it was a lifeline. It was... it..." John's voice broke.

"He was desperate and this was what he had been working on for weeks. He wants you back, don't keep him at a distance."

"I am not sure he does. He doesn't even look at me, Greg. He only stares at the ground. His whole body language is showing his disapproval."

"No, John. That's not true, mate. He has fallen into a behaviour pattern you just haven't seen before. He's suffering"

"What?" John looked up at him, frowning.

"When Sherlock is very depressed, hating himself to a really alarming level, and is in an overwhelmingly bad place, then he won't look at anyone."

Now, John looked at the ground, frowning.

"When I first met him... he was like that. In a very bad place. He is currently revisiting a lot of his former behaviour patterns. You just don't know them because it was before you two met. We all told you he has changed a lot since he met you. We didn't only mean things like being rude, appearing un-caring or being anti-social. It's also about self esteem and caring for himself, too. Those have become better, too."

John looked at him with a hint of disbelieve.

"There are other signs, too. When he is severely depressed or self-loathing like this, his language changes, becomes more monotone. He gets overall very silent, speaks in a muted voice. Stops making eye contact at all. His self-confidence has evaporated. He might manage to appear cocky for a few moments if he thinks he needs to, but it's just for show. Overall, this is as low as it can get. Has nothing to do with you. His ego has suffered a deadly blow and on top of that he is grieving and desperate beyond words. And he has no idea how to fix this, he's completely helpless of how to do anything right at the moment."

"I have seen him in depressed episodes before, he has them now and then... but it was nothing like this," John tried.

"No. But I saw him like this long before the two of you met, when he was in his early twenties. Not looking at me was a bad sign and I learned to be on guard as soon as this started."

"Okay," John gulped and Greg realised although he had meant to assure John this was not on him, the background knowledge was not encouraging.

"John, he loves you like a brother and he is not blaming you. The only thing you can do is open up to him again. Go back to how it has been before. Let him in again."

The doctor's face contorted and for a moment Greg feared he'd have a meltdown, but a moment later he regained his control. Though Greg was sure it would be good if he for once would let it all out.

When John went for the whiskey bottle again, the DI took it out of his reach. Then he stood up and gently took the empty glass out of John's hand.

"That's enough, mate."  

John didn't fight him. It was obvious he was on the end of this tether, too.

"We need to take care of you, too. Come on, let's get you to bed."

"I need to check on him," the doctor muttered.

"Alright, let's do that first, then you get some sleep. I'll take care of him," Greg said, and added '...and you' mentally.

But when John tried to get up, they found out the hard way he was barely able to stand. Greg managed to prevent a fall and heaved him back into the sofa, but it became clear John was in no state to get up the stairs, probably not even to make it to Sherlock's room.

"Jesus, John. Stay put. I'll get you some water."

Greg fetched another glass of water - this time for John - and made him drink it, though by now John was cooperating less and less.

"Come on, mate. Just lie down and take a nap," he took the empty glass from his friend and pushed him slowly sideways to make him lie down.

"Rosie..."

"Babyphone?"

"Kitchen table"

Greg fetched that too and put it on the coffetable while John sat up again and tried to get off his shoes.

 

A few minutes later Greg had checked on the baby, Sherlock and covered John with a blanket who had mercifully fallen into an uneasy sleep. The DI decided to wake him up in a few hours and make him drink more water. John would have a bad hangover the next morning.

When he was sure everyone was safe, he sat down on the kitchen table, unpacking his laptop to do some paperwork. It seemed to have become kind of a working place for anyone watching Sherlock. Greg had seen Molly with her laptop as well as Mycroft sitting on that table in the past week.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Two hours later Greg heard Sherlock enter the bathroom, or maybe more sneak into it. The morning commuter traffic almost drowned out the low noises and it was clear Sherlock was trying to avoid meeting anyone.

Greg just listened, trying to hear if his friend was in distress or doing anything suspicious. He knew the cravings were intense, but he had seen Sherlock handle them before. If he was determined to honestly go through with withdrawal his strong will would keep him from taking something secretly, it had been this way the last time Greg helped him through it.

But back then, he had strong motivation. He wanted to be allowed to do cases with Lestrade.

Unfortunately, currently Sherlock seemed to be too fed up with life and its struggles in general, not having much motivation left.

Greg therefore didn't really trust him not to do anything stupid. On the other hand, Sherlock knew very well that in case this wasn't successful Mycroft would cart him off to a rehab facility and Sherlock would do almost anything to prevent going through that.

When ten minutes later it had been silent for almost four minutes, Greg stood up and walked down the hall, then stopped in front of the bathroom door.

He could hear nothing.

What the hell was Sherlock doing?

He knocked carefully, but there was no response.

"Listen, if you don't answer right now I will come in."

"Hmmm," came Sherlock's answer, after almost twenty seconds.

"Right. Can I come in then?"

When no response came, Greg steeled himself for the bad things that might lie behind the closed door and turned the knob.

Dim light made it hard for him to see at first. They had installed a special dimmable light bulb so Sherlock wouldn't suffer from the bright light.

When Greg's eyes had finally adjusted, he spotted his friend, who sat sunken and leaned sideways against the bathtub. A wet washcloth was on the ground near his knees.

Slowly, Greg knelt down next to him, eyeing him carefully.

His friend was shivering and looked dishevelled.

"Sherlock?" he whispered. "What's happening?"

Another hum, neither a yes nor a no.

"Do you feel sick?"

"Nope," came a hoarse reply, barely hearable.

"Why are you sitting on the bathroom floor, then?"

"Got dizzy," the detective explained in a hoarse voice, then cleared his throat and continued,

"The wallpaper seems alive and the periodic table spread its elements all over the walls of my room. Hallucinations are starting."

"Well, you can handle them. You always do. Your mind knows it's not real, just keep reassuring yourself that," Greg tried to empower him.

"I do. I am. But I needed a break. It was too much," Sherlock seemed to pale even further after this admission.

"What are you not telling me?"

"If you are aware that there is something I don't want to tell you, I don't see why you ask me to do so anyway." Sherlock's speech had improved in the past moments, it was a bit easier to understand him now.

"Hey, I am worried. Please tell me what is going on."

"I just told you, wasn't that humiliating enough?" Sherlock murmured. 

"Yeah, sorry. Thank you."

"For what?"

"For trusting me enough to tell me."

A long silence followed, in which Greg inspected all surfaces of the room for anything suspicious.

"Oh for God's sake, I was just... I was not..." Sherlock stuttered in annoyance. Although his eyes were closed, he was aware what the DI was doing.

"You were just...?"

"Fine, if you... I was trying to... I had a bad dream," he stifled his own try to explain.

"How is John?" Sherlock added a moment later.

He hadn't opened his eyes, yet.

"That bad?" he asked when the DI hesitated.

"He's... Christ, I'm not sure..." Now it was Greg stuttering, trying to understand all that Sherlock had just said.

"Tell me, Greg," Sherlock insisted with a weak voice, the chills were intensifying.

Greg was so surprised by both, being called by his name and being asked about John, he momentarily didn't know what to say.

"He's not having a good time, mate," he finally explained after a brief silence.

"Did he drink?"

"Yeah."

"How much?"

"Too much."

That caused Sherlock to blink at him, obviously even the low light was too bright for him.

His bloodshot eyes were filled with pain, probably physical and mental alike.

Greg also saw the overextension and desperation there.

Sherlock looked so very lost it shocked Greg. He had seen his friend having hard times before, but the expression in his eyes reminded him way too much of the time shortly before Sherlock had overdosed years ago.

"Sherlock, be honest with me. Do we need to put you on suicide watch?"

The other man's eyes closed again and he lowered his head, which Greg found very not reassuring at all.

"Don't be ridiculous. I am fine. The issue is solved, the case is finished. I succeeded in... Mary's request. Everything is great!" Sherlock displayed an overdone tone of happiness.

For a horrified moment Greg remembered the tape from the hospital, remembered how Sherlock had asked Culverton to kill him, and how later his voice had broken when he told him he didn't want to die.

The intense memory of his tone caught up with the DI once more. When he had heard it the first time, he had been glad he was alone, because it brought tears to his eyes.

All of them were aware that suicidal thoughts and actions were part of the withdrawal side effects, therefore they were watching out for the signs. Greg was well aware that he probably would never get an honest answer to the question but the reaction to it and showing care were things that send messages both ways.

"You saved John... And now... it is time that you allow him to save you, because that issue is not finished, yet."

"You are wrong, this is over."

Sherlock's response was either denial or fake, Greg realised immediately.

"No, Sherlock. No. This is a very important part of John saving you. If not for you then for him. You both need to get through with it. You can't stop here; you might as well undo all you have gained if you allow the gap that is forming now to widen."

Greg paused for a moment to let this sink in.

And then a sudden realisation hit him. Was Sherlock distancing himself from John because he feared that as soon as withdrawal was over John would return to his flat and his daughter and forget about him?

He remembered that Mary had called him during the wedding planning, asking him to involve Sherlock and John in a case to reassure Sherlock she wasn't taking John away from him. The case they had solved had been named 'The Poisoned Giant' afterwards.

At first, Greg had found the request a bit odd, but knowing the detective, he understood it.

In hindsight, after he had heard the speech at the wedding and seen what had happened afterwards it wasn't odd at all any longer, Mary seemed to have understood a lot about Sherlock.

"Have you ever told John about how hard her death hit you, too?"

Sherlock's silence answered that question immediately.

"Why not? You need to."

"No."

"Sherlock, this is important, he needs to know what it means to you that she died. That is a conversation that needs to happen."

"I dislike stating the obvious."

Sherlock's breathing was suddenly off and Greg moved his right hand towards his friend's head, hovered it over his scalp to sense if he was having a fever, making sure not to touch him.

He had learned that the hard way the last time he had helped Sherlock with this. It had led to a full-blown meltdown when Greg had failed to fight his own impulse to comfort a suffering friend by touch. The lack of alternative things that might comfort the man added to feeling so damn helpless. Seeing Sherlock like this was not easy, he knew why it got to John sometimes.

"Please don't touch me," Sherlock groaned.

"I won't, don't worry. I am just trying to find out if you are running a fever. It seems you are."

"I know... My skin burns although I am freezing."

"I think we should get you back to bed, mate."

"Don't touch me..." he moaned out in a weak desperate plea.

"I won't, I won't. Can I get a blanket to pull you up with?"

"No. I can do it."

Very slowly and with painstakingly uncoordinated, slow movements, Sherlock started to shift his weight. He sat up straighter before he placed one palm on the ground and the other on the doorframe, then he carefully tried to lift his buttocks off the ground.

It actually took four tries until he even managed to get into a half kneeling half sitting position, but Lestrade didn't interfere, although his heart ached seeing this.

Almost four minutes later Sherlock had finally managed to drag himself up, using the door handle and the frame.

On shaky legs, he shoved one foot forward, then the next, barely able to keep himself upright.

Greg moved with him, followed him closely. It didn't escape his attention that the other man was sweating profoundly.

"Please don't breathe that loud. Also, I can feel your breath on my back," Sherlock complained, voice now shaky, too.

The distance between them was over a metre.

"Gee, Sherlock, if you fall I need to catch you, deal with it. And I can't stop breathing just because your senses are all wound up. Sorry," Greg said in a gentle voice.

In slow motion, Sherlock continued to move towards his bed, leaning on the bedside table and carefully taking care of keeping his balance.

When he finally sat down on the edge of the bed, Greg held out his hand.

"Wait. Before you lie down, I need you to take your temperature, can you do that?"

The other man's face contorted as if in pain, but he nodded.

Greg fetched the thermometer from the kitchen counter that currently held all the medical supplies.

He was relieved that Sherlock was no longer as angry as John had described. Right now, all agitation seemed to have left him, was replaced by overwhelming exhaustion and resignation. Sherlock's tone was very monotone. Nothing he had said in the past minutes had contained any emotion at all.

When he came back, Sherlock was struggling to remove his sweat-soaked long sleeved shirt. He had seen the bruises on Sherlock's side at the hospital, but they made him wince again.

Holding out the in-ear thermometer, Greg asked, "I assume you want a new shirt? Which one?"

"Dark blue, top shelf, second row from the left."

It took Greg a moment to find it, despite the exact statement of place. Most of Sherlock's clothes were dark and the dim light wasn't helping.

He unfolded it and placed it on the bed next to Sherlock. "Anything else you need? When is your next dose of morphine scheduled?"

"Few hours. Get me the small yellow pills," Sherlock muttered, while slipping both arms into the sleeves.

Greg fetched the medication John had prescribed on a 'if necessary' basis and noted the dose on the sheet of paper they used to record all medication Sherlock was given. The printout of the medication regime confirmed that Sherlock had spoken the truth about when his next morphine dose was due.

Back at his friend's bedside, he handed Sherlock the thermometer. It needed only seconds after Sherlock finally managed to press the button that started the reading.

They then exchanged the blister for the thermometer.

Lestrade read the display.

Elevated temperature, but no fever.

Sherlock fumbled with the blister to break the silver foil, but the pill fell out of his trembling fingers twice before he finally managed to put it into his mouth. After he swallowed it dry, he carefully sank back into the pillows, still breathing heavier than normal and looking totally spent.

Greg pressed the remote control for the LED bulb in the bathroom, to turn it off. The bedroom darkened and now the room was only lit by the lamp in the hallway.

"Take care of John, will you?"

"Of course, yeah. I will. Just rest okay. I'll take care of everything. Don't worry," Greg reassured him.

A sarcastic huff was the only answer and the DI assumed Sherlock was very well aware what had led to the hard drinking.

Like everything else, Sherlock had probably deduced the issue even before he had arrived at John's therapist.

The day after Culverton's arrest, when Greg had visited him in hospital, Sherlock asked him to keep an eye on John and his drinking habits of late since as long as he was incapacitated. It was a very unusual request because Sherlock had formulated it as 'needing a favour'.

Greg knew Sherlock was having a hard time right now because he was well aware that this night's behaviour had pushed the issue, but was helpless and too drained of everything to do anything about it.

"John is sleeping it off on the couch. He'll be fine, but probably have a bit of a hangover in the morning. I'll be in the kitchen. Try to get some more sleep, mate."

.

A few hours later Greg hurried into Sherlock's room again, when he heard unsettling noises.

"Sherlock? What's wrong?"

His friend was still on his back in the bed, staring at the ceiling with a shocked expression and a frown on his face.

"Sherlock? Can you hear me?"

Pressing his lips into a line, Sherlock's face seemed to threaten to crumple. Then, after he squeezed his eyes shut forcefully for a moment, his features relaxed and he opened his eyes.

It was obvious that he needed a lot of energy to force his features into a neutral look. He made no efforts to sit up at all or move otherwise.

"Something resurfaced in my dreams... The south wall of my room... it looked a lot like the wall with... eugh... Molly's refrigerators."

It took Lestrade a moment to realise that he didn't mean the one at her home but in the morgue. Additionally, the stuttering distracted him for a moment.

Then he noticed that Sherlock had said 'a lot' which meant something, Sherlock was not using language like this if it wasn't true. Over the years, Greg had learned to listen for details like this and things he wasn't saying.

"Right. And what did it look like exactly?"

Sherlock huffed, it sounded like a sarcastic laugh, but the insult Lestrade expected didn't came. His friend seemed frozen but breathing hard.

"I see her," he pressed out in a low voice.

"What? Who?"

"I... Mary... my wall... the morgue."

It was not making a lot of sense and Greg grimaced, then it hit him that Sherlock had just spoken in present tense and he wondered how much of this was another hallucination and how much that was affecting his friend's mental faculties.

He tried to imagine what Sherlock was describing before making a comment that might make it all worse.

His wall had shifted into a morgue wall with refrigerators...

A moment later it hit him.

The morgue John had beaten Sherlock - seriously injured him - it was a lot more likely that he was seeing that one.

It must have been a moment of earth-shattering understanding for Sherlock that everything he had planned was failing. John had describes him as 'horrified' and 'shocked by something unknown' that had then made him freak out and grab a knife.

Although Greg had tried to understand Sherlock's and John's statement about what exactly had happened, it was still not clear to him. Both statements were a mess and none of it made a lot of sense.

"Was it Culverton's morgue?" for a moment Greg feared to be corrected for using the incorrect terms concerning property but it didn't happen.

Sherlock just nodded silently.

"And you saw Mary back then, there, or just now here? I mean, was it a memory or did it just happen?"

"Here," Sherlock huffed, his tone made clear he didn't want to speak about it.

"What did she do?"

"I don't know. She was talking, but I couldn't understand her."

"Is she still here?" Greg wanted to know, and caught himself gazing through the room.

"She's looking out of the window, back towards me now."

Greg sucked in a breath and couldn't help but stare at the covered with curtains window. Suddenly he felt the hairs on his back and arms raise, goose bumps were forming.

The situation was a bit like seeing a ghost through Sherlock's eyes and it was distressing even for him.

What Sherlock was feeling, exaggerated by his condition must be a lot worse.

When he lowered his gaze again to look at his friend's face, he saw Sherlock had closed his eyes and the slits between his eyelids looked rather soggy.

Greg bit his lips, he felt utterly useless and helpless.

There was nothing he could do.

No means to comfort the man.

"Would you like to get up and sit in the living room for a bit?" he suggested, well aware Sherlock had spent most of his days since the return from the hospital in his room.

"John is upstairs, sleeping again. Mrs Hudson took Rosie to day care."

Sherlock nodded and sat up, his movements on edge and tense.

His body was not happy about the sudden movement and Greg saw him fight vertigo for some moments, but Sherlock lifted his legs out of bed and slowly stood up.

"Easy, easy."

"Bathroom."

When Sherlock swayed, he couldn't help but grab his upper arm.

After a moment of horrified hesitation, Greg realised that Sherlock was not trying to shake him off. But his shirt was once more clammy from sweat.

"Eh... You feel sick? You need to go there fast?" Greg wanted to know.

"No. This is not withdrawal from morphine – yet."

The knowledge that this was just the first half of the ordeal and another, physically way more difficult withdrawal was ahead of him after this, must be adding to Sherlock's gloom.

"There are other reasons that might make you feel sick... stress for example."

"And for that I took the pill a few hours ago. You gave them to me, they do help. And it would also help to get out of here, now!"

The detective started to shuffle towards the bathroom door, Greg moved with him.

When he reached for it to open it, Sherlock finally shook him off.

"I can manage it from here. Make some tea?" he asked. And before he closed the door after him, Greg saw him look over to the window once more.

The brief expression of relief he saw in Sherlock's eyes told him he was no longer seeing Mary there.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Early Afternoon of Day 5 in 2016

 

An hour later Sherlock was on the sofa, trying to read more of the 1867 case files.

Obviously, he had broadcasted his frustration, because Greg returned for the third time offering his assistance.

He felt restless and jittery and in desperate need to occupy his brain with something challenging. Although his ability to concentrate still left a lot to be desired, he needed to work on the case.

So far, he hadn't found any clues that might connect the deaths of the maid and the boy. He was just going through random unsolved deaths from 1867 to 1870 no one had managed to explain. And those two just had been the first ones he hadn't solved within five minutes. They rather stood out. He had solved three overall, all now in a different folder with neat little notes on the sheets about the solution everyone else had overlooked.

The next sheet to read was a police report from the maid's case. He hadn't read the autopsy report yet, but it was the after next.

The fact that his eyesight was still blurry and he couldn't concentrate enough to read more than a few lines at once were beyond annoying, especially since most of the documents were handwritten as well as yellowed and therefore hard to read.

"Sherlock?"

Greg still stood in front of the sofa, his hand outstretched now.

"What?"

"Can I read that and summarise it for you?"

"Why?"

"Well, apparently, because you can't."

"Don't be-" Sherlock scrunched his eyes closed in annoyance at their burring and opened them again, shooting a glare at Greg.

"Oh, shut it. Give it to me. Come on," the DI interrupted him.

Sherlock frowned but held out the pile of high quality colour copies.

"Don't summarise it, read it all. Every word. The printouts are ordered chronologically. If there is a picture*1, tell me what it shows. I have studied them and will know which one you are referring to. The autopsy was finished with no result. The reason for this might be that the physician was incompetent. Therefore, I need to know every word and every fact to determine if something was overlooked or if there really was nothing out of the ordinary."

"Okay."

Lestrade put down the file on the coffee table, brought the chair from the other side of the room – the one that was usually reserved for clients - and sat down.

Well aware that the first pages were all just text Sherlock closed his eyes to concentrate better and this time he had no problem to enter the Victorian sector of his mind palace.

"Well, that handwriting is bloody hard to read." Greg cleared his throat. "Alright. March 5th, 1867. This is written by hand, into a book for reports..."

Sherlock made sure to allow Greg's voice in and let the facts that were coming in evolve into an autopsy setting.

.

Tuesday, March 5th 1867 - Day 7 in the Victorian Era

When Holmes entered the morgue, irritation crept in on him the moment he saw Anderson instead of Hooper.

"Where is Mr Hooper?" he used the made salutation to maintain her cover although in this era it was custom to just use the last name and skip the Mister – at least when talking about or to a man.

"Upstairs, talking to Lestrade," Anderson answered grudgingly. "Feel free to wait outside until he comes back."

"I will wait here. Is the body ready for the examination, yet?"

"Which one?"

"The maid, Ottilie Godwin."

"I was just about to bring her in."

For unknown reasons Anderson was even more ill-disposed than usual and gave him another annoyed look, which Sherlock held - equally annoyed - until the other man walked away.

Shortly after that, Hooper entered the dimly lit room. It was their third meeting after he found out she was actually a female person.

Overall Holmes didn't care much about gender and gender roles. He had always failed to understand why people made such a fuss about it or regarded half of humanity to be less worthy or competent than the other half.*2

He not only had chosen long ago to treat both genders alike but also their statuses. In crime, those things didn't matter that much. Although women less often turned into perpetrators, if they did, their behaviour could easily stand up to men's.

Many people found his behaviour improper when he treated both genders or maid's and masters alike, with the same respect or disrespect he found suited their behaviour.

"Ah, Dr Hooper. Nice to meet you again," he greeted her.

However, his friendly words were met with a frown.

She either sensed his carefully hidden difficult mood or was wondering if he was mocking her. For a moment, he didn't know how to properly react to that.

"I would like to join you in the autopsy," he stated with a light bow of his head.

She shoved forward her chin, "Lestrade ordered me to let you if asked."

Obviously, she wasn't happy about that.

Did she still fear he'd blow her cover?

"You are an excellent chemist apparently. Dr Watson never fails to underline that," she spat.

"You might want to take the time to actually observe my skills instead of believing what you read. Getting to know me from talking to me might be better than from reading Watson's romantically glorified prose."

Their last meeting had been quite productive and he had hoped his appreciation of her skills would ease what she thought of him. Therefore, he was taken aback by her deprecating mood.

"You might find out that I am actually not really as depicted in those stories. A lot less intelligent and heroic, actually," he tried to stall her.

The words seemed to make her a bit insecure.

"Shall we begin?" he changed topics with a wide grin that was harder to accomplish than he had anticipated.

"I noticed the discoloration of her lips and fingernails," she answered, lifting one of the woman's hands up for closer inspection.  

The first minutes of their outer visual examination were slow, stiff, and difficult.

When they inspected the burns – or at least what looked like burns – all over her right palm, they discovered that the underside of her forearm also looked slightly burned. There were two almost straight lines of redness, going from her hand to her elbows.

Due to the time she had spent in the water Sherlock hadn't been sure at first if the redness of the skin wasn't due to something else she had been in contact with after her death. Damage by other environmental factors couldn't be ruled out since these days, the Thames had more in common with a waste dump that moved than with a river.  

"This looks as if there was liquid she put her hand in, then she raised her hand and the liquid ran down her forearm towards her elbow, doesn't it?" Hooper suggested.

Sherlock nodded, he had thought the same when inspecting the original black and white pictures of the victim's arm.

A bit annoyed, he shook the reminder of the 2016 reality off, wondering if he should establish more complex rules about what he could remember and what not from real life. It could be both helpful and counterproductive to not be aware of modern forensic science. On the other hand, he didn't know what exactly the marks looked like, the notes on the pictures were a bit superficial about the nuances of the discolouration. In addition, the photos were slightly out of focus. He decided to banish all thoughts that were out of Victorian reality for the moment and continue.

When they started more invasive medical procedures their communication became easier, probably because Molly had gotten used to his presence by then and felt more at home with it. He took great care not putting up a show but to value her opinion as a medical professional.

"Oh!" Hooper made when she finally managed to extracted a small amount of urine.

It was slightly blue-green in colour, which finally brought forth a revealing information about how Godwin had died.

"This is a telltale signs of phenol poisoning!" she explained and he agreed.

From then, they started to try to relate other findings to prove it or disconfirm that.

The slightly yellow tinted eyes were present, too and the discolouration of the fingertips and lips, which must have turned slightly blue, also fit into the picture.

"There might be other injuries that could tell us how severe the contamination was. The typical reactions to severe systemic poisoning could be…" Sherlock started.

"…Convulsions or seizures," Hooper finished, and nodded.

They searched her for physical damage that might have happened during a seizure.

After a few minutes, they found some small superficial puncture wounds on her scalp. It probably happened when her head had banged against a surface and her hairpins pierced the skin as a result. However, the pins were no longer there. They had probably loosened from the hair in the water and they couldn't prove she had seizures at first.

"The punctures might have happened in another way while she was in the water," Hooper muttered.  "Also, some areas of her skull are free of hair, ripped out somehow, it seems."

"She might have bitten her tongue," Sherlock wondered out loud.

"I will check her mouth, then I will try to palpate the smaller bones that might break easier during a seizure," Hooper announced and Sherlock assisted by holding a light to shine into the mouth.

Hooper gave him a puzzled look; obviously, she hadn't expected him to do assistant work, but then she accepted it.

They found bite marks, at the side of her tongue as well as her inner cheek. Two small but nasty injuries that were deep in her buccal area and hard to see, unless one looked for it.

"She probably felt the burning but didn't realise what it meant, how serious it was. Chances are high she then tried to wash it off, but it was too late," Sherlock summarized.

"The phenol was absorbed through the skin rather quickly, resorptive poisoning can occur even with only a small area of skin. Then it can quickly lead to paralysis and a severe drop in body temperature. She fell, seized and shortly thereafter fell into an apparent-death-state*3. Death probably occurred shortly thereafter," Hooper finished.

"The only question now is, was this an accident or murder?"

"How can we distinguish that?"

"We need to find more clues. If we can't, we are at an impasse."

"The great Sherlock Holmes can get stuck?" she asked, with the unnerved undertone from before.

"It actually happens quite often in the early stages of a case when too little evidence leave me in the dark for a short period of time," Sherlock explained. "I already told you I am not as Dr Watson depicts me."

She just made a humming noise in response.

"There was a note that contained numbers in her pocket. After these findings, I assume it might be an instruction how to create the cleanser. If it was, it could be the reason that this happened. The setting implies the reaction was intense and occurred fast after contact with the liquid, which means the dilution played a major role. She maybe came into contact with a substance that was 10 times more intense than it should be. Someone noted how to create a solution but forgot to write down that the solution needed to be diluted further before use, too."

.

After they finished the autopsy in the early afternoon, Sherlock went shopping on his way home. He bought some more chemistry equipment and something to counteract his headaches – aspirin was luckily available. He also brought home a bottle of carbolic acid – which was used for cleaning and likely to have caused the maid's phenol poisoning - and four pig legs to test it on.

He had just returned to Baker Street and changed into more comfortable clothes when Mrs Hudson brought in tea. Watson wouldn't be in for another few hours.

Holmes plans for the afternoon included testing tissue samples from the maid's forearm for carbolic acid.

But before he had time to finish his tea, he felt so utterly exhausted that he lay down on the settee, planning to just rest his aching body for a few minutes before setting up the experiments.

.

He was woken by a knock on the door and a moment later Mrs Hudson entered, announcing he had a visitor. She looked a bit surprised to see him hastily sitting up from a nap, his hair ruffled and his dressing gown crumpled. He felt even worse than when he had before sleeping.

Hooper followed the landlady into the living room and Sherlock hurried to the mirror to sort out his hair with his hands. They came back greasy and he huffed in annoyance. Victorian hair products definitely took some time to get used to. The mixture was making a mess on whatever the hair came in contact with, which was overall too inconvenient. In addition, the feeling on his scalp was sometimes so annoying it made him feel close to losing his temper - or maybe it was from the smell.  

Hooper's grin told him she was knowing exactly what he was doing and was amused about the fact that she had caught him in a rather private moment.

"What can I do for you?" he asked, when he returned to her side, deliberately not holding out a hand, but he wiped them on his dressing gown before he offered her a seat at the table by gesturing at it.

"I've come to apologize. I was rude today and it was not your fault... nevertheless I took it out on you."

Sherlock pressed his lips into a thin line, trying to figure out what would be the right thing to say.

"My sister keeps putting pressure on me to end the charade and become a 'ministering angel of domestic bliss'*5, which leads to nasty arguments now and then. She is the only one aware of my... real occupation, besides you and the Watsons, obviously. Everyone else thinks I am a nurse. Since my parents died a few years ago, I live alone at the family home and that is the only way I can keep this up. My sister visited yesterday and we didn't part in a friendly way. Although she shares my view that women should be allowed to vote, she can be a church-bell*6 sometimes and I am not too fond of that. It was not your fault I was angry, and after Lestrade's colleague once more demonstrated his view about working women..."

"I understand. Don't worry about it."

"I am sorry to have woken you. Are you ill?"

"I am just tired, thank you. But I have a request... I don't mind you doing what you are doing, in fact, I find it very interesting that it seems to work so well. It is a valuable insight about human behaviour and this culture you must have gained by doing this. I might be interested in interviewing you about it later if you were fond of the idea? Wearing those closes and hiding your figure is fine with me, but... a shave would.... I mean the moustache is a bit... distracting. Could you take it off?"

At first she frowned, but then, much to his surprise she laughed out loud.

"You are aware you need a shave, too, aren't you?"

"I am. I am sorry I am asking this of you when I myself am in such an... unpresentable state."

"No, to be honest, it is a nuisance," she unceremoniously ripped it off and placed it on the table, the sticky side up.

"It itches and is hard to eat with, and sometimes it comes off at the most inconvenient moments."

Now Sherlock was the one who grinned, too.

"Quite like a real one. My stubble is starting to itch, too."

She looked puzzled as if not getting why he didn't shave then.

A moment later, they were interrupted when Mrs Hudson knocked again and brought in fresh tea.

Hooper discretely covered her mouth and the moustache on the table with her hands while the landlady put the tablet down.

"Don't serve it, I can do it. Thank you," Sherlock sent her off, much to her surprise. A moment later, she was out of the door again.

"Any more ideas about the maid?" Hooper asked.

"I assume she mixed the solution, used a mop and then she somehow put her right hand where she had already mopped or spilled the solution. It started to burn, she tried to wash it off and returned to work, then fell and shortly after that died."

"That much we assumed already before you left the morgue," Molly teased.

"Whoever found her... It took time after that to clean up that mess, and the person who did it must have been very careful not to come into contact with the substance, too. Additionally they must have understood what was happening immediately, and aired the house thoroughly, otherwise we'd have more bodies."

"Oh! Maybe the reason why she was dumped in the river was that she was already soaking wet from the attempt to clean the room she died in and her in one go. Moving her without cleaning her up first would have been dangerous," Hooper added.

"There was a room that seemed quite damp when we went to interview the family she worked for. They also had a lot of windows open I now remember."

"This does look like an accident," Molly pointed out.

"Don't forget the piece of paper. If someone wrote down the wrong numbers it was either stupidity or ill intention."

"If it was the latter, that person must have made sure somehow the right victim would be affected. A skilled maid or housewife might have prevented this from happening."

"Don't forget that the discovery of germs happened not that long ago and we know about it because it is our profession. The use of carbolic acid and carbolic soap as a germ killer is very new to many maids," Sherlock stated.

"Yes, right. There are dangerous chemical now used to eradicate that invisible threat. I read that the improvements help to sterilise the surgical field have significantly raised the numbers of patients surviving surgery. Antiseptic procedures in surgery is a very interesting field I plan to study soon," Hooper explained with enthusiasm.

Sherlock was aware that in the 1850th and early 60th had been a very bad time when it came to public health; London had gone through the peak of unhealthy living conditions that caused cholera and later tuberculosis epidemics.

People were desperate for cures and to prevent something like that to happen again. They turned to pharmacies and anything that promised to eliminate the recently discovered pathogens.

The germ theory set off a wave of downright germ paranoia that started after Pasteur's works were published, the microscope was invented and bacteria could be seen. People started scrubbing and cleaning everything, which led to a new definition of cleanliness.

The Victorians worshipped science and quite often the hazards were ignored when it came to scientific progress and new inventions.

Dangerous chemicals were used lavishly, companies didn't take the time to test them thoroughly before selling them, so people weren't aware of the risks.

Carbolic soap sold well, as did other cleaning products and for local pharmacies the new scientific knowledge meant lucrative business.

"I was about to test the skin sample for chemical residues and then try different solutions on pig skin. If you'd like to join me?"

She smiled at him, obviously quite happy about the offer.

 

------------------------------------

 

*1 The author is aware that this little fact is not correct. In the 1860s, there was not really forensic photography yet, it wasn't used until the late 19th century. This is not a mistake, it is artistic freedom to bend facts a bit, but I did my research.

 

*2 During the first minutes of the episode TAB I wondered why Holmes' behaviour towards women was different from Victorian Lestrade and Watson, who seemed to share a certain view of how a Victorian woman had to be and was treated, a view that Holmes obviously didn't share.

He treated Mary like an equal, in contrast to Watson. During the episode, he continued to do so and I wondered why.

I still do, to be honest. Was it like this in the original stories by ACD, was Holmes ahead of his time? The more odd I found that he - in the end - was the one who not only admitted society had treated them wrong, but he himself, too. Sure, he treats other people bad sometimes, but that is not related to gender.

Overall TAB underlines the discrepancy between how Sherlock sees himself and how others see him. Maybe this was just one more of those differences. Feel free to comment on this, I'd be interested in what readers think about this.

 

*3 I wasn't sure if the word coma was used already in that decade. The words 'apparently dead' was used thought. If anyone is interested, I got this from 'Worldneurologyonline' and there is an article about 'Apparent Death and Coma in the 18th century'. Sorry, I can't post links here, therefore you have to google it if you are interested.

 

 *5 Term used by Charles Dickens

 *6 Victorian Slang for a 'talkative woman'

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Day 5 in 2016, late afternoon

 

 

"How's he doing?" John greeted Greg when he came down in the late afternoon. Molly had picked up Rosie around noon and would stay with her overnight at the Watson's flat. Before that Mrs Hudson had done the babysitting.

"How are you doing?" Greg returned the question in a low voice, closely watching John's body language.

The doctor looked awful. Deep circles under his eyes, the stubble was clearly visible and his face was still swollen around the eyes, all clear signs of the hard night he had.

"Hung over. Hell of a headache," John admitted, not even hesitating. He seemed to want to add something but then just shook his head. Greg knew what was coming. His friend felt sorry for what had happened the night before and would sooner or later try to apologise for it.

"That's why we let you sleep mate. Did you sleep?"

"Bit... Listened to what you read to Sherlock for a bit, too."

Greg had been aware the door was open upstairs. Around noon, he had checked on John, who was fast asleep but he found the door wide open.

"It's quite interesting... that old case he's working on. If it is a case, that is."

"He hasn't told me about it in detail, yet," John muttered, seemingly, he felt shut out. "How is he doing? I should check on him."

"Molly examined him earlier but it is about time for the next check, I guess. They talked for a while, after that he seemed a bit more settled."

Greg watched John fight with himself, not sure how to approach Sherlock, apparently.

"He's... he feels quite guilty, too, you know," the DI tried to encourage him.

They together walked from the living room into the kitchen.

The doctor was well aware that Sherlock was walking on the edge, that his transport's malfunctions consumed most of his patience. Even 'normal' patients were grumpy and rude when in pain and feeling poor, John was used to it. For Sherlock this probably felt as if the difficulty level of coping with human company had skyrocketed.

John fetched a glass and filled it with water.

"He's awake then?" the doctor asked in a low tone while he sipped the cool liquid.

Greg nodded.

"He's getting worse. He-"

"Cravings?" John interrupted him.

"He's handling those better than expected. Depression was a bit hard on him last night. He had a dizzy spell, found him in the bathroom..." Greg explained what had happened, aware that keeping things from John wouldn't work.

"What is really disconcerting is that he had... he was seeing things."

"Seeing things? As in hallucination?" John looked at him with a painful frown, out of narrowed eyes, but his gaze was piercing.

"Yeah," Greg nodded, "Nothing too wild. And he didn't panic or anything, he was just..." Greg tried to find the right words.

"What happened?" John massaged the bridge of his nose between his fingertips.

 

"He was disconsolate, I guess, and... maybe we should talk about it later. It wasn't pretty but... he was aware it was a hallucination – which is good. When he left his bedroom, the spell seemed to be over."

"Alright." John took the charts and studied them, read what Greg and Molly had recorded, he was glad they were taking the documentation this serious.

"Sorry, I interrupted you. Is he awake?"

"He just slept for three hours but I think I heard him in the bathroom about fifteen minutes ago." Greg fetched a water bottle and headed down the hall where he carefully knocked on the bedroom door.

John hesitated, he was not up to this, yet – not before a strong coffee and some time to sober up a bit more. He still couldn't think straight and the ghost of what had happened last night hung still in the air and made him feel embarrassed and uncomfortable.

Absentmindedly, he stared at the spot on the kitchen floor where he had sat last night. At least Sherlock hadn't seen him.

"What do you want?" Sherlock's unnerved voice greeted Greg when he entered the room.

"Well, good evening to you, too, Sunshine!" the DI retorted in a low but not sarcastic voice while he scanned the room, trying to find out if something might be irking the other man.

"Brought you some water. Time for a check up, too. John?"

The doctor blew out air, trying to prepare himself to face Sherlock. A moment later he got under way to follow Greg into the room.

"Shh!" Sherlock made, and only then Lestrade and John realised he had his phone in between his ear and the pillow, was practically lying on it.

For a moment, the detective just listened, then he spoke to the person on the other end.

"Yes. Can you make a list of all members of the Family Bernhard Hollister who were born and died between 1830 and 1950, including the cause of death. Even better would be if you could send me a copy of all the documents... Yes, I will send someone over who will show you an ID. Thank you."

The moment the other person must have hung up was clearly visible on Sherlock's face because he dropped the false friendliness and closed his eyes briefly, as if the call had drained all his energy.

"Working?" Greg asked, grinning.

John wasn't happy and he had already taken air to once more remind the detective he needed to take it slow.

"New insights?" Greg then asked and John realised it was good that his friend even managed to think about the case and that he should be glad Sherlock was trying to focus on something.

When Greg held out the thermometer and the bottle of water, though, Sherlock moaned in frustration. The DI then placed them on the duvet, close to Sherlock's feet.

Meanwhile John was reminded of the events of last night by the bad taste in his mouth. He tried to prepare himself to say what he thought he needed to say.

It was no use to prolong it; he wanted to get this over with.

Sherlock needed to know he wasn't angry and that he understood mood swings were part of the process.

"Hey," he greeted his friend, tried to appear relaxed and easygoing. It somehow reminded him of evening rounds in Afghanistan. When trying to lighten the mood of badly wounded young soldiers by broadcasting a bit of confidence was what he had to do.

Back then, it had never felt this difficult, though. Probably because he rarely knew any of his patients personally.

The detective was slowly trying to move up a bit in his bed, leaning sideways, he tried to rearrange the pile of pillows behind his back.

Simultaneously, a wave of scrutiny hit John full force.

John should have been prepared for that.

Sherlock's eyes started to dart over John, though not with the usual speed. Nevertheless, it seemed as if every tense muscle, every tiny detail out of place was catalogued, every tiny movement analysed. John was well aware that he probably looked like a homeless drunk.

Without taking his eyes of John, Sherlock tried to sit up a bit more. But the fractured ribs were still giving him a hard time, and would continue to do so for a few more weeks.

Greg picked up the thermometer and handed it to the detective, who took it and then inserted the tip into his ear, pressed the button and removed it again- his gaze still not leaving John, although he didn't even once met his eyes.

Touch issues were getting worse, John realised, while he too tried to evade the gaze that seemed to strip him of every last bit of privacy he once had.

Despite that, he noticed the little tremors that were shaking Sherlock's thin form and that he looked even worse than last night.

"Want some tea?" Greg interrupted the uneasy silence.

A grunt was the only answer.

But it seemed Greg had interpreted the noise as an affirmation and left, leaving John feeling exposed.

For a moment, Sherlock's eyes narrowed and John lowered his head, it was no use trying to hide anything from his friend, and maybe it was easier than to have to say it to just let him collect the information himself.

Finally, John just wanted to suggest to forget it and go on but as he took a deep breath, Sherlock interrupted him.

"I am sorry," he said.

When John looked up this time, Sherlock was once more evading his eyes and looking sideways, not focussing on anything.

"It is normal to be irritable during this phase, no need to-" John muttered.

"Yes, there is a need."

"Okay. Apology accepted," John hurried to say, "Can we now pretend this didn't happen and continue to focus on getting through this?"

"I assume you assume that is the least stressful path of action and therefore the desired one?"

John huffed out a laugh, "Yes."

Sherlock didn't react to that. For a moment, he stared at the display of the thermometer in his lap, then handed it over for John to read.

"Can I examine you and help you change?" John asked, pointing at Sherlock's sweaty long sleeved shirt.

After an excessively long pause, the other man nodded and carefully started to pull his shirt over his head.

The doctor took his time to palpate his heart, his lungs, check his BP and everything else.

Sherlock just endured it passively, allowing the touch. John sensed how unstrung he was, mentally and physically.

.

Fifteen minutes later Sherlock sat dressed in a fresh shirt. Getting changed had left him looking grey and breathing heavily. To reduce the stress John decided to let him do as much as he could himself of the tasks that were necessary for examining him. First, he asked him to pull the skin on the back of his hand up to assess the level of hydration.

They both watched him do it.

It took the skin way too long to flatten again.

Aware what that meant, Sherlock grimaced.

To John's horror, he was much more dehydrated than the doctor had thought.

"Greg said you were dizzy last night... Did your blood pressure drop when you stood up after lying down?"

Sherlock's eyes narrowed as if it was hard to remember.

"I don't know... maybe?" he said in the odd tone of slightly confused cockiness John had heard at the hospital when the detective had mused about the importance of the number 'three'.

"Mate, you need to drink – a lot!" John urged and pointed at the bottle of water Greg had left on the nightstand. He wondered if Sherlock was feeling more out of it than he let them know.

Blinking a few times, Sherlock nodded and picked up the bottle.

With worry ceasing his features into a frown, John watched him struggle to open the screw cap.

A moment later Greg returned with a large mug of tea in one hand and carrying a manila folder under the arm.

"Want to do some of the reading?" he offered the folder to John.

"No, he wants a shower and has an obnoxious headache," Sherlock narrowed his eyes, not in a calculating but in a struggling-to-see way. "So do I."

"Nope, no showers for you yet," John said in a warning voice.

"My own smell has turned into a source of discomfort," the detective argued.

"He sweated a lot last night," Greg informed.

"Maybe tonight. if you are more hydrated and have eaten. No getting the stitches wet. We bought some of those waterproof plasters. No promises, though. Let's see what your BP says later, then decide."

"Go. Shower," Sherlock urged him, trying to make it sound casual but failing miserably.

After a brief moment of hesitation and a nod from the DI, John finally left.

"So, I am the taleteller again?" Greg smiled at Sherlock and handed over the tea, which the detective accepted with great care not to spill anything. Wisely, Lestrade had only filled the mug two thirds.

"I need you to pick up the documents for me... Show your badge so they know it is a legitimate request."

"Alright. Where?"

When Sherlock's gaze just shifted into the distance and no answer came, Lestrade stepped closer again.

"Mate?"

The shaking of Sherlock's hands seemed to worsen and Greg carefully pulled the hot mug out of his grip.

That made Sherlock snap back to reality.

It was obvious something was causing a bit of distress.

Sherlock gulped repeatedly and his lips were pressed together tightly. Greg could see his jaw muscles work.

"Sherlock? What is it?" Greg tried again in a low voice.

"It's... The chemical changes in my brain are currently not easy to handle. Peaking, actually," Sherlock admitted. Though his voice was hoarse, it was carefully voided of all emotions.

"Hey, look at me..." Greg waited for him to do so, and his pause elongated. Sherlock looked at his hands, but no into his eyes. For Greg that was good enough, he knew Sherlock was trying to listen. "The cravings will pass, you know that. They don't last forever. You are able to manage those desires. They built up, they reach a peak, they subside. Just hang on until they do... I can read or we can watch telly or something."

After another long silence, in which Sherlock allowed himself to sink back deeper into the pillows, he finally dragged in a deep breath and cleared his throat.

Greg literally saw him fight his impulse to jump out of the bed and abscond to purchase whatever was available.

"Stay strong, you'll get through this," Greg leaned down a bit to try to meet his friend's eyes, but Sherlock just looked sideways a bit.

"Get my headphones... the ones on the skull," Sherlock pressed out and Greg could spot small beads of sweat on his forehead.

"On my way," Greg said slowly, as if not sure he should leave Sherlock on his own for even a few seconds. The man's stubbornness and discipline were amazing, but right now the DI was not ready to rely on them completely.

Still, it was a big step that Sherlock was informing him about the problem.

However, apparently letting anyone help with it was currently not the thing he was convinced could work.

Greg hurried to do as asked and when he returned, Sherlock had thrown most of the pillows out of the bed and was curled up on his side, facing away from the door.

Lestrade rounded the bedstead to see his face.

Sherlock had his mp3 player clutched in his right. The thing looked a bit ridiculous because a jack plug adapter was sticking out of it that was bigger than the device itself.

Sherlock opened his eyes when Greg cleared his throat.

"That bad?"

Sherlock didn't answer, just held out his shaking hands and Greg handed the high quality headphones over.

"You know, I could get you some in-ear headphones, to make it more comfortable... you know, lying down."

Sherlock manipulated the pillows to make a hollow for the bulky rounded ear cups before he took them out of the DI's hand.

"No... Need the... need the cup things... over the ears," Sherlock had obviously problems articulating things. "Works better with..." he trailed off.

When he hadn't finished the sentence fifteen seconds later, Greg asked.

"Sherlock, is this a danger night – I mean... I mean do you fear you might lose your nerve to get through with this?"

The other man looked sideways and seemed to be lost for words.

When no response came after almost ten seconds, the DI leaned a bit closer, making another try to meet his eyes.
When he spoke again, his voice was much softer and caring than Sherlock had heard in a long time.

"Alright. That's answer enough."

"I'll text you the address," Sherlock made a blatant try to change topics and throw him out at once.

Greg stood there for a moment, hesitating and not sure how to proceed.

"Leave," Sherlock huffed, but without any anger or resentment in his voice. It sounded more like unmanageable desperation than anything else.

Hesitating, Greg caught himself chewing on his lower lip in sympathy, then he left the darkened room – with the plan to return in under three minutes.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

"We need to see the family," Sherlock greeted Lestrade the moment the man entered the flat. "To find out who wrote the dilution down. Whose handwriting it is - and to confront them with the new facts, find out their involvement. The man of the house should be home by now. Let's go."

Lestrade and Watson exchanged exasperated looks before the doctor hurried to get his jacket.

What followed were two hours of strained discussion at the Mansion of the Hollisters.

.

The first thing Sherlock did was ordering the entire family to write down the numbers from one to ten but keeping it secret what he needed them for. The first priority was to get proof they weren't the ones who gave the skivvy maid the faulty instructions.

To the waiting group's utter dismay, Sherlock then retreated into the kitchen with the writing samples, leaving John and Lestrade to deal with the family. It was the only space that promised silence and a minimum of distraction to compare the original note with everybody's hand.

.

Half an hour later, in which there was no tea because Sherlock blocked the kitchen, he confronted the family with the fact that he was sure they were the ones who put her in the Thames, though not guilty of killing her deliberately.

After a lengthy discussion, in which Sherlock explained his deductions, the family still denied everything. In the end, the detective lost his patience and decided to play the 'human psychology card'.

"The young woman has a family who loved her and who will dearly miss her. The same you would miss your daughter, Mr Hollister," he addressed the husband, then made a pause to let that sink in.

"The reaction to contact poisoning occurs after five to 30 minutes," he explained, "when she realised something was wrong and tried to wash it off, it was too late. At first only white patches appear on the skin, those aren’t painful... She must have tried to wash it off, but it was too late."

The small group of people in the room stared into different corners of the stuffed room, but didn't look at him.

"At first, she probably suffered from severe abdominal pain and nausea. A bit later, she started to have trouble breathing...  Then she died - alone and in a horrible amount of pain."

Blatantly, he looked around and to his triumph, he found one of the daughters was openly crying and the mother seemed to fight with tears.

They hadn't actively killed her, but he couldn't really feel sorry for them. They had tried to cover up her death, maybe even caused it by being careless.

It only took another minute of heavy silence until Mrs Hollister finally admitted that she had found the Ottilie dead, a few metres away from the bucket and a wet spot on the ground where she seemed to have started cleaning – exactly as Sherlock had assumed.

It turned out he was also right in the assumption that they were so very cautious about their reputation, that they - in a cloak-and-dagger operation - had washed away the acid and thrown her into the Thames, together with the soiled cleaning rags.

As soon as it was clear what had befallen the maid after her demise, Sherlock concentrated on trying to figure out the reason for her death.

"Do you happen to know where she bought the cleaning agents and who wrote this?" he asked, showing the mother and daughters the piece of paper with the wrong dilution written down.

Working together with Hooper, Sherlock had proven it must be a dilution because when they tested various dilutions of carbolic acid on the pigskin the only one that caused burns in the intensity the maid's skin displayed where the ones that were caused by a solution made with the numbers in question.

"She did all the shopping and… sometimes went quite far to get good offerings or quality. My wishes," the Misses explained, "There are three chemists on her way, let me see if I can find quittances."

"And while you are at it, see if you can find the bottle the solution was stored in."

"I am sorry, but we threw that one out right after..." Mrs Hollister said. "There was a label on it, but I don't know what it said."

She left and came almost immediately with six receipts from the past two months. Sherlock sorted them into to two different shops and four different writers. But none of the quittances was filled out by the person who had written down the fateful numbers that much was clear.

Therefore, the next thing to do was to find out where the note had been written and by whom.

Sherlock informed the waiting group they were all free of any suspicion of murder, but there might be further inquiry about the accident itself.

"You can leave," the detective finished his explanation.

"This is our house!" the husband protested.

"What?" Sherlock looked up, puzzled.

Lestrade stood up.

"Thank you for your help, we'll be in contact."

To their surprise, the youngest daughter stepped forward and reached for Sherlock's hand, which he only reluctantly allowed her to take.

"Oh, thank you, Mr Holmes, for proving we didn't harm the poor thing. She was such a nice girl and so eager to do a good job."

"Honey, I already told you how inappropriate it is to talk to her as much as you did. She is just a maid," the mother scolded.

"She was a friendly person, unlike many others."

"There will probably be further investigations because she was not properly instructed how to use the cleaning agents," Sherlock addressed the mother coldly.

"But my mother didn't know she didn't know! It is in the responsibility of the person who told her how to mix it!" the oldest daughter protested.

"But your mother was clearly aware how dangerous it could be, otherwise there would have been more people affected," Sherlock said.

The mother stared at him in shock.

"I was in fact informed about the risks by a very competent pharmacist when I first bought that cleaning agent, when it was quite a new invention. And I assumed she would be, too when buying it."

"Invention?" Sherlock frowned. As a chemist, his understanding was that most chemicals had always been there, no matter of humanity's awareness of them. Their uses for mankind though had to be figured out by a vast number of experiments, which needed creative thinking, but it was not an invention per se.  

"Also, there might be consequences for lying to the police about this," Lestrade explained, "and getting rid of the body... as well as trying to mislead us, telling us she had eczema on her hands."

Most members of the family were quite gloomy after that statement.

When it came to saying their good-byes, John held out his hand for the daughter to shake, while Sherlock carefully made sure to hide his hands behind his back.

The now slightly idolising undertone the young woman used in her goodbye didn't go unnoticed by John and Lestrade.

The father, who had been not very cooperative during their earlier conversation and who had been quite dismissive, only now realised that although the maid died at their house and there would be a small scandal, the blame for her murder would have created a far greater disaster. He then joined his daughter's praise and suddenly the atmosphere changed into over-friendly and grateful.

Which meant Sherlock left the house as if it was on fire.

Greg and John took their time to bit them all farewell properly before they followed their friend to the waiting police coach carriage.

.

They stopped at both pharmacies in question to ask the owners if they could identify the writer, of course without telling them why they were really asking. Sherlock asked under the pretence that he remembered that in the same pharmacy where he had gotten the note they sold his favourite tooth powder.

The owner of the first store was sure he had never seen the handwriting or the paper at all and gave a sample of his own writing and his assistant's – as well as a probe of his best selling tooth powder.

The second shop's apprentice was out but the pharmacist showed them detailed instructions the young man had to write for every customer to help him memorise facts. The handwriting was different from their piece of evidence, and so was the one of the man himself, he too advertised his oral care products and Sherlock bought a little box to use for experiments.

In the end, they wondered if it was worth seeing every chemist in London about the note - or at least Greg and John did, Sherlock of course argued this was exactly what detective work required and that it needed to be done.

When Sherlock suggested to find the next Kelly's directory*, John interfered.

"I strongly advice against doing this yourself. You need rest."

"Right. Listen to the doctor, Holmes. You look poorly. I will send constables out to get writing samples. You can then analyse those to your heart's content."

"They will behave suspicious."

"I am sure Lestrade can explain them how to do the same harmless little scam you just used," Watson smiled.

.

They had barely returned to Baker Street when Watson was called away for a house call, one of his patients had fallen off a ladder. These days there were no A&Es at hospitals and most emergencies were still treated by the local doctor.

Sherlock felt so drained that he decided to lie down and muse about the case while relaxing his aching limbs in his bed.

He was woken by Watson's return, who then ate dinner and talked to Mrs Hudson in the living room.

Still not fully awake, everything suddenly irked him.

It was hard to keep his irritation in check and prevent himself from yelling across the flat to silence them. All noises seemed to be extraordinary hard to endure, as was the structure of the fine linens on his bare skin.

He kicked off the bedding and clenched his teeth not to make any loud noises of distress.

It felt as if his mind was plagued by myriads of ants trampling through his nerves, it made every sensation painful and fulsome.

To protect his flatmate and himself from his foul mood and oversensitive nerves he stayed in his room.

.

"You need a shave to look decent, young man. People were turning their heads on your appearance all day," Mrs Hudson greeted him an hour later when he finally had found the strength to come to the living room.

He grimaced, aware he had missed something, though still trying to figure out when she had the chance to observe other people looking at him.

In his current state, shaving was a thing he tried to avoid because if might cause a sensory overload, especially when done by someone else.

But it was a fine line. If his stubble grew out too much, the itching and sensory input it brought could become very annoying, too.

Unwashed skin would also peeve him at a certain point, there was a limit to how much of his own body odour he could stand. He was well aware that this point was almost reached, in real life he was longing for a shower for days now and his own stench was starting to slosh over into this reality.

Therefore, he should try to shave and have a decent wash sometime soon; maybe it would allow him to keep the problem out of the mind palace reality. He had skipped bathing the past days, feeling too exhausted to even try.

But according to how raw his senses were already, it would be challenging.

"Holmes?" Watson was up and scrutinizing him the moment he stepped into the living room.

Before the detective could say anything, Watson had reopened the door Mrs Hudson had just closed after her and was addressing her on the stairs.

"Mrs Hudson can you please heat up water for a bath! As soon as possible! Thank you."

Sherlock cringed from the loud noise and was aware that he had ridiculously squinched his eyes shut.

"I don't..." he tried.

"Yes Holmes, you do. No arguments! If a client comes in here, we'll lose them immediately to your deterring smell. Also, we have a meeting tomorrow with that young man who asked to see you."

Right.

Sherlock plunked down into the chaise longue. Unfortunately, something was rucked up under his weight.

For a moment he considered just leaving it there – it hurt too much to move – but then he decided the noise it would make was rather annoying.

He shifted his weight and incompetently pulled the obnoxious object out.

It was the London Evening Standard, a newspaper that was not among his favourite ones, he wondered where it came from.

But then the headlines caught his gaze: British North America Act is passed in the House of Commons.

A way smaller article was titled: Polish composer Wiktor Każyński died March 6th in St. Petersburg.

Sherlock considered reading the article but found his eyes wouldn't focus properly.

"Hey mate, come on. Let's get you in the warm tub. You'll feel better once you're clean."

The tone was so much John that Sherlock looked up in confusion.

Watson smiled down at him. With care and without causing too much noise, the doctor removed the newspaper.

"You are stiff," Watson announced.

When no answer came, he continued, "What ails you?... Please tell me. Not knowing is giving me a lot of grief, my dear friend."

He rested a gentle hand on Sherlock's shoulder and for a moment, the detective just sat there, trying to collect himself.

The touch felt vivid and harsh at the same time, but he couldn't – wouldn't - shake it off, the tiny gesture was too precious.

A physical manifestation of friendship and care.

Not for the first time he wondered if this would be easier if he told the doctor what was going on.

Watson had seen war and was aware of the perils that followed if pain was needed to be numbed for a long period of time. He had lived through his own injury's pain management and the aftermath thereof. For this very reason he should be aware of the problems it brought.

He also was a doctor continuing his studies constantly, learning the new scientific sensations of the era. Maybe he would understand.

During the mid and late Victorian Period awareness rose about what certain drugs did and what addiction was. The results were tries to somehow govern the trade. Up till then many drugs were freely available for everybody.

Though a lot of people still considered constant drug use as a moral weakness, some scientists had already understood it should be regarded as an addiction.

The 1861 edition of a famous household book already warned of the well-known risks of cocaine, of giving too much, too frequently, too lightly.

On the other hand, drug use was not was not seen as a serious social and medical problem until the early twentieth century, which was a few decades away.

What was difficult to understand for him was that Watson had an odd way to react to his drug use sometimes.

At times, he seemed to think Holmes needed to kill some well hidden pain and understood that, on other times he seemed quite angry about it. He was probably deciding which was which from a catalogue of internal moral guidelines Holmes hadn't figured out, yet.

For a long moment he was contemplating, trying to remember why he had decided not to tell Watson about his abstinence.

His ability to concentrate wasn't getting better.

Maybe because he thought he couldn't stand Watson knowing?

Or thought he might not understand?

On the other hand, his nervous fussing was hard to endure, too.

Suddenly, he realised Watson had been a lot less gruff than usual recently. Had been patient and waiting without urging him to talk about his problem.

He remembered his decision to be able to rant freely and use Watson as a mental punching bag for all the things he couldn't unleash on John.

But instead of yelling and insulting the Watsons' human flaws, he suddenly experienced a rush of desperate need he couldn't identify.

"Hey?" the doctor's hand was still on Sherlock's shoulder, and now the thumb of that hand was tapping slightly onto his collarbone.

Sherlock closed his eyes, focussing on the point of contact.

The touch was so familiar... and such a strong sign of support.

And he was too enervated to make decisions and run away from his friend's care... and keep the facade up.

"The water is ready, let me help you."

A strong but gentle hand under his armpit heaved him upright and a moment later, they were stumbling into the other room where Mrs Hudson was preparing the bath.

He had tensed up, expected his senses to spike painfully.

But it didn't happen.

The touch didn't make him want to scream. He didn't have to fight to keep his distaste contained.

They reached the heated room when he felt his strength leave him.

Although he longed for feeling clean, he now doubted he was up to this, felt too weak to even undress himself.

Tired...

"Holmes!" Watson said alarmed, very close to his ear but in a low voice. "Hey!"

Puzzled and a bit disoriented he realised he must have dozed off and Watson had heaved him into the dressing chair.

Fingers fumbled for his wrist.

And the touch was actually...?

Welcome?

His mind staggered to a halt when his internal dictionary popped up and provided him with a term: touch starved.

He had never thought he would find meaning to that word, but the want for presence and the need for decisions being taken away from him was as alien as this.

Was he really suffering from such a condition?

Was it a mental or a physical need?

Was he just overwhelmed by all that was happening and the need for care – which he consciously despised - but subconsciously needed?

The repulsion he felt for a moment was strong, but he decided to inspect his strange sentiment closer.

It did feel like hunger he realised when he opened his internal dictionary to find the in detail definition of the word to read it.

With an internal eye-roll he acknowledged to himself it might fit.

It was ludicrous nevertheless.

He didn't want it to be true, felt pathetic and humiliated enough by his body's and mind's affectations, he couldn't take something like this on top of it all.

Distantly, he was aware that Watson's agitation about his lack of response was gaining intensity, so he shoved his reflections away to handle his friend first.

"Holmes?"

The initial thought about whether to inform Watson about the origin of his state shoved away by a new difficult concept.

He raised his gaze.

Watson was trying to help him out of his jacket and wanted his cooperation.

"I don't need assistance, please leave me be," Sherlock tried.

"For god's sake, Holmes! You will let me examine you!" Watson ordered sternly and Sherlock knew this John would not let himself be shaken off with a few rude words.

Although his hands were still shaking slightly, he managed to unbutton his shirt and hang it up on a wall hook in reach.

A moment later, Mrs Hudson came in to bring another large pot of hot water she then poured into the tub. The house was equipped with running water and plumbing but not yet with closed fire ranges fitted with back boilers.

This was his goddamn mind palace – why not?

It had been the last time he was here!

Why was it that much more inconvenient this time?

He needed comfort, the house should have stayed in his 1895 state to meet his need.

The answer to this was obvious.

He was miserable and his transport took every chance it got to remind him of that, besides that fact that his current reality was actually earlier in time.

A hot bath would be good, though.

Occupied by his own pensiveness, he kind of shut himself off from the experience of being examined by Watson, who had proceeded to action without his permission. The Victorian doctor wouldn't be of much help anyway, there was no use other than getting him off his back.

"Your behaviour tells me you know perfectly well what your health issues are caused by. Am I right?" Watson's stern tone jolted him out of his thoughts. He was holding a stethoscope and his leather doctor bag was open next to them on the ground.

Once more, Sherlock closed his eyes for a moment and tried to think, to decide how to respond.

Without opening them, he admitted, "Yes."

"So what...?"

Sherlock opened his eyes when Watson interrupted him.

"I am not sick. I am not dying. I will get better. There is nothing you can do!" he burst out.

"I am sorry, Holmes, but I can't trust you with things like that. You have neglected your body too often in the past... and damaged it just to solve a case. Therefore, I am prone to think this is an error of judgement and prefer to trust my own – educated – observations."

Sherlock felt his jaw muscles work and he briefly wondered if getting out of the room was an option. Getting in the bath were he couldn't evade this conversation seemed not a good idea.

He just shook his head and remained silent, out of words and not knowing what to say and how.

"Talk to me for god's sake!" Watson suddenly yelled, his patience depleted after days of seeing his friend suffering without knowing the cause.

The aggressive tone made Sherlock flinch hard and he leaned back in the chair, to get as far away from the other man as he could.

Watson's eyes widened about the unexpectedly hefty reaction to his loud words.

He frowned and anger was replaced by worry.

Then, he too, made a step back.

It was clear Watson was trying to say something but was rendered speechless, obviously trying to understand the reason for Holmes's unconscious reaction.

Consternation, confusion and distress passed over the doctor's face within a few seconds.

"I am sorry," Sherlock mumbled, unable to look at him.

He felt miserable and caught, and there was an aspect of shame.

Somehow he might have just wrongly insulted Watson for something John had done.

"What happened?" Watson asked in an unexpectedly low and slightly panicked voice.

Sherlock evaded his gaze and concentrated on not mentally regurgitating how it had felt to lie on the ground in the morgue, beaten and bleeding.

It was difficult.

"Please tell me."

"I was in a fight. It is not the reason for my poor health," Sherlock reassured him, well aware he was staring into space.

"Are you in pain?"

"Not to an amount I can't manage."

"I want to help, what can I do?"

Watson stepped closer again and Sherlock was at a loss. There was nothing anyone could do but wait for it all to get better. He shook his head, struggling still with the decision if he should tell Watson about his abstinence and the effects it had.

The doctor would probably welcome what he was doing but start to monitor him as closely as John was.

Additionally he was struggling with the idea that if the withdrawal by itself was present in this reality it could possibly destroy the desired effect of it being a respite from the very thing.

He had tried to will the Victorian doctor oblivious to his ailments but about this very point the mind palace didn't behave to his command. One more thing that was probably ruled by his subconscious issues. Or maybe it was rooted too deep in John's behaviour for him to write it out.

A slight tap to his cheek brought him back.

"This is not funny any longer. What are you taking? You had more cocaine in the past days than usual, didn't you?"

Sherlock just shook his head once more, and fell into the same trap he liked to use on other people when interrogating them.

"None," he huffed, feeling the need to correct a wrong statement.

"None? Since when?"

"Several days."

Watson sat down heavily on the footstool that was standing in the corner, indicating he very well understood what that meant.

It was out, then.

What Sherlock hadn't expected was the sudden onslaught of fright the revelation caused him.

He needed to erase this from this mind palace session and make Watson forget this had happened!

Immediately!

Unable to think clearly, he tried to leave his mind space.

But when he reopened his eyes, he was still in the richly decorated Victorian bathroom.

Escape!

He needed to get out of this situation, internal alarm bells ringing so loud he could hear nothing else.

Consciously, he tried to call the wooden door he used to enter this realm if he had issues focussing – he had rarely needed it to exit.

When nothing happened, he stood up on shaky legs and headed for the hallway. If the door wasn't coming to him, he needed to go where he installed it, opposite John's bedroom door... upstairs.

Watson grabbed his upper arm.

"Where do you think you are going?"

"I... I need to... Let me go."

Watson did, but when he dragged himself up the stairs, wondering why he hadn't placed the entry somewhere more practical.

Watson followed him, making sure he didn't fall, but Sherlock ignored him.

Problem was, the door wasn't were it was supposed to be.

Unsettled by this new disturbing discovery, he frantically shoved his hands all over the walls in the hall, looking for a hidden doorframe.

When he closed his eyes in desperation and did it a second time, his fingers finally touched it.

The doorknob.

Maybe it was not visible because Watson was standing behind him, babbling and clearly wondering if he had lost it.

Not daring to open his eyes, afraid it might not be there if he did, he fumbled to open it.

It moved with difficulty and it took him several tries until he finally managed to turn it.

When he stepped through though, what greeted him was not, as expected, his 2016 bedroom.

It was heat and smoke and the unmistakable smell of a house on fire.

He tried to make a step back, but the door that had been behind him moments ago was gone.

His back was against a solid wall.

 

 


 

*

"Kelly's Directory (or more formally, the Kelly's, Post Office and Harrod & Co Directory) was a trade directory in England that listed all businesses and tradespeople in a particular city or town, as well as a general directory of postal addresses of local gentry, landowners, charities, and other facilities. In effect, it was a Victorian version of today's Yellow Pages. Many reference libraries still keep their copies of these directories, which are now an important source for historical research." Cited from/source: Wikipedia

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

"He needs to stop disappearing into his mind palace," John stated when Greg returned to the living room.

"Funny enough. Right now he isn't even in a state to go there, I think. But do you really think it is wise to expect him to go through this torture more conscious than necessary?"

"No. That's not what I meant. The problem is, he's not moving enough and not drinking enough."

When Greg took breath, John interrupted him, "I know we shouldn't do anything that might tip his careful balance while he is walking on the edge, but he is getting worse."

"John, I know this is very hard to watch. I feel as helpless as you."

"He's getting dehydrated to an amount that will make things go downhill soon," John ranted on.

"Right now he is even less able to communicate his issues than usual," Greg made the issues known he had observed, "Additionally he's trying to figure out what and how to say the right thing. After last night he probably thinks he'll only make it worse if he speaks. Therefore, he's reluctant and quiet... and overwhelmed by cravings right now."

"You really think the cravings are the worst of it? I think the depression is hitting him equally hard."

"Yes. This is a danger night... Although every night is a danger night at the moment, this one will be bad. The cravings come in waves and are at a high this very moment. He tries to handle them. I think he's totally overwhelmed with... everything... Sorry, as a medical man you know that... sorry... It's just... The music is a bad sign, it means he can't or won't - for some reason - use the mind palace. He shouldn't be alone. He'll hate it, but for the next three something hours, we need to be in there with him."

.

They took turns sitting in Sherlock's room after that.

The detective seemed to ignore them completely, he didn't even adjust his position or roll to his other side.

Sitting there in the dark, John was amazed how much self control Sherlock had. It was clearly visible how much strain it put on him to fight his body's cries for relief. All his life, the doctor had never seen someone go through withdrawal from these kinds of drugs. Contrary to expectations, he hadn't had to chain his friend to a wall to keep him from following his urges - yet.

It was grievously hard for John to monitor Sherlock's trembling back, his way too fast  shallow breaths. The music must be at a volume Sherlock's sensitive ears would register as pain since John could hear it through the headphone at the other end of the room.

What was getting to him was that he could do nothing else than stare at his unmoving tense from.

Sherlock was still perspiring and would need another shirt soon. He was wearing all clothes inside out at the moment, because even the seams were incommodious. Sherlock's clothes had no tags, the detective removed them immediately, because even on a normal day he claimed they disrupted his thoughts due to the itching they caused.

During the last three days they had gone through Sherlock's entire wardrobe of comfort clothes and although Mrs Hudson was washing daily, John knew someone needed to get more non-irritating soft cotton clothes soon.

Feeling utterly useless, it made John physically uncomfortable to sit still while his best friend seemed to fight his battle alone.

Now and then Sherlock's breathing changed into a more laboured pattern or even hitched.  The little chocked noises he made now and then hit John's apprehensive soul and every time it happened he had to close his eyes for a few seconds to keep his own emotions in check.

Finally, after almost four long hours, the tension left Sherlock's body and his breathing deepened.

Within a few minutes, he seemed to have fallen asleep – or managed to go to his mind palace.

John decided to wait a few more minutes. When he deemed it safe, he to returned to the living room, where Greg had taken a nap.

"Order some pizza? I know a place that is still delivering at this hour," Greg mumbled and sat up, his hair a mess and his stubble starting to show.

John winced, it was almost midnight.

Eating was the last thing he felt he needed, worry and shame suppressing his appetite. But his medical senses told him he should eat. Replenish the stuff his body was lacking after the drinking. It might even help the still present aftereffects of the hangover.

"Come on. You need nourishment. Prefer something else than pizza?"

John shook his head, out of words and unable to make another decision.

.

An hour later, both men were sitting at the dining table.

John had relaxed a bit and it seemed having a decent meal and drinking a lot of soda had improved his mood a bit.

Greg had abstained from having a beer and was also having a sugary soft drink.

They were almost finished eating when suddenly there were noises coming from Sherlock's room.

John and Greg looked at each other in alarm.

Some seconds later the bedroom door burst open and the detective stumbled into the kitchen. He had to use his arms for balance on the doorframes and walls.

John saw him coming towards them through the lit kitchen.

Sherlock's movements broadcasted so much distress and precipitance that he was up and moved towards his friend immediately.

"Sherlock? What the hell?"

When Sherlock lifted his head, John could see his face. The detective was very pale and the dark areas around his eyes had worsened. He looked seriously ill and his face was covered in sweat. But the most troublesome thing was his expression, it was clear he was in panic mode.

"Get out!" Sherlock's hoarse yell echoed through the silent house.

"What?" Greg headed over to them, too, but Sherlock was already opening the kitchen door and scurrying into the hallway.

"Shit!" Greg sounded confused and changed direction to stop their friend.

It was John who reached Sherlock first, grabbed his upper arm, this way preventing that he ran down the stairs.

The doctor was mainly afraid Sherlock might fall, he was clearly weak-kneed.

For a moment, John was convinced this was finally Sherlock's first try to get rid of them, to somehow sneak off and buy drugs, but when he saw the terror in Sherlock's eyes and the desperate tries to free himself from John's grip, he tried to assess the situation from a different point of view.

Sherlock's chest was heaving way too fast and John was sure his pulse was through the roof.

"I need to wake Mrs Hudson. Get Rosie! We need to get out of the house!"

"Sherlock? What the hell are you talking about?" Greg passed them and made a few steps down the stairs, effectively blocking Sherlock's way down.

John wrapped his other arm around Sherlock's chest to get a better hold on him.

"What? Why?... Sherlock! Calm down!"

Sherlock flailed and fought them, then started to yell.

"Mrs Hudson! Wake up!"

"Shh! Shit Sherlock! You'll wake the whole street."

"That's the point!... We need to get out... now!" Sherlock stammered with a trembling voice.

"What's the matter with you? Why the hell should we get out?" John demanded, his tone now suspicious.

"Rosie! We need to get out! We need to wake them..."

"Tell us why!" Greg ordered, staring at Sherlock's face, who's gaze was scampering through the room but looking at nothing, with a speed that was dizzying.

"What the bloody hell is going on?" Mrs Hudson turned on the light from downstairs and started to come up the stairs.

"No! Don't come up! Get out! There's a fire. Get out!" Sherlock urged her, struggling harder against the restraining hands.

"What?" the landlady squeaked.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" Greg raised his hands in front of Sherlock, "Where?"

"Something is burning... I can smell it!" Sherlock argued.

Everyone was suddenly busy trying to sniff the air and find the source of the smell that was unsettling Sherlock so much.

John shook his head first. "Can't smell anything. You?" he addressed Greg.

"No. Nothing."

They stood in puzzled silence for a moment.

"Relax, Sherlock. Why do you think there is a fire? Did you see it? Is it in your room?" John tried to figure out what was happening.

"Yes."

Greg passed them again and sprinted back into Sherlock's room to check it.

"It was burning. I could smell it. It smelled like a burning house – not like someone making a fire but like all the various types of materials burning that are present in a house," Sherlock urgently rattled off, still trying to wind out of John's hands but with no vigour.

When Greg returned, he silently shook his head, out of breath but still alert.

The landlady had made it up the stairs, carrying a small fire extinguisher, she was now the one blocking Sherlock's way.

"Check my room, too," John asked him.

The DI hurried up the stairs to see if everything was all right there, too.

"The smell, there was that smell... and the flames," Sherlock's voice hitched, he sounded more confused than anything else.

"We can't smell anything. There is no fire, mate. I checked every room," Greg reassured him coming down the stairs.

Sherlock was just breathing heavily and shaking his head in disbelief, not struggling against John bracing him any longer. Without him realising it, the touch had shifted, from keeping him in place to keeping him upright.

To make sure everything was alright, Mrs Hudson went to check her flat and even checked the streets outside, but returned a minute later and assured them there was nothing burning.

With shaking hands, Sherlock shoved his greasy hair out of his face, then started to pull at it.

"Hey, stop that," John demanded in a gently voice, "let's sit you down."

When the doctor lowered him down onto the top step, Sherlock had to follow him down, having no strength left to keep himself standing.

John took a seat next to him.

"Sherlock? What just happened? Did you just have a nightmare?"

"No!" Sherlock insisted.

"Are you still smelling smoke?" he asked.

"No."

"Was it a memory?" John probed, not yet ready to suggest it was a hallucination. "Have you ever been in a burning house?"

Sherlock's eyes narrowed, it was clear he was trying to think.

Meanwhile Greg went to get a glass of water.

"Sherlock?" John tried to get the other man's attention when Sherlock was only staring into nothingness, obviously trying hard to remember.

"The smell... it was... my room was... something was burning... I... There were flames. They were high," the detective was struggling to keep it together.

"Alright. Have some water," Greg held out the glass and Sherlock took it.

"The intensity of my transport's reaction is kind of unnerving..." Sherlock pressed out between sips, trying to hide the very fact.

Unseen by Sherlock, Greg and John once more exchanged alarmed looks when Sherlock struggled to hold the glass in his trembling hands. Greg took it from him as soon as he stopped drinking.

"I am losing my mind," Sherlock croaked in a slightly hysteric tone, clutching his hair with his hands, as if to keep his head in place.

"You've been able to differentiate between reality and hallucination last night, what is different now?" Greg asked while John gestured to Mrs Hudson to give them some space. She nodded and went back to bed.

"I don't know," Sherlock whispered. "There is... Maybe there is strong... sentiment at work? This is difficult. I don't know why." He gulped repeatedly.

"Alright," John understood his friend needed something to relax him, even if it was only the tiniest bit to make him feel minutely more comfortable. "Can you make it to the bathroom? Let's clean you up."

"Shower?" Sherlock asked hopefully. The greasy heaviness on his head was interfering with his ability to think, he had understood that days ago.

"Yeah, no... Better have a bath, I think. But you need to calm down a bit first. That okay?"

The responding nod was tired but grateful, but they had to help him up and into the bathroom.

.

Sitting in the warm bathing water, Sherlock closed his eyes in their 2016 bathroom.

Someone had made sure everything was as easy on his senses as possible. The room was lightened by waterproof rope lights, installed while Sherlock was still in hospital. Additionally, John had poured a generous amount of 'extra sensitive' baby bubble bath into the water after they both had an awkward moment watching him tremble like a leave in the water, causing tiny splashing noises.

The thick layer of fine bubbles made the bath a sensory delight. The thousands of tiny bubbles reflecting the many blue LEDs was intense but also had a calming, maybe even soothing effect.

It felt better than he had in days.

He had longed for a bath for so long. Had been irked by his unbathed state. Although he had washed every day, it failed to make him feel clean. He had needed this.

The odd waterproof plaster on his face was a bit annoying and John had made it clear he  was not allowed to put his head under the water, had to yell for assistance when he was ready to rinse his hair.

Nevertheless, everything felt alien right now.

His body.

His thoughts.

Even the flat.

He had been through the process of detoxing several times and this time was different. Maybe it was just the fact that he was older, more experienced, had more words for conditions - emotionally and physically - to register.

It had never been this hard on him.

He remembered that after the last difficult withdrawal, which was before he had met John, he had sworn that no high was worth to go through this low.

When he had started with cocaine some long weeks ago, he had been at a low already and he hadn't cared any longer. It was not the high he had needed, it was the escape.

And the cause... going to hell.

But this was the real hell he was going through right now. 

Another factor that hadn't been there before was: John.

This factor gave the entire thing a way more complex and existential touch than anything else had in his life.

It was amazing and terrifying, what John's presence was doing to him... or his absence. The shifts in perspective he generated.

The first time John's absence had made him kind of sick was during the time he had hunted down Moriarty's web.

It had been an eye opener.

No-John was disabling him, an absence that turned existence into a hollow shell.

It was ridiculous, but true.

He had spent a lot of time denying it.

When he had finally accepted it, spent even more trying to find out why.

Disharmonism happened when John wasn't there and he still couldn't grasp it or put it into coherent words.

John's discardment felt the more devastating the moment Sherlock realised that.

He had turned himself into a mere shadow of his former self.

And he was no longer sure he had the strength to work it all out.

Their issues seemed to be an insurmountable obstacle.

The world was so dull without cocaine.

Everything was unbelievable bleak.

Looking forward for a bath was pathetic. As was the hope that things would get better.

He moved and the sounds of little splashes echoed in the tiled room.

It suddenly made him feel much more desperate and lost than he had during the past days.

Life as he knew it was over.

John was a father now, one with double responsibility. He could no longer just hand their daughter over to a wife understanding he needed a bit of adrenaline.

Even if he had truly forgiven Sherlock, things would be very different from now on.

The changes seemed unacceptable, unfeasible to adjust to.

He disliked changes and knew he didn't cope with them very well, especially not live-changing ones like these.

His life would be dull from now on.

There was no future he could picture that could be worth all this pain.

Desperately, he reminded himself that he needed to find positive aspects, find a way for him and John to continue what they had done in the past... but he failed.

The only thing that felt real was the bleakness, the loss, the dullness and his flaws.

Everything interesting seemed somehow to be linked to John. Without him crimes were boring, eating unbearable, and cups of tea not worth being brewed.

Everything just seemed to be unmakeable.

The flat was the only thing that felt real, but everything that was supposed to be out there, was gone. He had lost all connection to it in the past days. Good crime fighting, people, interaction, life in general, nature, news, reality... all lost. Gone from his reality.

He didn't know what day it was, let alone the date.

Everything felt completely disconnected from his thoughts and reality.

He knew he shouldn't think about this in his state, but he couldn't keep thoughts like this away.

Reality had shrivelled to the size of the flat. Nothing good in it, only grief and disappointment, pain and darkness. Anxiety paired up with depression.

He felt the panic creep in, and for a moment, he had the common sense to fight it, but then it caught him like a huge wave and left him gulping for air like a stranded fish.

The ghost of the panic he had felt earlier when confronted with the fire in his room was still there and relit more distress.

He tried to fight the panic by thinking.

Where was this coming from?

Were there gaps in his memories?

Had he deleted memories from his time in Serbia he hadn't recovered yet?*

Unlikely.

Frantically, he tried so search through the details of the fire he had sensed, which left him even more unsettled.

But he couldn't find anything even a bit similar to what had been playing out in his mind.

And the only thing – besides the horror and the smells and the heat – that he knew that he saw a small gap in the flames and even though he knew he would get hurt he leaped through it.

It was likely it wasn't a memory, just another hallucination.

Yesterday, he had been able to just lie there and watch whatever his subconsciousness was regurgitating. Had the calm to just observe the things that evolved.

They were painful, but he had managed to find the balance to be able to just observe.

Never in the past had he suffered from hallucinations as intensely as this time.

The odd thing was that some kind of sense memory was somehow there, but not in terms of pain or burns.  

The taste of ashes on his lips.

The penetrating smells of melting plastic and burning wool.

He gulped repeatedly, still feeling the breathing issues the smokes had caused.

Or was it just the panic? It hadn't lessened.

His chest felt tight and he was experiencing light-headedness.

The hallucinations had been threateningly unsettling. Mary being there or the morgue coolers, with those, he could make the connection where the subconscious issues came from.

But the fire?

Then he remembered there had also been a glimpse of emotions and sensations he couldn't remember to ever have experienced. But when he tried to probe or explore them further they seemed to recede.

Evaporate.

The entire thing might be completely disconnected to his current situation but felt nevertheless primeval and reality shattering.

When the door was yanked open and John stormed in, Sherlock realised he was gulping for air like a fish out of water.

"Hey?"

John's fingers were at his wrist immediately and the relief this touch caused was almost too much to handle.

He giggled frantically about the absurdity and the alleviation about the fact that John was no longer keeping him at an unscalable distance.

"Breathe, Sherlock. Come on, mate."

He did, rolling his eyes about his own pathetic reactions.

It took effort, but he managed.

"That's it."

The loud sounds of him sucking in air added to his panic for a moment, but the fact that his friend was there made it easier to handle.

John's presence grounded him.

But then, another realisation hit him like a brick wall.

He wanted nothing but out of experiencing this. The urge to contact Wiggins or some dealer hit him so hard, he could physically feel it.

Still fighting for breath, he realised he was in danger of sneaking out soon and he was still sure they wouldn't be able to stop him.

Intense fear that he really might do something this stupid floored all other thoughts.

The past hours - before he had managed to enter the mind palace, which resulted in the unfortunate interaction with Watson in their 1867 bathroom - had been so hard, he wasn't sure he could do that again.

Something so urgent and raw, a hunger so overwhelming it felt like starving, had spiked in a way that had drained all his energy.

The intense want his transport had thrown at him had made him nauseous.  

He was afraid he would fail to resist.

"Look at me, please," John's voice pulled him out of his thoughts.

Slowly, he narrowed his eyes and looked at the other man, who was down on one knee in front of the tub, ready to interfere if something happened. His gaze alert and his hands ready to take action.

Sherlock couldn't raise his gaze, his head sagged downwards in defeat.

"I can't..."

"What, Sherlock?"

"... this," He failed to explain.

"Alright, mate. That's enough. Let's get you out of there."

Only after that, Sherlock remembered that he hadn't washed his hair and he shook his head.

Afraid he might lose his fight with his will to endure this until he was through, he tried to concentrate on something else.

"Hair," he huffed.

"Sherlock, you're hyperventilating. You need to get out of there."

"Shampoo?" he insisted and after a sigh and a few long seconds of hesitation John handed him the bottle.

 

 


 

 

* This refers to Sherlock suffering from repressed memories that resurface and give him a very hard time in my story 'Define Vulnerability'.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

The day started as harmless and boring as all the others in the Victorian era had before – he woke up in his bed. The thing was he had deliberately concentrated to not start the entry into the mind palace like this because over time he found it quite annoying to have to actually go through a morning routine every time he arrived in 1867.

Apparently, his efforts didn't have the desired effect.

The room was cold and his discomfort rose.

Sensing it was not something he could do in his current mood, so he hurried out off his bed to escape the bleak room. He had seen way too much of it in the past week and was starting to despise it.

The living room was equally cold and dark.

He tried to change the setting by concentrating on warming it up. His body in real life was tucked warmly into the bed, he shouldn't be cold.

To his dismay nothing happened.

His mind palace seemed as faulty as his dishevelled mind.

A wave of sadness hit him, and he tried to fight off the idea that he was broken beyond repair and it was not worth the effort to try to fix this. It was just prolonging the inevitable.

Well aware that he was not allowed to give up he tried a second time, closing his eyes to improve focus, but once more the environment remained the way it was. The only thing that happened was that suddenly someone was snapping his fingers in front of his face.

"Holmes?"

His eyes jerked open.

"What are you doing here, standing in the dark?"

Watson was right in front of him, letting his hands sink.

Sherlock just stared at him, his face working to contain the desperation and hollowness he felt.

"Let's lit the fires," Watson continued when Sherlock remained silent. Or maybe he just feared Sherlock might have a breakdown and wanted to give him the chance to collect himself. "Mrs Hudson isn't up yet," he added and turned away.

It was not fast enough to prevent Sherlock spotting the look of worry on his face.

Watson started to pile wood into the fire place and Sherlock walked towards his study, which was where the kitchen was in 2016, to lit the fire there. He was a bit overwhelmed by the sudden unexpected company.

They worked in silence for a short time, until Watson finally couldn't stand it any longer.

"Any interesting theories about the new case?"

"New case?"

"The young man that came in yesterday? He was worried about his fiancé, he failed to contact her in days. She seems to have vanished."

Sherlock frowned, unable to remember.

He still felt dazed and couldn't shake the tiredness.

"Your notes are still here, on the table," Watson pointed at the messy piles of papers on the dining table before he went over to wind up the clock.

It was early, half past six, and still dark outside.

The dim light of the lamp Watson had obviously carried in tinted the room into flickering yellow light that superseded the cold darkness.

Why didn't he remember?

Sherlock picked up a few sheets with notes and a picture from the table. It showed a young dark haired women and the photographic paper looked frayed, as if someone had carried it for a long time.

All the sheets lying around were filled with his own handwriting but he couldn't remember any of it.

For a moment, it felt like waking up in a strange place with no idea how one had gotten there. But then his gaze fell onto a small newspaper clipping, which then gave him access the allegedly lost memories.

A young man, planning to marry a woman who loved him.

Son of a wealthy doctor.

Had been abroad to study for two years.

When he had returned to his parent's home, they had presented him with a letter that his fiancé Emilia had sent. In it, she explained that she had married someone else and moved to Australia with him.

The abandoned husband to be - Avery Portmann was his name - didn't want to believe the letter was true and had claimed she was missing.

He reported that he had been experiencing problems with his parents in the past, who weren't too fond of her, but had finally accepted their son's choice.

Their reluctance had a lot to do with her rural upbringing, another issues were that she was intelligent, spoke her mind and loved her work.

For his parents she hadn't been home keeper enough and they were afraid she wouldn't be able to be a good housewife any time soon.

Avery had tried to first contact his fiancé's mother, Mrs Rowe (her father was dead). But the letter addressed to the mother came back and the young man then went to see her himself.

Only to find new tenants in the house who knew nothing.

"You wanted to see the landlord to find out when the mother had left and why," Watson provided.

"Right," Sherlock agreed, remembering every detail now, "Get dressed."

"What? No! It's way too early to knock at respectable people's doors," his friend protested while lighting up the other kerosene lamps in the room.

"The best way to get detailed and honest answers it to not wind up people by disturbing their sleep."

"Right. Make tea then."

"I am not a maid, you know."

"You were about to make it anyway."

"That's not the point."

Out of boredom and the need for a stimulant, Sherlock filled one of the clean beakers with water from a carafe and kindled the Bunsen burner. He then placed it in a holder over the flame and started searching the messy shelf behind the table for the metal can with his special tea blend.

It took him only a moment to find it. He fetched the filtering paper, which he then folded into an improvised tea bag. His hands were still stiff from sleep and it was difficult to shake the dried tea leaves into the tea bag. Then, he pinned it close with one of the needles he kept on the table.

Only after that he realised Watson was watching him, grinning. Immediately, Sherlock feared this little detail might make it into the next edition of the 'Strand Magazine'.

"Don't," he said and Watson made an exaggerated innocent face that told Sherlock he had been right.

"I'll get milk and sugar then," the doctor muttered and headed for the door to fetch the items from downstairs.

This gave Sherlock a welcomed moment to compose himself and take another look at the evidence and notes.

He remembered now that Avery had been a quite nervous, almost 30 year old man, unsettled about his fiancé's - Emilia's - disappearance. He had stated that even if she loved another man he wanted to know she was all right and did it out of free will. Nevertheless, he was completely convinced there was foul play at work.

The fact that he was marrying this late had been due to the fact that his studies had taken a long time and that he had been to India and parts of the orient to study anthropology.

Avery seemed intelligent, educated, a bit shy and adored his fiancé for her emancipation, especially after seeing other culture's ways to treat women. It was a topic that was not as 'hot' as during his first visit in the Victorian era in the 1890s, but the attention was clearly growing.

From Avery's*1 carefully hidden anger Sherlock deduced that the topic was a sore spot. The most likely cause was probably the parent's attitude.

Watson's return interrupted his musings.

The water was almost at the boiling point and Sherlock waited a bit longer, then killed the flame and threw the tea bag into the beaker.

 

An hour later they were on the way to interview the landlord, Mr Thompson. The man and his wife told them the whole story in detail, over a cup of tea Sherlock refused but was served nevertheless. Watson accepted it gratefully.

It turned out Mrs Rowe seemed to have had some kind of breakdown or episode of hysteria over the anniversary of her husband's demise. She had been taken away by the newly established ambulance service after screaming for half the night.*2

The daughter had been there and accompanied her to wherever the carriage had brought her. But they hadn't returned, not even the daughter.

After a month the landlord had still received no message.

In the end, they had to rent the flat to someone else and give away the furniture when even a request at the police brought no news.

The elderly couple seemed still a bit agitated about it all, although it had happened almost six months ago.

They seemed to have liked their tenants and when Watson asked if the mother had suffered from depression or hysteria before, they described she had been melancholic for quite some time and was sometimes a bit odd, but it had never escalated like that before.

A bit to Sherlock's surprise, Watson promised them that they'd search for mother and daughter. The Thompsons expressed their gratefulness and asked them to tell the daughter to contact them.

"What is left of their belongings? Did you keep pictures?" Sherlock probed suddenly, although he internally had already decided it was time to leave.

"Yes, yes. There are pictures. We had to decide which of their personal objects to keep. It was so awful!" Mrs Thompson said with tears in her eyes. "But we couldn't store it all, we already were two months back with the rent, which is our only income."

"Sarah, please!" her husband protested when she revealed this little detail.

"I'll go and get the photo album for you then," he hurried off.

Mrs Thompson smiled at John.

"It really put a dent in our finances that we waited this long. Our Henry would have liked her."

"Henry? Who's Henry," Sherlock pricked his ears.

"Our son. We lost him in the war."

Sherlock's interest immediately flagged and he turned to look at a painting on the wall, a portrait that was at least 100 years old, if the style of the strokes wasn't deliberately made in an old-fashioned way.

"That's my grandfather," the landlady explained.

"Obviously," Sherlock said dryly. The family resemblance was stunning, especially in advanced age.

A moment later slow steps on the stairs could be heard.

Mr Thompson re-entered the room and placed a thin album on the table, which Sherlock quickly opened and browsed through.

"This is the family?" Sherlock pointed at one of the last pictures that seemed to have been taken, because the following page was blank, as were the ones after that.

But another picture was lying loosely face down in between the pages. Sherlock picked it up and turned it.

It was clearly a post mortem photography of Emilia's father.*3 Overall there weren't many pictures, which made it quite clear that the family hadn't had enough money to afford more. There were five of Emilia growing up, a slightly blurred wedding picture of the parents and some of other family members shown in poses that displayed their profession.

"I will take those three," Sherlock picked the family picture and the latest portrait of mother and Emilia and gently removed them from the black carton pages.

"We will inform them that their things are here and ask them to contact you. Good day." Sherlock bent down his head slightly in greeting and headed for the coat rack in the hall. He then slipped into his winter coat.

A bit surprised by the sudden hurry, Watson thanked the couple and followed him before Mrs Thompson had time to politely show them the door.

Outside, Sherlock stopped at the gutter, mulishly staring up into the sky. It was sleeting and muddy, the cobblestones slippery.

He had no luck this time, no cab or any carriage could be seen nearby.

The moment Watson caught up with him Sherlock started to walk towards the nearest bigger street.

His friend knew him too well to talk. He would, as soon as he was sure Sherlock had finished thinking about the facts they had just learned.

Sherlock was sure that his friend also noticed his hunched shoulders and that he was still feeling poorly. But even aware of this, Sherlock failed to relax his muscles an fake being better than before.

Sherlock was glad to be out of the stuffed house. Every corner and free space had been filled with typical Victorian nick-knacks, memorabilia and status symbols of times long past.

He wondered briefly if the green wallpapers were so old they were still dyed with arsenic colours. No one in his right mind - and especially a landlord - should’ve missed the regular news (that had started in the early 1850s) about the risks for several chemical in dyes that were a severe health hazard.*4

Sherlock wasn't claustrophobic but the dark walls with rich floral designs, filled to the brim with cupboards and little shelves, had made it hard for him to breathe – either as a result to physically or mentally feeling cramped.

It had been hard to concentrate on the relevant facts. But in the end he was quite sure their worries were genuine.

It would’ve been easier to just throw out all the Rowe's personal belongings and deny to know anything about the disappearance than keep all the stuff and even get in trouble for not having an income. Mr Thompson had been so ashamed when his wife mentioned it, Sherlock absolutely believed it was true.

Their next stop would be Avery's mother who was supposed to be home according to the son. Avery and his father were at work.

Sherlock had planned it like this on purpose, to interview the women without her husband present.

Somehow his issues to stay focussed seemed even worse than the other days. While the hansom cab moved towards the wealthier parts of town, Sherlock drifted off.

Not back to reality, but to very unpleasant and dark thoughts that were hard to keep at a distance.

One of those were that he found the suspicious and frequent covert glances Watson gave him somehow more alarming than usual. The doctor's expression seemed to have turned from worried to annoyed, maybe even slightly angry.

Because Sherlock was keeping things from him?

Sherlock was aware that he was doing so. His efforts to make his friend forget about what had happened in the bathroom the other day seemed to have worked.

Watson had not addressed nor even hinted at the events and Sherlock was sure he would have if he remembered.

But something seemed to have woken an old anger, caused by the fact that Sherlock hadn't informed him that he was alive after the Moriarty debacle – for years.

Against his will, Sherlock felt his own agitation level rise with the annoyed body language and the rising number of one syllable answers. He had not noticed it at first, but in hindsight, he realised that both factors had gained intensity over the day. He had finally noticed it during interviewing the Thompsons Watson had shown it both within minutes, repeatedly. Of course Sherlock couldn't be sure his friend's gruffness was due to something he had done when he hadn't asked, but it was only logical.

During the cab ride on a normal day he would concentrate on preparing his questions for interviewing Mrs Portmann and run the details through his head to make sure he'd forget nothing, bring it to the forefront of his mind.

But all tries to do so ended in unsorted facts just hovering around in the dark, drifting away when he tried to sort them into a useful arrangement – or any order at all.

He was paying the price for saving John and up to now Watson had been the John he missed.

Real John was emotional, difficult and sad.

Watson incorporated the friend he missed, he suddenly understood.

Now that Watson was showing anger something difficult began to stir.

The realisation caused a flicker of shame.

He was recreating the person he missed instead of facing the real life version and solving the problems.

Once more doubt welled up and he feared that real John would leave as soon as he was starting to recover from his drug escapades. The idea was nagging at him and filled him with fear he wanted to deny.

He felt unusually melancholic and down today, had to kick himself to execute any action – mental as well as physical.

If left alone, he'd probably only sit in a corner and stare into nothingness, overwhelmed with just existing.

He was just so overwhelmingly tired.

 

 


 

 

 

*1 It was uncommon in the Victorian Era when speaking to or about other people to use their first name, if you were not very close to them or past the age of childhood. Since Sherlock is struggling with names in general, he used the names he can remember more easily here. It will play a role in the future so just bear with me, this is not a mistake.

 *2 Wikipedia: 'History of the ambulance'

 *3 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-mortem_photography

 *4 https://www.ancient-origins.net/history-ancient-traditions/arsenic-poisoning-0010336

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Sherlock's elongated return to consciousness was accompanied by nausea and a profound headache.

Before he was halfway alert, some automatism kicked in and started a high alert routine, triggered by the discomfort.

The first thing his dazed mind understood was that he was not in his bed.

Then vague memory flashes of hasty movement and pain assaulted him.

From distressed dozing he was thrown into a mental position of attention.

As if on autopilot, his body froze, preventing him from rolling onto his back to be more comfortable.

Something was not right and even though he wasn't thinking clearly it had become an instinct to be careful and observe first. The routine seemed to work without his brain keeping in step with it, which swamped him with bewilderment.

Realisations came in slow; his almost painfully intense heartbeat distracted him additionally.

It was essential to find out what was happening before he even moved.

He was on his side, his head on the ground, his neck bent at a painful angle.

Showing to the outside world that he was awake might prevent him from collecting valuable intel. Because as long as he seemed out his attackers might be not too careful about talking.

It took a lot of concentration to slowly relax again and keep his breathing under control.

His face so close to the ground meant there was another dire problem.

The smell of leather combined with stale urine and other nasty things was hard to endure. The more shallow his breaths the lesser the olfactory assault.

Nevertheless, he had to forcefully hold back a gag and his stomach responded with cramps.

He tried to block out the smells but it didn't really work, which was no surprise, because it never did.

Maybe he drifted off again, or maybe his senses were not working full force. Because it took quite some time until he realised that his hands were wrapped around his waist and he couldn't move them.

Pinioned.

With as little movement as possible, he tried to explore the unnerving touch, move his fingers carefully, turn his wrist a bit.

Fixated somehow.

It felt... different.

The perceived touch was caused neither by conventional ropes nor handcuffs.

That his hands were not exposed to air was the only thing he could sense - except that he couldn't move.

He was unable to feel at which point exactly his arms were fixated.

Had the tangled position cut off his blood supply temporarily so that he was unable to feel things properly?

Information were coming in unnervingly slow and his brain still had issues handling them.

The most intense sensation after the pain in his head was something very irritating pressing into his crotch, he had to fight the impulse to wind himself away from - whatever it was.

He repeatedly had to remind himself to concentrate on finding out what he was lying on.

The same was true for any other action.

It seemed the ground was neither made of concrete nor wooden floorboards.

Oddly firm, but smooth and resilient.

The closest thing it came to was the padding of an examination table.

It took a lot of concentration and time to take stock of the data his transport was providing.

Further down his feet were bare, it added to his discomfort because they were cold and felt wet.

He had to take a break after that, overwhelmed by the discomfort and the struggle to relax.

Several minutes later, he attempted to open up his senses to the general situation.

First, he listened.

Wherever he was, there was no one close by, there was absolute silence.

The relief about this was short-lived, because he realised that this meant John might not be close by either.

For a moment, he considered if it was wise to continue faking unconsciousness. The need to know where his friend was felt urgent and raw.

Therefore, it was an easy decision to carefully scan his surroundings before finally giving away he was awake.

Maybe it would go unnoticed in case someone was watching him.

As slowly as he could, he opened his eyes halfway, hoping to find himself and John incarcerated by some villain he would be able to remember soon.

The room was dimly lit, which was an alleviation. But his eyelids were irritated and swollen, moving them felt like sandpaper on his eyeballs.

The first thing he understood was that John was not there – or at least not in the half of the room that was in his range of vision.

It took almost a minute until he had blinked away the blurriness enough to actually see his surroundings.

However, his mind failed to process what his eyes delivered.

At first glance, the room looked like Moriarty's cell in his mind palace.

Same colours, same padding on the walls.

Why was he here?

Why was Moriarty not here?

Confused, he tried to roll onto his back.

Then, with a jolt of horror, he understood he was wearing a straight jacket.

How had Moriarty overwhelmed him and changed places with him?

Panic blossomed, deposited a heavy weight on his ribcage.

It was a struggle to kick the mind-over-matter-routine into action and remind himself to think!

In order to roll into a supine position without the use of his hands he had to lift his knees and plant his feet on the ground.

The effort made him grunt from the pain the movement caused.

When he was finally lying in a supine position, he was breathing hard.

He carefully turned his head so he could see the other half of the room and there was no one there either.

He was completely alone.

Strange sensations of abandonment and loneliness pressed into him. They were so intense they caused additional nausea that seemed to be located in his chest instead of his stomach.

He closed his eyes to concentrate on forcing the unsettling emotions down, but had to open them again only seconds later when the darkness amplified them.

His breathing escalated involuntarily and he fought for control.

The room swallowed the noise but it was painfully loud in his ears nevertheless.

Lifting his gaze to the ceiling he noticed that he was not chained a wall like Moriarty.

In addition, the cell was a lot bigger than the Moriarty’s.

… and the light panels were absent.

The differences were obvious, really.

He should have discerned that immediately, especially since he had built Moriarty's prison himself.

Also, this cell had a life like touch he had deliberately not added to his mind palace's padded cell: odours.

To get his attention off the annoying bodily perceptions he tried to focus on his surroundings. One section of wall padding had a slightly different shape than all the other rectangular panels. It was slimmer and appeared to be a doorway, equipped with a cushioned loophole at eye level.

But for the moment the hole was closed, all he could see was whatever blocked it.

Which meant no one was watching him - at least not from there.

There might be cameras, though.

His gaze wandered up to the ceiling and the areas above the padding, looking for any surveillance equipment.

The batting went up at least until a height of three metres, which was a bit ridiculous.

No one could jump that high or climb up the flat walls.

Above the padding, directly under the high ceiling, there was a row of small rectangular windows that allowed a bit of light in.

It was no direct light, looked more as if there was another room outside, which had windows to the outside.

He tried to sit up; it turned out to be an ordeal. Unable to use his hands, his bruised muscles had to do all the work. He involuntarily squeezed his eyes shut due to the pain it caused. No matter what, he needed to get his face away from the smells; he feared he might vomit otherwise. Not only would that cause even more pain but it would also worsen the smell.

The action made him acutely aware of the fact that he was still suffering from broken ribs. Memories of being beaten by John resurfaced, because he felt similar to back then.

Pain in his ribcage.

Shaking from the sheer emotional drain the situation caused.

Paralysing fear that he was failing at the only thing that mattered – saving John.

This time it hadn't been a suspect who had tried to escape, it had been his only friend and he didn't want to think about it, it was not the time. He tried to push the memories away.

In fact, his most pressing issue was that he wanted his companion to be present or come to his aid.

It was quite a bit of work until he finally sat upright, the effort left him feeling even worse.

He unconsciously licked his dry lips and the taste that exploded in his mouth made him gag, luckily he got it under control before anything came up.

Carefully, he breathed through his mouth to keep it that way.

Then his hampered intellect finally connected the dots.

It was definitely not Moriarty’s cell.

Neither was it Moriarty who had left him here.

This was real.

Must be real, there was no other logical explanation.

A real padded cell and he had been forced to inhale chloroform he could still taste.

No wonder he was feeling sick.

After several minutes of intense effort, Sherlock finally managed to remember things from the recent past.

He had had a bath at home after hallucinating a fire in his room.

John and Greg had been there.

He hadn't trusted himself to not sneak out and buy drugs.

Had he managed to leave?

Ran into a dealer who had a bone to pick with him?

He must have been overwhelmed by a perpetrator he hadn't seen.

Had John been with him?

Was he in another cell nearby?

He felt uncharacteristically nervous about not knowing where his companion was.

No matter how he had gotten here, his wits were supposed to save the day.

But he was just sitting there, restrained and tottery.

No brilliant ideas or good plans.

Frowning, he just stared at the leather covered brown walls.

The deductions that usually just flooded in and that he then only had to sort into useful categories, didn't come.

There was only crippling exhaustion.

He had to actively seek out more facts from his surroundings.

The inability caused more anxiety to roll in, instead of deductions.

Then, finally, he noticed an odd detail. The leather was relatively new, although the cell looked well used.

He desperately tried to puzzle the meagre facts together.

Who had a padded room in a cellar?

Some kind of fetish?

Some kind of museum that had restored an old sobering-up cell to show people what it was like in past times? Because this was in use, not an abandoned old hospital.

He looked down on his body, the only other object in the room that held information.

Other than the straight jacket, he was wearing some kind of dark blue trousers.

The simple cut was clearly that of nightwear, but more robust than he liked.

Definitely not his own.

He could barely see anything else than his lap and the pant legs, everything else was covered by the straight jacket.

The jacket had a strap running around his crotch, which was more than uncomfortable and would make it difficult to get out of the restraints.

Luckily, the pyjama wasn't made of polyester or any other kind of itchy synthetic fibre.

Concentrating on his legs, he could feel something itchy that was probably a bandage on his lower left leg. When he used his toes to shove the pant leg up, his suspicion was confirmed.

He could not remember how he had been injured and who had patched up the wound.

There was absolutely nothing else in the room. His own clothes were gone, as were his socks and shoes.

No coat.

Nothing he could use as a weapon or to free himself.

Even after staring up at the windows for quite some time, he couldn't spot any outside movement.

He just sat there and listened for a while, but could hear nothing.

Over time – half an hour might have passed since he opened his eyes – he thought he heard distant steps for a few seconds. There might have even been hushed voices, but in the droning silence he couldn't be sure he wasn't imagining them.

.

After some time had passed, he tried to evaluate the situation in a structured manner.

What had he done last?

After his bath, John had sat in his bedroom with him, monitoring him, he remembered.

No matter how much he tried, he couldn't conjure up anything after that.

The possibility that he was in his mind palace remained, which - in theory - he could leave any time.

So he tried. He closed his eyes and concentrated on opening them in 221b.

But when he did open them again, he was still in the padded room.

It had happened before, that he couldn't depart, he was vaguely aware.

What had he done to return to the real world back then?

He imagined the door in detail and reminded himself how his mind palace worked to ease the process.

But it didn't appear.

The walls remained smooth and padded.

No mental doors, not even the hint of one.

Before, he had found it by sweeping the walls, he suddenly remembered.

His first try to stand up ended in an almost-fall when he staggered to his feet. The second did land him on knees. The impact was hard and it added sharp pain from the joints to his list of ailments.

Panting, he just knelt there, trying to control the agony and his mounting frustration.

Too weak to even walk.

Pathetic.

The inability to use his hands would result in serious injuries if he fell full length and he understood that it was the last thing he needed.

Logical conclusion: get out of the jacket first.

A short time later he had to admit that this also was an aim he was unable to reach.

His body was shaking from the strain just to lift his leg or try to reach the buckle that held the crotch strap in place. The lack of leeway made it impossible; the strap was fastened too tight.

Suddenly, the eerie silence was interrupted by a scream in the distance.

Sherlock froze.

Another cry followed only seconds later.

John.

It was hard to say if the desperate scream was that of his companion.

The voice sounded desperate and as if in considerable pain.

Agitation robbed him off the little energy he had left and he involuntarily sank back to sit and recover from the efforts.

When the scream came a third time he was relatively sure it was John.

What were they doing to him?

He needed to get out!

The only thing that happened when he fought the straight jacket was that the pain escalated and his vision started to get distorted by dark spots.

Panting in panic, he crawled over to a corner and leaned himself against the wall.

Being in the open, in the middle of the room, was too unsettling. He couldn't stand it any longer.

He was trapped and unable to get out.

And even worse: John was, too.

Despite or because of his agitation he blacked out.

.

Some indistinguishable time later, he jerked back to awareness.

He was still in the padded cell.

And still alone.

He frowned when he found memories - or dreams? - were floating through his consciousness.

Ghosts of foreign physical touches and actions he had witnessed, but they were only vague pictures.

It was hard to concentrate on them due to his tripping thought processes. He briefly wondered if he had been drugged, additionally to the chloroform that had been used to knock him out.  

He felt somehow disconnected from his self, his thoughts were fragmented at best and he was so very exhausted it rendered him unable to move.

There was nothing else to do so he tried to chase down the odd dreams he had been floating in, clinging to those fleeting impressions.

After some time he worked out what he had done last in his 1867 mind palace session immediately before he had his blackout.

Watson had accompanied him to interview Avery's mother.

The woman had been very hesitant to answer any questions at all, appearing shy and introverted.

Apparently, she was fond of her son's choice of a wife but felt obliged to present her husband's view of things to the outside. The details of the conversation were diffuse and the facts he remembered sparse.

The mind palace session had been uninformative and eventless, so he returned to his current situation.

The most urgent thing was to get out of this cell.

Handling the anxiety for John remained an issue, it was distracting and strong.

Apparently, there were two possibilities: a) for some reason his mind didn't allow him to leave or b) he couldn't because he was really physically in this cell.

It stressed him out, no matter how much he tried to remind himself that all this might just be his imagination.

Did the fact that he had been drugged to be brought here against his will spoke against the imagination theory?

No.

This could be a hallucination.

If it was, it was oddly consistent.

Most of his hallucinations were messy and unpleasant, and didn't make a lot of sense.

Nevertheless, the thought that he might not be in control of something his mind was generating was very unsettling.

The only other time the mind palace had misbehaved like this was when PTSD had destroyed areas of it and left parts of the virtual building in ruins.*

Remembering had taken its toll.

Unaware that his leaden eyelids closed on itself, he drifted off, even though his position was quite uncomfortable.

 

 

 


 

*This refers to my story 'Define Vulnerability'.

Chapter Text

 

 

Some loud and unknown noise made Sherlock jerk back to awareness.

His heart sank when he found he was still in the padded cell and still confined by a straight jacket.

The screeching noise had come from the door, which was now open and a figure stood there, illuminated by a bright background.

Sherlock blinked, trying to see details. The intense light immediately aggravated his headache.

Whoever the person was, his or her posture displayed self-confidence and authority. When the figure came closer, Sherlock's eyes slowly adjusted to the light and he was able to collect information.

A man.

The clothes were in a mute dark colour and looked like a mixture of a suit and some kind of uniform, he noticed first.

Then his gaze wandered up to the face and it became immediately clear the man was home in the Victorian era.

His hairstyle, the suit and the large key ring on his belt made Sherlock realise he was definitely not incarcerated in a 2016 villain's den.

Which meant he was still in his mind palace, probably in 1867.

This was an institution of some kind, most likely a hospital or a prison.

Slightly dismayed by this turn of events, he tried to figure out what that meant, waited for the pieces to fall into place. This information was supposed to set something in motion, unveil things he should know.

Dumbfounded, he waited for it to happen, but it didn't.

The man came closer and he instinctively moved out of the corner to have an escape route.

When he moved, the man stopped and looked at him with intense scrutiny.

Some long seconds later, Sherlock actively started a deduction process when nothing happened.

This had not been in the files, not even the slightest hint that had – even remotely – anything to do with an institution.

A bit dazed, he tried to search his memories for what had happened last in this setting. He must have overlooked something important.

"Mr Greenberg, if you continue to misbehave it will only cause you to stay in here longer," someone spoke.

He must have closed his eyes because he had to open them to see. He looked around for the addressed person, but they were alone, except for a large muscular man who was waiting outside the door, and who was obviously not the one that had been spoken to.

That only left him.

Good.

Case of mistaken identity then, problem solved.

"My name is Holmes," he stated, his voice hoarse from disuse. "This is a misunderstanding," he continued after he had cleared his throat.

The middle-aged man sternly looked down at him.

"Also, I am not misbehaving," Sherlock added, carefully.

The man looked as if he thought otherwise, "Ignoring me is quite rude, don't you think?"

"Why am I here?" Sherlock asked.

"You were hurt, Mr Greenberg. And others were, too."

"My name is Holmes."

"The blow to your head must be affecting your memories. If you attack me or anyone else you will be chained to a wall. If you stay calm for a few hours, you can return to your room in the evening."

"My room?"

"Yes, we have a spare single room for you. Quite a luxury these days. You seem to have a good friend who is paying for it."

"John?... Where is he?"

"Who?"

"My friend."

"The lean dark-haired man who paid for your treatment?"

Sherlock wondered who he meant, it was obviously not John. Nor Lestrade or Mycroft.

"No. Dr Watson… he is my friend - and my doctor."

"There is no Dr Watson noted in your files," the attendant informed him.

Sherlock lost the connection to reality for a moment, when he tried to find out what exactly was happening here and how to convince the man of his real identity. This was surreal and not making any sense.

In addition, he was not even asking the right questions. It had kind of escaped him.

Where he was should have been his first query.

"Mr Greenberg, can you hear me?" the attendant was touching his shoulder and he hissed in disgust. Trying to get away from the touch instinctively, he made a hasty movement which caused the other man to make a step back.

When Sherlock's and the attendant's gazes met his was still confused and the other man's was alarmed. He was clearly ready to defend himself.

Was he in a prison?

No, the man had said treatment.

Hospital, then.

"Do not hiss at me, or you will stay in here even longer!"

Sherlock deliberately lowered his gaze and relaxed his body, sinking lower down, hoping it would suffice as kind of a peace offer.

If he really was in a Victorian era institution any kind of protest might get him into real trouble. They were probably not handling patients as careful as in modern settings. Sherlock had lived through a lot of bad experiences in hospitals and rehab. Those had taught him how bad things could get when one didn't follow the rules in modern times. He didn't doubt that in this setting there were far worse things that could happen – and a lot more strict rules to follow.

Sherlock started to fear what might be behind the bright light in the door.

The nurse seemed to get annoyed by the lack of reaction he was getting.

What was he expecting?

Sherlock was trying to get onto his knees, it was difficult without the use of his hands.

"Please remove the straight jacket."

"No. Dr Winter ordered it stays on until this evening."

"What time is it? How long have I been here?"

"Several days, according to our files. But you were transferred to my ward yesterday."

"What! Days?" Sherlock was getting louder, his irritation and discomfort rising. "Where am I?" he finally asked.

"West Surrey Hospital."1

Trying to process this, he closed his eyes, sinking back to sit on his calves. He had no recollection of having heard about any hospital with that name. It certainly was not in the files.

It was humiliating to be unable to get up and stand in front of the other man. The attendant looked down on him, his gaze clearly broadcasting he didn't like to be addressed in a tone like that.

"I want to see my doctor," Sherlock said carefully.

"He will see you when he has time."

"When will that be?"

"When he has time."

"I want to see him now," Sherlock urged in a low voice.

Out of reflex, he tried to stand up, get his feet under him, but the moment he put weight on his left leg, he suddenly felt a sharp pain and vertigo hit him hard. He almost fell over sideways. Out of reflex, he tried to lift his arms but couldn't.

Luckily, the other man – who was carefully observing him – reached out to steady him. His grip was firm and his expression hard. The sudden pain the movement and the touch caused made Sherlock grunt.

Without a word, the man lowered him to the ground and the intrusion of his personal space in a vulnerable situation like this made him clench his teeth. The foreign touch and closeness were too much, his body reacted with an alarming amount of alerts. Rising respiratory rate and pulse.

"Your leg is hurt and you have a concussion. Stay calm and rest. Someone will come back later and bring you to your room."

The words were spoken with a finality that made it clear any kind of objections would be no use.

Out of the corner of his eyes, Sherlock saw the men leave and the door closed.

Sherlock crawled back into the corner to sit more comfortable. He needed to think.

Find a way out.

Prepare how to reason, to convince them to re-check his identity.

They needed to contact Watson, call him in to confirm it.

 

Exhaustion must have pulled him back to sleep because the second time someone turned the key in the lock, the rude awakening repeated.

He was getting sick of this.

Two male attendants and a bulky man entered the room.

This couldn't mean anything good. Their postures were tense and they looked as if they meant business.

Once more, he tried to get himself out of his own mental creation, but it was futile.

"Mr Greenberg can you hear me?" one of the men asked sternly.

"Yes," Sherlock answered plainly.

"My name is Hughes. I am the head attendant responsible for you. Do you understand?"

This time Sherlock nodded.

"We are here to remove the straight waistcoat. If you behave well we will then escort you to your room for the night. We expect you to eat, prepare for the night, then calmly go to bed and sleep."

Sherlock stared at him in disgust. The man's speech was slow as if he was talking to an imbecile and the tone as if Sherlock was a small child.

"Do you understand?" Hughes repeated when Sherlock didn't react, speechless and overtaxed by the behaviour.

His gaze flickered through the room and he tried to find any kind of escape route.

"Mr Greenberg?"

"Of course I understand," he finally managed, holding back an unnerved comment because he feared the other man wouldn't take it kindly.

Sherlock was well aware that he needed to get out of the padded room to learn more about his situation. Finding out why he couldn't leave his self-made alternate reality had only second priority.

The head attendant waited in front of him while one of the other men walked around him in a wide circle and started to unfasten the buckles that kept his arms behind his back.

"Don't make any sudden movements," the bulky man warned him.

Why were they giving him the mass-murderer-in-a-high-security-prison treatment?

Then he suddenly remembered that the man who had visited him first had uttered that Sherlock and others had been hurt.

Did they think he had done that? Was that why he was here?

The idea unsettled him. He had no recollections of that, but felt that he had been attacked.

For some reason, there was a feeling of a intense… unease/guilt?

He struggled to place the foreign feeling. Nevertheless, he was quite sure he wouldn't attack anybody without being assaulted first.

So maybe it wasn't even guilt he sensed?

He was still not good at identifying his own sentiment and when his logical mind failed to provide a reason or he had never felt that before. It might be as well a queasy stomach or some kind of hunger. Additionally, withdrawal was playing havoc on his feelings, the same things felt different or good things felt bad, soothing things unsettling.

How had this happened?

"I want to speak to my physician, Dr Watson," he demanded again, in a tone he hoped sounded firm but polite.

"You don't have a friend with that name. Your friend promised to visit you in the upcoming days. You have to be patient until then," Hughes announced.

"How do you know who my friends are?"

"Your real friend left us with a list of names of persons close to you."

"And you have memorized them?"

"Wasn't that hard. There were only two names and I just read them a few minutes ago," the head attendant informed him.

"Then I need to send a telegram."

"This is not a hotel," the man answered, a bit gruffly.

The man behind him had finally managed to open all the buckles on the jacket and allowed him to slip out of it. His hands fell towards the ground, heavy and stiff.

Sighing, he rolled his shoulders and straightened his elbow joints that had been in the same position for hours.

The clothes he wore underneath turned out to be a worn hospital issued pyjama made of pure cotton. At least that wasn't as uncomfortable as modern synthetic hospital gowns, though the smell was difficult to handle.

His senses were still acting up and it wasn't making things easier.

With a shiver, he realized that this meant they had undressed him.

No, they hadn't - he was in his mind palace. Everything he didn't remember did not happen!

Nevertheless, he desperately tried to remember how he had arrived here but there weren't even any fragments of memories about that. The same thoughts and attempts circling in his head again and again, it was unnerving.

Why was he unable to organise them?

Part of the answer was clear: withdrawal.

Then suddenly a question occurred to him: why was he struggling so much harder with executive function than usual?

Although he had noticed he was struggling he hadn't seen the connection to this special kind of difficulties. He got stuck so often he rarely completed any thoughts lately. Caught in the same loop over and over again.

His mind was a mess.

"Your shoes are outside, follow the head attendant," the man behind him ordered and yanked him back to reality.

Hughes moved towards the brightly lit door and Sherlock did as told, somehow hoping this might be his way back to the real world.

But he was disappointed.

When he leaned forward to look through the door, he was blinded by the dazzling light. For some reason he hesitated to leave the padded floor. The world outside seemed suddenly even more dangerous. It was absurd and in contradiction to what he so direly needed – to leave that dreadful room.

Through narrowed eyes, he tried to catalogue his surroundings.

He was in a long hallway that was equipped by an equally long row of large windows.

It took a moment until his eyes adjusted and when they did, he saw that it was not bright at all. Quite the opposite. It was raining and dusk had begun. Outside, a park or something could be seen, covered in a few last bits of snow and a lot of mud. He was probably on the second or third floor. The grounds seemed to be quite large, as were the buildings.

Still blinking, he was shown a pair of used slippers waiting next to the door. Sherlock wondered if they had been cleaned after the last patient had used them. The thought of having them on his feet disgusted him and shook his head. It was probably more hygienic to walk bare feet.

The bulky man seemed to think about forcing him but then shook his head and gestured him to follow.

Sherlock did. The moment he stepped over the threshold and his sole hit the cold marble floor he changed his mind. Because a) cold feet were very uncomfortable and b) he was sure they wouldn't provide him with another pair if he left this one behind. So he slipped into them, wondering where his socks had gone.

 

His room was as sparse and unwelcoming as a prison cell, not the kind of room a person needed to recuperate.

Bare whitewashed walls, an over used hair mattress on a heavy wooden bed. There was neither a lamp on the nightstand nor on the ceiling.

Apparently, no one had bothered to bring any of his personal items. One more reason Sherlock was sure he was not brought or sent here by Watson.

"Where are my clothes?" he asked.

He must have worn something.

"In store, together will all the belongings you had with you upon arrival. You won't need them here. You might be allowed to have a favourite item in a few weeks, if you proof yourself to be trustworthy."

"Weeks?" Sherlock echoed, a bit panicked by all the circumstances. This had more similarities with a prison than with a hospital.

"Surely my wound won't need weeks to heal," he stated. He needed to check his leg the moment he was alone.

"We'll see," Hughes said dismissively.

"How did I get here?" he tried to get more information.

"Your doctor admitted you."

"Who? When?"

"Don't make a fool of yourself. The whole process can't have escaped you."

"I remember nothing, that is why I am asking," Sherlock replied and saw the two attendants exchange grim looks.

There was something they weren't telling him.

Amnesia? Caused by trauma?

The back of his head hurt fiercely, so there was a chance. But amnesia was overall a quite rare consequence of a blow to the head.

Then the older man stepped over to the window, closed the strong wooden shutters that covered it. It became suddenly a lot darker in the room, the only light shining in from the open door and the corridor.

"We were informed you pretend to not remember anything that doesn't fit into your delusions. So you either remember by yourself or you live without the facts. Decision is yours," the man informed him while he secured the window.

Sherlock stiffened, shocked by the comment.

Then suddenly all the odd pieces fell into place.

This wasn't a normal hospital.

It was an insane asylum.

He fought for breath.

The revelation felt like a kick to the stomach.

A wave of dizziness and nausea engulfed him.

Too shocked to interact or ask anything else, he just stood there, staring into nothingness.

He didn't hear what they said to him.

He didn't notice when they left.

He didn't move, just stood there frozen in place in the middle of the room, shivering and lost.

There was no logical reason why this was happening. He couldn't grasp it, was trapped in asking himself why and how.

There must a reason.

He needed to find it to get out.

But all he found were dead ends.

Lost.

He was lost in his own mind.

 

 

 


 

 

1 Don't bother to look that up. After doing a lot of research which asylum was where, what it looked like, when it was opened and closed, which treatments they did at the time of my story and many more aspects, I decided to use a fictional one.

The main reason for that is that some are still in use today and I didn't want to use those for reasons of respect for patients and staff.

For this story the location needed to be near London and the hospital needed to be a large institution, additionally I needed one that was already in full working condition in 1867. Those specifics narrowed down the number to Zero, so I invented one, which I thought was better than bending actual facts too much to make them fit.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Sherlock was rudely pulled out of sleep and with adrenaline pumping he tried to sit up. The pain in various parts of his body made him gasp.

He found himself in a semi dark room, not knowing where he was for a moment.

When the panic settled and the awareness of where he was came back, he closed his eyes in disbelief.

Still in this institution.

Outside his door, someone was walking down the corridors with a stick bell and another person seemed to follow and unlock doors.

Sherlock had no idea what time it was, but it was still dark outside. His usually very accurate internal clock had seized functioning the moment he had started to take massive amounts of drugs again a few weeks ago. He knew it would happen, it always happened. And it would take some time until it would return to working reliably.

Logic dictated though, that it was somewhere between five and eight in the morning.

He was utterly cold and remembered he had weird dreams of sleeping outside while hunting down Moriarty's web. The dreams had been an unsettling mixture of events that hadn't happened with snippets of true memories.

Although he was slightly shaking from the chills, he was glad to be awake now. His current situation was still better than the vivid nightmares.

He wrapped the blanket tightly around his shoulders, crossed his legs and leaned against the wall.

The fact that he didn't have a lamp was getting more and more annoying. The light shining in from the corridor was enough to manoeuvre through the room but that was it. Not that he had anything particular to do, but if he had it would most likely fail due to the dim light. The reason was probably that suicidal patient's rooms couldn't be illuminated with an open flame. Nevertheless, it was very inconvenient to rely on daylight.

Someone unlocked his door but left it closed; Sherlock couldn't muster the energy to get up and peek into the hall.

De facto, he wanted the world to stay outside. Wanted them to leave him alone. He had no eagerness left to find out what was out there.

"After you completed your morning routine, Miller will bring you down to the dining hall," a booming voice interrupted his thoughts.

A slightly overweight man with a soft face was standing in the now open doorway. He too was wearing a large key ring on his belt.

On one hand, he wanted to be left alone, on the other he needed to find out if Watson was here, too.

Learning about his situation was paramount, he reminded himself.

Contact to other inmates would probably be more helpful than asking an employee.

After a short silence - which the man waited through patiently - he tried to react.

"Thank you."

"Alright. Miller will be here in a minute and show you the facilities."

Sherlock had hoped he'd be allowed to go there himself.

"I don't mean to be demanding, but since I have no clothes, are there any dressing gowns or robes I could borrow? I am really cold," he said in his best imitation of a gentleman in an unfavourable situation.

The man frowned, "You should have arrived with your hospital wardrobe. It was given to you upon arrival - a week ago." He looked though the empty room as if looking for it. "I see. Let me see what I can do."

The man vanished again and Sherlock frowned.

A week ago?

A week he completely failed to remember?

Yesterday, the other man - Hughes - had said something about he had arrived at the ward only a short time ago, hadn't he?

There seemed to be a lot of staff in the asylum but none of them was wearing nametags.

A bit later nurse Miller appeared with a bathrobe, something that appeared to be a toilet bag, and a lavatory table on wheels. He was a young lad and the enthusiasm of youth was conspicuous.

Sherlock was not too enthusiastic to get clean though when he found that the water was cold a few minutes later.

"I expect you to wash," Miller told him when he sheepishly stood there and stared at the basin in front of him.

"I know. I am just not a fan of cold water," he tried to say lightly.

"It is supposed to wake you up."

"I am not sure I want to be more awake than I already am," Sherlock said in a pleasant tone.

Miller smiled carefully.

He dipped both palms into the water one after the other and then rubbed his face with the wetness that clung to his palms.

The other man raised his eyebrows, then held out a face cloth, which made Sherlock realise he had to get out of the shirt to wash his upper body. He wanted to because his own smell annoyed him, but on the other hand, it was way too cold.

He steeled himself for the discomfort and unbuttoned the shirt.

When he was done, Miller offered a shaving kit.

"You want to shave?"

Sherlock brushed his hand over his chin. The stubble was minimal. Which meant he had shaven within the last sixteen hours.

The memory of washing his hair and shaving in the tub, assisted by John, came to the forefront of his mind.

How long ago had that happened?

If he was in his mind palace, that could be from an hour to months ago. The mind palace changed reception of time.

"No. I like this kind of stubble when I'm on vacation," he tried to joke, but his expression must have broadcasting his frustration. Miller had clearly seen it because of his understanding smile. He accepted Sherlock's wish, took the towel back and brought the basin back to the lavatory cart waiting outside.

"Get dressed, evacuation is next," he declared and handed him a heap of day clothes he had also brought.

It turned out that meant a visit to the loo.

Getting there was informative.

The building seemed even bigger than yesterday and they passed twenty-four more rooms that were like his. Apparently, they were all inhibited, some even by two people.

At the end of the hall, there were twelve double doors, all wide open.

He and Miller were walking rather slowly. Besides that, he hurt all over, every step caused quite a bit of pain on his lower left leg. He was shocked to find he still hadn't taken a look at the wound.

He had forgotten. And now he was busy trying to take it all in - as accurate as possible.

When they passed the first large open door, the sight of the rooms behind them horrified him.

The large dormitory was lit by a fair amount of gas-fuelled lamps high on the walls, but that was the only luxury. The room was filled with so many beds there was barely room to walk in between.

Inside, people were in the process of getting up, some sitting on their beds. The distance between them was only an arm's reach. Total strangers sharing the space of his entire bed at 221b, the only thing separating them a two-inch gap between the mattresses.

There were over one hundred beds in the room that looked as if designed as an open ward for about thirty to thirty-five beds. It was so overcrowded there was not even space for personal things. It seemed some kept them under their beds, which made the dorm look even more cluttered.

The second room they passed was equally full, but here three nurses helped people wash and brush their teeth. Some seemed to be severely mentally impaired, others completely passive, just enduring the procedure. Sherlock was sure he spotted at least two people who were sitting in their beds trying to comfort themselves by rocking.

He was painfully aware he had done that as a child, and it had been hard to break himself of the habit. Later, he had found other ways to stim, ways that weren't that obvious. Though John had made him aware that he sometimes still did it when he believed he was alone. Although Sherlock hoped John was not aware it was in fact stimming what he was doing.

He decided to keep his stimming as hidden as possible as long as he was here. It had happened now and then during withdrawal when it all got too much.

Just a few days ago, he had banged his head against a wall. Something like that he should avoid at all costs while here.

Whoever had checked him in here, had paid for the private room, for which he was grateful.

In one of the dormitory rooms he'd really get insane within forty-eight hours or less. The physical closeness was unbearable.

After he had used the facilities they didn't head back to his room, instead, Miller told him they were heading to the dining hall.

After a few more metres, Sherlock finally understood the real reason why he was going so slow and trying to check every face he saw.

He was unconsciously looking for John.

His friend must be somewhere in here, too. However, in such a large complex they could probably stay for years without ever meeting each other.

The hallways seemed to stretch for kilometres. One could see down them for a very long distance. This building was designed to house many people, and obviously it was nevertheless overcrowded.

Was his friend in a similar situation he was in, just in another ward?

He tried to hide his curious gazes from Miller, started to ask for details about the institution after a few more metres.

"We grow our own vegetables on the grounds," Miller explained. "In a few days, you'll have the chance to do some productive things that will speed up your recovery, it is part of the treatment plan. Feeling useful and involved is good, as is the fresh air."

Sherlock wisely kept his mouth shut about what he thought about the 'treatment' a patient would receive in this era. Since he also thought very little of what a patient of a modern facility received, it could only be worse. His memories of his first rehab were bad. So bad, he went through the second detox one on his own.

Then the thought occurred that he might suffer through more issues than the treatment they'd inflict on him, just because he was on his own.

No Watson.

No John.

No way out.

There was little chance he'd receive any help with his real issues here - detox.

His breathing must have sped up because the nurse was suddenly in front of him, blocking his way.

"We will return to your room so you can rest until I pick you up to bring you down to the dining hall."

When he didn't react, Miller asked, "What is the matter?"

"I just…" Miller was a figment of his imagination, but he hesitated to tell him the truth nevertheless. "I have trouble breathing sometimes," he offered. It was not a lie.

"I can see that," the other man deadpanned.

"And spells of joint pains," he added.

"That is not in your file."

"Doesn't surprise me," Sherlock grunted, out of breath. "Only my doctor knows about it. Maybe I can contact him later and ask him to send additional files," Sherlock probed gently.

"That is not the regular procedure. All your files should be here already," Miller frowned.

"The building is huge. How many patient's are here?" Sherlock tried to change topics once more.

"Many," Miller evaded the question.

A moment later Sherlock had to lean against the wall, dizziness and another wave of chills making it hard to walk.

"You need to get back to your bed."

"NO!" Sherlock protested, although every nerve in his body seemed to scream for rest. But the thought of being locked in the dark room was horrifying him.

"Don't get loud. If you get angry they'll put you back in the quiet room," Miller warned.

"I won't," Sherlock said feebly, though for his taste he overacted a bit. "But I really need some company. I feel so lonely and... I just really need some company," he lied.

The real reason he wanted to be in a room full of patients was that he wanted to check every one of them to see if Watson was here, too.

Miller gave him a moment to catch his breath and a few minutes later they continued their way down the hall.

People dressed in bathrobes passed, who seemed to be on their way to public lavatories, carrying toilet supplies and towels.

They had to walk down two flights of stairs and then down another hallway until Sherlock heard the typical ambient noise of a refectory.

The smell hit him like a wall a few moments later. It was unnerving, but finding Watson had priority.

The moment they entered the room the stench intensified and the nausea returned.

Breathing carefully, he let his gaze run over the people in the room. It must be at least 130 men in here - only men. Most of them already seated on benches and long rows of tables.

Sherlock started to check their faces one by one. After a few seconds, he was interrupted by Miller, who gently nudged him to make him go in.

The sudden loud noises and the bustle increased the dizziness again. He had mixed feelings if he wanted to go in or not.

"Go on, you need to have a decent breakfast after the last night."

"I am not sure I can eat."

Miller pointed at a free place on the end of a bench where the room was less busy.

"You better try. You won't like what happens if you don't eat."

With an unpleasant churn in his stomach, Sherlock remembered how force feeding was done in this era. Miller was probably right, he didn't want to try it.

The nurse slowly guided him to the bench and he sat down. The sight of all those people made him feel even more damaged than he already did. With his worn out closes and unhealthy complexion, he probably looked like all the other seedy looking guises around him. Many of them looked as if this was their permanent living place. All of them were wearing hospital issued clothes, though here and there Sherlock spotted a scarf or a hat that obviously weren't.

Nevertheless, the entire situation had more similarities with a prison than with a hospital.

Almost nobody seemed well groomed. Of course, people in hospitals usually looked dishevelled and sick, but this was different.

The tone of the voices was overall depressed and low, there wasn't even a bit of laughter or enthusiastic conversation.

This was a dull place, stuffed with suffering people who were slowly losing their hope to get better or return to their homes… or had already lost it. Asylums in this era were housing all those who couldn't live on their own, whose families couldn't take care of them, even those who were old and had typical issues like dementia, and also those who suffered severe problems.  People with all sorts of problems were just stored away in institutions like this; even the 1845 lunacy act had not changed that.

Miller tore him out of his thoughts, "Breakfast time is from 7 to 8. You'll be accompanied here for the first few days, then go down with the others from our ward. Sit down, and stay seated until I come to pick you up again after the meal." Miller waited for his affirmative nod and then left.

This gave him time to continue the scan of the room. When he had checked the last row of benches, without spotting his friend, he restarted at the door.

Sherlock wondered if he had just missed to spot Watson. Outer appearances could be altered fast, he reminded himself. If Watson's moustache was shaved off and he was dressed in the same rags he was, it would be much harder to recognise him, especially with Sherlock's constantly hazy eyesight.  

The detective noted that several people looked as if they had recently been given a head shave, probably to prevent a lice epidemic.

Would he recognise John without hair?

He tried to imagine him bald... and failed.

By the time it was almost seven - a large clock on the wall told him the time - most seats where occupied. To his dismay, Sherlock realised that so was the one next to him. By then, he was also sure John was not in the room. But he continued to watch the door anxiously, hoping against hope the doctor would just walk in.

The only familiar face that did walk in was Hughes, the head attendant he had met yesterday. The man immediately started to do rounds of the large hall and talked to people here and there. Other attendants could be spotted to do the same, probably making sure things went smoothly.

To his dismay, Sherlock realised they waited until everyone was seated and ready before beginning. The first step was that grace was spoken. The second that some kind of servers started to use wagons to serve the food.  

Sherlock's nervous energy and the waiting made him fidgety and he started to feel slightly sick again. Without being aware of it, his toes where tapping the ground and his fingertips stroking the white tablecloth. Waiting until someone placed the food in front of him was so very inefficient and time wasting he struggled with the concept.

When finally a plate was set before him, it contained four slices of whole wheat bread already coated with butter. After staring at it for a while, he got was nudged by the man who sat beside him.

"Better eat, my friend."

Right, consequences for not eating: bad.

He inspected the bread carefully. The bread looked fresh and smelled eatable, as did the butter. But he didn't have the least desire to try it; still he took a careful bite. At least it didn't taste horrible.

The tea however smelled odd and looked very thin.

No sugar, no milk. It was also not hot enough, probably because it took so long to serve it.

Would they do the same with warm meals? He would make sure to sit in the front if they did.

Overall, it was a paltry breakfast, but at least not adulterated. 

"I had hoped to see a friend who was brought here earlier," Sherlock addressed the man beside him.

"What is his name?" the man asked with a Scottish accent.

Sherlock hesitated. Answering 'John Watson' would not help him, he was known here as Greenbaum apparently.

"John," he then said.

The man laughed, "There are probably a few dozen people with the name in here."

Sherlock tried to describe John but the man said he didn't know anyone fitting that description.

The meal ended and Nurse Miller showed up immediately. He brought Sherlock back to his room.

Sherlock realised that he wouldn't have found his way back it on his own, on the way down he had focussed so much on looking for John, he had completely missed to memorise the way. His lacking mental abilities unsettled him and he ran up and down his no longer dark room for half an hour, trying to figure out what was happening.

The fact that his brain was no longer filing every input for him to just recall when he needed it irked him profoundly. There were just snapshots of blurred situations and persons, nothing that was useful.

He had barely been alone for five minutes when Miller returned and explained he was not cleared to take part in work or occupation, which was not just a way of spending the time but a vital part of his treatment.

Miller also told him that once he was fully healed he was expected to contribute to the daily workload and asked him what he would like to do.

The question left Sherlock a bit overwhelmed and unexpected. He was neither happy about working in a kitchen nor as a cleaner, or in the laundry. Not because he was flinching from doing manual labour but because the boredom it would come with would do more harm than good.

"I am a chemist. My experience in manual labour is small," he tried to avoid answering.

"Don't worry. Most work performed by patients is unskilled. It is important labour but doesn't require a lot of talent. Inactivity is a disagreeable habit. But for now, you need a bit of exercise and therefore you will be taken to a tour of the hospitals and the airing courts. Come with me."

Miller brought him to a small group waiting outside one of the larger dormitories and introduced him to another attendant. The man's name was Bennett and he seemed a lot stricter than the younger Miller.

What then followed was kind of an introduction to asylum life for novices.

The small group walked through parts of the buildings, was shown treatment rooms, dayrooms, recreational facilities and in the end they had a stroll through an enclosed airing court. It was not as bad as the one of a modern prison but made Sherlock feel incarcerated. They were explained it was the safer means to enjoy the outside, but once they had proven to be trustworthy they might be allowed to go taking the air around the estate, accompanied by an attendant of course.

Everything Sherlock had seen by then made it quite clear this place was designed to keep people inside, even creative people. There was probably a way out but it would take time to work it out, a lot of time. The insight left him discouraged and tired.

At 12:30, the group was back in the dining hall and dinner was served. The routine didn't differ much from the one presented at breakfast. Just that this time his enamel tin plate was filled with unpeeled potatoes, a bit of cooked meat and cabbage.

To his frustration, his cutlery consisted of a table knife and a spoon – no fork. He assumed it was for security reasons, as so many other things he had seen during the morning. Overall, it was not that different from a modern day closed ward.

Once again, Miller picked him up after the meal and brought him back up to his ward, where he was introduced to the many pleasant activities a patient could enjoy in the dayroom. Sherlock was not that there was anything in this entire institution he would find enjoyable.

The dayroom featured newspapers, periodicals, books, board games, and a lot of comfortable furniture. There were only three other patients in the room, accompanied by another carer. Miller told him he was now under that person's supervision and could address him if he had any questions, otherwise he would be picked up again in time for supper. Before Miller left, he also informed Sherlock that he was not supposed to leave the new attendant's sight.  

Suddenly, he was left relatively alone and found himself quite dazed. He briefly wondered if the food had been tempered with, laced with something to keep the patient's pliant.

He hurried over to a large armchair. There were three of them, grouped around a fire stove, it was the centre of the room and surrounded by a wooden mantelpiece.

Happy to sit somewhere soft and warm, Sherlock tried to collect his thoughts. The past hours had been debilitating. The walking left him beaten, his stamina seemed to have completely abandoned him since he had been in Culverton's hospital.

Without wanting to, he drifted off immediately.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

"John?"

A knock on his door.

"Yeah?" John blinked, woken by a familiar voice calling his name.

The door opened a bit and Mrs Hudson peeked into his bedroom.

"I can't rouse our patient," she said in a low voice.

Greg had stayed with Sherlock through the night and the landlady had taken over as planned in the morning, giving Greg the chance to go home and sleep before work.

"What?" John asked still half asleep.

"I tried to rouse him. To make him take his meds and drink a bit. But I couldn't wake him. I thought he needed the rest, or maybe he just ignored me, so I let him sleep. Now... I still can't wake him."

"When was that?"

"Two hours ago."

It was almost nine o'clock.

Without conscious thought, John climbed out of his bed and put on his sweat pants and a jumper before he followed her to Sherlock's room. He had done too many night shifts to need to be really awake for that.

"Oh dear, look at him. He's such a mess," Mrs Hudson lamented when they reached the downstairs bedroom. "What does it mean?"

"What does what mean?" John asked stupidly.

Gee, he was tired.

"That he won't wake, John!" she stated.

"I don't know," the doctor stated and swiftly took Sherlock's temperature and checked his pulse. Both seemed perfectly normal considering what he was going through.

"Oh, dear," she sat on the bed next to Sherlock's tightly curled up body while John tried his best to rouse his friend.

But Sherlock remained unresponsive, even when John shook his shoulder harder.

"Is this bad?" the landlady asked, poking Sherlock's leg repeatedly as if to produce an unnerved reaction.

"Could be harmless, could be dangerous, and anything in between. For the moment, I'll examine him in every way I can. If he seems well, we'll wait another hour before taking action. In the meantime I'll call the withdrawal specialist Mycroft has on call to consult with him - as a precaution."

As John struggled to roll his friend onto his back, the landlady stepped in and helped. They carefully moved him into a supine position and stretched out his limbs, so the doctor could wrap a blood pressure cuff around Sherlock's arm.  

The battery operated sphygmomanometer inflated and a few moments later, it light up and showed the results in green bright letters. They seemed even brighter due to the semi dark room.

Sherlock's BP was a bit higher than the doctor liked, but not alarmingly so.

After that, John went to the kitchen to get the bulky medical bag.

"So, what now?" she asked when he returned.

"Well, right now I plan to insert an IV and see if that wakes him up," John told the landlady.

She looked a bit scandalised, which made John frown.

"You think pain will bring him out of it? Might make him go deeper, especially if it is inflicted by you."

John froze momentarily and stared at her. The directness and the slight accusation hitting him hard. She was a bit crisp with him these days, and he was very aware that he deserved it.

"I am not... This is not about hurting him. Patients do sometimes wake up or respond when you poke them. He needs liquids… We can't risk him falling into a coma due to dehydration," he explained, heaving the heavy bag onto the armchair they used when they sat with Sherlock during the nights.

"Right. I am worried, too. He is so thin!" she said in a much more understanding voice.

"I don't like hurting him as much as you do, but he has barely eaten anything in the past days. Although I expected his appetite to increase during this stage of withdrawal. It is the normal thing to happen."

"Of course dear, you are right. If he needs it, this is probably the only way at the moment."

As John opened the curtains and switched on all the lamps in the room to see better,

Mrs Hudson left and started busying herself in the kitchen.

The bright light revealed fine lines of pain on his friend's face. Sherlock looked a bit cachectic as well as older, the wrinkles in his face were more visible due to the lack of fluids.

"Sherlock? Can you hear me?" John leaned over him and tried to rouse him once more.

The doctor waited and paid close attention to spot any movement that might indicate Sherlock was just asleep or faking it.

Usually, it was not easy to distinguish between the mind palace and sleep, except when Sherlock was using the memory technique actively, moving his body to navigate the mental environment. But John had learned it over time that it wasn't necessary.

Most of the time, while in the mind palace Sherlock's body remained in position and kept up a certain degree of muscle tension.

Like someone deep in meditation.

The breathing slowed down to a regular but constant rhythm. Eye movement under the closed lids happened, but usually looked different from the one during REM sleep, which John would describe as jerkier and faster.

For some reason this distinction not that clear when drugs were involved.

Now the eye movement was there, but it was kind of lethargic and hesitating. Sherlock's features were not as relaxed as they would be in sleep, but his breathing sounded as if he was.

The only thing that was obvious was that he was in pain.

Overall John wouldn't describe Sherlock as a happy drunk. From all that John had witnessed in the past, what Sherlock experienced during a high seemed not to give him a good time. And he knew that wasn't why Sherlock turned to drugs.

The detective did it to mute his restless thoughts, or to enhance his already ridiculously fast thinking, to channel his focus, improve creativity. But it also made him unconfident and vulnerable, which he tried to overplay with over-confidence that made it even worse.  

When high, Sherlock also tried to make jokes that didn't really work, which was probably related to his social insecurities that surfaced.

Another interesting thing was that he uttered his abstract, unfiltered feelings and bared more of his inner core. But he always seemed jittery and unsettled under the influence.

A few days ago, Mrs Hudson had told him details about Sherlock's habit that made it very clear that although it overlayed his mental and physical agony with euphoria, he suffered. Her depictions had made him wonder if it was more about self-injuring than anything else.

"Hey mate, I know you are in pain. It is time for another dose of painkiller. I'd like you to take it…. Sherlock… Come on, wake up."

The detective's unresponsiveness started to unnerve him.

Maybe Sherlock was just so annoyed with everything he ignored them all?

It made John nervous though, because some time ago, Sherlock had told him John had kind of a personal direct speaking tube into the mind palace.* It was supposed to enable Sherlock to hear John clearly, only John. If Sherlock wanted it or not.

Apparently, it didn't work any longer or Sherlock couldn't answer for some reason.

"Sherlock, it is time to wake for a bit. I really need you to talk to me... just for a minute."

John waited for a few more moments, in which he continued to observe Sherlock's body closely, but nothing changed.

"I need to examine you and get an IV in. I am sorry, but there is no other way if you don't react to me. I hope this is caused by the lack of fluids, though I know it would be an unusual intense reaction. If you can hear me, please respond."

He just spoke to talk, not to say anything meaningful, though he found it necessary to talk his friend through what he was planning to do.

On one hand, he was hoping Sherlock would wake in time to protest. On the other he doubted that the amount of fluids Sherlock needed right now could be compensated by drinking, especially since Sherlock had refused to swallow large amounts of anything in the past weeks. His repulsion of having things in his mouth - not only certain textures like normally, but anything - had made it even harder.

"Alright. I'm gonna insert in the cannula... Clean your skin first," John announced and wiped the back of his hand with alcohol.

Inserting the needle into the vein proved to be quite difficult. The level of dehydration made it hard to pierce the blood vessel and John needed several tries until he finally was in.

But even that neither made his patient twitch nor grunt, the other man remained indifferent.

Mycroft had prepared the flat for Sherlock's care and several robust hooks for various equipment had been installed. Other larger medical equipment was waiting in one of the storage rooms. There was an IV stand, John knew, but he'd prefer not confronting Sherlock with more medical equipment than necessary. Sherlock associated hospitals with his needs being stamped on and walking a fine line between necessity and constantly risking a sensory overload. Besides the bad memories of being wronged and in horrible pain of course.

With a sigh, John connected a bag that contained fluids and electrolytes to the IV port and hung it onto one of the hooks, then adjusted it to a relatively fast flow rate.

For a moment, he sat in the comfortable armchair they had used for their vigils the nights before, and continued to watch his friend. But the longer he watched him the more unsettling he found the entire situation.

There were more drastic actions to try to rouse an unresponsive person, like pain stimuli in the tenderest places. However, he hesitated to use them after what Mrs Hudson had said, at least as a friend. The doctor in him argued it was necessary.

He had barely sat there a minute when he stood up again and clipped a wireless pulse-ox to Sherlock's finger.

Sherlock remained unmoving and dead to the world.

If Sherlock's body needed the break, fine. But...

The doctor finally realised he needed to make sure it really was that and not an underlying condition. Sherlock had done lasting damage to his body and going cold turkey at home was not the optimal course of action – from a stricly medical point of view. They needed to be extra careful to spot underlying issues as fast as possible, delayed reactions might show at any moment.

In addition, it was possible that Sherlock had secretly managed to take drugs, no matter how carefully they watched him, this needed to be checked, too.

John returned to the living room and dialled the specialist supervising the entire 'get Sherlock off the sweeties' operation.

Before he had even dialled, he heard someone on the stairs and a moment later Mycroft came in.

"What happened?" the older Holmes asked without greeting.

"I don't know, yet, Mycroft. Give me some time to figure it out."

Mycroft made a testy movement with his umbrella, before he headed for Sherlock's room. While walking, he slipped out of his winter coat and threw it and the brolly onto the kitchen table.

"Update?" he urged the doctor, who hurried after him.

"We can't rouse him. I was about to call the consultant to confer about the next step. But maybe I should try to assess his level of consciousness first..." John thought aloud.

"That is no use if he is ignoring us willingly," Mycroft tiled his head in that typical smartarse way that irked Sherlock so often.

"Sherlock! I demand you open your eyes right now," Mycroft barked at his brother, "Otherwise I will do as Mummy asked and give you a hug and a kiss from her."

All John could do was stand there, gaping at the odd one-sided conversation.

Mycroft then sat on the bed and unceremoniously shoved his hands under Sherlock's shoulders. When nothing happened, he and lifted him a bit.

The movements were tender and careful, a stark contrast to Mycroft's tone. He gave his sibling a moment to react to the shift in position and then kissed his brother on his forehead.

Sherlock did not even move a single muscle.

At first, John had to hold back a giggle, then he realised what it meant.

"Shit," Mycroft cursed, out of character.

"Yeah," John agreed. "This puts things into perspective."

Mycroft looked up at him with a frown, "The threat usually works on its own... most of the time."

Mycroft was pragmatic, even when not liking the option, that much was clear.

"Prep him for transport, take some blood to shorten the proceedings," Mycroft ordered, stood up and returned to the kitchen.

The doctor hadn't even really recovered from the surprising action when he heard Mycroft talk to someone on the phone.

He checked Sherlock over again and this time tried pain stimuli. He wasn't careful, but the total lack of reaction remained - and most of these tests were mean.

Trying to quell his suddenly arising panic, John closed his eyes for a moment, realising he should do a proper coma scale evaluation, mind palace or not. He was torn between keeping Sherlock comfortable and making sure he was medically okay.

Mycroft re-entered the room.

"Maybe we should wait another hour," John addressed him. "Maybe he really just needs rest. All his vitals are okay and he is getting fluids now. It might just be the dehydration and the fact that he is really exhausted. Last night was bad."

"What happened?" Mycroft typed on his phone, appeared to follow the conversation only partially.

"He hallucinated. Thought there was a fire in his room."

"A fire," Mycroft's gaze shot up and he stepped closer to John, gazing at him with narrowed eyes. "What else?" he demanded in a tense voice.

"Nothing else," John stammered, the scrutiny was unnerving.

"Details!" Mycroft ordered in a tone that underlined how unsettled he was.

"We had to physically keep him in the house. He tried to make us all leave the building. At first I thought he was just trying to get out to acquire drugs."

"He probably wasn't," Mycroft said in a sinister tone.

"What makes you say that?" John wanted to know, but the older Holmes ignored the question.

"What else?"

"He was quite shaken by it all. We checked every room to make sure there was nothing going on. It was hard to reassure him that nothing was burning. I decided to help him bathe after that, to take his mind of things."

"Transport will arrive in about six minutes, we should get ready."

"What? Why?" John babbled.

"You probably failed to notice, but my brother is acutely suicidal and withdrawal is known to cause suicidal tendencies, so how is this not an emergency?"

"What?"

"You do realise he went into St. Caedwalla's Hospital and allowed Culverton to choke him to death – fully conscious and on purpose!" Mycroft explained with a hard expression on his face. "I sometimes fail to understand what my brother sees in you. You can't really be that blind sighted not to have noticed."

Apparently, Mycroft's patience had run out.

Dumbfounded John stood there and listened.

"This is not the first time his depression has caught up with him. And it is certainly not the first time he almost died because he failed to avoid deadly circumstances," Mycroft continued. "Yes. Usually it's that subtle. He just doesn't fight death when it approaches. This time however, he actively sought out a danger he was sure would kill him. He hasn't actively tried in years... until a few months ago."

"What the hell?" John asked.

"He overdosed. On purpose. Before you two met...."

"Shit," John huffed, horrified.

"... and on the plane, leaving for a suicide mission. Because he clearly wasn't eager to being tortured to death. Instead preferred it fast and..."

"I got it," John chocked. No one had said it this directly, although Mary had hinted at it. It was still a shock.

"I doubt that," Mycroft was on a roll expressing his worries, it seemed. "Shooting Magnussen re-awoke trauma he had just barely managed to overcome. You know how much hunting down Moriarty's web affected him. You went through EMDR therapy with him. Nevertheless, he felt he had to kill Magnussen, to protect you. And the price he paid for that was enormous. It re-awoke his issues. He was not only in solitary confinement because they deemed him a danger to others, but first of all: a danger to himself. Unfortunately, it worsened his state because it left him alone with all his demons. And no one was there to help him cope. Not even I could help at that point."

"Mycroft... I am sorry."

"Not enough," Mycroft hissed. "I asked you to watch out for him because I knew you were the only person he would allow to do so. He was devastated about Mary's death. On top of that, he was also cut off from the only thing that might have helped him to cope. He suffered double, because he also lost you... and you blamed him."

John was a bit shocked about the outburst and the obvious distress Mycroft was not bothering to hold back.

Someone wearing heels came up the stairs and crossed the kitchen, a moment later Anthea entered the room.

After she gave Sherlock a worried glance, she handed Mycroft a tablet computer.

"I checked the surveillance," she started without a greeting. "After having the bath he stayed in bed. No odd movements or actions."

She then addressed John, "Did you leave him alone while he was in the bathroom?"

"Of course," John replied, "We agreed that we want to trust him so far. Though we made sure to check on him every few minutes and not give him unlimited time alone in there. There is a glass door, you know."

"I never should have left this to you," Mycroft said ruefully. "He is a master in deceiving you. And you are not fit to take care of him. We are lucky Lestrade is always ready to jump in."

"I don't think he has taken anything, Mycroft!" John said, suppressing his anger.

"Gentlemen, transport is here," Anthea interrupted them.

"Get your shoes," Mycroft hissed and headed back to his coat.

Only three minutes later, the three of them were in Mycroft's black car following the private ambulance.

John was a bit abashed about having been told he was not capable of taking care of his friend, but realised his crash two days ago had made things worse and Mycroft had every right to be mad at him.

He was mad at himself.

 

 


 

 

*

The thing about the direct speaking tube into Sherlock's mind palace developed in Ch. 30 of my story 'Define Vulnerability'. When Sherlock is struggling with PTSD and they both work hard on restoring Sherlock's mind palace, which has taken serious damage.

Chapter Text

 

Something intense pulled Sherlock out of sleep.

When he opened his eyes for a moment to scan his surroundings – the Victorian asylum's dayroom – he realised that nothing was out of the ordinary. He closed them again and tried to chase what caused the intense disquieting feeling.

There was something deep rooted and heavy that seemed to weight him down, mentally and physically.

Emptiness and sorrow was pooling somewhere in his mind and the black mass wasn't just there, it had run wild in a reoccurring disturbing dream.

It was vague, but not foreign. He had had it for weeks.

The only thing he really remembered about it when awake was the echoes of the horrible sounds John had made right after Mary's death. He kept hearing them even when awake.

With his eyes closed, he tried to extinguish the unsettling feeling he had identified as loss.

It dimmed a bit but didn't leave.

It never left these days.

Mrs Hudson had made him understand that at some point that losing Mary had been traumatic for him, too. Not only the events surrounding her death but the gaping hole that was in her place nowadays felt like a raw wound.

Although he had failed to understand what was happening to him, 'it' made him physically sick on two occasions. Mrs Hudson's thesis was that it was probably from the shock and the grief - and the fact that he didn't process feelings like normal people did. They might therefore seek a physical outlet.

At first, he hadn't believed her, had only shaken his head while she held a bucket for him.* He was sure it was more likely guilt.

It was his fault after all. He had failed to protect Mary.

She had protected his life instead and he felt nothing but guilt for that.

Over time – and after googling how grief was perceived by normal people – he came to the understanding that Mrs Hudson might be right, at least partially.

He was grieving.

Sherlock tried to accept that knowledge, breathe deeply, clear his mind.

The heavy sadness was messy and confusing and following him everywhere. There was no escape.

In addition, it was worsening the headache he was suffering since he woke up in the asylum.

He kept his eyes closed. No matter where he was, he knew why he felt so bad and that he just had to endure it until it was over.

Then a wave of intense cravings crashed into him, he should have seen it coming. The cravings were a permanent companion, too. Maybe they were linked, because in the weeks of John's absence he had buried his grief under a drug frenzy.

Both issues at once were like a physical blow to the stomach, though.

Resignation followed close behind.

His will to persevere was breaking. It was a slow and painful process and he had fought so hard to keep it from happening. But now he just had no strength left to adhere to a positive attitude.

When he squeezed his eyes shut to push away the mental agony, he felt wetness on his face.

Shit.

His fingers twitched involuntary and he felt the velvety padding of the unfamiliar armchair under his hand.

He bent forward, curled in on himself, rubbed his hot face with his cold hands. Tried to block out his surroundings, while he kept his eyes firmly closed.

"Mr Greenbaum?"

"Leave me alone," he grouched.

"It is time for the evening meal. We need to go down to the dining hall."

"I don't care. Go away."

Sherlock felt shaky and sensed how odd his breath tasted. He felt as if he had run a marathon, overexerted himself.

Why didn't they just leave him alone?

A few moments later the man did exactly that - he left.

Once more, Sherlock tried to leave his mind palace, but it brought no result, he remained in the Victorian era. 

The omni-present fatigue had made him sleep in a sitting position - through the entire afternoon.

He was desperate to stay in the darkness and be unaware of the situation around him.

The headache was still there. The pain was originated in the back of his head. He lifted his right to rub the area with his fingertips, hoping it might bring some relief.

With horror, he found his fingers met wetness and hard edges.

His heart seemed to skip a few beats and his thoughts went into a perturbed overdrive.

Had he shot himself?

Had he a hole in his head like Moriarty?

For a moment, he thought he felt the edges of protruding bone and suddenly his pulse was so fast and loud it floored all other input.

Some aspect of him was too afraid to investigate further, afraid he might find he had killed himself.

He knew that suicidal tendencies were a side effect of withdrawal from more than one of the drugs he had taken en masse.

Then his sanity stepped in and reminded him how very stupid all those thoughts were. Of course, he wasn't dead.

This must be a nightmare.

Was he still asleep?

He tried to ground himself by exhaling slowly.

If he had shot himself, he wouldn't be here to think about it, because that was the point of shooting oneself!

Except... something had gone wrong and he was in a coma, vegetating in some Intensive care unit.

What was meant as logical reasoning did the opposite.

The rational thoughts were supposed to ground him, ease the distress. Instead, it renewed anxiety that once more threatened to overwhelm him.

The panic shifted up a gear.

Irrational apprehension and horror scenarios that always hinted at the worst possible outcome seemed to be allured by his current state.

But that knowledge and the energy to keep those thoughts in check were abandoning him.

Dark thoughts and feelings he couldn't even name were closing in.

He forced himself to sit upright, try to breathe normally.

Another unsettling thing was, that he had gone through withdrawal several times, but it had never felt as bad as this.

The reason for that might be that he had taken another combination of drugs this time. More than just cocaine and morphine. He had taken a drug he had never used in the past.

Meth.

Before deciding to produce and use it, he had read into it of course. The theory of withdrawal side effects from this particular substance were described similar to those of cocaine.

His current state made him realized they were a lot worse, especially or because of the combination with simultaneous cocaine abstinence.

He had been aware of the risks of meth, and in the beginning had recoiled from taking it, too many undesirable side effects. The reason why he had never taken it before, too. He was a chemist after all, aware of the effects on the human body.

In the end, the easy production process as well as the visible ramifications of its consumption had changed his mind. Under normal circumstances, he wouldn't have reverted to it, but he had been desperate to get 'results' fast – meaning: looking haggard and close to death.

It was a choice he regretted.

Were his exacerbated mental issues the result of meth use?*

Cocaine had never messed him up like this. In different ways, yes, but not like this.

Predictably enough, he remembered something he had read, but conveniently ignored during the decision making process. The fact that 'some users exhibit cognitive deficits in the areas of planning, attention, mental processing speed, and memory, which don't fully resolve within six months of abstinence'. Lasting effects were possible, because methamphetamine can damage dopamine and serotonin neurons in the central nervous system, which means: brain damage.

But that was only true for long term use, wasn't it?

'Long term use' was such an imprecise phrase.

Had he overdone it?

What if his mental capacities would never return to normal?

What if there was permanent damage?

STOP.

For a very long time just sat there and breathed, trying to keep the depressing truths at bay,

overwhelmed with the irrational shock he felt. The storm of feelings he had woken up to and the abstruse paths his own thoughts were going were increasing.

It was a rollercoaster – chased by episodes of pure horror.

Brief episodes of rationality occurred, in which he asked himself if this was part of the hopelessness and the tendency to jump on the worst possible scenario because of the depression.

In the background, his body kept screaming for relief, or was it his mind?

Whatever was causing the intense distress, he wouldn't be able much longer to keep it at bay.

Something was about to explode.

He was going mad.

He could feel his mind crumple.

Distress rose and he frantically searched for a way to stop it.

More wetness on his face.

Dizzy and breathing heavily he felt the chills return.

Completely depleted of any will to go on he just sat there, tried to shut himself down.

All he wanted was oblivion.

He did manage to drift off into the black emptiness of lethargy, but it was a short-lived relief.

 

Without a warning, cold fingers wrapped around his hand.

So much for blocking out his surroundings.

He was about to shake the touch off when a subtle whiff of Claire de la Lune entered his nostrils.

His eyes jerked open, craving to see something familiar.

Anything.

The sight that met his eyes shocked him.

For a moment, he thought he was confronted with a version of Mary wearing an odd dark wig, and with some kind of cameo on her face but then he realised that what he saw was somehow distorted.

Various things around him had changed colours, but not all of them.

Some elements in the day room had taken on a complementary colour as well. Mary's features where tinted in turquoise and black. The curtains in the room were bright orange, although they were supposed to be in a soothing blue.

Sherlock backed out of the armchair in alarm, trying to get some distance between himself and the apparition of his dead friend.

He couldn't interpret her expression, but noticed dark circles under her eyes. She looked dead.

Had he dragged something out of his nightmares into the mind palace?

To force his brain into re-emerging reality he squeezed his eyes shut.

"This is not real," he whispered.

Or was she another hallucination?

Instead of an answer, a cold hand cupped his cheek, causing him to recoil – and his eyes jerked open. But she followed his movement

It was a gesture of care and worry, but Mary's expression was as if carved in stone.

"This is not real," he repeated.

In typical Mary fashion, she reached out her other hand and pinched him – hard.

He hissed, more in surprise than from the pain.

The hand on his cheek burned ice cold and he met her sad gaze.

"I miss you," he finally stammered. It was the only thing he had not managed to say to her when he had hallucinated her before.

A sudden impact in his chest surprised him.

Puzzled, his regard went down. A moment later he realised it felt similar to the initial moments of being shot.

At first, something like a soft knock against his chest, then pressure.

And more pressure.

Anxiety bubbled up.

Crippling pain followed... and a bright red liquid started to spread over his shirt. Had he been shot again?

With wide eyes, he lifted his gaze to Mary, expecting her to point a gun at him, but she was  looking down at her own chest, which was covered in shockingly red blood. As were her turquoise tinted hands, she then reached out with.

Horrified to see her dying again, covered in blood, Sherlock did a step back.

He was gasping, panicking.

Mary's face distorted in pain and horror and her movements sped up. She followed him, grabbed his arm too keep him in place.

She then pressed her bloody hand onto his wound.

Sherlock cried out in pain, tried to free himself, but she didn't let go.

His vision tunnelled, turned cyan, then bright red mingled in and he shook his head frantically to clear it.

Something sneaked into him, spread into his chest cavity, started to fill him.

The sensation was so ugly and yet so mesmerizing that he failed to breathe.

His heart had started to hurt. It struggled to keep beating.

He tried to fight it, tried to shove her away, but she then embraced him and held tight to keep contact. Pressed her hand into the wound that seemed to be a lot larger than the one he had obtained when she shot him.

He couldn't fight her off, she was too strong.

All of a sudden, the touch changed. Multiple pairs of hands were clasping his arms and shoulders, dragging him down and the eerie silence erupted into a storm of loud voices.

He went down, unable to resist the enormous force.

Surrounded by a room full of people, pinned to the ground.

Unrecognisable silhouettes leaning over him.

Gasping for air with a violent urge, he tried to understand the sudden change.

He wanted to scream, break free, demand to be left alone.

However, all that happened was that something was shoved in between his teeth and deeper into his mouth.

He tried to move his head away, but found it held in a vice like grip. Something had grabbed his jaw hard and kept it open.

He tried to kick away hands and legs surrounding him.

This was not real.

They were in his mind, he couldn't hurt anyone, there was no one here but himself he could harm.

A very foul tasting liquid hit his soft palate and tongue.

The try to spit it out was futile, he was completely helpless, more liquid followed. His nose was blocked somehow and the only way to keep breathing was to swallow. He tried to keep it from happening, but it was a fight he would lose sooner or later.

Adrenaline kicked in and enabled him to struggle harder but the strength of the brutal hands overpowered him easily nevertheless.

To his astonishment, he felt something else mixing into his anxiety, attenuating it.

It took him a moment to understand what it was.

He wanted it.

All he needed to do was to let it happen and they would drug him.

He closed his eyes again.

Whatever medication there was in this ward, any would either give him the high or the oblivion he craved.

The raw need was so sudden and so intense it was hard to remind himself to fight what they were doing.

His body betrayed him and gulped, without his permission.

More liquid in his mouth.

He gulped again.

All those bodies this close by caused intense fear and black spots started to spawn in his field of vision. He was completely at their mercy.

Without conscious thought, he stopped fighting them. His body went limp.

They tilted his head back, fed him more of the drug.

Sherlock begged the medicine to work fast.

Their loud movements, their breathing, their feet close to his head, their agitated voice he couldn't understand, it all was too much.

He needed to get out.

Desperately, he tried to block out his surroundings.

It didn't take long until he started to feel heaviness weight him down.

A cosy rush went through his body, he welcomed it.

He allowed his mind to fully fall into the warm haze.

The brutal hands gently lifted him from the ground and carried him somewhere.

He ignored them.

It felt good.

So good.

Safe and warm and fuzzy.

And the worry and tenseness just evaporated.

For the first time in days, he felt all his pain and distress ebb away.

Bliss.

He let the voices wash over him, they didn't mean anything.

Much sooner than expected, he was dragged into the nothingness between consciousness and sleep. He felt himself drift and a strong lure to give into sleep followed.

He allowed it to happen, surrendered to it.

Welcomed oblivion.

It was dark there and no one could follow him there, not even ghosts from his mind palace.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Sherlock woke to semi darkness and sounds nearby.

Despite the initial disorientation, his memories of what had happened came back the moment he spotted a young attendant sitting on a chair beside his bed.

He was in his cell in the asylum.

To enlarge the distance to the man, he sat up and scooted back on the bed, driven by the horror of what he remembered of his earlier distress.

The sudden movements caused black dots to appear in his vision and he fought to blink them away.

A few feet away, the slim man raised his hands in the universal gesture of surrender and Sherlock relaxed a bit. He was more a boy than a man, barely sixteen from what Sherlock estimated.

"I am only here because you had an episode and your breathing needed to be monitored."

"What year is it?" Sherlock asked.

"1867," the man answered, frowning.

Sherlock was relieved to actually hear it being said. The asylum was full of newspapers from various dates, he had spotted them in the dayroom, but they could be years old.

Until now, he hadn't asked, feared they might tell him again he didn't want to remember the date.

"I am fine now, you can leave," Sherlock said, his need to sort out what had happened in privacy overwhelming, hut he regretted it a moment later.

The boy seemed so young he probably was inexperienced and not as indifferent as the rest of the staff. He might get answers from him others wouldn't give him.

Luckily, he seemed to have orders to stay.

"I will monitor your sleep. Feel free to continue to rest."

If Sherlock wanted to gain his trust, he needed to try conversation.

"Did I hit my head? It hurts," Sherlock stated carefully, trying out how much of a little helper the man was.

"Let me see," the other man offered.

Sherlock turned his head a bit but it was obviously not enough to examine it.

"Stay seated, face the wall," the man demanded.

To show his harmlessness and ground himself from the touch he knew was coming, Sherlock followed the instructions and additionally placed his hands besides his buttocks on the mattress so the carer could see them.

Carefully, the attendant parted his hair and lifted the lamp from the table to see.

Then he heard him suck in air and for a moment he feared the man might be seeing what he had felt earlier, a gaping hole in his skull.

"You have a large gash there, nothing too serious. When did this happen?"

"I don't know," Sherlock stammered, flabbergasted by the fact that he hadn't noticed it earlier.

He had been so caught up with trying to leave his mind palace and ignoring the input it gave him that he had ignored it.

"It doesn't look fresh, but there is a lot of scab. This should have been noticed earlier, but it wasn't in your file. It is a bit of a mess. We should take care of that... and your leg while we are at it. Let me get some supplies."

The boy bustled away but didn't forget to take the lamp and lock the door.

Sherlock was left in darkness.

He used the few minutes of loneliness to use a Buddhist technique to calm down, he had learned during his time in Nepal.

He had not blown out his brains. What a ridiculous thought!

Slowly exhaling, he reminded himself that episodes of severe anxiety and/or irrational agitation were part of the withdrawal process, as were vivid nightmares. Maybe this was just a nightmare, maybe he was just in a very long and complex dream.

Then he scolded himself for actually being so naive to consider that.

He stupidly stared at the wall, feeling desolate, still unable to think clearly.

A moment later, the young nurse from before and one of the attendants he had seen earlier came back.

"Mr Greenbaum, my name is Walker. We will see to your injuries."

"Oh, I forgot," the young man added, "my name is Cooper."

The older man gave the other a reproachful look for forgetting to introduce himself to the patient.

They first cleaned the head wound, which meant a lot of eschar came off and it started to bleed again. Then they wrapped a bandage around his head to keep the compress in place.

They were not trying to make small talk, Sherlock noticed.

Maybe the young man didn't have too much of the older nurse's approval, but Cooper didn't seem to care much.

When they unwrapped the wound on his leg, he clenched his teeth.

There was a long gash that had required stitches.

In this decade, catgut sutures were widely used, and although absorbed by the human body, the detective was not happy to see them in his own leg. They were only just starting to try to sterilize things like suture material.

The wound was red around the edges, but it didn't look inflamed. However, it felt taut and hurt. When asked, they told him the gauze was in fact sterilized - with carbolic acid.

Sherlock flinched a bit when he suddenly remembered the events of recent history he hadn't had one single thought about since his arrival.

The case was still unsolved.

It is the dose that makes the poison, he reminded himself and watched them work with a mixture of fascination and disgust.

Once more, he wished John was here – or Watson. He would so much prefer to be touched by his friend.

They cleaned the wound with a diluted solution of iodine and rebandaged it while Sherlock's focus shifted to their tool kit. It contained forceps, tweezers, scissors and several other slightly curved or sharp instruments. He was careful not to let them see his attention.

When they were finished and turned to go, he was relieved that they both showed signs of leaving.

They offered him another dose of the sleeping draft and Sherlock asked if he could have, but decide later if to take it - only if he couldn't sleep. He was not ready to face any more of his demons tonight.

They hesitated and Cooper was sent to ask a doctor if Sherlock's request could be granted.

Walker was carefully packing away their utensils and Sherlock decided he needed to pinch one right now or the chance would be gone.

"Could you get me another blanket? I had trouble sleeping last night because it was so cold," he asked, well aware they were stored in a cabinet a few metres down the hall. He had seen another nurse fetch one yesterday.

"I will get one in a moment," Walker responded and continued to pack away the kit.

Sherlock realised he was instructed to never leave a patient alone with sharp tools and hope to get his hands on one dwindled.

Walker carefully closed the kit and carried it to the cart waiting outside.

When Sherlock heard his steps fade, he hurried towards the door and saw the kit on the cart and the attendant moving down the hall towards the cabinet.

He had only a few seconds and taking the entire kit was not an option, they would notice that immediately.

It was risky to try to open it while out in the hall, but the only chance he had. He made sure the corridor was otherwise clear and slipped into the hallway.

He estimated that he had fifteen seconds until Walker reached the closet, he would turn sideways then and spot him.

He reached for the kit.

Only to flinch back a second later when he heard someone coming up the stairs that were a few metres ahead of Walker to the left.

Sherlock hurried back into his room, listening carefully.

Cooper's voice could be heard a few moments later.

"Dr Winter needs assistance, Rupert is having another seizure," the young man panted.

"Alright. Go lock Greenbaum's door and bring the cart back, then come help us."

A key ring was handed over.

Sherlock sat on the bed.

When Cooper entered, checking if anything was left to clear out of the room, Sherlock decided to give it another try. He asked Cooper instead to get a blanket. But the young man hesitated to do anything that might delay him.

So Sherlock had to pull at his heartstrings to make him comply, told him how bad the other night had been because he couldn't sleep due to the bitterly cold.

Cooper went to fetch the blanket and this time Sherlock was prepared, he was in the corridor only moments later, opened the kit, fetched two pairs of a pair of tweezers and a slim curette, then closed the kit - all before Cooper had even reached the closet.

He returned to his room and hid both items under his mattress but then immediately retrieved them because it was the worst hiding place ever, and placed them on the high sill of the door over the window. Even with his height, it was hard to reach it without a chair or a stepladder.

A few moments later Cooper returned and brought the blanket, which he took with gushing gratitude. Then he asked for the time, which Cooper also provided, it was a quarter to midnight.

The young man had him locked in and was gone a few seconds later.

 

Within the next two hours, the building calmed down considerately. Sherlock listened to every tiny detail he could spot. His sharp hearing was useful for a change, not just a nuisance threatening to overwhelm him.

There were agitated voices in the distance sometimes, now and then even screams.

Sherlock wondered how many severely disabled persons had been incarcerated here for ages without getting proper treatment.

Step by step, he opened up his other senses, tried to relax, feel the building and what was going on. This had helped him during the hunt for Moriarty; he hoped it would help again.

The lack of a clock was unfortunate, it was difficult to catalogue the night routine of staff without it.

His ability to estimate how much time had passed was useful.

Although he tried not to, his thoughts returned to the events of the afternoon, to Mary. The hallucination had been vivid and had horrified an aspect of him he couldn't really grasp. Even trying to analyse what he had seen unsettled him. He realised that trying to think about it now made things even worse.

He wouldn't be able to sleep any time soon, he needed to do something.

Be active.

Try to solve this. Figure out how to get out.

Around two o'clock, someone passed his door, probably making rounds. That meant it was the best moment to take action now. No one would do another round soon.

For a moment, he wondered if this was mindless activism, but then he retrieved the medical tools and set to work.

It took him a few tries but he finally managed to open the heavy lock.

The large key rings of the staff were to his advantage now. Their clinging could be heard from afar. In addition, the era typical architecture provided a lot of niches to hide in, or pillars.

The hallways were only dimly lit by lamps far in between and staff sometimes carried a lamp with them, which made them even easier to spot.

Sherlock sneaked through the entire level he was on, cataloguing everything in his path - until he was stopped by a heavy iron gate blocking his way.

Trying to open it was probably possible but unwise at this point. So he headed back past the row of single rooms that were probably like his. 

A few doors before his, he heard someone hum in the dark, it sounded a bit frantic and distressed.

After passing his room, he headed down the hallway in the other direction.

He was especially careful when he passed the dormitories. Some of them were frequently checked by bulky carers and others seemed to have an integrated bureau that was permanently manned.

Behind the dormitories were more staff rooms, but they were empty it seemed – then the padded cell, lavatories, and around the corner to the right, the stairway that lead down to the dining hall.

The building was designed to provide stairs at both ends of a ward and after carefully tiptoeing down the stairs he finally reached the ground level, which was his real goal.

It turned out things were much more active downstairs, manned staff rooms and people passing regularly.

He didn't head for the dining hall and the day room; he had already seen their surroundings but went the other direction. He knew the day room had doors to the enclosed airing court but he was looking for other ways out.

Finally, he found a window that looked out the other side of the building, but to his frustration, he saw that it was 'decorated' with cast iron window trellis.

When he rounded a corner to another part of the building, which was perpendicular to the ward building, he was almost spotted. Only his good hearing and fast reflexes saved him, enabled him to hide behind a pillar. The resulting adrenaline rush was - in contrast to what he was used to - hard to endure. It didn't feel exhilarating, only uneasy and maybe a bit distressing.

He found something useful though, doors that lead a part of the building that probably was not a ward.

He silently went down the hallway that connected the ward wing with another part of the building.  

At the point where the hallway opened up into a large open area, he could see another iron gate. It was open, but guarded by a man sitting next to a sentry box. No doubt other guards where relaxing in the room behind it.

This hinted at the fact that there might be a direct exit close by.

For some time, he observed the man reading a paper by the poor light of the gas lamp on the wall above him.

Before he had the chance to think of a way to get past him, a door further down the hallway opened and golden light illuminated the ground in front of it.

Out came the familiar silhouette of Cooper, the young man's hunched statue was easy to spot. He was carrying a tray and Sherlock suddenly remembered that someone might try to bring him another dose of the sleeping draft as he had requested.

Stupid!

Why hadn't he thought of that?

He hurried back to his room, panicked that someone reached it before he did.

On the other hand, if he had been missed, it wouldn't be this calm.

It was essential to get back in and look the door before Cooper was there; if they caught him even once, they would heighten security and make it even harder to escape.

He reached his cell without further incidents, but he was shaking, well aware he had thrown a lot of caution overboard hurrying back like this. It had been pure luck that no one had spotted him.

Look the door was difficult due to his trembling hands. He had barely done so when he heard Cooper approach, which forced him to hide the tools in his bed this time.

Trying to get his breathing in check, he climbed into bed.

 

Of course, Cooper addressed his sweating, agitation and fast respiration, but Sherlock explained that he had just woken from a nightmare and was then offered another dose of the sleeping draft, but he had to take it right now while the carer watched.

Sherlock accepted and Cooper used porcelain measuring spoon and a dropper to mix the medicine.

After he had downed it, Sherlock was urged to lie down flat and not to get up again.

Then he was left alone.

Still unsettled, he regretted his choice to take the easy way out. It was the opposite of abstinence to give in this easily. On the other hand, he was too exhausted and this was not really a relapse. It was all in his head.

Within minutes, the drug emptied his mind and washed awareness away.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

John walked up and down the rather large space of Sherlock's temporary room.

They were in the emergency department of the hospital were Sherlock had been treated just over a week ago. After Smith had tried to choke Sherlock, Mycroft arranged treatment in another – more trustworthy – facility.*

The initial assessment had been finished just a few seconds ago.

It had been a brief affair that included John handing over the already prepped blood samples and giving a short report.

They were now waiting for the consultant. Meanwhile, two nurses were working on Sherlock, getting rid of his inside out pyjamas and preparing him for the examination.

Anthea was somewhere off doing the paperwork and Mycroft was stoically sitting in a chair nearby, both his hands resting on his umbrella. His stiff posture and his blank face were an indication for the same tension John was trying to work off by walking.

Mycroft hadn't spoken much since they arrived but the discountenance about John's hesitation to cart Sherlock to a hospital seemed to have worn off.

It was barely three minutes later when a doctor arrived with two more members of staff in tow, he introduced himself as Mr Walsh.

John hurried to describe the events of the previous night in detail, pulled into the assessment routine out of habit.

Short precise words flew through the room while Walsh and a nurse did a thorough exam. They made sure there were no undiscovered easily visible problems.

They also tried to rouse Sherlock and did a coma scale assessment, which left them none the wiser.

Sherlock didn't reply to their presence, pain stimuli or any other try to make him react. He just lay there. Limb and oblivious to the world.

The male nurse scribbled down a lot of notes and they exchanged a lot of medical jargon with John - so much that Mycroft started to tap his foot impatiently.

Walsh ignored him, but one of the younger nurses noticed it and tried to explain while Walsh continued to examine his patient.

"Although you have surveillance footage, we can't rule out anything at this point. He's currently looking for signs of physical trauma – Mr Holmes could have fallen without anyone noticing, could have had a seizure, used drugs, or had a stroke," the nurse informed the older Holmes. John couldn't shake the feeling they knew each other.

"Suicide attempt," Mycroft added to the list in a resigned tone.

Walsh stopped his movements and looked up, his gaze meeting Mycroft's.

"That makes the entire thing a whole lot more complicated – and more urgent. You should have told us before," Walsh stated.

"Bloodwork is already in the lab," the nurse offered.

"Good," Walsh murmured while he continued to soundly check the inside of Sherlock's mouth for damage that might hint towards an earlier seizure.

"I was with him the past days; there was nothing that hints at suicidal thoughts. We made sure our living quarters were free of any dangerous substances. Overall, Sherlock was suffering severely due to the withdrawal but he was neither displaying severe depression nor self-harming behaviour that aimed at ending his suffering.

"He did self-harm in another way then?" Walsh asked, noticing John's reluctance.

"He sometimes overdoes it with self-stimulation – stimming. But that is nothing to worry about and should not be mistaken for intended self-harm," Mycroft explained and now John raised his eyebrows.

"Look, I opt for making sure it wasn't a suicide attempt, but think it is very unlikely," John explained, not aware why he felt the needed to, it was nonsense at this point, it needed to be checked.

"You are absolutely sure he did not eat or drink anything?"

"We are. But my PA can provide you with surveillance video if you want to check for yourself," Mycroft answered.

"If he did take something, Oral ingestion is unlikely," John agreed.

"Alright," Walsh nodded. "When did you start the intravenous fluids?" he then asked.

They meticulously catalogued the timeline of events and medications of the past days after that.

Only once Mycroft interrupted them, wanting to know if Sherlock's issues were dehydration related.

"His level of dehydration is severe, but not severe enough to cause seizures or a coma. Dr Watson reacted fast and gave intravenous fluids," Dr Walsh explained.

Ten minutes later Walsh sent one of the nurses off to check when the next free slots for a cranial MRI and a PET scan would be available.

"We need to find out if there is a physical problem, for example tissue damage in the brain. I'll be back as soon as we have results," Walsh addressed Mycroft on his way out.

A few seconds later more nurses entered and asked both John and Mycroft to wait outside.

As a doctor, John knew what would follow next and indicated to the older Holmes to do as they asked. They would put in more catheters and take urine samples and John was sure Sherlock didn't want his brother to be present for that.

John's initial nervousness about having discovered Sherlock's issues too late hadn't worn off, yet, but Sherlock was in good hands. Nevertheless, he had not revealed anything related to the mind palace to any medical professional treating Sherlock. Part of him was afraid Sherlock might be categorized too early as suffering from mental health issues.

John was well aware about the depression and the withdrawal induced psychological problems, but he would not allow under any circumstances that Sherlock was not properly examined with all they had before they focussed on that idea.

In the past, Sherlock had suffered enough from doctors who had not treated simple and easy to diagnose physical issues because they first jumped to 'it must be psychological' before even trying to find other reasons. It was a sad truth that this happened regularly to neuroatypical people and those with sensory perception issues.

While they were waiting outside, John shared these thoughts with Mycroft who agreed. He probably remembered the undiagnosed – and for days untreated - broken bones in Sherlock's childhood John had only read about.*

When they wheeled Sherlock out of the emergency bay, John followed them to radiology. The nurses and techs were already aware that loud noises might distress Sherlock and that as his doctor, John was to be allowed in in case it reached a level that would interrupt the scan.

 

A bit over an hour later, they all were back in the room.

The scans had shown nothing out of order, which was a great relief for John.

The lab results were also there.

No drugs in Sherlock's system and most of the numbers were okay for the detective's current state. The ones that were off were already known.

The detective was still dehydrated and getting fluids, but overall nothing had shown up that would raise any red flags.

After going through all the results, more tests were ordered. Once more, John and Mycroft waited with an unconscious Sherlock for the next round of poking and prodding.

After it was clear that nothing life threatening was happening things slowed down.

Much to the older Holmes' annoyance, it took almost half an hour until an EEG tech arrived with a cart full of equipment.

That was when Mycroft finally lost his patience.

"I will be back in a few hours, call me if something happens," he stood up, slipped into his coat and was out of the door before John had time to say something.

Meanwhile, the technician prepared the EEG.

John sat down into the comfortable chair Mycroft had occupied earlier, somewhat relieved to be alone with Sherlock now. Mycroft's presence had made him uneasy.

He watched the tech measure Sherlock's skull and paint on the markings for the placement of the electrodes with a special red pen, moving Sherlock's head this way, then the other.

His friend's lack of reaction was starting to get to John at that point, because during the proceedings, his friend seemed completely limp and John had now time to actually watch.

Earlier, Sherlock had displayed a certain kind of muscle tension, but now he just seemed unconscious. Seeing the tech touch him while he was so vulnerable did something to John he couldn't name.

Then the electrodes where glued to Sherlock's skull with a thick white plaster like substance, that was when things started to change.

John observed Sherlock's right twitch now and then.

Additionally, Sherlock's blood pressure started to slowly climb during the procedure, as was his pulse. Not significantly but the stats stayed that way.

The tech – completely unaware of this – finished his work by wrapping Sherlock's head in gauze to keep the equipment and the bunch of wires in place. 

A few minutes later, the lights were dimmed and a period of waiting started, in order to give the patient time to relax. After the time for that was up, Sherlock was subjected to various kinds of stimuli.

On one hand, John was glad to finally see a reaction, on the other it was so subtle he wondered if it really could even be considered as one.

Sherlock seemed to try to turn his head away repeatedly, but the movements were tiny. Additionally, the pain lines in his face deepened.

 

Almost an hour later Walsh was called in to see the results – mid process. They agreed that there seemed to be no easy to spot seizure activity, but the recordings were confusing and could be interpreted in a number of ways, that was where things got complicated. Some aspects indicated sleep and dreaming, others increased activity as if Sherlock was awake. The only other thing that was clear was that Sherlock seemed to be in pain and distress. John could have told anyone that just by looking at his friend.

Two more specialists were called who made things even more complicated. In the end, they all agreed to continue the EEG through the night and postponed more tests that might be insightful to the next day.

After all except Walsh had left, John addressed the issue of Sherlock's food intake and they decided to administer parenteral nutrition to counteract the lack of food. This meant that after Walsh had left another nurse appeared and inserted another IV line, hooked the detective up to one more tube.

John was intimately familiar with all the proceedings, but it was something different to see a loved one in such a state.

That was when he finally decided to stay the night, Mycroft had offered it, mentioned that if he wanted to things were already arranged. So John called the babysitter and asked her to bring Rosie over to Mrs Hudson.

If Sherlock woke, he would certainly be not happy about his whereabouts.

If he returned to consciousness, slowly it could mean quite a bit of distress for all involved and John knew from experience that it was better for all involved if he handled things should it come to that.
 

It was almost 19:00 when John's boredom was interrupted by his phone buzzing. The caller ID said 'Mrs H'. He had briefly spoken with her earlier, while Sherlock was getting the PET scan, to tell her how things were going. That was when she had offered to babysit Rosie.

He picked up, not bothering to step outside. Even an annoyed reaction from Sherlock was welcome right now.

"John, you forgot Sherlock's phone. It's been ringing repeatedly since about four," the landlady greeted him.

"Any idea who it is? Someone we know?"

"How am I supposed to know? No name, just the number. I can read it to you," she offered.

"Yeah, please."

She did, and John scribbled it down into the small note pad he fumbled out of his jacket with one hand.

A few minutes later, he dialled the number and when a voice on the other end picked up, he was thoroughly confused.

"Hi John. What can I do for you?"

"Ella?"

"Yes?"

"Did you try to reach Sherlock?"

"Yes."

"Why?" John asked in confusion.

"I think that is between him and me. Is he there?"

"Uh, well... We are at the hospital. He is going through withdrawal and asleep currently. Thing is we have problems waking him," John slipped back into explaining things to her as he had done during their sessions. When he realised that, he bit his lip, understanding it was probably not the best course of action, he was not her patient any longer.

"So are you two on speaking terms again?" she asked bluntly.

An awkward silence followed. John's brain rattled with what the question implied. It meant Sherlock had had contact with Ella and she had been informed about John not speaking to his friend - and probably the background of the entire debacle.

"Yeah," John answered finally, insecure now.

"Are you there as his doctor or his friend?"

"Both. When did you and Sherlock last speak?"

"Three weeks ago," she provided and John felt a wave of relief wash over him. She didn't know about him beating Sherlock into a pulp. A second later, though he felt pathetic and shameful for this reaction.

"Is there anything you could tell me about his state of mind? Has he shown severe signs of depression lately?" John hurried to ask.

The idea that Sherlock had managed to do something to himself no one had discovered yet in order to commit suicide was bugging the doctor subconsciously.

What if Sherlock had used some little known and hard to (find) toxin on himself to make absolutely sure no one could revive him?

He had to remind himself that he knew this was rubbish. The EEG showed that Sherlock was in there and thinking. If he had decided to commit suicide, Sherlock would never be so stupid to take something that might not kill him but mentally impair him. As a chemist, he was more than capable to use something that would work fast and reliable.

If Sherlock wanted to kill himself they would be in the morgue right now.

When John noticed that the line had been quiet for several seconds, he asked her name to make sure she was still there.

Apparently, this time she was the one who hesitated.

"John, I am not sure you are the right person to discuss this with. What he told me is confidential and telling me on the phone that you're his doctor is not sufficient for me to reveal things."

John briefly thought about it.

At this point, they had to consider psychological issues. It would be one of the main topics the next day. If more of the tests for physical issues came back negative it would be the course of action to turn that way. Only a matter of time.

"Right. Talk to Dr Walsh then," John sighed and gave Ella the contact information.

When John rang off, the conversation left a very awkward aftertaste.

What had Sherlock discussed with Ella? What had he revealed?

Had he been so very desperate that he had turned to her?

The detective never seemed to particularly trust her, had only repeatedly uttered she got things wrong.

So why turn to her?

John sat there, in the semi dark, poring over the conversation while he watched his best friend lying unresponsive in the hospital bed.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

The following two hours John spent walking up and down the room and trying to rouse his friend. Now and then he just talked to him.

As time went by, the former army doctor became more and more desperate. He obsessed about that Mrs Hudson might be right and that me might lose Sherlock, too. John tried to reason with himself, convincing himself that this was not a suicide attempt.

On the other hand, he had just learned that Sherlock's overdose on the airplane a few months ago was considered an active suicide attempt by Mycroft.

John was not yet ready to believe that. However, he had no real information about the events Sherlock had been quite close-lipped about what had happened exactly.

Although the detective had noted the drugs he took and which quantity, he never revealed what he had taken before Mycroft's call.

Nevertheless, Sherlock would probably have died if not for John's swift care and the meds Mycroft had at their disposal to counteract the overdose. The vivid memories of Sherlock crashing and John's dire panic to lose him where still sharp in his memories.*

The memories renewed the desperation to lose his best friend, overwhelmed John's already aching heart. He was aware he was in a state of instability, knew nothing anymore. His entire existence had turned into agony. There was no aspect left to ground him, nothing reassuring.

All those horrible feelings were so close to the surface these days and the grief work he had thought he would do in therapy was simply not happening – or not working.

Recently, he felt that all that was happening was that things were building up.

Guilt, shame, regret - not only concerning Mary, but also concerning Sherlock. He had ruined it all. His life was in shards.

Desperation was all that was left.

"So, you're finally realizing how selfish and egoistic your actions were. How misguided your anger?" Mary suddenly spat behind him.

John tilted his head back in despair; he so did not need another dress down by his dead wife. He did not turn around.

"You know, I was aware it would get rough when I asked him to start a fight with an enemy, still, I certainly didn't expect you to treat him this way. I am so disappointed in you, John," she continued.

Those words hit John harder than expected. Because, of course, he was so disappointed with himself, he understood where she came from.

"John, look at me... He did not deserve this!"

"No, he didn't," John whispered, his head down, still not looking at her.

"Your negligence almost killed him. That is worse than shooting him to protect you."

"No, it's not!" John spat back – suddenly furious – and turned around "I am fucking grieving!"

"Yeah, guess what, you're not the only one. He has not only lost one person, he lost us both."

The anger vanished from John's mind as fast as it had risen.

"You can't honestly think this was not a suicide attempt. Allowing Culverton to choke him to death was definitely one," she continued, "Why do you think he would not try again? You expected that now that you are on friendly terms again, Sherlock's notions would vanish? Ridiculous."

With quite a bit of shame, John realised that he somehow indeed expected that – in a way.

"He went away to kill Moriarty's men to save you. Then he let you go, because you mean more to him than his own life... And now that I am gone you made him believe you are better off without him."

John stood up, unsettled by the words the ghost of his wife was uttering.

"Well, being hit by you was probably traumatic, but expected."

"Now wait a minute..." John finally spoke up.

"No, you wait. How often have you seen him actually cry?" she interrupted.

Lost for words, John remained silent.

"He cried when you beat him... Christ, John! You didn't just break a few ribs. You broke something else. Something deep in his self. It hit him unexpectedly and one could actually see 'it' break. He understood that moment that he had miscalculated, that you would not come to save him. I think he knew that his chances of being successful with his plans were very slim."

John felt tears well up in his eyes, tried to breathe them away.

"He didn't even fight you. He thought he deserved it! YOU made him think he deserved it!" she was now yelling at him.

The image of an actually crying Sherlock was not something that was easy to forget. John  found it immensely unsettling. The detective certainly had displayed a lot of discipline, not showing his emotions. Nevertheless, those tears had escaped Sherlock, shown his desperation and the agony caused by John's transgression.

"If that wasn't self-harm, I don't know what is," Mary huffed with a sarcastic laugh.

She was probably right. Sherlock had expected physical violence, though not the amount John had unleashed.

John was horrified about himself. He had never thought himself capable of kicking a man already on the ground, or one that was not fighting back at all. Remembering this felt so ugly and disgusting, something he had not felt back then.

Besides the fact that he had tried to shove all memories of the event as far away as he could, additionally, his memories were a bit hazy, clouded by his rage.

Mary's explanations brought details all back clearly and the fact that Sherlock couldn't hold tears back unsettled John profoundly in hindsight.

His friend had been a shivering, crying mess on the ground and he had not desisted from hurting him even more. He was an arsehole.

"Yeah," she agreed to his thoughts. "And shortly after that Sherlock allowed himself to be slowly chocked to death, fully conscious and aware what was happening. That is not just self-harm any longer! That's a suicide attempt. For once I have to agree with Mycroft. He is fucking suicidal, John!"

John closed his eyes, shaking his head.

"This was the second trauma, and this one he did to himself. He punished himself for things that had gone wrong, things he had little influence on. He probably didn't even think beyond either saving you or die trying."

"Mary, please..." John choked, sinking back into the chair on the far end of the room he had occupied until a few minutes ago.

"God, he's showing textbook signs of psychological trauma. How can you not see it?!"

John just had no idea what to say to this.

"Eating disturbances, low energy, depression," she listed.

While she talked, John considered each point, checking them all off as withdrawal or 'normal for Sherlock'.

"Anxiety, numbness, irritability, anger, avoidance, bad at concentrating and making decisions," she continued.

He nodded.

"Substance-abuse, self-destructive behaviour," she finished.

Mary interrupted him before he could say something.

"I know that what you are about to say, he is not normal. Anyway, you can't not consider it!"

"Yes, and what about me? You died in my arms, what do you think this did to me?!" John yelled back, suddenly angry.

"The same might be true for you, John. I do see that. The thing is, you are so not ready to talk about it I didn't want to breach the subject."

John closed his eyes again, trying to get a grip on the chaos in his head.

Was this really another round of Sherlock's PTSD?*

"And what about flashbacks and nightmares? You know the thing about the fire... I am not sure what it was but it was certainly one of the two. Those are not random hallucinations. Things are surfacing and he needs help with that."

With that, John had to agree. Sherlock's hallucinations had a touch that profoundly worried him, too.

Was it really possible those were actually memories paired with hallucinations?

"He needs help, John," she repeated, in a gentler tone.

"I know," John whispered. He felt absolutely helpless.

Whatever options he had available felt wrong or he was afraid it might make things worse. Those past days he had hovered in indecisiveness, keeping his distance while simultaneously pushing Sherlock to some aim he didn't even know.

Had he pushed Sherlock too much?

Was Sherlock's unresponsiveness the result of Sherlock trying to escape his aimless efforts and his still lingering anger?

"You are still angry about the drugs... and although you try to hide it – which is good – he senses it nevertheless."

The sentence left John out of words. He had no answers to that, couldn't deny it.

"You rejecting him is the reason for all this shit. And your drinking makes it no better. In fact, John, you have no right to criticise his relapse. Your drinking is actually no better. You both just try to numb the pain. "

The last actually made John bury his face in his hands. He felt the debilitating mixture of agony and desperation rise and fought to keep his tears in check.

He had broken down way to often in the past weeks. Sometimes he felt as if he couldn't cry anymore, was just numb. On other occasions, it just broke out of him. At least he had managed to do the latter in private - without exception.

"You know the drugs probably heightened his experiencing, made everything more intense. That mixed with the grief makes one dangerous emotional cocktail. He probably doesn't even remember how 'good' or 'safe' feels any longer. You were his respite; his save place, and you took that away from him."

The sentence was the last blow John didn't need.

Tears started to flow and he turned away from Mary who was now standing next to the bed, he faced the dark window.

Roughly rubbing his hands over his face, he tried to get his composure back. This was not privacy. Someone could come in any moment and he just couldn't stand anything getting any worse. And it would if anyone realised he was as unstable as he was.

"Yep, you're good at hiding it," Mary commented sharply. "Even so, that might be the problem. He doesn't need an emotionless doctor, he needs a loving friend."

"I'm trying," his voice broke.

"Oh yeah? Not enough. Not the right way," she had no sympathy with him.

After a long silence, in which she seemed to wait for him to stand up and show anger or the willingness to fight or whatever, she started to explain when it didn't come.

"You have stopped touching him. Why?"

"What? I... I don't touch him."

"Yes, you did, John. You know how few people he actually allowed to touch him or how few he touched out of free will. Well, you can count them with one hand."

"What are you getting at?"

"After his time away, it got worse. He was hurt. He was traumatised by the hands of others. You know he never got back to his old normal more than I do. It might not be easily visible from the outside, but all those awful memories are in his head, pressing to burst to the surface. You of all people should know PTSD never 'heals', it's all about learning to live with it."

"I know."

"You need to get back to your old behaviours, John. To the easy and trivial little intimacies you shared before. You need to touch him. He is touched starved as it is, even without the most important person in his life backing away from the little caring contacts that used to happen."

"He flinches. He recoils when I...?"

"Seriously, John? Trauma. Remember," she interrupted. "You did this. You probably opened the old wound, ignited the issues that he had a hard time to keep in a smouldering state. Maybe you hitting him brought all those horrific memories of being tortured back to the surface. You are the one who needs to fix it. Touch him."

John shook his head repeatedly, not sure it was the right way to handle this. If she was right touching him might make it a lot worse.

"Show you care by going back to normal and casually contiguity. You did this since you knew each other, return to it. Don't be his doctor, instead take care of his transport's needs in an affectionate way. Bring home the message that you care by actually taking care. Maybe better overdo it than be too careful so that Sherlock gets it. "

The gap you created needs to be closed, not only the mental one, the physical one, too."

"I am not sure this is a good idea."

"You don't know until you try it. Give him some TLC. Use another than speech to underline that you want him in your life and that you care for him. The once thing Sherlock Holmes can not handle is you not being there. He needs to know that you are with him. Make it clear. Every single day. Give him a reason to stay! Make it unmistakably clear that you want him in your life. If you don't we might lose him."

John felt more tears collect in his eyes and he once more rubbed his hands over his face to wipe them away before they had a chance to fall.

The doctor didn't have the strength to turn around and look at his friend or his wife; he just stared blindly into the dark.

It took quite some time until he regained control, almost fifteen minutes passed.

The only sound in the room was the now and then inflating and deflating blood pressure cuff.

When he finally turned around he kind of hoped Mary would have vanished. Predictably enough, she was sitting on the edge of Sherlock's bed, resting her hand over the electrodes glued to his forehead. Now and again she stroked back his hair.

The picture brought back new painful emotions and John briefly closed his eyes.

He missed her so much.

Her care, her feedback, her love.

He bit his lips but failed holding in the new wetness on his face. A few seconds after that, it got even worse, his face actually crumpled when another wave of grieve and loss caught up with him.

He lowered his head, trying to keep himself together.

A moment later, he heard the sheets move a bit.

Sherlock hadn't moved on his own for hours, which meant the nurses had to turn him in regular intervals.

In surprise, John stared at his friend, trying to figure out what had caused the noise.

Then a small involuntary grunt followed, as if Sherlock was doing something straining, struggling.

With a few quick steps John was over at the bed.

"Mnn..." Sherlock made another little distressed noise and this time his hand twitched.

Immediately John's eyes flew to the cardiac monitor display.

Sherlock's blood pressure had risen, as had his heart rate.

The doctor rounded the bed and switched on the LCD display of the electroencephalogram machine that had been turned off to keep the lights in the room low.

The screen lit up and showed the rows of curves. There was suddenly a lot of different activity going on.

John leaned down and eyed every one carefully. He was glad that he couldn't spot anything that seemed related to seizures. Nevertheless, he couldn't make any sense of what he saw either. On the other hand, he was no specialist in reading these.

He turned back towards the bed, rested one hand on Sherlock's shoulder and gently tapped it.

"Sherlock? Can you hear me?"

With his other hand he wiped his face of the last remnants of his earlier desperation.

"Sherlock, come on. Talk to me."

Instead of an answer, Sherlock started to slightly move his head from one side to the other, it was only a few centimetres but it was a lot more movement than expected.

"Sherlock? Wake up!... Are you dreaming?"

John's question was answered with a small whining noise as Sherlock's face started to work.

"Hey, mate. You're all right. You can just wake up and it will be fine. Come on."

Once more, John rubbed his friends shoulder.

Sherlock's only reaction was that he started to become more agitated, his movements remained small and simultaneously became more erratic.

The detective's arms and legs started to twitch and when his hand flailed, it tautened the IV tube. John had to catch his limb to prevent injuries.

Before John could reach for the call button the door flew open and a nurse hurried in.

"What's happening?"

"I don't know. He's distressed. Came out of the blue. It's probably not a seizure but I am not sure what it actually is. Get someone who can properly read the EEG. It's getting worse."

The nurse didn't hesitate, turned around and yelled something down the corridor.

A reaction to the noise followed suit. Sherlock tried to move away from it and roll onto his side, away from John. By doing so, he dislodged the pulse ox and the cardiac monitor started to blare.

As fast as he could, John reached over and pushed the mute button, but the alarm had obviously made things worse.

"Sherlock? Wake up and look at me, please? Tell me what's going on?" John addressed his friend and gently squeezed his hand he was still holding.

Sherlock's only reaction was to weakly try to get his hand free and turn his head away.

Unfortunately, the sphygmomanometer started to noisily inflate and thereby squeeze Sherlock's upper arm a moment later.

It noticeable stressed the detective and while John gently tried to keep his friend on his back, he was indecisive what would be the lesser evil, to open the noisy Velcro or to just wait until the device was deflating the bladder.

Even before it was finished inflating, Sherlock became downright panicky and tried to fight off the pressure, his hands aimlessly fumbling with the cuff.

"Alright, alright. I'll take it off," John ripped the cuff open and - careful not to scratch Sherlock with the spiky side - removed it from the arm.

If Sherlock's senses were spiking and he was overwhelmed by the sensory input this could make things a lot worse.

Or maybe they were already mid sensory overload and heading towards a meltdown.

John's brain started to list all the things he could do to minimize input and lessen the issues.

Suddenly, Sherlock's lips parted. "This is not real," he whispered. His voice was so hoarse John needed several seconds to register it was actual speech.

"Huh? You are in hospital, open your eyes for me," John rubbed his thumb over the back of his friend's hand.

Sherlock's hands started to open and close as if he tried to feel them and John let go.

A doctor hurried in, followed by the nurse.

"What's happening?" he asked – way too loud for John's taste.

John shushed him, pointed at the EEG monitor.

When the nurse stepped over to the other side of the bed and pulled a penlight out of her pocket John raised his hand over Sherlock's chest, wordlessly prompting her to give it to him.

She did.

"Sherlock, I am going to shine a light into your eyes. I am really sorry, I'll keep it as brief as I can," he spoke in a low voice and gave the other man a few moments to process the words.

He then lifted Sherlock's right eyelid and swiftly moved the light over the iris. To his great relief, the pupil reacted normal and immediately, but a few seconds later, Sherlock freaked out.

He started to make loud pain filled noises, tried to shove away John's hand and curl up on his side repeatedly.

The nurse reached out to gently pin him down, keep him from rolling off the bed.

"Don't touch him any more than absolutely necessary," the other doctor had finished inspecting the EEG curves. "Raise the bedrails. Give him some space, as long as he does no harm. Keep the tubes save," he addressed the nurse in an equally low voice. John was eased by that behaviour. It meant the man was informed about Sherlock's sensory issues and willing to respect them.

"Mr Holmes? If you hear me, please open your eyes or raise your hand."

Sherlock didn't react to them in a meaningful way. The few things that caused a reaction had no pattern, they seemed to be random. The BP cuff, the noise, the light had provoked reactions, but neither their voices nor the stimuli the doctor or the nurse tried in the following minutes brought any result.

Sherlock just continued to weakly struggle, as if he couldn't lie still because he was in severe pain. For a moment, they were just watching him, trying to figure out what to do next, when suddenly, Sherlock's hand went to his chest, pressed down on his own sternum hard, then started rubbing an area right to it with surprising violence.

Gently, John tried to stop it, well aware the scar from the gunshot surgery was hidden under the hospital gown.

Due to John's not very firm grip, Sherlock managed to rip his now shaking hand out of John's grip and he continued to frantically chafe the spot.

"Sherlock, don't. Come on. The wound has healed. You're okay, mate."

When John once more tried to prevent more harm Sherlock cried out in pain – or frustration.

Seconds later he started to frantically shake his head, gasping for air.

"Diazepam?" the nurse offered.

"No!" John immediately refused. "No drugs until we have no other choice."

Her questioning gaze went over to the other doctor, who nodded.

At that point, Sherlock started to fight them in earnest. They had only two options, drug him or hold him in place.

For the moment, they went with the latter and it was only possible to do so because Sherlock was so weak.

The nurse temporarily disconnected the IVs and other tubes as a precaution and they just waited, tried to keep the EEG lines out of the harm's way and monitored him.

By the time Sherlock started to gasp for air John decided it was enough.

"He's not getting out of it, it's getting worse," the other doctor turned towards the EEG, re-inspecting the readouts.

Sherlock was starting to struggle harder, his features contorted by distress.

"He's having a panic attack or something," the nurse uttered what John suspected, too.

There was a brief silence in the room before Sherlock started to kick and before anyone could stop him, his hands went to his head, his fingernails scratched over his scalp with such force that he ripped off the gauze protecting the EEG leads.

Three of the electrodes glued to his forehead were torn off immediately.

"Jesus, Sherlock, stop it!" John cursed.

The night doctor grabbed one of Sherlock's hands, tried to keep it at distance. John did the same with the other but it only enraged Sherlock.

John sighed, "Right. Maybe we should get whatever anxiolytic you have that has the lowest sedating side-effects," he looked at the other doctor, who nodded.

"Get it," he asked the nurse who bustled off.

"We'll only administer half a dose first, then see what happens," he said to John while dodging Sherlock's knee that was coming up.

"Overall, he has quite a high tolerance. His reactions to medication are jumbled up, better be careful," John added.

"I know. It's in his file."

Sherlock started to try to rub his head against the rails and the doctor hurried to pull the crumpled blanked up and place it in between Sherlock's skull and the side of the bed. To his horror, John spotted wetness on Sherlock's face.

"Let's switch places, I need to see his face," John suggested and they did. The moment they briefly let go, Sherlock's hands returned to his head and he completely shoved off the gauze that had only been dislodged earlier. Some of the cables went with it. The detective started to go for the electrodes still in place.

The other doctor caught both his hands again.

The places on his brow, where he had ripped off the other ones, had turned to an angry red colour.

"Shh... you're okay. There you go, Sherlock. Calm down," John soothed when he reached the other side of the bed. Sherlock's face was distorted from some invisible horror he was living through.

With one hand John reached in between his friend's head and the rails, with the other he did what Mary had done earlier, he placed his hand the side of Sherlock's head, tried to soothe him with a caring touch.

"Easy. Just take it easy."

For a while, they waited for him to come out of it.

Yet, Sherlock continued to struggle.

As the nurse came back in, John felt the wetness from Sherlock's face run down over his own hands. He leaned down and saw that Sherlock was crying.  

The nurse slowly injected the first half of the syringe into Sherlock's bloodstream.

Within a few minutes, the small dose had the desired effect.

First, Sherlock's features evened out, then, in a matter of seconds he went slack within their grips.

"There you go. Relax. It's all right," John made sure to keep his hand on Sherlock's head while he let go with his other.

He gently stroked back Sherlock's hair, while carefully avoided the remaining electrodes.

Sherlock was curled up against the side of the bed, towards John.

John found it hard to see his friend like this, out of his mind, anxious and vulnerable.

Whatever he was dreaming or experiencing - it was bad, really really bad.

Again John had to bite his lip to keep his own emotions in check that threatened to overwhelm him. He was still shocked from the revelations the conversation he had with Mary had brought but now he was inwardly shaking from the additional strain of the last minutes.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

The next morning, Sherlock woke with an unusually dry mouth and an unnerving headache even before the wake up call. He tried to get back to sleep, feeling unrested and exhausted, but to his annoyance his scalp itched and he couldn't find sleep again due to that.

The distant noises of the carers getting reading for the morning routine added to that. He stayed in bed since the room was unpleasantly cold. After a few minutes of lying awake the ghosts of some weird dreams drifted into his mind. No matter how much he tried to remember details of the nightmares, they lingering just beyond his reach.

During the getting up routine, he tried to hide his mood, aware he was observed by more than one carer today. It was quite exhausting, but not very successful.

All he wanted was to lie in bed with his eyes closed. Everything else was just too much to handle.

Whenever he was left to his own devices for a few minutes he found himself lost, staring into nothingness. He was overwhelmed with just existing. Felt so depressed and down he actually noticed it himself, had to kick himself hard to execute any action – mental as well as physical. This made breakfast quite an ordeal.

It had happened before, in hospital, when he seemed to be done with saving John. When the days of drug induced euphoria and madness were finally over and he felt suddenly overwhelmingly empty, as if all purpose was gone. The feeling had returned with a vengeance.

While he stared at the bread on the plate in front of him, he tried to remind himself that saving John wasn't over. Greg had reminded him of that, had told him that John still needed saving. He had to return to real life to actually do it.

But that life seemed so far away, was so hard to focus on now.

Was it true? Had he just stopped to try to save John? Given up before the finish line?

The thought made him feel even more out of his turf and lost than already.

Doing things right with John seemed an unreachable goal.

Additionally, he had started to ask himself it the goal was even real.

What he had perceived as reality was slipping further and further away from him.

Which of his realities was even real?

The asylum was all he had experienced in days and everything else seemed to drift away from him. His bleak reality was this institution now.

To his frustration, the staff didn't give him a break.

The carers tried to make him socialise the moment breakfast was over, even asked him to go outside. On one hand, he was glad they weren't sending him off to work, on the other, he felt even unable to face the unfamiliar space of the inner courtyard.

When he didn't go by himself, they tried to 'encourage' him by bringing him to dayroom, but he must have looked so horrified about being there again, they finally allowed him to just sit in one of the armchairs in the hallway where they could have an eye on him.

.

Mid-morning, he was told that he would be seen by his doctor in half an hour. He was relieved, because he expected to get a chance to explain that it was all a mistake.

However, Dr Rubenstein didn't give him much opportunity to talk and informed him no nonsense that he had been committed due to an acute endangerment of self and others because he had attacked his friend as well as passersby.

Of course, the first thing Sherlock asked was if 'his friend' was all right, assuming it was Watson. The question was ignored even after he urged for an answer, which unsettled him. He then explained that he couldn't remember how he got here, but Rubenstein made it clear he didn't believe him.

The fact that an against-his-will institutionalisation had – even in this era – to be signed by a physician suddenly jumped into the forefront of his mind and he asked who had provided the document.

"Two independently from each other doctors have agreed on your condition. Their signatures are in the file," Rubenstein stated slowly.  

Sherlock demanded to see them but the other man refused, pointing out that he was known to turn every fact into a truth of his own to fit his deceptions.

Sherlock couldn't believe Watson would ever sign a paper like that, which meant he either hadn't been present or had been incapacitated somehow. Or maybe someone had done it simply without asking Watson.

The second message – that he turned every fact to his own liking, derailed his thoughts even more.

"I was informed your wounds are slow to heal. I expect you to eat properly and behave from now on."

When had he misbehaved?

Did they deem last night 'misbehaviour'?

It was surely failure on his part that he hadn't been able to hide his distress, but...

"You are suffering from acute mania, Mr Greenberg," the doctor interrupted his thoughts.

The words had the mental impact of a verbal missile.

Sherlock felt his body start to tingle and a few moments later cold sweat added to his discomfort.

"Of course this very state makes you oblivious to your condition," the man continued. "Mania is easy to diagnose because it contrasts strongly with other mental illnesses."

"And how did you gather those information?" Sherlock asked carefully, seeking for a way to argue against it and to find out more about his admission.

"Besides our own educated opinion we doctors rely on the opinions of family and friends. Their reports are in the files, too, carefully collected by your doctor."

"I want to speak with to him," Sherlock demanded.

"There is no need for that. But I see that you need to have this explained to you so you can understand," he made a short pause after this belittling remark, "People close to you reported that you suffer from uncontrollable, prolonged passion as well as a turbulent mind. You barely sleep, which we had the chance to observe here already. Your family states that you speak frantically and often it is accompanied by wild gesturing. You are a torrent of ideas and actions, which is expressed by free-flowing language. You have issues with beddings or clothes and tend to... not use them."

Sherlock's mind grinded to a halt.

He did all of that – of course he did.

However, it wasn't a symptom. And mania was just a melting pot for all that was misunderstood about mental illness in the 19th century. It was far from being a proper diagnosis in his understanding, just nonsense, a word with little valid content.

When Sherlock kept quiet, the doctor continued.

"The state of excitement characterises the disease."

From Sherlock's point of view, this man was not a trained psychologist, he just used the Victorian Era defined sense of behaviour standards to fit him into the limited range of diagnoses the scientists of the time had come up with, which were mostly odd and ridiculous. Although horrifyingly, still the basis for too many believes present in the 21st century. It was alarming how many Victorian things were after all the foundation of how people thought. The era had influenced more things the average modern being ever realised.

"I'm nothing of that," Sherlock protested, well aware that his behaviour did match the description - a lot more than he liked. But he had displayed them in modern times, at home. The only one aware of them in this era would be John, Mrs Hudson and Mycroft, who he trusted not to have leaked any of this.

"Not at this very moment, but you were before you were brought here. What your doctor and friends described fits exactly the typical signs for mania," the man repeated, as if to hammer it home.

"Once mania has settled and turned chronic, the acute symptoms are joined by others: the patient may try to dissolve the accrued energies any way he deems necessary. For example by  fighting, singing or moving. Eventually, the maniac is so exhausted that he is only a ghost of his former self, which is your current state, Mr Greenberg. You are very exhausted and in a poor state as a result."

"I would describe my issues as melancholia," Sherlock stated, looking the man in the eyes, which took a lot of effort. In his opinion, that described his current issues way better than anything else. He was aware that he was depressed. Keeping the dark thoughts at bay was something he had to work on every minute of every day. That was why he was so exhausted – in addition to the withdrawal of course.

"No," the doctor disagreed. "Sufferers of melancholia are able to describe both, the causes and the symptoms of their disease. Most of them regularly articulate how unworthy their lives are."

"I am just not very capable of expressing my emotions," Sherlock contradicted, "and was raised not to wallow in self-pity."

"It is true that the melancholic can successfully disguise their insanity, but that is not the case with you. If at all, you are a manic with melancholic tendencies."

The expression and tone of the doctor clearly indicated that Sherlock had stepped over a boundary by expressing his own opinion. Rubenstein was probably thinking of himself as unerring. Sherlock had already observed the strikingly obvious hierarchy this institution was governed by.

"Recent events hint that there might also be monomania present, which is characterised by one solitary falsehood that is taken as a truth. You seem to be living under the illusion to be a famous detective. Your file hints at this problem, though monomania was not yet diagnosed. We will rectify that omission in the upcoming weeks."

Sherlock's heart sank.

"Monomania can include full sensory hallucinations. The illness can fixate on real beings or delusions. To the layman, the monomaniac appears normal at first sight. He talks about his delusions in a most orderly and mannered way, which perfectly fits your behaviour. Since intellect and reasoning are not affected by the disease, many months of careful observation might be necessary to prove its presence," the man lectured Sherlock, "Monomania is a rather new diagnosis, and it might be that you were suffering from mania before and recovered but are now suffering from monomania... or that your doctor was simply unaware of monomania and misdiagnosed therefore."

Shocked into silence, Sherlock said nothing. From an odd ivory tower perspective this made sense. Just that with his background knowledge this was complete nonsense.

"I am glad to tell you this can be cured. Assumed you work with us and take an active part in your recovery." Rubenstein picked up his monocle and pinned it onto his nose, then moved around a few of the handwritten notes, studying them. "It says here, your sophomoric fantasies have badly affected - even ruined - several lives. Family and friends are suffering greatly from your lack of employment and pretence to work for the police."

Another remark that hit Sherlock with unexpected force.

"You will understand therefore, that we cannot permit family and friends to suffer even more from your delusions... or allow them to hamper your recovery, especially not this early in your treatment. You can correspond with them if you wish. Maybe we will allow carefully checked visitors later."

"Will you also check my correspondence carefully?" Sherlock asked, frustrated now.

"Of course."

The blatant honesty surprised Sherlock. His motivation to seek a dialogue about his admission being a mistake was completely gone. If everything he uttered or did was turned against him, it would serve him better to remain silent.

"You are lucky to have people who care for you this deeply. Your friend brought you here and arranged care for your other friend after your attack."

Had he really hurt someone?

Who?

With growing desperation, he tried to remember. But the memories were still very vague, there had been a fight… loud voices... hands on him. The few details that had come back earlier were not making a lot of sense and still the only ones.

What he clearly remembered, though, was that something had been pressed over his mouth, which consequently sent him into panic mode. The horrible memories of slowly losing consciousness when Culverton Smith chocked him were alarmingly intense the moment anything reminded him of the event. He was aware that this was a mental scar of his own making, it was unsettling nevertheless.

"You are in a single room because we feared that we need to protect the other patients from your outbursts. A fear that was confirmed yesterday evening. Your episode was quite violent."

"It had nothing to do with mania..." Sherlock protested, almost saying it was just a withdrawal-induced hallucination, but that was the wrong word to say and he changed course. "Nothing! It was a panic attack. I suffer from those because my thoughts drift back to bad experiences from my recent past."

It was a half-truth he offered, nevertheless, he was flabbergasted about his own honesty.

"Of course," the doctor agreed. "You were moaning one word, asking for one person in your delirium, again and again. John. What John might that be?"

"My best friend. His wife died. I am very grieved," Sherlock offered, feeling oddly vulnerable to admit it. "It is one of the reasons for my melancholia," he added, making one last try to convince the man's to reconsider his opinion.

"What business is his wife to you?" the doctor frowned.

"She too was a friend," Sherlock tried carefully.

"And why were you asking for him?"

Sherlock couldn't remember at all having done that.

"He has often helped me in the past when I was poorly," he stated, careful not to mention the name Watson or that he was a doctor.

"Our hospital is a modern institution. Here, you will be treated with kindness and care," Rubenstein suddenly changed the course of the conversation. "The moral regime is the bedrock of our asylum life. Our first goal is to remove the patient from the immediate cause of illness. This is a refuge from the evils of society. We subject patients only to uplifting, healthy forces, which are palliative and curative. The cornerstones of recovery are physical activity, routine, daily occupation, regular meals, and plenty of fresh air," the doctor explained and it sounded like a memorized text he had cited countless times before.

Although Sherlock was sure that the intention to help was probably an honest one, he was convinced that the reality of life in an institution like this was a different thing.

He was aware that the times in which inmates had been chained to walls without clothing or any facilities, rotting away in their own dirt were in the past. Things like these had happened in the early 19th century. Back then, the insane were considered wild animals and not held morally responsible, kept in madhouses in appalling conditions, neglected and beaten.

The 'moral treatment movement' changed that. In the beginning, it was opposed by members of the mental health profession. The 1840s non-restraint-movement changed how asylums were run. By the mid-19th century many psychologists had adopted the strategy. The 1845 lunatic asylum act made it law to treat people like human beings. Lunatics were no longer seen as prisoners but as patients and treated with more respect. At that time, a great belief of the curability of mental disorders was present.

The newly invented treatments were supposed to influence or alternate a patient's behaviour patterns by occupation, leisure, and interaction, something modern psychology still used in a way.

As always in life, Sherlock knew that things hadn't changed immediately even after they were made law. It was not all black and white, humane and inhumane treatment of patients continued to exist side by side.

He had landed himself in an era in which science was only starting to try to understand mental illness and find treatments. The moral treatment certainly was a step in the right direction but was designed for small country retreats, neither for overcrowded nor industrial-like institutions, which caused a lot of problems. This meant that mental health patients were still just taken off the streets and stored under bad circumstances in overflowing institutions. The logistics and realities of providing custody and care would sooner or later defeat the attempt, it was only a matter of time, the detective knew from history books.

The lack of real treatments would sooner or later lead to growing pessimism about the possibility to successfully heal the insane. An issue that was still fiercely debated in the 21st century.

"Your family and friends tried to provide care and help as best as they could," the doctor interrupted the stream of facts that his mind regurgitated, "but your issues finally became so intense, it made you an unbearable burden. We want to help you to be a valuable member of society again."

In a normal state this would have just bounced off Sherlock, but in his current depressed and hopeless mood the remark cut deep.

Had even mind palace John needed a break from him and his antics, and had therefore given up on him?

Was it just his wishful thinking that he tried to find a case where there was none?

Were all the deaths he had investigated not related, just a coincidence?

Used by him to keep himself from living through his failed existence?

To keep himself distracted?

Running away?

He knew he needed John in his life, now that he had tasted companionship.

The recent events confronted him with the nagging fear that the desire for a companionship on John's side was gone.

He was a burden to his friend.

Although he had done so much, had archived so much information about what John needed, he could never be what the man really wanted.

John desired a family, a wife, love and being loved - by them.

That goal had been destroyed, and it was Sherlock's fault.

Only the drugs in his system had enabled him to make cocky remarks and get through with his plan to ask him to solve the Culverton Smith case with him. It was a very pathetic and stupid way to try to force John into it, he was ashamed of it in hindsight.

Had he been less stoned, he might have managed to do it in a way that John might actually have excepted.

But he had only been a dumb arse, fallen back into the old patterns.

He was unable to communicate like others, feel like others, and interact with others in a way that didn't damage them. He was not capable of providing something positive. His ever so brilliant mind was no help. In fact, he had recently - finally - understood that there was no benefit from being brilliant. It was nothing but a burden.

Anyway, he wasn't brilliant any longer. So it didn't matter that John was not fond of it any more.

Details evaded him, conclusions hid from his mind, logical exclusion failed, and he was even slower when it came to thinking than the average human being. His reaction time was beyond hope, as was his workmanship.

He was useless.

Life without John wasn't the same. Solving cases without him was boring and unsatisfying.

Obviously, John didn't feel the same.

Maybe the reason why he was here was that his subconsciousness wanted to punish him for all the flaws in his character, his failures and his miscalculations.

"Mr Greenberg!"

He flinched, the booming voice echoed through the high ceiling room and reverberated in his every bone.

"Finally back with me?" the doctor asked impatiently when Sherlock's frown met his gaze.

The detective gulped, dazed by his realisations. He turned his head away in a desperate try to quell the onslaught of emotions that followed the insights.

"You seem to have problems focussing on tasks, as you have just demonstrated. There's also lethargy that ails you. But do not worry, our excellent treatment will cast that out. We will do the same with your tendency to be irritable and aggressive. Do you wish to add anything to this list of issues that we might have overlooked?" the man added in an arrogant tone. 

Sherlock shook his head, having lost all his energy to speak. He knew enough about psychology to gather that Rubenstein was way too arrogant to consider anything Sherlock might suggest. The only thing that would happen was that he was punished by even more bashing.

Many things the man had listed were the immediate effects of his meth withdrawal and Sherlock was very aware of them, just the conclusions were obviously wrong, but as a stupid patient, he had no footing trying to explain to a taught scholar what was really happening. Whatever John might say about this, he had actually learned from his mistakes during Moriarty's trial. He remembered the judge who had not been pleasantly surprised by the disclosures Sherlock had offered. The result was a night in a cell in the same building as Moriarty, he had been degraded to the level of an annoying criminal.

That had been quite a reality check. Although it had felt like being scolded like a stupid child, it had also shown him more of those disturbingly unexplained invisible lines adults were not supposed to cross, no matter how important the outcome.

What he had already learned in his youth was that most people in high and powerful positions were so engrossed in their own ego they had low tolerance of others being more intelligent or of being proven wrong. For some silly reason, he tried to prove them wrong nevertheless, somehow ignoring that knowledge, hoping against hope that they were intelligent enough to value the facts more than their own opinion. Some aspect of him remained ignorant of the fact that he wouldn't change anything, no matter how true the facts he represented were.

Rubenstein loudly cleared his throat and Sherlock flinched, realising he had lost himself in his own musings once more.  

A moment later, he was ushered out of the room, and being advised to show his best behaviour if he wanted to be treated well.

He found himself standing alone in the corridor, staring at the wall, trying to understand the meaning of what had just happened.

He felt even worse than before.

All his hopes to find help to right this were gone. He would rot here until they had brainwashed him and he had completely lost himself.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Later, Sherlock could neither remember how he got back to his room nor if anyone had picked him up and brought him there. His memory ended shortly after he had staggered out of the doctor's office, his mind fragmented into a weird mixture of panic, hopelessness and devastation.

The next thing he knew, he found himself staring outside his room's window, down into the wide area of the outer airing courts, those that apparently had no access from his ward.

The first thing he registered after that he was suddenly back in his room was that his headache had worsened. The annoyance of his itchy scalp finally dragged him completely out of his stupor. He must have stood there for quite some time, he deduced when he finally moved, his protesting feet and knees a strong hint.

He winced and sat on the bed, trying to remember what exactly had happened in the past minutes. He must have been on autopilot for some time, felt the befogged after effect it left in its wake.

With stiff fingers, he started to massage his pericranium, shoved his hair back and forth to loosen it up. He hadn't had a chance to wash it properly since he had arrived and the remaining grease was making things worse. His hands came back oily and his hair was a complete mess. He felt it stand in all directions and cling to his head in spots.

He felt the sudden urge to wash it.

Now.

He grabbed his bar of soap and a towel and headed for the lavatories.

Halfway down the hall, he found he couldn't stand it any longer, started to run, afraid someone might interfere and make him go somewhere else. There were fewer people than usual in the hallway, some men moving cleaning - men in patient's uniforms. He was glad that they seemed to be in a hurry and ignored him.

With a humourless huffing giggle, he wondered if this too was occupational therapy.

In the bathroom, he threw the towel onto the basin the furthest away from the door, hidden by a separating wall. Then turned on the tap in the sink next to it, roughly pulled of his shirt. A button was ripped off due to his haste. The shirt landed on the floor.

He immediately pushed his head under the flow.

Panting, he just stood there, sensing the cold water on his scalp, his hands gripping the rim of the basin tight.

When the water finally turned warm, he flinched, quite surprised by something he knew would happen.

It was quite a luxury; running warm water was an exception in this decade. Only an institution as big as this could afford to have hot water cisterns. Sherlock assumed they were housed in the towers that overlooked the grounds. Somewhere, in one of the buildings, a lot of people were sweating firing the boilers. The wards were also heated by hot water radiators with ornamental gratings.

When the water became too warm, he adjusted the temperature and reached for the soap.

Even after washing and rinsing twice, he still felt the grease. He was tempted to do it a third time, but resisted the urge, aware that untangling it afterwards would be nasty – the more he scrubbed it ordinary soap, the worse combing will get.

Before he turned off the tab, he took a moment to just let the water run over his skull. Allow it to take away the discomfort. He took a few deep breaths, turned the water of and realised only then that his heart had been pounding intensely all the time and was now starting to calm down.

He blindly reached for the towel, wondering what had left him so agitated. Sure, the conversation with the doctor had made something snap, but that feeling was familiar.

While still trying to figure out the source of his distress, he wrapped the towel around his head.

Had he experienced an episode of dissociation earlier?

Was the need to get water over his head his body's try to drag him out of it?

Out of habit, he started to rub down his hair, then paused to think.

Not a good idea.

Without any products to make combing easier at hand, he should probably not do that.

The moment he rewrapped the towel around his head, he heard the door open behind the separating wall.

Hastily, he unwrapped his head again, not wanting anyone to see him like this.

Not here. John at home, fine - but not here.

He turned his back to the entrance and reached for the soap, pretending to wash his hands.

"Woah, Greenbaum, what are you doing?"

It was the person with the Scottish accent, who sat next to him during meals, the one who had briefly talked to him, advised him to eat.

"Washing my hands," Sherlock stated the obvious.

"It's mealtime, better get down there – now! I was already way too late... We'll get in trouble. And better let no one see you treat the fine garments lent to you this way." The man pointed at his blue uniform shirt on the ground.

Still a bit slow and not really getting it, Sherlock reached for it, shook it out and pulled it over his head without opening the buttons.

The Scot hastily washed his hands and headed back to the door.

When Sherlock didn't follow, he halted.

"Come on, what the hell are you waiting for? You don't want to get scourged, do you?"

"What?" Sherlock's eyes widened.

Was that supposed to be a joke?

"Hide the soap and make haste! It's 12:35," the man explained.

When Sherlock stood there dumbfounded, missing the point, the man rushed towards him, grabbed the wet bar of soap and the towel, bundled them up and stuffed them behind a small wooden supply cabinet in the corner.

Then he came back and grabbed Sherlock's arm, who still failed to understand what was going on, but he followed the man who let go of him the moment he started to move.

They hurried down empty stairs and into the dining room. Apparently, the grace had already been spoken and the stewards had started to serve the meal.

Hughes was standing in the doorway, staring at them angrily when they entered.

"I beg your pardon, sir. The new guy was lost and couldn't find his way down here," his saviour loudly whispered to Hughes. "Stumbled into him and helped him find his way. You know how it is; the new ones get lost all the time, all those corridors looking the same. You should paint them in different colours if you want people to be in time."

Sherlock tried to look even more confused than he still was, trying to look as if he had been helplessly lost.

"Sorry, Sir," he added ruefully. "I'll try to do better now."

"Alright, sit down and be quiet," Hughes hissed while briefly staring up at Sherlock's messy head. He didn't comment on it, he had probably already seen everything lunatics could come up with.

They hurried down the aisle towards their row and sat down.

"Wuh, that was lucky," the scot whispered when they were served their lunch.  Unpeeled Potatoes and bread.

"If you are late they'll give you all sorts of nasty jobs to do. But that's the harmless punishment, there is worse," the man continued the moment the steward was out of range.

"Worse?" Sherlock echoed in a low voice.

"Yeah, you know, if you attack someone, you'll be chained to a wall or bathed in cold water or something..."

"I thought that were things of the past."

The Scottish man huffed. "They have all sorts of nasty 'treatments' that will 'help' you to behave 'normal'. Of course it's not 'punishment', it's treatment. But it will make you think twice before you let any issues show again."

.

Sherlock had barely finished his meal when nurse Miller walked towards him. He expected questions about his odd appearance, but instead of that he uttered approval for Sherlock's first tries at socialising. Sherlock failed to respond, speechless from the surprise.

All he wanted to do was to go to his room, comb, and have a nap.

He soon found out his opinion was not in demand. Miller informed him that he was expected to go outside for taking some air.

Before Sherlock had the chance to even try to come up with a reason why he couldn't, Paterson offered to take him for a walk and show him around a bit.

They went upstairs to collect their jackets and when Sherlock tried to convince Paterson to leave him alone so that he could comb his hair, Paterson refused, assuring him they'd be punished for that, too.

For a moment Sherlock wondered if the man was in the asylum because of paranoia, but then decided to learn from him what he could but use that knowledge with caution until he had prove it was correct.

.

Overall, the man had not been garrulous as long as they were inside, but the moment they were out of hearing range, he started talking a mile a minute – in a low voice.

It was mostly nonsense, rambling about the unseasoned food and the accommodation. Sherlock became irritated by the lack of context, felt as if he was coming late to a conversation that had been going on for hours.

"Excuse me," Sherlock interrupted, "Could we start again... from the beginning? I don't even know your name."

"Oh, so sorry my friend, I tend to get a bit excited sometimes. Paterson, the name is Paterson. I got yours already, Greenbaum."

Sherlock frowned. Something felt even more off about the name than before. He marked the diffuse inkling with a question mark, unable to grasp the facts, connect the dots. Most dots seemed to still run through his mental fingers like sand. He had been unnerved by it when Faith visited him in the flat, so much that he had even bothered to utter it. Although he was not consuming drugs any longer, the problem lingered.

When a group of three men walked by Sherlock tried to consciously receive anything without looking at their faces.

It took a moment, but to his relief he managed to perceive that one of them was suffering from nervous ticks and another from a stroke or some kind of head trauma in the recent past.

The facts were there – if he paid attention.

Why did he have the constant impression he was blinded because deductions weren't coming in on their own any longer?

Were they and his subconsciousness was just blocking them out? 

After stopping the stimulants, it felt as if he had become unable to 'see', but at the moment it felt as if sensing was just muted but could be done if he really focussed.

Well, concentration was an issue...

Was that why he couldn't make sense of anything?

"... Greenbaum?"

Sherlock's mind tumbled back into the present. He was still walking.

People did that a lot recently, ripping him out of his thoughts. It was getting annoying.

Or maybe the better question was why did he space out like that so often?

"Could you..." the detective hesitated, "Could you call me William... or Will?... That is my first name."

"Sure, my dear fellow," Paterson said in a fatherly tone, beaming with pride. He was indeed at least fifteen years older than the detective. It took Sherlock a moment to remember that using a given name was only common for family or very close friends. He didn't care.

The inner courtyard was not as bleak as expected.

A wide circular path allowed patients to keep going and it would take probably almost an hour to do one round. On the sides of the paved trail there were ornamented benches and something that were probably flowerbeds in the summer. The squares were currently covered with evergreen branches to protect something underneath from the cold.

They slowly walked down the path and Paterson kept babbling about his next-door neighbour, but Sherlock wasn't listening. He was engaged in cataloguing his surroundings, look for anything that might hint at loopholes. But the area was designed to keep people in. No trees or anything high enough to climb on, no doors, just high brick walls around an enclosed area. Additionally, there were no objects big enough so a person could hide.

His gaze fell upon an area under some small bushes, where snowdrops were in full bloom. He frowned.

"What date is it? Do you know?" he asked his companion.

"Well of course I do. I'm not one of the numb nuts that just exist here beyond time and place. They don't want people to be too aware, so they don't advertise the date. Half of the inmates in here aren't able to keep track anyway, or just don't care."

"So what date is it?" Sherlock urged.

"Wednesday, March 20th 1867. I am looking forward to Saturday; there will be meat suet pudding for dinner and later: evening entertainment."

The last date Sherlock remembered was from when he had read the newspaper on March 14th. It had been a Thursday. That had been the day when he and Watson had interviewed the landlord of the missing woman's mother and found out the mother was missing, too.

Sherlock staggered to a halt, confused.

Hadn't someone said he had been here for weeks?

From his point of view, this was his second full day at the asylum. Before the first day, he had been in the padded cell and his memories of that were quite messed up. In order to sort it out, he labelled that day 'Day Zero', unsure how much time had passed and how long he had been in there. He had been brought to his room in the evening of Day Zero.

It was only two full days, but it surely felt as if he had been in here for weeks.

He had not only difficulties calculating but also sorting out what had happened on which day.

It must have been only two days, he only had breakfast in the hall twice, yet. He was very sure of that.

But that was the odd thing. If the date Paterson had in his head was right, he was only missing three days.

He felt suddenly lightheaded.

Something was happening.

Something wasn't adding up.

A clue.

The thing was he couldn't figure out what it meant.

He stumbled towards one of the benches and sat down heavily, shaking slightly and weak in the knees.

"Whoa... Do you need help? Should I get a doctor?"

"No no! I'm fine. Just a dizzy spell. It will pass. I'm fine." Sherlock didn't look up but was aware Paterson was staring.

His thoughts were tumbling.

Someone had told him he had been here for weeks, who was it?

Maybe Paterson was wrong.

"Are you sure?"

"Of course I'm sure... My wife comes to visit me and she always makes sure to tell me the date. I would go mad without it. But that's it about this place, if one wasn't insane going in, chances are high one is after a short time." With that, Paterson let himself fall into the seat next to Sherlock. The impact made Sherlock's teeth clash gently, his headache was getting worse.

"They said I was in the admissions ward before I came to our ward..."

"Aye, everyone stays there for a few weeks in the beginning, until they do a detailed interview and finish their observations, you know, so they know in which permanent ward they want to put you. Wouldn't make much sense putting an epileptic with the mania patients, would it?"

Sherlock flinched when the other man uttered the word 'mania'.

"I can't remember the admissions ward. I woke up in 'our' ward."

"Maybe you hit your head or something? Usually, the first thing when you arrive is the receiving room. You are disrobed, bathed, checked for lice and scarlet fever there... and you have your height and weight checked and all. Maybe you were injured and therefore they didn't do that... There are several people here with memory loss, all had accidents or something, some came straight from hospital."

"I can't remember..." Sherlock trailed off.

This didn't make sense.

"You will soon, I am sure," Paterson said in what was probably supposed to be a reassuring tone. "What work are you supposed to join?" he then changed topics.

"I don't know," Sherlock muttered, deep in trying to puzzle the facts together.

"Yeah, well they will tell you soon. No lazy thumb twiddling here. It would compromise your recovery! Inactivity is a disagreeable habit," he said in a mock authoritative tone. "They will hopefully give you some more time to allow you to rest and socialise... You really look like you're about to keel over, Will. Sure you don't need a doctor?"

"I don't think none of the doctors will have any understanding of my issues," Sherlock huffed in a frustrated tone.

"Oh, you're one of those?"

"Those?" Sherlock echoed.

"Not trusting them, those capable doctors. Think psychologists are all quacks?"

"No. Not really. I just don't trust people who think they are impeccable or that they know best although their field of work is still in its infancy."

"Yeah well, they are gods in white. Decide about your life, no matter what you know about it, they think they know better after knowing you for half an hour. Take the superintendant for example."

"Who's that?"

"Oh, he is the one who rules this facility. What he orders happens. The staff is obedient and excessively loyal. The word of the superintendant is law!" Paterson explained. "He's like a general, directs everything that is going on. He's the head of medicine and staff management, controls every aspect of life in this wonderful institution. Decides who is getting which diet or treatment, controls the letters going in and out, he even does the post mortems."

"Have you met him?"

"Of course, he is the link between us patients and the outside world, does daily rounds. He even lives here on the estate. Also, you can ask for an appointment if you have something really serious to complain about or something. It's every inmate's... eh... patient's right to do so."

Sherlock's hopes rose.

Could this be a way to request a release?

"Thing is, I know some people who tried that, did them no good."

Sherlock internally faltered again.

In other words: it was just like in modern times. Of course, you had the right to propound your case – just because it was your right. But that didn't mean anyone would bother to care.

"The only way to endure this," Paterson made a gesture that showed he meant the asylum, "is to show perfect manners and don't make any problems. Only this will get you any sympathies or friendly reactions here.

Sherlock grimaced when he remembered that the doctor had advised him to behave from now on.

"If you don't comply nasty 'treatments' will be the result," Paterson added.

"What do you mean?"

"The treatments you will be given will make you think twice before showing that particular symptom of your illness again. Reginald over there for example," he pointed at a tall slim man in the distance, "He was angry that they told his wife not to come visit, he yelled at staff repeatedly. Therefore, they treated his agitation with a medication that made him vomit and have the shits for a week, until all fight went out of him. I mean, they can give you nasty meds that result in an immediate improvement of your attitude – due to suffering."

Sherlock sighed. It was a form of power game, of making someone comply. It was certainly more subtle than chaining a patient to a wall, but this the same keynote.

Additionally, there was the problem that asylums were not only a home for people who couldn't live on their own, but also a people dump for all those society or other people wanted to get rid of. The unwanted citizens that were completely healthy, dumped here by relatives, unloving husbands or the community, just because someone wanted to get rid of them, not due to their mental state.

"If they can't convince you to eat they will restrain you and force-feed you through a tube. Someone died a few years ago because the food got into the lungs."

"How long have you been here?" Sherlock asked.

"Three years."

Sherlock felt his eyes widen involuntarily in horror. The man appeared quite normal, had not shown any severe signs of mental illness yet, but Sherlock was aware that might mean nothing.

"Melancholia," Paterson stated. It was obviously his diagnosis. "My daughter and then my wife died and I..." he stuttered. "I am not handling it very well."

 

Paterson made sure they were back in side in time for dinner. The Scot was allowed a personal item as a reward for good behaviour and had chosen his pocket watch, which he frequently pulled out to check the time. Sherlock wondered if it was just a habit because of a former occupation or a compulsion.

It was his first dinner at the asylum; he had slept through yesterday's evening meal. The potatoes were again unpeeled and sparingly salted. The meat was overcooked and bland, but at least there was meat.

Sherlock did not enjoy the meal and started to feel sick halfway through. He couldn't finish the potatoes. Paterson – who had an unusually good appetite for someone with depressions and asked if he could finish them for him.

After tea, Sherlock was once more picked up by Miller. This time he wondered how close he was observed at all times. He had thought that they had relaxed control on his second day, but when the nurse showed up he wasn't sure any longer.

Miller escorted him to his room and when he showed signs of locking him in, Sherlock asked for a bathroom break.

Maybe they had relaxed the control but when he vanished today to wash his hair had made them change their minds.

"Alright. You should take a comb and brush your hair. You look very dishevelled," Miller advised.

Sherlock fetched the comb and a second towel to hide the fact that he would bring back the other one.

When he stood in front of the bathroom mirror he was horrified, he really looked tattered, his hair wild around his head. His paleness made the black circles under his eyes very prominent.

He found he couldn't look at his reflection, turned away in aversion.

Therefore, he combed through his tauted curls with his back to the mirror. He hadn't cut his hair since before Mary's death and it had grown quite a bit, which was now making things worse.

Wetting it again helped a bit. The good thing was the facilities were empty and he had at least a bit of privacy that way.

It took so long that Miller came in to see what the problem was. He then went to get a hairbrush because the comb was just useless.

An hour and a lot of tweaking later, Sherlock's hair was free of knots, wet and combed back. He looked exactly as if he had greased them back again, but it feel better.

Cleaner.

Miller brought him back to his room and locked him in.

He started to dread the sound of the key turning the lock, but for now, he was glad about having a bit of privacy.

 

Sherlock had planned to explore the place as best as he could within the day and continue during the night. The first he had achieved. Nevertheless, over three hours in the 'garden' had left him drained. Although they had sat on benches more than half the time it was way more exercise than his body was ready to perform.

Paterson had provided so much useful intel he had just listened, eager to learn more and ignoring his body's complaints about the cold and the strain.

The wound in his leg had gone from occasional itching to throbbing at some point. Now it was radiating more pain than his still present headache.

Additionally, he found he was so exhausted from the blow of the devastating conversation with the doctor, he lacked all motivation to do anything.

The hypothesis that he might be incarcerated in the asylum mainly by his mind, not by the physical circumstances surrounding him undermined his motivation further.

Until he found a solution for that, he wasn't sure it was of any use to do physical exploration.

So he cancelled last night's plan, to do more reconnaissance during this night.

It was all the same.

When he sat on the edge of the bed, trying to fight his fatigue and wonder what the hell for he was trying that, he felt that itch on his scalp again.

Combing through his wet hair with his fingers, he had the sudden impulse to shake his curls loose.

And he did.

Little droplets of water hit the stone floor in front of the bed and even the window when he violently shook the water out.

The intense movement made him feel dizzy.

But it felt good.

As if unleashing his curls had reminded him who he was.

That he was Sherlock Holmes and he had curls.

Reconnecting to his real self.

It was liberating.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Sherlock's night was not an easy one.

He woke up multiple times. The pain from his head and his leg had receded but during the night, it returned vigorously, which made it difficult for him to fall asleep.

The gash had started to hurt after the long walk with Patterson. Contrary to expectation, resting was not making it better, but worse.

Even more difficult than the moderate pain were the nightmares, though.

Shortly after midnight, he woke up bathed in sweat, remembering exactly what he had dreamt about.

At first, there had only been vague images of Mycroft and him as children, but then it became more detailed. He remembered there was a girl, who climbed a tree and teased them to follow her up.

Mycroft refused, but little Sherlock tried. He hadn't even reached one of the thick lower branches when the girl started to kick him from above. It didn't take long until he fell down, hurting his leg on impact.

Sherlock assumed his real pain had influenced the dream, integrated itself in it.

The dream itself was not unsettling to a level that kept him from falling asleep again, but something he couldn't decipher was. Additionally, his senses started to act up a bit while he tried.

The little noises in the building were getting to him, especially the distressed ones from further away. The rough fabric of his pyjamas and the bed were hard to ignore. The discomfort worsened the pain reception and although he was aware of the vicious cycle and tried to ignore it, it felt like hours until he managed to drift off again.

 

After barely an hour of undisturbed sleep, he woke to his leg pounding with pain.

The strong urge to unwrap the dressing and inspect the wound resulted in him shoving away the blanket and sitting up.

His entire calf was burning and the moment he moved, a stabbing pain made him hiss. The dim light was not helpful when he tried to peel away the bandages.

Looking around the room, he noticed that something was bright outside, although it felt way too early for sunrise.

He limped over and opened the window blinds.

A full moon was shining outside* lighting up the room. He leaned against the windowsill and put his foot up for better access. 

To his surprise, he found the wound looked fine, neither infected, reddened nor swollen. It seemed to heal nicely.

Wondering if there might be an infection under the skin, he prodded it gently. As expected, the pain intensified and he cursed. He focussed on the wound itself, tried to deduce what might have caused it.

It was a not a clean cut, the margins of the wound were slightly jagged.

Half of the cut itself was a gentle curve that started on the side of the calf, but then it took a sharp turn, deepened and ended in a twist. It was an odd shape. Which meant whatever had caused it was sharp but had happened rather slowly, maybe his leg had moved, which caused the shape.

Another possibility was that he had been dragged, probably face up - while his foot was slack and tilted sideways?

He leaned back, tried to focus on how it must have felt when it happened to jumpstart his memories, although he tried for several minutes, nothing new came back.

The cluelessness left him frustrated and he messily wrapped the wound up again, not caring to do it right.

If John were present, he'd tell him he needed to speak to a doctor about it tomorrow.

That was when he realised that not even a virtual version of John had paid him a visit since he was in this institution.

Sometimes, when he was in dire need of his friend, the mind palace had provided him with a virtual version that confronted him with wanted or unwanted intel about what he thought about Sherlock's behaviour, needs, case or whatever.

Why wasn't it working this time?

He was longing for John's presence.

Maybe he just didn't deserve john.

Greg and several other people had tried to hammer it home that Mary's death was not his fault, but he couldn't eliminate the guilt he felt, wondered if she would still be alive if he hadn't asked her to come back to London. She'd probably be safer on her own, on the run but alive. Her abilities and ruthlessness might have saved her.

Looking out of the cold window into the darkness of the gardens, he felt all the grief and deep sadness weight him down.

The sudden onslaught of emotions made him lean against the wall for support. It was so intense; he had to fight a stinging sensation in his throat that indicated tears might follow close.

Trying to overpower the unwanted sentiment, he gulped repeatedly and squeezed his eyes shut for a moment.

He had rarely felt this alone and lost in his life.

Before he had known John, he didn't know what he was missing, but now he did.

Just as he thought he had shoved the emotions away, desperation and hopelessness pressed down harder. He knew that he could manage to ignore them for a long time, but at some point, they would catch up with him, causing a shutdown at best or a full-blown meltdown at worst.

The room contained nothing to keep him occupied and he needed a distraction very badly at the moment.

Out of other options, he started to walk, tried the walking meditation technique he had learned during his time in Nepal. The problem was he couldn't clear his mind enough to do it. In addition, it was harder inside a building – and a room that was so small he had to watch where he was going all the time.

The only thing he could think doing was to try to analyse his problems, think about them properly.

He stood by the window again, tried to see anything that would help him escape in the dark, but the view was bleak and not helpful.

Up to now, he felt, he hadn't managed to really focus on escaping and therefore not found the solution. He didn't necessarily want to go back to reality, but he needed to get out of this hellish place that destroyed people even more than they already were.

 

Sherlock woke when the wakeup call came, slightly surprised that he had managed to fall asleep sitting on his bed.

He even dozed off again after the call.

In semi-sleep, he felt something sneak around his wrist. The touch was gentle and immediately spawned intense disgust. For some reason he couldn't move, was caught in the drifting state.

The hand lingered, probed. Very gently, but clearly a man's hand.

For a moment, he hoped it was John, but it was far too unfamiliar. When he realised that, he reflexively tried to wind away from the touch. But - as it was so often in dreams - he couldn't. A moment later, he felt Magnussen's breath on his face.

He struggled and within a second, disgust turned into panic.

His breath caught, then someone shook his shoulder.

"Mr Greenbaum, wake up!" a loud voice boomed through the room.

He was shaken harder, the touch on his hand and wrist gone.

Even before he was fully awake, he rolled away from his assailant in distress. But the wall stopped him. Before he could move down the bed to jump out of it, Hughes's voice boomed again.

"Hey, it's me! Wake up! We will do you no harm."

Sherlock blinked, disoriented, the loud voice brought him back to reality – the new reality, the one in the Victorian era.

"What...?"

"I am sorry, I didn't mean to frighten him. He was dreaming and in distress... and I tried to feel his pulse, but he became agitated and..."

"It's alright, Cooper. You did nothing wrong. He just had a bad dream," Hughes explained to the young lad.

"I'm fine. Just a bad dream," Sherlock panted, desperately trying to hide his distress. He was still wondering why this kid was going for a job in this institution. Sherlock was sure Cooper would be happier with another profession.

"Also... I don't like to be touched," Sherlock continued, "I have been...." he stopped. This was none of their business; they didn't need to know the touch had triggered a memory of Magnussen molesting him in the hospital.

"I am alright. I was plagued by nightmares tonight," Sherlock reassured him while taking stock.

He felt dazed, his heart was pounding uncomfortably fast, his leg hurt, and he felt cold.

"Get dressed, you need to hurry. It's late. Breakfast in sixteen minutes."

"You want me to help you with your hair?" the young man asked and Sherlock shook his head, horrified by the idea.

"My leg pains me a lot, may a doctor take a look at it later today?" Sherlock asked politely.

"I will put it in today's list," Hughes mumbled and left, Cooper followed him.

Sherlock was glad to be left alone. He rubbed his face with both hands, trying to fully wake up.

Much to Sherlock's dismay, he found Miller waiting outside his room when he headed for the lavatories. He was accompanied by the nurse, who kept a close eye on him the entire time until he delivered him to the dining hall.

 

While waiting for the meal to be served, he realised he had gone through the morning routine like zombie.

His mind felt as if it was enveloped in cotton, as if he couldn't shake sleep off completely. It felt odd but not unfamiliar.

He tried to determine the cause and was fairly certain that no one would have managed to administer any medication while he was asleep. The thick needles of this era as well as the key in the lock would have woken him. The idea that the food might be drugged was discarded immediately, too. He would have noticed earlier if it had been.

It took until after Patterson addressed his absentmindedness that he realised that although it felt like being stoned - without the high - that it was probably an episode of mild dissociation.

It had happened before, back in the months after he returned from Serbia. His episodes back then were more intense but felt similar to this.

When triggered, his mind kicked him into a haze that prevented him from experiencing the memories fully to protect him from the horrors.

Apparently, he was wandering in that mist again. The moment he realised it, it was also clear that the trigger had been the touch on his hands.

Being molested by Magnussen had left imprints in his mind. The assault had happened while he couldn't move, was too out of it. It left him fighting with issues like helpless and vulnerability again. The real trigger was being unable to take a stand against a threat, this was just a sub-variant.  

The fear that his PTSD might renew itself due to the more recent assault he had lived through in Culverton's hospital. It had been a long hard fight to get back on his feet the first time and he would not have managed it without John's constant support. He was not sure he would ever find the strength to go through that again, especially not on his own.

He consciously pictured a vault in his mind palace and tried to lock the trigger away, together with the sensation of feeling helpless.

 

The morning passed slowly, but was not too demanding.

At some point, Miller escorted him to the dayroom, which Sherlock was not too fond of. Luckily, Patterson was there with a chessboard looking for an opponent.

Before, Miller told him he was expected to socialise and he neither wanted to nor had he any idea how to do it without rubbing people off the wrong way.

John was usually the one who'd undertake the part of first contact in social interaction, his absence was like a sore spot that was agitated whenever he interacted with someone.

With John, everything was so easy.

So familiar.

The more time passed in this reality, the more difficult he found it to handle even the vaguest reminders of his friend.

Maybe his absence was not just a sore, but a wound created when Mary died and during the time Sherlock had taken drugs, it festered.

Wasn't it supposed to have started healing when John saved him from Culverton?

Maybe it had started to heal, but now the wound seemed to have reopened – or gotten infected.

All the doubts and self-hatred Sherlock had felt while brooding alone in Baker Street were slowly rising up to the surface again. He felt the need to block it out, couldn't afford his depression to show more than it already did – or any of the symptoms of posttraumatic stress. Any deterioration of his fettle would make things worse, but it was a herculean effort.

Hunting down Moritarty's web had almost ended in disaster because of John's absence. It had disabled him, made it harder to concentrate so much it became life threatening. Mycroft even advised him to take antidepressants to enable him to survive his 'hunt'.

Waiting for Patterson to make moves provided him with way more time to let his thoughts roam than he liked.

Not for the first time he wondered how much time had passed in real life. Usually, time passed faster in the mind palace, enabling him to do more work in less time. In this case, though, it would be a disadvantage. It might mean that he'd be in here for weeks while in real life only a day passed. Which meant that if he wanted to not experience two days of intense, dreadful withdrawal he might have to stay in the Victorian era for months.

The only thing he was not really worried about was his transport. Two competent doctors were monitoring him and no one would really miss the obnoxious junkie who needed medical care after overdoing it.

If he was honest with himself, he knew he could have done with half of the drugs, feigning the rest.

In hindsight that made him feel additionally guilty, because he knew his abilities had faltered under too much being-under-the-influence.

Mrs Hudson had told him repeatedly how stupid it was to take that much. He was unable to listen to her unnerved and worried efforts.

He missed her, too.

She had been his rock after Mary's death.

Had kept him alive by now and then taking care of him. For days, she had been the only person he saw. Although she had complained and interfered, she had understood his sorrow. Her patience and tender loving care had not bounced off him. Maybe the worst thing about this relapse was that it was all so different from before. Although her affection had done nothing to soothe his grieve, he had been able to trust her care, had submitted to her efforts because he knew he was completely out of his turf and lost in his failures.

 

After lunch, when Sherlock was on his way back to his room, his leg hurt so much, he had to lean against the wall to catch his breath.

"Mr Greenbaum?"

Someone was there, but he didn't realise they were addressing him, failed to recognise the imposed name.

"Mr Greenbaum?" something touched his shoulder.

When he stumbled in his haste to seek solitude, someone held him upright.

"Let me help you," a male voice said, keeping him steady.

He did not try to shake off the hand, afraid it might be seen as a provocation, but the urge was strong. He bit his lip to keep the disgust hidden.

With clenched teeth and narrowed eyes, he looked up at the stranger.

The man was dressed like a doctor and Sherlock was quite sure he had never met him before.

"Oh, of course, you don't remember me. I am the ward's physician. I examined you the day you arrived, but you were unconscious. You don't look good," the man said in a friendly and careful tone. "I read you suffer from severe exhaustion?"

It was at least a diagnosis Sherlock did agreed with. Moments later he realised this was a possible source of information.

"When?"

"What when?"

"When did you examine me?" The detective hoped to get some more clues to his puzzle.

"Four days ago, when you were brought here from the admissions ward."

No new information then, Sherlock concluded. That much he knew already.

When he didn't say anything, the doctor continued, "Well, we will then nurse you back to good health."

The man was in his mid forties and Sherlock realised this was the first time an older member of the staff seemed hopeful to really do some good in the world working in the asylum, whereas most of the older ones had already abandoned all hope and were just trying to get through the insaneness of the day.

"My name is Dr Winter, by the way", he added when Sherlock continued his silence. "You look ready to keel over, my friend. Allow me to bring you back to your room."

Without waiting for an answer, he hooked his arm under Sherlock's.  The touch made him flinch.

This was excessively close and way too intimate.

Only John was allowed to do this, not this stranger.

Without a word, he tried to endure it, fearing the slightest slip of a rough word might make his life a lot worse.

It was pathetic really.

Since when did he care what people thought? Or feared things like cold water?

These days every little discomfort seemed to spawn real fear, which was quite annoying and made life a lot harder and more stressful. He knew that in his head, but the bedlam emotions were disabling nevertheless. No matter how much he tried to mark his internal troubles as 'ignore', it affected him.

Even after years of John trying to explain it to him, it still wasn't easy for him to decide when to wisely keep his mouth shut and just collect information. Being forced to refine this paltry ability during his time on the hunt had helped, but it was still far from satisfiable.

Dr Winters helped him to his room and informed him he would be back to examine his leg, which was obviously bothering him.

Sherlock had not mentioned it. He was so tired he sank into the bed and covered his eyes with his forearm, tried to shut out the world.

If they would just leave him alone!

That doctor being friendly was too much. He didn't want the man to be friendly. He was too much like John, caring and trying to help.

No one was allowed to do that, only John.

Far too soon, Winter came back with Miller and young Cooper in tow. They removed the bandages and inspected his leg.

It still looked good, although the pain was getting worse. Sherlock made an effort and described his ailments. He left out that in the past thirty hours things seemed to go downhill when it came to his physical health.

Winter frowned but didn't comment, just made a note in a small booklet he was carrying in his breast pocket. Then he left the carers to redress the wound.

The moment Miller and Cooper took over; they seemed to continue a conversation they had started earlier. Sherlock had witnessed that behaviour with medical professionals often in the past. It was as if the patient was not there, as if they were working on something that could neither hear them nor interact.

"I guess there are a lot of people like your aunt who are not too fond of it."

"She just doesn't understand," Cooper sighed.

"There really is a need to regulate the distribution of drugs and to make sure pharmacists know what they are doing. There are too many out there not taking the health of their clients seriously, only their own profits. We had a few cases in here that were the direct result this wrongdoing. Overall the pharmacy act will do good, keep people safe."

"I know! I agree. I tried to tell her that, but she really threw a wobbly when she read the paper. You know, she takes those pills – they are expensive. She spends a fortune on them... Those that are advertised to cure all sorts of ailments. A few weeks ago, she went to another than her usual pharmacy... and the apprentice told her they are rubbish and that she should take something that has scientifically been proven to help for her chronic cough, and that the act would come and change things. Since that day she is constantly ranting about the government trying to ruin her health."

Sherlock remembered from a lesson, which touched the history of chemistry, that in the end of the 1860s a new law had changed the way pharmacies were run.

"Yeah, the law will make it more difficult for quacks to sell their rubbish. I am happy it will finally come," Miller stated while he carefully spread antibiotic salve over Sherlock's healing wound.

"Take the salve for example. Twenty years ago, they didn't even know germs were there and that they caused health issues. However, the medicines that were invented without that knowledge are still sold... and they don't help at all. Pharmacists need to prove they are educated and that they know how to mix proper remedies."

Sherlock suppressed the strong urge to inform him that there were actually medications invented before the discovery of germs that had anti-bacterial properties.

"I understand," Cooper said.

Apparently, Miller was kind of a teacher for young Cooper.

The young man carefully redressed the wound – which took quite some time - and Miller made a few suggestions about what to improve.

When finished with his leg, they checked the wound on his head, which was also healing well, despite the intense rubbing and combing the day before.

They left him suggesting a midday nap and he was too tired to feel ashamed about the fact that his tiredness was that obvious.

 

Sherlock curled up on the hard cot and pulled the flimsy worn blanket over his head, in a desperate try to shut out the world.

He had no hope left to just call an exit from the mind palace by now, but he tried nevertheless – the usual disappointed followed immediately.

He tried to imagine he was home in 221b, tried to imagine John was doing something in the kitchen.

At least the cravings were tolerable or maybe just completely overlaid by the outer circumstances of this hellhole.

It took only a few minutes until he had drifted into sleep.

 

Once more, he dreamt about the unknown girl. This time, she tried to make them climb a mountain instead of a tree.

And this time she didn't kick him, this time she tried to shove him over a cliff.

He was surprised to find that he didn't fell; Mycroft was there and kept him from toppling over into the abyss.

Sherlock woke panting, experiencing being a child again was no fun, but being saved by his brother made it annoying. On the other hand, it made him remember something he had not thought of in a very long time.

How existence had felt as a child.

How he had relied on Mycroft understanding things, explaining things, and preventing bad things because he had much more experience with the world.

Back then, Sherlock had trusted Mycroft to do the right thing – as much as he trusted his parents.

They misunderstood a lot but he knew they did their best. He had been frustrated often because they were so slow and words were not precise enough and their thought processes were so alien, but he had never doubted that they loved him.

Blinking hard, Sherlock tried to concentrate on remembering what the girl from the dream had looked like.

Unfortunately, other than the fact that she was a girl there were almost no details in his dreams, no face, no hair colour, no clothing. The only thing he remembered clearly was her high voice, it felt dangerous and excessively sharp.

Sherlock couldn't figure who she might have been. There were neither neighbour girls nor relatives that had a daughter. 

Chances were high she was the result of his usual withdrawal nightmare nonsense, with a proper dose of rubbish and anxiety.

Trying to focus on something else – John – he hoped to dream something nice for a change when he drifted off once more. In his current state lucid dreaming was what he needed, but he never managed it when he felt poorly already, which was when he need it the most.

 

The girl and the tree and the mountain returned a third time.

This time he ran away from her.

She followed him, yelling 'It's not me you need to fear, it's the mountain!'.

Before she could catch up with him, someone unlocked the door of his room, waking him up.

"Time for the water treatment," Hughes greeted him, some large towels in his hands.

Sherlock froze. No one in this institution seemed to bother to inform patients about what would happen next and it left him jittery whenever something new came up he had little to say about.