Chapter 1: Arrival
Sherlock arrives at Doyle House.
Dotted with craggy tors, the moors stretched away from a line of dark, closely-cluttered trees in rugged, rolling hills. Early morning dew glimmered over the verdant expanse, softening the stark scenery. The haze of sunrise still hung in the air, the horizon blurred by fog and the mist clinging to the bordering woods. Birdsong drifted on a light breeze, and the sun’s wan light shone down through sparse cloud cover. Untamed, the view hinted at wild, fertile bleakness, static but for a single galloping horse and the man bent low on its saddled back.
Dirt flew up from the surging legs of the large, dappled grey horse, the ground vibrating beneath thundering hooves. A white blaze upon its face, the animal tossed its head and galloped with ears pricked forward. Crouched low in the saddle, reins held firm in each hand, John gripped the horse’s heaving sides with his knees. The morning had a chill to it, and the wind playing through his hair blew sharp against his flushed face.
“Come on, Blaze,” John called, giving the horse a firm tap with his heels, “is that all you’ve got?”
Neck outstretched, Blaze bared his teeth and whinnied. His muscular legs were a blur as he put on a burst of speed, taking the words as a challenge. Laughing with delight, John leaned forward to keep his balance as they thundered over the rambling terrain.
Thick clods of black dirt burst up from the earth with every strike of Blaze’s hooves upon the ground, making John feel like something run wild. It felt like flying, the two of them untethered from the Earth by the sheer speed at which they crossed the moors. Once a famous racehorse, Silver Blaze undoubtedly relished the chance to show John what he was made of, and John never could resist letting him stretch his legs. Though it had been months since John felt the need to escape the world, he still delighted in the sensation of weightlessness that stole over him when they galloped.
Blaze tossed his head again, and John knew it was time for a reprieve. He slowed the horse to an easier stride, bringing their break-neck run down to a trot. Blaze huffed loudly through flaring nostrils and flicked his tail against his side and John’s leg, making John chide him fondly.
“None of that, you brat,” he scolded, firmly patting the horse’s neck with the flat of his hand. “Not if you want those extra oats when we get back to the clinic.”
The horse nickered and bobbed his head, and John grinned.
“Glad we could come to an agreement,” he teased. “Alright, back we go.” John turned Blaze back the way they’d come with a tug of the reins. They maintained a quick trot for the return trip, and it was late morning when the familiar red-brick walls of Doyle House — what John called ‘the clinic’ — came into view.
A sprawling manor, Doyle House Clinic was named for its landed gentry titleholders, the Doyle family. Over the years, the property had expanded until it covered a large patch of Dartmoor moorland before passing to the family's last living descendant, Andrew Doyle. Working as a practicing trauma surgeon in his youth, Doyle had made a name for himself in the medical community. Upon retirement, finding the property far too large for his solitary self, he’d remade the estate. Rather than let the three-storey building, with its twelve bedrooms, three floors, and two guest dwellings, fall victim to moths and dust, Andrew converted the manor. Now, it comfortably housed twenty residents at max capacity, serving as a ‘health resort’ for high-class clientele — primarily government officials, military personnel, and the occasional celebrity. Well into his eighties, Andrew Doyle functioned as the head of the facility. He handled the hiring of doctors, therapists, addiction specialists and other professionals needed to support those who arrived at the manor’s doors requiring intensive care.
Three years ago, John had been one such person. While serving his third tour in Afghanistan, a bullet to the shoulder had ended his Royal Army Medical Corps career. The wound nearly killed him, and the resulting infection almost succeeded where the bullet failed. But — against all odds — John had survived. Invalided back to England, he’d struggled to acclimate to civilian life and his new physical limitations. It wasn’t until he ran into an old friend, a man named Mike Stamford, that John heard about Doyle House. With one phone call, he'd found himself on the way to Dartmoor.
When he’d first arrived, John expected to be no more than a patient. He thought he would do his time and be on his way within a few months. To his surprise, Andrew Doyle welcomed John not only with a smile and firm handshake but a glowing recommendation from Stamford, a job offer, and on-site lodgings. It had all seemed too good to be true. But three years later, John was still at Doyle House, feeling less and less like his life was just a dream that he’d yet to wake from. The work did him good. It gave him purpose where John had once felt aimless. The doctors, therapists and physio specialists at the clinic provided all the help he needed. Now, John got by with the occasional ‘top up’ and filled his days with riding, swimming, and work. He was a bit lonely some days, but, with all things considered, Doyle House wasn’t a bad place for an ex-soldier like him to end up.
Something moved near the manor, drawing John out of his thoughts. Looking toward Doyle House, John saw a long, black sedan pass through the open gate, creeping up the long gravel drive. He watched with absent interest, rubbing Blaze’s neck with a distracted hand as the car pulled up outside the manor. “You think that’s a new client?” John asked the horse with a flicker of intrigue. Blaze twitched one of his ears back and stomped a foot into the dew-damp grass in response. John snorted his amusement and tangled a hand in the horse’s mane as he squinted against the sun.
The car stopped before the manor, and the driver-side front door opened. A tall man in a suit appeared, his attire overly formal for the time of day. He moved around to the back of the vehicle and opened the boot, pulling out a suitcase. Squinting harder, John saw the rear passenger-side door swing open.
A tall, slender man emerged, the sun glinting off natural red highlights in his dark, curly hair. Even from a distance, John could see a phone in the man’s hand and tell the conversation wasn’t a happy one. He couldn’t make out the words from where he sat on Blaze’s back, but the quality of the man’s deep voice carried on the cold breeze. He sounded furious. With a fierce scowl, the man shoved the phone into his pocket and stalked toward the front door. He moved with an awkward gait that was at odds with his trained posture, his pace slowed by a stiffness that was all too familiar to John.
Even from afar, John could see the evidence of pain in the man’s walk. His own lips twisted in a sympathetic grimace. That had been him, once, limping his way through the clinic’s front doors. Whoever the man was, he’d come to Doyle House for a reason, and that meant he needed help.
The man disappeared from view as John mused.
Buzzing with curiosity, John sat up, stretching his arms over his head. Blaze stood patiently, too well trained to shift with John’s hands off the reins. Patting the horse on the flank with no small amount of fondness, John said, “I think it’s time we got you rubbed down and back to your stall.” He looked thoughtfully at the manor and the black car still sitting out front. “It looks like I might soon have a new file sitting on my desk.”
The car jounced and lurched its way over the rough country road, making Sherlock’s stomach roil. Every bump, every water-logged pothole, had him clenching his teeth against the ripping pain in his head, the agony of his back, and the plaguing nausea. This rocky travel was a cruel form of torture, the coarse terrain making Sherlock’s still-healing injuries sing with pain. That, and the ragged edge of impending withdrawal, brought a sour taste to his mouth. Sherlock wasn’t yet in the thick of his sickness, but there was a hollow feeling in his bones and a metallic taste rising at the back of his throat that told him it wouldn’t be much longer. The shivers would set in first, and soon, and the sweat would stand out on his brow as his stomach began to twist. From there, Sherlock would find himself sunk deep into his own personal Hell. His brain would demand opiates as his stomach emptied itself of whatever remained after he’d sweated out all the moisture in his body from his pores.
Judging by past experience, Sherlock would be suffering within six hours, maybe sooner. His last hit hadn’t been nearly enough, fuelled by desperation as he’d scraped the bottom of his stash. Mycroft had intervened before Sherlock could acquire a top-up. There was no telling how much his brother's meddling had moved up the timeline of his withdrawal.
The urge to vomit brought Sherlock’s mind back to Mycroft, who was still droning away at him from the other end of the phone pressed to his ear.
“…I don’t know what could have possessed you to return to the drugs, Sherlock, especially in the state you came back to London in—”
“And whose fault was that?” Sherlock hissed, cutting his brother off in the middle of his chastising. “If I recall correctly, you were the one who sat and watched while they beat me for an hour.”
Mycroft’s response was sharp and reproachful, “I couldn’t very well stand up and announce myself right away, could I?”
A sudden, full-body tremour rippled through Sherlock, making his teeth click together as he cursed under his breath. The shivers were already starting, and it wouldn’t be long before all the rest followed. That knowledge sharpened his tongue, his breath hissing out in a furious growl. “I don’t want to hear your excuses again, Mycroft,” Sherlock seethed, wrapping his arms tightly over his roiling stomach. The gesture would do nothing to stop the tripling of his growing nausea, but Sherlock was helpless against the urge to try. “And I don’t see why I have to now humour you and your meddling.” Sherlock sniffed, his nose starting to run. “I was handling things just fine on my own.”
“If by ‘handling things’ you mean drugging yourself into a stupor with illegal opiates, then well done,” came Mycroft’s harsh retort over the phone, “you’ve succeeded.” A sigh followed the sarcasm. “Surely, I don’t need to explain to you why I couldn’t allow such behaviour to continue?”
“‘Couldn’t allow?’” Sherlock echoed, clenching his jaw in a futile effort to keep his teeth from chattering. He failed, stuttering out, “I’m not a bloody child, Mycroft. I don’t need you to handle me.”
“If you don’t wish to be treated like a child, then you must stop acting like one.”
Sherlock glared out the window, refusing to validate Mycroft’s words with a reply. They’d finally left the rough country road behind, the car now rolling down a long gravel drive lined with thin, well-maintained Common Beech. Leaning forward, Sherlock saw an open gate in front of the vehicle. His scowl deepened. “I see you called ahead to arrange my imprisonment,” he said with vitriol, the phone clutched in a death grip.
A scoff drifted through the speaker. “Do stop being so dramatic, Sherlock. Of course I called ahead. You’re attending a prestigious program at a private clinic. You can’t just pop in unannounced.”
“Who said I wanted to ‘pop in’ at all?” Sherlock eyed the large, three-storey building dominating the view through the windshield. Tall windows and clinging English ivy marked the red-bricked facade, making the building look like something from a Jane Austen novel.
Sherlock hated it already. “I want to go home,” he said, his voice emerging far smaller than he’d intended. It sounded like a plea when he wanted it to be a demand.
There was a brief silence. When Mycroft spoke, he almost sounded apologetic. Almost. “You need help, Sherlock,” he said, soft but firm. “There are people who have been through less than what you experienced in Serbia, and it destroyed them. You don’t have to follow that path.”
“Don’t compare me to ordinary people,” Sherlock snapped, making Mycroft sigh again.
“I’m not,” his brother conceded, sounding tired. “But you do need help, Sherlock. You are my family, and I will not stand by while you destroy yourself one needle at a time.”
The car rolled to a gentle stop. Sulking in the backseat, Sherlock watched the driver remove his belongings from the boot. His things had been packed by several of Mycroft’s staff, and he wondered if they'd included all he would need. He knew his belongings would have been thoroughly searched for anything resembling drug paraphernalia — no chance for relief there.
Sherlock closed his eyes and scoffed at his brother. Leaning his head back against the leather seat, he asked quietly, “Am I at least allowed my violin?” He could do without just about everything else, but his violin was a necessity. When the withdrawal started, music was one of the few things that soothed the restless itch that grew beneath Sherlock’s skin and begged him to use again.
Mycroft’s harsh voice softened. “I made sure that it would be allowed.”
Sherlock nodded stiffly, his lips pressed into a thin line, wondering if his brother could see the gesture. The car might have been equipped with hidden cameras, and Mycroft could be watching him even now. Either way, Mycroft seemed to sense the nod.
“Just give the program a chance, Sherlock,” Mycroft said with something very close to a plea in his words. “I know you wouldn’t have come here on your own, and I know you resent me for my meddling. But I need you to try. If you won’t do it for me, then do it for yourself.” A pause. “Do it for the work. The sooner you recover, the sooner you can return to solving cases.” Mycroft’s voice turned coaxing. “That’s what you want, isn’t it?”
Sherlock swung his legs out of the car, the crushed white gravel of the drive shifting beneath his heels. A horrible surge of nausea washed over him when he tried to stand, and Sherlock closed his eyes against it. Waiting for the sensation to settle, he breathed slowly out his nose and spoke to his brother through his teeth. “What I want is for you to piss off, Mycroft.” His stomach finally settled enough for Sherlock to stand upright. He moved gingerly away from the car with the phone pressed hard to his ear as he forced his protesting legs to carry him forward. “And I promise nothing. As I said before, I am not a child, and I will not be treated like one. The sooner you realize that and let me leave this place, the sooner we’ll both be better for it.” Sherlock ended the call, already anticipating the impending scold in Mycroft’s inhalation.
Shoving the phone into his pocket, Sherlock paused and raised his eyes to the building before him. It seemed taller outside of the car and far more foreboding than it had appeared through the windshield. Sherlock took it in with a grim expression. He had no desire to be here and wanted even less to go inside. But there was nowhere left for him to go and no one to take him away, leaving him with no choice but to continue onward. Sherlock made his way to the front door with a slow, jerky gait, every step sending pain and nausea rolling through his body. Judging by the shakes vibrating through his hands, he didn't have long before the full force of his impending withdrawal dragged him down. His arms began to quiver, and Sherlock wished he'd had that last complete hit after all, silently cursing his brother's infuriating interference.
As he reached the door, Sherlock lifted his chin and straightened his shoulders. It hurt, but he refused to let the pain reduce him. He might not have come here of his own volition, but he'd be damned if he was going to crawl inside on his hands and knees, begging for respite from his own self-inflicted hell. Standing tall, Sherlock marched forward to meet his suffering head-on and with a stiff upper lip.
Chapter 2: Intrusive
Sherlock and John meet face to face for the first time.
Warning for withdrawal symptoms and vomiting in Sherlock’s POV.
John took two steps into the manor before he was hailed. He turned to see one of the other staff approaching. Of slight build, their short, dark brown hair in disarray, they looked harried, green eyes wide and excited.
“Hey, Sam,” John said, eyeing their appearance, “everything alright?” He glanced out the window next to the front door and saw the long black sedan had disappeared. “Do we have a new check-in?”
“Do we ever,” Sam replied breathlessly.
John frowned and turned to face them fully. Staffed to handle client intakes, Sam generally wasn’t an excitable person. Seeing them so flustered was an odd sight. John tilted his head, sympathetically curious. “That bad, huh?”
Sam waved for him to follow as they turned to the stairway across from the entrance. “You’ve no idea,” they said fervently, and John’s frown deepened.
“Okay, now you’ve got my attention.” They started up the stairs, walking side by side as Sam pulled in a steadying breath. “Well? Don’t leave me in suspense," John said, only half-joking. “Out with it.”
Sam favoured him with a wry look. “Have you ever heard of Sherlock Holmes?”
John squinted one eye shut in thought. “I might have,” he said, searching his memories to see if the name sounded familiar. He thought he might have read it in the newspapers once or twice. “He was in the news, wasn’t he?”
“Yes.” The edges of Sam’s mouth tightened. “Do you remember what for?”
John shook his head. “Can’t say that I do.”
“Well, hold onto your pants because this is kind of a wild one.” John shot Sam a confused look, but they ignored it and said, simply, “Suicide.”
Halting at the top of the stairs, John blinked. “Excuse me?”
Arms arms crossed over their chest, Sam raised amused eyebrows and offered a tight-lipped smile. “I know. Turns out Sherlock Holmes was a kind of private eye. Some actor bloke really dragged his name through the mud before he was proven to be a fraud a few months ago. Anyway, before that happened, Holmes was vilified by the news outlets and took his own life two years ago.” Sam lapsed into an expectant silence as if waiting for John’s reaction.
He didn’t disappoint.
“Okay, you’re having me on,” John said, but Sam just raised a solitary eyebrow. “No? Is this a prank? Are you trying to tell me the new client is a ghost?”
Sam let out a quiet laugh. “No, John. I’m not trying to pull the wool over your eyes. I’m telling you that this isn’t your typical intake, and Sherlock Holmes isn’t your usual patient.”
“I’ll say,” John muttered. He rubbed a hand over his face and shook his head. “So, a man back from the dead, huh?”
“Apparently,” Sam said with a shrug. They seemed less harried now that they’d shared their news with John. “Whatever happened, he’s in rough shape.” Their lips twitched with dark humour. “Also, he’s a bit of a prick. As you might expect from someone newly back from the dead.”
John offered a humourless smile. “I can’t even begin to imagine,” he said honestly as they turned and started down the hall. Neither spoke until they stopped in front of John’s study. “This all sounds very complicated,” John said, turning to Sam again. “What kind of shape?” He paused with his hand on the doorknob, already dreading the answer.
Reaching into their coat, Sam pulled out a folder instead of replying. They held it out to John with their lips pressed into a grim line. “Not good,” they said. “Better read that before you go to meet him. It’s… complicated.”
The file looked ominously thick for a new patient, and John grimaced. “I bet,” he said, taking it with no small sense of foreboding. “Ta.”
Sam offered a sympathetic smile and turned toward the stairs. Over their shoulder, they said, “Good luck, Doctor Watson. I think you’re going to need it.”
Complicated didn’t even begin to cover it. Not only had Sherlock Holmes returned from the dead, but he’d done so with both a vengeance and severe injuries indicative of extended and brutal torture. On top of his unexpected return, he’d recently relapsed into an opiate addiction he hadn’t practiced since early adulthood. It appeared Holmes had returned to the drugs shortly after landing in London and arrived at Doyle House in full-blown withdrawal.
Seated at his desk with the file spread out in front of him, John dropped his head into his hands and sighed. While he’d worked with patients needing extensive supports before, Sherlock Holmes would be the first to return from the dead. It was clear from the government dossier on him — heavily redacted but informative enough — that his name had been cleared through dubious means. Whatever he’d gone through to regain his life, it had cost Holmes dearly. His injuries were grave, even newly-healed as they were. Worse, there was an undeniably psychological aspect to Holmes’ presence at Doyle House. Not only would he need to overcome addiction and chronic pain, but he would require intensive mental health support.
John knew — intimately — that some scars never fully healed, and he was willing to bet Sherlock Holmes had more than his own fair share of those.
He lifted his head and swivelled in his chair to look out the window behind him. The back lawn stretched long and vibrant from the rear of the manor, out to the tree line. John usually found the view soothing. But today, it seemed to be lacking. He needed something stronger than a nice view to ease his tumultuous thoughts.
Watching the last clinging wisps of mist clear away from the treetops, John thought about his own early days at Doyle House. He’d been in a bad state as well, and many of his scars had been invisible, worn deep beneath his skin and hard to fix. He’d made progress through years of work, and the nightmares didn’t drag him under nearly as often as they once had, but the scars still lingered. John had made tentative peace with them. Even if he couldn’t truly accept their presence, he could live with them. Holmes might be a similar case. With his personal experience and expertise in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, John was the ideal doctor to handle his intake. It was common for John to do so, and he’d done it for countless patients, many of them ex-military or special forces. However, John usually only handled the initial intake and had never worked a case with such extensive trauma as Holmes’.
John was half eager and half unsettled by the amount of work ahead of him. Sherlock’s case was daunting, and John could only hope that he wouldn’t be found wanting.
“Well, Watson,” he said, pushing himself up to standing with a sigh, “you won’t find out until you get started.” Gathering the scattered sheets back into the file, John tucked it into a locked cabinet and reached for his kit.
It was time to meet Sherlock Holmes.
Surely, this was the very definition of Hell.
Every inch of Sherlock’s body ached, and his skin was alight with a buzz that fed down through his muscles and into his bones. The wounds on his back, new enough to still feel fresh, burned. The pain was a jagged backbeat to the pounding of his skull and the cottony taste in his mouth.
Lying on the floor of the small bathroom attached to his assigned room with the lights off, Sherlock pressed his cheek to the cold tiles with a groan. Silently, he cursed his brother, the drugs, Serbia and, finally, himself, for slipping back into the black pit of addiction. His withdrawal was eating him alive from the inside out, and Sherlock’s body felt like fever personified. It took most of his remaining strength to lift himself on clammy hands and bend over the toilet. His stomach twisted and clenched, acidic bile rising up his throat for what felt like the hundredth time in as many minutes.
The withdrawal hit him like a freight train maybe an hour after he was shown to his room. It sent Sherlock to his knees and kept him trapped in the bathroom as he heaved and choked and suffered. No matter how small, every movement made his head spin and inspired a fresh wave of nausea. Though he’d long since ceased to bring up anything of real substance, his body produced a seemingly endless stream of bile and stomach acid. His throat was raw from the burn of it.
His head throbbed hard enough that Sherlock missed the polite knock at his bedroom door. When it swung open with a jangle of keys, Sherlock startled. He nearly tipped over, caught himself, and spat into the toilet before reaching up to flush with a shaky, clammy hand. Resting his cheek against the seat, he turned to see a man looking at him from the bathroom doorway. A scowl twisted Sherlock’s features. “Piss off,” he tried to growl, barely managing a pathetic croak.
The man didn’t seem bothered by Sherlock’s venom. He remained where he was, staring down at Sherlock with a thoughtful expression on his face.
Sherlock closed his eyes against both the light entering the room from the door and the man’s unwavering scrutiny. “I was told this is a private room,” he said, his voice raw and cracked. His skin was beginning to crawl, and the sensation made Sherlock scratch fretfully at his stinging arms.
“It is,” the man said. A rustle of fabric made Sherlock open his eyes to slits to see the man had knelt in the doorway. “Doctors have keys in case of emergencies.”
“Ah,” Sherlock rasped, clenching his teeth against a sharp stab of pain in his head, “so you’re a doctor.” His stomach twisted, and he closed his eyes with a groan.
“Just so,” came the soft reply. “I’m Doctor Watson.”
“Fantastic,” Sherlock muttered before dry heaving into the toilet bowl and slumping when the spasm passed. “Are you saying that my not answering the door constitutes an emergency?”
Doctor Watson made a quiet sound that could have been a laugh. Sherlock couldn’t tell over the pounding of his skull. “Not answering the door isn’t exactly an emergency, but the puking might be.” A hand settled on Sherlock’s shoulder.
Startled by the unexpected contact, Sherlock flinched back. “Don’t touch me,” he gasped. The touch disappeared at once, making Sherlock clench his teeth against an irrational surge of disappointment. He braced himself for a scolding, but it didn’t come.
“How long have you been sick?” Doctor Watson said calmly, unperturbed by Sherlock’s behaviour.
Sherlock groaned out his answer, “About an hour. Maybe more.” His temples pulsed, the aching pain spreading down into his jaw. “I don’t know.”
“That’s alright. Is the nausea constant?”
Another full-body heave reduced Sherlock’s reply to nothing more than a pitiful nod. Doctor Watson made a soft sound of sympathy, and Sherlock resisted the urge to bare his teeth in response. “Why are you here?”
Watson ignored the question. “When did you last use?”
There it was, the question Sherlock had been dreading the most. His body spasmed, muscles clenching, this time from tension rather than nausea. “I injected early this morning. Just shy of three am.” He sensed rather than saw Watson’s nod and sagged with humiliation.
“Opiates?” Watson asked gently.
Sherlock sneered, shame sharpening his tongue. “I imagine my brother made sure to send ahead a comprehensive file containing all of my perceived shortcomings and personal failures. Surely you know all of this already, so why are you asking me?” His mouth tasted bitter with self-loathing, and he spat into the toilet. “Don’t you know better than to trust drug addicts?”
Despite Sherlock’s deprecating comments, Watson’s voice held no judgement. “I’d prefer to hear it from you if you don’t mind.”
Sherlock forced his eyes open, and he squinted at Watson. His vision swam, making him blink sluggishly. “And why is that, Doctor?”
Doctor Watson met Sherlock’s sullen gaze without flinching. His eyes were a dark, captivating shade of blue, and his expression was both professional and kind. Sherlock didn’t see anything like pity or judgement in Watson’s face. That lack made him soften.
“In my experience,” Watson said slowly, “family members often mean well, but their perceptions are skewed.”
“Skewed?” Sherlock repeated, his curiosity piqued despite his recalcitrance.
“Yes,” Watson said with a nod. “Even people with the best intentions don’t see what they should. They might think they do, but what they see is often only what they want to.” Tipping his head to one side, Watson amended, “Or worse.”
Sherlock blinked. Even that slow flicker of eyelids made his head throb, and he flinched. Despite his unwelcome presence, Watson was proving himself to be rather intriguing. “Do you really believe that?” Taking in Watson’s steady gaze, Sherlock said, “You do, don’t you? You're not just making it up or telling me what I want to hear.”
“I very much am not.” Shifting back on his heels, Watson winced and stretched out his shoulders.
Sherlock tracked the movement with dull eyes, filing it away to analyze once his brain was no longer burning from the inside out. He turned the words over and over in his head, shivering through another wave of nausea. Thankfully, he didn’t vomit again.
“May I continue?” Watson prompted after a moment.
Sherlock shrugged with feigned annoyance. He wanted to be irritated by this man who had barged into his room without invitation. But Watson was far more interesting than the bathroom floor. Low bar it might be, Sherlock still seized on the distraction. “Oh, by all means, be my guest,” he snapped, though the words held no real bite. Truthfully, Sherlock wanted to see what else Watson had to say. Doctor Watson wasn’t what he’d expected, and Sherlock found himself grasping at straws as a potential new mystery presented itself. Right now, he’d grab at anything that might take him away from the sickening drag of his withdrawal.
“Thank you,” Doctor Watson said, drawing a notebook out of a kit Sherlock hadn’t noticed before, set on the floor next to him. “Did you ever use anything besides opiates?”
Sherlock nodded weakly, sagging back against the toilet. “Not this time. I used to use cocaine,” he said, shivering and weak. “But cocaine helps me think. I… didn’t want to think.”
A flicker of sympathy passed over Watson’s face, there and gone before Sherlock could sneer at it. He braced himself for Watson to demand more than what he’d said, but he never did. Instead, Watson worked his way down a checklist, pausing to check Sherlock’s vitals when appropriate. Sherlock answered each of the questions in a monotone and even let Doctor Watson take his blood pressure.
When another surge of nausea bent him back over the bowl, Watson’s hand came to rest on his shoulder again. This time, Sherlock didn’t shake it off. He let it remain, Watson’s palm cupping his shoulder while Sherlock heaved and gagged and shuddered through the nausea. The touch was soothing, Watson’s compact fingers curling gently over the nape of Sherlock’s neck in a silent offer of comfort. His hand stayed there until Sherlock flushed the toilet and sat back again, and then it fell away. Sherlock felt strangely bereft without its presence.
Once the impromptu examination was finished, Sherlock’s nausea had abated enough for him to stand and wobble his way out of the washroom. Watson followed him, keeping a wary eye on Sherlock’s shaking legs. He waited for Sherlock to collapse onto the bed before scribbling something down on his notepad. “I’m going to prescribe IV fluids for you,” he said, frowning at the pen in his hand. “You’ll be severely dehydrated after that. It’ll help.”
Already sinking into the pillows, Sherlock watched him with dull eyes. With marked struggle, he asked, “Do you always pay personal visits to your new patients, Doctor Watson?”
Watson looked up from his writing, the pen halting in his hand. He looked at Sherlock for a long moment as if appraising him. Sherlock wondered if he’d been found wanting when Watson said, “Only the ones who tell me to piss off the first day I meet them.”
Despite his lassitude, Sherlock felt the corner of his mouth twitch upward in an involuntary smile. Watson smiled back in a brief flash of shared humour before turning away to pack up his kit.
When he straightened, the smile had disappeared behind a professional mask. “I’ll check in on you later today,” he said, leaving no room for disagreement.
Too weak to argue, Sherlock offered a tired nod. He settled back into the pillows, his eyes already sliding shut before the door closed. As he slipped into sleep, Sherlock dreamt of Watson's kind, dark gaze.
Chapter 3: Demons
John opens up about his past.
John didn’t talk to Sherlock for several days after their first meeting. He wasn't avoiding him: a formidable stack of paperwork and several patient releases landed on his desk and sucked up his free time. John barely found five minutes to arrange for an IV, sending one of the other doctors to conduct a full physical and complete the intake. Once he finished for the day, John went by Sherlock’s room to find him passed out cold. He’d looked pale and deflated in sleep, the only sign of life his chest rising with the force of his laboured breathing. Accepting that this was as good as it got for the moment, John had checked the IV before heading home to eat and collapse into his own bed.
The next few days continued in the same vein. John left his office late, barely remembering to feed himself before passing out until his alarm woke him the following day. By the time John could see the end of the paperwork, it was halfway through Friday. He was nearly cross-eyed from four straight days of staring at seemingly endless sheets covered in barely legible handwriting.
Sitting back from the desk, John pressed his palms over his eyes and breathed out a loud sigh. His body ached, his bad shoulder snarling from hours spent hunched over papers. He didn’t usually have so much paperwork at once, but several of his patients had been transferred to other specialists or discharged over a matter of consecutive days, one after the other. There were numerous forms to fill out, all within twenty-four hours of those discharged residents passing through Doyle House’s doors. John’s hand was cramped from typing, his wrist throbbing from repeated motion. Shaking it loose, he cast a critical eye over his desk and saw more than one abandoned mug of tea that had long since gone cold.
John stretched his arms over his head. His body felt tight as a spring, tense and desperate for exercise. He hadn’t ridden Silver Blaze since the day Sherlock Holmes came to Doyle House, barely leaving the office and managing no more than one short jog and a brief swim. That was two days ago, and John ached to leave the office. It felt small and stuffy, as if his mind had decided he couldn’t spend one more minute inside it without going mad. His shirt was stuck to his back with sweat, and a swim sounded heavenly. A quick glance at his watch said it was half an hour past his lunch break. He’d nearly missed it entirely, too caught up in his work to attend to the needs of his body. His stomach growled, its angry cramping reminding John he’d had nothing but a handful of grapes for breakfast and half a cup of coffee, the latter burning in his empty belly. John huffed at himself with annoyance. Some doctor he was, neglecting himself like this. He’d never get his patients to listen to his advice if he couldn’t even follow it himself.
He pushed out of the chair and rose, trying to work the kinks from his neck with massaging fingers. If a swim didn’t help, John would have to see Theo, Doyle House’s resident physiotherapist. John still saw him for semi-regular monthly sessions to keep his shoulder loose, and he was long overdue.
Gathering his papers into a neat pile, setting more than half in his out-bin, John took stock of himself. Food first, then maybe a quick dip in the lake before he tracked Theo down to see if he had any room in his schedule for a half-hour session next week. Given that John had just signed off on the discharges of three patients, an opening seemed likely.
Maybe a massage too, he thought wistfully, rolling his stiff shoulders and wincing when the motion tugged at old scar tissue.
He was pulling on his coat and reaching for his bag when someone knocked on the door. John paused with one arm already stuffed into a sleeve. “Who is it?” he called, hoping it would be something brief.
“It’s me, Doctor Watson,” came the clipped reply in a familiar voice.
Noting the stiff tone, John frowned. “Doctor Kimathi?” He shrugged off his jacket with a sigh. It sounded like both lunch and his swim would have to wait. Crossing the room, John opened the door to reveal a tall woman with dark eyes and pursed lips. “What can I do for you?”
“I need to talk to you about one of your patients.” Kimathi nodded her thanks when John stepped aside and waved her into the office. She stayed standing on the opposite side of his desk as John moved around it to drop back into the chair he’d only just vacated. It didn’t feel good, and he repressed the urge to grimace as his shirt clung to the dried sweat on his back. God, the day was far too stuffy to spend stuck inside.
“Oh?” John forced a curious expression onto his face. He was tired, hot and hungry, but he liked Kimathi, and she deserved his full attention. “Which patient?” His impending escape now seemed very unlikely if the hard line of Kimathi’s jaw was anything to go by.
The head therapist at Doyle House, Anisa Kimathi oversaw the other therapists and counsellors on staff. She was a tall woman, with thick, black hair that she wore in elaborate braids gathered at the back of her head in a coil. Her dark skin was a rich, tawny brown, her sharp eyes darker still. She’d been with Doyle House longer than John by two years and had a background in the Royal Marines. Just like John, a military injury — an IED that had taken her left leg from mid-thigh down — ended her army career. Now, Anisa was a trauma therapist, taking on Doyle House’s most intensive mental health cases.
John liked her. She was a kind, honest woman who always got right to the point. If she’d come to see him about one of his clients, then there was a real problem. Anisa wasn’t the kind to make mountains out of molehills.
“Sherlock Holmes,” she said, and John winced. That was what he’d feared. One of Anisa’s eyebrows rose. “You don’t seem surprised by that.”
Slumping back in his seat, John sighed. “I’ve only really spoken with him once, but he struck me as someone who might have a difficult time settling in.” He sat upright again. “What’s he done?”
“Well… Hold on.” Anisa propped her right hip against his desk, frowning at her left leg as the prosthetic limb she wore beneath her jeans made a clicking sound. “Damn thing keeps doing that,” she muttered, shaking her head before turning her focus back to John. “He made one of my therapists cry.”
John grimaced. “Which one?” he asked, already knowing who it was before Anisa confirmed his suspicions.
“Marie,” she said, offering a thin smile at John’s resigned expression. “According to her — and everyone else in the group session — Holmes revealed several very personal secrets about her. Including the recent loss of her mother.” Anisa’s eyes flashed. “He then told Marie that she’d be better off as a child-minder.”
John groaned in dismay. “He said all that in a group session?”
“Yep,” Anisa replied sourly. “Marie was horrified, as you can no doubt imagine.”
“I can,” John muttered. Sighing, he rubbed a tired hand over his face before looking up at her. “What do you want me to do?”
Anisa shrugged. “He’s first and foremost your patient, Doctor Watson. You did the intake. Maybe you can talk to him. Convince him to behave.”
John let out a soft scoff. “From what I know of him, I doubt anyone can convince Sherlock Holmes to do anything he doesn’t want to.”
“On the contrary,” Anisa said, her eyebrow rising again, “I think Mister Holmes is a very reasonable man. I’m sure he will understand the issue. Convincing him to actually soften his tongue, well…” She offered a wolfish smile that told John she thought that might not be so easy.
Despite his efforts to keep it in, a startled little laugh escaped John. Anisa was always direct. That was part of why he liked her so much. She said what needed to be said, and she didn’t bother softening the blow or mincing her words. “And why do you think he’ll listen to me?”
Anisa pushed off from his desk with a cheeky wink. “You can be very convincing when you want to be, John, I’m sure.” Her prosthetic clicked, and she scowled down at it, the expression slowly clearing when she looked at John again. “You’ve been successful with some of our most difficult patients. I don’t see why Mister Holmes will be any different.”
Sighing, John nodded. She had him there. Some of the other doctors had taken to calling him the 'arsehole whisperer,' which wasn't nearly as great a compliment as they seemed to think. “Yeah, alright. I’ll see what I can do.” John glanced at the paperwork remaining on his desk, his earlier visions of a swim already fading away. “I’ve got some time now. I’ll see if he’s available.”
“Oh, he is,” Anisa said, already halfway to the door. “He said he wouldn’t be participating in any more therapy sessions until we all learned how to use more than half our brains.” She rolled her eyes and grinned at John’s despairing groan. “Good luck, Doctor Watson. I think you’re going to need it with this one.”
Sherlock was furious. Worse, he was insulted. He’d sat through fifteen minutes of the pathetic drivel they called ‘addiction group therapy’ before his brain started to devour itself. When it became too much to hold back, Sherlock had unleashed a flood of pent-up vitriol. It had spilled out of him like acid, fed by the fury he’d had to swallow because he couldn’t throw it where he wanted — namely, at Mycroft. His outburst reduced the therapist to tears, earning Sherlock a few stunned stares and creating new enemies in the other group members before he stormed out. He’d fled back to his room, almost getting lost in the large estate, too distracted by his lingering anger to pay attention to his surroundings.
Now Sherlock sat on the window seat in his room, scowling down at the lawn below. A lit cigarette balanced between his fingers, he smoked like a chimney, relishing one of the last vices left to him. Though some inane list of rules said smoking inside was prohibited, Sherlock chose to ignore that. He was quitting opiates cold turkey, surely he couldn’t be expected to follow rules. Still, Sherlock took care to exhale each lungful of smoke out the cracked-open window, watching the grey haze swirl away into the air.
He’d shucked off his clothes upon returning to the room and pulled on one of his silk robes. Now, Sherlock tugged the soft folds tighter around him and sank into a dark sulk. The material felt luscious against his skin, one of the few luxuries he still possessed. It made Sherlock wish for those first days at the manor, back before he’d been forced into a scheduled routine. He missed when his free time had been his own, and he wasn’t required to attend inane group sessions. He longed for days where he wasn’t forced to listen to the pathetic drivel from people with problems that Sherlock had no interest in hearing.
Sherlock pulled his legs up to his chest and hugged them close. He scowled out the window, trying to ignore the flicker of guilt rising as his anger faded. It didn’t work, the guilt growing into something solid and bitter-tasting. Once, Sherlock wouldn’t have cared that he'd made someone cry, even if that person was attempting to help him, and especially if that help wasn’t wanted. But after two years spent alone, suffering to regain his freedom from Moriarty’s influence, Sherlock wasn’t the same man. He felt terrible about his behaviour. Misplaced attempt or not, the woman had been trying to help him. But she’d asked him to open up in front of complete strangers, to bare his soul before unfamiliar faces, and Sherlock had refused. When she’d pressed, he’d responded the only way he knew how: by lashing out. The approach had always worked for him before, forcing people to leave him in peace. And it had worked in a way, though not exactly how Sherlock intended. He’d thought Doctor Smith would simply drop the topic and move on, but she’d burst into tears instead, and Sherlock had immediately become the bad guy.
Sighing, Sherlock pressed his cheek to the window and closed his eyes. He was the bad guy and always had been. It didn’t matter that his techniques wouldn’t work here or that he’d be trapped at Doyle House whether he was kind or cruel. He didn’t know how to change — Sherlock didn’t know how to do things any differently.
He was stuck.
A knock at the door made Sherlock start and open his eyes. Rolling his forehead against the window, he frowned. If he ignored whoever it was, maybe they would take the hint and go away.
Another knock. Or maybe they would persist.
Sherlock clenched his jaw and waited. But the intruder didn’t leave. Hearing the tell-tale jingle of keys, Sherlock stood with a sigh. Stabbing out his cigarette and flicking the butt out the window, he brushed ash off his hands with a scowl. He swept his robe tighter around his long, lean form and marched to the door. When he pulled it open to reveal the knocker — a man — Sherlock snapped, “What the hell do you want?”
The man paused, keys jingling in his hand, and looked up, caught in the act.
Sherlock blinked. “Doctor Watson,” he said, startled by the familiar face. Sherlock hadn’t seen the doctor since that ill-fated moment four days ago when his withdrawal had kept him bent helplessly over the toilet bowl. He swallowed and straightened, tugging the robe about him like a shield. “I wasn’t expecting anyone.” Sherlock eyed the keys. “Breaking in again, are you?”
Watson tucked the keys away. “I knocked, but you didn’t answer.” He sounded unapologetic. “And it is hardly breaking in if I’ve got the key.” Watson tapped his pocket, making the metal jingle inside. “May I come in?”
A sigh escaped Sherlock’s pursed lips. “Doesn’t seem like I could keep you out even if I wanted to,” he said, stepping aside and sweeping his arm toward the room. “By all means, please, do come in.” The words dripped with sarcasm.
Watson’s thin lips curved upward in a wry smile. “If you’d just answer your door when I knocked, I wouldn’t have to let myself in every time.”
“Whoever said privacy was a thing of the past has clearly never met you,” Sherlock said dryly. Back pressed to the door, he watched Watson move to the window and peer outside.
“Nice view,” he commented. Still facing the window, he added, “It smells like cigarettes in here.”
Sherlock rolled his eyes and chose to ignore the mild scold, focusing instead on Watson’s first comment. “Yes, the best part of my enforced captivity is having all this greenery to stare at when I’m feeling melancholic.” Tone sharpening, he demanded, “Why are you here?”
Hands folded behind his back, Watson turned to face him. One of his eyebrows rose. “Why are you here?” he asked, turning Sherlock’s question back onto him and making Sherlock frown.
“I asked you first,” he said slowly.
“Yeah, but I think you should answer my question anyway.” Watson tilted his head. “Just humour me.” At Sherlock’s darkening expression, he added, “Please.”
Sherlock dropped onto the edge of his bed with a scowl. “Isn’t it obvious?” he snapped, alarmed to find that Watson’s seemingly simple question had put him on his back foot.
“Not really,” Watson said, taking a seat on the window bench. He looked at Sherlock with quiet expectation.
Annoyed by Watson’s steady, unflinching gaze, Sherlock gestured angrily toward the bathroom. “I’d have thought my obvious opiate withdrawal was fairly indicative of the reason for my presence here.” He spat out the words with forced venom, hoping Watson would recoil, maybe even leave.
But Watson seemed unruffled by Sherlock’s mood, sitting calmly with his hands folded in his lap. His expression was impossible to read. “Opiate addiction, yes. That’s one reason. What else?”
“Does it really matter?” Lips twisting into an angry sneer, Sherlock crossed his legs at the knees, his body one long, angry line of tensed muscle and tendon. “I don’t want to be here at all.” His hands dug into the bedcovers, unkempt, bitten nails catching in the fabric. “My brother forced me to come. I’m here against my will. If I had my way, I’d already be long gone.”
Watson leaned back against the window. “Why’s that?” he asked, his unwavering gaze moving slowly over Sherlock’s face.
“I—” Sherlock began, then faltered and grimaced. “I just said that I don’t want to be here.”
“Because I don’t need to be here,” Sherlock snapped, his anger getting the better of him as he surged to his feet. “I beat my addiction before and I can do it again — and I don’t need the help of some snivelling woman who can’t handle hearing the truth about her pitiful life!” Every muscle in his body burned with fury, Sherlock’s hands shaking from the force of his ire as he spewed venom and fire. “I’d rather be anywhere but here.” Chest heaving with the force of his distress, Sherlock waited for a response that didn’t come.
Perfectly still, Watson sat with that same calm. “You’re avoiding the question,” he finally pointed out with infuriating patience.
Sherlock’s eyes darted away. Watson’s composed demeanour was too much for him to stand, riled up as he was. In this furious state, Sherlock wanted to destroy. He wanted to rage and wreck and ruin. Doctor Watson, with all his steadfast composure, was fast becoming the eye of Sherlock’s storm. He was too stable, and that made Sherlock feel unbalanced.
“I want to go home,” he said, furious at how pitiful his voice sounded, even to his own ears.
Watson’s expression didn’t change, but something flickered in his eyes. Their deep blue depths softened, reminding Sherlock of the quiet care with which Watson had treated him when Sherlock was in the throes of his withdrawal. He’d never shown an ounce of judgement, something Sherlock couldn’t remember receiving from most who’d seen him at his worst.
“Where is home, Sherlock?”
Sherlock startled briefly at the sound of his first name before regaining his composure. Schooling his face into a blank expression, he admitted, “I… don’t know. But it’s not here.” It was a painful truth, pushed out through his teeth. But it was true. Sherlock didn’t know where home was anymore. So much had changed — too much — and he felt adrift. Untethered…
That softening in Watson’s gaze deepened. Sherlock glared at him.
“I read your file,” Watson said, making Sherlock sneer at the obviousness of the statement. Holding up his hand, the doctor added, “Please, let me finish. Will you hear me out?”
Though he wanted to refuse, Sherlock nodded stiffly. It wasn’t like it mattered; nothing Watson had to say would change Sherlock’s mind about his situation.
“Thank you.” Doctor Watson smiled when Sherlock dropped back onto the edge of the bed with a huff. “I’ve read your file,” he repeated, folding his hands back in his lap again. “And while I don’t know the exact details of what you went through before arriving here, I know it’s not something to be taken lightly.” Watson’s eyes flickered over Sherlock’s body before returning to his face. As if responding to the brief attention, Sherlock’s wounds began to sting, working their way toward a deep, aching burn.
He closed his eyes and breathed shakily out through his mouth as Doctor Watson went on.
“You've endured things that have broken countless others, Sherlock,” he said gently. “The simple fact that you survived tells me you’re strong. It tells me you’re resilient — tells me you don’t want to give up on yourself.”
The words were like weapons, cutting deep and making Sherlock wince. He kept his eyes closed, his lips pressed into a thin, hard line as he struggled to hear Watson through the thunderous noise of his own pulse, the rushing sound filling his ears.
“Many of those who come here have been through awful things. They’ve survived traumas and terrors that we can’t even imagine. They come here for help, and there’s no shame in that. Needing help doesn’t make you weak, and it doesn’t make you any less of a man.” Watson’s voice turned terse and strained, taking on an odd note that made Sherlock open his eyes to look closer at him. Watson’s face was stiff with tension, something shadowed flickering through his eyes.
Sherlock found his gaze drawn to the uneven tilt of Watson’s shoulders. When he’d first noticed the irregularity, he’d been in no shape to make sense of the information or pursue the half-formed deduction. With his mind clear and the worst of his withdrawal past, Sherlock saw what he’d missed.
“You speak from experience,” he said slowly, the pieces starting to click together. Sherlock realized he wasn’t the only one in the room who had gone through some awful, traumatic experience in his past. Watson clearly had demons of his own.
Watson nodded, his hands folded into a tight knot in his lap. “Yes, I do,” he agreed, the corners of his mouth tugged downward by a frown. “I came to Doyle House as a broken man, Sherlock.” Catching Sherlock’s immediate bristle, Watson held up a placating hand. “No, I’m not calling you broken. I’m saying that I was. At the time, I was too proud to admit it. But I was horribly low and sinking deeper every day.” Watson grimaced at himself. “People say that you have to hit rock bottom before you can start clawing your way back upward, but I’d already hit my rock bottom months before and was still falling fast.” He looked away, brows drawing together before his expression cleared with effort, and he looked at Sherlock again. “Asking for help isn’t easy,” Watson said in a raw voice. “And accepting it is even harder. But without it, you’ll never find your way back out. You’ll sink and sink until you can’t see the light anymore, and then that darkness will consume you.” Holding Sherlock’s gaze, Watson took a deep breath. “Don’t let it consume you, Sherlock. You still have more to give.”
Stunned by Watson’s earnest words, Sherlock could only sit and stare at him until, eventually, Watson stood.
“Anyway,” Watson said, clearing his throat, suddenly gruff, “I just wanted to say that.” He clapped his hands to his thighs and offered a strained smile. Watson looked exhausted as if his little sermon had taken something out of him. Sherlock thought it must have. “I think you’ve got some work to do.”
Finally finding his voice, Sherlock croaked, “What if I don’t know how?” The question surprised them both, making Sherlock wish, far too late, that he could take it back.
The corner of Watson’s mouth twitched upward in a humourless expression. “Stop making the therapists cry,” he said, only half-joking. “Start there, and the rest will follow.” With that, he nodded and crossed the room, disappearing out into the hall and closing the door behind him.
Left alone in the room, Sherlock stared at the closed door. He was reeling from Watson’s unexpected visit, not sure how to process what had been said. As he sat and tried to make sense of their conversation, Watson’s words washed over him, echoing inside his head.
You’ll sink and sink until you can’t see the light anymore, and then that darkness will consume you. Don’t let it consume you, Sherlock. You still have more to give.
Did he have more to give? Sherlock felt he’d already given everything he had and more. He'd run dry long before Mycroft found him, ragged and hurting, deep in Serbia. It seemed impossible to think that Sherlock might have more left to him when he felt so wrung out, so lacking. But it seemed Watson had once felt the same, and here he was, successful and almost whole again. Maybe it wasn’t so irrational to think that Sherlock could achieve the same.
Returning to the bench seat, trying to ignore the lingering warmth from Watson’s body, Sherlock looked out over the yard and pondered Watson’s words.
Chapter 4: Even Footing
Sherlock and John meet in an unexpected place.
John left Sherlock’s room in a daze, his heart pounding, his mind racing back over their conversation. He made it to his office on muscle memory alone, too distracted to notice if he’d passed anyone on the way. He thought he'd encountered Sam and only dimly recalled them shooting him a confused look before waving him on with an understanding expression on their face.
Sequestered within familiar territory, John pressed his shoulders against the closed door. The wood was a solid, steadying presence, grounding his body while his thoughts fell into a tumultuous tumble. Eyes closed, John felt his heart hammering in his chest, his breath coming too fast. He recognized the oncoming storm of a panic attack and knew he had to get ahead of it. He started taking deep breaths, striving to settle his nerves. Gradually, he diverted the misplaced adrenaline rush before it could snowball and drag him down into an avalanche of overstimulation.
John’s hands shook, but his breathing had evened out and the tremours were the worst of it, mind and lungs relaxed enough for clarity to return. Seizing on the calm, John crossed the room and looked out the window behind his desk. Staring out at a stretch of manicured, bright green lawn rolling away from the manor, John mulled over the things he’d said to Sherlock. He frowned at himself. He’d gone to Sherlock’s room to call Sherlock to task. He’d planned to stand in the doorway and tell Doyle House’s newest resident that his rude behaviour could not continue. Instead, John had poured out bits of his soul to Sherlock Holmes, who was not only a stranger but a patient. His patient, one who still needed a completed initial intake before John could hand the case off to someone more permanent. That was the usual process. John handled the initial intake, assessing medical needs before assigning patients to a doctor with more time for the case. Though John had sent someone to complete Sherlock’s initial intake, he had yet to go over the results and make his own notes, his own assessments. And now John had gone to Sherlock’s room, spilling out the deepest parts of himself.
For a man who usually played his cards close to his chest, John felt unbalanced by his own verbosity.
Turning his back on the window, John dropped into his desk chair. He tilted forward, sighed, and dropped his head down to meet the desk with a dull thud. Why? Why had he told Sherlock such personal things about himself? What had loosened John’s tongue enough to say what he had? What had spurred him into offering platitudes and pieces of himself to someone who didn’t need or likely even want to hear about John’s trauma? Never mind the fact Sherlock had more than enough unprocessed trauma of his own.
It was an embarrassing and grave break in protocol, a lapse in the professional distance John strived to maintain between himself and those he worked with. He’d broken his own strict code of conduct.
Why had he done it?
Lifting his head off the desk, John dropped his face into his hands. The truth was he didn’t know why. He didn’t have the answers to his own questions. All John knew was he found Sherlock Holmes interesting. John felt drawn to him, tugged by a pull that seemed magnetic in its force. Something about Sherlock, be it the sharp eyes that saw too much or his blade-edged personality, made John want to spill out his secrets. Not all of them, just enough to inspire some of John’s own tenacious grip on life in the difficult patient.
But good intentions or not, the fact remained that John had divulged truths to Sherlock — to a stranger — which he usually kept to himself. He’d told Sherlock things he’d struggled to tell even his own therapists. When he’d been at his worst, John had still fought to keep his walls up. They’d stood tall right until the moment Sherlock Holmes came into his life like a whirlwind and blew those walls down.
Good God, he’d told Sherlock that he’d once been a broken man. And while that was true, John hadn’t said that to another soul before. He’d barely admitted it to himself, not even when he stared at his reflection on his darkest days. John couldn’t make sense of what had pushed him into telling Sherlock Holmes something he’d still struggled to acknowledge. It was true that he’d been broken in the past, but John had made a kind of peace with it. That didn’t mean it needed to be said aloud. Certainly not to Sherlock Holmes of all people.
John scrubbed his hands over his face and sat back, the chair dipping and creaking beneath him. It was too late to take back the things he’d said — John couldn’t very well recall the words now they’d been spoken. It was over and done with. John would have to lie in his bed now that he’d made it. Still, he couldn’t stop thinking about how Sherlock hadn’t displayed even a flicker of judgement in the wake of John’s confession. He’d appeared startled, maybe even taken aback by John’s vehemence. But not judgemental. There had been something else in Sherlock’s expression. A thoughtful gleam in his pale eyes that made John think his words might have resonated more than he’d anticipated. Like maybe he understood.
Regardless, it wouldn’t do John any good to dwell — he needed to move forward. With any luck, Sherlock would dismiss his outburst as some strange character quirk or, even better, perhaps take the words at face value. Either way, Sherlock’s response was out of John’s hands.
Palms landing on the desk, eyes burning with both emotional and physical exhaustion, John glowered at the pile of paperwork sitting unfinished before him. Though smaller than it had been, that pile was still daunting.
John sighed, resigned to finishing it. He grabbed his bag, stomach burning with hunger as he rose. Once he ate and finished his work, John knew it would be too late and chilly for a swim. A short walk around the grounds while he ate his lunch would have to be enough for today. It helped, having a plan. And though he’d looked forward to that swim, tomorrow seemed more promising. John knew he had one consultation in the morning, followed by several free hours until he had to resume his duties. His shoulder might be too stiff for a ride, but a swim would do him good.
Already, the promise of proper exercise and time spent in nature buoyed John’s flagging mood. Though Doyle House boasted an immaculately maintained on-site pool for its clientele, John preferred the lake on the property. It was out of sight of the manor and barely large enough to really be called a lake, but it was a blessing in disguise to John. The cool, murky waters promised solitude. At this time of year, John was the only one who ever used it as anything more than a sight-seeing spot or the occasional fishing hole. Swimming in the lake always helped clear his head when it was too loud, too full, and he looked forward to the possibility of regaining his lost clarity. Right now, his head felt full enough to burst, and John looked forward to the chance to soothe it with calm, cold waters.
He locked up his office and went to rustle up something to eat from the downstairs lunchroom. Already, he felt the weight of his confusing and intense interaction with Sherlock Holmes sliding from his shoulders, John’s mood lightening as he looked forward.
Doctor Watson’s words haunted Sherlock’s sleep, creeping into his waking hours when he rose the next day. He couldn’t get their conversation out of his head, no matter how hard he tried not to dwell on it.
As Sherlock brushed his teeth and showered and dressed, he recalled the interaction. Watson’s dark eyes, intent and almost pleading, his hard, honest face turned tense by emotion. His voice, imploring Sherlock, a complete stranger, not to give up on himself. It proved to be the worst kind of distraction. The only upside was Sherlock’s new obsession helped drown out the craving that had worked its way beneath his skin since the worst of his withdrawal symptoms eased.
He slept poorly, both because of that craving and the nightmares that followed him down into sleep. They plagued him ceaselessly now and had ever since Serbia. The terror that he woke from that morning was like all the ones that came before it — flashes of remembered pain. Jagged, discordant bursts of colour sent Sherlock shooting upright in bed with a shout caught in his throat, choked by fear, his skin dampened by sweat.
As he sat and struggled to breathe through the tension in his body, as the nightmare slowly dissipated, Watson's words had returned to him. Sherlock couldn’t seem to clear the man from his head. Mind Palace Watson distracted him as he went throughout his day, Sherlock’s thoughts wandering even during his daily therapy session. This wasn't with the crying woman, but someone new, who Sherlock largely ignored as he mulled over Watson’s words.
Sherlock started, jerking upright. He blinked, focusing on the man seated across from him. Older than Sherlock, he wore his greying reddish-brown hair slicked back from a freckled face in thick, styled waves. He watched Sherlock with an intent expression, and Sherlock frowned as he tried to remember the man’s name. Doctor… Hark? Harris? Harkness? Those were all close but not quite right.
Sherlock cleared his throat and fixed a strained smile on his lips. “Sorry, what?”
“It seems you disappeared for a moment there.” Doctor Har-something studied Sherlock closely. “Tell me, where did you go just now?”
The question was clearly a prompt, one Sherlock bared his teeth at, refusing to be led where he didn’t wish to go. “Nowhere,” he snapped, peevish and immediately on the defensive. He hadn’t meant to let his attention wander and hated that he’d given the annoying man an in.
Har-something refused to acknowledge the outburst. “Sherlock,” he sighed, “in order for me to sign off on you attending these sessions, you need to make an actual effort to remain present.”
“I’m sitting right here, aren’t I?” Sherlock’s upper lip curled back. Doctor Harken — that was it, Sherlock recalled, his name was Harken — breathed out another sigh.
“The only way this works,” Harken began slowly, settling back in his chair and crossing his legs, “is if you agree to work with me, Sherlock. If you insist on fighting me at every turn, neither of us will get anywhere.”
“That’s fine by me.” Sherlock felt petulant, raring for a fight. He didn’t know why he was suddenly feeling so combative, just that he was. Maybe it was the craving. The second his withdrawal began to dwindle, the hunger had sunk in. A sick, throbbing ache for the drugs that filled his every waking moment, even following him into sleep, tainting his dreams with craving and want. It hadn’t left him for so much as a second, lingering as a constant reminder of why Sherlock was here at Doyle House. The sensation, prickling and heavy, spread through his body like a rash and remained. Even now, Sherlock resisted the urge to itch, telling himself he was beyond the demands of his transport. He failed, his will straining then buckling as his nails scored a long, red line down the inside of his forearm.
Doctor Harken’s eyes tracked the movement, his brows drawing together in a pensive frown. It was clear he knew exactly what the scratching meant, and Sherlock hated him for that knowledge.
Blast it all, he thought. Sherlock slouched, sinking deeper into his chair and glowering across at the therapist, daring him to call attention to the gesture.
Harken, the poor man, took the bait. “Have you felt the urge to use since you came to Doyle House?”
Frustration burned in Sherlock’s body. It sent fire searing through his veins, flaring into a quick and fierce fury. “What do you think?” he snarled, digging his nails into the chair to keep from pressing them into his own skin instead. The fabric buckled beneath his grip, loose threads clinging to his nails, bitten to the quick. “I fail to see how that is any of your business.”
“It very much is my business,” Harken rebuked him, unbothered by the venom dripping from Sherlock’s lips.
His admonishing tone only made Sherlock seethe harder, his anger dancing like a wild flame in his stomach. Harken sat across from him, perfectly calm and entirely hateful. His unperturbed expression made Sherlock want to claw at the man’s skin until his arms resembled the red-raked appearance of Sherlock’s own.
Everyone in this blasted house was far too calm for Sherlock’s liking. He ached for a proper shouting match, for someone to meet him on even ground and call him out. So far, Doctor Watson had been the only person to stand up to Sherlock without backing down. Better, he’d found something close to even footing with him, something no one else had yet achieved. Sherlock’s first therapist had cried when he'd ripped into her with words and venom. The doctor who brought Sherlock his IV had fled from Sherlock’s room the second he was able. Harken was quickly proving himself useless, obtuse, and utterly moronic.
Only Watson had stood against Sherlock’s storm and emerged unscathed.
His growing desire for confrontation solidified into something visceral, making Sherlock’s hands clench into fists against the arms of the chair. Sitting and glowering at the man across from him, refusing to say anything more, Sherlock held his ground.
Oddly, Harken seemed to take his silence as a surrender. “If you don’t open up to me, I cannot help you,” he said, taking in Sherlock’s stiff posture and clenched jaw with pursed lips. “If you could at least try to work with me—”
“You are not entitled to my personal experiences or short fallings,” Sherlock said with ice in his voice, cutting off the man’s self-righteous words.
Harken’s mouth pulled to the side in a grimace. “Sherlock,” he began, only for Sherlock to interrupt him again, his eyes narrowed and blazing.
“You may call me Mister Holmes or nothing at all.” Standing with a wince for his aching joints, Sherlock snatched his coat from the back of the chair. “Not that it matters since I’m leaving.”
“Sher — Mister Holmes,” Harken said, protesting as he got to his feet as well, “I must insist that you stay. The session is not yet finished.”
Ignoring the order, Sherlock shoved his arms through the sleeves of his jacket with too much force. The seams creaked, and he forced himself to calm. “Well, I am,” he snapped. “And if you try to keep me here, I will see to it that you regret it.” Sherlock whirled on the therapist, his eyes wide, his lips pulled back in a vicious sneer. “Do not test me, Doctor. You’ll find that I’m not someone you want to have as an enemy.”
Leaving Harken looking frustrated and angry, Sherlock stormed out of the room. His legs carried him through the manor, his movements directionless, aimless. Sherlock had no concrete idea of where he was going, only that he needed to escape. His wayward fleeing took him through a side door and out onto the property.
The day was cold, the morning’s chill still hanging in the air though most of the mist had already burned off. But the sunlight was pale, and Sherlock was grateful for the warmth of his Belstaff as he walked across grass still glimmering with dew. The damp ground darkened the leather of his black Oxfords, chilling his feet, the shoes far from ideal for his impromptu nature walk. Sherlock’s slightly rumpled white dress shirt and dark trousers were even less up to the task for the pace he struck, but Sherlock refused to slow. He instead stomped across the grass, slipping twice in the wet, and refused to look back.
He found a faint path, an easily missed indentation in the vegetation that spoke of frequent trips made by someone other than himself. Hands stuffed deep into his pockets, shoulders hunched against the brisk nip in the air, Sherlock followed it away from the manor. Keeping his head down, his eyes on the ground, he walked without really seeing the terrain beneath his feet. He saw flickers of green and brown and ragged colours of nature that occupied his outward focus while his mind wandered.
His thoughts skipped back to the manor, to the room he’d fled from with anger on his tongue. While he’d hidden his vulnerability behind a wall of self-righteous outrage, Sherlock knew his fury stemmed from the fact that Harken hadn’t been far from the truth. He’d seen right through Sherlock, seen past the facade Sherlock thought he managed so well. With one ill-timed scratch of nails down his arm, Sherlock had betrayed himself to someone who was just waiting for him to do exactly that. Sherlock knew that was Harken’s job, that much of his career was spent seeing through the masks of addicts. It was his professional right to do so, but Sherlock still balked at condoning it. Opening up, letting himself become vulnerable to a stranger, was impossible. After all he’d been through, what he’d survived, Sherlock still thought he would rather peel the skin from his bones than admit any weakness to a man like Harken.
Yes, he wanted to use. Of course Sherlock felt the urge to backslide. He was hurting, both physically and deep down, in whatever stood for a soul in a man like Sherlock Holmes. He was aching, and the only thing that had ever put a stop to his hurt had been sweated, puked, and shivered out of his system only several days prior. That very escape had brought him to this place, forced into accepting unwanted help by an overbearing older brother with a penchant for familial manipulation. That hurt the most, knowing he had no one to turn to and no one to blame but himself for ending up here. As much as Sherlock liked to place that responsibility on his brother, it was Sherlock who had ended up captured in Serbia. Sherlock, who had picked up that first needle and stuck it in his arm, despite the voice in his head telling him it would bring nothing but more darkness.
It was harder still, with the pale sun beating down on him, to admit these truths to himself.
Stumbling over the slick grass, aimlessly following the faint sound of water, Sherlock felt lost. Not physically — though he had no idea where he was going — but metaphorically. Mentally, emotionally, Sherlock was lost. He was lost in the world, lost within himself, something missing, missing, lost.
The worst of it was Sherlock knew he needed help, but he had no idea how to get it. He didn’t know how to let himself ask for it or even what words to use. It felt like starting a test only to discover that he was woefully unprepared, lacking answers. It was like trying to solve a case without the facts and with his mind split into segments, his focus lost, lost, swirling, impossible.
Sherlock pushed through a briar bush, ignoring the prickles that bit at his exposed hands and caught in the wool of his coat. Blood welled on his arm from the mark of a thorn, and, wincing, Sherlock fought his way past the brambles. He wasn’t going anywhere with purpose, but he was going there whether the bush wanted him to or not.
His struggles brought him into a clearing, Sherlock’s shoes sliding in the soft clay underfoot, forced to catch his balance on a tree. He smelled the musky aroma of standing water, of reeds and damp, rotting vegetation. The scents sat thick and heady in his nostrils.
Lifting his head, Sherlock held up a hand to shade his eyes from the sun, gleaming off the dark waters of a small lake. He studied the light rippling over the surface, swatting absently at a mosquito that buzzed too close to his face. With one hand still raised and half waving, Sherlock stilled, frozen in place as he looked across the lake.
There, wading up to his waist in the sun-dappled water, was Doctor Watson.
Chapter 5: Shake on It
John convinces Sherlock to strike a deal with him.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
John sucked a sharp breath through his teeth as he waded into cold, biting water. He went in slowly, letting his body adjust, his skin burning from the chill until it went numb. As the feeling slipped away from his fingers and toes, the water became almost pleasant, lapping gently at his waist. Sinking into the water was always borderline torture until his body adjusted, but that brief, icy bite made John feel more alive than he felt most of the time. He welcomed the sting with greedy delight.
He eased further from shore, his bare feet sinking into the soft and giving silt of the reedy lakebed. Shivering, he rubbed at his forearms as goosebumps rippled over his skin, clenching his jaw to keep his teeth from chattering. Hands chafing vigorously along his arms and up to his shoulders, John took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and dove. Sound faded away, muffled to nothing more than vibrations as the water closed over his head. For one cloudy, silt-filled moment, John was blinded. Senses dulled, his awareness of the world disappeared as the cold water surrounded him. It enfolded him, and John sank, toes digging into thick sediment. Counting out the seconds in his head, he let the cold water draw the tension from his stiff muscles as a trail of bubbles escaped his mouth. Just as his lungs began to burn for air, John pushed off the bottom with a powerful kick and shot upward.
The lake wasn’t particularly deep, even at its centre, and his head broke the surface seconds later with a gasp. Pushing soaking strands of hair back from his face, wiping away the water spilling down his cheeks, John blinked his eyes clear. Water droplets clung to his eyelashes as he dog-paddled out toward the middle of the lake. The lakebed fell away beneath his feet, and John floated, his arms moving in gentle, circular motions as he treaded water. The initial chill had long since faded, giving way to a blessedly numb sensation that hummed throughout his body.
Head tilted back, weak sun on his face, John relished the feeling. He dunked twice more before popping back to the surface a final time. Shoulders still underwater, he paused. Though his surroundings were nearly silent, John felt the prickling sensation of eyes on him. Some sixth sense, rippling over his skin like wary fingers, told him he was no longer alone. Frowning, John kicked his legs, twisting in the water to look toward the far bank. His frown deepened as John confirmed what he’d suspected.
Standing on the far bank with an uncertain expression on his pale face was Sherlock Holmes.
John treaded water, waiting to see what Holmes would do now that his observation had been noted. Would he call out or wave? It was obvious that Holmes saw him — how could he not with John splashing around? — but he made no acknowledgment of John's gaze. He simply stood on the far bank with his hands shoved into his pockets, and his eyes fixed on John.
Sherlock still didn’t speak up, call out or leave, and John realized he had to make first contact. He turned and swam back to the shore with a sigh. Wading out with water cascading down his bare skin, over the soaked swim trunks he wore, John reached for his towel. He ruffled it over his hair and tucked it around his waist before turning to face his audience of one. “Well?” he called without having to raise his voice, words carrying clearly over the water separating them, “are you coming over or not?” Even with the small lake between them, John saw the subtle widening of Sherlock’s eyes. He couldn’t make out their colour, far away as he was, but he had a feeling they would be sharp enough to appear almost silver.
After a noticeable hesitation, Sherlock began to pick his way around the bank. He slipped twice on the eroded edge, narrowly catching his balance each time. As he neared, John saw he’d guessed right about his eyes. Sherlock's silver gaze landed on him, piercing as it fixed on John’s face. His eyes shifted. They moved over John’s bare upper body, settling briefly on the starburst scar on John’s shoulder, that awful memory he carried on his skin.
John tensed minutely as Sherlock’s gaze lingered before returning to his face. Neither of them spoke. They stood that way, not speaking, until Sherlock looked away, his eyebrows drawing down in a puzzled frown. Taking his silence as an invitation, John wrapped the towel tighter about his waist and sat down on a large, flat rock. He looked up at Sherlock with a quirked eyebrow, waiting for him to speak. When he didn’t, John took a chance and asked, “Do you swim?”
Surprise flickered over Sherlock’s face. The expression was there and then gone, his features arranging themselves into a blank mask. “Not much as an adult, no,” he admitted in a monotone.
Digging his bare toes into the soft earth, John cocked his head to one side, trying to parse out Sherlock’s odd mood. “Did you swim as a kid?”
Sherlock was staring out over the lake with that same slight frown lingering on his brow. He cut a sharp figure with his pale skin and paler eyes, gleaming like mercury beneath dark eyebrows. They were enchanting, and John forced himself to focus on Sherlock’s face as, slowly, Sherlock nodded. “My family had a large property in Sussex with a nearby lake. Much larger than this one.” The frown softened briefly before it deepened again. “My brother and I frequented it often in our youth.”
“Ah.” John offered a small, encouraging smile. “That sounds nice.”
Sherlock looked startlingly severe, his lips pressed into a thin line and his profile standing sharp against the vibrant greenery ringing the lake. “I suppose it was,” he said in a low voice. “It was a long time ago.” He was quiet for a moment before squatting down on a log next to John’s rock with little care for the expensive-looking clothes he wore.
John hid his amusement as Sherlock turned to face him.
“Do you swim often?”
Looking out over the water, John shrugged. “Whenever I get a chance. Doesn’t happen as often as I’d like.” A breeze swept over the surface of the lake, bringing the water’s chill with it and playing over John’s damp skin, making him shiver. Rubbing absently at his arms, he added, “I ride far more frequently.”
“Ride?” There was a note of intrigue in Sherlock’s quiet voice.
“Yeah. Horseback.” John glanced at him. “Doyle House keeps several horses in its stables.” Stretching his arms up over his head, John grimaced as pain twinged through his aching shoulder. He rotated it carefully, trying to work out some of the stiffness. It seemed the swim — cut short by Sherlock’s appearance — hadn’t helped as much as he’d hoped. He pulled a face. “Retired race-and-show horses, mainly. They’re used for therapy sessions sometimes, but staff can take them out if they like. I live on-site and have open access so long as the schedule is free.”
“You’re not riding today,” Sherlock noted, looking at him with searching eyes.
A strained laugh accompanied John’s reply. “My shoulder hurts too much to ride today. I’ll have to see the physical therapist before I get back on a horse anytime soon.”
Sherlock’s pale eyes flickered to John’s scar before shifting away to look out over the lake again. “I see.”
Silence stretched out between them until John took a breath and forced himself to break it. “No therapy today?”
Sherlock stiffened. The reaction was immediate, his arms tensing, hands tightening together in his lap, and John didn’t think he would receive an answer. Then, breathing out a long, frustrated exhale, Sherlock said, “Yes, earlier. Well.” He grimaced. “Actually, now, technically.” His lips pursed, eyes narrowing and jaw clenched.
There was a flicker of guilt in Sherlock’s expression, making John wince with sympathy. “I take it that it didn’t go so well, huh?”
Sherlock looked surprised. Staring at John through slitted eyes, he nodded slowly. “It wasn’t great, no,” Sherlock said as if admitting some terrible sin to both of them. “I didn’t make anyone cry this time.” He looked away again, lips twitching upward with a sardonic twist. “But I may have shouted a bit and stormed off.” The self-deprecating smirk faded, and Sherlock ducked his head, eyes closing as he sighed.
“Shouted a bit,” John repeated, trying to keep the amusement out of his voice. Judging by the way Sherlock’s head rose, his eyes going wide then squinting, John failed. With a strained laugh, John shook his head. “Well, I’m glad there weren’t any tears this time.” He forced himself to grow serious. “You’re not doing yourself any favours by pushing everyone away, you know.”
A muscle spasmed in Sherlock’s clenched jaw. “I am aware,” he muttered, glaring out at the lake.
“It’s not easy, is it?”
Sherlock glanced at John from the corners of his eyes. “What?”
“Letting people help you,” John said quietly. The words came a little too close to their last conversation, but John wasn’t sure how else to approach the topic.
To his immense relief, Sherlock nodded, a flash of understanding passing over his face. “It’s…” he grimaced, forcing the words out with pronounced reluctance, “difficult.” His throat bobbed in a tense swallow. “To say the least.”
Sherlock found Watson a far more acceptable audience than either of his therapists. As they talked, and he found himself opening up to the doctor, Sherlock tried to put his finger on why. He couldn’t quite make sense of it but, the longer they talked, the more Sherlock wondered if it was because Watson didn’t seem to expect anything from him. Watson didn’t try to steer the conversation, he didn’t set traps and pitfalls for Sherlock to tumble into. Sherlock didn’t have to watch what he said. He could simply talk without worrying Watson might twist what he said. Watson didn’t demand anything from him, and he didn’t try to make Sherlock do what he wanted. Watson simply sat and listened without pressing when Sherlock didn’t want to speak. He sat bare-chested, his short hair spiky and damp from his swim, and let Sherlock be. There was no pressure, no strange and awkward professional barrier between them. It was an informal connection, allowed to flow and exist without expectation.
To the best of Sherlock’s knowledge, Watson wasn’t a therapist. He was a medical doctor, albeit a clearly over-qualified one if his shoulder injury was anything to go by. And yet, Watson sat on his rock and listened like he had nowhere else to be. Like Sherlock's rambling mattered. That humble attentiveness made Sherlock want to open up to him in a way he hadn’t experienced with any of his own specialists. No one had ever just listened to him like this, and Sherlock relished the attention. He felt a surge of gratitude for Watson’s unintrusive focus, for the man who was hardly more than a stranger seated a few feet away.
“So,” Watson said once Sherlock had settled into a more relaxed state, “what happened?”
Confused, Sherlock tilted his head toward Watson. “What?”
“The therapist. What did he try to make you do?” Watson’s lips curled upward at the corners, just enough to soften Sherlock’s automatic bristle. “More group therapy? Journaling?” His tone turned playful. “Did he ask you to stand on your head and shake the demons out?”
The side of Sherlock’s mouth twitched before he could help it. Schooling the reaction away, he said, “He asked me if I’d had the urge to use again.”
Watson nodded, sobering at once, though enough of his humour lingered to soften Sherlock's self-consciousness. “Ah,” he said, head still bobbing in his slow nod. Watson didn’t say anything else, and they both lapsed into silence again.
Listening to the lapping of the lake against the eroded banks, Sherlock began to fidget. His lips parted, spilling words without warning. “I do want to use.” Brow creased in a scowl, he pulled his knees against his chest and hugged them. Watson glanced over, eyes moving over Sherlock’s tense posture before he looked out over the lake. He didn’t say anything, and Sherlock found himself speaking, desperate to fill the silence. “All the time. I want to use all the time now.” His voice was hardly more than a breath. “It’s… frustrating.”
Sherlock caught Watson’s little head tilt from the corners of his eyes and pressed his lips together as he contemplated the question. “The craving is frustrating because I don’t want to use. And yet, at the same time, I do.” Fingers digging into his arms, Sherlock curled tighter into himself. “I can’t get the craving out of my head, and it’s distracting.”
Curiosity flared in Watson’s gaze. “Does anything help take your mind off it?”
“My violin.” Tilting his head back, Sherlock closed his eyes. “It doesn’t always help. Sometimes the craving is too strong, and I can’t find the notes. The music escapes me.” His eyelids fluttered open, granting him a view of the pale blue sky through the fan of his lowered lashes. “Sometimes, I can’t hear myself think.” Sherlock tilted his head to see Watson nodding. “Do you understand what that’s like?”
Watson offered a small smile. “I think so. Maybe.” He paused to adjust the towel around his waist. It had slipped down, revealing a glimpse of strong calf muscle and just a hint of thick thigh before both were covered again.
Caught staring, Sherlock looked away and cleared his throat before Watson could comment on his wandering eyes.
“Do you ride horseback?” Watson asked, the unexpected question startling Sherlock out of his brief distraction.
“Not since I was at Eton.”
Inspiration sparked in Watson’s expressive face. “Would you like to?”
Sherlock blinked. He considered the question. “Is that… allowed?”
Watson’s unmarked shoulder lifted in a slight shrug. “It could be. I’d have to look into it. Maybe it would help clear your head.” Rising to his feet, Watson pulled a ratty jumper out of a knapsack Sherlock hadn’t noticed before. He tugged the jumper over his arms, his hair standing out in all directions when his head popped through the neck. He would have looked comical if not for the way his mussed hair lent a rakish edge to his looks. A pair of sweatpants went on over the swim trunks, the fabric darkening as it clung to the still-damp skin of Watson’s legs. Dressed, he looked down at Sherlock. “I’ll see if I can bring you out on one of the horses, but,” Watson held up a hand, forestalling Sherlock’s urge to interrupt, “I want you to make a deal with me first.”
A flicker of suspicion made Sherlock clench his jaw. “What kind of deal?” he asked, silently vowing not to agree to anything until he knew the full terms.
As if picking up on his thoughts, Watson grinned. “If I can get you out on a horse, will you give your next therapist a chance?”
Sherlock’s expression darkened as he considered the offer. “Why would I agree to that?” he growled.
Watson’s grin widened. “Because I think I know of someone you might not hate.” He bent down to stuff his damp towel into the knapsack. Straightening, he fixed Sherlock with a speculative look. “What do you say? Do we have a deal?” Watson stuck out a hand.
Sherlock stared at it like it was something venomous that might bite him. “What do I get out of it?”
“Horseback riding,” Watson said, looking amused.
Sherlock scoffed. “That hardly seems a fair trade. If you truly expect me to put up with the idiots employed here, I want something more.”
A strange expression flickered over Watson’s face. For just a moment, he looked dazed, maybe even wistful. Then it passed, and he cocked an eyebrow. “What do you want?”
Thinking quickly, his bluff unexpectedly called out, Sherlock blurted, “Your name. I want your name.”
Both of Watson’s eyebrows rose now. “Doctor Watson,” he said slowly, looking at Sherlock like he thought he might have lost his mind. “I told you that already.”
Flustered by the misunderstanding — and his own daring — Sherlock snapped, “No, your first name. Tell me your first name.”
Inexplicably, Watson’s wide grin returned. It spread over his face, brightening it like sunlight through parted clouds. Sherlock blinked, feeling a little dazed himself. There was a mischievous gleam in Watson’s eyes that made him brace for impact. Far too late, Sherlock realized that he’d gone and shown his hand far too soon.
“No,” Watson said in cheerful refusal. Sherlock’s heart sank before Watson added, “Not until you shake my hand and tell me we have a deal.”
Eyelids lowering, Sherlock glared at him. “I see what you're doing. It's not going to work on me.”
“Isn’t it?” Watson replied, far too confident for Sherlock’s liking.
Sherlock’s glare deepened into a glower. Damn the man! Watson was proving himself to be far more observant than Sherlock had anticipated. He’d clearly seen how badly Sherlock wanted to know his name and seized upon it as an opportunity to push his deal. Letting the air rush out of his lungs in a forced, put-upon sigh, Sherlock rose to his feet with a thunderous expression. “Fine,” he said, eyeing the offered hand. “Fine, we have a deal.”
Watson wiggled his fingers, his arm still stuck out toward Sherlock. “We have to shake on it.”
A muscle began to twitch in his jaw as Sherlock reached out and stiffly shook Watson’s hand. Watson’s palm was warm against his, marked by years of work and harsh sun. Sherlock tried not to let his grip linger but, before he could let go, Watson squeezed his fingers. Caught fast, Sherlock froze, his throat working as he swallowed, watching Watson’s face closely.
“It’s John,” Watson said, grinning up at him with a mischievous light in his eyes. “My name is John.” With that, he released Sherlock’s hand and turned away. Sherlock watched him go with his hand still extended, rooted in place by shock. Just as he wondered if Watson — John — would simply walk away without another word, John called over his shoulder, “I’ll see what I can do about that horseback ride. You just make sure you don’t scare off your next therapist!” Flicking his fingers in a wave, John slipped into the trees, leaving Sherlock standing frozen next to the lake.
His fingers burned with the memory of their clasped hands.
Thank you to Karuna for pointing out that the update date hasn’t been changing on this fic - I have each chapter loaded as a draft and keep forgetting to manually change the date each time it updates. I’ll try to remember moving forward.
Also thank you everyone who has commented so far and sorry that I’m so slow with replies. I will keep working through them, but please know in the meantime just how important every comment is to me. Y’all make writing exciting for me, and I appreciate all of you 😘
Chapter 6: Fearful
Sherlock considers John's request, and John calls for reinforcements.
The deal he'd struck with Sherlock plagued John's thoughts. It had seemed like such a small thing in the moment, telling Sherlock his name in exchange for his agreement. But, as he walked back to his flat, John began to wonder if he’d made a mistake. If he’d put too much of himself out there to a stranger — and a patient. His feet dragged on the walk from the lake, uncertainty rearing its ugly head until John had to stop and force himself to calm down.
Giving his name was harmless. Sherlock could have easily found it out for himself if he’d really wanted to know. John hadn’t given up anything important. And he’d managed to convince Sherlock to give his next therapist a chance. That was what mattered. Mind settled, John continued on his way. It didn’t take long to reach his home, and his hair was still damp when he arrived.
His flat sat above an old garage across from the manor. Converted to storage space, the garage now served as a place to keep the ornate furniture that no longer suited the manor, mainly antique pieces passed down through generations of Doyles. With the estate functioning as a rehabilitation facility, the priceless pieces were wrapped and stored away, leaving John with a space of blessed silence and solitude in the flat upstairs.
Taking the stairs two at a time, John fumbled his keys out of his knapsack on the way. He had half an hour before he had to return to his duties, and was eager to wash the film of lake water off his skin. He hustled into his flat, tossing his damp towel over the back of a chair. If he was quick, he could shower, eat a quick lunch, and be back at the manor in time for his afternoon appointments. Shedding his clothes, John hung them on the towel rack and hopped into the shower. He washed quickly, paying no more attention than necessary in his hurry. His lunch was a slap-dash affair, a simple sandwich of meat and cheese devoured in a few messy bites. Brushing the crumbs off his hands and into the sink, John pulled on his coat, grabbed his bag, and set out for the manor.
He arrived five minutes early to his first consultation to find Anisa already waiting for him outside the examination room. She stood next to the closed door with one hip cocked, keeping the weight off her left side. John noted her posture and surmised that the prosthetic leg was the reason for her visit. He wondered if she’d been favouring it since their last conversation.
“Doctor Kimathi,” he said, raising a hand in greeting once he was within speaking distance. “You’re early.”
She nodded in return. “Doctor Watson.” Anisa shifted her weight with a grimace. “Glad you had some time to see me today. I hope I didn’t disrupt your schedule.”
“Not at all,” John said honestly, unlocking the door and gesturing her inside ahead of him. “I’m happy to do it.”
“You and me both,” Anisa replied, a fervent note in her dry voice. “This damn thing is making my life a living hell.” Without waiting for an invitation, she shucked off her shoes and jeans, levering herself up onto the table, the muscles in her arms flexing with practiced ease.
John had become familiar with her prosthetic over the years, and they were both accustomed to the examination routine. Setting aside his bag, John pulled over a wheeled stool and sat to start his exam. He drew on a pair of gloves and loosened the pins that held the prosthetic in place before carefully removing the socket. Slowly, John rolled the nylon sleeve down, wary of catching his fingers on the swollen skin beneath. Anisa winced despite his care, and John offered a sympathetic noise in response. He set the nylon sleeve aside, exposing a limb marred by the red, angry flush of abraded skin.
Anisa glared at it. “I knew the adjustment was too tight,” she muttered. “I told that new specialist in town that it was.”
John felt gently along the edges of the inflamed area with a grim twist to his lips. “The fit is definitely off,” he agreed, wheeling away to dig into a drawer. “Do you have a spare you could wear until you can have it refitted?” He rolled back with a tube of numbing cream in hand, popping the cap open with his thumb.
“I have my older prosthetic.” Anisa sighed, looking resigned. “I can wear that. I’ll have to use the straps to keep it in place, but that’ll still be better than rubbing the skin off with this one until next week.” She pulled a face as John began to rub the cream into the abraded skin, the tension in her shoulders slowly easing as the numbing agent took effect.
“You know my recommendation,” John said, closing the tube.
Anisa was already nodding, her lips pursed wryly. “I know, I know. Keep off the leg as much as I can. Let the wound breathe.” She shot him an amused look. “This isn’t my first rodeo, Watson.”
John offered a small smile and a shrug in apology. “I know. Once a doctor, always a doctor.” He offered an unopened tube of the same cream. “Here. This will help. Keep the area clean and dry and moisturize as needed. I’d keep it covered in the bath once those blisters break. Lukewarm water only, not hot.” John hesitated before adding, “And, if you’re done with that specialist, I might know of someone better.”
Looking up from her sour examination of the abraded skin, Anisa cocked an eyebrow. “Oh? Have you been holding out on me, Doctor Watson?”
John chuckled. “Nothing like that. She’s just farther out than the one you’ve been seeing. We served in Afghanistan together, and she specializes in prosthetics now. Has one of her own, actually.” John tapped his right arm. “Elbow down.”
“Is that so?” Anisa said, sounding pleased. “Maybe she won’t argue with me when I tell her that I still get phantom limb pain.” Her words were pointed and dry, but her eyes sparkled with humour. “That specialist of mine was one denial away from a strongly worded letter.”
John couldn’t hold back his snort of amusement. “I don’t doubt that,” he said. “I’ll give her a call and see if she’s taking new patients. If she says yes, I’ll get you her number.” Reaching for the removed sleeve and prosthetic, John said, “Here, let’s get these back on.” Checking that the cream had soaked in, he helped Anisa slip on the nylon sheath, followed by the socket itself. It sucked into place once the pins tightened, and a little line of tension appeared between Anisa’s dark brows.
“Blasted thing,” she muttered and slid off the examination table with a grimace. “The cream helps. Thanks, Watson.” Tilting her head, she squinted at him. “I owe you.”
“You really don’t,” John said, waving away the words. “However…” He tugged off his gloves, rolling them into a neat ball before tossing them into the hazard bin. “I admit that I do have a favour I’d like to ask of you.” He offered a sheepish expression.
Anisa flashed him a sly smile. “Ask away, Doctor Watson.”
Sherlock lingered at the water’s edge after John left, finding unexpected tranquillity among the bramble bushes. He smoked a cigarette, flicking ash into a neat pile next to his foot. With the gentle sound of the water in his ears, he almost felt at peace. Surrounded by nature, Sherlock went over the interaction between himself and John with a fine-toothed comb. He wondered if he’d made a mistake by agreeing to John’s terms, especially since he hardly knew what they were. Sherlock had traded the certainty of his future for the chance to ride a horse. It was idiotic. But, the more Sherlock thought about it, the more he realized that wasn’t really what he’d agreed to. What he’d really done was trade his peace of mind for Doctor Watson’s first name. He couldn’t help but wonder if it would prove to be worth the sacrifice.
John. What a dreadfully, horribly common name. Such a bland moniker for such a fascinating man. And Watson — John — was fascinating. He was an incomplete puzzle that Sherlock felt he was solving slowly, in bits and pieces, with no concept of the final image he was trying to produce. It was oddly thrilling.
Seated on the log with his legs crossed at the knee, Sherlock pressed his hands together and closed his eyes. The soft, repetitive sounds of the lake and a pair of twittering birds in the background soothed him, his surroundings calming as Sherlock sorted through his impressions of John Watson. He didn’t have much to go on. All Sherlock knew was John was a doctor and had once been a patient at Doyle House, just as Sherlock was now. He hadn’t gone into detail, but it seemed John had been in dire straits when he first arrived. He’d come a very long way if his words were to be trusted. Recalling the haunted look that darkened John’s eyes when he spoke of his past, Sherlock felt John had been honest with him. He’d seen people fake all manner of emotions — innocence, sorrow, anger, love — but he believed John. He had sounded so raw, and Sherlock knew, down to his bones, that he didn’t doubt the truth of John’s words. Still, that blind faith left Sherlock with more questions than answers. If John was the honest man he appeared to be, maybe Sherlock could trust him. Even his own actions seemed to imply that he already did. He’d opened up to John, taken a chance and found himself safe. Never one to trust easily, Sherlock was surprised at himself. What was it that made John so easy to rely on when most of the people in Sherlock’s life had taught him to do the opposite?
Hands dropping into his lap, Sherlock opened his eyes and studied the gleam of sunlight playing over the lake’s surface. What made him want to trust John Watson? Why had Sherlock agreed to some as-of-yet unexplained deal in exchange for nothing more than a name? It was so unlike his usual self that Sherlock wondered if his time in Serbia hadn’t knocked something loose in his head. It wasn’t impossible. Sherlock knew he suffered from some form of mental strain — the nightmares were evidencing enough of that. And yet, PTSD and learned trauma responses didn’t usually encourage a trusting nature. Certainly not in someone who already struggled to trust. Sherlock barely trusted his own brother, a man he’d known since birth.
So why trust John Watson?
With a pang, Sherlock realized he didn’t have the answers to his own questions. He tilted his face up toward the sun and closed his eyes again with a weary sigh. There was nothing for it. He had already agreed to John Watson’s mysterious deal, and now there was nothing Sherlock could do but wait for the other shoe to drop. He only hoped it wouldn’t cost him more than what he’d already given.
He shifted his shoulders, and the scars on his back twinged, making him grimace. Pressing his lips into a thin line, Sherlock eyed the trees behind him. Despite the calm warmth of the day, Sherlock was struck by a sudden and terrible sense of disquiet. He knew the feeling wasn’t rational, but the longer he sat and stared at the trees, the closer they seemed to reach. The shadows beneath the branches seemed to deepen and darken, thickening into tangible figures. Into the shapes of people, watching him from beneath the leaves. Sherlock swallowed and tore his eyes away. It wasn’t easy, and his hands began to shake as he rose to his feet. Tucking them deep into his pockets, Sherlock turned his back on the trees. He couldn’t shake the irrational feeling that he was being watched. Every one of his instincts screamed at him not to turn his back on the imagined danger emanating from the trees. His mind told him he was being watched, tracked as he’d been tracked in the forests of Serbia until his capture. The torture that had followed was the inspiration for this new watchfulness. He trembled with a constant wariness Sherlock couldn’t seem to shake no matter how strongly he reminded himself that he wasn’t in Serbia anymore.
Shoulders hunched against the sensation, Sherlock marched stiffly away from the trees and their shadows. He tried to keep his pace brisk, refusing to quicken his steps beyond a quick walk. He wouldn’t run. He wouldn’t. There was no need to run. He was perfectly safe, and no one was there. No one was hiding in the trees. It was all in his head. It was all —
A branch broke beneath his own shoe, the brittle, crackling sound sending him into overdrive.
Heart racing, a violent shiver rippling through his body, Sherlock lunged for the briars. Ignoring the thorns that tore at his clothing, at his arms and hands, Sherlock fought his way through the tangle. He struggled and scrabbled until he was out the other side, breathing heavily with his skin stinging, marked by numerous small cuts. Even then, he didn’t stop, walking jerkily and too fast away from the brambles. He didn’t slow until Doyle House came into view.
There, Sherlock paused, doubling over to catch his breath before he straightened and looked up at the manor. The sight of it brought a small and unexpected measure of comfort, and Sherlock clung to the feeling. Gradually, some of his irrational fear eased. Though his heart still raced, Sherlock was able to breathe without gasping for air. His panic faded, his thoughts no longer plagued by the sensation of pursuit.
His hands didn’t stop shaking even long after he'd locked himself in his room.
Sherlock woke early the following day. Just like the day before, and those before it, the nightmares woke him. They were worse today, no doubt driven by the blinding, panicked paranoia that had haunted him out by the lake.
Legs tangled in the sheets, lying on his back, Sherlock stared at the ceiling. His chest ached, lungs burning from the force of his ragged breaths. His hair was damp, slicked to his forehead, his skin shining with a sheen of fear sweat. He needed to shower, but even sitting up felt impossible. Sherlock lay stiff and shaking, trying to process the nightmares lingering in his mind. Usually, they faded upon waking, but today they proved themselves tenacious. The horrors which plagued him in sleep had followed Sherlock into the real world, and they pressed against the backs of his eyelids like the afterimage of some bright, blinding light. He recalled the sensations like echoes. A blade, working its way down his back. A line of red trickling down his chest in a slow, hot rivulet and the flash of flaring fire from a lighter.
Sherlock closed his eyes and shivered. His eyelids flew open seconds later, the images much more vivid with them closed. He widened his eyes, trying to take in as much of the pale, early morning light as he could to banish the memories. When they finally faded, Sherlock felt exhausted. He’d tossed and turned all night, just as he had the night before and the one before that. He was tired of this, of the nightmares and the energy it cost him just to make it through each day. Sherlock felt tired down to his bones. Out of that fatigue came a strange and unexpected flicker of gratitude — a surge of hope for the deal he’d made with John Watson. Maybe John could help him.
With a rush of desperation, Sherlock realized he didn’t want to keep pushing people away. He wanted the nightmares to stop; he needed his head to clear. His unrelenting frustration with those he was forced to work with wasn’t helping him. Everyone was either patronizing or an idiot or spoke to him like Sherlock was a textbook case instead of an actual human being, but he still needed them. It was an awful truth, making Sherlock grind his teeth and clench his hands into fists around the sheets. In the light of day, with sweat still cooling on his skin, Sherlock was forced to admit that he needed help. The drugs hadn’t been a solution. Now that his veins were clear of their poison, he could admit that to himself. They hadn’t helped. As if summoned by his realizations, Sherlock heard John’s voice in his head. You’ll sink and sink until you can’t see the light anymore, and then it’ll consume you.
John was right. Since Serbia, and possibly even before, Sherlock had been sinking. He’d done his best to let himself be consumed, chasing addiction after addiction, high after high until he fell beneath all of it and was nearly devoured. He’d dug himself into a bottomless pit, sinking, falling, losing his way in some impossible crevasse.
No more. Sherlock wanted out.
He forced himself out of bed. Rubbing the sleep from his aching, tired eyes, he went for a shower. Sherlock took his time, washing away both the salt of his sweat and the lingering edges of his nightmares until he felt cleansed. Scrubbed clean and dressed in a dark blue dress shirt and charcoal trousers, Sherlock retrieved his daily schedule from the small, locked case on the back of his door. Every morning, a staff member came and switched it out, replacing the previous day’s schedule with a new one. He used his small key to open the little case, slipping the sheet out with clumsy hands. Back in his room with the door closed again, Sherlock frowned down at the schedule. He saw right away that something was different. He had the morning off. Usually, his mornings were filled with therapy sessions, followed by a break for lunch and then physical therapy for his injuries. Yesterday, Sherlock had skipped the physiotherapy, choosing to linger by the lake until his mind sent him fleeing back to the manor.
This new schedule was different. Sherlock had been granted several open hours for the morning, no therapy, group or otherwise. He had a check-up for his injuries at eleven with one of the general doctors, then physiotherapy after lunch for an hour. Judging by the stiffness in his body, it wouldn’t be a good idea to skip it today. All of that seemed routine. The third item on the schedule drew Sherlock’s eyes. It wasn’t labelled like the others. Instead, it simply said, One hour - intake, and a name.
“Doctor Kimathi,” Sherlock said the name aloud. It was unfamiliar, and he wondered what kind of doctor Kimathi was. The schedule didn’t say. Could they be yet another therapist? Was John pushing him off onto some other unknown doctor?
Sherlock felt a flutter of uncertainty deep in his chest, his pulse quickening with doubt. Forcing himself to take a deep breath, he tried to soothe away the flicker of anxiety. He didn’t quite manage it. Jaw clenched, he set the schedule aside. Instead of letting his mind dwell, Sherlock knelt on the carpet and dug his violin out from under the bed. His head felt full, his mind weighed down with uncertainty as Sherlock set bow to strings and did his best to pour his emotions into the music. He played for a long while, the shaking in his fingers slowly easing until the notes no longer wavered. As the sun began to rise fully from beyond the horizon, he almost felt like himself again.
Chapter 7: Unexpected
Sherlock encounters a new face and an unexpected challenge.
Against John's expectations, Anisa accepted Sherlock’s case without protest. He’d thought he would have to convince her, knowing as she did how Sherlock treated his other therapists. But Anisa had surprised him by agreeing without batting an eyelash, and John had thanked her earnestly. After they parted, John felt a surge of gratitude. If anyone could get through to Sherlock Holmes and weather his acerbic personality, it was Anisa Kimathi. Buoyed by his success, John tackled the second half of his plan: getting Sherlock onto a horse. John hoped — perhaps selfishly — that a chance to get on a horse now and then might help Sherlock shake off some of his darkness. He looked forward to having a riding partner.
Feeling hopeful, John couldn’t help but whistle a little tune on his way to the stables. It felt good to have a goal. He often introduced goals for his patients to achieve, rarely setting them for himself. John had always been a task-oriented man, doing his best work when he had a purpose in mind. And while he’d set these goals for another, John felt a small thrill for his part to play. He tried to tell himself it was all done out of the goodness of his heart, but there was an underlying selfishness that John couldn’t quite shake. He wanted to succeed, both to help Sherlock and to gain the chance to know him better. Telling himself there was no such thing as a truly selfless good deed, John pushed his wandering, greedy thoughts aside and focused on the task at hand as he reached the stables.
He stepped inside, blinking until his eyes adjusted from the bright light outside to the dark, dusty interior. Once his vision cleared, John followed the sound of humming to an open stall. Peering inside, John saw a young man mucking out the hay. “Ned?”
The youth paused and looked up. Spotting John, he pushed a pair of headphones down around his neck and turned, leaning on the pitchfork in his hand. “Oh, Doctor Watson. Hello.”
John smiled. A local lad who came twice a week to tend to the stalls, Ned did the mucking out and the washing down and sometimes helped care for the horses. All of nineteen years old, and nearly six foot five, Ned was more than welcome to the back-breaking work. The man who ran the stable, a retired Colonel named Brian Ross, seemed to agree. He had advanced arthritis in his knees and shoulders, and John had heard him bless Ned for his work ethic more than once. It was Brian Ross that John sought now.
“Hi, Ned. Do you know where I can find the Colonel?”
“He’s in his office, I think.” Ned wiped the sheen of sweat off his brow with a grimace. “It’s paperwork day for him.” Grinning, he added, “He didn’t seem all too thrilled about it either.”
John grinned back. “I just finished a mountain of paperwork myself, and I can firmly say that I don’t blame him. Thanks, Ned.”
Ned shrugged off John’s gratitude with the carelessness of youth. “Anytime, Doctor Watson.” Turning away, he tugged the headphones back over his ears and resumed his work, stabbing at the old hay with his pitchfork as he began to hum again.
Summarily dismissed, John made his way through the stables to the small, attached office near the back. He paused on his way to pat Silver Blaze’s nose where the horse’s head hung out over his stall’s half-door. “Hello there. Missed me, have you?” Blaze nosed at John’s shoulder with a loud exhale, making John laugh. “I know, I know. I’ve been busy. We’ll go out for a ride soon,” he promised, stroking the snow-white blaze marking the horse's long face. “Might even bring you a friend next time.” Giving the horse one last pat, John turned and made his way to the office. The door was propped open, and he ducked his head inside. The office was small and smelled of hay and horses, just like every other inch of the stable. A large desk dominated the space, behind which sat an older man with short, grey-and-black hair. “Colonel Ross?”
The man looked up at the sound of his name, blinking his dark brown eyes in mild surprise. “Ah, Watson. I wasn’t expecting you, was I?” At John’s head shake, Brian Ross waved him inside. “Well then, come in.”
“Thanks, Colonel,” John said, stopping in front of the desk and automatically falling into parade rest. “Did I come at a bad time?”
“No, no. Just let me…” Ross finished his writing before setting the pen aside and looking up again. “What can I do for you, John?”
John smiled at the sound of his first name, realizing he’d automatically fallen into the military habit of referring to the man by his army title. Even years removed from service, John sometimes fell back into protocol without thinking. Once a soldier… Softening his stiff posture, John shifted his feet and said, “I wanted to ask about taking a patient out on one of the horses.”
One of Ross’s eyebrows shot up. John had never made such a request before, and he understood the Colonel’s confusion. “Patients are welcome to ride as long as they are accompanied by staff.” Brian’s head tilted to one side, his gaze inquisitive. “Do you have a particular case in mind?”
“Actually, yes,” John said. “A new patient of mine is having a bit of a hard time settling in. He mentioned that he used to ride in his youth. I thought it might help if he did so again. I know it’s helped me in the past.”
“Hm.” Brian tapped his pen against his bottom lip. “I don’t see why there would be any issue. Just so long as you make sure the horse isn’t scheduled for other patient therapies, you can take whichever one you want.” He frowned. “Did you say he hasn’t ridden since his youth?”
John nodded. “I did."
“Best to stick with an easy horse, then,” Ross advised. “Bluebell is a nice, gentle mare. A joy to ride and fast when pushed, but there’s not a single unruly bone in her body. I think she’d be a fine choice for a rusty rider.”
Grinning, John said, “Thank you. That’s perfect.”
Ross waved away his thanks. He was a brisk man, and that nature showed now. “Anytime, Watson. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m hoping to finish this paperwork, so I can leave at a decent hour.” A small smile softened the harshness of the words.
John laughed. “Roger that,” he said, adding, “Thanks again,” before taking his leave as Brian excused him with another wave. John turned on his heel and made his way back through the stables, waving at Ned as he passed. The youth raised a hand and bent back to his task.
Emerging back out into the sunlight, John tried to rein in his rising excitement. He didn’t want to get his hopes up when Sherlock had barely agreed to his deal and hadn’t ridden since his youth. He might not even enjoy it. Despite John's excitement, Sherlock might still refuse his invitation. He might turn that scathing tongue onto John and let fly with some awful statement about John’s person. Still, the risk seemed worth taking; John didn’t have much of a personal life for Sherlock to tear into. He spent most of his time working or at home. There wasn’t much to him anymore, something John had come to accept in the same way he’d made an uneasy peace with his past. His history was the most damning part of him, and Sherlock already knew who John had been. Reticence aside, John could only hope Sherlock would see this gesture as the olive branch it was. If Sherlock had any sense in him, he would stop pushing everyone away long enough to recognize an offer of help for what it was.
John tried not to think about what he’d do if Sherlock threw his offer of professional friendship back into his face. He’d fight that battle if it came.
Doctor Kimathi was not at all what Sherlock expected. He’d asked around before his appointment, learning only that Kimathi was the head of the therapy department. Walking into his session, Sherlock expected an old, dour-faced man who swore by Freud and would heap more pointless platitudes upon Sherlock. With that assumption in mind, he went late to Kimathi’s office with a scowl on his face, anticipating the worst.
The scowl disappeared the second the door opened and revealed a tall woman with dark skin. She looked to be in the later years of middle-age, and she eyed him with a look Sherlock knew all too well. That look said she knew what he was capable of. Kimathi looked at him as if she knew all about his barbed tongue and had no intention of letting Sherlock get away with his usual tricks. It was an expression Sherlock was more familiar with on Mycroft’s face. Seeing it now, on a stranger, was off-putting.
“Mister Holmes,” Doctor Kimathi stepped aside and waved him into the office, “you’re finally here.”
Painfully aware of his tardiness, Sherlock didn’t miss the way Kimathi emphasized the word finally. He bristled. He’d planned to arrive on the dot. But when the time came to leave his room, Sherlock had found himself dawdling, his feet dragging. He’d fallen back on old habits, unable to resist the urge to test Kimathi’s boundaries. He’d hoped to have his assumptions proven wrong, but Kimathi’s calm, relaxed demeanour threw him for a loop. “My apologies,” he said, forcibly polite. “I lost track of time.” That wasn’t the truth, but any real explanation died on his lips, unspoken, not worth the effort.
Doctor Kimathi’s lips twitched with faint amusement. “No, you didn’t,” she replied in a dry voice, calling him out without ire.
Sherlock grimaced, unused to having someone call his bluff so directly. “Yes, well.” He shrugged. “Sorry.” The apology surprised them both, even if it wasn’t entirely authentic.
Again, Kimathi seemed to see right through him, waving aside his regrets. “We both know that you’re not. But you’re here now, and that’s what matters.” Closing the door, she moved to a desk set against the far wall of the long room, bending to flip through an appointment book. “I don’t have anyone after you today, so we’ll just extend the session to make up for the missed time.” She lifted her dark eyes to meet Sherlock’s. “Does that work for you?”
Sherlock nodded mutely, feeling off-balance. Kimathi flashed him a tight smile.
“Do you prefer to sit or stand?”
In a bid to buy time and regain his composure, Sherlock didn’t reply right away. He looked around the room instead, taking in the ample space. The floor was dark hardwood, peeking out from the edges of a plush, deep blue Persian rug. It reminded him of John's eyes, and Sherlock had to shake his head and refocus. He continued his perusal. Two brown leather chairs and a matching sofa sat arranged about a large mahogany coffee table. Bookshelves spanned the far wall behind the desk where Kimathi still stood. Floor-to-ceiling windows took up the entire wall opposite the door, letting in a wash of sunlight that brightened the office's muted, warm, wooden colours with a flood of golden yellow.
Sherlock coughed to clear his throat, a rough sound that seemed at odds with the sombre space. “I’ll sit, I think.”
With a slow gesture to the sitting area, Kimathi said, “Please, make yourself comfortable.” Her expression gave nothing away of her inner thoughts, and Sherlock darted a suspicious look her way before moving to the sofa. There, he hesitated, studying her a moment longer. He thought he saw the slightest hint of amusement lingering at the edges of her full lips. It was challenging to get a read on her. Sherlock eyed Kimathi’s dark jeans and blue blouse, seeing nothing remotely scandalous in the subtle evidence he read there. Nothing he could seize on and expose to his advantage. The only thing that stood out to him was the shape of an older style prosthetic leg beneath her jeans, poorly fitting and not at all out of place at Doyle House. Kimathi’s military past was evident in her stance and posture, but that was true of several staff members and more than half the patients.
Releasing a huffing breath, Sherlock turned on his heel and moved over to the couch. He threw himself over the length in a sprawl, daring Kimathi to comment on his lack of decorum.
Seemingly unperturbed by his behaviour, she crossed the room and took a seat in one of the leather chairs. “Comfortable?” she asked, settling her hands on the armrests.
Sherlock scowled. “Very,” he replied. The lie tasted bitter in his mouth. He’d landed strangely, momentarily forgetting the injuries covering his back. They flared with deep and ugly nerve pain, making him wince. He tried to hide the discomfort but, already on the defensive, failed.
“You’re clearly not.”
Scowl deepening, Sherlock glared at Kimathi’s composed face. “Is that your professional opinion, doctor?” he hissed, piqued by that unflappable calm. Sherlock grimaced at his own words, frustrated that he couldn’t seem to tame his tongue or soften his own harsh edges. It wasn’t Kimathi's fault that he’d hurt himself. Still, Sherlock balked against giving voice to the apology burning on his tongue.
To his shock, Kimathi laughed. The sound was loud in the tense space, the chuckle warm and not unpleasant even as Sherlock’s face flushed with embarrassed anger.
“It’s a personal opinion, actually,” Kimathi said, crossing her right leg over her left and looking amused by his petulance. “I can see you trying not to flinch, and I know your medical history. I don’t believe for a second that this position is terribly comfortable, not with the wounds on your back.” She cocked an eyebrow, indicating Sherlock’s sprawl with a flick of her fingers. Her nails were well kept but plain, bare of polish. “Now, I’m not sure who this display is really for — you or me — but I imagine you’d prefer to at least be comfortable while we talk. So why not drop the pretence and sit up.”
As much as Sherlock hated to admit it, Kimathi was right. The pain pulsing deep within his muscles only worsened the longer he held his sprawl. It was through sheer stubbornness alone that he stayed where he was. Kimathi calling his bluff — again — made the rebellion pointless. She would see through Sherlock’s charade whether he was in pain or not.
Sherlock sat up gingerly, trying to find a position that eased the pain humming through his body. He settled for sitting up and leaning against the couch arm. It wasn’t entirely comfortable, but then, few of his day-to-day moments were. The drugs had helped numb some of the constant agony, but not enough. Nothing stopped the pain. Sherlock had no choice but to grin and bear it. His eyes landed on Kimathi’s prosthetic leg, and he wondered if she might understand what that was like, living in constant pain.
Kimathi, catching the shift in his attention, offered a wry smile. “Yes, I speak from experience,” she said, answering his unspoken question. She favoured him with an unflinching look when Sherlock glanced up in surprise. “But we aren’t here to talk about my leg. We’re here to talk about you.”
Sherlock wet his dry lips with a nervous flick of his tongue. “And if I don’t want to talk?” He thought it a valid question, for this was where each of his previous sessions had gone sideways. Whenever the other therapists had tried to force him to talk, Sherlock had closed off like a fortress prepared for siege. He didn’t expect anything else here, no matter how sharp Kimathi appeared to be.
But Kimathi surprised him yet again when Sherlock’s hard words garnered nothing more than an unperturbed shrug. “Then that’s your choice,” she said, still holding his gaze. “But we’ll be here for the full time regardless, and I would really recommend not wasting it.”
“Why do you care?” Sherlock asked, helplessly combative. “You’ll still get paid whether or not I open my mouth and blab.”
The corners of Kimathi’s lips twitched downward in a disappointed moue. Sherlock felt a pang of remorse and wondered why he cared what she thought. “While that’s true,” Kimathi said, raising her eyebrows at Sherlock’s confusion, “I’m more worried about the time wasted.”
Venom rose in Sherlock’s throat, bringing a bitter taste into his mouth. “Oh, am I wasting your time, Doctor?” he bit out. “My deepest apologies.”
Kimathi seemed unaffected by his ire. “No,” she said firmly. “As you said, I will still be compensated for my time. I’m more than happy to sit here and get paid for it.” She drummed her fingers idly against her knee, a thoughtful look in her dark eyes. “It’s your own time that will be wasted, Mister Holmes. And, while I can’t speak for you, I don’t know many people who enjoy wasting their own time.”
Sherlock closed his mouth hard enough to make his teeth click. Clearing his throat, he glared out the windows over Kimathi’s shoulder. She had a point. “I don’t know why I’m here,” he admitted finally.
“Here as in Doyle House?” Kimathi asked. “Or here as in this room?”
“This room.” Sherlock scowled at the peevish tone that had slipped into his voice.
“Ah.” Kimathi nodded, tapping her fingers a second time. “Well, you have Doctor Watson to thank for that.”
Sherlock jolted in surprise, his gaze darting away from the windows and back to her face. “John?”
Kimathi’s mouth pulled to one side as her dark eyes took on a curious light. “The very same.” She paused. “You know his first name.” It wasn’t a question.
Sherlock chewed at his bottom lip, considering how best to respond. “I made him tell me.”
The slight twitch of Kimathi’s lips shifted into an intrigued smile. “Did you?” She touched her fingers to her knee again. “Interesting. And how did you manage that?” When Sherlock didn’t answer right away, she prodded. “Did you threaten him?”
Startled, Sherlock gasped, “No!” His eyes widened in disbelief at the accusation. “Of course not.”
“Did I…” Sherlock gripped the sofa cushions with tense hands. “No, I didn’t blackmail him,” he snapped.
“Hm.” Kimathi leaned back in her chair. “Then how did you convince him?”
Sherlock stared, wetting his lips as he considered the question, answering with one of his own, “Why do you care?”
Kimathi’s broad shoulders lifted in a shrug. “Just curious. Watson isn’t usually so personal with the residents.” Head tilted, she favoured Sherlock with an evaluating look. “Or with anyone, really. He tends to keep himself to himself.”
Her words gave Sherlock pause, his mind whirring with possibilities. Had John broken some kind of rule by giving Sherlock his name? Was Sherlock getting him in trouble now by telling Kimathi this? If it wasn’t allowed, then why had John provided his name at all? He could just have easily said no or told Sherlock to piss off. Sherlock swallowed around a rising pang of unease. “Is that not allowed?”
“You’ll have to be more specific.”
“Doctors sharing their given names with patients,” Sherlock asked with his heart in his throat. The thought that he might have caused trouble for John made his stomach twist with irrational concern. He barely knew the man, yet Sherlock quailed at the idea of betraying John’s confidence, even by accident.
Kimathi shook her head, adopting a reassuring tone. “No, no, nothing like that. Some of us, myself included, prefer it. You can call me Anisa if you want. Or just Kimathi. I’m not particular.” Sherlock continued eyeing her warily, and she shrugged, accepting his silence. “But Watson isn’t like me. He’s very hard-set on his boundaries. Or, at least, he was before you.” Anisa folded her hands together in her lap, studying Sherlock with sharp eyes. “Which is why I was curious.”
Wetting his lips, Sherlock quietly admitted, “We made a deal.”
Kimathi’s dark, shapely eyebrows rose. “A deal?”
Realizing how that might sound, Sherlock hurried to explain. “He said if I gave my new therapist a chance, he’d see if he could get me out on a horse.”
“You like to ride?”
Sherlock flicked his fingers dismissively. “It’s fine. I don’t really care either way.”
Sharp eyes narrowed, moving over his face. “If you don’t care about riding, what do you get out of the deal?”
Gazing out the windows again, Sherlock swallowed. “I asked him to tell me his name.”
“I see. And names are important to you?”
Sherlock kept his eyes on the window. “Names have their own power,” he said absently. Instead of sun-painted glass, he saw the red-then-pale face of a dying man and heard again the once unfamiliar name of the monster who would lead him into Hell.
Moriarty, the name shouted from spit-flecked lips.
Sherlock forced the memories back with marked struggle, blinking. “Sorry?”
Kimathi studied him silently. “You disappeared for a moment. Where did you go?”
The question was so like Harken’s demand od him before he’d stormed out of the man’s office that Sherlock stiffened. The tension sent pain shooting down his back, and Sherlock slumped with a groan barely bit back in his throat. Sighing, the fight flooding out of him, he looked out the windows again and muttered, “Nowhere.”
“Mm, I don’t believe that.”
Startled by the challenge, Sherlock frowned. “Excuse me?”
Kimathi’s frank gaze pinned him in place. “We both know how this works, Mister Holmes. I can only do so much with silence and combativeness. See, most people think that the clinician has all the power in therapy. And, in a way, I guess that’s sort of true. But when it comes right down to it, I have no power at all. The ball is in your court. You either get something from this, or you don’t, but that is, largely, your choice.” Kimathi shrugged, unperturbed. “Makes no difference to me what you choose, but I will say that I am your last chance for therapy, Mister Holmes. And, while Watson can’t exactly take his name back from you, I imagine he’ll be disappointed to hear you failed to keep up your end of the bargain.”
Sherlock straightened, ignoring another twinge of pain as it rippled through his core. “Are you trying to guilt me into talking to you?” His throat worked for a moment, and he tried to find the right words. “Are you… manipulating me?”
A slight smile curved Kimathi’s full lips. “Would it bother you if I was?”
Sherlock, his mouth gone dry, didn’t answer. Kimathi’s smile hardened.
“I’m not,” she said, “but it’s interesting to see how strongly you react to the idea.” Uncrossing her legs, Kimathi sat forward, her dark eyes focused on Sherlock’s. “I’m not holding you to anything. I’m here to listen and maybe talk a bit if I’ve something to say. Anything beyond that, including whatever deals you make with anyone outside of this room, is in your hands.” Settling back in the chair, Kimathi’s smile gentled. “So, tell me, Mister Holmes. Are you willing to give this a chance? Or would you rather we sit here in silence until our time is up?”
Mind racing, Sherlock stared at Kimathi, trying to puzzle her out. Ever since he’d set foot in this office, Kimathi had blindsided him over and over until he couldn’t hope to find his footing again. But she was right — whatever happened here was up to him. And while it was tempting to sit in silence just to prove that he could, Sherlock knew that wouldn’t achieve anything. He’d still be stuck here, forced to stay by Mycroft until he showed improvement. Which wouldn’t happen when Sherlock was forced to deal with his trauma alone, left to his own devices by his own stubborn nature. And there was John. Sherlock hardly knew him, but he was reluctant to disappoint him. None of it made sense, but there it was.
Breath escaping in a long, loud sigh, Sherlock slumped. The leather sofa creaked, conforming to his weight, surprisingly comfortable now that some of his rigidity had faded. Forcing the words out past his numb lips, Sherlock said, “Let’s talk, then.”
Kimathi offered an encouraging smile, looking genuinely pleased by his minimal effort. “Let’s.”
Chapter 8: Muted
Sherlock and John head to the stables for their first ride.
In a refreshing change of pace, Sherlock actually answered the door when John knocked. It was such a departure from their usual dynamic that John found himself standing, speechless, in the open doorway.
“Doctor Watson.” Sherlock’s muted voice made John look closer. He seemed tired, the shadows beneath his eyes deeper and darker than before. Even his eyes, pale and usually so bright, appeared dim. And Sherlock hadn’t used John’s given name, despite demanding it in their last encounter.
Puzzled by the dampened mood hanging over Sherlock like a shroud, John asked, “Are you alright?”
“Quite,” Sherlock said absently. His dull eyes slid away from John’s face, fixing on a vague point just over his shoulder. “What can I do for you?”
Unsettled by Sherlock’s groggy expression, John shifted from one foot to the other. Sherlock’s eyes drifted sluggishly down to track the movement before returning to John’s face. A faint flicker of light appeared in his faded gaze. “I came to see if you wanted to go for a ride.” John frowned and replayed the words in his head. “On horseback, I mean.” Sherlock looked John over for a moment without replying. Doubt sat heavily in John’s chest. “Unless you’re not up for it,” he said and paused before asking, “Are you sure you’re not unwell?”
Something shuttered in Sherlock’s eyes, and his face went blank, wiped clean of emotion. Nevertheless, his fatigue still shone through, impossible to hide and only more apparent. “I’m fine.” When John didn’t look convinced, Sherlock sighed and muttered, “I’ve not been sleeping well.”
“Ah.” John didn’t press the subject. He’d wrestled long enough with his own demons to recognize the pallor of a fellow nightmare victim. If Sherlock wanted to talk about it, he would bring it up himself. It wasn’t John’s job to press. “If you’d rather not go out today—”
Sherlock cut him off, suddenly talking too loud and too fast. “No. No, I’m fine. I said I was fine. I’d…” Sherlock’s throat bobbing in a tight swallow. “I’d like to go riding.” He coughed and murmured, “With you… John.” His smile looked strange, a hint of colour rising in his cheeks.
“Well,” John said slowly, studying Sherlock’s pained expression, “if you’re sure…”
“Quite sure,” Sherlock said, his voice clipped. “Just give me a moment to change.” He wavered, eyeing John, his brow furrowed. “Come in… if you like?” It was more a question than invitation, and John could almost feel Sherlock’s uncertainty as a tangible thing between them.
“Happy to.” John entered the room on Sherlock’s heels. It looked much as it had before, though the bed looked like it hadn’t been slept in. The bench seat by the window showed evidence of a night spent tossing and turning. There was a small pile of cigarette ash on the sill. John eyed it and the seat before turning to find Sherlock watching him with a wary expression. They looked at one another for a long moment until Sherlock turned away and started digging in the wardrobe.
“I’ll just be a moment,” he muttered, disappearing into the bathroom with an armful of clothing.
Alone in the middle of the room, John considered the sparse furnishings. His eyes wandered over the bed again. John frowned, and his gaze moved to the narrow desk shoved against a corner. It was cluttered, the surface covered by an open violin case and pages of sheet music. Glancing at the closed bathroom door, John moved to the desk, looking at the instrument resting in the velvet-lined case. John knew next to nothing about violins, but he saw this one was well cared for and obviously well-loved. It clearly wasn’t new, the instrument’s glossy, rich patina marked by time and fingerprints. Still, it was a beautiful instrument, gleaming in the pale sunlight reaching through the window. John studied the sheet music without recognition. He’d played clarinet as a child, albeit briefly and nowhere near well at that. The music notes meant nothing to him now, though he could see that they were hand-written. Even to John’s untrained eye, the piece seemed unfinished.
John startled and whirled around. Focused on the violin and sheet music, he’d missed Sherlock’s reappearance. He stood in the bathroom doorway, dressed in a pair of old jeans and a faded Henley shirt. The outfit was a far cry from his usual dress shirt and trousers, and John thought the look flattered him. The casual clothing softened Sherlock’s sharp edges and the hard, too-thin lines of his lean body. He looked carelessly handsome and comfortable, with his dark hair and pale skin, his nearly colourless eyes adding a rakish edge to his appearance. The faded look in Sherlock’s face had disappeared, replaced by the usual keenness John had come to expect from him.
Forcing his admiration to the back of his mind, John reminded himself that Sherlock was a patient. He shouldn’t be thinking of him like this, lingering on whether or not John thought him attractive.
Which he did, but that was somewhat beside the point.
John swallowed and pasted a smile on his face that he hoped looked encouraging. “Are you?” he said in reply to Sherlock’s announcement. “That’s impressive.”
Sherlock brushed off the clumsy praise with an impatient wave. “It’s nothing. I’ve been playing since I was five and composing since I was eight.”
John’s eyebrows shot up. “I still say it’s impressive,” he insisted.
A splash of colour warmed Sherlock’s pale cheeks, offsetting some of his pallor. For a moment, John caught a glimpse of the man Sherlock might have been before Doyle House. But the blush soon faded, and Sherlock cleared his throat, looking down to fiddle with the fastenings of his coat. “Yes,” he muttered. “Well. Um.” Sherlock glanced quickly up at John before looking away, thumbs hooked into the pockets of his jeans. “Ah… Thank you.”
John hid his bemusement behind a small smile. “Of course. Shall we head out to the stables?”
A relieved expression spread over Sherlock’s face. “Lead the way, Doctor Watson.”
There it was again, John’s professional title. John wondered why Sherlock had demanded his first name if he wasn’t going to use it. Did it have anything to do with Sherlock's altered mood? Trying not to obsess over the details, John nodded and led Sherlock out into the hall.
A brisk day greeted them as they set out, the weak sun providing little warmth against the breeze blowing from the hills.
Outlined by the bright blue sky, John rode point on a large grey horse. Sherlock followed on the back of a mare named Bluebell, who seemed perfectly willing to trot along behind John’s mount. It was a pleasant enough jaunt, the pace not too fast but not wanderingly slow. Sherlock felt some of his tension — a clinging remnant of his nightmares and poor sleep — fade away as the manor disappeared behind them. It felt a bit like leaving behind some of his own darkness, and Sherlock relished the reprieve.
The moors stretched out around them in a stark expanse as John fell back to ride beside him. They were silent for a spell, their horses falling into step. Sherlock found himself slipping into a reverie, his mind wandering without aim. He didn’t feel any pressure from John’s presence. No expectations. It was… peaceful.
“How’s the ride?” John asked. After the quiet, his voice was almost startling.
Sherlock looked down at the neck of his mount. Then, brushing a slow hand over rippling muscle, Sherlock unstuck his tongue. “Very pleasant, thank you.”
John grinned. “Ross recommended Bluebell as the perfect horse for a rusty rider.”
“Ross?” Sherlock tilted his head questioningly.
“Colonel Brian Ross,” John explained. “He runs the stables. He used to be a patient here, once, just as I was.”
John had mentioned before that he’d spent time at Doyle House as a patient, but Sherlock didn’t know the full details. Curious and wary of scaring John away, Sherlock chose his words with care. “Did you… Did you find it helpful? Being here?”
John glanced at him with an unreadable expression. There was a flash of surprise in his eyes before he looked ahead again, guiding Blaze through uneven footing. “I did,” John said slowly, still staring forward. “Doyle House not only gave me a purpose but showed me that I wasn’t alone. And I felt…” His lips pressed into a thin line. “I felt very alone before I arrived.” Sherlock watched John’s hands tighten on the reins, hard enough that his knuckles flared white before his grip softened. Finally, he turned to Sherlock and smiled with shadowed eyes. “It’s hard to remember that you’re not the only suffering person in the world when your own mind says differently.”
Sherlock let the words sink in. Studying John’s strained smile and the dark flash of his eyes, Sherlock thought, what happened to you, John? He wanted to ask, but it didn’t feel proper. They were strangers. Instead, he shifted in the saddle and cleared his throat. “I think I understand.”
Something that might have been relief passed over John’s face, warming his dark eyes. “Yeah?” he said, glancing at Sherlock again. An expectant silence stretched out between them.
Sherlock considered giving voice to his swirling thoughts. He thought about opening his mouth and spilling forth all he’d been battling against since coming to Doyle House — since coming back to England. The loneliness, the dread, that void-like feeling that had risen inexplicably inside him and seemed to be growing deeper, wider, greater with each day. Instead, Sherlock sighed and chewed at his bottom lip. “Yes,” he finally said, keeping all he wanted to say bottled up inside. He expected to see disappointment in John’s eyes, but a quick look showed an understanding smile on John’s lips.
They rode in companionable silence for a while before John spoke again. “You don’t have to give me details — and I’m not fishing for them — but how did it go with Doctor Kimathi?” He paused, winced, and said, “I probably shouldn’t even be asking you that.”
The transparency and the chagrin in John’s tone coaxed a startled little laugh out of Sherlock. John looked surprised by the sound, then a small, pleased smile curled the edges of his mouth. The expression warmed his face, making it seem almost radiant. Sherlock stared, stunned by the change. For a spell, they simply looked at one another, recognition passing between them.
The moment broke when John cleared his throat and looked forward, leading his mount around a bush.
“I don’t mind that you asked,” Sherlock assured him, rubbing at the flush of warmth rising in his face, leftover from the moment they’d shared. “And it went…” He searched for the right words. “It went well, I think.” His lips quirked, half-grimace, half-rueful smirk. “At least, as well as one can hope for. I didn’t leave in the middle of the session, and no one cried.”
John chuckled, the sound quiet but clear as it drifted to Sherlock on the breeze. Goosebumps rose on Sherlock’s skin, his eyes dropping to half-mast as he savoured the thrill of it. “I’d call that a success.”
Inclining his head in a brief nod as an excuse to hide his face, Sherlock said, “Yes, I think so.”
They rode on, filling the next hour with small attempts at conversation. They discussed the weather, the land, the views, some of Sherlock’s old work. When he mentioned he’d once worked with the police, John let out a small, self-conscious laugh.
Sherlock eyed him warily. “What?”
“Uh, I have to admit that I sort of knew that already,” John said with an air of confession, looking apologetic. “When you first arrived, a colleague of mine mentioned you’d been in the papers. I looked you up.”
Sherlock pursed his lips and glared out over the scenery. “Ah,” he said, offering no more than that. If John had looked him up, he would have seen every news article published about him. The claims of fraud, the accusations, the so-called ‘evidence’ of his sociopathy. A dull, dragging sensation of defeat rose up in Sherlock, threatening to burst his peaceful mood like a bubble. It made him feel like he should flee, return to the manor to curl up and lick his wounds. But it seemed that he couldn't escape his past, not even here.
John picked up on the change in mood at once. “Wait a second,” he said, rushing to clear the air, “I didn’t say I believed any of what I read.”
Sherlock frowned, frustrated to find his worries were so transparent. John continued as if he hadn’t noticed, seemingly desperate to reassure.
“I only brought it up because you mentioned the work you used to do.” John favoured him with a long, searching look that Sherlock forced himself to meet even as his stomach twisted. “I can't imagine how terrible that must have been, having people think the worst of you. But your name was cleared in the end, right?”
Tension lingered in Sherlock’s jaw as he jerked his head in a stiff nod. John's sympathy had caught him off guard. “Yes,” Sherlock muttered, voice almost lost to the breeze as it shifted direction and blew away from them. “Yes, it was. Through no small effort by my brother and myself.”
“Would that be the same brother who sent you here?” John looked cautious, speaking like a man who knew he was treading on thin ice.
Sherlock exhaled in a loud rush, trying to breathe out his panic. He didn’t quite succeed. It sat lodged in his chest, iron-heavy and burning. “Mycroft," he confirmed. "Yes, the very same.”
“Well.” John’s smile was unexpectedly warm. “I guess that’s two things I can thank him for.” Sherlock shot him a startled look, but John cleared his throat and straightened in the saddle before he found the words for a reply. “How do you feel about a gallop?” John asked, changing the subject and leaving Sherlock several mental steps behind. “I think I need to feel the wind in my hair.” John’s smile was wide, his dark eyes bright and unguarded. He was enchanting with an unspoken dare in his face and a gleam in his eyes.
What else could Sherlock do but agree? “A gallop sounds good,” he said, letting the topic drop. He had better things to do than linger on the past. There was a good-looking man next to him, lit up with irresistible invitation, and Sherlock wasn’t about to waste it.
“You’re comfortable enough to sit for one?” John asked, no doubt thinking of Sherlock’s limited riding experience.
Raising an eyebrow in a challenge of his own, Sherlock smirked. For a moment, he almost felt like his old self, a thrill running through him. “I promise not to fall off the horse,” he said, the words sharp but his tone holding no bite.
“Great.” John leaned forward with a slow, sly smile spreading over his lips. “Then let’s see if you and Bluebell can keep up with my Blaze.” Challenge extended, John kicked his heels, and his horse surged forward.
Left in the dust, Sherlock took a moment to respond. When he nudged Bluebell’s flanks, she broke into a trot, then a steady, stable gallop that sent them hurtling after John and Blaze. Sherlock bent low, anchoring himself on Bluebell’s back with his knees. The uneven gait jolted his body, making his wounds sting, but the sudden rush of speed and the rhythmic thud of hooves was exhilarating.
With the wind raking through his curls, the chill air biting at his face, Sherlock felt freer than he had in two years.
Chapter 9: Nightmares
Sherlock and John finally open up to one another.
Sherlock accompanied John on rides as that first week stretched into a month, then on into two. They rode at least once a week, sometimes twice, either in the mornings or after Sherlock’s therapy sessions. When they met early, Sherlock seemed tired, weighed down by sleepless nights. But as they rode with the wind in their faces and the horses surging beneath them, the lacklustre fog hanging over Sherlock gradually dissipated. By the time they returned to Doyle House, he would be pink-cheeked and relaxed, if not smiling. It was never a full grin, but even the smallest of smiles on Sherlock Holmes's face was enough to warm John.
The times when they rode after Sherlock’s therapy sessions, he was a different man. For the first half-hour or longer, his mood was dark, undoubtedly tied to the intensity of the session. It always took time for Sherlock to thaw, for his mask to fall away and the stiffness in his body to ease. On the few occasions when he made mention of his discussions with Anisa, his voice was halting and unsure. More often, Sherlock stayed silent until he’d shrugged off the impact and could focus on the moment.
With each ride, John saw more and more of who Sherlock really was. John saw that Sherlock’s cold exterior was both a part of him and a facade and that his hard edges only ran so deep. Beneath the mask, Sherlock was a man of strong emotions, evident whenever he spoke of old cases, the murders he’d solved, the criminals he’d brought to justice. It was easy to see how Sherlock loved his work, more challenging to understand that it went beyond mere thrill. But John saw it did. He saw Sherlock's intense pride in his work and that it wasn’t tied to acclaim or reward. His dedication to solving the unknown not only culled the criminal class but helped to maintain Sherlock’s sanity.
John saw that Sherlock was a complex man. As the barriers peeled away between them, and they grew closer, John felt he was beginning to understand Sherlock Holmes. In that same gradual way, something blossomed within John. There was a deepening of feeling, of regard, for the man who occasionally rode at his side, showing more and more of himself with each day they spent together. It was simultaneously freeing and terrifying, John at odds with his desire for barriers versus his craving to know Sherlock on a deeper, more intimate level. Only through sheer willpower did John keep things cordial between them, struggling to maintain distance with the man who entranced him.
Today, Sherlock wore a pensive expression. Fog still clung to the scenery surrounding them, softening the stark, harsh edges of the moors, but Sherlock himself looked anything but soft.
“Penny for your thoughts?” John asked, glancing over at Sherlock. He took in the hard, unflinching line of his clenched jaw. “You look like you’ve got something on your mind.” They’d been silent for the better part of an hour, and John’s voice sounded sudden and too loud when he spoke. He winced.
Sherlock turned a distracted face to John, looking like he’d been lost in thought. Gradually, the faded look in Sherlock’s gaze dissipated, and he sighed. He looked tired, his face drawn, shadows pressed dark beneath his eyes. “I’m still not sleeping well,” he said, frustrated. John made a soft, sympathetic sound that Sherlock seemed to take as encouragement. “I thought the therapy would help. And it is helping, I suppose.” Lips pressed together, Sherlock looked ahead with a thoughtful, unhappy expression. “But I still have nightmares.” Disappointment tinged his voice, and his hands tightened on the reins, white-knuckled and stiff. Sensing her rider’s tension, Bluebell tossed her head restlessly.
“Go easy on the reins,” John said gently, glad to see Sherlock’s hands immediately soften. “Nightmares are funny things,” he said, watching Sherlock’s head whip toward him from the edge of his vision. John kept his eyes focused ahead, pretending he hadn’t noticed. “I’ve come a long way from who I was when I first came to Doyle House, but I still have nightmares of my own sometimes.” He chanced a glance at Sherlock and saw he was looking back at him with wide, sombre eyes. John offered a small, sympathetic smile. “I think they just get a bit easier to accept, rather than going away entirely.”
Sherlock didn’t look pleased by John’s words. Mouth tugging down at the corners in a frown, he faced forward. “I’ve never been one to care about missing sleep,” he said quietly, making John strain to hear him, “but now I can’t sleep even when I need to. It’s… demoralizing.”
“I know,” John said with feeling. He understood Sherlock’s struggle down to his bones, recalling his own sleepless nights with a grimace.
Sherlock cast him a desperate look. “How do you deal with it?” A tentative note of hope slipped into his voice.
John replied with care, “I find talking about the nightmares helps. Sometimes it feels like everything that happened takes up so much space in my mind, and I can’t get enough room for myself.” He shook his head. “Talking helps get some of it out.” Looking over at Sherlock, John saw he looked thoughtful again. “Have you told Doctor Kimathi about the nightmares?”
Sherlock shook his head. John didn’t press, waiting to see if Sherlock wanted to pursue the topic. After a moment, it seemed he did. Taking a deep breath, Sherlock braced himself and said, “I dream about being… back there.”
A haunted look rose in Sherlock’s pale eyes. “Serbia,” he whispered, so softly John nearly missed the word over the sound of hooves against soft ground. John allowed himself a second of thought before coming to a decision and pulling Blaze to a halt. Sherlock stopped a second later, shooting him a curious look.
“Let’s rest the horses for a bit,” John said, dismounting before Sherlock could question the suggestion. The horses didn’t need a break, but John thought Sherlock might need a moment of stillness, something he wouldn’t find on horseback.
Sherlock slipped off Bluebell’s broad back without comment, his expression pensive. He looked suddenly lost, and John turned away to give him privacy. He tethered the horses to a thick-trunked tree, removing their bridles and leaving enough length in the lines so they could graze. Dusting his hands off on his thighs, he sank onto a large boulder with a groan. There was a lingering stiffness in his body, his shoulder nearly rigid and complaining from the damp air. John kneaded his thumb into the twisted scar tissues, making a mental note to book a physio session after their ride.
As John worked on his shoulder, Sherlock sat down next to him. There was nowhere else to sit, the grass glinting with the stubborn gleam of dew that refused to burn off beneath the wan sun. The boulder wasn’t particularly large, and their knees touched, Sherlock a warm, welcome presence at John’s side. Some of the knotted tension began to ease out of John’s shoulder when Sherlock finally spoke.
“I was captured in Serbia,” he breathed out, low and slow. “They kept me in a tiny cell. No window. The air was damp and heavy, and it felt like it might fill my lungs like water.” Sherlock shivered. John, without thinking, tilted his good shoulder into Sherlock’s. It was an instinctive offering of comfort, and John stilled, bracing himself for Sherlock’s reaction. To his surprise — and maybe Sherlock’s as well — Sherlock didn’t pull away. Gratitude passed over his face as he stared forward. After a moment, Sherlock leaned into the contact.
John’s hands twitched with the beginnings of a quiver. He tucked them together between his knees to keep them still as Sherlock continued in a soft voice.
“They only really kept me there during the day. I tried to sleep, but the building was always so loud. Banging doors, men shouting orders, men… screaming.” A shudder ran through Sherlock, and John pressed a bit closer. Gratitude flashed over Sherlock’s face again, there and gone before the haunted look reappeared. “At night, they took me out, and they…” Pressing his teeth against his bottom lip, Sherlock looked away. His body was so tense, John thought he might snap.
Thinking of the scars on Sherlock’s body, John said, “They tortured you.” It wasn’t a question, but Sherlock still nodded.
“Yes,” he said, his voice suddenly ragged. “First for information. Then, when they realized I either had nothing to tell or wouldn’t, for fun.” Another shiver, this one wracking Sherlock’s entire frame. “In the end, I don’t think they cared if I knew anything or not. It became a game for them. They’d see how long it would take me to scream or cry.” Sherlock closed his eyes tightly as if to block out the visions in his head. “If Mycroft hadn’t found me when he did, I’m not sure how much longer I would have lasted.” His voice trailed away, leaving them with nothing but the sound of the wind and the horses’ chewing as they cropped at the grass behind them.
John broke the silence first. “Is that what you dream about?” he asked, thinking back to Sherlock’s talk of nightmares. “That they finished what they started?”
Eyes closed, Sherlock shook his head.
Gently, John asked, “Something else?” There was no response. “You don’t have to tell me. But you can, Sherlock. If you want to, you can.” John hesitated before reaching out and touching two fingers to the back of Sherlock’s hand, curled tight around Sherlock’s thigh. Sherlock twitched at the contact but didn’t pull away. A shaky breath shivered out between his parted lips, eyes opening as Sherlock turned his hand and laced their fingers together.
John's breath caught in surprise. He held perfectly still, watching Sherlock turn to him with eyes darkened by desperation and vulnerability.
“I dream that no one comes,” he whispered, their gazes locked. John hardly dared to breathe lest he might miss even one word. “I dream that no one comes, and they never succeed in killing me. That I’m there forever, and time never ends, and I never die. I just hang there by my chains, and they tear me apart, but I never die.”
Another violent shiver worked through Sherlock, and John gripped his hand tighter. “That won’t happen,” he said firmly. “You’re safe now.”
Sherlock’s lips pursed, his eyes wide and helpless. “My mind can’t seem to accept that.” His lashes fluttered. “I’m always just… waiting. Waiting to wake up and find myself back there. I don’t know how to stop looking over my shoulder, how to be the man I used to be.”
As if from a distance, John heard himself say, “I was shot in Afghanistan by a child. He couldn’t have been more than fifteen. He shot me in the shoulder and left me to die. It was a close thing before my squadron found me.”
Sherlock’s eyes held his, unblinking. “Do you dream that they never come?”
Without looking away, John slowly shook his head. “No,” he whispered, guilt tightening his throat, his words strained, “I dream of killing him.” John swallowed, struggling against the blockage. “In my darkest moments, I wish I had.”
They sat together in a quiet that grew until it sang. It never broke, never turned awkward. It just was, the two of them sitting with hands clasped together like neither wanted to be the first to pull back. Blaze shifted restlessly, calling out with an impatient neigh, and they stirred. Rising, they separated through unspoken agreement, each stepping to and mounting his own horse. Neither made any mention of the hand holding.
On the ride back to Doyle House, Sherlock turned John’s words over and over in his mind. I dream of killing him. I wish I had.
Those thoughts must torture John. Sherlock thought of John as an honourable man. He tried to do the best where he could, making the tough choices where he couldn’t. John Watson was precisely the kind of man that would have been perfect as a soldier and even better as a doctor. He knew right from wrong, knew when a man had to accept failure or defeat. But that didn’t mean John wouldn’t internalize his guilt when he did fail. The boy who shot John had been a soldier too, and Sherlock felt John believed the boy had only been doing what he was trained to. Just as John would have done in his place. He wondered what it felt like to live with that. To hold the knowledge that their roles could have been reversed. It could just as easily have been John standing over the body of a child with his own bullet spreading blood into the sand.
That knowledge must be a heavy burden to bear. No heavier than Sherlock’s own burden, perhaps. He lived with what had happened to him by just… living. It was the only way. He’d tried to drown out the past with drugs and self-harm. Neither had worked and now both Kimathi and John were showing Sherlock that self-neglect and oblivion weren't solutions. There was no use running from his demons when they were now simply part of who Sherlock was.
John carried his own demons, his own darkness, and so did Sherlock.
Sherlock still wondered what it was about John that made him so easy to trust. Not even Kimathi's steady presence inspired such blind faith. There was something about John, unintrusive and safe, that made Sherlock want to tell him the things he could barely admit to himself. And John was right: sharing his fears had helped. Maybe Sherlock still wouldn’t sleep tonight, and perhaps the nightmares would still come, but maybe they wouldn’t. Something had changed. He no longer felt so alone. He’d found something in John, something familiar, an unexpected kindred spirit.
Maybe Sherlock need never feel so alone again — not while John Watson existed in his world.
Sherlock didn’t see John for three days. Struggling not to dwell on the absence, he threw himself into his composing. Sleep still eluded him, and Sherlock spent his many restless, waking hours shaping the music. Sometimes, he played as late as four am, stopping only when other patients complained about the noise. After that, Sherlock stuck to playing during the day, silently composing the notes in his head at night. By the fourth day, the piece was more than halfway done, most of it rewritten as the song took shape and changed. At its conception, the composition had been sad, almost lonely, the notes low and wavering, a drawn-out, heart-rending echo of Sherlock’s desolation. Now, it spoke of hope, shifting away from dark, heavy tones to tentative notes of yearning and anticipation.
Four days after the ride with John, he and Kimathi discussed Sherlock’s sleeplessness and his composing.
“Has your insomnia improved?” Anisa sat in her usual position, across from Sherlock with her right leg crossed over her left, her hands folded in her lap.
Shaking his head, Sherlock sighed, “No.”
“And the nightmares?”
Sherlock grimaced, looking at the windows behind her. After his talk with John, he'd finally confessed the nature of his sleeplessness to Kimathi. He still wasn't sure if he was glad to have done so. “No worse, no better. I keep seeing the same thing, over and over.” His lips pressed into a thin line, anguish washing over him and leaving behind a feeling of helplessness.
“Opiate withdrawal can worsen nightmares and disrupt circadian rhythms. Have you thought about sleep aids?”
“I’d rather not.” Sherlock had tried sleep meds when he’d first arrived. They’d helped him get to sleep but made waking harder. And he still woke up from his nightmares even with the pills, groggy and confused from the drugs. Waking without that fogginess was marginally better, and Sherlock preferred the mental clarity over the lassitude.
Anisa let the subject drop. “And your music? How is that going?”
Always willing to discuss his composing, Sherlock sat straighter. He ignored the slight, amused smile that spread over Anisa’s lips. After four days with no sign of John, Sherlock was eager to talk to someone who actually wanted to hear him. “It’s progressing wonderfully,” he said, unable to keep a flash of pride out of his voice. “I think I’ve finally found the sound I want.”
Anisa’s smile grew. “Good,” she said, genuinely pleased. “That’s very good, Sherlock.” They’d switched to first names over the last week, something Sherlock found much easier to accept with Anisa than he had with any of his previous therapists. “Do you think you’ll finish soon?”
Sherlock pondered the question. Did he? He wasn’t sure. The piece had begun to change after he and John first opened up to one another. It was progressing but still unfinished. It was, Sherlock thought with an internal, self-indulgent grimace, much like his friendship with John himself: incomplete. John had gotten under Sherlock’s skin, and Sherlock, in John’s absence, was only beginning to see that now.
Anisa’s quiet voice drew Sherlock out of his thoughts. “Sorry, I lost myself for a moment.”
“No need to apologize,” Anisa said with a smile. “We all lose ourselves sometimes. Shall we continue?”
“Yes,” Sherlock replied, “I think so.”
On the way back to his room, Sherlock felt lighter than he had when he first woke. The day was warming, and he wondered if he might be allowed to walk the grounds on his own. He needed to shrug off the heaviness of the night, and fresh air would do him good. Wondering who he needed to ask for permission to leave the manor, Sherlock turned a corner and halted at the sight of John Watson standing outside his door.
Leaning against the wall, hands in his pockets, John gazed absently at the door across from him. He looked up at the sound of Sherlock’s footsteps, the unfocused look on his face disappearing as a smile spread over his lips. “Sherlock,” he said, the affection in his voice sending warmth through Sherlock’s body.
“Were you waiting for me?” Sherlock mentally kicked himself for asking such an obvious question. “Of course you were,” he said before John could reply. “Why else would you be waiting at my door?”
“Guilty as charged,” John said, half-joking, half-embarrassed. “Sorry I didn't come by sooner. I took on two new patients, and the paperwork kept me busy.”
“It’s fine, John,” Sherlock dug out his keys and turned to the door. “Are you free now?”
“Yes.” John followed Sherlock into the room without waiting for an invite, and Sherlock hid a small, pleased smile at the familiarity. “I wondered if you wanted to go for a ride?” Glancing around, John’s eyes landed on the sheet music spread over the bed, floor, walls, and desk. “Er… unless you’re busy?” He gestured at the organized chaos with an uncertain expression.
“No, I’ve nothing on for today,” Sherlock said, already rifling through his dresser for his riding clothes. “Just need a moment.” He went into the bathroom to change without waiting for a reply, emerging moments later to find John still looking at all the sheets. Admiration shone on his expressive face. Sherlock leaned against the door frame, taking advantage of the opportunity to watch John unobserved. The sunlight warming the room danced through John’s hair, picking out the individual colours — blonde, gold, brown, grey, silver — and making them shine. He looked softer in the light, making Sherlock blink as his heart gave an unexpected little jolt at the sight.
He was still wrestling with the feeling when John looked up. “What does it sound like?” he asked, his eyes tracking over the impressive spread of music sheets. His smile twisted in apology. “I’d say I’ve forgotten how to read music, but the truth is, I was always shite at it."
Sherlock’s lips slowly curled into a tentative smile of his own. “I’ve rewritten much of it,” he admitted, stepping forward to pick up a sheet. Messy notations covered the page, entire sections crossed out and rewritten with fierce, dark slashes of pen. It was an awful mess, but it all made perfect sense to Sherlock. He brushed a fingertip over where he’d pressed the pen hard enough to indent the paper.
“Somehow, that doesn’t surprise me,” John said with a hint of teasing humour. "You strike me as a perfectionist."
Sherlock glanced at him in surprise. “I could play it for you when it’s finished,” he heard himself say, the words blurted out. Once they’d escaped, there was no taking them back, and Sherlock felt a fierce blush rise in his cheeks. Clawing back his composure, he cleared his throat. “If you’d like.”
John blinked as Sherlock waited with paper in hand and his heart in his throat. Then, he grinned, and the tension between them faded. “I’d like that,” John said, looking genuinely touched by the offer. “Very much.”
Pleasure surged through Sherlock, deepening the flush warming his face. “Alright,” he said, trying and failing to sound less eager than he was. He turned away to hunt for his coat, tugging it on to buy himself a moment to gather his wits about him. Once he faced John again, Sherlock felt less like a blushing, hormonal youth and more like the grown man he was. “Shall we?”
John gestured to the door with a good-natured smile. “After you, Mister Holmes.”
Chapter 10: Shattered
An unexpected death at Doyle House threatens the tenuous peace between John and Sherlock.
Heads up for discovering a dead man.
There was a spring in John’s step as he led Sherlock to the stables. He’d tried to stay away from him for all of four days and failed miserably. His attempt to maintain barriers between them, barriers he felt crumbling fast, had not worked.
Despite his failure, John felt a buoyancy he couldn’t explain away. He thought it must stem from Sherlock’s offer to play for him. So he told himself, though he knew it had more to do with giving in to his desire to spend time with Sherlock than any one thing. Still, John looked forward to hearing Sherlock play. The idea felt… intimate. Special. It filled John with anticipation, coaxing a smile onto his face.
Whenever he looked at Sherlock, he found that expression returned, Sherlock’s full, plush lips curling upwards at the corners in a slow, uncertain smile of his own.
God, John was in trouble.
Over the last two months, Sherlock had become a new and integral part of John’s world. It had happened slowly until Sherlock suddenly seemed to just… fit. John was finding it harder and harder to separate the Sherlock he saw as a friend — perhaps as more — from the Sherlock he knew as a patient. Despite John’s ethics, the lines between them continued to blur. The dichotomy of their relationship was at odds with John’s professional values, but he couldn’t stop himself from wanting more. It was like he was caught in a free fall, helpless to check his downward motion.
John was a solitary man and, though he’d made connections with his colleagues, and his work gave him much-needed purpose… Things were different with Sherlock — Sherlock was different. He was something new, exciting, thrilling. John enjoyed spending time with him; he liked learning who Sherlock was. It never mattered what they talked about. John just liked that they spoke at all. Sherlock was brilliant, bright and fascinating with his quick wit, sharp mind, and intriguing history. His trauma was the least of who he was, just as John was far more than a bullet wound and PTSD. John was mesmerized by his story, by his work, by Sherlock himself.
But John knew he couldn’t ignore what Sherlock had been through. He was walking a dangerous line. As a doctor, with Sherlock barely removed as his immediate patient, John needed to rein in his enthusiasm, his personal interest. Sherlock wasn’t just some bloke. He was a patient, a man working through trauma and addiction. Sherlock might seem larger than life, but he was as human as John himself and just as easily vulnerable.
So far, they’d kept things professional between them. Appropriate. No one could accuse John of anything untoward or unethical. But he was struggling to keep within those boundaries. John balked at the necessity of maintaining professional limits between them when Sherlock felt like his first real friend since well before Afghanistan.
Even with desire burning in his veins, John still clung to his doctor’s oath — do no harm — knowing he might very well do harm to them both if he overstepped.
But understanding the need for distance didn’t make it any easier to keep.
As they neared the stables, the rising sound of distressed neighing scattered John’s thoughts. He halted, exchanging a confused look with Sherlock before they both hurried into the building.
John’s eyes adjusted to the gloom inside as he followed the sound of stamping hooves and anxious animals to the back stalls. He paused at the sight of Silver Blaze’s stall, standing open and seemingly empty. A dun mare tossed her head in the next stall over, teeth bared and eyes rolling wildly.
“Whoa, whoa,” John murmured, moving slowly toward her. The mare tossed her head again, the whites of her eyes showing as she clacked her teeth at him. It took a bit for John to calm her down, the horse stamping against the floor of her stall at his approach. “It’s alright, you’re alright,” he soothed. Over his shoulder, he said, “Sherlock, can you check Silver Blaze’s stall?”
Sherlock moved past to peer into the empty stall. He stiffened, a peculiar expression creeping over this face. “John?” His voice sounded strange, and the hairs on John’s nape stood at attention.
Finally calming the mare, John turned toward him. “Yeah?” He rubbed a calming hand down the mare’s white-marked face. “What is it?”
Sherlock stared into the open stall, a slight frown creasing his brow. “You should come and see this,” he said, in a strained voice.
Struck by a rising sense of dread, John gave the mare one last pat and crossed to Sherlock’s side. “What is it?” he asked before looking into the stall. Blood rushed in his ears, his pulse quickening and drowning out Sherlock’s reply. John froze, held in place by a sudden surge of adrenaline-fuelled shock at the sight before them.
Silver Blaze wasn’t in his stall, but it wasn’t empty. Instead of the ex-racehorse, a man lay curled on his side in the hay. Livid bruising marked his face, and blood pooled beneath him, spreading from a savage blow to the head. John knew him. John Straker, a fellow Doyle House staff member. He trained the horses and led the riding therapy sessions.
He was dead.
“Jesus,” John breathed. Nausea twisted in his stomach, shock making his tongue clumsy in his mouth. He stepped toward the stall, stopped when Sherlock grabbed his arm and pulled him back. John almost tripped, caught his balance, and stared at him. “What are you doing?”
Sherlock’s eyes remained fixed on Straker’s body. “You’ll contaminate the crime scene.” His voice sounded oddly flat, his face empty of expression. Only the glimmer of reluctant fascination in his eyes betrayed something of his hidden feelings.
John stared for a second longer, then swallowed and forced himself to nod. “Right,” he said weakly, looking everywhere but at the dead body. “Um. Excuse me for a moment.” He took a step back, Sherlock’s hand falling away from his arm as John turned from the stall. Staring at a horse stabled opposite, John met the animal’s wide, dark eyes as his mind whirled.
Death didn’t alarm him, not the way it did most people. He’d faced it repeatedly, both as a soldier and as a doctor, then nearly on personal terms. John was no stranger to death. But he hadn’t anticipated encountering it here, and the unexpected discovery made his body tingle with shock right down to his toes. It was one thing to be used to death and quite another to come face-to-face with it when you least expected it. John had felt so cheerful moments ago, warmed by Sherlock’s presence, and this sudden shift sent him reeling.
He took a moment to regain his equilibrium before turning to find Sherlock watching him with a wary expression.
“Are you alright?” he asked, and John gave a jerky nod in response. Sherlock looked unconvinced, and John didn’t blame him. “Are you sure?”
Breathing out a long, loud exhale, John shook his head. “Of course I’m not alright,” he said, frowning past Sherlock at the dead man. “But I’m okay.” Clenching his hands at his sides for a moment, John closed his eyes and took a few more deep breaths. He opened his eyes to Sherlock’s concerned face.
His silent sympathy made John’s chest feel suddenly tight, his throat constricted. He pushed aside his shock, rubbed a hand over his face, and sighed. “I know him,” John said slowly. “He works here, with the horses. It’s… unexpected.”
Sherlock’s eyes darkened with understanding. “It must be a shock,” he said, the attempt at comfort clearly awkward on his tongue. John shot him a grateful smile.
“Yeah, it is.” Sherlock’s earlier words came back to him as his mind began to clear. “You said something about a crime scene?”
Sherlock’s eyes brightened even as his lips twisted into a grimace. “Yes.” He glanced over his shoulder at the body. “I suspect foul play.”
A multitude of questions rose in John’s mind, but he forced them back. This was Sherlock’s realm, his area of expertise. He nodded, accepting Sherlock’s evaluation. “I’m going to call the police, and then I’m going to call Colonel Ross.” John resigned himself to a strange day, some mad, inappropriate part of his brain disappointed that they wouldn’t be riding after all.
Sherlock looked at the body of John Straker with a grim expression. “I think that would be a sound idea.”
Sherlock studied the scene while John made his phone calls. He felt torn by his desire to investigate and a burning need to comfort John. Humming beneath it all was an inexplicable urge to turn tail and run. That was new. Before Serbia, casework had always excited Sherlock. Now, that enjoyment was suspiciously absent. Maybe that was partly due to the unexpectedness of finding Straker’s body, but Sherlock felt it must go deeper than that. He felt gun-shy, his usual confidence shattered.
Dimly, Sherlock realized much of his reluctance stemmed from John’s shaken reaction to Straker’s death. This man had been part of John’s life at Doyle House. Maybe not a large part, but still a piece of John Watson’s world. That knowledge made Sherlock waver, hesitant to unbalance John’s carefully constructed existence. Over the past few months, he’d become fond of John, finding solace and friendship in the stalwart doctor. Now, with a dead man before him, Sherlock struggled with the possible ramifications. What if Doyle House was closed down? John would lose his job, his home, everything that had brought him stability since Afghanistan.
If that happened, and Sherlock took on the case, he would be part of John’s ruin.
Sherlock was still struggling with himself when John returned. He wasn’t alone. A young man, tall in height and gawky in limb with a dazed look in his eyes, leaned heavily on him. Sherlock thought he must barely be out of his teen years. Despite his youth, the young man towered over John. Their height differences might have been comical in any other situation, but not today.
Judging by how he leaned on John and the bruise rising on his forehead, Sherlock knew he’d been assaulted.
“This is Ned Hunter,” John said. Dragging a stool over from the tack wall, he guided the young man onto it. Every movement spoke of genuine concern, and Sherlock felt a surge of warmth watching John care for the injured youth. He forced himself to focus as John went on.
“Ned helps out with the horses here a few days a week.” John laid a steadying hand on the youth’s shoulder as the young man tilted dangerously on the stool. “He said he was mucking out the stalls when someone knocked him out.”
“They did it with a bloody shovel, too,” Ned groaned, closing his eyes and gripping his head with a pained grimace. Sherlock hummed in sympathy. “I think they knocked something loose.” The last was said in a dismal tone, a half-hearted attempt at levity that failed to land.
John shot Sherlock a grim look over Ned’s bowed head. “You most likely have a concussion,” John said, squatting down next to the youth. He laid a comforting hand on Ned’s slumped shoulder. “I’ll have a look at you back at the manor. But first,” John glanced at Sherlock, “maybe you can tell us everything you remember before you were struck?”
“I’ll try,” Ned said, looking doubtful.
Sherlock glanced at John in surprise, startled to hear John conceding the situation to him. As if picking up on his confusion, John looked up and met his eyes with a reassuring gaze.
“I’ve called Brian, and the police are on their way,” John said, speaking to Ned but looking at Sherlock. “This is Mister Holmes, Ned. He used to work with New Scotland Yard in London. He might be able to make sense of what happened here.” John’s lips curved into a small, unexpected smile. “He’s a bit of an expert in these things.”
Sherlock held John’s gaze for a moment longer, startled by the praise and fighting against the flush rising in his face. He lost, his cheeks burning, and he cleared his throat, forcing his eyes away from John and back to Ned. Caught off-balance by the unexpected faith, Sherlock silently vowed to prove himself worthy of John’s trust.
“Tell me everything you remember,” he demanded, then winced. “Please,” Sherlock added, offering Ned a smile he hoped looked encouraging.
Ned seemed too dazed to care about Sherlock’s brusque manner and started talking. “It’s like Doctor Watson said,” he said, warming to the story as Sherlock looked down at him with an expectant expression. “I was mucking out Galloway’s stall, and I heard raised voices. I went out to see what was going on and saw Mister Straker arguing with a man. They kind of quieted down when I came around, but the second guy looked at me real weird-like.” The youth shuddered. He was clearly shaken up by what had happened, and Sherlock couldn’t blame him. A shovel to the head tended to do that. He should know; he’d been on the receiving end of similar assaults.
“Anyway,” Ned went on, recapturing Sherlock’s wandering focus, “I pretended like I was grabbing some fresh hay. Walked past them as if I hadn’t heard anything.”
“And had you heard anything?” Sherlock asked without much hope.
Ned looked chagrined. “I didn’t, not really,” he said, shrugging in apology. “I just knew they sounded angry. Oh, but wait…” His brow creased. “The one guy — not Mister Straker — said something about money? Maybe?”
Sherlock frowned. “Where were they standing when you saw them?”
“Right here.” Ned pointed at the open stall. His eyes darted away from the body inside, narrowing slightly as his freckled face paled. Throat working around a thick swallow, Ned said, “Just out here, where we are.”
John and Sherlock exchanged meaningful glances. Judging by John’s expression, he was thinking the same thing as Sherlock. “Do you remember if Silver Blaze was in his stall at the time?” John asked.
Ned nodded, still looking pallid. “Yeah, he was looking out at them. Straker had a halter in one hand.”
Sherlock mulled over the words. It seemed that Straker and this mystery man’s plan had involved the ex-racehorse. Whatever it was, something had clearly gone wrong. Straker was dead, and both Blaze and the other man were missing. Sherlock felt John’s curious eyes on him and steepled his fingers beneath his chin, keeping his focus on Ned. “What happened next?”
Ned looked thoughtful and a little grey. The youth’s head was undoubtedly hurting him, and Sherlock’s questioning was taxing his depleted energy. Regardless, Ned pushed onward.
Sherlock admired his tenacity.
“Well, I went back to my mucking, thinking nothing of it. People argue all the time, right?” Ned shrugged. “Anyway, I had my music on, so I didn’t hear anyone come up behind me. Next thing I know, I’m waking up with a splitting headache and Doctor Watson was kneeling over me.” Ned looked glumly between them. “Sorry, but I don’t know much more than that.”
“That’s quite alright,” Sherlock assured him, trying to make up for his earlier bluntness. Catching John’s raised eyebrow, he said, “I just have one final question before John takes you up to the manor to have a look at your head.”
Ned looked tired, but he nodded, evidently willing. “Sure thing, Mister Holmes.”
Sherlock held back a smile at the youth’s resilience. “Can you describe the man you saw talking to Mister Straker?”
“I didn’t get a great look,” Ned said with a quiet sigh. “But he was white and had short, dark grey hair. He was about my height, maybe a little taller. Nice clothes that looked kind of worn out. I think…” Ned frowned. “I think Mister Straker called him… Sampson? Something like that.”
John shifted, drawing Sherlock’s attention in time to see a flicker of recognition pass over his face. “Could it have been Simpson?” he asked.
Ned’s eyes lit up. “Yeah,” he exclaimed, nodding enthusiastically enough to make himself wince. Pressing a hand to his bruised face, he added in a muted tone, “Yeah, that sounds right.”
“Thank you, Ned,” Sherlock said, exchanging a grave look with John over his head. He suppressed a thrill of excitement at the fascination in John’s eyes. “You’ve been a big help, but I think you should go with John now.” Ideas were forming in Sherlock’s mind, hints shaping themselves into clues. He didn’t have all the facts he needed but thought John might hold some of the missing pieces. The sooner John took Ned to the manor, the sooner they could discuss the particulars. “Go on with John to the manor and get yourself checked out.” Straightening from his crouch, Sherlock met John’s eyes again. “I’ll wait here for the police and Colonel Ross.”
“Okay,” Ned said with a grateful nod. “Good luck, Mister Holmes.” He rose with John’s help, swaying but remaining upright despite the blurry look in his eyes.
John hooked the youth’s arm over his shoulders before pausing to look at Sherlock. “I won’t be long,” he promised. “You’ll wait here?”
Sherlock looked at him with surprise. “Of course,” he said. “I won’t go anywhere without you.” He watched a flare of colour spread over John’s face and swallowed. John, schooling his expression into something less thunderstruck, nodded and led Ned out of the stable.
Sherlock watched until they were out of sight before he turned back to the dead man in the stall. Ned’s story whirled through his mind, pieces working to slot into place as he contemplated John Straker’s body. The mental image of John’s flushed face kept interrupting, stopping Sherlock’s thought process in its tracks more than once. He pushed the distraction away with no small effort, eyes narrowed at Straker’s body.
The more Sherlock thought about it, the more likely foul play seemed. Hopefully, once John returned, Sherlock would have the rest of the puzzle.
He sank down onto the stool Ned had just vacated. Steepling his fingers beneath his chin, Sherlock settled in to wait for the police, Brian Ross, and John.
Chapter 11: Rejection
John clings to his ethics just as things start to progress between him and Sherlock.
John accompanied Ned to the manor and confirmed that he wasn't suffering from anything more severe than a concussion. Satisfied Ned would follow his orders for bed rest, he helped the youth into a cab before heading back to the stables. John arrived to see two police cars and Brian Ross standing outside with a dazed look on his sun-weathered face.
“‘Lo, Brian,” John called, hailing the man.
Brian turned with a bemused expression. “Oh, Watson,” he sounded strained, “there you are.” Gesturing at the stables over his shoulder, he added, “The police are inside with your Mister Holmes.”
Tamping down on the tingle Brian’s words sent through him, John offered a rueful smile. “He used to be a kind of… detective,” he explained, watching Brian nod absently. “He might be able to help figure out what happened here.”
“Yes,” Brian said slowly, still with that blurry look in his eyes. “That’s… Well, let’s hope he does sort it out.” Visibly shaken, he looked at John with renewed focus. “How is Ned? I heard he was injured.”
“Just a concussion and some bruising,” John assured him. He itched to get back to Sherlock, but Colonel Ross looked at him with desperation, and John owed the man better than a brush-off. “I looked him over and sent him home in a cab. He was a little shaken up, but I bet he’ll be good as gold after some rest and time to process what happened.” John smiled reassuringly. “I think he’ll be just fine. You know the resiliency of youth.”
Brian released his held breath in an audible whoosh, shoulders drooping as some of his stiffness faded. “I’m glad to hear it,” he said, casting a bemused glance toward the stables. “I’ll admit I’m no stranger to death and violence, but this…” He shook his head, spreading his hands in a helpless gesture.
Lips turned down at the corners, John grimaced his agreement. “I know what you mean,” he said, rubbing a hand over the nape of his neck. Talking about these things had never been his strong suit, but John thought they would both benefit from an attempt to verbally process what had happened. “It’s strange, coming upon it like this, unexpected despite the familiar face. Especially after so many years without having to watch those around us fall to a bullet.”
Brian nodded fervently. “That’s it to a tee, Watson.” He looked like he wanted to say more, but Sherlock emerged from the dark of the stable’s entrance right then, and John’s focus snapped to him at once. John checked the urge to rush to him and waited for Sherlock to reach them. He was holding a bridle in one hand, and John frowned.
“Did you find anything?” he asked once Sherlock was within hearing distance. Sherlock glanced at him before his eyes slid to Brian and darted back to John in an unspoken question. “This is Colonel Brian Ross,” John said, catching on.
Brian held out a hand, which Sherlock took with a grave expression. “Mister Holmes,” Brian said sombrely, “I wish we were meeting under better circumstances.”
Sherlock shook the hand with a firm grasp and settled his arm primly back at his side afterward. “I’m sorry about the loss of Straker,” he said, awkwardly formal. John winced in sympathy for him; Sherlock didn’t strike him as someone who comforted others well. But he made an effort, and that mattered. “I’ve shared my thoughts with the police. But without more information, I can’t be sure of the entire story.” Sherlock glanced at John before adding, “The police asked me to pass on that they’d like to speak with you, Colonel Ross.”
“Of course,” Brian said, turning and striding away at once. The pace he set was almost a march, his back stiff, his arms swinging at his sides. As always, Brian was a brisk man. John wasn’t surprised to realize he wasn’t the only one who still carried something of the military with him, even in civilian life.
Shaking his head, John turned to Sherlock. “What did the police say?”
Sherlock’s lips quirked. “They’ve no idea what happened.” Faint disdain coloured his tone. “But they agree with my assumption of foul play.”
“And what do you think happened?” John asked, watching him closely. Sherlock’s face shuttered, his eyes gleaming as they took on a pensive light.
“I have some idea,” Sherlock mused. “Nothing concrete.” He was silent for a moment then, without explanation, walked around the side of the stables. Bemused by the strange behaviour, John followed.
They explored the building’s perimeter together, Sherlock pausing now and again to study things that John couldn’t see. He didn’t question Sherlock’s approach, quietly following as Sherlock led him away from the stables and out toward the moors.
“Where are we going?” John finally asked once the stable had disappeared from view behind them.
Sherlock shook his head and kept walking. After a while, he asked, “You said Mister Straker worked with the horses?”
John nodded. He picked his way carefully around a depression in the ground where he might have otherwise turned his ankle had he not been paying attention. “Yes,” he said, glancing at Sherlock, whose face gave him nothing. “He trained them and oversaw Doyle House’s therapy riding program.”
Sherlock made a soft sound of acknowledgement in his throat. “And Simpson?” At John’s confused expression, Sherlock said, “You thought he might be the man Ned saw with Straker.”
“Right.” John frowned. “The description Ned gave didn’t mean anything until he said he thought the name was Sampson, and something clicked.” He hesitated, considering the breach of confidentiality before dismissing the concern. If Simpson had any involvement in Straker’s death, he wouldn’t be John’s patient much longer. “I took on a new patient this week. His name is Fitzroy Simpson. Ned’s description made me think he could be our unknown man.”
Sherlock paused and grabbed John’s arm, making John pull up short. The unexpected contact made John freeze in place.
“What do you know about Simpson?” Sherlock demanded. “Why is he here?” His fierce eyes locked with John’s, Sherlock’s face lit with a sudden excitement John hadn’t seen in him before.
Taken aback by the intensity, John fumbled for his words. He took a moment to wet his lips before replying, shocked when Sherlock’s eyes tracked the movement. “Gambling, mostly,” John managed around his suddenly thick tongue. “A gambling addiction that resulted in a few broken ribs and court-mandated therapy.”
The intensity in Sherlock’s expression doubled, his gaze blazing. “Interesting.” He didn’t elaborate, switching topics fast enough to make John’s head spin. “Silver Blaze — is he gelded?”
John frowned in confusion. “No,” he said slowly, lost in Sherlock’s train of thought, “he’s not.”
“Is he ever used for breeding?”
“Sometimes,” John said, still not understanding. He felt like he was twelve steps behind Sherlock and only falling further back. “Sometimes prospective breeders contact Doyle House for bloodline inquiries. Several of the ex-racehorses are enrolled in a breeding registry. It brings in money for the programs…” John tilted his head. “What does that have to do with Straker’s death?"
Sherlock grinned, his lips curling upward with a look of fierce excitement. “I assure you that horse breeding has everything to do with it. Come, John. We have a man to find.”
Sherlock explained his thought process as they walked the moors, moving further away from the manor as they went.
“Simpson must be up to his ears in gambling debts,” he said as they picked their way around a row of bramble bushes. “His troubles catch up with him, and the courts mandate him to attend therapy to deal with his gambling and to recover from his injuries. Problem solved, right? Not for Simpson — he still has his debts. Even if the therapy helps, he’ll be back in the same situation once he leaves, owing more than he can afford to pay. Somehow, he learns about the breeding program. Maybe Simpson even asks to be sent to Doyle House for his therapy. He makes a plan.”
John tried to follow the line of thought, slowly beginning to see the picture Sherlock painted. He paused to help Sherlock over a log, taking his hand without thinking as John guided him over the obstacle. Sherlock shot him a warm but distracted smile, their fingers lingering before Sherlock was moving and talking again at a mile a minute.
Slightly dazed by the warmth of their hands and that fleeting smile, John struggled to focus. “But what about the argument with Straker?” Brushing aside a tree branch, he wondered where they were going. It didn’t feel like an aimless wander; Sherlock seemed to know precisely where he was leading them.
“I imagine Simpson tried to convince Straker to help him,” Sherlock replied, looking over his shoulder at John. “Or maybe they were partners, but Straker wanted to back out at the last minute.” He shrugged, facing forward again. “We’ve no way of knowing. Whatever happened, things evidently didn’t go as planned.”
John stopped, halting in his tracks as a thought occurred. “Do you think Simpson murdered Straker?”
Sherlock waited for him, shaking his head. “No,” he said, continuing on once John started moving again. “I think his death was an accident. I believe Silver Blaze must have panicked and kicked him in the head. We can’t fault an animal for responding to a possible threat. But Simpson incriminated himself by failing to report the death and stealing Silver Blaze. He is guilty of manslaughter at the very least.”
Scowling, John said, “You think Straker might have survived if Simpson had called for help.”
“Yes.” Sherlock looked grim. “I’m not a medical man — that’s where your expertise lies,” they shared a quick smile that warmed John from head to toe before it faded, “but he might have had a chance if someone treated him right away.”
“That’s awful,” John muttered.
“Indeed,” Sherlock agreed sourly. “It is abhorrent not to help one’s fellow man.” With that ringing statement, he led them on for a while longer before John finally caught onto Sherlock’s thought process.
“You think he took Blaze out onto the moors?”
Sherlock tipped his head in agreement, looking pleased. “Yes. There are tracks and signs that Simpson did just that.” He pointed at the ground. “Do you see that mark in the grass?”
John glanced where he pointed with a doubtful expression. He saw grass and mud and a broken stick, nothing that looked like a clue. “I don’t see anything,” he admitted.
A sly smile played along the edges of Sherlock’s lips, almost a smirk. “I do,” he assured him.
“Really?” Sherlock nodded. “That’s brilliant,” John breathed, smiling when the words earned him a warm look and a slight blush from Sherlock. The flush of pleasure made him look enticing and suddenly younger, refreshed, and John stared. Their eyes held, something heated crackling in the air between them. Reminding himself of his professional responsibilities, John cleared his throat and looked away. The moment fizzled and faded. “Do you think we’ll find them? Simpson and Silver Blaze?”
Sherlock’s eyes flashed, and the little almost smirk on his lips twisted into something sharper. “I don’t think we will,” he said, with a flash of challenge in his eyes, “I know we will.”
John breathed out a startled little laugh. From anyone else, the statement might have seemed like false bravado. But Sherlock made it sound like a promise, his face shining with confidence. John had to admit that it was a tiny bit sexy, though he kept that thought to himself. “I bow to your expertise, Detective Holmes,” he said with a helpless grin. John gestured at the moors spreading out before them. “Lead on, and I will follow.”
Sherlock did just that with a quirk of his lips and a bit of colour in his pale cheeks.
Sherlock led John among lowlands and craggy bluffs, following a path that John couldn’t seem to see. To Sherlock, the route — marked out by broken branches, flattened vegetation, and the indentations of horseshoes and a man’s boots — was as clear as the sky overhead.
As they walked, the clouds thickened, darkening until a slanting, icy drizzle fell upon them. It muddied the ground and made the craggy tors and rolling greenery of the moors seem suddenly bleak. They were soaked by the time they came upon a small gully, the afternoon fading into evening. The air was beginning to cool, chilling the sweat that had risen on Sherlock’s skin from their exertions, making him shiver as he looked down. He saw that the depression was shallow enough to climb in and out if one was mindful of the scree.
Rubbing at his arms, Sherlock held up a hand and stopped John before he could slip in a deep, hidden pit beneath a bush. John frowned and side-stepped the hazard, saving himself a broken ankle.
“Why have we stopped?” John glanced around, missing the ravine. “Have you lost the trail?”
“On the contrary, John,” Sherlock said with a small smile, “we’ve reached its end.” He pointed down into the gully. John, moving carefully to its edge, looked down and startled.
A man lay below them, alive but dangerously pale under the fall of evening. One of his legs was canted at an awkward, unnatural angle as he stared up at them. A trickle of blood marked his temple, washed into a red rivulet by the rain.
“Fitzroy Simpson,” John muttered, staring down at the man. Without waiting for Sherlock’s reply, John stepped forward and made his way into the gully. Sherlock watched —his heart in his throat — as John slipped and skidded, sending loose rocks skittering along the sides and out ahead of him. He prayed John wouldn’t fall victim to the same mishap that had landed Fitzroy at the bottom with a broken leg and a gash on his forehead.
Only once John was safely down and seeing to the wounded man did Sherlock release his held breath. Exhaling loudly, he stepped back from the edge and looked around. He scanned the moors, searching for anything out of the ordinary. A flash of colour, brief and fleeting, caught his attention, drawing his eyes to a small copse of trees. Following the glimpse, Sherlock found Silver Blaze cropping at the grass, the large horse seemingly at peace with the world and unbothered by the rain.
“Hello there,” Sherlock called out, softly so as not to startle the animal. Blaze lifted his head, ears flicking toward Sherlock. He didn’t seem alarmed by Sherlock’s sudden appearance, swishing his tail before returning to his grazing. He didn’t startle at Sherlock’s approach and, slipping the bridle he’d tucked into his pocket at the stable over the horse’s head, Sherlock secured it in place. He gently tugged until Blaze huffed and followed. The exhale stirred the hair at Sherlock’s nape, making him grin, caught up by the giddy rush of a solved case. At peace with the world, Sherlock patted the horse’s white-marked face. “You’ve had quite an adventure today, haven’t you?” he said as he led Blaze out toward the gully. “But it’s time to go home now, I think.”
They emerged from the trees as John was climbing out of the gully. He looked up and nearly tumbled backwards in his shock, his wide eyes darting between Sherlock and the horse. “You found Silver Blaze,” he said with obvious surprise and admiration.
Warmed by John’s praiseful tone, Sherlock grinned. “I did. He seems none the worse for wear.”
John returned the grin before hauling himself up out of the ravine. He did so without evident struggle, and Sherlock fought to keep his admiring gaze to himself. From the twinkle in John’s eyes, he knew he hadn’t hidden it well enough. “Well, I’m glad to see that he’s alright,” John said, dusting his hands off on his jeans with a grimace. There was blood on his hands, now on his jeans, evidently belonging to the man below. “I can’t say the same for Fitzroy.”
Sherlock glanced into the gully and saw that Simpson was now lying back with his eyes closed. He didn’t appear to be conscious. “Will he live?”
John nodded. “Yes. He passed out while I was checking his injuries.” There was a hint of steel in John’s voice, and Sherlock wondered how gentle he’d really been when handling Simpson’s leg. He chose not to ask. “He fractured his femur and struck his head on the way down. I’d rather not try to move him on my own. I think paramedics would be best.”
“Of course.” Sherlock glanced at Simpson again. “Blaze must have thrown him. He was clearly riding without a saddle, and I doubt he’s a skilled rider. I imagine he must have panicked when Straker was kicked and took the horse without stopping to saddle him.”
Lips pursed in anger, John folded his arms over his chest, scowling down at the man below them. “Bloody selfish prick.”
Sherlock eyed the blood on John’s hands, and his lips twitched. “A little on the nose,” he teased. John looked at him with a blank expression before understanding dawned, and he let out a startled bark of laughter.
“Funny,” he said, amused.
Sherlock grinned, feeling a surge of giddiness at John accepting his macabre humour. “Maybe we should head back and get those paramedics,” he suggested, sobering.
John tilted his head in agreement. “After you, Detective Sherlock Holmes,” he said with a warm gleam in his eyes.
Trying not to grin, Sherlock led John and Silver Blaze away from the gully, back toward the manor.
Colonel Ross and the police were waiting for them at the stable. An ambulance had arrived in their absence, the paramedics seeing to Straker’s body. After Sherlock filled them in on Simpson’s status and location, they called for a second rig. He and John gave their statements and were finally left alone with Ross in the wake of the hubbub. The rain had petered out into a fine drizzle, leaving behind a chill mist that clung to Sherlock’s wet skin like a shawl. The evening was well on its way to night, the sky burning a soft purple at the horizon as he began to shiver.
“Well,” the Colonel said, staring after the police car as it ambled away from them down the drive, “it’s been quite a day.”
Sherlock nodded in agreement. It had been a busy day, the busiest he’d had since his return from Serbia. Usually, he’d have rated such a case no more than a two and turned it down. But that was his old life, and today had provided a fascinating look at casework as Sherlock moved forward. Taking stock of himself, he realized he was tired, his body aching. The latter wasn’t uncommon, but the quality of the pain felt much sharper. Morosely, Sherlock thought the pain was something he would just have to live with. But his own pain wasn’t the most conspicuous part of the case. That had been John himself.
Today, John had proven himself a worthy assistant and partner. He was a helpful and welcome companion, something Sherlock never realized he lacked. He’d never thought of himself as lonely, but couldn’t shake the feeling now he’d had a taste of John’s companionship. He wanted to keep John with him, something that would no doubt prove impossible. Sherlock was a patient, and John was a doctor. One day soon, Sherlock would leave Doyle House.
Soon, he would be forced to leave John behind. The thought drained away the last of the satisfaction Sherlock gained from solving the case, leaving him feeling dull, almost empty.
“Sherlock?” John’s voice roused him from his dismal thoughts.
Sherlock frowned and looked around. Colonel Ross had disappeared, leaving him and John alone. “Sorry?” he said, clearing his throat to try and hide his lapse.
John gave him a strange look. “I said, I’m cold and wet.” He studied Sherlock silently for a moment. “Care for a cuppa?” A watchful light in John’s eyes made Sherlock wonder if there was something more to the invitation. Realizing he didn’t mind if there was, simply wanting more time with John, Sherlock nodded.
“A cuppa sounds perfect.”
John’s flat was small but not uncomfortably so, with the living room, kitchenette and bedroom all neatly spaced out in a single large room. A short half wall separated a modest queen-sized bed from the rest of the amenities, and the bathroom sat across from the sleeping quarters. It was immaculate, not a thing out of place, speaking to the impact military life had left on John.
Sherlock accepted John’s offer for a quick wash-up and borrowed clothes. Taking the old jeans and flannel shirt John handed him with an uncertain smile, Sherlock slipped into the bathroom. He washed up quickly in the tiny shower, humming as the hot water pulled the chill from his body. The shower was situated above an old tub, the ceiling low enough to make Sherlock duck to get his head beneath the spray. Despite the cramped space, he luxuriated in the warmth.
When he emerged five minutes later, John had set two steaming cups of tea at the little two-person table in the sitting room. He looked up as Sherlock left the bathroom, and an inexplicable flash of colour appeared in his cheeks before he looked away and cleared his throat. "Oh, good, the clothes fit. I wasn’t sure if they would.” The rough, rasping edge to John’s voice made Sherlock lift an eyebrow and glance down at his appearance. The jeans left his ankles bare, and the shirt sleeves were several inches too short. Sherlock thought ‘fit’ might be a generous word. Still, he smiled.
“Yes, thank you for letting me borrow them.” Sherlock eyed his own clothing, hanging muddy and damp above the radiator to dry. They looked better fit for the rubbish bin than his closet.
“No problem,” John said. Awkwardness lingered in the air between them until John cleared his throat and gestured to the bathroom. “I’ll just be a moment,” he said, sidling past Sherlock to disappear inside with an armful of dry clothes.
Sherlock frowned at the closed bathroom door, bemused by John’s behaviour. Dismissing his concern, he picked up one of the steaming mugs. The tea was brewed stronger than Sherlock usually preferred, but he wrapped his hands around the offered warmth and sipped despite the scalding burn on his tongue. Warmed from the inside out, Sherlock took in the rest of the flat.
Though sparsely furnished, the room had a comfortable feeling to it. The table sat behind a light blue loveseat with a handmade blanket folded over the back and a small coffee table before it. Two tall bookshelves took up the wall opposite, dusted and shining with wood polish. The bed was neatly made, the pillowcases and coverlet both a sombre shade of grey that matched the curtains and the large area rug beneath the loveseat. There was no television in sight, but the shelves were overflowing with books, stacked and piled seemingly without order.
Sherlock scanned the titles with curious eyes. He recognized a few medical texts, smiling as he drifted a finger over the worn spine of a well-used copy of Grey’s Anatomy. Slipping it off the shelf, he opened the cover. There was a personalized, handwritten message on the flyleaf.
Best of luck with your studies. Your mother would have been proud.
Sherlock traced John’s name with an idle finger before returning the book to its place. Most of the other books lining the shelves were novels, and many were of the crime-solving variety. Sherlock smiled at that, wondering what John had made of the day, with its real-life crime and detective work. Maybe he’d enjoyed it as much as Sherlock had.
The bathroom door opened, interrupting his musings. Clutching his mug in one hand, Sherlock turned as John emerged in a cloud of steam. He was pink-cheeked and squeaky-clean, hair still damp from the shower. Taking in the scrubbed glow of him, Sherlock felt his mouth go dry. As it did, he wondered if this was what had turned John all raspy-voiced earlier, when Sherlock had no doubt emerged looking much the same. He busied himself with drinking his tea, knowing the heat warming his face was not solely a result of the steam touching upon his cheeks.
“Feel better?” he asked once John had ruffled a towel over his damp hair and reached for his own mug.
“Much,” John replied, favouring him with a smile. He sipped his tea and hummed with pleasure, dark eyes sliding closed for a moment in an expression of bliss. They fluttered open again to reveal dilated pupils that took longer than Sherlock thought normal to contract again.
He swallowed, feeling his pulse speed up at the sight.
John gestured at the small couch. “Care to sit?”
Sherlock nodded, dropping down on a cushion. The loveseat was much smaller than he’d thought, and John’s knee bumped his when he sat down. John murmured a soft apology that Sherlock shrugged off. John smiled and settled fully, his leg pressed against Sherlock’s. They sat for a few minutes without speaking. It wasn’t an awkward silence, the two of them pressed together from thigh to knee, sipping tea and lost in their own thoughts.
As he often did, John spoke first. “That was amazing." He cleared his throat and clarified, "What you did today.”
Sherlock turned to look at him, nearly startling when he saw how near their faces were. They were so close, separated by mere inches. It would be so easy to lean forward and close that distance. To press his lips to John’s, feel the curve of his mouth, to taste him… Throat bobbing in a loud swallow, Sherlock traced a slow fingertip along the rim of his mug. “It wasn’t much of a challenge,” he said, cursing his own cowardice even as he tried to maintain a nonchalant tone. “A simple matter of knowing what to look for.” Despite the dismissive words, Sherlock felt a surge of warmth at John’s praise.
“If you say so. I certainly couldn’t have done it,” John said with a smile. “I wouldn’t have had the faintest idea of where to start.”
Sherlock glanced at him, studying John’s earnest expression before letting his lips curl upward in a slow smile. “And I wouldn’t have had the first inkling of what to do about Simpson’s leg. We each have our talents.”
The awkward delivery of his own compliment was worth it when John’s eyes lit up. John smiled self-consciously and tapped a finger to the handle of his mug. “Yes, well.” He cleared his throat, growing serious as he met Sherlock’s eyes again. “You were brilliant.”
Failing to hide the way John’s compliments made his breath catch, Sherlock sighed out a stuttering exhale. “Do you really think so?” he asked in a hushed voice, hardly daring to speak louder.
John’s face softened. “I really do,” he murmured, so low that Sherlock found himself tilting closer to hear. “You were — are — amazing.”
“I…” Sherlock couldn’t think of what to say, not with John sitting so close and looking at him like that. Like Sherlock was something to be admired, something awe-inspiring and wonderful, not broken and ugly and cruel. The words still wouldn’t come, and Sherlock found himself drawn to John.
Reaching out, he brushed his fingertips over John’s cheek, feeling warm skin. Sherlock half expected John to pull back, maybe even sputter out a denial for his apparent interest. But John closed his eyes and leaned into the contact, his lips parting around a quiet exhale. Raggedly, he whispered, “Sherlock…”
Encouraged by that little display of trust, of invitation, Sherlock slid his hand to the nape of John’s neck. He pushed his fingertips into soft hair and drew John toward him with his eyes on John’s lips. John let him, his eyelids falling to half-mast with a quiet groan. They were sharing breath, their mouths just shy of brushing, when John froze. His hands came up and fisted in the front of Sherlock’s borrowed shirt. But instead of pulling him in, as Sherlock anticipated, John held him in place, their lips close but still not quite touching.
“We can’t.” John’s protest was hardly more than a breath.
“Why not?” Sherlock’s gaze flickered between John’s mouth and his eyes, taking in his flushed face and his dark, blown-wide pupils. It was clear John wanted this to happen as much as Sherlock did, but he was stopping it anyway. “What’s wrong?”
“I’m your doctor,” John said in a regretful rasp. Some colour had begun to fade from his face, flaring back with a vengeance when Sherlock nudged their noses together. John groaned, a quiver working through his hands where they gripped the front of Sherlock’s shirt.
“Not directly,” Sherlock murmured. “You only handled my initial intake.”
John closed his eyes and looked pained. “It still wouldn’t be right.”
Sherlock scoffed. “Who cares about right?” He nudged John’s nose again, relishing the unsteady rush of John’s breath against his cheek.
A soft sigh escaped John’s lips, brushing over Sherlock’s mouth in a tantalizing rush of warm, tea-scented air. “God, Sherlock, I want to,” he said, opening his eyes, looking frustrated and distressed. “But I can’t.”
Sherlock pursed his lips. Studying John’s face, Sherlock could see he wouldn’t be swayed. John was taking a stand and wouldn’t budge from his decision. Disappointed, Sherlock cast one last yearning look at the lips so close to his and sighed. “You’re a good man, John Watson.” There was no trace of venom in the words.
A strangled laugh escaped John. “You say that like it’s a bad thing.” He started to pull away, but Sherlock caught him and tugged him closer.
“It is when I want you to kiss me,” he muttered, leaning in to press a chaste kiss to John’s forehead. It was far less than he wanted, and Sherlock only let his lips linger for a few seconds before releasing John and sitting back. “But I respect you for sticking to your morals… even if I don’t care for them.”
This time, John’s laugh was less strained, more genuine. “Thanks,” he said dryly.
Sherlock’s expression turned wistful. “No chance you’ll change your mind?” He knew it was a long shot even before John shook his head.
“Not unless you stop being a patient here.” His hands still gripped the front of Sherlock’s borrowed shirt, though his hold had loosened. Now, John released the fabric, smoothing one hand up to Sherlock’s shoulder with a rueful expression. “I’m sorry.” He hesitated before leaning in to press a kiss of his own to Sherlock’s cheek and another where his jaw met his neck. The second lasted longer than the first, John dwelling there, breathing deeply as his hand tightened on Sherlock’s shoulder. “God, Sherlock, you’ve no idea how sorry I am.” He sounded torn.
“I have some idea,” Sherlock murmured. He could feel the fraying of John’s resolve in the way John’s lips lingered on his skin. He thought of how easily he could push John into changing his mind, how he could no doubt convince John to give in to his desires. But Sherlock dismissed the thought as soon as it arose. John deserved better, and he would surely regret anything that happened between them if Sherlock pushed past his boundaries. Instead, he caught John’s hand in his, squeezing it with marked reluctance as he rose to his feet. “I should go,” he said, grimacing at the unhappy look on John’s face. “You were invaluable to me today, John. I couldn’t have solved the case without your help.” Sherlock grudgingly released John’s hand.
John winced, both of them all too aware of the distancing nature of Sherlock’s comment. But he just nodded. John looked suddenly exhausted as he stood. “Thank you for involving me,” he murmured, looking at Sherlock with a sad, downward turn to his expressive lips. “I’ll… Will I see you again soon?”
“Most assuredly,” Sherlock said with a pained smile on his face. It hurt, tearing himself away from John when he wanted to do the opposite. When he wanted to fall into John, lose himself in John, bury himself in John. But it was necessary, and Sherlock forced himself to raise the walls between them. Glancing down at himself, Sherlock frowned. “My clothes should be dry enough to change if you’d like me to leave these here.”
“You can keep them.” John’s anxious expression softened as he looked Sherlock over. “They suit you,” he said quietly.
Sherlock’s lips twitched in wry amusement. The clothes were far too small for him but they were comfortable, and he was reluctant to relinquish them. They were like having a piece of John all to himself. “Thank you,” he said, returning John’s tentative smile before turning to gather his still-damp clothes from where they hung. “Goodnight, John,” Sherlock added as he moved toward the door.
“Goodnight, Sherlock,” John murmured.
Sherlock chanced one last glance over his shoulder, saw John looking alone and a little forlorn, and forced himself to leave before he decided to give in to his own selfish desire. It was a long and lonely walk back to his room with the ghost of John’s lips on his skin.
Chapter 12: Torn
Sherlock is drawn back to John just as he's prepared to give up on the possibility of more between them.
John felt torn in two in the days after rejecting Sherlock. He was agonized in turns by regret, then by conviction and the thought that he’d done the proper thing. Then he’d sink into remorse all over again. His mind and heart were at war. The former said John had done right, while the latter told John he was an idiot. The dichotomy began to consume John’s every waking thought. At work, he still managed to provide the level of care he always had in the past. But when he was alone with his battling heart and head, John was a mess.
Even with that maddening back and forth, John was sure of one thing: he missed Sherlock. Despite Sherlock’s reassurance that they’d see one another again soon, their time together shrank to almost nothing. There were no more rides over the moors, in part due to the ongoing investigation of Fitzroy Simpson. In place of their rides, they’d managed two short walks. But even that didn’t last, and Sherlock begged off further invites with the excuse that he was too busy.
The sudden distance between them stung John far worse than he could have anticipated. He understood that Sherlock needed time, but the rejections still smarted. He tried not to dwell on it, losing himself in his work and falling beneath the marked shadow of grief hanging over the manor.
Straker, employed by Doyle House for several years, had been well-loved. It seemed no amount of possible betrayal on his part could negate that fact. People still mourned him, John among them, and the entire situation left John feeling unmoored. He felt his grief two-fold, mourning both Straker’s death and Sherlock’s absence.
A few weeks after John Straker was discovered dead in Silver Blaze’s stall, Doyle House held a memorial service on a cold, blustery day. Most of the staff and several patients attended, gathering afterward for a small reception on the manor’s front lawn.
Sherlock didn’t attend. John wasn’t surprised by his absence, but he was disappointed not to see him. He tried to hide the latter, focusing on the ceremony. But afterward, at the reception, John found himself standing apart. He was reluctant to join the small groups clustered about the lawn, too lost in his thoughts and tangled feelings to attempt conversation. Instead, he sipped at a plastic cup of non-alcoholic mulled cider and stared at a picture of Straker, set out on a table with flowers and cards.
“It really is an awful loss, isn’t it?”
Startled, John looked up to see Andrew Doyle at his side. He’d walked up without John’s notice and now stood next to him, gazing at the photograph with a furrow between his brows.
“Awful,” John agreed, straightening out of his dejected slump.
Doyle sighed. “Straker was a good man,” he said, looking at John with a sorrowful twist to his lips. “I hope people will remember that instead of what he may have been caught up in at the end.” Stealing from the hand that feeds went unsaid, but John heard it all the same. Doyle didn’t sound bitter, merely saddened.
“Sometimes people are forced into difficult situations,” John replied, earning himself a grim nod of approval from Doyle.
In the days that followed Straker’s death, it had been revealed that he’d fallen on hard times. He’d taken to gambling and landed in the same hot water as Fitzroy Simpson himself. The two men met in a gambling den and found themselves in danger of retribution from the same people who had threatened and assaulted Simpson. Straker suggested Simpson attend Doyle House once he was ordered to seek help for his gambling addiction. The two had then plotted to steal and sell Silver Blaze — and several other ex-racehorses — for breeding rights. Up until the very last, Straker had been as guilty as Simpson.
According to Simpson’s statement to the police, Straker balked at the last moment. They’d quarrelled, both over the plan and Simpson’s assault of Ned Hunter. Straker might have put a stop to the entire plot if he hadn’t fallen victim to a wayward kick from a panicked Silver Blaze. It was a sad circumstance all around, in John’s opinion, and he understood Doyle’s point. It was unfair to judge Straker by his last actions without considering his life before the problems that had led him down that fatal path.
“Quite right, Watson,” Doyle said now, bringing John out of his reverie. “Everyone deserves a second chance — even the dead.” Doyle reached out and patted John’s shoulder with a paternal air. “Are you alright, lad? You look a bit peaky.”
John managed a strained smile. “I’m okay, Mister Doyle. But thank you for asking.”
“You take care of yourself, Watson,” Doyle said, bestowing one last pat before he moved on to speak with other members of the faculty. He’d hardly left when Anisa Kimathi sidled up to take his place. She was much less subtle in her questioning.
“What’s the matter with you?” she asked, eyeing John with sharp eyes. “You look like a kid who’s lost his favourite toy.”
John barked out a startled laugh. “No, nothing like that.” He didn’t elaborate, sipping at his drink. It was no use pretending he was fine — Anisa knew him well enough to see right through the facade.
Anisa favoured John with a long, evaluating look. “You didn’t hear it from me, but Mister Holmes has made immense progress over the past few weeks.” She paused to gauge his reaction.
John struggled to keep his expression to one of polite interest as his mind began to whirl. “Oh?” he said, hoping he sounded clinically interested, not at all ravenous for news of Sherlock.
Anisa’s raised eyebrow told him how he’d failed. “Yep,” she replied, popping the p-sound between her full lips. “I think he could leave us within a month. Maybe even sooner.”
John’s body tightened at the idea of Sherlock leaving. He tried to relax and couldn’t quite manage it. “Well,” he began in a voice that sounded strange even to his own ears, “that’s great. I’m happy to hear he’s doing so well.” John thought he sounded about as believable as someone who announced that the world was flat.
Anisa’s sympathetic eyes moved over his face with an expression horrifyingly close to pity. “John,” she began in a softer voice, and suddenly John knew he didn’t want to hear whatever she had to say. If his pining was noticeable enough for Anisa to comment on, he had no desire to demure about his complicated, unresolved feelings for Sherlock Holmes.
“Excuse me,” John said through numb lips, “I just realized I forgot something in my office.” Smiling a tight smile, he turned and strode off across the grass with guilt dogging his heels. Anisa was a friend and a respected colleague, and John felt awful turning his back on her. He knew she meant well, but the wound was too fresh. Too raw for him to touch yet. John needed time but, from the sound of things, he might not get it.
He was halfway across the yard when he looked up and saw a familiar figure walking in the shadow cast by the manor. John paused, waiting until the form emerged into the weak light of the day, the sunlight picking out hints of red in thick, dark curls. Sherlock. Of course it was Sherlock. It couldn’t be anyone else, not when John was aching at the very thought of the man.
Even as his chest tightened with a sense of loss, John felt a tentative, genuine smile rise on his lips. “Sherlock,” he called, catching the man’s attention. Sherlock stopped at the sound of his name, looking over to meet John’s eyes. Hesitation flashed over his face before he stuck his hands deep in his pockets and crossed over to where John stood.
“Hello, John,” he said, oddly formal.
John tried not to grimace. “How are you?” he asked, looking Sherlock over. He looked… healthy. There was no other word for it. There was more colour in his pale face, and the shadows under his eyes, while not gone, seemed lighter. “You look good,” John heard himself say before he could think better of it.
Subtle stress lines appeared at the corners of Sherlock’s silvery eyes. “Thank you,” Sherlock murmured, looking away with a frown. “Therapy has been going well.” When he looked back at John again, his face was carefully blank. It felt like a wall had come up between them, and John felt a pang of sorrow. He’d been a fool to think nothing would change after what had almost happened between them in his flat. “Doctor Kimathi says I’ve been making progress.”
John forced himself to hold onto his now wavering smile. “I’m glad to hear it.” He deliberated before asking, “And the nightmares?”
A shadow passed over Sherlock’s face, there and faded like a cloud over the sun. “Not gone,” he said quietly. He didn’t elaborate further.
John knew better than to push and let the subject drop with a nod.
“How do you feel about what Anisa said?” he asked. It wasn’t what John wanted to ask. He desperately wanted to ask why Sherlock seemed to be avoiding him but wasn’t sure he could handle hearing the answer.
Sherlock pressed his teeth against his bottom lip. John thought it must be an absent gesture, but it still drew his eyes down to Sherlock’s mouth, and he had to force his gaze away when it lingered.
To John’s relief, Sherlock didn’t seem to notice the lapse.
“I agree with her assessment,” Sherlock finally said, looking thoughtful. “We both think I might be well enough to leave soon. Anisa will set me up with a therapist in London, of course, but she doesn’t think I’m at risk of a relapse anymore, and I… I think she’s right.” A curious emotion darkened Sherlock’s eyes as if he’d only just decided to believe that last part for himself.
John felt a surge of something immense at the words and realized it was pride. He was proud of Sherlock. John ached to tell him so, but Sherlock was staring at him, frowning at whatever he saw on John’s face. Knowing he’d left himself open with his expression unguarded, John had no doubt that Sherlock had gleaned at least some of his feelings. He tried to school his expression into something safer, but it was too late.
Sherlock’s face closed off, and his manner turned suddenly brusque. “You’ll have to excuse me, John,” he said, his apologetic tone clearly forced, “but I have something to attend to that can’t wait.” It was close enough to John’s own excuse with Anisa that John winced.
“Oh,” he said, dismayed by the bald-faced lie, “of course. Don’t let me keep you.”
Sherlock flashed a tight little smile at him and turned away. “I’ll see you around, John.”
“Yeah, okay,” John said without much hope. Sherlock was already striding off, leaving John’s words hanging in the air. John watched him go before turning and heading for his flat. He skirted the groups of people dotting the lawn, wary of being drawn into conversation. Everyone was in mourning, but John was in the mood for private grief for a man who wasn’t John Straker.
Holed up in his flat, John poured himself a finger of whisky and settled onto the loveseat. Only two weeks earlier, he’d sat there with Sherlock and made a decision he now fiercely regretted. It had been the right decision. John understood that. But it still burned to know what he’d come so close to having, only to let it — and Sherlock — slip away. Now, he was really and truly losing Sherlock. It was a bittersweet thought. John didn’t want to see him go, as glad as he was to hear Sherlock was doing well enough to consider leaving Doyle House. He tried to focus on the latter. John was happy for Sherlock. Sherlock had arrived kicking and fighting against the very idea of treatment. Now he was thinking about going home, maybe even with some measure of peace.
John couldn’t begrudge Sherlock that progress, even if it meant losing him.
Sipping at his drink, John stared at the bookshelves and tried to be happy for Sherlock. It proved harder than he’d imagined, and it took two more top-ups to get him closer to acceptance. When he finally crawled under the covers later that night, the bed felt too large and far too empty. But John had made his bed — both literally and figuratively — and now he had to lie in it. And lie in it he did, with his eyes fixed on the dark, shadowed ceiling above him.
That night, the nightmares were fierce and terrifying. John slept poorly, waking with bleary eyes and a fuzzy taste in his mouth the following day. Rubbing the grit from his eyes, he rose and forced himself to prepare for work.
Sherlock had no intention of avoiding John. Despite his best intentions, he felt a rising sense of rejection that only grew in the days that followed. He knew it was irrational; John had made it clear that his ethics were the only thing keeping them apart. Sherlock knew John had wanted him, had seen it in his face, read it in his body language clear as the writing in a book. Still, that doubt grew until Sherlock couldn’t help but question his certainty. Maybe he’d only seen what he wanted to see, and John had made his excuse to be polite. Why would he want Sherlock, a broken, strange man who always — inevitably — ruined every relationship he’d ever had. As his doubts grew, it became easier to avoid John altogether, which Sherlock did until he was spending all of his free time in his room or on his own.
The fact that John never bothered to seek him out only seemed to confirm his suspicions.
To keep himself from sinking deeper into his fugue, Sherlock dove into his composition. He needed to keep his mind distracted. Drugs were no longer an option, and Sherlock took to composing with frantic energy. He strove to lose himself in the notes, in the shift of cadence, in the very vibrations of the piece. He spent his days — when he wasn’t in therapy — writing, playing, correcting, rewriting until his fingers hurt, and his arms burned with the strain of holding the same position for endless hours. Then he played some more. At night, he tumbled into bed shortly after sunset, exhausted enough to pass out again when the nightmares inevitably woke him.
Slowly, in fits and starts, Sherlock chased his healing.
The composition evolved, the piece taking on a new shape. It was a very different creation from when he’d first begun, still raw from Serbia and all that came before it. It still held some of that rawness, but now it told a story that felt, if not complete, at least truer than it had. It was no longer a ballad of sweeping sorrow and aching loneliness. The composition held the unspoken words rattling within Sherlock’s heart, the beat of blood in his veins, the unattainable things he yearned for.
There was a part that spilled out the sound of his pain, mimicking the raking, digging scars in Sherlock’s skin with wavering notes and heart-breaking drops. From there, the music spiralled upward into a resentful refrain of Sherlock’s fury at being forced into recovery against his will. But that was only one part of the song, as the piece then cascaded upward into a thrilling series of notes that spoke of unexpected companionship and acceptance.
Sherlock wrote himself into the work, telling a tale of friendship and joy, of almosts and half-losses, and the discovery of parts of himself he had previously not known.
Still, even with all those lilting, tilting, spiralling parts, the composition was incomplete. Missing something, lacking a finality Sherlock couldn’t seem to find. He wrestled with that sense of imperfection for several days, no closer to discovering the perfect finish until he ran into John during Straker’s memorial reception.
They shared an awkward, stilted conversation. Even with that discomfort, Sherlock still had to tear himself away. He’d wanted to linger and thought that John seemed to want the same. But Sherlock had refused the temptation for John’s sake and his own, though it hurt to do so. Sherlock thought he saw an echo of his own hurt in John’s expression but still forced himself away. He told himself it was for the best.
It was better that he did not tempt either of them with his desires when John had been so firm with his boundaries.
Back in his room, Sherlock found a letter waiting for him. He almost ignored it, itching with the need to play, to write, to release the notes burning under his skin. But his curiosity got the best of him, and he gave in, tearing into the envelope. A letter slipped out into his palm. Sherlock saw it was from Mycroft, the page covered with his brother’s neat, compact writing.
Frowning, he read through the letter.
I hear you are making immense progress at Doyle House. Not that you’ll believe me when I say it, but I want you to know how grateful I am to hear you are well. My only hope in forcing you into such a situation was you would find your own way, and it seems you have done just that. You deserve some peace of mind, Sherlock, and I hope you have found it.
Your therapist said you will be able to come home soon. And before you accuse her of breaking confidentiality, remember that I always get my way. You can rest assured in the knowledge that Doctor Kimathi made me work for even that little bit of information. I’m not sure I’ll ever recover from the dressing-down she gave me, and I’m not sure I care to try. I am glad to see you have such a formidable person in your corner.
I know you will likely refuse me, but please write or call if you can bring yourself to look past our differences. I would like to offer my support in whatever you may require to return to your old life. I know DI Lestrade misses you — he has called me numerous times with requests for updates. He says he needs your help on several cold cases, but I believe he merely misses you.
He is not alone in sharing that sentiment, dear brother. I wish you well and hope to hear from you if you choose to reach out.
Sherlock read the letter twice more before slowly folding the page in half and smoothing his fingers over the crease. The message was unexpected, as was the depth of regard held within. Since childhood, Sherlock and Mycroft had preferred to express their emotions through griping and targeted verbal sparring. This level of feeling was unnatural, and it made Sherlock wonder if his time away, his torture, had softened Mycroft. He also wondered when they might go back to normal, not sure he could stomach further sentiment from his usually cold brother. Sherlock could imagine the grimacing faces Mycroft must have made while writing the letter.
Amused by that mental image, he tapped the paper against his thigh until his mind was made up. Sherlock had no interest in writing a reply, but that didn’t mean he wanted to disregard his brother’s olive branch altogether. Only a few weeks ago, Sherlock would have ripped the letter into pieces, too angry and bitter about his circumstances to consider reconciliation. But now, he felt wiser, softer, a little more open to compromise. He wasn’t the same man he had been, furious to find himself in a rehab facility, mad at the world and aching for oblivion.
Mycroft was right. Despite all his resistance, Sherlock had found some measure of peace at Doyle House. In more ways than one.
Tucking the letter into its envelope, Sherlock went to see about using a phone and taking Mycroft up on his offer. On his way, he wondered how to best get a rise out of his newly sentimental brother.
Five days later found Sherlock standing in front of Doyle House, almost a perfect echo of the day he’d arrived. Then, he’d slunk out of a black sedan with fury in his veins. Now, Sherlock felt weighed down by a bittersweet regret. He was glad to be leaving, grateful for his progress and healing, even though it meant learning to live all over again. But leaving Doyle House meant leaving John, something Sherlock had tried and failed to come to terms with over the past few days. But he didn’t belong here anymore, and it was time he returned to his life.
Time for Sherlock Holmes to return from the dead.
Still, a bitter taste lingered in Sherlock’s mouth. A hollow feeling yawned deep in his chest as he watched the driver tuck the last of his luggage into the boot of the same black sedan.
He must have lingered for too long because the passenger-side door swung open, and Mycroft stepped out. “Are you ready to go?” he asked, frowning at Sherlock over the car.
Sherlock swallowed. He looked down at his violin case, clutched tightly in his hand. Glancing back up at the manor, he said, “I’m not… sure.”
Mycroft watched patiently while Sherlock battled with himself. Sherlock ignored him, turning to stare at the garage across the drive. Eyes fixed on John’s flat, a desperate longing rose in his chest. He couldn't just leave. Not like this. There was a reason that his composition remained unfinished, the messy pages folded carefully in the case next to his instrument. Sherlock had struggled to find the ending and failed, and now, standing by the car with his eyes on John’s flat, Sherlock could almost hear it. The music, the conclusion. It felt like the finale was within his reach, the notes tugging at him, promising to share only if he were brave enough.
Sherlock took a step away from the car, toward John’s flat, and thought the music seemed louder. With the melody singing in his veins, he made up his mind. Turning, he looked at his brother.
“There’s something I need to do.”
One of Mycroft’s eyebrows rose. “Such as?”
“I can’t tell you. But it has to be done.” Sherlock looked toward John’s flat again. “Will you take my things back to London?”
“You’re not coming?” Mycroft asked, confused.
Shaking his head, Sherlock looked at his brother and said, “Not today. But soon.” He smiled, struck by a sudden giddiness. “I’ll call you tomorrow.”
Confusion and understanding warred in Mycroft’s expression before his face cleared. He nodded. “Of course. I’ll speak to you then.”
“Thank you,” Sherlock said, surprising them both with the uncharacteristic gratitude. He walked toward the garage and the little flat above it without waiting for Mycroft's reply. Behind him, the car started up, followed by the noise of tyres rolling over loose gravel. But neither sound mattered, not when Sherlock was following the song, letting it lead him to John Watson.
Chapter 13: Simultaneous
John encounters a surprise at his door.
Heads up that this chapter earns the fic its explicit rating. 18+ going forward from here.
John finished his long, busy day with a headache, a sore back, and a heavy heart. Pushing back from his desk, he scrubbed his hands over his face and closed his eyes, hoping for a singular moment of clarity. He didn’t find it. There was only gaping regret, sitting deep and ugly inside his chest. It never seemed to ease. It only widened, eating away at him until John wanted to curse himself for doing the right thing when Sherlock tried to kiss him.
You’re a good man, John Watson.
Sherlock’s remembered words, tinged with frustration and grudging admiration, made John groan. A good man he might be, but John wished he’d acted differently. He knew it would have been wrong, but that hardly seemed to matter in hindsight. It was easy to disregard theoretical guilt when his heart ached hard enough to make even breathing feel like a struggle.
John dropped his hands from his face and turned to look out the window. He watched the evening light cast orange shadows across the yard, turning the tops of the distant trees black against the sunset. His eyes wandered, following movement as people went about their days below. His gaze paused on a sleek black sedan.
The car crept away from the building, slipping through the open front gate to fade into the growing shadows. Belated recognition dawned as it disappeared. The last time John saw that same vehicle, he’d sat astride Silver Blaze up on the hill behind the manor. He’d seen Sherlock Holmes for the first time. Back then, John had no inkling of what that angry, suffering man would come to mean to him. He’d had no idea that he’d end up with a Sherlock-sized gap in his chest, eating away at him until John wondered how he would survive it.
The car’s disappearance forced John into motion. He grabbed his bag and coat, slinging them over his arm as he rushed out of his office. Unerringly, his feet carried him to Sherlock’s door and, when John lifted his hand to knock on the door, it swung open on its own. He entered, taking in the empty room with dismayed eyes. Gone was the chaotic evidence of Sherlock’s presence. There was no sheet music spread over the desk, no sign of sleepless nights. The bed was stripped of sheets, and the dresser stood empty.
John stared, rooted in place by shock. His heart hammered in his chest, and the wild pulse of his blood rushed in his ears. Slowly, he thawed, turning away and tearing his eyes from the distressingly empty room, walking without focus, wanting only to escape. How he made it through the manor and out onto the lawn, John didn’t know. He moved blindly, spurred onward by the rising sense of loss washing over him.
Sherlock was gone, and he hadn’t even bothered to say goodbye. It was true that their friendship had grown strained, but John never imagined that Sherlock would simply disappear. That he would leave without so much as a word to John. The cruelty left John reeling, made him wonder if he’d misjudged Sherlock entirely… or if he had hurt Sherlock far more with his refusal than he’d realized. The thought left a bad taste in John’s mouth.
Whatever the reason for Sherlock’s silent departure, John’s head was a swirling mess when he reached his flat. He fumbled for his keys with numb hands, nearly dropping them when the door swung open of its own accord, and he came face to face with Sherlock Holmes.
“I… Sherlock?” John said, wondering if Sherlock might be a hallucination brought on by the sheer intensity of his yearning. His tongue unstuck long enough to ask, “What… What are you doing in my flat?”
An uncertain smirk spread over Sherlock’s lips, and his eyes darted warily over John’s face. “You’re not the only one who can open locked doors,” he said, startling a laugh from John.
“You’re completely mad,” John said weakly, more thrilled than he could process, still reeling at Sherlock’s unexpected appearance.
Sherlock waved a dismissive hand. “Obviously.” He still looked a little uncertain as he stepped aside to let John into his own flat. “Why do you think I came to Doyle House in the first place? Some doctor you are.” Sherlock’s teasing was light, though his eyes remained dark, watchful as they tracked John’s reaction.
“Right,” John managed, stepping through the door with a dazed expression. “How silly of me.”
“Very silly,” Sherlock agreed in a sombre voice.
John took a moment to calm himself, shrugging off and hanging up his coat before turning to find Sherlock staring at him. They looked at one another for a long moment before John found his voice again. “I thought you’d left.” He left the rest unsaid, holding back the anguish he’d felt when he’d believed Sherlock had left, leaving him without a word.
Sherlock picked up on the unspoken. “Without saying goodbye?” He offered a brittle smile at John’s grimace. “I couldn’t do that.” Sherlock paused as if choosing his words carefully. “I’ve been discharged.”
John wet his lips with a quick dart of his tongue, his mouth gone dry. “Right,” he managed. “I guess you’ll be on your way, then?”
Clearing his throat, Sherlock shifted from one foot to the other. “Well, yes… in time.” His gaze dropped before rising again. He looked almost timid. “But,” Sherlock began, taking a step closer, “I’m not here just to say goodbye.” Another step erased the distance between them until they were hardly a foot apart. Reaching out, Sherlock hooked his fingers in the collar of John’s shirt. “I’m not a patient anymore, John,” he said, his pale eyes searching John’s. An unspoken question burned there, turning Sherlock’s gaze a silvery-blue.
John’s lips curled into a slow smile as the words finally sank in. “Oh,” he said, a little delayed.
“Yes,” Sherlock said with an answering smile of his own, “oh.”
John swallowed. “Well, then. That’s…” He cleared his throat nervously. Sherlock was inches away and drifting closer. John could smell him, an inexplicable mixture of citrus and pine that made his head swim. “What happens now?”
Sherlock cocked an eyebrow, favouring him with a long, lingering look before his eyes dropped to John’s mouth. “I believe you owe me a kiss.” His husky voice made John shiver.
A groan rose in John’s throat, rumbling up out of his chest. “God, yes,” he breathed, closing the last bit of distance between them. They came together, hands and arms first, then bodies, and finally mouths. The kiss was as desperate as John had imagined when he lay awake at night, wishing he had Sherlock next to him. But it was soft, too, their lips sliding together with a beautiful tentativeness that sent a thrill rushing through John, lighting him up from the top of his head to the tips of his toes.
Sherlock's fingers sank into John’s hair, making John groan into the kiss. Sherlock answered with a quiet moan, his tongue slipping into John’s mouth when their lips parted. Standing in the middle of John’s tiny flat, they clung to one another and kissed until they were both breathless and panting.
They nearly made it to the couch, but John tugged Sherlock up when he moved to sit down. “No,” John murmured, pressing his lips to the underside of Sherlock’s jaw. Just as he had that fateful day when he’d forced himself to say no, John inhaled deeply. He filled his lungs with Sherlock’s scent and sighed out, “Not on the couch.” Taking Sherlock’s head between his hands, John kissed him hard on the mouth. He kissed him deeply, tasting the pleased gasp that slipped from Sherlock’s plush lips with a sweep of his tongue.
Cupping Sherlock’s face in his palms, John looked into his eyes. The quicksilver-blue colour had darkened to verdant mercury, Sherlock’s pupils huge with arousal. His cheeks were flushed, burning hot under John’s thumbs as he stroked them over either side of Sherlock’s upturned and kiss-swollen lips. “I want to take you to bed,” John said, his voice ragged with desire. “Can I take you to bed?” He held his breath, both dreading and aching for Sherlock’s answer.
He needn’t have worried. Without breaking eye contact, Sherlock turned his head and brushed a kiss over John’s palm. “I thought you’d never ask,” he murmured, his breath humid against John’s skin. Pressing close until they were chest to chest, skin separated only by clothing, Sherlock nuzzled John’s neck. His lips swept up to John’s ear, and he whispered, “Take me to bed, John. I might very well lose my mind if you don’t.”
John groaned, exulting in the feeling of Sherlock’s smile against his skin. “We wouldn’t want that to happen,” he said in a husky, teasing voice. “Otherwise, you might never leave.”
“What a loss that would be.” With a wicked grin and a hungry look in his eyes, Sherlock said, “Take me to bed, John Watson.”
John let out a wordless groan at Sherlock’s words, crushing Sherlock against him and capturing his mouth in a searing kiss. Sherlock didn’t protest the intensity. He tangled his fingers in John’s hair and returned the kiss with enthusiasm. With their lips locked in a lingering kiss, Sherlock began to nudge John backward. He guided him as their tongues slid together, hands moving restlessly over one another’s bodies, over backs and waists, arms and shoulders.
John pulled away and fell back on the bed, scooting up to the pillows before reaching out to pull Sherlock down on top of him. Sherlock went without protest, straddling John’s thighs as their mouths came together again. They kissed one another breathless, heat building between them, making them pant into one another’s mouths. It wasn’t long before clothing came off. John freed the straining buttons of Sherlock’s dress shirt, pressing hot, open-mouthed kisses to each inch of skin as it was revealed. By the time he pushed the shirt from Sherlock’s shoulders, Sherlock felt he might combust if John didn’t do something to douse the heat. He felt like a wild, blazing forest fire, a thing of pure need and lust and want, attacking John’s shirt and jeans with eager hands. They got John undressed between the two of them, and Sherlock wriggled out of his trousers and pants until they were finally skin to skin.
The first press of their bodies drew a whimper from Sherlock, John echoing the noise a moment later when his hard cock slipped against Sherlock’s. John lifted his hips again, dragging the leaking head over Sherlock’s bollocks, and Sherlock ground down with a helpless groan. They fell into a rhythm, John gripping a handful of Sherlock’s sweat-damp curls, his other hand locked onto Sherlock’s hip. His legs rose, heels digging into the back of Sherlock’s thighs as Sherlock took their cocks in hand and began to stroke.
Their coupling was like a dance, a song, a delicious push and pull of hips and hands, of tongue and teeth. It was a slow reprise, a rise and fall that filled Sherlock with music. They climbed together in adagio, slowly, slowly rising. The sounds John made, his rhythmic moans and sighs, steadily held ostinato to Sherlock’s trained ear. The tempo rose between them, both in pitch and speed, their breathing turning staccato, Sherlock hearing vibrato in his own wild gasping. His climax, growing in an increasing crescendo, triggered John’s, their releases mixing together on John’s stomach. His orgasm drew out and out in fermata until Sherlock cried out, went limp, and collapsed on top of John’s heaving chest.
They lay in a slump, tangled together. John’s fingers combed slowly through Sherlock’s damp curls as Sherlock struggled to recover his breath between the kisses they shared in the aftermath. When logical thought returned, Sherlock lifted himself onto his hands and looked down at John. Roused by the disappearance of Sherlock’s body cradled against his, John’s eyes cracked open a sliver. He looked blissed out and rumpled, his hair standing up in tufts, his face beautifully flushed. “Are you leaving?” A flicker of some vulnerable emotion sparked in John’s eyes, marring that perfect, debauched look of bliss.
“Not yet,” Sherlock murmured, bending to press a lingering kiss to John’s lips. “Unless you want me to?” He leaned back to study John’s face as uncertainty reared its ugly head.
John banished the disquiet. “If I had my way, you’d never leave.” He pulled Sherlock down into another kiss, no doubt to hide the flush spreading over his face.
Sherlock grinned against John’s lips, losing himself in the kiss until he finally leaned back again. John flopped back against the pillows with a desolate grumble. “I have some things to take care of in London,” Sherlock said, smoothing his fingers over the frown creasing John’s brow. “But they can wait. I’ll make a call in a moment and see that they’re taken care of. But first…” Sherlock sat up, extracting himself from John’s arms with reluctance. John let him go with a put-upon sigh.
Grinning, Sherlock slipped off the bed and moved to the table. He grabbed his violin case from where he’d set it after picking the lock of John’s front door. When he turned back to the bed, John had pushed himself up onto his elbows, his eyes curious. “What’s this?” John asked, looking at the violin case in Sherlock’s hand.
“You asked me about the composition I was writing,” Sherlock said, setting the case on the bed next to John’s bare legs. Flipping the clasps, he opened the lid to reveal the polished violin inside. “I never did play for you, but the piece wasn’t finished then.” Sherlock pulled out the roll of sheet music, handing it to John.
John took it hesitantly, glancing at Sherlock for permission before opening it at his nod. He leafed through the pages with care, scanning the messy writing, the extensive edits and corrections. John looked up with confusion on his face. “It’s still not finished?” he guessed, holding up the last page.
Sherlock lifted the violin from its case, stroking a finger over the glossy finish and setting it under his chin. “I couldn’t find the ending.” Lifting the bow, Sherlock gave it a little sweep, smiling at the sound it made as it cut through the air.
John’s eyes tracked the movement. “And now?” he asked, watching Sherlock set the bow against the strings.
Sherlock smiled and declined the sheet music when John offered it. “Now, I know how it ends.” He pulled the bow over the strings, drawing out a long, heavy note that hung in the air.
John blinked and sat upright, naked as the day he was born, his focus fixed avidly on Sherlock. He didn’t seem bothered by his own nudity, just as Sherlock paid no mind to his own. He was more than a human body now. He was a conduit for the music that had led him first from the car to John’s flat, into John’s arms and then into his bed.
With John’s eyes on him, Sherlock played the music he heard ringing between them. He lost himself in the song, letting it pour out of him, transformed from the movement of his hands into vibrating sound. He played his sorrow, his hope, his joy and his anguish. When he reached the climax, Sherlock coaxed out his growing feelings for John. He guided the violin through the sound of their coupling, transmuting sensation into sound. He played until a sense of completion settled over him, bringing quiet peace and soothing Sherlock down to his bones. As the last note died away, the bow falling to his side, Sherlock realized he’d closed his eyes. He opened them to see John staring at him. His gaze was warm, his expression displaying open, naked admiration. The sight of him, of his silent, unobtrusive awe, made Sherlock want to fall to his knees in worship. Instead, he carefully placed the violin and bow back into their case and closed the clasps with a sharp snap. He set the case on the table before turning back to John. Then, feeling suddenly self-conscious, Sherlock pursed his lips and waited.
John drew in a loud breath and whispered, “Amazing.”
Sherlock blinked, stilling as the words sank in. “You really think so?” he asked, voice rough as he tried to sound playful. He missed the tone by a long shot, sounding wrecked instead.
John reached out and drew him close with a hand on Sherlock’s hip. “I do,” he murmured, tilting his head to press his lips to the hinge of Sherlock’s jaw. “I absolutely do. You’re brilliant.” He kissed his way up to Sherlock’s ear, then over his cheek and finally to Sherlock’s lips. “You’ve no idea how you make me feel, Sherlock,” John whispered, sounding close to wrecked himself.
Tilting his head to slot their mouths together, Sherlock said, “I think I may have some idea.” He felt John’s smile against his and kissed him hard. “Tell me what you want, John.”
John’s reply was a breathless, “Everything,” against his lips. “I want everything. And you. I want you.”
Fingers tangled in John’s hair, Sherlock moaned, “I’m all yours, John.”
John tugged him down to the bed with a low groan and rolled over top of him to straddle his hips. He was already half-hard and panting into the kiss, his hands sliding up into Sherlock’s curls. “God, yes, Sherlock,” John breathed, the name emerging reverent from his lips.
Smiling, Sherlock lost himself in the taste of John’s mouth.
Chapter 14: Epilogue
Time passes, only bringing Sherlock and John closer.
Heads up for nothin' but mind-numbing fluff ahead.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
One Year Later…
A knock at the office door made John pause in packing up his things for the day. “Come in,” he called, swinging his bag over his shoulder as the door swung open. Sherlock stepped through, closing the door behind him before sauntering across the room. His hips swung as he walked, making John bite his bottom lip to keep from laughing or groaning. His cock gave a hopeful and predictable twitch at the sight. “Hello, Mister Holmes,” he said teasingly. “What can I do for you?”
“I hoped you might have some free office hours, Doctor Watson,” Sherlock replied, catching onto the game at once. He slipped between John and the desk, hoisting himself up onto the edge with ease, his long legs bracketing John’s hips. “I think I need a check-up.”
“Is that so?” John grinned, snorting as he lost the battle with his amusement.
Sherlock’s fingers, hooking into his belt loops, banished John’s mirth. He tugged, and John went willingly, abandoning the facade as their mouths met. Sherlock’s tongue traced along his bottom lip, John opening to him, the kiss turning hot and hungry. They kissed until John broke for air, bending to nuzzle beneath Sherlock’s jaw. Sherlock tilted his head back with a pleased hum. “Are you finished for the day?” he asked, sounding a little raspy as his hazy eyes slid to half-mast.
His reply muffled against Sherlock’s neck, John said, “I am now.” Dragging his tongue up Sherlock’s throat, John settled his hands on Sherlock’s hips and raised his head with a grin. “I wasn’t expecting you back so soon. I take it the case wasn’t much of a challenge?”
Sherlock draped his arms over John’s broad shoulders. “I solved it days ago,” he said with a pout. “The case Lestrade called me out for was hardly more than a three. I solved it in an hour.”
One of John’s brows rose. “And you didn’t come back until today?” His question was met with an eye roll.
“Mycroft made me join him for dinner and forced his guest room upon me for several days,” Sherlock said with a put-upon sigh. He glared when John laughed.
“Oh, the horrors.” John pressed a lingering kiss to Sherlock’s cheek to soften his sour expression. Sherlock melted at once, making John grin. “You’re home for the weekend, then?”
“Plus all this month and the next,” Sherlock said with a coy wiggle of his hips, scooting to the desk's edge and closer to John. “Barring any fascinating cases that may or may not crop up. Doyle asked if I minded holding another music therapy session with some of the newer patients.”
“And do you mind?”
Sherlock’s plush mouth curved into a sly little smile. “I said I didn’t mind in the least.” Leaning forward, he brushed his lips over John’s ear. In a whisper, he said, “I prudently did not tell Doyle that I was far more eager to be ravished by a certain Doctor Watson after several days apart.”
A faint flush of colour rising in his cheeks, John tapped a finger to Sherlock’s nose. “You, my lovely madman, are a menace.”
Sherlock appeared pleased by the statement and nudged John away so he could slip off the desk. “So you keep saying,” he said with a smirk as he picked up John’s jacket and helped him into it. “And yet, you continue to stay with me.” Sherlock affected an offended expression. “I’m starting to think you’re rather full of it, John Watson.”
“One of us sure is full of something,” John agreed, ducking aside when Sherlock swatted at him. “What do you say to a swim before we go over your ideas for those music therapy sessions?” He turned toward the door only for Sherlock to catch him by the shoulder and spin him back around.
Gripping John’s tie, Sherlock reeled him in and looked down at him with hooded eyes. “Did you not hear what I just said about my needing to be ravished?” His plush lower lip pushed out into a dramatic pout.
John laughed, the bright, happy sound coaxing a smile onto Sherlock’s face. “How could I forget?” His hands landed on Sherlock’s narrow hips, pulling him in until they were pressed together from thigh to chest. Sherlock groaned, immediately pliant as he leaned into John. His head fell back, John’s mouth wandering over his neck, teeth scraping down Sherlock’s throat.
“Ravishing first,” John said, smiling against Sherlock’s flushed skin. “Followed by a swim, and then music therapy ideas.” Lifting onto his toes, he captured Sherlock’s lips in a slow, coaxing kiss that had Sherlock sighing into his mouth and releasing his tie with a dreamy expression. John leaned back and cocked an eyebrow. “Does that work for you?”
“Those terms suit me just fine, Doctor Watson,” Sherlock purred. Recovering quickly from his daze, he slipped free of John’s arms and pulled John’s bag over his shoulder. “Now, hurry up.”
“Impatient sod,” John said with no small amount of affection, letting Sherlock steer him out of the office with eager hands.
“We both know you love it,” Sherlock quipped, hurrying him toward the stairs.
Pausing to look at him, John found himself grinning in helpless adoration. They'd had their ups and downs since the first day they'd met, between Sherlock's addiction and John's own demons. But they'd come through them together; had come out the other side changed and stronger and knowing more about themselves than they had before. The road hadn't been easy, and it still wasn't easy now, but they were building something together. A union, a path.
“God help me,” John said with fond emphasis, “but I do.”
That's a wrap, folks! Thanks for following along on yet another multichapter fic journey with me. I hope you enjoyed reading this story as much as I enjoyed writing it. And I'd love to give another big, happy, grateful shoutout to Anyawen for bidding on me with this lovely, wonderful story idea, and to notjustmom for their fantastically patient beta work on this story.
See y'all next time! And keep an eye out for my next FTH fic for kettykika78 - an alternate meeting fic where Sherlock and John meet in Venice, Italy. There's a cursed Palazzo involved!
Thanks again, everyone, for commenting, reading, sharing on twitter, and for all the love ♥️