One could say that Sherlock doesn’t care about his body, only his mind, but this would be an oversimplification unto absurdity. Everything the detective knows is bodily, all his work, everything he has built his life around, perfume and ash and boot heel and mustard, all the traces left behind by life being lived. His own mind is paramount, but other people’s minds are beside the point, less important than their beard stubble and their shirt cuffs and the whiff of curry clinging to their coats.
The same applies to his dealings with John. The doctor would deny their relationship is a physical one, and it would be true in the sense he meant it, but then John thinks very narrowly sometimes. He has put his cane away, and learned how to leap roofs and jump fences; for his part, he’s both saved Sherlock’s life and sent him into whirling, screaming fits via the denial of cigarettes, so between John’s leg and Sherlock’s smokeless, still-breathing lungs, they are rather indelibly imprinted on one another by now.
And it’s a physical symptom, the quirk of self-reproach around John’s eyes that indicates he hasn’t called his sister. Sherlock has little interest in John’s guilt about this matter, and no real comprehension of why John’s sister should require calling so often, particularly since she seems to make John unhappy. Sherlock is dimly, occasionally grateful for the fact that she neither comes round to Baker Street nor tries to convince John to move out and practise family medicine, but these are rather negative accomplishments. But when the phone calls don’t happen, John focuses less readily on the things at hand, and his brain gets muddied with distraction, all quite material issues that interfere with his capabilities in assisting Sherlock. So it’s just a matter of basic housekeeping, really—something corresponding to John’s insistence on Sherlock eating—when he tosses John his phone and says, “Get it over with.”
The phone flies over the sports section of the Guardian and lands somewhere in the vicinity of John’s lap. John draws breath as if to ask what Sherlock means, then figures it out and looks annoyed as he says, “Fine advice from the man who only calls his brother when he’s angling for a security clearance.”
“Beside the point.”
Sherlock lets out a sigh, annoyed that John hasn’t just done as he was told. That’s another symptom of his not calling Harry—he’s less cooperative. “Phone calls to Mycroft are only good for security clearances. Apart from that they’re a hindrance. Grit in the machinery. You get hindered if you don’t talk to Harry, so you might as well, as I said, get it over with.”
John looks down at his phone (his phone with Harry’s name on it), finds her number in his contacts, and pauses, holding his finger just far enough off the touch screen not to place the call. He turns his eyes up to Sherlock, looking most dreadfully sincere, and says, “What makes you think she’s drinking again?”
Sherlock snorts. “You think she’s drinking again.”
An expression passes over John’s face for less than a second; it resembles shock, but it is, interestingly, feigned shock, good manners on behalf of someone who is not there, and it settles into military blankness as he says, “I trust her.”
Sherlock shakes his head. This is getting tedious; he has fibres to analyse and a cadaver hand to devein. “You do not trust her. Your voice gets strained when you tell her you’re proud of her, and you never have anything to drink the following evening. Although alcoholism is to a certain degree heritable, the army didn’t drive you to drink in excess and neither did your return home, which indicates you’re fine; nevertheless, you get spooked when you talk to her, which you wouldn’t do if you really believed her claims to be ‘off the booze’.”
John is obviously not happy, as he gets out of his armchair and out of Sherlock’s gaze, the am-I-wrong gaze, and goes into the kitchen to start fussing with the dishes, scrounging up the ones that they’ve used for food and putting them in a separate stack from the dishes that Sherlock has used for experiments. He’s chewing on his lower lip, preparing to say something, and when he has the plates stacked he steps back into the living room to say it:
“That’s not what I mean when I say I trust her.”
“You don’t believe a word she says but you trust her?”
“It’s not about believing what she says.” John frowns and retreats half of the way back into the kitchen to prod cautiously at the tea mugs and Erlenmeyer flasks mingled together on Sherlock’s work table. “It’s not about believing what she says. It’s about allowing her to be the one who says it.”
“That’s an interesting method of diagnosis, Doctor. Have you tried it on kidney failure as well?”
John stops what he is doing and straightens his back. “She is not,” and he is speaking through very tight lips, “my patient. And her doctor is a person who is definitely not me.”
Sherlock blinks. “Stop hitting yourself.”
John widens his eyes. “I beg your pardon?”
“You’re not defending a position, you’re submitting to one. You’re repeating what she’s said to you, and it causes you pain. She didn’t want Clara to take care of her either, did she? And she separated from Clara, and you for some reason don’t want her to separate herself from you, so you’re parroting her arguments to convince yourself to be the way she wants. You’re causing yourself pain by means of her; you’re like a child allowing a bully to slap him with his own hand. Stop hitting yourself.”
Something bright and painful flashes across John’s face for the slightest of moments before he suppresses it. All he says is, “For some reason?”
“You said I don’t want her to push me away for some reason.”
“There must be one, yes, but its identity is not a matter that I’ve pursued.”
“She’s my sister!”
“I’m abundantly aware of that fact, considering how frequently you call her ‘my sister’ when you’re too pained by her actions to refer to her by name. Estranged siblings are hardly remarkable. Stamford never calls his brother, and there isn’t even a particular reason for that. You don’t owe her anything or need anything from her and she makes you unhappy. Forgive me if I don’t regard your guilt complexes surrounding her as a necessary part of your makeup.”
John does not react to this. He’s not failing to react; he’s declining to react. Or rather, most of him is declining to react. He’s descended into the particular stillness that comes over him in times of stress when other people would tremble: his jaw is set, his eyes level, his arms at his sides, but the fingers of his right hand are starting to curl toward his palm and his elbow is ever so slightly cocked back. It indicates that he’s imagining punching someone, though he won’t do it and probably doesn’t realize he’s thinking about it. It is the same behaviour that John displays when Anderson gets too loudly derisive, or that he showed when D.I. Dimmock refused to believe Sherlock and slowed down their pursuit of the Black Lotus. It is what he does when he is ready to leap to the defence of what might, in a different age, be referred to as Sherlock’s honour.
Sherlock rather considers this particular gesture to belong to him.
But he’s certainly not defending Sherlock just now, and it’s a childish gesture, really, the physical equivalent of you leave my friend alone. A bit of muscle memory that’s older than Sherlock has previously accounted for. It doesn’t belong to Sherlock after all, this protective loyalty, this strong right arm of John’s; it belongs to Harry, and it was hers first, even before the army laid claim to it. It is still hers when she has relapsed, and when she has been leaving annoying comments on John’s blog, and when John is disappointed and angry and doesn’t want to talk to her. It is still hers just as much as when other children made fun of her in primary school, and Sherlock will never be able to pickpocket it away from her.
Even so, it seems he has been granted the right to share it.
John has just said something. Sherlock returns his eyes from John’s hand to his face. “Hm?”
“I said, why do you care if I call her?”
Sherlock shrugs and says with affected airiness, “I don’t, but you do. Just do it and stop worrying about doing it. You have half an hour and then we’re going to Camden Market.”
“Why Camden Market?” John asks, but he obviously doesn’t care, as he’s reaching for the phone again, accepting the promised adventure as bait.
“Case,” Sherlock says vaguely, and then he adds “scorpions,” which is a lie but suggests danger and so will keep John interested, and then he dives into the sofa cushions to find his own mobile and starts pretending to write a text so that John won’t feel he’s being listened to. Sherlock said half an hour, so he’ll give John twenty minutes and then drag him out of the flat, and John will be aggravated but will ring off and come with him, and Sherlock will have discharged his debt to the other Watson.
Just housekeeping, really. Just performing maintenance on his conductor of light.