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***

 

John Watson knows all about paranoia. He knows how badly it usually ends when one begins to find non-existent patterns in random events and coincidences. Therefore, when the second public phone in a row begins to ring just as John passes by it, he very decisively does not stop, does not wonder if it’s something other than a coincidence. Just keeps striding (fine, limping) and ignoring the ringing altogether.  

He does stop when it happens for the third time. Three instances make a pattern and John doesn’t need to be paranoid to conclude that he’s in the middle of it. Still, in the back of his mind he’s half expecting to be proven wrong once he picks up the phone, that an explanation will present itself, one which does not involve someone stalking him. An explanation that would make him feel silly for even considering it (because who would want to stalk him?).  

It doesn’t happen.

If anything, a short demonstration by the man on the other end causes equal amounts of apprehension (at the potential threat) and, absurdly, relief (because it’s not paranoia if they’re really after you).

A black car with tinted windows collects him and brings him to an empty warehouse; empty but for one chair and a tall man standing across from it, leaning on his umbrella. The man is wearing a three-piece suit and has the sort of benign look about him that suggests to John he’s anything but. John looks one more time to the gorgeous brunette who'd sat silently by him on the ride over and when she fails to look up from her mobile phone huffs and gets out of the car. 

“Have a seat, John,” the man says, gesturing to the chair as John approaches.

John bypasses the chair without a second glance, stops a few feet away from his stalker. “You know, I've got a phone,” John tells him. “I mean, very clever and all that, but... you could just phone me, on my phone.”

The man smiles politely. “Your leg must be hurting you. Sit down.”

“I don't want to sit down,” John snaps and then cringes at how childish it sounds.

“You don't seem very afraid,” the man notes, still smiling.

“You don't seem very frightening.”

This earns him a chuckle. “Yes, the bravery of the soldier. Bravery is by far the kindest word for stupidity, don't you think?”

John decides he’s had enough pointless banter for one evening. “Who are you?”

“An interested party.”

“Interested in?”

“You, of course. How was your job interview at St Bartholomew's hospital this afternoon?”

John licks his lips, acutely aware that he’s at a disadvantage here. What does this man know about him? How long has he been under surveillance?  “I could be wrong, but I think that's none of your business.”

“It could be.”

“It really couldn't.”

The man tilts his head slightly. “I regret to inform you that another physician will be hired for the position you interviewed for. Fortunately for you, come Monday you’ll begin work in a different position, one that would secure a considerably higher income.” 

The man retrieves a folder from his briefcase and holds it out to John. After a brief hesitation, John takes it.

The other man is silent as John scans the content.

The name of the facility gives John a pause. Winter Creek. He’s heard the rumours, of course — it’s where the rich and famous end up when it’s time for another cycle of rehab, or when life becomes too much to handle — but he hadn't realised they had a closed ward.

The title of the position causes his eyebrows to rise and they’re practically touching his hairline by the time he reaches the annual pay.

This makes absolutely no sense.

He looks up at the man across from him, but finds his expression blank. “You’ve made a mistake. I’m no longer practising psychiatry.”

“Indeed,” the man says with a bland smile. “Not for a long time now. Four years to complete a second speciality training, another six years in the army. And now you’ve restricted your search to positions in emergency medicine. However I’m sure you’d be willing to consider making an exception where the top mental health facility in the country is concerned.”

John stares at him, completely baffled, and then shakes his head. “I… why me?”

“You’ve demonstrated some unorthodox methods of treatments in the past,” the man says, giving John a nod that seems almost approving.

John frowns. This is getting more bizarre by the minute. “Yes, and if you know that you probably also know they got me fired. Twice.”

The man looks away and John sees his face twist. It’s brief and gone as soon as the man turns back to John, but John doesn't need psych training to recognize the emotions he's just witnessed. Grief. Pain.

The man's tone, when he finally speaks, is grim. “Dr. Watson, in the past year three experts in this field have stood where you’re standing now. It is my hope that you’ll succeed where others have failed.”

John suddenly has an inkling about the direction in which this is going. “Failed? You mean... you’re talking about a specific case?”

The man's face becomes expressionless again. John gets the feeling he won’t be receiving an answer to his question. After a moment the man gestures to someone over John’s shoulder. “I suggest you get some rest, Doctor. I’m certain you’d wish to be refreshed and ready come Monday.”

John recognizes the dismissal for what it is. He has half a mind to insist on further explanation or just outright refuse, but he finds himself acutely distracted as Gorgeous Brunette approaches and sends him a disarming smile. “Shall we?” She gestures toward the car and John follows her without even realizing it.    

 

***

 

Having completed all his training at Maudsley Hospital, John has never actually been to Winter Creek before. Nestled between some of Ascot's more impressive estates, the facility turns out to be about as posh as John had expected, resembling a spa resort rather than a hospital. The closed ward is on the fourth floor and within an hour of his arrival John reaches some interesting conclusions.

The first is that his hiring was by no means brought on by a shortage in man power. There are eighteen patients currently hospitalized on the floor and four teams of doctors working full time. The senior Psychiatry Consultant, Dr. Carmichael, jokes with him about the absurd doctor-to-patient ratio but doesn't offer a real explanation as to what John is doing there. He does, however, mention that the directive to hire John had come funding-included and thus no further questions had been asked.

The second conclusion John reaches is that if there's a specific reason he'd been brought to Winter Creek for, a specific patient he's supposed to look into, the rest of the staff is unaware of the fact. When inquiring about his assigned duties in the hopes of being guided in the right direction, Carmichael’s response is simply to ask how John feels about working nights. John rolls his eyes at that, says he doesn't mind it at all. He truly doesn't — his sleep cycles are erratic as it is and it's not as if he has anyone to go back home to at the end of the day.

He arrives at the third conclusion as a young, somewhat shy nurse named Molly Hooper shows him to his new office. That conclusion largely consists of holyfuckingchrist. Forget night shifts, John thinks as he takes in the wall of windows, the large desk and plush sofas arranged in a space twice as large as his current bedsit. Who'd want to leave? 

Molly chuckles as he hails the wonders of working in the private sector and as he recovers from his shock offers to show him the rest of the floor.

 

***


John spends the first hour of his first night shift alphabetically going over patients' medical notes and charts. Molly's tour had focused mainly on showing John where everything is located and outlining the activities and meals schedule. She had kept the patient information vague and general, merely mentioning that only two of their patients have arrived through the court system and only six are being routinely restrained, mostly at night. 

The medical records are detailed and informative, and although John sometimes finds himself frowning in disagreement as he reads through certain diagnoses and courses of treatment, he doesn't see anything in the first seven sets of notes that he considers bad practice. His eyelids begin to grow heavy as he finishes reading up on Gates, Jason (suicide risk, major depressive disorder), and so he decides to take a break, go stretch his aching leg.

It’s been over a decade since John has spent the night in a closed ward. He’d forgotten the atmosphere of such places; the empty, dimly lit corridors, the eerie silence of patients sleeping the sleep of the heavily-sedated.

He finds Molly at the nurses’ station, reading a book with an expression of intense concentration. She starts and looks up when he approaches, sends him a shy smile. “Hi Doctor Watson.”

He smiles back, can't help but find her endearing. “Molly. Good read?” he asks, gesturing at the book she'd laid down. The cover features a topless muscular man, passionately kissing a beautiful woman in a frilly white dress, a gaudy sunset in the background.

Molly blushes. “It's not bad. I was just making tea, would you like some?”

The thought of a hot cuppa is indeed tempting and he nods his thanks. Molly disappears into the kitchenette and returns a couple of minutes later with two steaming mug. He smiles gratefully and thanks her, takes a careful sip from the cup -- and has to make an effort not to spit it back out.

His face must convey his horror, because Molly’s face twists in a sympathetic smile. “It’s peppermint today. We only have herbal tea here; the Winter Creek policy includes a macrobiotic diet. No caffeine.”

John swallows the tea. Barely. “It’s. Um. Not that bad.”

“It’ll grow on you,” she reassures.

The intercom on the desk begins beeping insistently then. She glances at the blinking light and sighs.

“That would be Sherlock, not sleeping again,” she says, sounding resigned. “I’ll go see what he wants.”

“Want me to tag along?”

She shrugs. “If you like.”

He follows her through the south corridor. After a few steps, Molly slows down with an awkward glance at his cane and John has to fight a wave of irritation.

They go into room 404. At a first glance the two occupants of the room, both of whom have their wrists encased in wide, padded restraints attached to the bed rails, appear to be asleep.

On the left side is a young man, late teens or early twenties, with red blond hair and a lightly-freckled face. John recognizes the name on the chart — Davenport, Stanley, having read his patient notes not half an hour ago. He recalls that Stanley is in fact twenty two years old and has been hospitalized three months prior upon the onset of audio-visual hallucinations and acute anxiety attacks. Two cases of treatment-resistant schizophrenia in Stanley's family lend his case a grim prognosis and John feels a sympathetic pang in his chest as he takes in the frail form and slack, boyish face.   

The bed on the right side is occupied by a slightly older man, in his early thirties perhaps. He has dark hair which looks as if it would be curly if allowed to grow beyond the few centimetres it’s currently cropped at, and extremely pale skin. The name on his chart reads Holmes, Sherlock and John has yet to familiarize himself with his case.

“Molly,” Sherlock greets without opening his eyes. “New trainers? Mmm… bout time…” he slurs, as if fighting the pull of sleep.

“Sherlock,” Molly chides, but John can hear fondness in her tone. “Go back to sleep.”

Sherlock’s eyes blink open, a startling pale-blue in the soft light emenating from the night lamp. The gaze is scattered at first, watery with the fuzziness of drugs, before it focuses first on Molly and then John.

“’nother one,” Sherlock sighs, his eyes scanning John from head to toe. “You’re a long way from Iraq. Or was it Afghanistan?”   

John freezes, staring at him. What? How...?

“Don’t mind him,” Molly tells John. “He gets like this some nights.”

“Bit ironic, isn’t it?” Sherlock continues to mumble. “A psychiatrist with a psychosomatic limp. Should trade places--“

“--Sherlock.” Molly interrupts him with a loud whisper. “Stanley is asleep and I’d be very pleased if he stayed that way, so please keep it down. Was there something you needed? It's two in the morning.”

John is still staring at Sherlock, reeling from the man's unexpected words, but Sherlock directs his attention back to Molly.

Sherlock huffs, shakes his head. His face scrunches up momentarily as if he has to sneeze. “Thought you’d like the heads up before Stanley spontaneously combusts. Was going to let him, would have been interesting to watch but the heavy breathing was becoming irksome.” It's all blurted in an impossibly fast torrent of words.

“You’re not making a lot of sense,” Molly says patiently. “There's no such thing as spontaneous combustion. Do you want something to help you go back to sleep?”

Sherlock laughs humourlessly. “Oh, you’re offering now?”

John moves to Stanley’s bed, brushes the back of his fingers against the young man’s cheek.

“Molly,” he calls, alarmed by the heated skin against his fingers. He lays his palm against the man’s forehead. “He’s burning up.”

Molly turns to him, taken aback. She feels Stanley’s neck. “Oh dear. Yes, flu season is in full swing.” She pulls back. “I’ll get a thermometer.”

John slaps Stanley’s cheeks lightly. “Stanley. Can you open your eyes please?”

There’s a soft whimper, the young man turning his face away. “Come on, mate, open your eyes for me.” Stanley’s eyes open into slits finally. He mumbles something unintelligible.

Molly returns with the thermometer, takes a quick reading from Stanley’s ear. “39.6.”

“Right. We’ll try paracetamol to start with but let me know if his temp’s not come down within the hour,” John says, reaching for Stanley’s chart. “Is there another room we can move him into? We don't want this spreading.”

Molly nods. “I’ll see to it.”

John finishes writing up his instructions and Molly takes the chart and goes to arrange the room change. Once she's gone he turns around, looks at Sherlock again. Sherlock’s eyes are closed once more, but John has a feeling he’s awake. “Er… thanks. For the heads up, that is,” he says.

Sherlock’s only response is a quiet “Hmmm.”

How did you know? John wants to ask. About the fever? About Afghanistan? My leg?

It doesn’t seem like the right time to ask any of these questions. He picks up Sherlock’s chart from the foot of the bed, does a double take at the numbers he sees there and wonders how the man can possibly be awake and talking with this much clonazepam and chlorpromazine in his system.

He looks at Sherlock again, but there’s no outwardly sign of awareness, so John replaces the chart and leaves.

 

***


To say the least, the file on Sherlock is colourful.

John finds old notes, the sort that hadn't come from the system. Sherlock’s wealthy background is not a surprise — the man’s presence at Winter Creek alone implies it, but the array of private doctors that had seen Sherlock before the age of sixteen is impressive by any standard. Apparently, Sherlock’s parents had spared no expenses.   

The curious part is that none of the conditions pronounced by these psychiatrists (three different diagnoses in total) have anything to do with his current hospitalization. Sherlock could very well suffer from a form of autism or an antisocial personality disorder; however, until recently he’d been perfectly functional and self-sufficient. John finds nothing in Sherlock’s medical history that helps him understand why the man had a primary psychotic episode just shy of his thirty-fourth birthday. 

John then proceeds to read over the recent notes made by three consultants who've treated Sherlock during his ten-month stay at Winter Creek. One of them, absurdly enough, Dr. Donald Matthews, is a former professor of John's.

By the time he’s done reading John is even more confused than when he'd started.

A subsequent internet search about Holmes keeps John glued to his computer monitor for the rest of his shift.

 

***

 

A trip home, five hours of blissfully dreamless sleep and John’s back on the ward for a double shift. The late afternoon sun shines in through the large windows, casting yellows and oranges across the floors, the warm glow temporarily countering the harshness of florescent lighting. John is half tempted to drag a chair into a sunny patch and bask in it while it lasts.

Molly is back on duty and makes him another cup of herbal tea which, although still doesn't taste like anything that's entitled to the name tea, John manages to drink. He’s about to head into his office but stops as he passes by the entrance to the common activity room. 

Sherlock Holmes is sitting at a small table by the window, and he's not alone. John instantly recognizes the man sitting across from Sherlock as the one who had 'abducted' and subsequently hired him last week. 

Well, that's one mystery solved, at least.

The man’s demeanour, however, is miles off what John had been presented with back at that warehouse. Gone is the cold, blank expression, the polite façade over calculating eyes. The man's face is virtually transformed by his unguarded compassion and the eyes looking at Sherlock are gentler, sad.

John wonders at first whether the two are (were) lovers, but re-evaluates that notion as he notices lines of resemblance in their profiles. It's nothing that would be obvious to a casual observer, but there is definitely something there -- in the set of the jaw, the angle of the cheekbones. Siblings, he surmises. This would be Mycroft Holmes then, if John recalls the signature on Sherlock's admittance forms correctly.

There doesn't seem to be much of a conversation going on between the two; Mycroft speaks a few times, but Sherlock seems as if he's fighting off sleep, muttering sporadic, monosyllabic replies. John watches silently for several minutes, by the end of which Mycroft rises from his chair, picks up his briefcase and umbrella and, with a final look at his brother, turns to go.

He passes by John as he's leaving, nods at him but doesn't stop. “Doctor Watson,” he says, not a greeting as much as an acknowledgement, before continuing toward the elevator. John looks after him until he disappears from view, then glances back to Sherlock, who's still unmoving in the plastic chair.

Sherlock doesn't seem to notice John's approach, only looks up at John's “Hello”, his eyes not quite focused. There’s no spark of recognition and John wonders if Sherlock even remembers him.

“I’m John,” he offers. “Doctor John Watson. We, er… met last night?” Sherlock looks away, appears to find interest in something outside the window. John glances in the direction of his line of sight but all he sees are trees, the last rays of sunshine disappearing behind them. “How are you feeling today?” he asks.

For a while, there’s no response. John begins to wonder whether Sherlock’s even registered his words when the reply finally comes. “Tired,” Sherlock says softly, still staring out the window.

John nods. “Well, um. There will be supper soon. Then you can sleep.”

Sherlock doesn’t respond.

“Do you… remember those things you said to me last night? When I came into your room?”

Silence stretches on for what feels like minutes but is probably closer to seconds. At last, Sherlock turns back to look at him. The corner of his mouth turns down and after another beat he closes his eyes. “I’m tired, John.” His voice is barely above a whisper.

The resigned, defeated tone makes something ache in the pit of John's stomach. He remembers, now, why he'd left this line of work. The combined horror and exhilaration of cracking open a patient's chest in the trauma room and bringing them back to life through sheer resolve has never seemed more appealing.    

“Right,” he says finally.

When once again there's no response from Sherlock, John leaves him be.

 

***


Carmichael rolls his eyes when Johns approaches him the next day about changing Sherlock's course of treatment. Apparently the tendency of all the recently-hired specialists to direct their attention to the same patient has made John's request predictable.

“You too, huh?” he asks John, shaking his head. Carmichael then goes on a twenty minute rant about how long it takes to re-stabilize Sherlock after someone decides to mess about with his medication, and how the current regiment is the only way to keep him manageable during one of his episodes.

John knows from the start how the discussion is going to end and concentrates on keeping his ground and nodding a lot until Carmichael finally reaches the part where John is welcome to try his way as long as he's also willing to assume full responsibility and deal with the potential fallout.

Contrary to Carmichael, Molly doesn't bat an eyelash when John hands her Sherlock's updated chart, specifying nothing beyond a sleep aid before bedtime. John thanks her and makes sure to speak with the rest of the night staff, namely a burly blonde male nurse named Jacob Mitchell and Dr. Stevenson who's taking the night shift for a change. He leaves them with instructions to call him if anything unusual happens and heads home.

 

***


He sleeps fitfully that night, tossing and turning, stuck for hours at a state of semi-awareness, unable to quiet down his thought process long enough to fall into a deep sleep. He wakes up still tired, wishing he'd stayed in Ascot and had a kip on the sofa in his office instead.  

Surprisingly, the moment he steps back into the ward his day begins to improve dramatically.

 

***

 

“Good morning,” John says as he takes the seat across the table from Sherlock in the common room. He rests his cane against the windowsill, wraps both hands around his mug.

Sherlock doesn't looks up from where he’s underlining text in a newspaper article. “John, I need to send a text. Can I borrow your phone?” he asks, holding his left hand out.

John pauses with his mug halfway to his lips, sets it on the table after a moment's hesitation. “Um. all right. I suppose.” He pulls the phone out from his pocket, holds it out. It takes a moment for his common sense to kick in and offer multiple reasons as to why giving his personal phone to a psych patient is not a good idea. 

It’s too late, of course; Sherlock plucks it from his fingers before they’re even fully extended, types in his message at an alarming speed and then sets the device back in front of John. “Thank you,” he says curtly and goes back to the newspaper.

John glances at the article, manages to read an upside down title about a ten-year-old girl abducted from her bedroom. “I... wanted to see how you were doing,” John offers after a couple of minutes of being ignored. 

“I’m experiencing a mild headache, dizziness, nausea and persistent tremors in my hands. All are typical signs of chlorpromazine withdrawal which I’m certain I have you to thank for.” Finally, Sherlock puts down his pen and looks at him, eyes bright and piercing. 

For a moment John can only stare, his jaw slack. The man across from him is frighteningly lucid and seems to be looking right through him. The contrast from yesterday couldn't be more striking.

“Um. Right.” John clears his throat, pulls himself together. “New strategy, no drugs.”  

“You should be aware that three months ago a staff doctor has suffered a broken arm and a concussion at my hand following a mere reduction in dosages,” Sherlock informs him.

John raises an eyebrow. He is, in fact, aware of that, had read as much in Sherlock's file. The question is why does Sherlock feel the need to tell him about it? Is he trying to scare him off?

“I'll take my chances,” John says, smiling pleasantly. A concern for his own well-being hasn't even crossed his mind and even now, he doesn't perceive Sherlock as a palpable threat.  

Sherlock smirks at him. “You’re not concerned. You have your army training and you feel you can handle yourself well enough in a fight.”

And that is just... creepy.

He looks at Sherlock searchingly, wonders if the man can actually read his mind.

“You've got questions,” Sherlock states, leaning back in his chair.

Well, yes.

John doesn't even know where to begin. “How do you know these thing? The army and what you said to me that night?”

Sherlock shakes his head. “I didn’t know, I saw. Your haircut and the way you hold yourself says military. Your face is tanned, but no tan above the wrists so you've been abroad, but not sunbathing. Your limp is bad when you walk but you don't lean when you stand, as if you've forgotten about it so it's at least partly psychosomatic. That says the original circumstances of the injury were traumatic -- wounded in action then. Wounded in action, suntan -- Afghanistan or Iraq.”

“You could see all that with one look?” John asks dazedly.

“One look is all I need. Take for example your brother, his drinking problem and the fact that he’s recently left his wife.”

John is so taken aback he can't even formulate the question. It seems Sherlock doesn't need him to.

“Your phone. It's expensive and yet your clothes suggest you’ve been living on an army pension’s budget since returning to England. You wouldn't buy this; it's a gift. Scratches. Not one, many over time. It's been in the same pocket as keys and coins. You wouldn't treat your one luxury item like this, so it's had a previous owner. Next bit's easy. You know it already.” 

“The engraving?”

“Harry Watson. Clearly a family member who's given you his old phone. Not your father; this is a young man's gadget. Could be a cousin, but you're a war hero who, judging by your eagerness for night shifts, has been staying by himself in meagre accommodations. Unlikely you've got an extended family, not one you're close to. So brother it is. Now, who's Clara? Three kisses says it's a romantic attachment. The expense of the phone says wife, not girlfriend. Must have given it to him recently, it's only six months old. Marriage in trouble then; six months on he's given it away. If she'd left him he would have kept it -- sentiment. No, he wanted rid of it. He left her. He gave the phone to you, so he wants you to stay in touch, but you’d rather live alone in a bedsit than go to your brother for help. That says you've got problems with him. Maybe you liked his wife, maybe you don't like his drinking.”

“How can you possibly know about the drinking?” John has to ask, as if this entire conversation isn't utterly ridiculous as it is.

“Shot in the dark. Good one, though. Power connection — tiny little scuff marks round it. Every night he plugs it in but his hands are shaking. You never see those marks on a sober man's phone, never see a drunk man's phone without them,” Sherlock concludes in a flourish.

John spends a few good seconds making an effort not to just gape at him. He's sitting across from one of the most brilliant minds he's ever had the fortune to encounter and he honestly can't find the proper words to express what he's feeling. 

“That...was amazing,” he manages finally.

Sherlock seems surprised, as if this isn't the response he's been expecting. “Do you think so?”

“Of course it was. It was extraordinary, it was... quite extraordinary.”

“That's not what people normally say.”

“What do people normally say?”

Sherlock hesitates, sends him a wry look before saying somewhat sheepishly “Piss off.”

John laughs at that, because of course they would.

After a beat Sherlock grins back at him. “Did I get anything wrong?”

John shakes his head. He doesn't normally share personal information with his patients, but he supposes this qualifies as special circumstances. “Harry and me don't get on, never have. Clara and Harry split up three months ago and they're getting a divorce, and Harry is a drinker.”

“Spot on, then. I didn't expect to be right about everything,” Sherlock says, sounding all too pleased.

“Harry's... short for Harriet,” John says with a smirk, inevitably elated at being able to bring Sherlock down a peg.

“Harry's your sister. Sister! There's always something.”

John doesn't let him wallow. “So, this is what you do, then? For your… detecting?”

John realizes what he's just said, wants to take the words back the moment they leave his mouth.

Stupid!

“It’s what I used to do. Before this place,” Sherlock points out, his voice even. “Never would again, according to three of your colleagues, but clearly you either doubt their conclusions or hold yourself in very high regard, otherwise I wouldn’t currently be going through withdrawal. Again.”

“I’m not saying they’re wrong,” John clarifies. It's too early and he doesn't want to give Sherlock false hopes.  “I can’t say that, not until I’ve had a chance to do a proper evaluation and I can’t do that without some sort of baseline.”

Sherlock frowns. “Is this what we’re doing now? Establishing a baseline?”

“You tell me. How close to normal is this for you?”

Sherlock's mouth twists in amusement. “As close as I'm likely to get while away from my... natural habitat.”

“What’s your natural habitat like?” John finds himself genuinely curious about that.

Sherlock pauses for a moment, then says, “It’s somewhat more stimulating.”

John looks around them, takes in the other occupants of the room. In the far corner two patients are watching daytime telly. A couple of tables over one of the older patients, Marjory Simmons, is knitting something that may or may not be a hat, and across the other side of the room nurse Jacob is using various platitudes to try and convince Stanley to finish his breakfast.

When John returns his gaze to Sherlock he gets the impression that the both of them are having the exact same thought.

“More stimulating than this?” he asks, deadpan, and does his best not to join in as Sherlock cracks up.

“It also includes inspiring, unhealthy food and tea that doesn't taste like poison,” Sherlock offers.

John grins, glances down into is half-full cup. “I don’t know, it’s been four days and it’s starting to grow on me.”

Sherlock makes a face. “That’s revolting.”

 

***

 

A new arrival occupies John for the majority of the day. Lydia Mason is not yet nineteen years of age and has already attempted to take her own life on three separate occasions. Judging by what John sees as he unwinds the bandages wrapped around her wrists, the last attempt was very nearly a success.

He speaks to her mother in his office for close to two hours, collecting information, putting together her history as best he can. The mother's description paints a picture of a typical troubled teen, nothing out of the ordinary. John gets the feeling that the mother is holding certain details back, but all his leading questions fail to uncover what those are. 

For her part, the girl keeps completely silent. The conversation John tries to initiate as he's removing the stitches from her wrists ends up being entirely one-sided. He considers his options once he's done, forgoes the restraints for now and guides her to an armchair in the common room. He gets Molly to babysit for a couple of hours.

On his way back to his office John spots a man in a long coat entering the floor and flashing a badge at the receptionist. Frowning, John heads in that direction instead. The receptionist seems relieved to see him and gestures at the man. “Doctor Watson. I was just explaining to Detective Inspector Lestrade here that visiting hours ended fifteen minutes ago.”

Lestrade directs an annoyed look at her before turning to John. “I'm sure you can make an exception for police business, Doctor.”

“Who are you here to see?” John asks.

“Sherlock Holmes. I doubt it'll take more than five minutes.”

John frowns, suddenly overcome by an inexplicable sense of over-protectiveness. “I'm his doctor. I don't know what this is about but whatever he's done, Sherlock is not in any state to be held accountable--”

“--Woah. Easy there, Doctor.” Lestrade holds both hands up. “Nothing of the sort. I need a consult, is all. Sherlock texted me this morning so I assume you don't have him strapped down somewhere...”  

John huffs, embarrassed at his own reaction. He'd forgotten that Sherlock used to have a working relationship of sorts with the Scotland Yard. “Right,” he says and rolls his eyes in self-deprecation, sends Lestrade an apologetic smile. “Sorry, follow me.”

John inquires as to Sherlock's whereabouts at the nurses’ station and Jacob reports that he'd last been seen abusing his favourite punching bag in the exercise room. Lestrade seems to find that immensely amusing and John directs him as to how to get there and asks him to remind Sherlock that they have an appointment in half an hour while he's at it.

Not surprisingly, Lestrade's five minutes end up taking the better part of an hour. Sherlock turns up in John's office late but once John hears what Sherlock has been up to he can't quite bring himself to care.

“You figured out where that kid is just by reading over the police file?” Despite Sherlock's demonstration earlier that day John can’t help a measure of scepticism.  

“It was absurdly simple,” Sherlock replies in a dismissive, bored tone. “It was interesting only in comparison to my current daily routine, or I wouldn't have bothered with the case.” Sherlock walks over to the sofa, appears to reconsider and settles in the armchair instead.

John brings his tea and clipboard over from the desk and takes the sofa, sighing as he sinks into the plush cushions. “So what tipped you off?”

“A missing pair of shoes. If someone had broken in to abduct the girl from her bed in the middle of the night they’d carry her, they certainly wouldn’t stop to fetch her shoes. No, she'd walked out willingly, suggesting whoever broke in was someone she knew and trusted. The teacher was the likeliest possibility.

“That’s… brilliant,” John can't help but say. “You do realize how remarkable that is? That you can do this?”

Something warm shines in Sherlock's eyes at the compliment. He seems almost as if he's preening. It's gone in a flash, replaced again by his characteristic aloofness. “Remarkable, certainly, brilliant some of the time, a nuisance the rest.”  

“Why a nuisance?”

“Noticing everything all the time. It’s not as if I can turn it off when it becomes a bother.”

John thinks about that, tries to imagine the constant burden of too much information. “I suppose it could become overwhelming.”

Sherlock nods. “For instance I would have preferred not to know that Doctor Matthews, your predecessor, used to have sex with Molly on this very sofa.”

John chokes on his tea, coughs and splutters. “What. How--?”

“Two faint smudges of her preferred shade of lipstick, one on the armrest, the other to the side of the top cushion, suggesting they'd started out with her bent over—“

“—Right! Okay. I believe you, there’s really no need to tell me the details,” John interrupts, before he hears something that won't allow him to look Molly in the eyes ever again.

Sherlock rolls his eyes. “As I said, a nuisance.”

“Is that why you started using drugs?”

John can tell that Sherlock did not anticipate the question. After a brief look of surprise, Sherlock's eyes narrow. “In part,” Sherlock replies carefully. There's a short pause and then he adds, “I'm sure my medical file gave you all that information.” The disdain in his tone is evident.

“I prefer to form my own conclusions, based on first-hand information,” John says.

Sherlock dissects him with his gaze for a long moment. In the end one corner of his mouth curves upwards. “You don't agree with Matthews' diagnosis,” he notes.

John considers denying it, decides it would be pointless. “I can't rule it out completely. I mean, it is technically possible--”

“-- it is utterly preposterous.”

John shakes his head. “Schizophrenia can sometimes appear at mid-thirties, and cocaine use is a possible trigger...”

“And you still don't believe it for a second,” Sherlock declares.

John exhales through his nose, closes his eyes for a moment. “Until I can come up with a better diagnosis, it doesn't matter what I believe.”

Sherlock opens his mouth to reply but no words come out. After a beat he closes it again, tilts his head in a way that gives John a pause.  

“What is it?” John asks.

Sherlock considers him for a bit, silent. Finally he looks away.

John knows his deduction skills pale in comparison to Sherlock's, but he's far from stupid. “You have your own theory,” he says.     

Sherlock glances at him, smiles briefly. “Irrelevant.”

“How can it be irrelevant?” John asks with a frown.

“It wouldn't affect the course of treatment.”

“Humour me,” John insists.

Sherlock's hesitation is obvious in his body language; the quick tap of his fingers against the armrest of the chair and the way his eyes move restlessly to look anywhere but at John.

John waits, doesn't press on. He's good at waiting. He's also absolutely certain that he will be the first doctor to hear this.

When Sherlock finally speaks the words come out slow, staggering, very unlike the rapid torrent of speech John had begun to associate with this remarkable man. “There are... certain compounds,” Sherlock begins. “Substances. Toxins. That are known to induce psychosis. Some more than others can cause permanent damage. An irreversible effect.”

John digests this, runs it over in his head. “You think that... you were exposed to some kind of toxin?” It's not out of the realm of possibility.

“I had nothing to eat nor drink that day, when it first happened.”

John nods, thinks it over, reaches the likeliest conclusion. “The cocaine?”

“It was a new batch.”

“Contamination is possible, I suppose. Street drugs are often cut with sugars or--”

Sherlock shakes his head vehemently. “No. No. You're not...” he trails off in obvious frustration. “My preparation was perfect, John. Every time. A seven percent solution, filtered, sterilized and sealed. I could tell instantly if the purity was off.”

John remembers reading it now — Sherlock had studies chemistry at Oxford. What an awful use for his education. Still, John shakes his head, not comprehending, not getting to the bottom of Sherlock's mind. “I don't understand.”

“Of course you don't, you're an idiot.”

John opens his mouth, an indignant ‘Oi!’ on the tip of his tongue but Sherlock waves dismissively. “Oh, don't look like that, almost everyone is. The point is that I couldn't detect the compound because it was of medical grade purity. It was also obscure enough not to have come up in the blood tests they did at the hospital. Add to that the fact that no similar cases to mine were reported around that time and the conclusion is obvious.”

It really isn't, John wants to say, but doesn't. He doesn't need Sherlock calling him an idiot again.

Fortunately Sherlock continues without waiting for his input. “It was a calculated attack, deliberate, well thought-out and personal.”

“Hold on.” John blinks, once, twice. “You think someone did this to you... intentionally?”

“I've gained a lot of enemies over the years. Expected, considering my chosen profession. It would only require one of them, one, who would be clever enough to recognize a vulnerability and resourceful enough to take advantage of it.”

John knows now why Sherlock hasn't spoken to any of his previous doctors about this. It isn't because this scenario wouldn't necessarily affect the course of treatment (although that part is true too). It’s because the whole thing sounds like an elaborate theory put together by a paranoid, delusional individual. The fact that it’s also a plausible theory would most likely have been disregarded by most doctors.

“I don't suppose you have any evidence?”

Sherlock looks away. “No. It was quite the chaotic day, as you can imagine. My cocaine bottle was never found, nor was the person from whom I acquired the drug, despite Mycroft's best efforts.”

“Your brother. He believes this theory too?”

Sherlock's face twists with an emotion John can't quite pinpoint. “My brother doesn't concern himself with theories. He is, however, extremely displeased about the current... situation. I'm assuming your presence at this facility is a direct outcome of his displeasure.”

John had been wondering whether Sherlock was aware of the circumstances surrounding his employment. He has his answer now. “It does look like it,” John says.

Sherlock leans forward in his chair, pinning John with a penetrating glare. “The question is, John, what precisely is he hoping you'll accomplish?”

John would very much like to know the answer to that question.

 

***

 

Having come prepared after yesterday's miserable trip home, John decides to spend the night on his office sofa. He has a bag with spare clothes and has no qualms about asking Molly to fetch him a clean sheet (after all, it is partly her fault that he can't bring himself to lie down on the sofa without one). 

He feels well-rested by the morning and has vague memories of a series of unrelated dreams. He remembers dreaming about Afghanistan, but doesn't remember the details. Considering it hadn't ended with John waking up in a panic, drenched in sweat, it must have been a mild one.   

There'd been another kind of dream as well, the more pleasant kind, which John can't recall having since before he'd been shot. The details of the latter are equally vague, hovering at the very edges of his consciousness; all John remembers is warm skin under his fingers, a warm puff of breath against his cock. The remnants of the dream leave a pleasant tightness low in his belly and he finds he has to turn the water in the staff showers cooler than usual to be able to start off his day without an embarrassing incident.

He reads the morning paper with his breakfast, shaking his head in wonder as he skims the report about the case Sherlock had solved the day before. The missing girl is now safe and sound back in her home.

At ten John meets with Dr. Stevenson to discuss Lydia's case. Lydia still hasn't said a word since being admitted. Stevenson suggests a change of antidepressant and John doesn't object.

His session with Sherlock is scheduled for one in the afternoon. Sherlock appears right on time and heads straight for 'his' armchair.

As he takes the sofa John notices a faint bruise on Sherlock's cheekbone. “What happened there?”

Sherlock looks momentarily embarrassed and looks away as he mutters something which sounds awfully like, “The punching bag hit back.”

John does his best not to let his amusement show but judging by Sherlock's evident irritation he does a poor job of it.

“Not funny,” Sherlock says petulantly. “You keep me drugged out of my mind most of the time, it's no wonder I've become slow and weak and fat.”

John doesn't think Sherlock is even close to being any of these things but refrains from saying as much, knowing it's hardly the issue. He also doesn't point out that the purpose of the medications is to keep Sherlock from hurting anyone -- he doesn't think he has to, Sherlock is smart enough to know as much.

“Would you like some ice for that?” he offers instead.

“No, it's fine.” Sherlock examines his thumbnail with some interest, brings it to his mouth distractedly. John follows the movement until Sherlock's thumb touches his lips.

Suddenly, it becomes very hard to breathe.

Bloody hell.

John's washed over by a warm sensation of intimate familiarity. His eyes remain momentarily fixed on Sherlock's mouth before abruptly sliding away, resolutely not remembering a version of those lips doing extremely pleasant things.   

It's fine, John tells himself even as he feels his face heating up. The middle of a therapy session is not the best timing to realize that one has recently had an erotic dream about one's male patient, but John is a professional. He can handle this.

It's only a dream, anyway; his subconscious mind working out issues that are probably related to John’s perception of Sherlock's brilliance and have nothing to do with sex whatsoever. It doesn't mean that he's sexually attracted to Sherlock and it certainly doesn't imply anything about John's sexual orientation. He certainly hasn't been having any kind of inappropriate thoughts about Sherlock (or any other man, for that matter) while conscious and awake, and one dream is nothing to agonise over. 

When he looks back at Sherlock he finds the man looking at him with a curious frown. John knows, rationally, that Sherlock can't actually read his mind, but the scrutiny makes him suddenly too self-aware, uncomfortable in his own skin.

He clears his throat loudly and reaches for his clipboard. “So. Any improvement with the nausea and tremors?”

 

***

 

John is on call that night. Two in the morning finds him sprawled on his sofa reading the latest issue of The British Journal of Psychiatry.

He doesn't even realize he's fallen asleep until something awakens him. At first he's not sure what it is but as he turns his head he becomes aware of another presence in the room.

Sherlock is sitting crossed-legged on the floor, watching him.

“Sherlock…? How did you get in here?” John contemplates getting up but his limbs feel lax and heavy.

Sherlock tilts his head. “I see it, John.”

“See what?”

“Everything. What you’re thinking. What you feel whenever you look at me.” Sherlock rises smoothly and climbs onto the sofa, straddling John. “I feel it too,” he adds, his face just a breath away from John's.

John stares up at him with wide eyes. “Sherlock I... what--”

Sherlock kisses him.

A man's lips pressing against his own and John, against all reason, remains motionless.

He lets it happen.

Sherlock's lips, soft and warm -- they taste sweet as John brushes his tongue over them, past them, into Sherlock's mouth and that, oh, Christ, that must mean John is kissing back which can’t be right, because Sherlock -- Sherlock is...

Sherlock's weight settles against his thighs and as John pushes his hips up something firm presses back against him. It feels heavenly.

“John,” Sherlock breathes against his lips.

“John!”

John startles awake, heart hammering.     

He blinks against harsh fluorescent lights, notes the empty office, the journal sliding off his chest and onto the floor. He doesn’t remember ever feeling so relieved and at the same time so frustrated at having been woken up.  

“John!”

He turns to look at the door, sees Molly, face pale, hand on the light switch.

“We need you in room 404.”

 

***

 

The transformation is so dramatic that Sherlock is barely recognizable. Gone is the sharp, calculating look, replaced instead by wild-eyed terror and rage, not unlike a wild animal caught in a trap. Sherlock's back, pressed against the wall, is hunched down in a defensive pose and he's holding a chair to his chest, the legs pointing outwards.

“Easy, mate,” Jacob says calmly. He’s standing a few feet away from Sherlock, holding both palms out in a placating gesture. “No one is going to hurt you.”

“Back away!” Sherlock yells, brandishing his grip on the chair. “I won't let you!”

John takes in the scene from the door, notes the extreme paleness of Sherlock's face, the sheen of sweat covering him, his rapid breathing.

“Sherlock,” John says gently.

Sherlock's eyes snap to him but if anything John's presence seems to only aggravate Sherlock further. “You!” Sherlock shrieks. “You started this. You led them right to me!”

“Sherlock, please,” John tries, keeping his tone even “I’m trying to help, remember? You can trust me. You’re not thinking clearly right now—“

“—Like hell I’m not!” Sherlock thrusts the chair forward suddenly, catching Jacob in the elbow. Jacob hisses and draws back. “Don't come near me! You're all part of this!”

John takes a step further into the room. “Sherlock, I can see that you're scared but you're safe here, I swear. Please put the chair down and talk to me.”

“I’m done talking to you,” Sherlock snarls. “You’re a spy. You tell them everything I say, all of you, plotting. You’ll try to make it look like a suicide.”

Molly's soft voice calls from the corridor and John goes to her, nods his thanks as she hands him the twenty milligrams haloperidol he'd requested. He tucks the syringe out of sight before he re-enters the room.

Sherlock, naturally, deduces it instantly. “Poison!” he screams, eyes fixed on John's breast pocket.  “I won’t let you!”

“It’s not poison, Sherlock, just something to help you calm down. If you put the chair down and talk to me I won’t have to use it.” John knows as he says it that he’s probably wasting his time; mania is distorting Sherlock’s features and John realizes Sherlock can’t really register or comprehend what he’s saying.

Sherlock’s gaze begin to roam, clearly looking for an escape route. John takes a chance, nods to Jacob and takes two steps forward. Predictably, Sherlock turns in his direction, moving the chair as he does. It gives Jacob an opening, a better angle, and he manages to grab hold the chair legs with both hands.

Sherlock attempts to thrust it at him again but this time Jacob overcomes him by sheer size and force. He yanks the chair entirely out of Sherlock's grip and sets it down behind him. “Come on, Sherlock,” Jacob says as Sherlock backs another step into the corner.

“No. No!” Sherlock cries, shaking his head frantically.

John sets his cane against the bed and takes a few slow, careful steps toward Sherlock. “Sherlock, please let me help.”

Once more Jacob takes advantage of Sherlock turning his attention to John to make his move. He tackles Sherlock to the ground effortlessly, one arm snaking around Sherlock's chest to cushion his fall.  Sherlock screams, tries to kick out, but Jacob presses a knee into the small of his back, successfully captures Sherlock's wrists and pins them to the floor.

“Sherlock stop! Just stop!” John says as he kneels down beside the thrashing man. He takes the syringe out, uncaps the needle with his teeth. He moves the waistband of Sherlock’s sweatpants down and jabs the needle into his gluteal, pressing the plunger down quickly.

“No!” Sherlock cries, tries to twist away. He wrenches one wrist out of Jacob's grip but John catches it reflexively, holds on tight.

The struggling continues for several more minutes before Sherlock's movements grow weaker and less coordinated. Sherlock's yells gradually change into sobs and then subside into quite, ragged whimpers. When the wrist in John’s grip begins to feel limp he signals Jacob to climb off him. Sherlock feebly tries to pull his hand away and John lets him, watches as Sherlock rolls sideways until his back hits the wall again.

Sherlock pushes himself up into a sitting position, hugs his knees against his chest. The glare he directs at John is loaded with hate and betrayal.

John takes in Sherlock's tear-streaked face, the bruises that are already beginning to form around his wrists, and feels sick. He sniffs, wipes his face. “I’m sorry,” he tells Sherlock, voice cracking. “You'll feel better in a bit.” 

“Lies,” Sherlock slurs hoarsely, eyelids already drooping.

John shakes his head, tries to get off the floor only to discover that his leg is uncooperative. A steady hand appears and John takes it, giving Jacob a grateful look. Molly hands him his cane and he nods, tries to smile at her.

“Get him back to bed, yeah? He won't be up and about any time soon but keep him restrained, just in case.”

He doesn't stay to watch as Molly and Jacob tend to Sherlock. He stops outside the room, closes his eyes and just breathes for a minute, concentrating on the air moving in and out of his lungs. When he no longer feels like his legs are about to give out from under him he walks the rest of the way to his office. 

 

***

 

A cup of tea magically manifests on the desk in front of him and John starts. He hadn't even noticed Molly coming in.

“You look like you could use it,” she says with a sympathetic smile.

“Thank you, Molly,” he says, returning the smile automatically as he rubs the back of his neck. “It's been a rough night.”

She nods, looks down. After a short pause she wrings her hands together and takes a deep breath. “It was my fault,” she tells him in a small voice. “He... Sherlock. He wanted to go to sleep without the restraints. He has a way with words. I... it's hard to say no to him. I didn't think he'd have it so bad this time.”

John shakes his head. “It's not your fault. He was doing increasingly well these past two days. I think we all hoped this time would be better.”

“Are you going to start him up on medications again?”

“Not just yet. Though we'll have to keep a closer eye on him from now on.”

Molly bites her lower lip, nods. She turns to leave but stops before she reaches the door. “It's good, that you care,” she tells him. “The other doctors... Sherlock was just another case for them, but I can tell that you like him.”

John looks at her in surprise, tries to determine if she's implying anything he should be concerned about, but her expression is honest, her eyes kind.

“I do,” he admits.

She smiles, nods again and turns to go.

 

***

 

John visits Sherlock's room before the end of his shift. He hesitates before entering, finds that he has to brace himself but not sure what he’s bracing for, exactly.  

Sherlock is still in bed. He's staring at the ceiling, eyes only half-open, and doesn't seem to notice when John enters.

John has to swallow several times before he can speak. “Good morning Sherlock,” he says quietly.

There's no response and John honestly can't tell whether Sherlock is purposefully ignoring him or not. He passes a hand in front of Sherlock's face and is relieved when Sherlock blinks and glances in his general direction.

“Was in my palace,” he mumbles before returning his gaze to the ceiling.

“Oh. Right,” John says. “Actually, I'm not sure what that means.”

Sherlock draws in a long, shuddering breath. “It's because you're an idiot,” he tells John.

John detects a hint of humour in the tone and the lump in his throat eases down a bit. It seems that Sherlock is rational once more. “Yeah, I suppose I am,” he says, smiling a bit.

Sherlock rolls his head on the pillow and looks at John again, bleary but lucid. “Am I going to be allowed off this bed any time soon?”

John nods. “If you feel ready to be around people again, I'll take you to breakfast.”

“As long as it's not ginger tea and dairy-free porridge,” Sherlock says as John begins unbuckling the straps of the padded cuffs.

 “I think Molly is still on. I'm sure you'd be able to negotiate.”

John’s fingertips brush against the hot skin on the inside of Sherlock’s wrist and the brief contact sends an unexpected jolt, makes John’s breath catch in his throat. He’s suddenly hyper-aware of their positions, their proximity.

Oh, for God’s sake. This is not happening.    

John’s face heats up and he hopes against hope that Sherlock is still not quite sharp enough to notice his momentary fumbling with the buckle.

That bloody dream (dreams -- plural, by now, he amends) will be his undoing, John thinks as he forces himself to concentrate on lowering the bed rail and helping Sherlock to sit up.  

Sherlock slides gingerly off the bed, grips the rail for a moment longer as he finds his balance. He runs a hand through his hair and grimaces. “Forget breakfast, I need a shower.”

“You're not steady on your feet yet. Maybe give it a couple of hours?”

Sherlock sniffs himself, makes a face. “Can't wait. I'll be fine.” He takes a wobbly step and John follows closely, a hand under Sherlock's elbow. The haloperidol has made Sherlock's movements sluggish, but after a few long seconds his gait becomes steadier and he no longer looks like he's about to fall flat on his face at any moment. Sherlock picks a towelling dressing gown off a hook on the wall and carries it with him into the bathroom. “If you hear me crying out in pain, feel free to deduce that I've fallen down and broken my neck,” he says brightly, before shutting the door in John’s face.  

“Let me know if you need a hand,” John calls out.

“I don't,” Sherlock calls back from inside. After a moment he adds, “Assuming that was an offer for assistance and not an ill-timed proposition.” 

John finds himself momentarily gaping at the door. “It wasn't!” he blurts. After another beat he tries to clarify. “I mean, it was. Er, the former.” He squeezes his eyes shut, frustrated at his own reaction.

Sherlock’s comment had been a joke, John realizes. But with vivid images from his dream still lingering in the back of his mind, even a bit of flippant teasing had flooded him with embarrassment.

There's no further response from Sherlock. After a brief pause John hears the shower running.

 

***

 

“Can you tell me what was going through your mind during those moments? Do you remember any of it?”

John is back on the sofa, facing Sherlock in the armchair. He’d briefly considered moving their sessions elsewhere, some place he'd be less likely to be assaulted by mental images of Sherlock straddling him, touching him, kissing him. Eventually he’d decided the entire thing was utterly ridiculous, had told himself to Just Get Over It.   

“I remember everything. I can tell you precisely what I was thinking. What I can’t tell you is why.”

John stays silent, lets him continue at his own pace.

Sherlock’s face is impassive when he speaks. He sounds detached, could very well be talking about someone else. “I rely on my senses for my deductions. What I see, what I hear, what I smell, everything comes together to make up my perception of reality. That first part doesn’t change — not the things I see and hear. It’s how I see them that’s skewered. As if I’m viewing the world through a distortion filter. Everything becomes... menacing.”

John nods, makes a note of this in his notebook. “And your deductions follow.”

“Inevitably. The subsequent conclusions are, of course, erroneous.”

“That everyone is trying to harm you?”

“It’s beyond that. Imagine how you'd feel, being somewhere entirely hostile, enemies closing in with the sole purpose of ending you and death is so imminent that all higher brain functions shutter down, leaving only the most basic flight or fight responses on a continuous loop of positive feedback which leads to an inevitable… snap.”

John doesn’t need to imagine it. He’s been reliving it in his nightmares for months now. He doesn’t tell Sherlock that, of course. “It sounds terrifying, but you... talk about this now and you sound almost indifferent.” 

“Of course I am,” Sherlock snaps. “It’s not real. Fear itself is nothing to fear and at the moment I’m well aware there’s no immediate danger.”

John thinks this over, tries to find the best way to approach what he's about to propose. “What if there was a way for you to obtain this same awareness while it was happening?”

Sherlock frowns, but John can tell he's interested. “How?”

“There's a sort of light hypnosis. Basically you'd have to break apart this awareness and then associate the components with something objective.”

“Define objective.”

“Something that isn't likely to take on a negative connotation, even in your altered state. It can be an inanimate object, a tune or even a phrase.”

Sherlock appears to consider this. “And I would associate this object with what, precisely?”

“A sense of calm. The knowledge that you're safe, that whatever is frightening you isn't real. The hypnosis strengthens the association to the extent that the presentation of the object would ground you enough to overcome the false beliefs.” 

“You've performed this successfully in the past?”

John hesitates. “I have... for milder conditions.”

Sherlock is silent for a long time. He doesn't look happy. “What would be the alternative?” he finally asks.

“Alternative?”

Sherlock shifts in his seat, looks somewhere to John's left. “What would be the alternative, if it doesn't work?” His tone is clipped, irritated.

John frowns at him. “You're upset. Do you want to tell me why?”

“It's obvious, isn't it?”

John pauses with his lips parted, his 'not to me, it isn't' held back. He tries to think this through, to put himself in Sherlock's shoes. Eventually he hazards a guess. “You were hoping for a solution that would prevent the attacks from happening altogether?”    

Sherlock closes his eyes, tilts his head minutely. “A bit naïve of me, I suppose. Ten months in, three doctors and a dozen different combinations of drugs proving utterly useless.”

“It's not naïve at all,” John says firmly. “Hypnosis is non-invasive. It's safe. It might make your condition more manageable, but there are other treatments that might have a more drastic effect. I know Doctor Matthews brought up ECT...”

Sherlock snorts, rolls his eyes. “After which his employment was very abruptly terminated.”

John raises an eyebrow. He's not been aware of that particular fact. “Oh? What happened?”

“He tried to push for electroconvulsive therapy. I refused. He then attempted to obtain my brother's consent to do it against my will.”

“And that did not go over well?”

“Mycroft would not subject me to a procedure that could potentially obliterate my mind. Not against my express wishes.  As annoying and tiresome as my brother is, that is a line he'll never cross.”

“Sherlock, Matthews' actions may have been... misguided, but the benefits of this treatment often outweigh its side effects. It may not be nearly as bad as you think. Memory impairments are usually minor or temporary--”

“--John. My mind is my most valued possession. Surely you've realized as much by now.”

“Your mind has been mostly offline for the better part of a year,” John points out. “If it's a choice between the risks of electroconvulsive therapy and staying here indefinitely--”

“--I've no intention of staying here beyond the one year mark,” Sherlock states offhandedly. His mouth snaps shut after he says it and he looks briefly as if he'd like to take the words back.

John looks at him, tries to capture his gaze, but Sherlock keeps his face turned sideways. “Sherlock...?” John licks his lips, tries to calm his suddenly racing heart. “Sherlock, what do you mean by that?”

“Nothing, John.” Sherlock sends him a smile that seems far from genuine. “Honestly, I don't even know what I'm saying.”        

“I think you do,” John keeps his eyes on Sherlock's face, doesn't blink.

Sherlock closes his eyes and sighs in exasperation. A moment later John in pinned by an icy stare. “I hardly need to spell it out to you,” Sherlock says coldly. “You've seen what I can do. How long did you think I'd last, living this miserable existence? How long did you think I'd let it last?”

John swallows painfully and doesn't dare speak for a full minute, knows his voice would betray him. He reckons he should have expected Sherlock to have some kind of an... exit strategy. The thought is devastating, especially since he's rather sure that once Sherlock makes up his mind there will be no stopping him, and he has no doubt that Sherlock would get it right the first time.

Worst of all, despite numerous very rational arguments John can present at this juncture, he finds that he can't help but sympathise with Sherlock on a personal level. He remembers those first weeks, back from Afghanistan, remembers how close he'd come on more than one occasion. He honestly thinks that if their positions had been reversed he wouldn't have lasted as long as Sherlock has.

John clears his throat several times before he finds his voice again. “Would you consider ECT as a last resort, then? Before you...” He can't quite bring himself to say it.

Sherlock seems to think this over. In the end he shrugs. “I suppose.”

John nods, tries to convince himself it wouldn't come to that. He starts as Sherlock leans forward and takes the clipboard from him. At first he thinks Sherlock is after his notes but then Sherlock flips the page over with barely a glance and writes something down.

When he's done he hands it back to John. John reads the sentence, frowns, looks up at Sherlock. “It's... nice.”

Sherlock's mouth twists in humour. “It's somewhat of a private joke but it should do.”

“Do for what?”

Sherlock rolls his eyes. “No negative connotations. Go on, hypnotize me already.”

 

***

 

Three nights in a row and John is beginning to wonder if the universe is playing some kind of a sick joke on him. Is his subconscious mind truly unable to move beyond Sherlock Holmes and find other topics to fill his dreams with?

The setting is familiar by now; John dozing on the sofa, awakening to find that Sherlock has materialized in his office. This time John is not even surprised when Sherlock climbs on to straddle him. Then they’re kissing, Sherlock rubbing against him as if adamant to pick up from where they’d been so rudely interrupted the night before. 

John breaks the kiss with a moan, looks up into Sherlock's flushed face. “We shouldn't,” John mumbles. “You’re a patient here. I’m. I'm not supposed to--”

“--Shhh.” Sherlock touches a finger to John's mouth. “No one has to know.”

And that... shouldn't make any of this okay, John thinks, but then Sherlock kisses him again, slow and sensual and John's cock throbs as wave after wave of lust travel down to settle between his legs.  Sherlock reaches down between them, undoes John's zip, pushes a hand into his pants.

John groans loudly as long fingers wrap around his length, squeeze him, begin a slow push and pull. “Sherlock, Christ, Sherlock,” he gasps harshly. His hands scrabble uselessly at the waistband of Sherlock's pyjama bottoms until Sherlock lifts up and allows John to push them down. Sherlock breaks contact long enough to wriggle out of them completely and then he's back on top, his hard cock pressing alongside John's.

“John,” Sherlock sighs as they press together, rocking against him a few times. John pushes up, wants more, doesn’t know what he wants; he’s never done this with another man.

“Will you fuck me?” Sherlock murmurs against his lips.

That, John thinks, he definitely wants that. He nods, lets his hand slide down from Sherlock’s back, over the curve of his buttocks.

“I'm ready for you. Want to feel you inside,” Sherlock breathes.

Sherlock's hand is on his cock again and John can't speak, can't think, can barely breathe and then Sherlock rises up on his knees, shuffles forward before sinking slowly down. Sherlock's fingers angle the head of John's cock up and there, and he's pressing into a hot, slick crevice.

John can't quite grasp that this is happening, can't believe they're actually doing this even as Sherlock pushes down and he's suddenly engulfed by hot tightness that makes his toes curl with pleasure.

“John, John...” Sherlock is chanting his name as he rocks down and John has to close his eyes because it's too much, too bright, blindingly bright and--

Trrrrrrr…

John gasps awake in his bed, hand instinctively flailing toward his alarm clock.

An awkward swipe manages to silence it and send it crashing to the floor at the same time. John winces and blinks against a sliver of bright morning sunshine, filtering in through the narrow gap in the curtains.

With a heartfelt groan he turns over, buries his face in the pillow and pulls the covers over his head. His hard cock throbs as it’s pressed into the mattress and the resulting pulse of heat, low in his belly, feels like mockery.    

He rocks his hips a few times and when the pressure and friction only add to his frustration he huffs and reaches down, takes himself in hand. Keeping his mind studiously blank takes effort but John concentrates, focusing on sensation rather than thought; the slick slide of foreskin over glans, the pressure of his own fingers, thumb sliding just so, again and there. John jerks, gasps into the pillow as orgasm crashes over him, heat spilling over his fist.

Blissful lethargy lasts for all of thirty seconds, after which a sudden feeling of claustrophobia prompts John to kick the covers entirely off the bed. He remains lying on his back, catching his breath as the sweat cools on his body.

Excerpts from the dream which can no longer be held at bay trickle into his mind now, vivid and overwhelming. John attempts to detach himself, analyze them from a clinical point of view.

He fails miserably.

Rationally he knows that dreams are often complicated (even those sorts of dreams); they don’t necessarily imply that he fancies Sherlock. Having been very comfortable in his heterosexuality for the past four decades John should find comfort in this knowledge, should cling to it like a lifeline, but he can’t quite bring himself to do that anymore; he knows he’d be lying to himself. By now he can recognize that the dreams are only a small part of it, cannot ignore his responses to Sherlock’s physical presence.

If only it would end there.

However, sexual attraction doesn’t explain everything John is experiencing; how alive he feels whenever he and Sherlock are in the same room, the paralyzing terror at Sherlock’s offhand remark that he intends to take his own life if his condition doesn’t improve soon.     

And there lies the problem, really.  

Not in the fact that Sherlock is very strictly off limits as long as he’s John’s patient — John trusts his self-control and wouldn’t dream of making a move in that direction...

Okay. Obviously, he would (did) dream of it, but that’s as far as it goes. As far as it will ever go, John promises himself.

The problem is that for the first time since becoming a doctor, John finds that he’s unable to separate the personal from the professional. He knows that if his emotions are clouding his judgment, interfering with his decision-making, Sherlock is the one who would end up paying the price.

If this had been any other situation John thinks he would have asked another doctor to take over the case, but as it is he knows that's not an option. He tries to imagine a scenario in which he explains to Mycroft Holmes that he can no longer act as his brother's doctor because he's secretly lusting after him.

The though alone is enough to make John shudder.

 

***

 

John gets to see it happen, the next time around.

He's sitting in the common room at the time, having another one-sided conversation with Lydia, trying to sweet-talk her into eating a piece of carrot cake. It's hardly in his job description but it's been a slow day and he feels a need to make himself useful. He keeps his tone light, as if it's perfectly normal, making small-talk to a person who's staring at the wall and ignoring him completely.

“I was in California the first time I had it,” John tells her. “Never thought carrot in cake would be something I'd like but that one had ginger and nutmeg in it and the smell won me over.” He leaves out the part where he'd had a bad case of the munchies at the time and would have eaten practically anything. Sharing one's past experiences with recreational drugs with one's patients is never a good idea.

He notices Sherlock coming into the room and nods to him. Sherlock ignores him, seems to be in one of his moods, mouth set in a frown. He ends up sitting down in front of one of the shared desktop computers, his back to John.

John returns his attention to Lydia. “So, yeah. To this day whenever I think about California the smell of that carrot cake comes right back.” Alongside the taste of cheap alcohol and the stench of overly-crowded frat parties, but he once more avoids mentioning those parts. That year is still mostly a blur of sunburns, hangovers and too much sex. John can honestly say that the exchange program had contributed very little to his medical training.

“It would probably go well with whipped cream but I doubt we keep any in here,” he continues. Lydia blinks a few times and then sniffs, which is as close to a reaction John had gotten from her since sitting down. “If you want some I might be able to sneak it in,” he tries, smiling at her.

“Oh, for God's sake!” Sherlock exclaims from his corner.

John snaps his head toward him, startled. So does Lydia.

Sherlock turns in his seat and stares at Lydia in annoyance. “Your mother's embarrassment over what the neighbors might say may not have been the most adequate justification but clearly she knew what she was doing when she hid your pregnancy and made you give the baby up for adoption.”

John is on his feet before he even realizes it. “Sherlock...” he warns.

Sherlock continues without even sparing him a glance. “If anything, the subsequent three failed suicide attempts prove that you are incompetent as you are unstable. The child is obviously better off.” 

“Sherlock that's enough!”

There's a dead silences for about ten seconds. Then a high-pitched wail of increasing volume sounds from Lydia's direction. She's staring at Sherlock with wide eyes, an expression of horror on her face. Both her hands come up to cover her mouth as she begins to sob.

John turns to her but Dr. Stevenson, who had apparently witnessed the entire thing from the doorway, gets to her first. “Shhh... It's all right, Lydia,” Stevenson murmur as she lays a hand on Lydia's back. “Let's go someplace quiet, okay?” Stevenson ushers Lydia to her feet and out the door, leaving John and Sherlock alone in the room.   

“Was that really necessary?” John snaps.

Sherlock huffs at him, gets up and starts pacing. John notices his abrupt movements, the way Sherlock's fingers are twitching. His anger changes very quickly into concern.

“You should be thanking me. She should be thanking me. She'll start talking now, pour her heart out to Stevenson and will be out of here by next week, all merry and bright. I practically saved her life, just now. You lot won't have time to get to her. To poison her with your food and your tea and your drugs.” He spits the words out so fast that John can barely follow.

John licks his lips, considers his options. Through the room's glass panes John sees Jacob in the corridor. Their eyes lock briefly and John tilts his head toward Sherlock, hoping Jacob would get the message. “Sherlock, would you sit back down please?” John asks quietly. “I'm worried that you're not yourself at the moment.” 

“Of course you are,” Sherlock says sarcastically. “I've finally uncovered your true motives, what better way is there than dismiss my claims as the ravings of a lunatic?” The pacing has stopped and John sees Sherlock's fists clenching rhythmically as he faces him, knuckles turning white.  

“I don't think you're a lunatic, Sherlock, and I would never hurt you.” For emphasis, he takes a couple of steps back, tries not to trip over his cane. 

Sherlock's eyes narrow at him but some of the tension in his posture seems to ease. “You're trying to trick me,” he says hesitantly.

John shakes his head, reaches into his pocket and brings out the folded page from his notebook. “I'm not. I want you to take this. You know what this is.”

Sherlock's eyes fixate on the note in John's outstretched hand and he stills, frowning.

“Go ahead. I won't try anything. I just want you to read it.”

Sherlock swallows, begins to fidget, but ultimately remains where he is. John takes a step toward him, the note still outstretched, but stops in his track when Sherlock scrambles back, hits the computer desk. “Don't!” Sherlock warns.

“Okay. Okay.” John holds his hand up. “Not moving. How about I read it out to you?” he offers.

Sherlock doesn't seem reassured. “It's a trick.”

John shakes his head, unfolds the note. “Not a trick. You wrote this down yourself, remember?” He looks at the words, glances briefly at Sherlock before he reads them out. “Go placidly amidst the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.”

He holds his breath, keeps his eyes trained on Sherlock, looking for any sign to indicate that the words have any effect. Sherlock blinks a few times. For a second he seems unsure. “I don't...” Sherlock starts and then shakes his head in confusion. The overt hostility seems to subside somewhat.

John takes a deep breath, tries to maintain eye contact. “It's all right, Sherlock,” John says. “You're all right. You're safe.” He takes a hesitant step forward.

Sherlock blinks again but doesn't move, remains still and tense. John takes another slow step in his direction and that proves to be a mistake. Sherlock starts, tries to get away, backs up into the desk again. His arm swipes at the nearest object which happens to be the computer monitor and he send it crashing to the floor between them. “Get out of my head!” he screams at John.

John stops, heart hammering against his ribcage. “Sherlock, calm down.”

He sees a movement in his peripheral vision, knows it must be Jacob, approaching with the haloperidol. John had begun to hope that it wouldn't be necessary this time. Sherlock notices too, turns his head so as to keep both John and Jacob in his line of sight. Sherlock glances down, shifts his feet and there's a faint dragging sound as he nudges something on the floor, some broken part of the monitor.

John glances down as well, toward the sound, and literally stops breathing as he sees the long shard of glass. Long enough to grab. Long enough to injure. He anticipates Sherlock's move a fraction of a second before Sherlock makes it. John leaps, his discarded cane clattering to the floor, manages to kick the glass away before Sherlock's fingers touch it. Jacob is there then, muscled arms going around Sherlock's crouched form.

The next part is just as ugly as it's been last time. Holding Sherlock down as the needle goes in, keeping him down until the drug takes effect. By the time it's all over John feels about as ready to be put to bed as Sherlock is.

He stays with him this time, though, rather than hole up in his office. Sits by Sherlock's bed and listens to his slurred rants until Sherlock seems to exhaust himself and falls asleep. Even then John stays, watching him sleep, wondering how long it'll be before Sherlock is himself again.

He only realizes that he's been sitting there for hours when Molly comes into the room; evidently the night shift has started.

“I heard,” she tells him quietly. “I'm sorry.”

John shakes his head, tries to speak but his voice breaks. He clears his throat, tries again. “I'm going to start him up on chlorpromazine in the morning. We can't have this happening again.”

Molly nods, looks down. “Jacob said you've been here a while. Can I get you anything?”

“I'll come have a cuppa with you in a bit,” John tells her with a tired smile.

She lays a hand on his shoulder, glances at Sherlock one last time and walks out.        

Sherlock makes a soft sound, not much louder than a sigh. John gets up, stands closer, eyes roaming over Sherlock's still form. He reaches for Sherlock's hand, curls his fingers gently around Sherlock’s palm, his thumb brushing against the thick, brown leather cuff securing Sherlock’s wrist to the rail.

Sherlock's eyes slowly blink open. His gaze moves sluggishly around the room before fixating somewhere on the ceiling.

“How are you feeling?” John asks quietly. It's a stupid question, he knows, but he honestly doesn't know what to say. John's been a doctor for over fifteen years, had treated patients that were beyond help, had witnessed some of them die. He doesn't remember ever feeling as helpless as does now. 

 “’s ruined,” Sherlock mumbles.

John frowns. “What is?”

“My palace,” Sherlock says and then sighs. “Shambles, rubble and debris. 's nothing left.” His eyes squeeze shut and a drop of moisture slips out, clings to long eyelashes.

John draws in a shaky breath. “I'm sorry.”

Sherlock turns his head, looks at John with eyes that are more than a little glazed over. For a few minutes they just look at each other in silence.

“John.”

“Yeah?”

Sherlock swallows thickly. “I think I've had enough”.

 

***

 

It's been pouring outside for ten hours straight and John feels the chill of it down to his bones. He knows it can't be real -- indoor temperature and humidity at Winter Creek are regulated, but the feeling is still there.

They're in his office again and Sherlock hasn't spoken in ten minutes. The medications have slowed Sherlock to a near standstill, the effect so sharp that John's having difficulty adjusting. He's no longer trying to keep up with Sherlock, instead he's hovering, waiting for something to happen. It reminds him of the cat he'd owned as a child, who would run around excitedly chasing a fly, and once successfully catching it, would sit by and stare at the lifeless insect, disappointed by its motionlessness.     

“I see it, John,” Sherlock murmurs.

John stirs, looks at him. “See what?”

“All of it. What you think when you look at me.”

John stills, frowns at the strange sense of deja vu. He recalls dreaming up an eerily similar conversation, knows that this time it's unlikely to end with Sherlock on his lap. “I don’t—“

“—you’ve no clue. You thought there would be something, but you don’t… you’ve no idea how to help me.”

John licks his lips and takes a slow breath. “That doesn’t mean I’ve given up. It doesn't mean you should.”

Sherlock looks away. “I'm done,” he says in a quiet, calm voice that sends chills down John's spine.

John shakes his head. “Sherlock I know that you're feeling tired right now. It's understandable, but you shouldn't make this kind of--”

“--Enough, John. Just… enough!” Sherlock snaps. “I'm no better than I was when this started. I'm not going to get better.” 

John tightens his lips in frustration. He knows what he's supposed to say at moments like these, words he doesn't believe in that may or may not buy him more time. He can't bring himself to say any of them.  After a long silence he sighs. “You said you'd give ECT a chance. As a last resort. If you've made up your mind then you've nothing to lose.”

Sherlock looks away in annoyance and doesn’t reply.

“Sherlock, so help me God, I will put you on suicide watch twenty four hours a day—“

Sherlock gives a harsh laugh. “I’d like to see you try.”

“Please!” John says. He wants to go to Sherlock, shake him, make him see reason. “Do this one last thing.” His voice is so shaky he barely recognizes it.

Sherlock stares at him for a long time. At last he shakes his head in exasperation. “How long?” 

John is washed by relief so sharp that it takes him several moments to find his voice. “I can set it up for tomorrow morning.”

Sherlock blinks, looks away. “All right.”

“I'll need to get your brother’s consent.”

Sherlock holds out his hand. “Your phone.”

John gives him the device without hesitation this time, watches as Sherlock slowly types in a long text before hitting send.

“He’ll sign whatever you want.” Sherlock says as he hands it back to him.

John nods. “Thank you.”

 

***

 

John can’t sleep that night. He's on call, had told Molly to come get him if anything comes up, but his plan to kip on the sofa for a bit ends up being thwarted by his restless thoughts. At three AM he gives up and takes a walk to the nurses’ station, hoping for some company and a cup of tea. Molly doesn't disappoint and although the tea is camomile and John finds the smell slightly nauseating, he smiles and thanks her.  

On his way back to his office, cane in one hand, mug in the other, he stops by Sherlock's room. He only intends to glance in, make sure Sherlock is sleeping peacefully, but ends up stepping inside when he finds Sherlock awake and, apparently, talking to himself.

“Can’t sleep?” John asks quietly.

Sherlock looks at him with some confusion. “John. Were you there when it happened?”

“When what happened?”

“I fell off the roof.”

John frowns, sets his tea down on the tray by the bed and comes closer. “When was this?”

“Just now,” Sherlock tells him, but seems bemused at his own words.

“I think that might have been a dream, Sherlock,” John says gently.

“Can’t be. My head is still throbbing where my skull shattered against the pavement.”

John grimaces at the description and reaches for Sherlock's head. He runs his fingers slowly through Sherlock's hair, his touch mostly a caress. “Nope. Nothing shattered here.”

Sherlock winces and lets out a quiet, distressed moan.

“Do you have a headache?”

At Sherlock’s nod John touches the back of his fingers to the side of Sherlock’s face, then takes his pulse. He pinches the back of Sherlock’s hand and frowns. “You’re a bit dehydrated. Did you drink at all at supper?” He looks around, spots Sherlock’s tea cup on the small table by the window, still mostly full. Sherlock must have taken it back with him and then forgotten about it.   

“’s poison,” Sherlock mutters.

John rolls his eyes. “Camomile, actually, but I see why you'd be confused. You need fluids or you won’t be fit for tomorrow’s treatment. Would you like some water instead?”

Sherlock turns his head away stubbornly. “They'd just poison that too,” he says petulantly.

John sighs, finding some comfort in the fact that Sherlock had said 'they' rather than 'you'. He goes to the supply cart in the corridor and brings back an IV kit and a bag of saline. He holds the bag up for Sherlock to see. “Point nine percent sodium chloride. Seal still on. No poison whatsoever.” He knows he shouldn’t be enabling Sherlock’s paranoia, but he’s tired and at the moment he just wants Sherlock well enough for ECT.

After a beat Sherlock nods, doesn’t protest as John uncuffs his left wrist to set up the line. Once everything is connected John buckles the cuff back in place. “You’ll feel better in a bit, but this isn’t a permanent solution. You have to start drinking something. If you want juice--”

“—It's all poisoned.”

Frustrated, John goes over to the food tray and picks up Sherlock’s untouched tea. “We'll switch then,” John offers, nodding to his own cup on the tray. “Mine is safe, you're welcome to it.” He doubts his drinking Sherlock's cold tea would successfully convince the other man that there's no danger — it's a rational rebuttal to an irrational argument, but for the moment Sherlock seems willing to trust John's word and it might be worth a shot.

John makes sure that Sherlock is watching his demonstration and takes a sip.

And promptly spits it back into the cup.

Huh.

Sherlock starts laughing. “Told you so.”

That... taste.

The world turns upside down and inside out and then resets itself in a vastly different alignment, all inside a fraction of a second.

John stares into the cup, dumbfounded.

A faint bitter, acrid taste lingers in his mouth. Faint, but not indistinct enough to be masked by the camomile entirely. Improbably, oh so unbelievably, it's familiar, bringing to the surface memories from a different time, a very different place and a round, shrivelled piece of plant that he'd swore never to put in his mouth again.

His voice sounds distant to his ears when he says, “Sherlock that’s… not poison.”

 

***

 

In the end it comes down to a large screwdriver used as a crowbar and fifteen minutes spent in the staff locker rooms.

John begins on the men's side because his presence there would attract less attention, but he's fully prepared to proceed to the women's side if his initial search proves unproductive. 

The small bottle he inevitably finds is still half full, unlabelled dark brown glass with an eyedropper cap. John has enough sense to snap on a pair of gloves before he collects it into a small plastic bag. By comparison, the object he finds hidden underneath the bottom of the same locker isn't nearly as interesting.

Next comes the phone call. John pauses with his thumb hovering over the '9'. After a short hesitation he reconsiders, flips through his sent texts until he reaches one from last week that reads:

Wrong, as usual.
You know where to find me.
Bring the crime scene photos.
SH

He dials that number instead. The man on the other end sounds groggy and disgruntled but once John identifies himself and tells him what this is about all traces of sleep disappear from the DI's voice.

Afterwards John sits and waits in the kitchenette.

He's there less than fifteen minutes when Molly and Jacob walk in together, chatting about someone being evicted on some television show John's never watched. He looks at them silently, feels his fury growing with every second that passes. Lestrade had said 'sit tight' and 'don't do anything until I get there', but John's beginning to doubt that he's going to be able to do that.

“You seem deep in thought,” Molly notes as she's filling up the kettle. Jacob has settled down at one of the small tables, mobile phone in hand.

John rises from his chair, goes over to the counter and leans against it with his arms folded across his chest. He contemplates his options for a few seconds before finally asking, “Do you believe in fate, Molly?”

She seems surprised at the question. “Um... I've never really thought about it.”

“I don't, to be honest,” John divulges. “At least, I didn't until about an hour ago.”

Molly frowns and turns to face him, tea-making temporarily forgotten. “What happened then?”

John shakes his head, chooses his words carefully. “Did you know I was hired to work here by Sherlock's brother? He... found a couple of unusual case reports I'd published years ago and decided I must have some kind of a miracle cure that would help Sherlock.”

Molly stares at him in wide-eyed confusion. Over to their left, Jacob has set the phone down and was watching him as well. “I... I didn't know that,” she says.  

John huffs, a sharp, humourless laugh, because the irony of the thing is by no means lost on him. “The thing is -- he'd overestimated me, Mycroft Holmes. And, as fate would have it, he didn't end up finding an expert with a cure,” John says and then licks his lips.  “But he did find someone who can recognize the unforgettable taste of a Peyote.”

As the words leave his mouth John braces himself for any number of possibilities. It is to his immense relief that Molly continues to look at him in utter bafflement. “A... what?”

John had hoped against hope she's not in on it. Her reaction, confirming as much, is a small comfort even as John practically vibrates with the urge to take his wrath out on the responsible party. The loud scrape of a chair to his left indicates that he won't have to wait much longer.

John and Molly turn in unison, watch as Jacob bolts for the door. “I don't understand,” Molly says in a small voice.

John knows where Jacob is going. He grins at Molly, pats her on the back and runs after him.

It will take John no less than two hours to notice that he'd left his cane in the kitchenette.

 

***

 

John manages three steps into the men's locker room before there's a gun pointing at his head. He stops a few feet away from Jacob, licks his lips, focuses on Jacob's hand that's gripping the gun. He can tell the man had probably fired a pistol before, but his stance, the hesitation on his face, indicate he's hardly a trained marksman.

John reaches into the pocket of his lab coat, slowly takes out the small brown bottle. “Would you like to tell me what’s inside this?”

Jacob shakes his head. “Don't try anything stupid, Doctor.”

John sighs. “Peyote extract is a given, but based on his symptoms I’d guess amphetamines too. Or maybe some ergoline derivative?”

Jacob doesn't look as if any of these words mean anything to him.

John tilts his head, reassesses his initial conclusion. “You didn’t make this. You didn’t buy it on the street, either. Someone gave this to you, so you can… do what, exactly?”

Jacob's nostrils flare as he glares at John. His fingers twitch around the gun. “He can never leave here,” he says finally.

It makes sense, John recognizes, putting all the information together. All the bits and pieces fitting together to create one big, terrifying picture. “First his cocaine -- that got him in here. Then you put this crap in his tea every once and again and everyone thinks it's an on-going condition.”

“I've nothing against the man. I do what I'm told,” Jacob tells him with a shrug.

John experiences a sudden urge to gouge the man's eyes out and then kill him slowly and painfully. “Who are you working for?” He's surprised at how matter-of-fact his voice sounds, even now.

Jacob squares his shoulders. “I'm sorry for this, Doctor, really. I’ve nothing against you, either.”  

John watches, motionless, as Jacob's finger tightens on the trigger, squeezes it. As the hammer hits the empty chamber, John sends Jacob a small smile and gestures at the gun. “I found that earlier, too.”

With a muttered curse, Jacob flings the gun at John's head and then pounces.

John is ready for him, has, in fact, been itching for this for an hour now. He ducks his head, hears the gun clattering on the floor behind him, and then moves abruptly sideways, his back meeting the wall of lockers. It gives him the momentum, allows him to use Jacob's own size against him. John manages to topple the larger man and slam him face first into a bench.

The blow leaves Jacob dazed for a few seconds, plenty of time for John to keel with one knee on Jacob's  elbow, to twist Jacob's other arm behind his back, hard and high until the other man screams in pain. Breathing hard through his nose, John brings his face close to Jacob's. “How about we try this again? Who are you working for?”

Jacob whimpers miserably. “I don't... I can't! He'll kill me.”

“You've cost Sherlock a year of his life. Do you think I won't kill you? Tell me his name!” 

John is very nearly ready to make good on this threat when the door opens and Detective Inspector Lestrade walks in, accompanied by two officers. John sees them, closes his eyes in frustration and sits back on his haunches, releasing Jacob's arm with a sigh.

Time's up.

“What happened to sitting tight?” Lestrade asks as he takes in the scene. He doesn’t seem particularly angry, though.

John sniffs, gets off Jacob entirely. “I guess I'm not as good at following orders as I used to be.” He pushes off the floor, takes a few steps toward Lestrade and then gestures back to the man sprawled on the floor. “You'd want to arrest this man,” he says. He takes the bagged bottle out of his pocket and hands it over. “And have this as evidence.”

Lestrade nods to the officer on his right, examines the bottle as the officer handcuffs Jacob and hauls him up.  “Christ,” Lestrade mutters, shaking his head in disbelief. “So all this time...“

John swallows, nods. He'd gotten through that part in his head already.

“Who the hell would do something like this?”

“Someone who wanted Sherlock out of the picture. I don’t know. If you'd have been two minutes later I might have had a name for you,” John says with a shrug.

Lestrade looks at John appraisingly. “We'll get it out of him,” he assures. A moment later his mouth twitches and he looks away, adding, “Remind me to never piss you off, Doctor.”

 

***

 

Sherlock is asleep when John comes into his room twenty minutes later.

John stands by his bed for several minutes, just watching him.

He’s not sure whether he wants to laugh or cry -- possibly both at once.  

He doesn’t know what to tell Sherlock, how to say it. Would have preferred to wait until morning, when Sherlock is clear-headed, but someone from forensics is waiting outside for him to collect hair and blood samples.

Sherlock doesn’t stir when John disconnects the now-empty IV bag, not even when John unbuckles the cuffs from around his wrists. John takes one of Sherlock’s hands in his, rubs Sherlock's fingers.

“Sherlock.”

It takes a few attempts, but eventually Sherlock opens his eyes.

“Hey,” John says, trying to smile. “How’s your headache?”

“Headache…?” Sherlock rasps, confused.

John shakes his head. “Never mind. I’m…” Where does he even start?

Sherlock raises his arms, looks at his hands quizzically. “My hands are free.”

John nods. “Yes.”

“Why?”

John tries to take a deep breath but it gets stuck somewhere in his throat and he has to try again. His voice, when he speaks, is oddly steady. “Because there’s nothing wrong with you.”

 

***

 

It turns out that Mycroft Holmes' influence does not extend to the Winter Creek's patients discharge policies. John is very happy not to be present for the conversation in which Dr. Carmichael informs Sherlock that, despite the special circumstances of his case, they'll have to keep him for three additional days of observation before he can be discharged. 

The subsequent argument is loud enough that some excerpts are heard in John's office even through the closed door. Beside an impressive collection of creative insults, John is nearly positive he hears Sherlock claiming that three more days on the ward without his skull (?) and his violin would turn him into a proper head case.

Not unexpectedly, Sherlock is still sulking when he turns up in John's office an hour later, but his mood seems to lift gradually as they begin to talk.

“The secret service has somehow managed to acquire Jacob Mitchell before Lestrade got him to the Yard,” Sherlock tells him, his matter-of-fact tone not quite obscuring how pleased he is.

“I'm assuming, from what you've told me, that your brother is behind it?”

“The thought has occurred. I expect Mycroft would be offering you knighthood any day now, by the way,” Sherlock says with a quirk of his mouth.

John thinks he's joking. He hopes so. “What, for tasting your tea?”

Sherlock shakes his head, looks at him for a long moment. “I can recognize the taste of over two hundred different drugs and toxins, you realize,” Sherlock tells him. “I've studied the subject meticulously.”

“Well, you did keep insisting it was poisoned,” John points out.

“No, actually, that was all paranoia... Antipsychotics have a tendency to dull the senses; I never tasted a thing. The fact that you recognized it is... intriguing.”

John clears his throat. “Nothing to be proud of. I was young and stupid and a long way from home.”

“Exchange program during medical school. Somewhere in southwest North America, going by the natural distribution of the Peyote cactus,” Sherlock deduces effortlessly and then narrows his eyes. “UCLA? No... USC,” he says.

John huffs a laugh, doesn't bother asking how Sherlock had figured it out. “Turns out that year hadn't been a complete waste of time after all,” he says instead. “Although I doubt that kind of knowledge would come in handy ever again.”

“Time will tell,” Sherlock says somewhat cryptically. There's a short silence in which he seems contemplative.

“What are your plans then, once you leave?” John eventually asks.

“Find the responsible party, obviously. Whoever he or she is, they're clever. I suspect it's going to make life riveting for a while.” Sherlock says it with eager anticipation which brightens his features considerably. “The skills you've demonstrated would come in handy, obviously, especially now that your pesky limp is a thing of the past.”

John blinks at him, tries to figure out how he fits into all this. “My... wait. What? Sherlock, as much as I want to see the end of this, I spend at least ten hours a day here.”

Sherlock waves a hand at him dismissively as he gets up and goes to look out the window. “You hate this place. You were hired to work here because of me. Now that I’m leaving there’s no reason for you to stay.”

“No reason? How about making a living?” John knows better than to try and argue about the first part. He knows that the chances of him liking this job as some point are slim to none.

“Irrelevant. You’ll come back to London with me. I could use a flatmate. We’ll be fine, plenty of paying cases. You know how to handle a gun, that’ll be useful.”

John joins him by the window.

“Hold on. We’re shooting guns now?”

Sherlock grins at him “It rarely gets to that point, but they do tend to make things interesting.”

John huffs, because all this sounds ridiculous and insane and tempting in equal measures. Sherlock seems to read his mind, leans closer, smile slowly fading. “I’d understand if you said no, of course. It might even be the sensible thing, seeing as it… could be dangerous.”

John looks away, tries to make his mind stop spinning. Down below he sees a black car pulling up to the main entrance. A moment later the back door opens and Mycroft Holmes steps out.

“Looks like you have a visitor,” John tells Sherlock.

Sherlock glances out and smirks. “About time!” He turns to go but takes only half a step before stopping abruptly and turning back to John. He opens his mouth, hesitates, fidgeting a little. “What you did for me yesterday... that was. Um. Good.”  

“Oh.” John says, momentarily surprised. “I didn't... I mean, of course I--” 

His words are interrupted by Sherlock swooping in and pressing his lips against his John’s. It's a light kiss; warm, soft pressure against John's closed mouth, over in a mere couple of seconds. Even so, it seems to steal the air out of John's lungs. Going by his inability to form words as Sherlock pulls back it also steals most of his coherence.

“Thank you,” Sherlock says softly.

He sends John a small smile and quickly leaves the office. 

 

***

 

John's evaluation of Sherlock is due on Carmichael's desk by the end of the three days, meaning that John is expected to maintain his daily sessions with Sherlock. He finds the entire thing moronic, of course, had typed up his recommendation for discharge on the first day.

Sherlock appears equally dismissive of the concept, arriving at John's office the following day at seven in the evening. His appearance renders John momentarily speechless. He'd grown used to seeing Sherlock clad in sweats or pyjamas, occasionally a pair of denim. It seems that in anticipation of his imminent discharge, Sherlock had decided enough was enough and had put on a dark, slim-cut suit. John finds it difficult to tear his eyes away from him.

“You’re four hours late,” John tells him, mostly because he feels obligated to mention it.

“The game is on, John. Everything else can wait,” Sherlock says. He’s practically glowing, John notices, brimming with energy. He has a mobile phone in his hand and is typing into it.

“I see your brother is keeping you… equipped.”

Sherlock sits down in the armchair, eyes still on the phone. “Not the model I asked for but it’ll do for now.”

“Sherlock.” John wishes Sherlock would put the damn thing away and look at him.

“Mmm?” he’s still texting, thumbs sliding over keys impossibly fast.

“About yesterday.”

Sherlock glances up briefly, then back at the phone “What about it?”

“You, ah. Kissed me.”

“Problem?”

“Sherlock, we should… talk about this.”

Sherlock rolls his eyes. “State the obvious, you mean? You’re sexually attracted to me but were likely to object to a more intimate gesture due to your strong moral values and regard for professional ethics, the latter despite the fact that you’ve already decided to resign your position here and return to London with me.”

By now John really thinks he should be able to stop himself from gaping stupidly at Sherlock whenever he does that. 

Sherlock sighs, finally returns the phone to his pocket and looks at John. “You’ve left the envelope containing your resignation letter by the printer because you plan on handing it in personally. Anything else would have been emailed or placed in your outbox. Therapy is over John, do keep up. Unless you’d like to trade places so that we can discuss your sexual identity crisis in which case don’t expect me to be overly sympathetic.”

John mentally crosses out 'autism' and 'antisocial disorder' from the area of his mind reserved for figuring Sherlock out and replaces them with a big 'twat' in flashing letters. “I’ll pass, but thanks for offering.”

“I play the violin when I'm thinking and sometimes I don't talk for days on end. Would that bother you? Potential flatmates should know the worst about each other. An old acquaintance of mine is looking for new tenants, a nice little place in central London. We ought to be able to afford it. We'll meet there tomorrow evening, after I’ve been officially discharged. You should be aware that sex has never been high on my list of priorities. I consider myself married to my work and while I’m generally agreeable to a sexual relationship with you, my need for such activities is largely absent.”

John thinks he probably ought to be more bothered than he is by the fact that Sherlock is outlining guidelines to a relationship John still hasn't had a chance to agree to. “That’s… fine,” he says finally, mainly because he has no idea how else to respond.

He wonders if this is how his life is going to be like from now on; caught in the whirlwind that is Sherlock Holmes, spinning out of control. He supposes he ought to be terrified but John honestly can't remember the last time he'd felt so alive. 

There's the chirp of an incoming message from Sherlock's phone. Sherlock glances at it and his expression turns gleeful. “Our friend Jacob has decided to start talking,” he announces and turns the small screen toward John.

John reads the single word there and frowns, “Moriarty? What's that?”

“I've no idea,” Sherlock replies. He then grins at John, eyes bright with excitement. “But I can't wait to find out.”

 

 

 

FIN.