Sunday morning and Kate was wide awake by half nine. Leaving Sherlock sleeping, she went down to the Newsagents on the corner to get the Sunday papers, then settled herself at the kitchen table of 221B with a pot of coffee to catch up on the week’s news.
It was just after eleven when Sherlock finally emerged, ruffling his already tousled hair and yawning.
‘There’s coffee in the pot if you want it,’ she said smiling at him, as he sat down, blinked uncertainly and then rested in his head on his folded arms, as if staying vertical was too much effort.
‘You okay?’ she asked frowning.
‘Not sure,’ he said, sounding a little dazed as he raised his head from his arms experimentally, then, rubbing his eyes, ‘I don’t think that I want coffee though.’
‘More sleep, I think. Do you mind?’
‘No,’ Kate tried to keep her voice neutral, not wanting to come across as a histrionic girlfriend, who had been looking forward to spending a lazy Sunday with him. ‘That’s fine, of course if you need to sleep then sleep. You’ve been working flat our lately.’
Wearily he got up from the table, walked over to her chair and kissed her on the the forehead, then walked yawning back towards the bedroom. Halfway across the living room, he hesitated, and turning said, ‘Kate, I don’t think I’m going to be much good for the next few days. Just - I don’t want you to think thats it's about you. It isn’t. Its just the way it goes sometimes.’
‘Okay,’ Kate said uncertainly.
‘Phone John, he’ll explain,’ Sherlock said as he walked back to the bedroom.
And phone John she did, after spending the next two hours trying and failing to concentrate on the papers, tidying the kitchen and even cleaning out the fridge; now a decidedly more pleasant place since she had relegated Sherlock’s experiments to a spare fridge in John’s old bedroom, now turned into a makeshift laboratory. When she checked on Sherlock, he was still fast asleep.
‘What's up?’ John asked.
‘Sherlock. He’s being - odd.’
‘Odder than normal?’
‘It's not funny John. He got up, said about two words, muttered something about not taking it personally and went back to bed.’
‘Ah,’ John said.
John sighed. ‘He does this Kate, when he’s been working hard, it's like a kind of slump after the excitement of a case. He sleeps for days sometimes, doesn’t eat, barely speaks, and then in a week or so, he’ll be back to normal as if nothing has happened. My best advice is to let him get on with it, although I suspect that you’ll get sworn at less for trying to interfere than I used to.’
‘A week? You’re telling me that this could go on for a week?’
‘Make sure he gets up by the end of day three, and starts eating by the end of day six. Thats the advice that Mycroft gave me,' John told her.
John chuckled. ‘You’ll see. He’s hardly slept for the last two weeks Kate, remember? Sometimes I think it's just his body’s way of coping with that.’
‘Right. Thanks, I think. Anything else I should know?’
‘Just make sure he keeps drinking - I used to leave glasses of water by his bed, that's all that he wants when he’s like this, other than that just sit it out. I suspect that it’ll be worse for you than for me. I used to quite enjoy the peace and quiet, to be honest. Gave me time to sort out other things, go out and see friends without being dragged onto a train or a plane at two minutes notice.’
‘Did it never strike you as - odd?’ Kate asked tentatively.
‘Kate, this is Sherlock, nothing about him is usual, you know that.’
Kate took John’s advice, and went out to meet her friend Alice for a few hours of shopping and coffee, but her heart wasn’t in it. Returning to the flat just before six she stuck her head round the bedroom door to find Sherlock still fast asleep, the glass of water that she had left next to him untouched. She spent the evening watching television, reading a book, and trying to catch up on her emails in rotation, but nothing could hold her attention. The flat was eerily silent. Once or twice she went to check that Sherlock was still actually breathing, surely nobody could sleep for this long? She even thought about checking the bedside drawer for something that he could have taken to make him like this, but decided that she would rather not know.
He did move in his sleep occasionally she noticed, so he wasn’t entirely unconscious, and when she finally gave up waiting for him to wake up and crawled into bed beside him, he reached out a sleepy arm and pulled her close, holding her tightly to him as she finally fell asleep.
The next day brought more of the same. He surfaced briefly at mid morning, told her that he was fine, and retreated back to bed. Mid afternoon she heard the low murmur of the radio and found him lying in bed, eyes open, staring at the wall. Silent and still, so uncharacteristically still, without even a book in his hands.
‘You okay?’ she asked him.
‘Fine,’ he said, rolling over to look at her. ‘I’m fine.’
‘You getting up?’
‘Okay, I’ll leave you to it then,’ Kate said, frowning slightly, and five minutes later the radio clicked off and he was asleep again.
By seven o’clock Kate was feeling bored and twitchy, frustrated at the waste of a precious day off. Walking into the bedroom she found Sherlock awake and staring at the wall again, as if it was the most fascinating thing that he had ever seen.
‘What are you doing?’ she asked, smiling despite herself.
‘Thinking,’ he said.
‘Thinking about what? Is it nice in there?’
He blinked and looked at her as if confused as she came and lay on the bed facing him, blocking his view of the wall, so that he was forced to look at her instead.’
‘Inside that head of yours. Is it nice?’
He closed his eyes and very quietly said, ‘You of all people know the answer to that Kate.’ He sounded very sad suddenly, almost apologetic, very un-Sherlock.
She kissed him gently, ‘I’m sorry I didn’t mean to pry, or invade. Do you want me to leave you in peace?’
His lips curled up in a smile, ‘No I want you to keep disturbing me’ he said as he pulled her close.
Some time later, Kate slipped out of the bed, assuming that Sherlock was asleep, but he caught her hand as she moved it off his shoulder. ‘Where are you going?’ he asked.
‘I don’t have your capacity to sleep for twenty hours a day, unfortunately,’ she said. ‘I was going to have a shower and then get some dinner. Are you getting up?’
‘Will you run me a bath after you’ve had your shower?’
Trying to hide her surprise, badly it had to be admitted, Kate said calmly, ‘Of course.’
Post bath, wrapped in his blue dressing gown, a very damp Sherlock wandered into the living room and slumped on the sofa, grabbing the remote control and changing channels without asking Kate, who was too relieved to complain.
‘Do you want some food?’ she asked.
‘No,’ he said after consideration, ‘not really?’
‘Will you have some food anyway, if I cook you something? Something non-threatening.’
‘Can food be threatening?’
‘You know what I mean.’
Not even Sherlock, Kate calculated, could resist the smell of frying bacon. ‘Have you got the papers?’ he asked, wandering over to the table as she was cooking.
‘Yesterday's are on the side there’ she said, as he flipped to the world news section and started muttering comments about people he had met.
When she put a plate of food down in front of him ten minutes later he started eating absently, still reading. Several minutes later he looked at what he was eating and smiled. ‘This is the same meal that the housekeeper at home used to make for me, and leave by my bed after Mycroft had scooped me up from University yet again and brought me home. Not immediately; she’d let me sleep for twenty four hours first, and then this would appear. I’d eat it, and then the next day I’d get up and sit at the kitchen table and she’d cook me the same again as if nothing had happened.’
‘Scrambled eggs and bacon is hard to resist,’ Kate said smiling. ‘Better?’
‘Getting there, thanks.’
There was a soft knock on the door, and then John’s head appeared round it to Kate’s ‘Come in,’
‘Hi Kate,’ he said, ‘I thought I’d just come and check how it was - going.’ He hesitated as he saw Sherlock, sitting at the kitchen table, calmly reading the papers.
‘You’re up,’ he said uncertainly.
‘So it would appear,’ Sherlock said, still reading the paper and without turning round. ‘Why don’t you come in John, instead of skulking in the doorway?’
‘And you’re eating,’ he said, registering the fork in Sherlock’s hand.
‘Your powers of deduction never cease to amaze me.’
‘But its only day two,’ John said, coming and sitting himself heavily in the chair opposite Sherlock.
‘And you never get up on day two. You always stay in bed until day three, and you never, ever eat before day five at best.’
‘Kate, it appears, is a better nurse than you. I’m not entirely sure why that would surprise you.’
John opened his mouth and shut it again like a goldfish.
‘I have powers of persuasion that John doesn’t have, or at least that I hope that he doesn’t have,’ Kate said with a smile.
‘So what happens next?’ Kate asked Sherlock later, after John had left to meet friends, and was flicking through the television channels in rapid succession.
‘I’ll spend the next day or two doing very little, and then in a couple of days I’ll be back to normal,’ he said.
Kate nodded, hesitated and then said, ‘Sherlock...’
‘No.’ he interrupted her, not taking his eyes off the television.
‘No, I’ve never wanted to take something to stop it,’ he said, Looking at her.
‘I wish you wouldn’t do that,’ she muttered.
‘You’re easy to predict,’ he said.
‘Have you ever taken anything?’ she asked.
‘Not since I was a teenager. I was on medication for a year or so after my admission, but it slowed me down too much. I was - normal, boring, I wasted so much time on sleep, and it took the edge off things, numbed everything. I didn’t like it.’
He paused, Kate stayed silent, knowing that there was more to come. ‘I couldn’t work on it, Kate. I wouldn’t be able to do what I do. It slows my brain down too much, so no, I’ve never been tempted to go back on medication. I would rather ride the lows than that.’
‘Drugs are different now,’ she said softly, ‘Carbemazepine, valproate, they would slow you down less, but level things out,’ she stopped herself, ‘but you don’t want to be leveled out, of course you don’t.’
‘Exactly,’ Sherlock said softly. ‘Did you know thats why Mycroft still administrates my Trust Fund? It was a condition of my fathers will, added after my admission. I would only get my money is a psychiatrist certified that either I was free from mental illness, or was fully compliant with medication. I’ve never been prepared to do that, and so Mycroft still has control.’
Kate frowned and looked down at her hands, twisting on her lap. ‘Seeing you like that,’ she said quietly, ‘it was - difficult.’
‘You’ll get used to it, Kate,’ he said, ‘John did. It always passes. I just have to ride it out.’
‘But John didn’t really understand what was happening inside your head, did he? He told me that he thought it was just your body catching up on sleep, but it's so much more than that, isn’t it.’
He took a deep breath, as if he was about to come out with a dramatic deduction and then very calmly said. ‘Kate this is me, this has always been me. If you can't cope with that, then I’ll understand.’ His voice was unemotionless, but the concern was there, unspoken.
She reached out to cup his face, thumb lingering under his chin, forcing him to look at her. ‘No,’ she said simply, shaking her head, ‘No, Sherlock, that's not what I’m saying. I’ve made your choice, you know that. I’m not going to change my mind, It's just - I wish that I could make this easier - for you, not for me.’
‘If it makes you feel any better this is the best low that I’ve ever had,’ he told her conversationally.
‘Because you were there, and that was something to hang onto, a reason to come through the other side. I’ve never had that before,’ he said, kissing her.
And that was something, Kate thought, but was trying to shorten the lows, to make them better for him interfering, or helping? And if as John had said they were the price that he paid for the brilliance, then what effect would trying to alter them have?
Getting up for work the next morning, Kate found Sherlock already sitting at the kitchen table, scrolling through police reports on his laptop.
‘You’re up early,’ she said.
‘Couldn’t sleep,’ he said distractedly.
‘I thought that you weren’t working today.’
‘I’m not. My brains not back up to speed yet. I just thought I’d see what was out there.’
‘Not yet,’ he said, still scrolling through. Then finally looking up at her, registering her work clothes. ‘Are you going to work?’
‘No, I’m always up at seven on my days off. Of course I’m going to work.’
‘Shame,’ he said, distracted again.
Smiling she kissed him goodbye and left for work. Normal service, she suspected, was soon to be resumed.
At lunchtime she got a phone call from John. ‘Kate, what on earth have you done to Sherlock?’
‘What do you mean? Whats happened?’
‘I mean that I got a phone call from him just before nine, asking, no demanding that I go and investigate a break-in in Brixton, which he thought was suspicious. Apparently he can’t possibly leave the flat yet, but is more than capable of coordinating while he reclines on the sofa in his dressing gown, catching up on some quality daytime television.’
‘Ah.’ Kate said. Then, ‘sorry?’
John chuckled, ‘You don’t have to apologise Kate, I’ve just never seen him get back to normal so quickly. So are you going to tell me the secret?’
‘If I knew I’d tell you. John, did it ever occur to you that these episodes are more than just exhaustion?’
‘Yes, and he admitted as much himself, remember? That day in the flat when Mycroft was trying to split you up. But he won’t talk about it, Kate, at least not to me, and he does seem to have a way of coping with them. I’ve learnt not to interfere. Why?’
‘Just curious,’ she said.
‘Did he talk to you about it?’
‘A bit. I asked if he’d ever thought about taking anything for them. He said no.’
‘Mycroft used to call them danger nights. I think there was a time, years ago when he tried all kinds of things to get himself over them. Now I suspect that he takes diazepam, but I’ve never found it, and I’ve deliberately never asked.’
‘I’d rather not know,’ Kate said. ‘But it made me realise, John. How fragile it is, he is. How easily it could all come crashing down.’
‘If it does then we’ll be there.’ John said calmly. ‘But this has been going on for years Kate, decades even. There’s no reason to think that things won’t continue as they always have. He’s used to coping with it. Its you that its going to be tough on.’
Apart from that things have changed. Kate thought, as she said goodbye to John and hung up. Sherlock’s box was open now, demons and all. And what they would bring with them only time would tell.