Joan manages to coax him down from the roof on the third night. It isn’t likely that his father will be visiting the next day, but it’s a possibility. Even if he does fit Sherlock's unflattering description of him, he must be a little concerned about what's happened. After all, Morland was the one who had forced his son into rehab. Some part of him must care.
Sherlock just barely responds to her request to come inside. He’s still not himself. He still moves slowly and without purpose. He still looks through her and not at her. He still won’t speak.
But she knows that if she can get him to sleep, he can begin making progress.
She guides him to his room and asks him to sit down on his bed. “I’ll be back.”
Joan brings him a wash cloth and a basin of warm water from the bathroom and tells him to wash up just a little bit. He hasn’t showered in three days, and she doesn’t expect him to do a full body scrub. But some small version of his old routine will do him good.
The kitchen is her next destination. It doesn’t take long to finish her business there. The chamomile is done in moments, and so is her search for soda crackers. These, along with a bottle of water, are gathered on a tray. It’s one of the same trays that Sherlock has brought to her bedside for so many mornings. She has enjoyed that gesture more than he knows.
For someone who has played the always-patient, always-available nurturer in all of her previous relationships, it is so…nice to be taken care of.
It’s so nice to be the subject of small, well-thought out favors. It’s so nice to be in a relationship where she isn’t constantly required to coddle someone who can care for themselves. It’s so nice to be more than just a source of encouragement and comfort and warmth. It’s so nice to be treated like an actual person with needs of her own. (The only other relationship that had come close to achieving this had been with Andrew, and she still can’t stand to think of him.)
This balance that she has with Sherlock has taken them a very long time to achieve. It's a two way street of course. They look out for each other. When he cooks, he's sure to make enough for her. When she goes out on an errand, she always asks him if there’s something that he wants back. They have, at some point, developed signals that allow them to have silent conversations without being noticed. They are both experts at getting rid of unwanted people when the other wishes. Occasionally, one of them will come across some small thing that they believe the other person will like, and they'll deliver it to them with barely-concealed triumph. They enjoy taking care of each other.
It really is a partnership. They really do enjoy taking care of each other as much as they enjoy working with each other. It's something that Joan is eternally grateful for. It feels so good to be treated this way. It feels so good to have this consistent give and take. It feels so good to be able to satisfy her instinctive urge to nurture and be nurtured, all while maintaining her independence.
But things will be different for a few days. Unbalanced. She will do all of the caretaking. It isn’t something that she’s bothered by. Sherlock has given her a surprising amount of consideration since his return, and she doesn’t resent having to show him a little bit more now. More than that, she wants to help him. And once he’s back on his feet, she'll make it clear that he is the one who will be responsible for his recovery. She will still offer support as his friend, yes. But he will have to do the heavy lifting. He will have to want to get better and he will have to work to do so. But right now, he needs someone to push him forward.
She makes her way to his door, giving a small warning: “I’m coming in.” He doesn’t protest, so she enters. He hasn’t changed his clothes, but his face and neck look a little less grimy. He seems uninterested in the offered tray, but he still nibbles on the crackers and takes two sips of the tea. She gives a gentle request that he drink half of the water bottle, which he completes. He even slips under the covers when she asks. He doesn’t make any fuss whatsoever. This isn’t enough, though. She can tell that he won’t rest. He’s afraid, and that fear won’t let him sleep.
“It’s okay, Sherlock,” she says. “It’s okay. Relapses are part of the recovery process. They happen. No one is going to think less of you for this. And even though I know you will, you shouldn’t think less of yourself either.”
He doesn’t speak. She didn’t think that he would, but it is more distressing than she ever thought possible to see his eyes so empty. She wants him to say something. Or at least give some kind of indication that he’s hearing her.
“This isn’t final. You’ll get better. The important thing is that you have to work for it. You have to want it, and I know that you do. I know that you want to be –”
Perfect. He wants to be perfect, actually. He wants to be incapable of weakness. A kind of machine that exists only to solve problems. He wants to be essential to the process of solving these problems – something that can never break and in turn can never be replaced. He is still very much afraid of being a burden.
“You’re still a good person, Sherlock. I – we – still care about you. What happened wasn't your fault. All of us understand that. You shouldn't blame yourself.” There is no response. It’s fine. It will have to be. There’s no way to get through to him right now. These things take time. She only wishes that he would sleep.
Alone in her room, she can’t rest either. She hasn’t cried, not yet at least. This situation is far too familiar to bring out any tears. But she has worried very, very much. Her brain refuses to shut off. She’s been tossing and turning for the better part of two hours. It’s time to accept the fact that she won’t be getting any rest tonight. She knows that Sherlock is still awake. She can feel it.
Again, there’s that peculiar kind of distress that she has only ever felt before with Liam. It seems even worse now. It isn’t just because Sherlock is more important to her. It’s also because he’s much more likely to let his guilt slow down his progress. He has a tendency to punish himself for the smallest mistakes. It will be hard for him. But something like this was inevitable, and she has always been prepared for it.
She has been here before and she will likely be here again, but…She just wishes that he would get some rest.
She just wishes that he would sleep.
Joan only halfway thinks of the consequences when she puts on her slippers and pads down the hallway to Sherlock’s room. She knocks before she enters. He doesn’t say anything for a moment, and she thinks that maybe she was wrong or that he doesn’t want to be bothered. That’s when she hears his faint, “Come in.”
She opens the door and crosses over to the bed, pausing before she speaks. “I can’t sleep either.”
He doesn’t respond.
It’s an awkward thing, what she has decided to do. But she feels like it will do them both a great deal of good; they always do better together. He might need physical comfort right now - a tangible reassurance that everything will be alright. What's more, he needs to sleep.
“Can I get in?”
For the first time in three days, he turns to look at her. Not through her, but at her. And he looks so sad and miserable that she feels like jumping in before he can speak. But then he says, with a very clear and quiet voice:
“Yes, thank you.”
She slides in beside him, making sure that they are facing each other. Both of them ease just a bit closer. They don’t reach an arm out; they seem to know better. But Joan bends in and Sherlock does too, and she can feel the warmth of his forehead against hers. He smells the way anyone would after three days without a shower or brushed teeth, but it’s okay. They'll get to it in the morning. “It’ll be fine Sherlock.” He says nothing, but she can hear his slightly elevated breathing tapering off into something calmer. She can feel her own breathing doing the same.
She wakes up in the morning before he does. The first thing she notices is that Sherlock’s arm is curved around her waist. The second thing she notices is that they are closer together than they were the night previous. She tenses up for a minute and slides from underneath his arm, careful not to disturb him.
It’s not that she minds the secure feeling of being this close to someone she cares about. She has become accustomed to Sherlock’s presence and she is comforted by it in a way that she has been with very few people. But there is now a very real possibility that, in his fragile state, he will read too much into this.
She doesn’t want him to get confused or to start making something out of their partnership that isn’t there. It wouldn’t be good for either of them, and she will do almost anything to protect the balance that they have struck together. This remains the most fulfilling relationship that she has ever had. She doesn’t want anything to threaten that.
She'll have to be a bit more careful. When he’s better – and she thinks that he will begin to make progress now – they’ll have to talk about it. It’s her fault, of course, for doing what she did. She’ll be sure to take full responsibility. She’ll also need to remind him of where they stand. Just in case.
It’s a good thing that he isn’t awake yet. This saves them from an incredibly awkward moment.
Joan dips her feet into her slippers and turns toward the door. Behind her, Sherlock gathers enough courage to hazard a peek.
He's just in time to see her leave.