Chapter 2: Tuesday
Sherlock had never put much stock in the notion of hell, but if he had, he would have considered it a place where he was constantly surrounded by the stupidest of the stupid, the dumbest of the dumb, where pop music played gratingly loudly and his company always insisted he explain his brilliant deductions but refused to understand. Someplace a lot like central London, actually.
This was a hundred times worse.
No matter how he tried, he couldn’t adjust to the randomness of sensation without the common thread of sight to tie it all together. The sudden wail of a siren, a fleeting scent of petrol or tea, the smack of his hip against a table – all there and gone, with no warning and sometimes no explanation. That was the worst. Yes, the table was his, but the siren – police or ambulance? Was Lestrade on a case or did some little old lady slip in the tub? The tea – John or Mrs Hudson? Or his own imagination? Was he going mad already?
He groaned audibly and buried his face further in the couch.
“Lie like that long enough and you’ll smother yourself.”
He turned his head just enough to catch a whiff of earthy spice as the edge of the couch gave way. “Unless you’re here to offer up your corneas for an immediate transplant, I suggest you go away.”
Much to his irritation, John gave a wry chuckle. “It’s not your corneas that are knackered, it’s your optic nerve, and it’ll be fine in a week or so. Same with the concussion.”
“The question is not whether my optic nerve will be fine,” Sherlock growled into the couch, with all the venom he usually reserved for paedophiles, crap telly, and Anderson, “the question is whether I will have thrown myself out the window by then. Multiple times.”
“Sherlock, we’ve only been home six hours.”
Damn. Another inconvenient side effect; no light to judge the time by. Six hours. Suddenly he couldn’t take it; he slammed his feet to the floor and swung himself into a stand with hardly a wobble, striding off toward (he hoped) the kitchen.
“What the hell are you doing?”
“I have several experiments on a very specific timetable, John, I cannot simply lie around invalided when there’s work to be done.”
“You cannot be – of course you are – Sherlock, sit down!” A surprisingly strong hand seized his shoulder and dragged him into a kitchen chair. “You’re going to hurt yourself, and we’ve already agreed no more than one trip to A&E per week!”
“A ridiculous agreement made to keep you off my back and you know it,” Sherlock muttered, standing and promptly knocking over a pile of books. Wrong way. “Loss of vision heightens sensitivity to other sensory input, I’m perfectly capable of compensating –”
“Not with toxic chemicals and decomposing body parts!”
Sherlock rolled his eyes. A bit of an odd feeling when you couldn’t see. “Honestly, John, you’re starting to remind me of Mycroft. Might I remind you I am not one of your imbecilic patients –”
“I don’t care if you’re the bloody pope, you’re not experimenting blind.” There was a rustle of wool, and he could practically see John crossing his arms.
“Please, if I’m as much of a danger to myself as you claim on most days, I can hardly get worse, now, can I?”
The drip of the sink, the tick of the clock, the silent buzz of John thinking furiously. Steps, clattering, the clink of glass on a table top and something being poured. “You thirsty?”
Usually Sherlock was the master of the non sequitur. “Yes?”
A glass was slid into each hand. “One’s water, one’s sulphuric acid. Drink up.”
Ah, a test. That was the John Watson he knew and – well, all that. He hefted both glasses, carefully to avoid spilling, and swirled them expertly at chest level to create fumes. One should burn his nose. One should not.
“There.” He took a hearty swig from one, and just to piss John off, he took a swig of the other too. “Really, John, flimsy attempts at life-or-death ultimatums are beneath you.”
John huffed, scrambled around a bit more, and another dozen or so objects slammed to the table. A dry rasp and a muffled whoosh, and then the muted stench of natural gas. “Five Bunsen burners. One of them is lighted. Tell me which one without burning the shit out of yourself.”
Dammit. He’d been had and they both knew it. He only knew the general direction of the table, and he couldn’t reach out without risking knocking one over or burning himself. He was helpless as a child and the smug bastard was enjoying it. “Turn them off before you poison us both.”
John complied, gathering them up and moving to shelve them. Sherlock gave him a three-pace head start before springing up and heading for the refrigerator. “Just because an open flame isn’t a good idea does not in any way mean I can’t – John, why won’t the refrigerator open?”
“Move your left hand up about three inches,” John called.
“Oh – a padlock, John? That is . . . beyond dull.”
“You really need a new insult.”
“I could pick it.”
“You do and I’m shutting you in your room and pushing the cabinet in front of the door. Besides, good luck finding your lock picks or your throwing knives or your distillation set or any of your chemicals, because it’s all been stowed away, to return when your vision is nothing less than twenty-twenty. And maybe not even then.”
“Yes, and don’t even think about searching for them, because I’ve hidden them quite well, thank you.”
His mind was working furiously, but not at what it should have been. “You had time to hide all my things? When?”
“What, you can find a serial killer with a pink suitcase but you can’t –”
“You promised me you wouldn’t leave,” Sherlock said quietly.
The pause that followed was quick and sharp as the stab of a knife. “Look, I didn’t, all right? I asked Lestrade for some help and he and a few blokes from the Yard swung by.” Another pause. “I didn’t leave, I swear.”
“Yes. Good.” A bit unnerved by how relieved he felt, Sherlock busied himself feeling his way across the kitchen to where he knew a stack of case files were sitting. A few more clumsy steps and a banged knee later and he was sitting on the couch, files stacked neatly on his lap. “There. Time to start the day.”
“I realize some of your abilities border on the superhuman, but surely even you can’t read blind.”
“I can’t.” He turned his head in John’s direction and waited.
“Oh – come on, it’s my day off! This is not how I want to spend my day off!”
Great. John was going to help him, he always did, but he wanted Sherlock to work for it. “How would you like to spend your day off?”
A sputtering pause. One point to Sherlock. “I don’t know, doing anything else! Watching telly, going for a walk, reading something I enjoy.”
“Crap telly bores you, you’re too worried I’ll do something stupid to go on a walk and you haven’t read a book in three months,” he reeled off, long fingers drumming the folders. Usually by now he would be dissecting John’s appearance to see why he was so reluctant, deducing whether he had a date or had stayed up too late or whether he was just grumpy. Or maybe he just wanted to hear Sherlock say it. He did that with annoying regularity. “Please.”
Definitely wanted to hear him say it. “I’m sorry, what?”
He sighed, and Sherlock caught a breath of the same earthy spice as the sofa gave way beside him. “Pass me the first file.” He complied, wriggling down so that his head was halfway down the back of the couch and his legs were sprawled out comfortably.
“Start at the beginning, move in chronological order, try not to add any personal remarks unless asked,” he instructed, closing his eyes from force of habit. John made a sound he was beginning to know very well, a half-irritated, half-fond sound, and a hand briefly rubbed his leg.
He’d never noticed how warm John’s hands were, or how thick with calluses; they snagged at the flannel of his pyjamas as he moved, in a way that should be grating, but was oddly comforting. The hands of a healer and the hands of a killer, all in one; reliable, capable hands. Hands that until recently he really hadn’t had all that much contact with. “What was that for?”
“I just – you’re going to be okay, do you know that? You’re going to be fine.” The hand disappeared, and there was a flurry of paper and the clearing of a throat that always meant John was embarrassed. “All right, case one. Forty-year-old man found in a meadow . . .”
“Come on, four of six is not a bad run for us mere mortals.”
“Four of six,” Sherlock snarled, standing up and letting the files scatter on the floor. It had been hours, at least he was fairly certain, and his mind felt like a hamster on a wheel; the longer he ran, the less progress he made. “Four of six! Sixty-seven percent, John, a drunk Anderson could do better than that!”
“If that was true you wouldn’t have them,” John pointed out reasonably, the files whispering dryly as he picked them up. “You’ve got to cut yourself some slack, mate. You’ve solved four cases mildly concussed and blind –”
“Don’t say that word!” he barked, lashing out with a foot and feeling minor satisfaction as a book went spinning away. His head was throbbing horribly and found himself quite willing to kill anyone in his vicinity; a part of him knew irritability was a side effect of concussion but the rest of him was busy writing expletives on every wall of his Mind Palace. Which, to top it all off, seemed to have been filled with cotton. Dear God, what if he was stuck like this? What if he could never think again and was stuck just as hopelessly stupid as the rest of the population? He lashed out again, hearing the thwack of another book hitting the wall. “That word is an abomination, a plague, a pestilence on an otherwise perfectly capable –”
And Sherlock really did stop, because John was supposed to be shouting, yelling at him in exasperation to calm the hell down, but his voice was gentle, compassionate, a lilt to the end suggesting a smile. No one had ever said his name like that before. It sounded like something precious. “Y-yes?”
John took two steps so he was directly in front of him. “Look, I know you’re scared right now –”
“Am not,” he grumbled. His dazzling repartee had been reduced to that of a five-year-old. This just kept getting better.
“Of course not,” John said, still with the lilt of a smile. “Look, one week of thinking like the rest of us won’t kill you – might even be good for you. And then you’ll be back, I promise. You’ll still be brilliant, okay? You’ll always be brilliant.” Something pressed into both his hands. His violin. “Play.”
John almost never suggested he play. “Are you sure?”
John snorted. “Well, if you were anyone else I’d say it’s ten o’clock and you should go to bed, but as is, I wouldn’t object to some music.” He wrapped his hands around Sherlock’s, pressing the instrument and bow into his hands. “Play, Sherlock. It’ll calm you down.” One last squeeze and he was gone, his footsteps fading toward the chair.
From the time he was ten, Sherlock had prided himself on autonomy. Need was for the weak; stupid, helpless people leaning on others to save them from quicksand without having the brains to realize the others are sinking too. As soon as he’d been shipped off to public school, he’d needed no one and nothing, even managing to minimize food and sleep. The second John left the room, however, something shifted subtly. The nearest sensation to it was being spun around once rapidly; not enough to be dizzying, but enough to lose all sense of direction. Like a ship with its mooring cut. Adrift.
He was back almost instantly, heavy footsteps tracing back toward him. “Yes? What do you need?”
He hesitated, the words congealing nastily on his tongue, but he forced them out anyways. “I don’t suppose – would you mind staying? Just a while,” he said hastily, because John really did value his sleep in a way that confounded Sherlock.
John didn’t reply, but the couch groaned as he sank down on it. “Do you know the spring section of the Four Seasons?”
“You know Vivaldi?” Sherlock asked, surprised.
“Just the one,” he admitted, and Sherlock had to laugh. “Go on, then. I’ll be here all night.”
“Thank you,” Sherlock breathed, tucked the violin under his chin, and swooped into song.