Chapter 3: Wednesday
There were some days that his mind didn’t so much resemble a palace as a labyrinth.
Music swirled like snow as he delved deeper and deeper, burrowing into his thoughts. The concussion had stretched them out, made them hazier and less coherent, so it felt more like walking through a montage than an actual train of thought. A memory here, a riddle there, a half-solved equation scrawled on a wall, a childhood dog bolting past him . . . It was a leaden, weightless sensation, time crawling, music swimming by, and relics of his past surfacing and vanishing with ease.
A pebble from that trip to Littlehampton beach at age six, where Mummy had cried because he’d almost drowned and hadn’t let him explain that he wasn’t trying to die, he just wanted to count the sand dollars on the ocean floor and he’d forgotten he needed to breathe.
A half-melted ice cream on the ground from the zoo at age nine, where Mummy had yelled because one does not under any circumstances reach out to touch the tigers, even when trying to determine whether males or females typically had more stripes.
The threadbare blanket Mycroft had draped over his shoulders while explaining that no, Daddy was not coming back. Not for Christmas, not for his birthday. Daddy was gone.
And then he had to stop, because instead of an object a boy was crouched against the wall before him, a pallid little thing with scabs on his knees and a mop of dark curls. He was staring straight ahead, knees pulled to his chest, face blank and unmoving. So unmoving he hardly seemed to breathe.
Hello, Sherlock said tentatively, but the boy did not so much as flinch, merely continued to look and breathe and nothing else. Can you hear me?
Slowly, slowly, the boy turned his head, meeting Sherlock’s gaze with eyes that were hooded and owlish and impossibly pale. And all the breath left Sherlock’s lungs because it was him, it was him in a time he’d tried to delete and yet here he was. He’d been four at the time, new to the wonders of his own brain, unsure of how to harness it. There had been no palace then, merely a maze wrapped in a jungle wrapped in an adventure book. He’d disappeared into it, thinking and thinking and thinking, and it had been so strangely wondrous that he’d forgotten to find a way out. Mummy had found him, shaken him, shouted to the heavens, but he’d lost himself inside his own head, too caught up to even hear her screams. Even the doctors she’d rushed him to could find no explanation; the best words they could find were self-induced coma. He’d clawed his own way out nine hours later, confused and unnerved at having changed locations and without the faintest idea of why everyone was so bloody terrified. He’d spent decades building an entire palace just to make sure he would never get lost again.
Lost like he was now.
Except this time he had a lifeline, Ariadne’s string shining through the dark, but instead of a string it was a hand at his shoulder, a heavy, physical hand and actual audible words.
“I brought tea,” John murmured, and Sherlock was wrenched bodily back to 221B. “I expect it drunk within the hour. No passing out on me, understood?”
And he was out of the labyrinth but back in the transport, the damaged, blinded transport, so he nodded numbly and plunged into the maze, where he was lost and alone but at least he could see.
This time, however, there were things worth seeing, gleams of gold among the bleak:
That ridiculous cane John had conveniently forgotten on their first chase, when they’d shared their first joke and giggled like fools.
A severed digit from when John had come flying into the den clutching a towel that barely covered his arse, shouting that there were fucking fingers in the shower.
A red glass ornament from when John had forced him to help decorate the Christmas tree, tasking him with creating the garlands and being repaid with a pelting of popcorn and cranberries until they were both howling with laughter.
“You need to eat. Biscuits on the table.”
So the dance began, the losing and the finding, Sherlock forgetting himself and the hand at his shoulder gently reminding, over and over.
“Play some Tchaikovsky, I love that.”
“That tea still isn’t drunk. Don’t make me force-feed you.”
“Stop thinking. You get so cross and the music sounds bloody awful when you try to think. Just play for me.”
And so he did, the melodies changing from dark and violent to sweet and gentle, even happy at times, and he stopped going back to the labyrinth. Because to his eternal surprise, he couldn’t see here, but John was here, and maybe he’d prefer being blind to being alone after all. Just maybe.
“I need to go to bed, mate, but I’ll be back in the morning. You sure you’ll be all right?”
He paused in his song, turning the question over in his mind. “Yes,” he said honestly, surprising himself. “John . . . thank you.”
John didn’t say anything, only squeezed his shoulder again. And when Sherlock played on, this time a lullaby to ease John’s way to slumber, he found himself smiling.