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The Case of the Uncommon Cold, Part 1 of 2

The Case of the Uncommon Cold, Part 1 of 2
Word count: ~8,700
Author: fakinbrilliance (AKA wickedmuffin)
Rating: PG13
Pairing: Sherlock/John
Description: John has the Flu. Sherlock is one of his most persistent symptoms.
Disclaimers: I own neither of these boys, though I wish I could snuggle them both.
Author's note: This is my first Sherlock fic, and somehow it grew from a tiny idea into a 16,000 word monster. Clearly, I am a little too wordy. Comments and criticism are greatly appreciated! ♥ Thanks for reading.


“Are you dead, John?” Sherlock asked from John’s bedroom doorway.

John sighed. Sherlock never voiced questions he deemed redundant, so either he was breaking his own rules –highly unlikely – or he really thought there was at least a slim chance that John had, in fact, expired some time during the night.

Yes, John wanted to answer. He felt miserable enough that death might be preferable. His whole body ached, his sinuses were packed with something that felt like cement, and he must have swallowed all the scalding desert sands that plagued his dreams if the burn in his throat was anything to go by.

Maybe if Sherlock believed he was dead, the detective would go gallivanting around London on his own today, and John could get back to the very important business of sleeping.

But no. Who was John trying to kid? This was his lunatic flatmate at the door; the one with a predilection for experimenting on human flesh. If John actually had the bad manners to die in the flat, Sherlock would, no doubt, appropriate his remains for science. Then he’d end up another head in the fridge next to poor Mr. Nelson, who Sherlock had apparently managed to at least partially mummify. Or maybe, if John was really lucky, he’d be the next Skull.

“Not dead,” John rasped, self-preservation instincts kicking in. He winced and swallowed thickly against the raw scrape in his throat. It had only been a tickle last night, and he had foolishly hoped some vitamin C and a good eight hours of sleep would make it go away. Damned wishful thinking.

Sherlock strode into John’s bedroom without waiting for an invitation, trampling right over the line of normal human propriety and into John’s personal space.

Boundaries, John thought vaguely. Someday I really am going to have to have a talk with him about boundaries.

The detective regarded John with probing eyes, doubtless cataloging more details than a supercomputer. As though to prove the point, Sherlock cocked his head to the side and started speaking. “Your voice is hoarse and you winced after you spoke, indicating a sore throat. Red rimmed eyes shows inflammation of the mucus membranes. Drool on your pillow,” John glanced down at the little dark patch under his cheek and felt a flash of embarrassment, “Suggests you were breathing through your mouth, so, clogged sinuses as well. Your brow is furrowed, and you’re squinting, clear signs of a headache. And” Sherlock said, coming to a stop directly beside John’s bed, “You didn’t answer my texts.” From the tone of his voice, that last was the most telling sign of all. “You’re sick.” He spoke the words like an accusation.

John pursed his lips and leveled a gaze at Sherlock that he hoped conveyed at least a little bit of the exasperation he was feeling. “Very observant,” he croaked, then sneezed.

Sherlock frowned, the corners of his mouth quirking down minutely. “You can’t be sick now. We don’t have time.”

“Time?” John asked, confused.

Sherlock drew his phone out of a jacket pocket and brandished it at John. “Lestrade texted. We have a case. Finally, a case! A triple murder with midgets, John. Tightrope walking midgets. Get up.” Predictably, he sounded indecently excited about the carnage.

“Sherlock,” John’s voice caught in his throat and he had to cough to clear it. He looked balefully up at his flatmate. “I probably won’t be getting out of bed today, let alone going to a crime scene.” He rubbed at his eyes with the back of one hand and swallowed against the bitter taste in his mouth. God, he hated being sick.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” the detective said in the same acerbic tone he used when John failed to grasp a supposedly self-evident fact. “This is our first case in a week. A week, John. I know you’ve been bored. Not as bored as I’ve been, of course. Superior minds find tedium far more trying than average intellects. Oh, stop glaring at me. You know it’s true. We’ve both been bored, and now there’s a case. How can you lay in bed at a time like this? We have a case, John. A triple murder with tightrope walking midgets.

John sighed then sneezed again. “You have a case,” he said as clearly as he could when his throat felt like he’d been gargling gravel. “I have the flu. And I think the politically correct term is ‘small people.’”

“Triple murder,” Sherlock insisted, still brandishing his mobile with the picture of brightly striped carnival tents wrapped in yellow crime scene tape. “Tightropes. Midgets.

John sighed. For just a moment, he contemplated pulling the blankets over his head and hiding away. Then, he could fall back into the blissful, undisturbed oblivion of unconsciousness. Unfortunately, his arms were lead-heavy and, Christ, even the thought of moving made his joints ache. Besides, a blanket over the head was unlikely to deter Sherlock. The insufferable man would probably see it as some sort of challenge.

No, clearly the best course of action was to wait. Eventually Sherlock would deduce that John was in no fit state to go dashing through carnival tents or across tightropes to chase after any unscrupulous characters today. When he did, the detective would be off and running on his own, and John could go back to being miserable in peace. Sick people were boring after all, lacking as they were in blood and gore and ransom notes, and Sherlock hated being bored. John had no doubt that in half a second he’d be whipping out the door in a flurry of designer coattails and frantic text messages, in all likelihood rushing headlong into disaster. Again.

The worst part, the part that really worried John, was that despite the aches and pains and ridiculously draining exhaustion of illness, John wanted, almost desperately, to go with him.

I’ve gone mental, John thought, and wondered when exactly he’d cracked.

Sherlock’s face suddenly loomed large in front of him as the detective leaned over the bed.

John blinked. Being the sole focus of Sherlock’s formidable attention wasn’t exactly an unfamiliar sensation, but it was intense enough that it still caused a few of the hairs to rise on the back of John’s neck. John glowered. “Stop staring,” he said weakly. “I feel like a corpse at a crime scene.”

Sherlock, of course, ignored the order. He squinted at John, somehow making that razor sharp gaze even sharper.

“How can you be sick?” he asked, sounding half vexed and half curious, as though John had done it on purpose. Maybe he really did think falling ill was just another one of John’s perfectly ordinary – and therefore completely incomprehensible – personality quirks.

“Dunno,” John shrugged against the bed, regretting it instantly when his whole body throbbed in protest. “Like I said, I must’ve caught the flu.” He sniffled a little. Where had his tissue box got to?

“Which one?” Sherlock asked, straightening up and starting to pace in the small slice of floor available between John’s dresser and his bed. “Bird flu? Swine flu? Damned those animals and their infernal diseases! Why can’t they keep their germs to themselves?”

“I doubt it’s either, actually,” John sighed, moving one arm just enough to pinch the bridge of his nose. It did nothing to still the pounding behind his eyes, “Just an ordinary respiratory flu, I’d guess.”

“An ordinary respiratory flu?” Sherlock drew to a stop, pale eyes narrowed to slits.

There had been a time when John first met Sherlock that he’d found the man nearly unreadable. He seemed to be an enigma of emotional maelstroms and doldrums, lurching from frantic action into stalled silences at completely unpredictable intervals. But after nearly a year living with the world’s only consulting detective, John knew better.

The uninitiated observer might confuse Sherlock’s current expression with his Brooding Face, the mask that slipped over his features seconds before his most vehement pouts. Early on in their acquaintance, John had even confused it with his Pensive Face, which signaled the onset of a bout of silent contemplation as Sherlock turned inward to unravel a problem somewhere deep in his own tangled psyche.

But John was no longer a novice at Sherlock watching. He recognized that intensity in Sherlock’s gaze, the slightly manic glint of his eyes and the small crease between his brows. This was the most dangerous and fascinating expression of all; the face that meant Sherlock was on point, that he’d scented a mystery and was closing in on the answer. The face that meant someone was going to pay for whatever misdeed Sherlock believed they had done.

It was Sherlock’s Deduction Face.

John settled back, ready to be awed once again by the completely insane workings of an incurably brilliant mind.

Sherlock took a deep breath, brow knitted in concentration. “The most common strain of flu has an incubation period of between one and four days, with the average person showing symptoms after two days. Physically you are quite average, so two days it is.”

John glared indignantly, but Sherlock was already plowing ahead.

“Who could have given it to you? Two days ago we visited the Yard to review the notes from the Underwood case with Lestrade. He seemed healthy enough, though the virus can be passed on the day before symptoms appear. But, no, I saw him yesterday afternoon at the morgue and he was still healthy. Anderson was at the Yard that day, too, and…Ah, yes! He had chapped skin under his nose, a sure sign of recent frequent tissue use. At the time, I attributed it to his recurring pollen allergy, but it could just as easily have been the beginnings of a bout of the flu. And Donavan’s voice was rather rougher than normal, nearly an eighth lower than her usual speaking tone. Naturally, I assumed she had been servicing Anderson again since his wife is in Edinburgh on business this week...”

“Sherlock,” John interrupted, trying for urgent, but mostly sounding weak and pathetic like he felt. Sherlock talking about sex was a bit more than his flu-ridden brain could handle at the moment. Sherlock talking about Anderson and Donavan together…well, John hadn’t thought it was the stomach flu, but he was suddenly feeling a bit queasy.

“Considering how much the Sergeant tends to talk,” the detective continued, apparently oblivious to John’s distress.

“Sherlock,” John tried again.

“I assume she would also be the type to scream herself hoarse in bed…”

Sherlock!” Desperation, it turned out, was a good motivator, and John’s voice finally came out as an actual word instead of a throaty wheeze.

Sherlock broke off with a start and blinked down at John. “What?”

John took a steadying breath. “You know deducing who infected me isn’t actually going to help anything, right? And anyway, we’ve had a rash of cases at the clinic in the past couple weeks, so I doubt even you would be able to pinpoint the culprit this time.” Sherlock made an indignant noise, but John plowed on, ignoring the burn in his throat. “What I really need is plenty of fluids and sleep and some flu medicine. Can you ring Sarah and ask her to drop by after work? Just tell her I’ve caught the flu, and she’ll know what to bring.”

Sherlock crossed his arms, all long limbs and ridiculous angles, and glowered mutinously at John. “No.” At John’s raised eyebrow, Sherlock stuck his chin out defiantly and huffed. “You know I despise having her in the flat. She disrupts my experiments. Why should I call her?”

John rolled his eyes. “She’s a doctor and I’m sick. If you can’t puzzle that one out, you’re really losing your touch.”

“You’re a doctor, too,” Sherlock pointed out obstinately. “Surely you haven’t forgotten the years of medical school.”

“Self medicating is more than a little frowned upon,” John sniffed again, finally locating the box of tissues on the dresser by the wall. Just out of reach. Naturally. He ran a weary hand over his face. “I need a prescription from the clinic. Sarah can prescribe it and bring it by.”

Sherlock reached back, snagged the box of tissues off the dresser with one impossibly long arm and set it down on John’s nightstand within easy reach. The rest of his body remained preternaturally still, and his expression stayed stubbornly defiant. “If you want that woman in the flat, you’ll have to call her yourself. I can’t be bothered.”

That woman.

John winced internally at that. Sherlock rarely used Sarah’s name, and when he did, he usually spat it out like a curse. The vehemence he directed at John’s one-time girl friend had surprised John at first. She was a perfectly lovely woman, after all.

John wondered, not for the first time, if Sherlock might possibly fancy Sarah. The man threw temper tantrums like a three-year-old, so it made an odd kind of sense that he would approach romance with the same level of tug-on-her-ponytails maturity. He had seemed to take an unholy amount of pleasure in spoiling John and Sarah’s dates, always popping up at the most inopportune moments, dragging explosions, mad gunmen or, on one memorable Tuesday evening, a whole swarm of angry Africanized honeybees in his wake. It certainly seemed plausible that Sherlock had been trying to drive a wedge between the two of them. At the very least, John had begun to suspect that he was the unwitting subject in some kind of mad social experiment on cockblocking.

But the more John puzzled over it, the less sense it made.

Sherlock was blunt to a fault, and John was under no illusions that the man would pay any attention to social niceties like not stealing a mate’s girl. Surely if he had feelings for Sarah, he would have said something. But, even after that terrible incident with the Dutch elephant trainer where Sarah had ended up tied to a chair for the third date running, in imminent danger of being trampled by seven enraged pachyderms, and had only been saved by Sherlock’s timely intervention, the detective hadn’t pressed his advantage. She’d given Sherlock a grateful hug for saving her life, a clear opportunity if he’d been waiting for one, but Sherlock had only stiffened and pulled away.

It was a few dates – or to be more precise, two mad car chases, one hostage rescue and a knife fight with a gang of Russian spies – later that Sarah had smacked John upside the head for nearly getting her killed – again, damn it – and told him that she wasn’t actually interested in dinner and a death threat for every date, thank you very much. They were still friends at work, but Sarah rarely came by the flat these days, and Sherlock seemed more than a little pleased by her absence.

So, no, clearly Sherlock did not fancy John’s ex.

Once, in a bout of sheer insanity, John had even entertained a brief fantasy that Sherlock was interested in him. But that, of course, was pure folly.

John knew himself well enough to accept that he wasn’t one hundred percent straight. If the one night stand with the Italian bloke in uni hadn’t been enough to convince him, his time in the army had. So the fact that he found his flatmate attractive didn’t come as a complete surprise. Sherlock was striking and brilliant and never ever boring, so John had, almost immediately, suggested the possibility that he might like to be more than friends. He’d been flatly refused. Ensconced in Angelo’s cozy little restaurant with a bloody candle flickering on the table of all things, the detective had resolutely proclaimed himself “married to his work.”

John was of the firm opinion that being shot down once by any potential partner was more than enough (an idea reinforced by the humiliation of not-Anthea’s double burn), so he’d placed Sherlock firmly in the little box in his head labeled ‘PLATONIC,’ and resolutely locked the lid.

“John?”

John blinked, refocusing on the man in front of him. He realized with a start that he’d been staring silently at Sherlock for a possibly incriminating length of time.

“Sorry,” He said quickly, reaching out to grab a tissue from the now conveniently placed box. He rubbed at his nose. Rehashing that particular issue was never a very safe pastime, and he suspected it might be even more pitted and dangerous in his current half-fevered state. “Got lost in thought.”

“Yes, I can see how that would be unfamiliar territory for you,” Sherlock replied dryly, though his voice lacked some of its usual scathing bite.

John closed his eyes and forced his attention back to their current conversation. “Right. So you won’t call Sarah? Fine. I’ll call her myself. Where’s my phone?”

“No idea.” Sherlock answered flatly, striding into John’s bathroom.

“What’ve you done with it? You had it last night,” John insisted, gravelly voice barely loud enough to be heard over the running tap.

The detective stepped back into the bedroom, holding out a glass. “Water,” he declared, like he’d invented the substance himself. Maybe he thought he had.

“My phone, Sherlock.” The throbbing behind John’s eyes was getting sharper, and he rubbed the bridge of his nose, though it did little good.

“Drink,” Sherlock ordered, pressing the water into John’s hand.

John sighed. He should have known better. Sherlock couldn’t even be bothered to get his own mobile out of his jacket pocket. Of course he wasn’t going to go looking for John’s. John would just have to track down his phone by himself…if he ever found the energy to stand again. Maybe in an hour or two. Or a week. Or possibly a year.

John levered himself up far enough to drink without sloshing water everywhere. The effort cost most of his remaining stamina. “You probably shouldn’t stay in here,” he said finally, after taking a few sips. “I’m still contagious.”

“Really, John,” Sherlock drawled, “As though I would catch the flu from you.”

John sputtered, halfway through another mouthful of water, choking as he inhaled most of it. Sherlock stared at him with raised eyebrows. “I really don’t think the flu is one of the things your genius intellect protects you from,” he said, struggling to breathe normally as he slid the half-empty glass onto his nightstand next to the tissues.

Sherlock snatched up the cup and turned back towards the bathroom. “You said that about the mustard gas, too, and yet here I stand.”

“Dumb luck,” John croaked, paling at the memory.

“Not luck,” Sherlock corrected casually over the sound of the running tap. “With a little observation and the application of simple arithmetic, it was really quite straightforward. Elementary, even.”

“That was stupid, idiotic, dumb luck, Sherlock. And you’re never doing that again.” John could hear the edge of panic in his own voice, but couldn’t bring himself to care. The memory of Sherlock standing statuesque before the loaded canister of gas, with the bomb squad still seven minutes away, and the last five seconds ticking off on the screen before him, was enough to send a spike of adrenaline through his already taxed body. “Never again,” he rasped. “You promised.”

“Right,” Sherlock agreed, though he sounded more placating than sincere. Then he stepped out of the bathroom and caught sight of John’s bloodless face. Something like concern passed over his features. “Are you going to be sick?”

“What?” John blinked, more thrown by the concern than the change of topic. “I already am.”

“Are you going to vomit, John,” Sherlock asked with a surprising amount of patience. “Do you need a bucket?” He rested a hand gently against John’s shoulder, peering into his eyes with unsettling intensity.

The box in John’s head – the one he’d originally marked “PLATONIC” and chucked Sherlock into almost a year ago – gave a threatening lurch.

What the buggering hell?

John reeled. Sherlock didn’t do concern; at least, not in the normal way. John had seen real worry crease that marble brow before, but it had taken a vest of semtex strapped to John’s chest and the haunting red glow of a sniper’s laser sight dancing over his heart to put it there. This kind of normal concern, this mundane every day worry wasn’t something John had ever expected to see grace the detective’s features. His mind shuffled and flailed wildly, trying to process this impossible new bit of information.

When had John’s world become a place where bomb threats and gunshots and severed body parts in the fridge were business as usual, and a pat on the back and a look of concern were cause enough for a minor mental meltdown?

He slapped some extra reinforcements on his mental Sherlock-box, and pasted yet another warning label on the outside. He’d had to do this alarmingly often over the past year, whenever Sherlock did something unexpectedly brilliant or - far more rarely - unintentionally sweet. Considering the number of times he’d refortified the walls, his Sherlock-box should have been as strong as a nuclear bomb shelter. And yet, it still trembled with worrying frequency. Signs that read “JUST A FRIEND,” “DO NOT TOUCH” and “NOT SHAGGABLE” had joined the original, slightly faded “PLATONIC” warning, like souvenir stickers on a well traveled suitcase. This last one declared, in angry, bright red letters: “MENTAL HEALTH HAZARD.”

“John?” Sherlock prompted, and belatedly, John realized he’d been staring again.

He closed his eyes and shook his head carefully, sinking farther down into the pillows, all of his strength used up. “No. I’m fine,” He sighed. “I don’t think it’s the stomach flu.”

“If you aren’t coming to the crime scene, then you should sleep,” Sherlock decided, settling the refilled glass within easy reaching distance.

“Yeah,” John agreed, “You’re probably right.”

“Don’t be absurd,” Sherlock said as John stopped fighting and let the illness induced exhaustion sweep over him. “I am definitely right.”

John was asleep before Sherlock left the room.

~☆~


The next time John woke up, there was a delicate silver tray balanced precariously on his nightstand. John blinked at it blearily. It held a steaming cup of tea, a bowl of chicken soup and a quaint little hand bell. A folded piece of paper was tucked neatly under one corner.

Bemused, John hauled himself laboriously into a half sitting position against the pillows and picked up the note.

John dear,

Sherlock informed me that you’re feeling under the weather. He asked me to keep an eye on you while he’s out. Ring if you need anything, I’m just downstairs.

Mrs. Hudson


He smiled faintly, set the note down and picked up the delicate teacup. The hot, honeyed liquid soothed his throat like a balm. Tea, John thought happily, infusing the single word with all the gratitude and reverence of his truly British soul.

He didn’t notice Sherlock’s contribution to his welfare until after he finished the tea, forced down a few spoonfuls of soup, and was hauling himself painfully to his feet to go to the loo. He swung his legs over the side of the bed and promptly kicked something hard and shockingly cold. John yelped and yanked his feet up, a reflex honed by months of sharing a flat with a madman.

He squinted down at the offending object suspiciously. It was a bucket. A large, metal, thankfully empty bucket. Confused, John reached down gingerly and picked it up. He blinked at it dubiously a few times, then noticed the small prescription bottle and cell phone that had been lying next to it on the ground.

He read the prescription. Flu medicine. The right kind, even. Huh. Sherlock must have called Sarah after all. Then he unlocked his phone, and saw the mail alert envelope dancing frenetically in one corner. John thumbed the message open, half afraid it would be a death threat from one of the lunatics Sherlock regularly texted. But when he read the message, he couldn’t suppress a smile.

Medicine for the flu.
Bucket just in case.
SH


The lid of the Sherlock-box in John’s mind rattled ominously. John swallowed down a smile and firmly forced himself to add another heavy padlock and warning sign to his growing mental collection. Someday, his mind was going to be so full of Sherlock’s box, with all its locks and warnings and reinforced walls, that there wouldn’t be room for anything else.

He sighed and pushed himself painfully to his feet.

After the arduous journey to the bathroom and back, John rang Sara at the clinic and asked her to take him off the rotation for a week. “And thanks for giving Sherlock the prescription,” He added as an afterthought.

“Sherlock?” Sarah asked, sounding confused. “I haven’t seen him. Did he come by?”

John paused, considered, and decided he really didn’t want to know how Sherlock had gotten the prescription if he hadn’t gone over to the clinic. “Never mind,” he said wearily. “See you next week.”

~☆~


The next time John awoke, it felt like someone was trying to remove his tonsils with a spoon. He swallowed thickly and blinked to clear the gum from his eyes. Sunlight slanted through the window, casting broad ruddy squares on the horrible patterned wallpaper.

Sunset, John wondered, or sunrise? How long had he slept? He turned his head to look at his clock, and found himself staring at Sherlock’s back instead.

The man stood before John’s dresser, shirt sleeves rolled up past his elbows and hair a tousled mess. He held an electrode in each hand.

Not exactly a comforting sight, John thought. Perhaps this was some sort of bizarre fever dream.

As John watched, Sherlock bent over the dresser and pressed the wires carefully against something that looked suspiciously like a…

“That had better not be a human foot, Sherlock,” John rasped, voice barely audible even in the near silence of the room.

“Why hadn’t it?” Sherlock asked, sounding only mildly curious as the dismembered limb’s toes began to twitch. Sherlock hmmed under his breath and set the electrodes aside, picking up a pen and notepad and scribbling frantically.

“Because,” John said, brows furrowed - it hurt to talk, but this was an important point to make, “This is my bedroom, and I’m sick. So this is currently a sick room. Experiments on random, mutilated appendages don’t belong in sick rooms, Sherlock.”

Sherlock huffed out an irritated breath, and shot a narrow-eyed look at John over his shoulder. “It’s not mutilated,” He said, entirely missing the point, or, more likely, avoiding it. Sherlock was a master at avoidance.

He wasn’t wrong, though. From what John could see, the foot itself appeared perfectly lovely, with a gracefully curved arch and five nicely shaped toes. The only problem, really, was that it also appeared to be missing about ninety percent of the person that ought to have been attached to it.

“Besides,” Sherlock continued, “I’m only testing for nerve reactivity, not blood contamination or viral infection. Your illness will have no effect on the results of the experiment.”

“As your flatmate,” John said, gaze steady on Sherlock’s back, “I feel obligated to warn you that there’s a lunatic in our house.”

Sherlock rolled his eyes. “Sociopath,” he corrected automatically.

John pursed his lips and glared at the twitching foot on his dresser. Boundaries, he thought again, and sighed. This is probably one of those times when I should be putting my foot down.

Instead, he propped himself up a little against the pillows, and grabbed the cup of water off his night stand. He squinted at it, carefully inspecting the glass to make sure it really was still water and not some foul concoction used for sterilizing toenails or something equally vile. It looked safe enough, but John had learned that trusting appearances could lead to truly dire consequences. Unfortunately, his nose was currently more congested than a London tube station during rush hour, so his usual sniff test was unavailable. He could, of course, just ask Sherlock – the man was standing right there and, God, still sticking the foot with electrodes, making various bits of it fidget and twitch – but somehow asking felt like admitting defeat. Instead, John settled for taking a tiny, suspicious sip. If it proved to be anything disagreeable, he’d just spit it out. Preferably at Sherlock.

“Don’t worry.” Sherlock said, eyes not moving from the foot which, by now, had started tapping out an almost familiar staccato rhythm against the wood of the dresser. “It’s water.”

John took another mouthful and decided Sherlock was probably telling the truth. Swallowing hurt, but the cool liquid soothed his throat. He knew he needed the hydration so he forced himself to drink the whole glass.

It wasn’t until after he’d resettled the empty cup on his nightstand that he actually processed why the foot’s tapping sounded familiar. He might not have recognized it, but Sherlock was humming – actually humming under his breath – and even an octave lower than usual, that tune was completely unmistakable. John blinked at the detective incredulously. He knew Sherlock was a supremely capable musician, but using a severed limb to beat out the basic cadence of Bad Romance on John’s dresser was going a little too far.

“Can’t you put that somewhere else?” he asked, voice slightly strangled.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Sherlock said, once again setting the electrodes aside in favor of his pen and paper. “This experiment is vital to my research, and it requires constant monitoring.”

“Right,” John said with a sniff, grabbing another tissue and rubbing his nose. “I can see how making your very own orchestra out of people bits is important scientific work, but why are you monitoring it here?”

“You’re ill,” Sherlock stated, finally putting down the pen and notepad and turning his full attention on John. “You require constant monitoring too.”

Something in John’s chest tightened a little. The flu, John told himself firmly. It’s just the flu. But he slapped another warning label on his Sherlock-box, just to be safe.

“How was the case?” John asked, trying to distract Sherlock before he could read anything in his expression. Not that there was anything to read. It was just wise to be cautious around a man who could sometimes know what you were thinking before you thought it. Not that John was thinking anything. Not really. He felt his cheeks reddening and cursed silently.

Sherlock raised an eyebrow and regarded John for a long moment before turning back to his severed limb. “Dull,” he answered finally, prodding the foot with an electrode.

“So you solved it then?” John asked, truly curious now. He would never get tired of hearing Sherlock run through his deduction process.

“It was the bearded lady. One of the mimes dumped her to chase after the lion tamer a few days ago. It was a simple case of lover’s revenge.”

“So where did the midgets come in?” John asked, then winced. Apparently, Sherlock’s bad manners were catching.

The insufferable man shot John a knowing grin.

“The mime rode a unicycle on the tightrope as part of his act. Mildred, the bearded lady, sabotaged the safety net, then sliced through enough fibers on the tightrope that it would fray during his performance. It was easy enough to see the damage when I inspected the rope and the net. The show schedule was changed and the three small people” he emphasized the term, “were the first on the rope. An unfortunate accident.” He put the electrode down and picked up his notes again, turning back towards the bed.

John winced. “Lucky for the mime, though, I guess.”

“Not really,” Sherlock’s lip quirked up in a sardonic smile. “Apparently he got himself mauled by one of the lions last night after he climbed into the practice ring in an ill-advised attempt to catch the lion tamer’s eye. The lion mauled his left leg and got a decent swipe at his neck before the woman was able to calm the beast down. The mime was taken to the hospital for treatment, but there’s apparently some serious damage to his larynx. They said with time he’ll probably be able to walk without assistance, but there’re not sure if he’ll ever speak again.”

John choked, voice caught somewhere between a laugh and a curse. “That’s terrible,” he said roughly when he could speak again. His throat was going to be even more sore than before after all this talking.

“At least he’s already well versed in wordless communication,” Sherlock replied in a level tone.

John shook his head in disbelief. “It’s all a bit weird, though, isn’t it?”

“What?” Sherlock asked, turning to look over his shoulder at John from where he’d once again resumed his prodding of the severed foot.

“Bearded ladies. Mimes. Small people. I don’t see why people pay to see that stuff. I definitely can’t understand why people would sign up to be one of the acts. It’s just…weird.”

To John’s surprise, Sherlock shook his head. “It’s not weird. It’s one of the most natural things in the world.”

At John’s raised eyebrow, Sherlock sighed and put down his electrodes. He pressed his hands together and regarded John over his steepled fingers. “It’s human nature to be curious. We see a pile of ten black balls and one red ball, and the red ball draws our eye. We see ten red balls and one black, and it’s the black ball we focus on. As a species, humans are fascinated by differences because they represent something new; because by seeing, feeling and experiencing those differences, we can come to understand more about our world. Circuses, or ‘freak shows’ as they’re known colloquially, are just an industry that capitalizes on that curiosity.”

“Alright,” John said slowly, taking another swallow of water to soothe his throat before continuing. “That explains the people attending the shows, but why would anyone join them and become one of the acts?”

“Another basic human instinct,” Sherlock answered, his tone making it clear that it should be obvious to anyone who wasn’t a blind toddler still in swaddling. “The desire to belong.”

John blinked. Either the flu was seriously impairing his logic circuits, or something about that sentiment seemed more than a little counter-intuitive. He rubbed at his temple with two fingers and gazed blearily at the detective. “I may be missing something,” He admitted, “But how is putting yourself on display for people to point and laugh at evidence of a desire to belong?”

“Belonging doesn’t come easily to everyone,” Sherlock’s voice had gone quiet, his usually sharp eyes a little unfocused as he stared past John, like he was looking right through him. “Sometimes it’s easier to change the world to suit yourself than to change yourself to suit the world. The circus folk have created an environment where their oddities are necessary talents. It doesn’t matter if they’re midgets or bearded ladies or strongmen who can bend iron bare handed and bite through nails. Within those canvas walls, they’re part of something bigger. They’ve found a place where they belong.”

And what about a brilliantly insane detective with dubious morals, terrible manners and a flair for the dramatic? John wondered. Or a damaged war vet with an adrenaline habit, a lousy sense of self preservation and questionable taste in roommates? Are there niches for them somewhere too?

The thought made him pause.

What would happen if Sherlock found his niche? For as long as John had known him, the detective had always been a stubbornly square peg refusing to fit into a round hole. He grated against the constraints of society, flagrantly disregarding rules and trampling the opinions of the people around him. What if there was a place where his personal brand of cutting intellect and brutal honesty was valued rather than mocked? A place that gave him free reign to dash off after new leads and solve cases without interference? Would Sherlock leave?

John’s heart clenched at the thought.

He closed his eyes and rested his head back against his pillows, afraid to examine the swirling emotions that welled up around that possibility. He’d survived adolescence, medical school, and invading Afghanistan before he’d met Sherlock Holmes, damn it. It wouldn’t be that hard to go back to his normal life, would it? If Sherlock ever did leave, John would be able to find his footing again. Surely he would. Somehow. It wasn’t as though John actually liked finding random people parts in the fridge when he wanted a spot of milk for his morning cupper. And it might be nice to have a working bathtub again someday instead of the current large scale model of the River Thames’ flood patterns that occupied their main bathroom.

Still, for some inexplicable reason, the tightness in his chest wasn’t going away.

John shook his head. It probably didn’t matter anyways. What was the likelihood such a Sherlock-haven existed? A million to one? A billion? Had there ever been anyone like Sherlock before – a genius crime solver who considered himself outside society’s constraints? A mad scientist with a strange fondness for bits of corpses and a knack for experimentation?

The terrifying realization slammed into John like a hammer. He whipped around and stared wide eyed at Sherlock’s back, watching with dawning horror as the dismembered foot’s toes twitched one by one in a morbid imitation of life.

“Jesus,” he gasped, “Is this why we still have Mr. Nelson in the fridge?”

“Mr. Nelson?” Sherlock asked, shooting John a quizzical look over his shoulder.

“The head,” John explained, realizing belatedly that Sherlock probably didn’t know about his tendency to nickname the identifiable body parts he found laying around the flat. His therapist told him it was a coping mechanism. John wasn’t sure it was working. “The bloody head in the fridge, Sherlock. Is this why you’ve been holding onto it? Are you trying to be a real life Dr. Frankenstein?”

Here Donavan had been wasting her time worrying that Sherlock was eventually going to kill someone. Clearly she should have been more concerned about him bringing them back to life.

“Dr. who?” Sherlock asked without the slightest hint of irony.

“No, not Dr. Who. Dr. Frankenstein. Though, come to think of it, you would make a pretty interesting Dr. Who. It would explain a few things if you were actually an alien shamming at being human.”

“You’re not making any sense, John. Is it the fever?” Sherlock asked, reaching out one long fingered hand to place a cool palm against John’s forehead. The gesture was so natural that it took a second for John to register that this was Sherlock, Sherlock bloody Holmes feeling his forehead like a worried mother.

Oh, God.

John’s mental Sherlock-box shuddered and groaned as something inside it, something wild and huge and determined threw itself at the walls, clawing its way towards freedom.

John slammed the lid of the Sherlock-box down tight and jerked his head back, skull connecting loudly with the hard wood of his headboard.

“Christ, oww,” he said, wincing and probing his scalp with careful fingers. A small bump was already forming under his hair. “It’s not the fever. It’s…Jesus. It’s Dr. Who and Frankenstein! What kind of crap telly have you been watching that you don’t even know about Dr. Who? And Frankenstein’s a classic. Everyone knows Frankenstein. It’s required reading at school.”

Sherlock steepled his fingers against his lips and contemplated John carefully.

John resisted the urge to squirm under that piercing gaze, and tried hard not to think about what Sherlock might be deducing from his overreaction to the casual touch, from the hot flush he could already feel stealing its way across his cheeks. Maybe he would put it down to the fever. Probably not. Sherlock was rarely wrong.

“Explain,” Sherlock said in the same irritatingly imperious tone he usually reserved for demands like “Tea” and “Laptop.”

John wasn’t sure if he meant ‘explain who Dr. Frankenstein is’ or ‘explain why you just jerked away from me and blushed redder than an embarrassed tomato.’

He decided to address the safer of the two topics.

“How can you not know about Dr. Frankenstein? What kind of education did you get as a child? First the solar system, then dinosaurs, and now Frankenstein?”

“I told you,” Sherlock interrupted with an edge of thinning patience, “I delete irrelevant information. If you’re to be believed, Dinosaurs died off millions of years ago. They aren’t here. They never will be again, so clearly they don’t matter.

“Right,” John said, not wanting to start yet another row about the importance of basic, primary school knowledge, “But I can’t believe you deleted Frankenstein. It’s right up your alley. Blood and gore and experimentation on human flesh…” John trailed off as Sherlock straightened up, one eyebrow quirked in renewed interest. He felt his stomach drop. “And kittens,” John said, backpeddling quickly. “And bunnies...lots of fuzzy little creatures, actually. And princes and princesses, and epic poetry dedicated to their magnificent romances. And unicorns. Did I mention the unicorns? Frankenstein’s one of the best romantic comedies ever. You should really read it.” If Sherlock hadn’t come up with the idea of reanimating corpses on his own, John did not want to be responsible for introducing him to the concept.

“Try not to be so obvious, John. Reverse psychology stopped working on me when I was three.” He turned back to the severed foot and picked up the electrodes again, prodding at it with an indecent amount of enthusiasm. “Frankenstein,” he muttered as the foot started up a new rhythm. He hummed a few notes in time with the beat. “Sounds…intriguing.”

John sighed and slumped against his pillows in defeat. His already aching head now throbbed even more painfully where he’d thwacked it against the headboard. His nose was still completely clogged and his throat felt like sandpaper. And it was no comfort at all that, if he ever did come home from the clinic to find a patchwork monster made of bits from Bart’s mortuary, he’d only have himself to blame.

To add insult to injury, the lyrics matching Sherlock’s rich baritone melody marched into John’s consciousness like an invading army.

Don’t cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me?
Don’t cha wish your girlfriend was a freak like me?
Don’t cha…


John shuddered involuntarily. He honestly wasn’t sure which was worse, the thought of Sherlock resurrecting stolen corpses or the detective’s new and frankly terrifying penchant for American pop music.

“Sick room, Sherlock,” he tried again without much hope, straining against the burn in his throat.

“Indeed” Sherlock agreed amicably, dropping the electrodes and picking up the notebook once more. He showed absolutely no signs of leaving.

John closed his eyes. He didn’t have the energy or the higher brain function available to wade into the murky depths of yet another convoluted conversation, so he rolled over onto his side and tried to ignore the man. He really should go back to sleep.

The rough scratch of pencil against paper, the whispering swish of cloth and the faint sounds of Sherlock breathing invaded silence that usually reigned over John’s bedroom. It was actually kind of comforting having another person in the room, John admitted reluctantly to himself. Well, another one and one tenth people, John amended groggily as the foot started tapping out another disturbingly familiar rhythm.

He was mostly asleep before he recognized the melody, and by then it was already too late.

When he sank, half unwilling, into sleep, his dreams were filled with terrifying visions of Sherlock’s milkshake bringing all the boys to Scotland Yard.

John blamed it on the fever.

~☆~


John blinked slowly, trying to focus his fuzzy eyes and clear his mind of sleep.

Sherlock stood beside his bed, violin tucked under his chin, and long, clever fingers wrapped elegantly around its delicate wooden neck. The achingly languorous notes of Clair de Lune hung heavy in the moonlit air, flowing smooth and slow like warm honey.

John closed his eyes again and let the melody wash over him, amazed as always at the many seemingly incongruous pieces that puzzled together to make this improbable man. When the last note faded, he let out his breath in one long sigh.

“That was beautiful,” John said, managing a small smile despite the way his voice cracked painfully as he spoke.

Sherlock inclined his head, and turned to his violin case, carefully setting the delicate instrument within its velvet folds. He picked up a small cake of waxy rosin and started coating his bow in smooth, efficient strokes.

John waited until Sherlock finished the ritual before speaking. “It’s late,” he said quietly as Sherlock picked up his violin again and straightened. “Aren’t you tired?”

“No,” Sherlock replied simply.

“Why are you still here?” John wondered aloud, finally giving voice to the question that had plagued him throughout this cursed illness.

“Do you want me to leave?” The detective regarded John with one dark eyebrow arched.

“No,” John said too quickly. He swallowed and looked out the window. Wispy clouds painted the moon in shades of gray. “I…I don’t mind you being here. It’s nice to have company.” He glanced up at Sherlock and smiled a little wryly. “At least your choice of instruments has improved.” The foot was nowhere to be seen, although there were several scattered pieces of electronic equipment and a few vague shapes dotting the various flat surfaces in John’s room. John was careful not to look at any of them too closely. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know what kinds of new gruesome carnage Sherlock had dredged up.

Boundaries, he thought again, and sighed.

An old, ever-present suspicion flared suddenly. “You’re not using me for some kind of experiment, are you?” John asked. He’d been the involuntary subject of enough of Sherlock’s random tests that the assumption was almost second nature by now. Mercifully, if the detective was taking tissue samples, he was at least doing it while John was unconscious.

“No,” Sherlock laughed. “You’re not part of any of my experiments today.” His smile was wolfish as he resettled the violin against his shoulder.

John glanced at the clock and tried not to think about the fact that it had only been ‘today’ for two hours. “That’s…I’m honestly not sure if that’s comforting or alarming,” he said finally, bringing an arm up to hide his eyes in the crook of his elbow.

“You still have a fever,” Sherlock said by way of a response.

It was true. John could feel the bone-deep chill and the remnants of a clammy sweat slicking his skin, though he wondered how Sherlock could tell from where he was standing.

A snippet of memory floated up through the gauzy layers of his sleep fogged mind: the cool pressure of a long-fingered hand against his brow as he slept. But that was impossible. Sherlock didn’t usually touch people. Not live ones anyway. Had John imagined it?

“It’s late,” Sherlock’s deep baritone interrupted John’s musings, “You should take your medicine and go back to sleep.”

John ground his teeth. He was an adult, and old enough to decide his own bedtime, thank you very much. He opened his mouth to say that he’d been sleeping all day, and that really it was Sherlock who needed to get some rest. The man never seemed to get any sleep. Before he could voice his opinion, however, his jaw cracked around a yawn.

The detective raised his bow and drew the first soothing notes of Brahms’ Lullaby from his violin. His fingers danced over the strings, long and graceful and far too sure in their movements. For a moment, John’s internal barriers slipped, and he wondered what it would feel like to have those fingers play along his skin.

Christ, John thought, swallowing convulsively as he jerked his eyes away. Heat flooded his cheeks in a traitorous flush. Bad plan. Very bad plan.

He was careful. So careful. But apparently all it took was one bloody flu and the foundations of all his defenses crumbled like the brittle, sun dried walls of a child’s sandcastle.

Sherlock regarded John with slightly narrowed eyes as Brahms’ tender melody drifted through John’s now-cluttered room.

John held his breath. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know what was going on behind those ice-blue eyes.

“Take your medicine and try to get some sleep,” Sherlock said finally, deep voice surprisingly gentle, blending easily with the subdued melody of the music.

John let his breath out in a long, silent sigh and did as he was told.

~☆~


As his fever raged on, John continued to fade in and out of consciousness, seconds of blurry awareness bracketed by hours of a restless half-slumber. It was hard to judge the passage of time, but using the ever-changing light from his window, John guessed he spent the better part of three days mostly asleep.

Every time he woke, Sherlock was there.

The detective seemed to be occupied with the full gambit of his own daily tasks, from running experiments and updating his website to typing frantic text messages, and – God help them all – reading John’s old dog-eared copy of Frankenstein. How he’d known where to find the book, nestled as it had been between medical volumes in the anatomy section of John’s bookshelf, was anyone’s guess. John had long ago given up questioning Sherlock’s occasional brushes with telepathy.

For the most part, the detective seemed engrossed in his work, barely taking noticed when John groaned and blinked his eyes open, or coughed himself awake. It almost felt like he was in John’s room by happenstance, or, perhaps more accurately, like John’s room had magically become Sherlock’s normal workspace, and John’s presence in it was merely a coincidence.

There was something inherently unfair, John reflected wryly, about a world where a man could feel like an interloper in his own room while his invading flatmate sat cross-legged on the foot of his bed, perusing his literature without permission.

Still, Sherlock’s constant presence was somehow strangely comforting.

John kept expecting to wake and find him gone. There were almost always dastardly crimes committed, fascinating cases to solve or intricate experiments in the lab that required Sherlock’s attention. When they weren’t in one of their dry spells, Sherlock rarely remained in one place for more than a handful of minutes. He was a constant flurry of activity, whipping from one destination to the next, usually dragging John along in his wake.

True, in the painful stretches between cases, when Sherlock sunk into one of his interminable funks, he’d take up residence on their sofa and refuse to move for periods nearly long enough to merit ass-to-cushion bonding. But this current spate of self-confinement lacked that usual petulant immobility.

Instead, there was an odd kind of focus to Sherlock’s manner. He was in constant motion, just in a much tighter orbit than usual. Rather than running around London, he paced John’s carpet. Rather than going to the lab, he used John’s nightstand as a dissection table. Rather than heading over to the Yard when summoned, he simply texted Lestrade. It felt like the scene of London’s biggest crime – and all the clues, equipment and resources Sherlock needed to solve it – could be found in John’s bedroom alone.

John wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.

He was accustomed to the confusion of chasing after Sherlock and his lightning quick deductions. He wasn’t sure how to deal with this caged, concentrated version of the man.

Worse, when John reviewed the hazy scenes he’d glimpsed in his scattered moments of lucidity, he got the distinct impression that there was a pattern to Sherlock’s confined movements. From bedroom door to dresser, dresser to bedside, bedside to foot of his bed…

Sherlock was moving slowly and inexorably closer to John himself.

It probably should have been disturbing.

John hoped it was true.

I’ve gone insane, he thought with tired resignation before slipping once more into a restless slumber.



On to [Part 2]!

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
peachchild336
Jul. 19th, 2011 06:24 am (UTC)
his sinuses were packed with something that felt like cement, and he must have swallowed all the scalding desert sands that plagued his dreams YES. This is what having a cold feels like. I also love the subtle reference to his war nightmares.

Being the sole focus of Sherlock’s formidable attention wasn’t exactly an unfamiliar sensation, but it was intense enough that it still caused a few of the hairs to rise on the back of John’s neck. This would be a very weird sensation, especially considering that Sherlock probably focuses positive attention on no one so much as John. How would anyone know how to deal with that? XD

John had even entertained a brief fantasy that Sherlock was interested in him. But that, of course, was pure folly. But he so IS. How can he not be?!

Tea, John thought happily, infusing the single word with all the gratitude and reverence of his truly British soul. Adorable!

He knew Sherlock was a supremely capable musician, but using a severed limb to beat out the basic cadence of Bad Romance on John’s dresser was going a little too far. HAHAHAHAHA.

Sherlock was moving slowly and inexorably closer to John himself. I have to assume that he's figured out that John's in love with him and he either returns the feelings or is trying to decide if he could, which is kind of adorable and I must find out!
wickedmuffin
Jul. 20th, 2011 07:12 am (UTC)
EEEEeeeee! Thank you for the read and review! I love knowing which lines work well, and really appreciate you taking the time to give feedback. THANKS FOR READING!!!!!!! <3
bittergreentea
Oct. 11th, 2011 02:19 am (UTC)
I haven't finished reading this part yet but I had to stop and comment after reading this brilliant, brilliant line:

"his dreams were filled with terrifying visions of Sherlock’s milkshake bringing all the boys to Scotland Yard."

THE MENTAL IMAGES! GOD WHY??

Brilliant.
fakinbrilliance
Oct. 13th, 2011 01:32 pm (UTC)
hehehehehe yeah, I was thinking up ridiculous pop songs sherlock could torture John with and that image kind of floored me, too. Glad you liked it! :) Thanks for reading and commenting!
(Anonymous)
Mar. 20th, 2012 06:13 pm (UTC)
This is my favorite thing that I've ever read.

The story was amazing and gave me warm fuzzies and the only bad thing I can think to say is that it was way too short (I didn't want it to be over EVER). You're such a funny brilliant writer, thank you so much for making this :D!!!!
fakinbrilliance
Mar. 21st, 2012 02:58 am (UTC)
Wow, thank you! I'm so glad you enjoyed it. It's actually the longest finished piece I've ever written, but maybe some day I'll write a sequel. I had half of one done at one point... I'm finally writing fanfic again, so keep an eye out for something new soon! <3
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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