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Patterns

BBC Sherlock

Spoilers: None

Rating 15 (alcoholism, pre-slash)

Summary: Harry has an unexpected meeting.

Betaed by the wonderful Blooms84.


Harry got the text when drunk, but it didn't make much more sense the next morning, when she was sobering up.

I'd like to meet you. Can we arrange a time and place? Sarah Sawyer

It must be John's latest bright idea, she thought. A different doctor to warn her about her drinking. Still, she might as well meet her, make clear this tactic wasn't going to work either. And it'd be interesting to find out what John's boss was like.

***

She suspected the woman was Sarah the moment she came into the cafe: she had a prissy white blouse on that might go with doctor, but stood out among Tony's normal clientele. And she was also heading for her...

"Are you Harriet Watson?" the woman asked. "I'm Sarah Sawyer." Close-up, she was older than Harry had expected, but good-looking in a rather unadorned way. She looked confident, organised, not an alcoholic mess.

"I'm Harry," she drawled. "Did John tell you what I looked like?"

"Not exactly," Sarah replied, smiling, "But-"

"Oh, God, don't tell me I look like him?"

"There's a certain resemblance, especially to when I last saw John hung-over," Sarah said cheerfully, as she sat down.

"My goody-two-shoes brother actually got drunk, did he?"

"At the surgery Christmas party," Sarah said. "To be fair, the mulled wine was a lot more potent than any of us realised, and he had just been dumped."

"John's always getting dumped. He has rotten taste in women." She remembered then that Sarah was another of John's exes. They got everywhere.

"I'm sorry," she muttered. "I meant-"

"It's OK, Harry," Sarah said, still smiling. "You don't need to be tactful with me. Is the coffee here safe to drink?"

"It's not too bad. What do you want?"

"White, no sugar and a cleanish mug for me, please," Sarah replied briskly.

***

Harry handed Sarah her coffee – hadn't spilled a drop, she was pleased about that – and asked: "Did John send you?" Because if they didn't need to be tactful, she could get this thing over quickly.

"No. He doesn't know I'm here. Unofficially, I wanted to see you because the partners are talking about giving John a permanent job and they want to know the extent of his...family problems."

"You're taking on John? But what about him chasing after Sherlock?"

"John'll have an annual hours contract – it's unusual, but he's good enough we want to keep him. He'll work ridiculously long hours and do the shifts no-one else wants to do when Sherlock has no cases on, and then we cover for him while he's off chasing murderers."

"Where do I come in?"

"I wanted to know if John was also going to need lots of time off to sort out his alcoholic sister. But you're not supposed to take that into account when employing people."

"John hasn't taken any time off work on my account," Harry replied, frowning. "Well, not for months now."

Sarah gave her another of her warm smiles. She was probably good with bolshy patients, wasn't she? 

"Unofficially unofficially, I was feeling nosy," she said. "I've heard a lot about you from John over the past eighteen months, and I wondered about your side of the story. So I copied down your details when I was updating the next of kin bit on his personnel files."

"I'm not his next of kin anymore?"

"Sherlock is."

"So are they really...I mean are they actually together?" This was turning out to be interesting after all, wasn't it, she thought, as she slurped her coffee. "I still can't work out if they're having sex or not. Was that why you dumped John?"

The smile abruptly left Sarah's face.

"I have no idea what is going on in that relationship," she said firmly, "and I'm not even sure I want to know. But they're close enough that if you get involved with John you get Sherlock's emotional baggage thrown in, and I soon realised I didn't fancy that."

"Shame," Harry said. "You're better than most of John's girlfriends."

"Really?" Sarah's was smiling again now, just too casually. Oh, you want this, don't you?

"He goes for sweet, dumb girls normally. Pretty, but not too threatening. I used to steal them from him sometimes. Did you know Clara was John's girlfriend before we got together?"

"I'd...gathered that."

"Sweetest and prettiest of them all," Harry said, leaning back in her chair. "And not so dumb, except maybe for preferring me to John. We got married, and it was a big mistake, and I drank too much to help me forget what a big mistake I made. That's the story of Clara and me."

"I was expecting you to blame John for your drinking," Sarah replied, looking calmly across at Harry. She had very shrewd eyes, Harry realised. As well as a bloody kissable mouth.

"What makes you think that?" she said, sitting back up and glaring at her.

"John is bright, brave, sporty, well-mannered and a thoroughly nice man. And he's two years older than you. It must have been difficult growing up in his shadow."

Harry started laughing. "You are right, you are so right. He was the good boy and I was the bad girl right from the start. How did you guess?"

"I'm good at spotting patterns. Ways of behaving. John's friendly with most people, but he told me he's never got on with you."

"He was our parents' favourite. Didn't help when I went over to the dark side, came out as a lesbian. So it's all John's fault then, we're agreed, that I'm an alcoholic?"

"You know why you're an alcoholic," Sarah said quietly, and - God, Harry had to admit it – soberly. "You've made the wrong decisions, and you've kept on making them till it's hard to make the right ones anymore. Other people have difficult childhoods and failed marriages and don't feel the need to drink themselves to death."

"Don't forget the stressful job and the money worries."

"John said you'd been fired from the advertising agency and you were living off Clara's divorce settlement."

"I've got a job," Harry said, "I'm working at McDonalds. I'm thirty-six and I'm a trainee at McDonalds and living in a grotty bedsit and freshly divorced. Why shouldn't I drink?"

"Because you probably can't afford it," Sarah said. "Am I going to be paying for these coffees, by the way? And what did you have them put in yours?"

"Whisky," she said. "But Tony's a friend, mine's on the house."

"I'll pay for mine," Sarah said and the patient tone in her voice sent a sudden rush of alcohol and anger through Harry's veins.

"It's OK for you!" she yelled. "You've never got it wrong, have you? Always top of the class, done what you're supposed to, never made a bad decision. You have no fucking idea what it's like to be me."

Sarah just sat there and looked at her for a long time, until Harry's gaze dropped.

"Sorry," she mumbled, and waited for Sarah to leave. And then instead, Sarah looked down dubiously at the tablecloth and said very slowly and quietly: "I am thirty-nine and single."

"Can't say I recommend being married."

"I've never been in a relationship for more than two years. I repeatedly fall for bastards, men who don't treat me properly. I said I was good at spotting patterns. I didn't say I was good at breaking out of them."

"John's not a bastard. A pain in the neck, but not a bastard."

"No," Sarah said sadly. "I thought I was making a good decision that time."

Sodding men, Harry thought and made an abrupt decision.

"Maybe you should give up on them. Come over to the dark side too. Ever slept with a woman?" It wasn't just the whisky, though that helped. There was something shadowy about Tony's cafe, the sense that the people you met here would just evaporate afterwards, drift away and be lost. No-one here who would recognise Sarah, or care what she said.

"No," Sarah said, her tone as polite as if she was being asked if she'd like sugar in her coffee.

"Would you consider it?" Sarah looked at her and Harry stared back into those cool, clever blue eyes.

"Hypothetically, or is this a pick-up line?"

"Hypothetically."

"I don't know," Sarah said, her smooth brow creasing in thought. "I'm not repulsed by the idea, but I can't say I've ever wanted to."

"Aren't you curious? You're a..." – she mustn't say 'nosy woman'  - "woman who likes to find out about things?"

"Is that a pick-up line?" Sarah was smiling incredulously.

"It could be."

Sarah's smile faded. "I'm John's ex. I'm not getting involved in mind games between the two of you."

"The thing is," Harry said, smiling lazily, "that John and I also possibly have similar tastes in women." That was better, she thought. She could feel herself becoming charming, her blood alcohol level had obviously got to just the right point.

"I thought I wasn't John's usual type," Sarah said calmly.

Oh God, Sarah was sharp, wasn't she? Or maybe the booze was slowing her down.

"Maybe we're both trying to improve our taste. Find someone we can talk to, not just sleep with," she said.

"I don't know what John wanted from me. I'm not sure he did. Which probably didn't help things."

"He falls in love quickly and then he gets disillusioned," Harry replied promptly. "No-one can live up to John's standards."

"He hasn't fallen out of love with Sherlock. Whatever else is going on, God knows those two love one another."

Now there was a cue, if ever she heard one. She could almost taste Sarah's longing for a friendship like that.

"You want someone to be close to," Harry said, smiling. "If you gave me a chance..."

Sarah smiled sadly at her. "But you're a bastard too, Harry. At least I bet you are when you're drunk, properly drunk."

"People change." Sarah looked quizzically at her. "I can stop drinking."

"You won't," said Sarah, and the confidence in her voice knotted Harry's stomach.

"You don't know!" she yelled. "You don't know anything about me!"

"I've seen the same patterns many times," Sarah said. "I've watched too many of my patients over the years drink their way to an early death. You've gone a long way down, but there's still further you can go. And you can't imagine being sober, can you? There's nothing you want to be sober for."

"For you?"

"No, Harry, we're not going there." And then Sarah's crisp voice softened: "What would you do if you were sober? What do you really want?"

Her friends always laughed at her, but maybe Sarah wouldn't.

"Get out of London," she said. "I loved it once, but now I'm just a drop of water in the ocean. I don't want the rush and the noise and the bars."

"What do you want instead?"

"Fresh air. A place to belong, not just be a face in a crowd. A garden. That kind of stuff." Sarah was looking at her thoughtfully, as if she was trying to work out if she meant it. Trying to imagine Harry gardening.

"I know," Harry went on, "it's stupid, isn't it? A Londoner's fantasy of the countryside. I'm better off sticking to McDonald's and Tony's here."

"I need to go," Sarah said, reaching for her bag. No, Harry's mind screamed.

"Sod it, I haven't been charming enough, have I? Please stay, Sarah, and I'll be nice. Tactful. And you can help me."

"Not this time, Harry. You don't want help now. But if you do in the future," - Sarah fumbled in her bag and brought out a card, which she handed to Harry – "that's my number at the surgery. Reception won't put you through if you're drunk.  But if you're sober and you really want to stay that way, I know people who can help you. Good luck."  She walked out.

She walked out on me, thought Harry, just like everyone does. Still, when she looked at her watch it was only 9.30 a.m. and she didn't start her shift till ten. She had time to cadge another special coffee from Tony.

***

"Harry says you went to see her," John said to Sarah a few weeks later, as they stood in the surgery's tiny kitchen. "Talked to her about her drinking."

"I was just being nosy," she said, because he didn't seem to mind that she wasn't perfect.

"She's not a pretty sight. I don't know she'll make forty." His voice had a deliberate, professional detachment, but she could read the tension in his body.

"If she stopped now-" she began.

"She won't. She's blown every chance she's ever had. I saw what it did to Clara." He stared at his coffee as if he'd have liked to drown Harry in it. "People don't change. You know that."

"We've both seen alcoholics, drug addicts, who've got clean," she replied. "You know it can be done."

"Not by Harry," he said with certainty, and she wondered if he was right, or part of Harry's problem.

***

John didn't talk about Harry any more at work, and Sarah was too much of a coward to ask. Then two months later, she got a phone call at the surgery.

"It's Harriet Watson, John's sister," Chrissie on reception told her. "But she says she needs to talk to you."

"Put her through."

"Sarah?" Harry's voice was husky, intimate, and she had a sudden vivid memory of her sitting there in that grotty cafe telling her about herself.  "It's Harry Watson. I need to get out of London."

"Why?"

"I'm going to stop drinking, but I can't do it here. You said you'd help, didn't you? Can you, please, Sarah, because I need it now."

***

It took a bit of phoning round and pulling strings to find a residential centre in Devon that could take Harry at short notice, but Sarah was used to the system. The funding, though, was just going to be impossible to get. Time to twist John's arm, she decided.

"If you can't afford it, I can," she told him, "I said I'd help her."

"You're wasting your money," John replied. "She won't go through with it. She's been offered the chance before."

"My money to waste," Sarah said. She'd been looking at holiday brochures only yesterday evening, seeing all the luxury she could afford. But this might leave her with more than a tan and some impressive photos. "I want to help her. Help you both."

"I suppose if she's asking for help...maybe it's worth a try," said John. "I could pay you back, though it may have to wait till Sherlock gets a few of his bills settled."   

"We'll sort that out later," she said smiling. "But don't tell her where the money's coming from, for now."

***

John sidled up to her after work a month later. "Harry's got through the detox," he said. "She wants to stay in Devon. I'm trying to find her a place to rent down there. She'll probably wander out onto Dartmoor and die of exposure, but as least I won't be there to see it happen."

Perhaps it wasn't surprising he was trying not to hope yet, she thought. She didn't know how many previous detoxes Harry had been through. And John didn't say anything more about Harry for weeks, which Sarah thought was ominous. She ought just to ask, but...she didn't want to know, she realised. Didn't want to hear that the blunt, funny alcoholic with whom she'd felt a strange connection was destroying her life again. That she was still locked into the pattern of self-destruction.

Then, in the middle of December, when they were discussing holiday shifts, John said: "I'd like to go down to Devon for two days at Christmas, if that's OK?"

"You're owed about a month's holiday already," she said, smiling at him.

"Two days is plenty. I'm going to see Harry and 48 hours of her is all I can take."

"How is she getting on?" He looked down for a moment, biting his lip.

"I should have told you, shouldn't I? I meant to, but I thought if I told anyone I'd somehow jinx it. Which is ridiculous, I know, but...the thing is, Harry's still sober. She's living in a tiny little cottage with a garden in Okehampton and she's even got a job. Working on the till at the local Co-op. Would you believe that?"

"Don't knock it," she said.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean it like that," he said. "If I'd known she'd be happy in the countryside, I'd have packed her off there years ago. She sounds contented."

"I'm glad to hear it. If you're going down there, give her my love," Sarah replied, and only afterwards wondered if that had been rash.

***

"How was Devon?" Sarah asked John when he came back to work, and he rolled his eyes.

"Only Harry," he said, "could end up lecturing me about my health and how London life wasn't good for me. She never did anything by halves. But she's still sober and...and she asked me for your address, wanted to send you something for all your help. I didn't know if you wanted me to give it to her."

"Give me her details," Sarah said. "I might see about getting in contact."

***

She probably wouldn't have done anything about it – she was too busy, what with Christmas and a new boyfriend  – but Rob left her on Twelfth Night. Taking most of her Christmas presents with him. Yet another bastard letting her down. Harry was doing better at changing her life than she was. She ought to get in contact, congratulate her, but she didn't know what to say. In the end she texted:

Happy New Year. How are you finding being sober? Sarah Sawyer

The reply was immediate:

Getting sober was hell, being sober is better than I expected. Many thanks, Harry.

That was all, which was surprising. Till three days later another text turned up:

Would you like to come and stay? I'm growing carrots, you can help eat them. Harry

She texted back: Is it the season for carrots?

Something growing in the garden. Might be edible. Harry.

***

Sarah wasn't really surprised when a day later the next text came:

I could try and convert you to the dark side while we're waiting for the carrots to grow. Harry

She wondered again why Harry kept using the phrase, what it meant to her. And what Harry thought it meant to Sarah. She didn't know what she felt about Harry. She didn't even have a proper sense of her physically any more: just a vague memory of a too-thin blond woman with bruised eyes and a seductive voice. Not gorgeous, the way Rob was.

But then John wasn't exactly gorgeous and she'd hardly know him, and she'd gone out with him. A certain odd charm to them both, and Harry was brave as well. Had to be, to go through the detox. She didn't really know what Harry was like, but then a sober carrot-growing Harry probably wasn't the same as she'd been before. You could stick in a pattern forever, make the same mistake over and over again. She might at least try making a different mistake this time. She texted back with sudden determination:

Will come down: let me know best dates. I've never really liked carrots, but maybe it's time to try something new.


Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
rabidsamfan
Dec. 30th, 2011 07:59 pm (UTC)
Oh, very nice. I love the different changes you ring on the blank slate of Harry Watson.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )