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While we still have the chance (1/2)

BBC Sherlock

Rating: 12 (preslash)

Spoilers: For The Hounds of Baskerville

A sequel to There May Be Trouble Ahead, and Before They Ask Us to Pay the Bill.
Betated by the amazing Blooms84.

Summary: Sherlock has a lot of things to worry about, before and after his trip to Dartmoor

"With your natural advantages, Watson, every lady is your helper and accomplice. What about the girl at the post-office, or the wife of the greengrocer? I can picture you whispering soft nothings with the young lady at the Blue Anchor, and receiving hard somethings in exchange. All this you have left undone."

"It can still be done."  – The Adventure of the Retired Colourman



Hard to kill an idea once it's firmly lodged in your head, Sherlock thinks on the long plane trip home from Karachi. Irene Adler is a saleswoman of desire, after all, and if you're around her long enough you can almost be persuaded there's something about sex worth buying. But as his body cramps uncomfortably in the too-narrow seat, and he scans the unhappy faces of the couples around him, Sherlock reminds himself that sexual activity isn't the glorious technicolour theme park that Irene implicitly promises. It's a sweaty, uncontrolled mess where you try to turn your mind off by contorting your body. An illusion of closeness only. Who would he want to sleep with, anyhow? Who isn't more stupid when naked? Well, apart from himself, obviously. He can sit in nothing but a sheet and still impress John. With his intellect.

He finds himself observing John carefully when he gets back from Pakistan, checking the evidence that he is right about him and Irene is wrong. John, admittedly, is always keeping an eye on him, but that's more in the way that people with a small child or a big dog keep an eye on them. If there's trouble kicking off, John wants to have advance warning. Lots of other people are abnormally conscious of Sherlock when he's around them. Sally Donovan's always watching him, for example, hoping for an excuse to arrest him. John's attention to Sherlock doesn't mean that John is...attracted to Sherlock. John has girlfriends – well, not at the moment, but that's just because the last one got accidentally scared off by a poisonous millipede.

But what Sherlock does find himself doing more often now is considering the implications of John's behaviour.  Like the fact that John lies to him about Irene's fate.

***

Normally, he'd just silently admire Mycroft's oblique technique of informing him that Irene is dead. That Mycroft believes Irene is dead.  Leaving Sherlock to notice John's discomfort, to explore further, to discover about Irene's fate for himself. Mycroft is saved from any awkward scenes when he might have to discuss with his little brother the suitable attitude towards an enemy of the state. Sherlock is saved from the tedium of that as well.

But later, Sherlock wonders why John lied to him. John believes Sherlock's uncaring, but he still tries to protect him from hurt. No, John thinks Sherlock is uncaring, but he doesn't believe it. He expects, hopes, that Sherlock is human. The way Lestrade waits, against the odds, for Sherlock to become a good man. The way Mrs Hudson tells herself that Sherlock's a nice boy really.

Put it in those terms, and it's obvious that John's not in love with Sherlock. Molly's in love with Sherlock, a fact that has been useful to exploit in the past, but is now ripe for deletion. John doesn't wrap up Christmas presents carefully for him, doesn't dress up to impress Sherlock. John just...is John. His friend.  

 And as for John being prepared to do anything for him, Irene is completely wrong about that, as well, Sherlock concludes in frustration a few weeks later.  John's stubbornness in refusing to give Sherlock the cigarettes his body craves is infuriating. Until he threatens John with not taking Henry Knight's case and John crumbles. The more unreasonable person wins yet again, Sherlock thinks gleefully, even as he throws away the packet to prove his point. He's got a case, he's got John by his side, what more does he need?

What he needs, of course, is not to lose his mind.

***

Sherlock knows about optical illusions, apophenia, the effects of brain damage on visual perception. What he sees in Dewer's Hollow isn't anything like those. What is burning in his brain is the raw knowledge of the primitive man beneath his civilised veneer: there is something terrifying and it is hunting him. He has seen the impossible and it refuses to be eliminated. The solid ground of his own senses has given way; he's sinking into the quicksand of the unknown, the doubtful. He has to fight his way out of it, whatever the cost, or all that makes him unique is gone.

He forces his brain to focus on what matters, to ignore the attempts of ordinary, pedestrian John to provide an ordinary pedestrian, wrong, wrong, wrong explanation of what's going on. Sherlock's logic has not deserted him, so why do his hands shake? The transport has gone on strike, but he can get back on track. There is nothing wrong with him. Nothing.

***

John walks determinedly out of the inn and Sherlock has a second wave of panic. Of course, if his mind has ceased to work properly John won't want to stay. What is there worthwhile in Sherlock if he isn't brilliant? He has to solve the case, and then John will think he's amazing again. He shakes his head:  he's being ridiculously emotional. He has to solve the case because that is what he does. What he is. Very slowly, very carefully, he closes his eyes, concentrates on the next step.

If he can't trust his own senses any more, he realises eventually, he needs someone whose senses he can still trust. John can – however inadequately – observe things.  How can he use that fact, make one workable detective out of the human parts that remain? He walks through the restaurant, deducing people as he goes – because that he can still do – and suddenly hears a familiar name being mentioned. And then he remembers one of the other small advantages his friend has over him. Women – a certain type of woman - are sometimes willing to open up to John.

Even as he sends John Louise Mortimer's photo, Sherlock wonders: Would he still be willing to chat up women for cases if I did sleep with him? Might be a bit tricky to ask. And then he recognises, with pleasure, that his thought processes are almost back to normal.

***

He's supposed to be sharing a room - though not a bed - with John, but it's possible that John's intelligence gathering will end up being conducted horizontally, and Sherlock doesn't want to piss him off unnecessarily. Besides, his head is aching and he feels vaguely unwell and some fresh air might help. For a moment Sherlock hesitates, wondering if he dare go onto the moor again. If there really is something out there...

There isn't. There can't be. The sooner he can get out and realise that, recalibrate his faulty brain, the sooner he can get this part of the puzzle solved. He grabs a map and some supplies – let's not be too rash – and strides out into the night.

***

His first hypothesis comes after twenty minutes: the hound is a projected image, the world's creepiest son et lumière. It's frankly not a good hypothesis – where would you hide the required equipment, how would you get the angles right when your audience is moving?  – but it's a start. By daybreak, he's refined the possibilities down to seven, and drugs are by far the most plausible. Which is convenient, because it also solves the slight problem of his behaviour in the pub.

He'd really prefer not to remember the details of that part of the evening – well, apart from the fishhooks deduction, which is impressive because it's not a profession you see a lot of nowadays – but he's conscious that he yelled at John to leave him alone, and said he wasn't his friend, which was seriously not good. On the other hand, if he was not just scared and confused, but under the influence of some hallucinogen, then he cannot be held responsible for what he said. Well, not by a reasonable man like John.

The problem is, he's not sure his perspectives were still affected by that time. He was not seeing monstrous hounds within the Cross Keys; he could in fact, make deductions with remarkable effectiveness, so the drug might have worn off by then. And nor did Henry show signs of aggression or hostility after the Hollow, which again argues for the drug's effects wearing off quickly. On the other hand, Henry is an abnormally passive man, of uncertain mental stability. What he needs as a baseline is someone more average. Someone whose reactions he's familiar with. And someone, who for all his normal patience, has a temper, does get aggressive on occasions, might have such emotions heightened by the drug.

I need to be sure, Sherlock tells himself, confirm my hypothesis or falsify it. John's the bravest man he knows; he'll be willing to try taking a dangerous unknown drug if it'll solve the case. If it'll help Henry. John's prepared to do almost anything to help people in trouble.

Unfortunately, he can't tell John, or the placebo effect – nocebo effect – will distort the experiment. He has to administer the drug to John without him knowing it, and that raises quite a few technical problems. As well as a minor ethical issue. But he is clearly OK now, so the drug cannot cause long-lasting harm. As long as he can ensure that John is safe during the hallucinations, kept under close observation, there's no harm done. And once Sherlock's sure that the sugar is the cause, he can get it properly analysed and work out who's administering it to Henry. Though that'll mean going up to London, or to Exeter at least, to find a lab with the right equipment.

Suddenly he sees how to kill two birds with one stone, or at least one large imaginary dog. Take John back to Baskerville and he can easily be made to imagine an escaped monster or two, without running off and hurting himself. And they have all the tools he can possibly need on hand for the analysis. It's all falling into place nicely.

Though it nearly falls apart again when John walks away from him in the churchyard.

***

Sherlock's often been accused of not knowing how to behave, but he knows precisely how to, when it's a matter of getting people to do what he wants. Making up with John after an argument, for example, is usually a simple process of a) pretending that nothing's happened or b) cracking a joke. It's only when those tactics don't work this time that Sherlock has to resort to c) telling John the truth. Or at least some of it:  the fact that John is his friend, and how much that friendship matters to Sherlock.

John says "Right" and keeps on walking away, and Sherlock's just about to panic again when he realises that "Hound" might be an acronym, and rushes after John to tell him. He's not being ridiculous when he tells John he's a conductor of light. There's something transparent about John that inspires Sherlock, without disturbing - distorting - his vision. Irene's brain moves faster than John's, of course, but hers is the brilliance of a diamond, scattering Sherlock's thoughts with its glittering, deceptive facets. What John helps him see, in contrast, is the truth behind facades. Because John, with his strange green coat and lined face, is anchored in reality, an indispensible interface between Sherlock and the rest of the world.

John deals with Lestrade, for example, works out how he can be useful, when Sherlock's still so distracted by the ramifications of his brother's interference that he can't immediately retrieve Lestrade's first name from the relevant file dump. Not a bad deduction by John about the meat, actually, he's obviously learning something from associating with Sherlock. And the distraction gives him a chance to administer the sugar to John. Now all he needs is access to Baskerville and a few MP3 of dogs baying. Though it's a good job he's driving to Baskerville, not John, because he's not quite sure how long it will before John starts hallucinating.

***

His plan does mostly work out, even if he's wrong about the sugar. But that's something to worry about later on, Sherlock decides, after they've caught the murderer.

*** 

If you need to cover up a crime, it's always handy having a detective inspector on your side, Sherlock thinks that evening, as he stands by the Great Grimpen Minefield. Lestrade has finally managed to get a signal on his mobile and the Devon and Cornwall Police will eventually turn up, so it's time to get organised.

"They won't pay attention to a word Henry what's-his-face will say," Lestrade says, pointing over to where Henry is once again pouring out his family's entire life-history to John. "So as long as our stories fit together, we're OK. If you could start by telling me what the fuck happened just now, that might be a help."

Lestrade's still sweating and Sherlock suspects that he's keeping his hands on his hips to hide the fact that he's shaking. Wonder how much of the gas he inhaled?

"It's all the fault of Dr Frankland," Sherlock says hastily, "and given he's just blown himself up, there's not a lot of point in pressing any charges. Louise Mortimer, Henry's therapist, was worried that Henry Knight had come to Dewer's Hollow to kill himself. John and I came to look for him and we called you in because we thought Frankland might try and kill Henry. And as you see, he almost did."

"OK," Lestrade says wearily. "There was poison fog in the hollow, and Frankland turned up in a gas mask, and there was also a sodding big dog. What was all that about? Coz if I saw a dog that wasn't really there, I need psychiatric treatment."

"The dog was there," Sherlock says, smiling, in what he hopes is a reassuring way. "You remember about the dog. Gary and Billy from the Cross Keys inn bought it, and kept it up on the moor. They said they'd had it put down, but they obviously hadn't."

"And John and me have just shot it."

"John shot it," Sherlock says firmly. "He can still shoot straight even when affected by the drug. You are obviously a hopeless shot at the best of times."

Lestrade gives him a very dirty look and then says slowly: "Yeah, but I'm allowed my gun. Mycroft gave me the paperwork for it. John is not supposed to have a gun, let alone go round shooting dogs. It's not dog-shooting season."

Difficult to decide if the drug is having deleterious effects on Lestrade's jokes, Sherlock notes, since they're so bad to start with.

"It's not John's gun," he replies. "He took it off Henry, who was given it by Frankland, in theory so Henry could protect himself from the hound, in fact in the hope he'd kill somebody or himself with it. Frankland, in turn, no doubt stole it from Baskerville, which has worse security than the Met, difficult though that may be to believe." He grins as the symmetry of it strikes him. "So now what we do is return the gun to Baskerville, or at least their minefield, and say that Frankland shot the dog. I doubt anyone will be eager to go and check whether his fingerprints are indeed on the weapon." He strides over to where Henry is still talking at John, and John hands over the gun.

"Don't use it," John says looking up at Sherlock, and his eyes still have the slightly unfocused look Sherlock recognises as one of the after-effects of the drug.

"I won't," he says, and walks over towards the barbed wire. Then he sends the gun in one smooth, fluid throw into the heart of the minefield.

"Always said you were a big tosser," Lestrade says, coming up to him, and giving him a half-grin. "I'll give my statement to the police first, and then they may not bother much with the rest of you. Like you said, the bloke who caused all the trouble is dead." He pauses, and then adds: "Christ, I feel rough. What's in that fog, then? Nerve gas?"

"No," Sherlock says. "Very quick-acting, but short-lived hallucinogen. Causes extreme suggestibility, fear, sometimes aggression. But as soon as you get away, it will start to clear from your system. You'll have the after-effects of extreme stress, of course: sweaty palms, muscle fatigue, jumpiness and so on, but unless you have repeated exposure or it triggers some underlying mental health problems, you'll be fine." Lestrade will be, he realises: he's about the sanest man Sherlock knows.

"You mean like John's PTSD," Lestrade says quietly, and Sherlock's stomach knots, because he's forgotten all about that. Partly because John seems to have too. And it's not as if believing he's about to die horribly or shooting things are such unfamiliar events for John. He ought to be used to them by now. On the other hand....

"What have you done to him?" Lestrade asks.

"Who says I've done anything to John?" Sherlock demands, trying to sound insouciant.

"You're looking guilty," Lestrade says, staring at him. "So what have you done to him?"

"He...has had rather a lot of exposure to the gas today, though it wasn't actually my fault," Sherlock says. Which is technically true.

"Look," Lestrade says, "the Devon coppers will be here shortly. What I suggest is you take John back to the inn now, and I'll stay with Henry and give them a statement. They can always get hold of you tomorrow if they really need to."

Sherlock gives him a startled look. But, of course, one of the main reasons Lestrade is here is to keep Sherlock away from the local police, isn't it?

"Right," he says, "That...would be helpful."

"But in return," Lestrade says, "promise me you'll drive safely, and make sure anyone who's seen Henry Knight with a gun knows to keep their trap shut, or he'll end up in jail. Understand?"

Sherlock smiles. "Understood, Greg."

***

John doesn't say anything on the way back to the inn, beyond "You need to turn left here." And once they get to their double room, he almost collapses on his bed, and then gets up, switches off all the lights apart from his bedside lamp, and curls up under the duvet in a way that suggests he's proposing to sleep for at least the next fourteen hours, still in his clothes if necessary. With the further implication that he has absolutely no interest in what Sherlock thinks about this decision.

What Sherlock needs to do now is write up his notes, put down all the details of the drug while he can still remember them from the files he scanned so briefly. But he's oddly reluctant to leave John alone, even though Sherlock's clearly superfluous. He compromises by sitting in the en suite, balancing his laptop on his knees, so that he won't disturb John, but will hear if there's any problem.

At 12.28 p.m. there's a knock on the bathroom door.

"Can I use the toilet?" John's sleepy voice asks. When Sherlock comes out – there's really no room for two in there - he notices that John's in his pyjamas now. He looks worn-out, barely awake, and oddly hunched up, as if his body's still so busy fighting off the drug it can't cope with any more sensations.

"Are you all right?" Sherlock finds himself asking, and John mutters something that might be "fine" and goes back to bed. Sherlock resumes his place sitting on the toilet lid, but he can't settle back into writing about the drug. He checks back through the notes he's already made – they should be enough. It's not as if he's going to synthesise the drug himself. Besides, there are other pieces of the puzzle he needs to consider. Such as...such as the Problem of John.

The problem of John is that John doesn't have a problem with Sherlock. Well, to be accurate, John has all kinds of problems with Sherlock. He knows Sherlock is rude, devious, often uncaring and a nightmare as a flatmate. And yet he doesn't run away. More than that, he trusts Sherlock.

This afternoon at the lab, his mind fogged with terror, John had begged him for help, presumed automatically that if he was in trouble Sherlock would come and save him, just as he would come and save Sherlock. It hadn't occurred to him that Sherlock was causing all his distress in the first place. And when Sherlock had appeared, John had only lost his temper very briefly. A few minutes of yelling before he regained control. John hadn't told Sherlock he wasn't his friend, to leave him alone. He'd behaved like a normal person. No – like a very abnormal person. Someone who could put up with Sherlock.

One of these days I will go too far, Sherlock thinks, and he really will walk away and keep on walking. And suddenly he's terrified that it's already happened. That while he is sitting here, John has walked onto the moor and won't come back. Maybe it's just that the drug has left him on edge as well, but now he's thought of the possibility, he has to go and check, even though he knows that John can't have done, that he'd have heard him leaving their bedroom.

John is still there, asleep again, those lines in his face softened in the pool of light from his bedside lamp. Sherlock walks round beside the bed to switch it off – John will be OK now, and he won't be able to sleep if the light's distracting him. He fumbles with the lamp, can't find the switch, it's one of these stupid designs where it's not where you expect it. And maybe it's because he's tired – muscle fatigue affecting him as well? – that when he finally spots that the switch is partway down the cable and reaches down to turn it off, his elbow knocks the lamp's base. Then somehow it's tilting – no, falling - and the bulb smashes against the edge of the bedside cabinet and shatters with a crash.

"Fuck," Sherlock says softly, but his voice is drowned by John, screaming as he sits bolt upright in the bed, one arm raised to ward off an expected blow. Sherlock's hand reaches for John's automatically, squeezing it reassuringly.

"It's OK, you're OK, it's just the lamp, that's all," he gasps. He bends down to put his free hand on John's shoulder, feeling the muscles there shuddering with tension. John gulps down a scream, and just sits there rigidly, panicking very quietly. And Sherlock says nothing, because if he says anything it will be the wrong thing. It always is. He just keeps on holding John and hopes that will help.

John lets out a breath and says, shakily: "So I'm breaking up the furniture, am I, now?" and Sherlock's mouth opens and he says:  "You were having a nightmare." The lie slips out automatically, because it's easier, because it's not his fault then. Even though it still would be, because why else would John have nightmares, but because of what Sherlock does to him? He's holding John too tight, but how tightly should you hold someone who may still have rather too much of an incompletely-analysed hallucinogen in him?

Sherlock lets go of John, very slowly, and stands there in the dark, listening to John trying to control his breathing, trying to pull himself back together again. Sure enough, thirty seconds later, John says, ruefully: "They're going to think we've been having fun in here, aren't they?"

Sherlock frowns for a moment, and then remembers that Gary and Billy believe that they're a couple. "Little domestic, you mean?" he says.

"Swinging from the chandeliers, more like," John says. "Sorry about that. If you don't want me to disturb you, I could..." His voice, trails off into a yawn, clearly too worn out to finish the sentence.

"Go back to sleep," Sherlock says firmly, and then, on an impulse adds: "Do you need a light on, would that help prevent the nightmares? I can turn on the one by my bed?"

"No, I'm fine, just fine," John mumbles, and then he's silent again, and as Sherlock waits, he can hear John's breath even out as he falls asleep again. There are a few pieces of broken glass on the floor; he can feel them beneath his shoes. He pushes as much of it as he can find under the bed, where John won't step on it, wondering about the scatter pattern as he does so. Then he gets undressed and goes to bed himself, because standing watch over John all night seems a little...excessive.


Part 2

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
zauzat
Mar. 13th, 2012 12:04 pm (UTC)
Fascinating. I love the way you work through all the canon details and justify them from S's point of view.
shezan
Mar. 14th, 2012 02:21 am (UTC)
Lovely Sherlock PoV, much eager to read the rest!
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )