Repose: An Interlude
Sherlock Holmes treated sleep as he did most everything else: a means to an end. As long as he was bound to this human transport, he was obliged to provide the most essential necessities, albeit sparingly and without any semblance of frequency, in order to maintain its function.
The exact instance escaped him, but somewhere along the line he had started abusing sleep the same way he had once abused cocaine. He would find himself coming down off the high of a case, the adrenaline and stimulation ebbing away leaving exhaustion and boredom in their wake, resulting in a binge session lasting from a dozen hours to multiple days. Sherlock would emerge disoriented and foul tempered as the last vestiges of sleep worked slowly from his system. Days would pass then, and just as with his experiments, his violin, and his penchant for tormenting his flat mate, he would rely on sleep to while away the oppressively mundane hours in hopes of avoiding mental stagnation and atrophy.
Despite John's efforts to maintain this apparent routine for the sake of Sherlock's well-being (having never been an addict, John clearly was not able to spot the obvious behaviors, and Sherlock was not inclined to divulge), something more interesting, usually a case, would inevitably come up and disrupt the calm. It was only when Sherlock's mind was fully engaged, all cylinders firing at a break-neck pace, did he ever find himself above the draw of the cumbersome need for sleep. Very rarely a case would extend beyond his endurance and he would catch a quick kip, just enough to enhance the thought process and energize his flagging transport. Then the case would be wrapped, and the cycle would start once again.
It was very early morning, in the throes of fighting off the post-case sleep binge, because he and John (mostly John, he grudgingly admitted, but just this once) had successfully foiled a planned bank heist and brought to justice an elusive crime boss and his step-son second in command after all, that Sherlock made a discovery about his best friend that both broke his heart and provoked his ire. An astonishing feat, considering the emotional upheaval he had already experienced the evening before as John had begun sharing what he had endured during Sherlock's two and a half year absence.
Armed with John's laptop and the black leather binder containing John's complete medical and military history, Sherlock made his way stealthily into his bedroom, where he had insisted John take up residence for the duration of his convalescence. Setting the folder and laptop aside, Sherlock set about adjusting pillows and replacing ice packs, so that when (not if) John stirred awake he would at least have the guise of concerned, possibly even compassionate, friend to hide behind until he could ease into this most pressing of conversations.
Perhaps he should have waited until John woke on his own.
After all was said and done, curbing his own curiosity for once, while unpleasant for himself, would have actually been merciful.
Because, despite the fatigue resulting from both physical and emotional exertion, not to mention the sedative effect of the pain medication that had been prescribed for his injuries, John Watson was a practiced and professional light sleeper.
As a doctor, John understood the human physiology, and the body's need for sleep. Early in his medical training, and in his time in residency at the hospital, he learned quickly the importance of getting as much sleep as possible as often as possible. Long nights spent on call demanded his full mental and physical capacities, necessitating the mastering of sleeping on the fly, in any environment, under any circumstance, and emerging from said sleep quickly, with focus and determination. His diligence in comprehending the functionality of sleep proved to be invaluable, and lifesaving, during his time in the military. Even when he was wounded and in hospital, the doctor part of his psyche overruled the disgruntled soldier side with the admonition that sleep was vital for recovery.
It wasn't until he was thrust unwillingly back into society, and the conventions of "a solid eight hours," did his subconscious begin rebelling against the very idea of sleep for sleep's sake. That's when the nightmares started. And then he met Sherlock, and sleep once again became a luxury. Despite the fact that he could in no way hope to function on as little sleep as Sherlock did, he recognized that he did function more fully when his sleep cycle was more unpredictable, similar to those nights on call or at war. His maximum potential was reached with no more than five hours of sleep at a time (Sherlock would argue four hours forty-eight minutes). Any less than that, and he found he would inevitably flounder, usually during the climax of some mad chase or other, leaving either Sherlock or himself in harm's way. Unacceptable. On the other hand, any more than five hours (four hours forty-eight minutes), and the nightmares would have time to take hold.
This particular Tuesday morning, more than a few contributing factors set to work against the poor doctor.
John had reached the five hour twenty-three minute mark in his sleep cycle. Being the light sleeper, he heard Sherlock's approach before he was awake enough to realize what was happening. Caught in that fuzzy, drug induced, space between sleep and awake, John became aware that someone was hovering over him, paying close attention to his extremities. When he moved to stretch, he found himself not only in excruciating pain, but unable to move his right arm and leg, and though it seemed to be free, his left arm mobility was limited as well. The bindings around his chest were constricting and panic inducing. He couldn't escape.
It didn't make sense, though. He didn't remember being captured. There was something else happening here, but he couldn't get his bearings. In a desperate attempt to... what? Stun his captor? Unlikely. But, still... He tried kicking out with his unbound left leg. His body, wracked in pain, begged him to lie still, but he wouldn't go out without a fight. All too soon the hovering figure had wrestled his leg into submission with an exclamation of "Stay still for God's sake, you're going to hurt yourself!"
English or Pashto, he couldn't be certain.
"Captain John Watson, Royal Army Medical Corps." He identified himself in English. He felt his captor tense. He repeated his identification.
Identify yourself clearly, give them reason to keep you alive. "I'm a medical doctor. A doctor?" No response. Try Pashto. "DaakTar. DaakTar." His captor had released his leg, but was kneeling next to him on the bed (bed?) and had inched his way nearer John's head. Not good, not good at all.
"John." The voice was stern.
"DaakTar! DaakTar!" He was panicking now.
"English, John. You have to calm down."
English? "I'm a doctor. A medical doctor. I'm unarmed. I can help them. Please, let me help them." The tears came unbidden, but he couldn't find it in himself to be ashamed. He had to appeal to his captor's humanity. "Let me help them!"
"The boys, they're injured. Bleeding. They'll die. I can help them. Please, let me help them."
"Where John, where are the boys?"
"There, can't you see them? Right over there. That IED blew, and they were hit. They're innocents. I can help them. Please. Please, let me help them! They..." He attempted to sit up, but a firm hand pressed into his left shoulder held him in place. Straining, he thought he caught sight of dark curls and too pale skin. "No. NO. Oh God. Ohgodohgodohgod. No. Sherlock! Sherlock, no! I'm here. Sherlock!"
John was screaming now.
"John, you have to calm down."
"No, I have to help him. He's my friend!" John was weeping, unable to catch his breath. "Please! Please, he's my friend. Let me save him and then you can kill me. You can do whatever you want to me, just let me save him. Sherlock! Sherlock, I'm here! Please, please! I'm trying, Sherlock, please!" Despite being bound, he made every effort to fight off his captor.
"Captain Watson!" the voice boomed, "stop fighting. You're injured, not captive."
John lay as still as his trembling body would allow him. "Sherlock," he wept.
The captor's voice faltered, "Captain Watson, do you know where you are?"
"I... I can't remember."
"You are home. You are not in Afghanistan; you are in London, England."
"London?" John whispered. "But..."
"You are at 221b Baker Street, your home for several years now, in London."
"221b... But, the boys?" The tears started once more. "Sherlock? Where is Sherlock?"
"John," there was sorrow in that voice. "John, I'm right here. I haven't gone anywhere."
"Sher..." The doctor's voice wavered. He inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly, and then continued to breathe with purpose. He was aware of the hand that had not moved from his shoulder.
"Yes, very good John. Keep breathing."
Ever so slowly, as if a sudden movement would startle his friend away forever, John raised his aching left hand and gently swept his fingertips through Sherlock's hair. Rubbing the pad of his thumb over his fingertips, the doctor discovered the absence of blood. He gasped at the physical confirmation. "Sherlock."
"That's right, can you tell me who you are?"
"Doctor John Watson. I live at 221b Baker Street, London. You are Sherlock Holmes, and you were never actually dead, which I am still cross with you about." John shuddered as he continued his slow and measured breathing.
Sherlock huffed out a laugh. "I deserved that. What can you tell me about your current condition?"
"I..." John squeezed his eyes shut, inhaled deeply enough that his cracked ribs punished him with shooting pain. "I am not currently being held captive?"
"Are you asking me or telling me?"
John hesitated. "Uhm, telling you?" Sherlock rolled his eyes. "It's dark in here, and I couldn't see you, but I know you just rolled your eyes. Your disdain is practically audible."
"Welcome back, John," Sherlock laughed sincerely that time. "Now stop stalling, what can you tell me of your condition?"
"Fine. Concussion. Black eyes. Split lip. Right clavicle broken. Right shoulder dislocated, twice. Broken index and middle fingers on right hand. Sprained left wrist. Six cracked ribs. Bruised spleen and liver. Sprained right knee and ankle. Indentation of a pool cue across my back. Nearly two hours past due for pain meds. Desperately in need of about a thousand hours of sleep and a cup of tea." John grinned. "Oh, and I am currently sleeping in your room because you felt guilty that you let Vincent Spaulding get away from you on Sunday night."
"Alright. Nobody likes a show off," Sherlock relaxed enough to sit back on his heels. He reached across John and clicked on the lamp. "Do you remember what the dream was about? I... it seemed so real to you, but you never mentioned having been taken captive."
John laughed, "Really? It's practically a monthly occurrence."
"In Afghanistan, John. Not here, there. I didn't think you had been a prisoner of war."
"I'm sorry, I knew what you meant," John paused. "I wasn't. But there was one encounter, and I think, maybe it's possible my brain used that situation as a point of reference when I thought I was tied up here. It was supposed to be a routine sweep through the village, but about an hour before we arrived some local kids had stumbled upon an IED. I don't have any idea what they thought they were doing, but they tried to get it out of the road, and it detonated. A few were killed instantly, several were injured by the flying shrapnel. Most of the families in the village wanted nothing to do with the insurgents and the fighting, but when those kids died, it broke something in those people. All those farmers and merchants, they all had guns and things, just for protection, but they stormed the houses they knew the insurgents were hiding in, and started this insane firefight. By the time we arrived, it looked like there had been a massacre. The civilians took out several very bad guys, but that little village sustained a lot of damage, and a lot of really good men died that day."
John stifled a sob and squeezed his eyes tight shut. "God Sherlock, it was horrific. Worst thing I've ever seen. These weren't soldiers, or militants. These were regular people, driven to the brink by hopelessness. But God, I was so proud of them. We all were. We stood there in the streets, crying like little girls, because these men, with no training, no body armor, nothing but their honor, stormed the enemy stronghold. And they were successful. Sure they sustained losses, and a few of the insurgents got away, but they took back their homes."
Sherlock sat perfectly still, content to let John continue his story. In five years, this was the most his friend had ever opened up about any of his experiences. He realized he had never removed his hand from John's shoulder, he gave him a gentle pat, hoping John would realize he was encouraging him to keep going. John gasped, clearly having forgotten about Sherlock's hand as well, but to the detective's surprise, John simply placed his left hand on top of Sherlock's and gently patted his hand in return.
"Once we were past the initial shock, the medics and I started assessing injuries, and set up a makeshift triage. Of those who rushed into the firefight, there weren't many survivors, but we were all determined to save as many as we could. I was knelt over a man, checking his vitals, and had called for a medic. Someone walked up behind me, and I just assumed..." John huffed a disgusted laugh, "Yeah, I assumed it was my guy. Such an idiot. Suddenly I had a gun to my head, and was being dragged backwards and into a very unsafe looking building. It happened so fast, I couldn't get to my service weapon, and no one even noticed I was gone at first. The door was barricaded shut, and then the man with the gun let me loose. An old woman grabbed my hand. She dragged me into another room, and laying there on the floor were these two kids. From what I could gather, they were there when the IED went off. There wasn't anything I could do to save their boys, especially since my kit was still out in the street, but I started working them over anyway, just to put the family at ease."
Another shaky breath, and John tightened his fingers around Sherlock's. "I wanted to save them. God, I tried so hard. But one of them was already dead by the time I got to him, and the other wasn't far behind. I did everything I could. And then... then everything went to hell. God." John hesitated, and forced himself to breathe slowly. "The room we were in had an exterior window, and despite having thought to barricade the door, the family didn't think to cover the windows. By that point everyone noticed I was gone, and had fanned out. The guys who found me... Davies and Wright... Just two of the best guys you could ever hope to meet. Excellent soldiers. From their vantage point, all they could see was me knelt on the ground and a slightly hysterical guy who might-or-might-not-have-been an insurgent with a big gun. One shout from them to hit the deck, and they opened fire. Completely decimated the place. I was laying over top of these two dead kids, screaming for them to stop, but all they heard was me shouting, so they just kept firing until everyone in the house was dead."
"Everyone but you," Sherlock whispered.
"Yeah," John replied, his voice dull. "They basically had to drag me out of there kicking and screaming. I mean it literally, I was crying and screaming, and fighting every step. The guys could tell I wasn't injured, but I was so bloody hysterical, they dragged me to one of the trucks and had to restrain me. One of the medics sedated me, and I remember being more angry about that than I had ever been about anything else in my entire life."
"Always the difficult patient," Sherlock quipped softly, with no malice intended.
John laughed despite himself. "I guess you could say that. God. I hadn't thought about that for years." With a sniff, John resumed his measured breathing.
"You blame yourself for their deaths."
John exhaled sharply. "Yeah...yes I do."
"Despite being forced at gunpoint into an unsafe situation."
"Indeed, John. You. You habitually do this. You torment yourself with guilt for situations that are completely beyond your control. You weren't even there when those boys triggered that explosive device! And isn't that what started the whole chain of events? Teenagers doing stupid things! Grown men with no fighting experience then made conscious decisions to enter into a gun fight with professional killers. And in an effort to ease the suffering they brought upon themselves, you were taken at gunpoint and forced into locked quarters. You had no guarantee that once that man realized those boys were dead that he wouldn't have killed you too. I would genuinely like to meet this Davies and Wright, and thank them myself for getting you out of there alive."
"You're right. I know you're right. And that, just... pisses me off. God. Can't even have a decent nightmare without you and your pompous self interfering and proving my subconscious wrong," John snipped, though the corners of his mouth quirked up ever so slightly.
"Your subconscious has a way of being rather dimwitted. If you're not going to do anything about it, someone has to," Sherlock countered with a grin.
"This is all your fault anyway, you know that right? I heard you come in here. Don't deny it, you were trying to wake me up."
"Ah..." Sherlock tried to pull his hand away from John's shoulder. John tightened his grip.
"You watched the end of the video, yeah? I told you, didn't I? Greg smoked, I cried, and we didn't talk anymore."
"You didn't tell me everything," Sherlock whispered, finally extracting his hand from John's.
"The phone call." John sighed.
"Yes. I want to know about the phone call."
"I guess you've already searched the folder, made a few connections?" John asked, sounding very weary.
"I have," Sherlock concurred.
John sighed once again. "Okay. Here's what we'll do. I'm going to take some pain medication and take a shower, because I feel God awful right now. Then you're going to help me put all these binding and braces and nonsense back on, make the tea, and bring out those scones Mrs. Hudson made. Then, and only then, will I discuss the phone call. We can watch the next videos then too. Satisfactory?"
"All except for the parts where I have to wait patiently and then do things," Sherlock crossed his arms in a mock pout, then winked rakishly.
"Get out of here, you idiot," John pulled a pillow from behind his head and swung it at Sherlock's head.
"Fine, fine, I'll go. But just know, if you weren't already gravely injured, you'd be sorry you swung that pillow. That's a battle for another day. Just you wait, Captain Watson."
John threw the pillow at Sherlock's head with a laugh. "Out!"
"Right. But if you need anything, just shout. I'll be upstairs pilfering through your belongings," Sherlock shouted through the door.
"Just be mindful of the booby traps," John deadpanned. There was a brief pause, and John wasn't certain that Sherlock was still standing outside the door.
"Really?" Sherlock sounded positively giddy.
"I guess there's only one way to find out" John laughed as he heard his flat mate practically trip over himself as he rushed up the stairs to invade his privacy. A glance at the clock on the bedside table revealed it was only 5:52 AM. John grumbled. Only four to eight more weeks of recovery to go.