It wasn't John's fault. Not at all. And Sherlock didn't blame him. The man couldn't possibly understand. He couldn't know what bringing the red-haired puppy to Bakers Street would do to the detective.
When John came through the front door and shook off his wet boots, Sherlock listened from his position on the couch, unmoving. Something was off about the noises he made. It wasn't the typical sounds, which usually went as follows:
Slide off the coat. Hang up on the rack. Close the door. Jangle his keys. Bang boots on the door mat. Sniff. Jog up the stairs. Thump, thump, thump, thump.
And John wondered how Sherlock always knew it was him…
But this time, it was different.
Door open. Close. Jangling like keys, but also with a flapping sound. John's voice. 'Sorry girl, I know it's wet out there...' More jangling. John's footsteps followed by a quick set of feet with sharp nails that clipped on the wood.
Wondering, Sherlock frowned and got to his feet. The kitchen screamed at him, water evaporated, the molecules in gas form.
In other words, the tea was ready. Sighing, Sherlock ran a hand through his hair and carefully silenced the steam. Pick up. Pour into his cup. Exactly seven centimeters from the tip. Lots of sugar. Lots.
He didn't bother responding. John wouldn't expect him to anyway. Wrap hands around the cup. Warm fingers.
"Sherlock? Are you here? I brought something home…" John trailed off and shut the door of the flat. Quiet murmurings, "Yeah? You like it here? Wait until you see the fridge. You might change your mind…"
Deciding not to play quiet any longer, Sherlock exhaled dramatically. Bored. "You brought a dog home, John? How…" He debated for a moment before settling on a word. "sentimental."
Hearing his voice in the kitchen, John peeked in with an annoyed expression. "I'm not going to even ask how you knew it was a dog."
Sherlock rolled his eyes. Took a sip of his tea. Mint.
Sighing, John glanced back into the living room and then at Sherlock again. "I'm still deciding, Sherlock, but she's a brilliant breed, according to Anthea. And I, well, I like her."
Sherlock blinked. Anthea? Who was Anthea? He ran a quick cross reference search in his mind and came up blank for several seconds.
But then he found her and every sense of calm fled.
Oh. Yes. Right.
Anthea was a fake name that Mycroft's assistant gave John. Sherlock realized what his brother had surely done. But Mycroft wouldn't do it, would he? Would he dare?
Of course, he would.
Setting his cup of tea onto the counter deliberately, Sherlock gulped thickly. Composure. This was a test. He knew them well enough to smell it from a mile away.
"Why would Anthea give you dog breed advice, John?" he asked distantly. Got to look. Can't react.
This made John stop for a moment. He opened his mouth and closed it again. "Well, I ran into her and she just sort of mentioned it in passing. I didn't really think at the time, but now that you mention it, it is a bit odd..."
Slowly, Sherlock stepped forward so he could see the front door, his heart hammering.
And there she was.
The puppy sat on her haunches and cocked her head at him. Her crimson fur stood in stark contrast to the room around them. A red Irish Setter.
"Sherlock?" John spoke.
Sherlock didn't respond. He couldn't because at that moment if he opened his mouth he wasn't sure what would come out.
Composure. Don't think about it. Shut it out.
She wasn't the same dog, that was obvious, but she looked so blooming similar and it was killing him.
"Sherlock? What's wrong?" John was concerned now. Sherlock could hear it in his voice; see it in the way his eyebrows furrowed.
But no matter how much he wished he could shake everything off, Sherlock was frozen. Don't think. Don't move. Don't panic. Control. Need control.
Suddenly the world zoomed back into action and Sherlock stumbled backwards. He couldn't do this. Not in front of John.
"Nothing, John. It's nothing," he heard himself say. It was definitely was not and both men knew it.
Confusion came crashing down on his friend and John moved to pet the slightly wet puppy. "If you don't want her, it's fine, I can just take her back. Get a new different sort of dog…"
Now Mrs. Hudson was drawn by the noise. "Is that a dog I hear?" Her voice floated up the stairs.
Sherlock wasn't listening to anyone. He threw on his shoes, snagged his coat and raced out the door. Run down the stairs. Get away. Have to get away. Push past Mrs. Hudson. She squealed in shock.
Then the door opened and Sherlock slammed it behind him. In the flat, John stared open-mouthed. "What was that about?" he muttered. Should he go after him?
By this time, Mrs. Hudson made it up the stairs. She took one look at the red puppy and went white. "Oh dear."
"What?" He made for the door, but she grabbed John's arm.
"No, John. Let him go."
Outside, Sherlock buttoned up his coat as much as he could and shoved his hands into his pockets. The coat kept him separate, distant; a visual image of his mental expectations. Wandering, Sherlock found himself in an empty alley. Around him, the rain fell in buckets, drenching him to the skin. He didn't care. The cold distracted him. Kept him from thinking.
Keep walking, circles and circles. Control. Composure.
But it wasn't working, not well enough, and Sherlock knew it. Suddenly furious, he picked up a brick and threw it as hard as he could against the wall. It clunked and lay still.
"Pathetic," he whispered through his teeth, eyes dark. "Pathetic, weak, tiny thing. Can't take it; can't even look at her."
Anger welled up in his throat and Sherlock slammed his fist against the brick wall of the alley. He deserved the pain, Sherlock figured. He needed to be punished. Useless. Slam!Pathetic. Slam! Pitiful. Slam! Stupid idiot! He punched the wall again, and again, faster and faster until his fists bled and his breath came in unsteady gasps.
"Never been strong enough," he said to himself, "Can't do it."
Sherlock couldn't distance himself. Not as much as he needed too. He didn't want to feel anything, but instead, he was too weak. So weak that the sight of a certain dog breed brought him into this much of a fury. That dog was how it all began...
Tired now, Sherlock rested his forearm against the wall and his forehead against that. Fists tightly bound. Coat squeezing his ribs. Breath ragged.
Doggone it. Why couldn't he just be normal? Why was he like this, halfway in-between? Not separate, but not quite a part of the human race either. It hurt and that just made Sherlock furious because he didn't want to feel anything at all and he was and there was nothing he could do to stop himself.
Deep breath. In. Out. Calm.
His heart slowly thumped, back in time with its normal beat. Shivering, he unclenched his fists and stuck them in his pockets. They shook and he hated it. Anger made his eyes shine and without a word, Sherlock exited the alley.
The way he looked now, all fury and storm and cold, the world would be glad he took pleasure in solving crime instead of causing it because he'd be an awfully terrifying criminal.
It was time he paid brother dear a visit…
"What the heck, Mycroft," Sherlock spat.
"Most people just say 'hello'," Mycroft muttered in response, "but I suppose you're not most people." Mycroft stood by the window of his large living room and didn't bother turning to the detective. He could see Sherlock's face perfectly fine in the glass reflection. The fireplace cast deep shadows over the two brothers' faces, accenting the younger's exhaustion and pain.
All at once, Sherlock surged forward and knocked Mycroft against the window. In an instant, he had Mycroft's elbow bent backwards at an awkward and painful angle. "Do you remember, Mycroft?" he whispered harshly, "Do you remember holding me like this for three hours so I'd learn how to keep myself from crying?"
Mycroft scoffed, not showing his discomfort. "It was not three hours."
"It definitely was. Don't divert the subject." Sherlock pulled his elbow up higher and Mycroft stifled a groan.
"Well, you learned, didn't you?"
Snorting, Sherlock shook his head slowly. "I never asked you to do this to me," he growled.
"Do what, Sherlock? Try to be specific, if you can. My little test or-?"
"You know perfectly well what I'm referring too,"
And Mycroft did. He scowled and rolled his eyes at his brother's furious reflection. "Don't do that, Sherlock. You practically begged me to teach you after that stupid dog up and died-"
"I was a child," Sherlock interrupted harshly, his voice barely a whisper, "How could I know what it meant?"
Mycroft shrugged, which had to be painful given the position his elbow was in. "About the test, Sherlock," he murmured, eyes locked with his sibling's reflection, "You failed."
Disgusted, Sherlock pushed away from his brother and stormed off a few feet. Straightening his coat, Sherlock stared out the dark window sightlessly. "You gave me a chance to stop feeling, a way to keep myself from being hurt…"
"But?" Mycroft prompted.
"But something is wrong, Mycroft." For a moment, the detective's voice slipped into something bordering on vulnerability and Mycroft caught a glimpse of the frightened child he used to be. "I'm stuck. A-a monster."
Slowly, Mycroft nodded and spun the tip of his umbrella on the white carpet. "I was wrong to try to teach you to separate yourself, Sherlock," he stated matter-of-factly, "You've always been too much of a slave."
Sherlock flinched. "I'm not a slave to anyone."
Mycroft ran his eyes up his younger brother's lithe form duly. Dark circles under his eyes. Hair wet from the rain."No," he spoke slowly, consenting, "I pity you, Sherlock. You're slave to no one but yourself. And that is something I can't free you from."
"I hate you."
"The feeling is mutual," Mycroft stared out the window and clenched his jaw. "But what does any of it matter? Redbeard is dead and you're a grown man, Sherlock. You can't go back."
Sherlock's eyes flicked from the window to Mycroft and back to the window again, fists clenched.
Mycroft snorted. "What? You're not actually thinking of trying?"
"Of course not."
Another incredulous snort left Mycroft's lips and he turned toward Sherlock. "Even if you wanted you to, Sherlock, you're sick and there isn't a cure. It's been too long."
And it had been. Years upon years of pulling back, of hiding within himself, it was an addiction he couldn't run from. It was too late, Sherlock knew. He was broken; not separate like Mycroft; not connected like John. But if he could learn somehow…
No. It wasn't possible.
Wrinkling his nose, Mycroft made his way to a small table and poured himself a small glass of red wine. "1938," he murmured as he sipped, "brilliant year…"
Sherlock sighed, no longer angry. Just tired. Defeated. No one could help him. He was going to be alone forever. Sick, like Mycroft said.
There was silence for several seconds as Mycroft drank. "If you're sick, it's a good thing," he spoke absently, "that you live with a doctor…"
Sherlock stiffened. Shut his eyes. Opened them again. "Are you suggesting-?"
"Absolutely not..." But he was. Of all the things Mycroft could have said, Sherlock wasn't expecting that. "You just said yourself," Sherlock muttered bitterly, wonderingly, "it's too late."
Mycroft shrugged. Took a sip of wine. "Probably."
Probably. Probably, indeed. But probably wasn't definitely and Sherlock was stunned. Backing away, he stared curiously at Mycroft. This was another test. It had to be.
However, Mycroft continued to look him in the eye, the slightest hint of sadness buried in their depths. Pity. Pity for the thing he had created.
Sherlock hated pity and suddenly he didn't want to look at it anymore.
Mycroft couldn't help him. He was the one who got him into this mess; this psychological, self-hating, horrendous mess. No, Mycroft was no help at all. But perhaps there was someone else who could...
The buttons on Sherlock's coat kept the fabric snug on his body. It used to be a comfort, but now it felt like a cage. Gulping, Sherlock moved toward the door, not looking back. Mycroft let him. The door slammed shut and Sherlock's coat whisked around the corner.
Mycroft breathed in relief and shut his eyes.
"Did you do it?" Anthea. She stood by the door, cell phone in hand.
Carefully, Mycroft nodded. "I made a mistake when I chose to teach him, Anthea."
"And?" she prompted.
Sighing, Mycroft downed the rest of his glass of wine. "And now I believe I've just bought his freedom. I planted a thought in his mind. Although it is at the cost of our companionship, I'm afraid."
"How did you do it?" she asked.
Mycroft gulped. "I can't do anything."
"But you just said-"
"I know." Mycroft sighed. " I can't save him, but if there's anyone who can, it's that new flatmate of his, John Watson."
Sherlock stormed down the street. He paid the cabbie moments before and Bakers Street was only a block or two away. He could have had the cabbie bring him to his doorstep, but Sherlock wanted time to think before he returned.
Could he do it? Could even think of opening up even just a little?
Would that fix him? Probably not. It would take years before the outside observer ever noticed a difference. Sherlock knew he couldn't let everyone in. That was too fast, too frightening. He didn't want to get hurt.
But somewhere inside, Sherlock knew that even if he did get hurt, it would be worth it if it meant not living in this place; this lonely, empty, dull world where he always fought against himself and his emotions.
Reaching Bakers Street, Sherlock opened the door and raced lightly up the steps. Inside the flat, John sat in his chair, typing on his computer. He glanced up at Sherlock with obviously restrained curiosity and concern. Mrs. Hudson must have talked with him.
He'd know now. Mrs. Hudson was friends with Sherlock's mother. No doubt Mrs. Hudson knew all about Redbeard. She wouldn't hesitate to inform John about him and the affects his death had on a lonely child of nine years with a brother who was more than happy to teach him how not to feel anything at all.
Was feeling nothing at all any better than feeling pain? Sherlock wasn't sure anymore. With the pain came love and awe and laughter and joy and peace and security.
Those weren't emotions Sherlock knew how to feel anymore.
Glancing around the flat, he noted the absence of a certain puppy. "Where's the dog?" he asked.
John shrugged. "Wasn't working for me. I don't think I'm really a pet person..."
Cocking his head curiously, Sherlock let John's words roll over him. John didn't ask. He didn't try to talk. He just acted.
It was miraculous.
At that moment, Sherlock decided that he couldn't let the whole world in. No, not all at once. But perhaps just maybe, he could begin to let in John Watson. For the first time since he met John, Sherlock gave him a small smile; a real one, not a smirk. Carefully, he unbuttoned his coat so that it hung loosely on his shoulders and revealed the purple dress shirt beneath. Sighing, he let it slide off his shoulders and hung it up behind the door.
The coat didn't hug his chest anymore. He didn't need to block everything out. At least, Sherlock amended, he didn't need to block out John. "Thank you."
When the detective exited the room, he left John open-mouthed in surprise.
Perhaps Sherlock was sick, broken, but Mycroft was right. Sherlock lived with a doctor. The sick were John's area of expertise.