Original Story Title: The Cure is Worse
Original Story Link: http://brighteyed-jill.livejournal.com/85700.html
Original Story Pairings: Sherlock/John (ish)
Original Story Rating: PG-13
Original Story Warnings: mention of drug addiction
Remix Story Title: The Cure is Worse (The First Do No Harm Remix)
Remix Author: greywash
Remix Beta: airynothing
Remix Britpicker: torakowalski
Remix Story Pairings: John/Sherlock (ish), Clara/Harry
Remix Story Rating: PG-13
Remix Story Warnings: discussion of addiction issues and alcoholism, implied homophobia, wildly dysfunctional relationships.
Remix Story Summary: Sherlock breaks his own body on a regular basis, and John can't help but wonder if it's an experiment, from the way Sherlock watches John when he does it.
"The Cure is Worse (The First Do No Harm Remix)"
Harry is bright, honey-golden, untouchable. Harry swims competitively and plays lacrosse and does even better in her O-levels than expected, so their parents take them out to dinner at the sort of restaurant where their mum makes John wear shined shoes and the tie he wore to their grandmother's funeral. In four months, Harry will cut her hair up to her chin and then promptly start growing it out again, but they're not there yet. Tonight, she brushes it and brushes it until it shines and shines, and wears a dress that hits below her knees, and looks startling and strange, adult, foreign. Dad says Harry can bring two friends; she brings one, a slim, shy brunette light-years distant from the loud, boisterous girls whose shrieking laughter floats out from the upstairs window when John's out the back trying to fix the gears on his bike, again.
"Mum, Dad," Harry says, chin up, smile set, "this is Clara."
It's very nice to meet Clara. They're all just thrilled to meet Clara. Is Clara new at Harry's school? Oh, just moved from—from Germany, from Düsseldorf, how fascinating. Yes, Clara does speak German, fluently, in fact; French, too, but her dad was assigned to Montreal, not Paris, so not French the way John's mum speaks it. Clara wears a green print dress and her hair is cut short, blunt around her jaw, and she wears neat wire-rimmed glasses, flat shoes. John's parents can't fall over themselves hard enough to invite her into Harry's circle, because Harry is brilliant and talented and beautiful but they'd also like her to be polite and graceful and ladylike, and for years they've thought that was a lost cause. Clara, though, is polite and graceful and ladylike. Clara plays the oboe. Clara studies ballet. Clara wants to be a doctor, but she can't decide whether she wants to specialize in pediatrics or infectious disease.
Over dessert, John wonders, uncomfortably, if he might be in love.
That night, he stays up at his desk and stares out of the window and feels hot, ill-fitted to his skin, until just before one, when Harry sneaks in and shares the last three inches of her terrible celebratory whiskey, which makes everything worse. Harry lies on his bed with her feet on his pillow and waits until he's leaning all the weight of his head on his palm, his spine feeling limp, loose, useless, and then she says in her whiskey-slow voice, rough with the cigarettes she thinks no one else can smell, "Clara."
John blinks at her, lizard-slow and sun-warm, and nods.
"I think she's my girlfriend," Harry admits, and then laughs, and looks over at him. She has come back down to earth, hair tangled, frizzing out around her flushed face, and she looks like his sister again, sixteen and uncertain.
She asks, "John?"
He blinks until his skin starts working again, and then pushes up unsteadily to his feet and says, "Water. I'll get it."
John's a private person, so he hasn't much trouble respecting that in others, as a general rule. All anyone has wanted him to do since coming home is talk, it seems, until John doesn't feel like he has any privacy even inside his own head, but even knowing how much he dislikes being the target of other people's invasive curiosity, he still can't help himself from becoming its perpetrator. Sherlock is tall, infuriating, bizarre. Rude. Immature. Funny. Brilliant. Sherlock draws people's attention—like the earth draws the moon and the moon draws the tides. Sherlock isn't handsome, exactly, but Sherlock is alluring, in the way that unbeautiful women are sometimes alluring. Sherlock breaks his own body on a regular basis, and John can't help but wonder if it's an experiment, from the way Sherlock watches John when he does it.
If I put my hand on his wrist, John reminds himself, I would feel his pulse. If I touched his chest, I would feel it rise and fall with his breath. If I put my fingers inside his mouth, I would feel him running at a healthy 37 degrees. John doesn't do any of these things; that would be inexcusable. But he watches Sherlock watching him and not sleeping, not eating, alternately manic with uncatalogueable thrills and dejected in stillness on the sofa, and John thinks, If I put my hand on his wrist, if I touched his chest, if I put my fingers inside his mouth.
John is curious.
Sherlock has a history with drugs that he doesn't mention, and a present with nicotine that he appears to believe is harmless. Sherlock is standing against the wall in the kitchen, left sleeve rolled above the elbow, right hand pressing down on two nicotine patches. Two patches is better than three, but not as good as one; zero would be worrisome, because John has been around long enough to not be able to keep himself from wondering what would replace it.
John makes himself tea and asks about the case. Sherlock asks about the weather.
Sherlock's eyes are closed, head tipped back against the wall. His adam's apple sticks out from the line of his throat. It's interesting, as nicotine addictions go, because Sherlock doesn't smoke—or, more accurately, he rarely smokes; John knows it's rarely and not never because despite Sherlock's arguments to the contrary, non-smokers can in fact smell cigarette smoke far better than smokers can—and John's had more smokers than he can count tell him that the hardest part of quitting is figuring out what else to do with your hands and your mouth. Sherlock appears to have largely got past that stage, but the nicotine patches still stick around, occasionally breeding. John wonders: if it isn't the mouth feel, the occupied fingers, the social lubricant of a shared activity (definitely not a social lubricant; in no way a shared activity), what is it, precisely? John has a hard time believing that Sherlock thinks he needs to be more up. Sherlock is up enough already.
Then again, Sherlock's definition of "normal" has always been a bit of a puzzle.
Sometimes John wonders if Sherlock has categorized chemical input as one of those wholly unnecessary necessary things his body demands, like oxygen or fluids or, very occasionally, sleep. He wants it, ergo, he must need it; the alternative would be that he doesn't need it, but desires it anyway, like other people desire sex or company or sugar in their tea. This is, John suspects, for Sherlock, a deeply horrifying thought.
"Have you tried to quit?" John asks, finally, the pressure of his curiosity sudden and overwhelming.
Sherlock finally opens his eyes, and John watches his pupils contract down to tiny, dark-deep pinpricks. John looks away. Sherlock's eyes bother him; they make him seem so much more alien than he actually is. Sherlock tells John, "Don't be ridiculous," and John is enough ashamed of himself for asking to concede.
John clears his throat. "Why do you ask about the rain?"
"The mud on the floor mat," Sherlock says, voice low and far away, and John feels the ghost of a shiver ripple down his spine.
John remembers. He nods, even though Sherlock isn't looking at him.
Sherlock pushes off the wall and says, "Let's go," so they go.
No one stays with their first love. Everyone knows that.
But Harry hasn't ever thought that the rules applied to her, and—more obnoxiously—she's usually right. She shoplifts and never gets caught and gets 90% in classes where she's never even purchased the textbook and picks up men in pubs when Clara's visiting her parents in Boston, Barcelona, Seoul, just so she can abandon them on the Tube and tell Clara all about it later: he was a stockbroker, a professor, a barrister; he was nothing next to you. Harry taught John to cheat at cards but never taught him how to properly play, so that John got his eye blacked the first time he tried to play with his mates from school; Harry showed John how to play sober while drinking just up to the very edge of consciousness without ever pointing out that there was anything in between. And Harry is devoted to Clara, in ways that John wishes he didn't understand; Harry has learned at least two-thirds of Clara's university material, despite the enormous conceptual gap between finance and medicine, just so she can help Clara study at the weekends.
But Harry's never been easy to get on with, and she and Clara have fights, make up, have fights again; when things are bad, Harry comes home, plays sober, falls down. When she can't do it herself, which is usually, John pours her into her pink-frilled single bed and slips off her shoes, gets her water, painkillers. In the morning he makes extra eggs and toast and he and their dad and Harry sit around the table in sharp-edged silence and eat and say nothing. These days Harry doesn't talk to their dad when she's sober, and their dad talks to her too much when he's drinking. John looks for student flatshares for autumn term and tries not to find himself standing in the middle.
In August, Clara throws Harry out of the flat and dumps all of Harry's things down into the alley. Harry leaves them there and comes home; three hours later, she is telling John, "I'm going to marry her," crisp and angular in the way she only is when she has just outdone herself and it's sneaking up on her (slurred speech, poor coordination, pending unconsciousness—all yes, but not yet). "I'm going to marry her," Harry tells John, over and over and over again, and even then, even in 1990, John feels the weight of her will like a prophecy. He never knows what to say, so he turns her on her side and pats her hip and leaves her bedroom door just open, leaves the light on in the hall, and shuffles down to use the phone.
"She's here," he tells Clara. "She's—not at her best, but—come by tomorrow. She'll be fine."
Clara sighs. She sounds older, worn out, tired. The work load is a bit—overwhelming, she had told him a year ago, in her soft alto, had asked, Are you sure this is what you want? but John is sure, John's always been sure, it's what he does, isn't it? Not saving people is as unthinkable to him as not breathing. But still, Clara is not quite twenty-one and sounds ten years older when she says, "Keep her on her side, make sure she has plenty of water, I'll come and fetch her in the morning," like John needs a medical degree to figure any of that out.
John spends the better part of the last few hours of the case fingering the folded-up nicotine patches that Sherlock had peeled off his arm in the cab and handed over to John like John had some plan for disposing of them that was more magical than, Find a bin, toss them away. John doesn't toss them away, even though he should; instead, he keeps them, tucked into his pocket, where his fingers brush them every time he goes for his phone. They make his skin tingle; he doesn't think it's because of the nicotine.
In the morning, there's a package of kelp in the sink. It took John less than a month to figure out when not to ask, so he doesn't ask, just pushes it aside and runs some water for the kettle.
John can see Sherlock out of the corner of his eye: on the sofa as usual, tucked under the green crocheted blanket that Mrs. Hudson had given John when she saw how little he had to move in. John sets the kettle down and leans back against the counter, examining Sherlock at a distance. Sherlock's hair is greasy, his face pinched and greyish above the blanket. His mouth is crooked at the corners and fat at the middle, miserable looking. He's even more unwashed than usual, and John wonders if this is its own kind of experiment. Query: how long does it take a single consulting detective to stink up an entire two-bedroom flat? How long will it be before his lack of personal hygiene achieves a state where his effluvia start to burn holes in John's favorite blanket?
"You look a mess," John tells him, because that is a statement of fact; it leads to an argument, because that's what happens when someone other than Sherlock Holmes finds themselves in possession of a fact.
In the end, Sherlock flings off John's blanket—blue dressing gown; grey jogging bottoms, the pair with the hole at the cuff; one of John's undershirts, and really, they really need to have another chat about what is and is not communal property—and makes a break for the door. He doesn't seem to notice his bare feet, just calls "I'm going out" from the top of the stairs and keeps going, so John gets out a cup and the tea and listens as Sherlock heads all the way down the stairs, pauses, then comes back up again. Sherlock's face is stormy when he asks, "Why have you taken my coat?"
If I put my hand on his wrist, John remembers, I would feel his pulse. If I touched his chest, I would feel it rise and fall with his breath. If I put my fingers inside his mouth, I would feel him running at a healthy 37 degrees. John hasn't, in fact, taken his coat; it's sliding off the far arm of Sherlock's chair, puddling on the floor. Under the circumstances, John has no guilt about using Sherlock's flawed conclusions for his own purposes. He says, "I'll return it if you let me help you."
Sherlock sneers at him. "What makes you think I need your help?"
Your greasy hair, John wants to tell him. The way you steal my clothes when you're in a strop. John thinks it wouldn't take a lot of effort on his part to provide an effective distraction. He could explain bad telly, or drag Sherlock out to snark at a film, or challenge Sherlock to cards and cheat until Sherlock catches him, because Sherlock will never settle for the mediocre and as a result, John's cheating is improving by leaps and bounds.
"You look a mess," John repeats, because right now, Sherlock's shoulders are tensed, sloped up; when John's go like that, he goes for long walks, has a lager, picks up girls in pubs; so, walk or lager, then, John thinks. Personally, John'd rather keep Sherlock here in Baker Street, fixed in one place; it's so much easier to keep track of him when he's not at large in London. John has lager in the fridge, though, if Sherlock would just stop picking at him long enough to give John the opportunity to suggest it.
"And you can fix me, can you," Sherlock says, low and rough, which is one of those questions that John never knows how to answer.
In December, Clara's mum falls ill, and Clara takes leave from the hospital and goes to Sydney to look after her, and as soon as he hears about it John feels something very like foreboding prickling at the backs of his eyeballs, across the tops of his shoulders. John's still doing his foundation training, still shaky enough on his feet that he doesn't like to admit it, and he tells himself without quite believing it that what he'll miss most is running into Clara in the canteen.
It's nine days before Harry calls John's flat. George picks up, presses the mouthpiece against his shirt and says, "John, your sister," face blank, as John pushes himself up out of the sofa to come over and take it. Neither George nor Brian much likes Harry; Rob, Brian's predecessor in the bedroom opposite John's, did like Harry, but mostly because he'd liked the idea of Harry and Clara together rather too much. John takes the phone and listens, hums in all the right places, head ducked down, while George makes himself scarce and then tries to sound something vaguely like surprised when John knocks on his door to tell him he's going out.
John spends that night on Harry and Clara's sofa, which has only six months to live, though none of them knows that yet; he spends the night after that on the floor outside the loo, because Harry, who is almost as tall as him and every bit as solid, is passed out on her side in front of the toilet with her hair spilling all over the tiled floor. By Monday morning, she's all right again; she stays all right until Thursday night, and on Friday morning, John calls the office for her.
"Flu," he explains, twisting the cord of the telephone around his finger, and then, spine stiffening against the snideness at the end of the line, "As a matter of fact, I am a doctor."
It's almost a month before John says it, head tipped back against the wall as he mumbles, "You can't keep doing this, you can't keep doing this to me, Harry," and Harry, for once, hears the important part, edits in his favor, and spits into the toilet and then mumbles, "I know. You'll help, won't you?"
By the time John packs her onto the plane for the funeral, she's been sober for seven weeks.
When John comes down in the morning, Sherlock's still in the kitchen: clammy, grey-faced and badly in need of a wash. He doesn't protest when John makes them both tea or takes his pulse, doesn't even argue with John when John implies that Sherlock might be experiencing something not unlike withdrawal. It's progress of a kind, John supposes.
Sherlock tells him, "I could live without the influence of chemical substances, but I choose not to."
John licks his lips and says nothing.
The tea brews. Then John splashes the milk in and hands Sherlock his cup and says, "I suppose I should be grateful it's nothing stronger."
"Yes," Sherlock agrees.
John picks up his cup and takes a sip, and Sherlock says, "John. Give me your phone."
John swallows, then reaches into his pocket. His fingers brush against the folded nicotine patches, but he's careful to leave them put when he hands it over. Sherlock's fingers are cold; his circulation is terrible.
Sherlock looks down at the phone, types quickly, then taps a few times without saying anything—reading John's sent messages, no doubt—then hands it back over. John tucks it back into his pocket and doesn't comment. He has nothing to hide.
"Hungry?" John asks. He's thinking about the eggs.
"Don't eat the eggs," Sherlock tells him, "they've been injected with dioxin," and then stretches, the long line of his back cracking twice as he shifts his spine.
If I put my hand on his wrist, John thinks, I would feel his pulse. If I touched his chest, I would feel it rise and fall with his breath. If I put my fingers inside his mouth, I would feel him running at a healthy 37 degrees.
"I'm headed out," Sherlock says. "If you'll return my coat."
"On your chair," John tells him, and takes another sip of tea. "Or, well—the floor, probably, by now."
Sherlock narrows his eyes, mouth hardening, so John sets his own tea down and goes and gets Sherlock's coat, mainly to forestall whatever tantrum Sherlock's got brewing this time. He helps slide it on over Sherlock's shoulders, telling him uselessly, "I'm not your valet," then wraps Sherlock's scarf around his throat, which is always warmer than John expects, trembling a little with the movement of his blood.
Sherlock's lips part, just barely. John drops his fingers and looks up from Sherlock's mouth and tells him, "I'm not your houseboy," and Sherlock murmurs, "I know," and when John steps back, once, twice, Sherlock turns, and hurries down the stairs.
John comes to measure his life in weeks-long chunks. Occasionally, the tally goes up to a point where it can be measured in months, but not often; if John thought that the army would give him new markers, new start points and end points, he's half wrong. It does give him new start points and end points, but John always still seems to know just where Harry falls, in any case.
"She's doing better," Clara always says; in Clara's world, Harry is always doing better; so John reads the truth from her tone and thinks, Four days; let's see if it lasts the weekend, or Nine weeks, that's good, that's better than usual, or, Reset, and hold, and keeps his voice even, not giving anything away as he always congratulates Clara, because Harry is, as always, doing better.
In fifteen years, twelve of them living together, Clara has thrown Harry out exactly twice: that one time just before John started uni, and again, ten years later, after a dinner party of which they will never speak; it happens to be when John is home on leave, which means there's an awkward forty-eight hours where John is sleeping on his sister's ex-girlfriend's sofa while his sister screams through the door and calls the house incessantly, and then another three days of John staying with Harry in her too-posh hotel, trying not to tally up the pounds as he empties the bottles in the minibar down the sink while Harry's sleeping, because it won't stop her but at least it'll slow her down. On the fourth day, Clara comes round in tears to apologize. Clara is a beautiful woman but tears don't flatter her; she blubbers, red-eyed and snotty, into Harry's golden hair and apologizes and apologizes and apologizes.
In fifteen years, Harry has left Clara more times than John can count; she always comes back. Clara always apologizes for those times, too.
Sherlock is gone for hours. John bins the eggs, then picks up his blanket, which smells like sweat and Sherlock's unwashed hair. John doesn't even try to pretend he doesn't react to that; Sherlock draws John's attention like the earth draws the moon and the moon draws the tides; Sherlock isn't handsome, exactly, but Sherlock is alluring, in the way that unbeautiful women are sometimes alluring, and John smells evidence of the corporeality of Sherlock's body and feels all the cells in his blood, churning and tumbling inside his vascular walls. John licks his lips and stuffs the blanket into the wash and opens all the windows.
If I put my hand on his wrist, John tries not to remind himself, I would feel his pulse. If I touched his chest, I would feel it rise and fall with his breath. If I put my fingers inside his mouth, I would feel him running at a healthy 37 degrees. The appeal, of course, is undeniable, but John isn't going to do those things. John mostly knows better than to do those things. John knows that the best thing to do would be to go back up to his room and close the door and lie back and breathe through his mouth, careful and silent, thinking about his hands on Sherlock's wrist, on Sherlock's chest, inside Sherlock's mouth, and other things that will never happen. He knows that if he is wise, he will take what time and space he needs to let himself re-coalesce around the certain and solid knowledge of the danger inside his desire, as he has done before, as he will do again.
John knows that Sherlock needs a distraction; John's needed them himself, at times: telly, film, cards, walks, lager, girls. He thinks he could probably use one now. If I put my fingers inside his mouth, I would feel him running at a healthy 37 degrees.
John breathes out and blinks, twice. "Not likely," he tells himself telling no one at all, and then rinses out his cup, and heads up the stairs.
John had first heard the news coming off a fourteen-hour shift in surgery (the corporal would, eventually, regain some sensation above the knee, but John hadn't been hopeful at the time). At the time, John had been confused, exhausted, unthinking about the inevitable consequences, so the next time he got to a computer, he had had three emails, all of which were a surprise. The first was from Harry, with too many capital letters, spelling even more haphazard than usual; the second was from Clara, with a proper announcement and a date and a tentative, unhopeful request, sent the next morning.
The third was from their dad.
War has taught John to be grateful for small mercies. In August, their dad has a stroke, and Harry has always been impatient; so the next time John spends his leave in London, it's all a fait accompli: one grave marker, two rings. I won't go, their dad had said to John, in his email a year ago; he had said, Your mother wouldn't've stood for any of this, but that hadn't been true enough to be obvious to anyone but their dad, and more importantly, their dad hadn't said any of it to Harry.
So John goes home at the tail end of March, and he keeps his mouth shut, and he smiles. In December, he had sent them a present he got his unit's anesthesiologist to pick out for him online, and they tell him they love it; he doesn't remember what it was, so he lets them pick the restaurant and then takes them out for dinner. These days, Clara looks like a woman in a magazine: slim lines even slimmer, cheekbones sharp, eyes wide and shadowed; her mobile mouth flushed, her skin shockingly pale. Harry seems great, entertaining as always. She drops her fork twice and laughs at herself, self-deprecating, her hands still just barely shaking. John doesn't notice what she's drinking.
John isn't staying with them—not for personal reasons; just because they have two cats (he's developed an allergy) and a sofa with weird, creamy-colored, untouchable upholstery. It always makes John's back hurt, so instead he stays one night in a terrible hotel and then he gets back on a plane, after spending less than fifteen hours in London, to go back to getting shot at; to protecting people he cares about less and likes better. There's no point in staying any longer.
Twenty years, John thinks, and the universe as yet and always bending to Harry Watson's will; twenty years, and here he is, and Harry and Clara, of course, have their forever.
John hopes without hoping that it'll be happy.
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