spock: logic is sexy

Sherlock Fic: A Most Uncomfortable Parallel

Title: A Most Uncomfortable Parallel
Characters/Pairing: John, Sherlock, Harry Watson
Category: Gen
Rating: Teen
Warnings: Drug and alcohol abuse
Summary: Sherlock Holmes has more in common with Harry Watson than he would like to admit.
Author's notes: Thank you to yeomanrand and spikeface for the quick and insightful betas readings. Written for non_canonical at sherlockmas



Part I
When Harry turns seventeen, she gets her license, and John makes her teach him how to drive. She is sitting on the chipped formica worktop in the kitchen, a can of Tetley's in her hand because it makes her feel grown-up even though John knows she doesn't like the taste.

“And why would I teach you how to drive?” she asks, trying – and failing – to glare down at him. John's getting taller these days, and they're almost the same height.

“I'll tell Mum and Dad about your girlfriends if you don't.”

He doesn't think they would actually care, but they would stop letting her have sleepovers, which is probably why Harry hasn't told them. Harry narrows her eyes like she's sizing him up, another failed attempt at looking older than she is. John hopes he doesn't look too pleased about the hint of respect in her gaze.

“Not girlfriends,” Harry says, “fuck buddies.”

John hates the way the top of his ears go red, and he hates Harry's crass laughter even more, but when she tosses him the keys, he catches them in the air.

***


By the time John is eighteen, Harry has her own flat, her own girlfriend, and her own job to pay her own bills. Naturally, she does not tire of reminding John of these things when she comes home to do her laundry, and John grits his teeth and does his best to ignore her. He could have a job -- a lot of his mates do -- but he's revising for his A-levels, and he intends to do better than Harry did before him.

“Do you ever notice that Harriet drinks an awfully lot these days?” his mother asks him, but John just shakes his head and goes back to his book. If he were done with these damned tests, if he had his own flat and got to make his own rules, he'd embrace the freedom too.

By the time he's done with his exams, Harry's stopped coming around so much for laundry. She says it's because her girlfriend's got a washing machine, but John thinks it's something else.

“You're the good one now, Johnny,” she says into the telephone, and John shifts awkwardly on his feet. If she were here, she would ruffle his hair to annoy him, and he'd roll his eyes. On the phone, he doesn't know what to say. Yes, I am, doesn't sound right, even though it's true. Always has been, as a matter of fact. He tries not to wonder why Harry talks to him more than their parents now, and when his mum asks if Harry's changed, he shakes his head.

“Harry's always been a bitch,” he says with a shrug and stuffs a bit of ham sandwich into his mouth.

“It's about time you stop admiring that about her,” his father says, but not without affection.

John would like to tell them that he doesn't admire Harry, but his mouth is too full of sandwich, and anyway, he's not sure why else he always rushes downstairs to answer her phone calls late at night before Mum and Dad.

“It's my girlfriend,” he always shouts up the stairs. When he hears his dad snoring again, he takes the keys from the hook by the door so he can collect Harry from wherever it is that she can't drive home from.

“You don't mind, do you, Johnny?” she asks, her beer breath blasting into his face. “Payback for all those driving lessons, eh?”

He manhandles her up the stairs to her flat and deposits her on the bed, where she promptly begins snoring. He leaves two paracetamol and a glass of cold water by her bed and turns her onto her left side because he'd read somewhere that was the right thing to do.

“You're a right pain in the arse,” he tells her, and it's only slightly less satisfying when she's asleep. To tell the truth, he does mind all these late night errands, but she's his sister. What else could he do?

Once he finds a glossy red pamphlet on the kitchen table. Ten Warning Signs of Alcoholism, the cover says. Inside, Harry has checked the little boxes next to “do you drink much more than your friends?” and “do you lie about your drinking?” It bothers him enough that he sleeps on the sofa in her living room, and over breakfast – which he cooks, naturally – he flicks it across the table at her.

“You're not, are you?” he asks, watching her face carefully.

“Not what?” she asks around a bite of scrambled eggs, and the intentional misunderstanding bothers him.

“An alcoholic.”

“Course not,” Harry says with such assurance that he has to believe her.

Just before his graduation, his mother tells him she knows he doesn't have a girlfriend and presses some pamphlets into his hand about alcoholics and enablers. John tells himself she's over reacting; Harry likes to party, that's all. He throws them in the bin with barely a glance at their glossy covers.

***


They drift so slowly that John doesn't realize it's happening. The drinking doesn't bother John as much as it bothers his Mum and Dad – he's young enough to have friends who like to party – but the differences in their personalities multiply as they get older. Harry is loud and crass where John is quiet and measured. Harry likes attention where John wants to fade into the background. When Harry breaks rules, she wants everyone to notice how brave and unconventional she is. John likes to break rules too, but he keeps his transgressions hidden and savors the jolt of adrenaline privately.

None of these differences would have been a problem if Harry didn't want to remake John in her own image. But for Harry, being the loudest, wildest person in the room is never enough; she needs to “liberate” everyone around her, most especially John. They settle into a pattern: they speak through their parents and tolerate each other at holidays. He misses her a little, but it's sort of like missing a lost tooth; you get used to the empty space after awhile. Loving someone isn't the same thing as liking them, after all.

But when John is twenty-five and Harry twenty-eight, they stand with linked arms at their parents' funeral. They are the only family either of them has left.

When Harry rings John on her birthday, her words are too slurred to understand. It's not the alcohol, or at least not just the alcohol. It's the tears. When John comes to her flat, her girlfriend's closet is empty and half the furniture's gone. He'd like to know when that happened – he'd thought she was being taken care of, for the moment at least, though none of her relationships seemed to last long – but it seems more urgent to pick Harry up off the floor and put her to bed. He leaves a glass of water and two paracetamol on her bedside table, just like old times.

Then he looks at the flat. Her empties are lined up in front of the glass sliding door, and he tosses them into the bin without counting. Too many, obviously, and that's all he cares to know. The kitchen's a disaster. Flour dusts nearly every flat surface, and a trail of dried cake batter leads to the oven. A wrecked cake sits on top of the stove, sunken in the middle and burned around the edges. On the worktop is a recipe card written in his mother's neat and orderly hand. Italian cream cake, Harry's favorite, the one Mum had always made for their birthdays. John dusts the flour off and slides the card into his shirt pocket, and then he gets a broom.

***


They do not exactly forge a relationship. John lets Harry take him out to dinner on his birthday, and they see each other at Christmas. He gives up trying to convince her not to drink and decides to drink with her, as best as he can keep up anyhow. Vaguely, he thinks his mother would be disappointed with his decision, but he can't bring himself to care much about the hypothetical opinion of a dead woman. Besides, he's got a sinking suspicion that Harry could drive anyone to drink.

She calls him sobbing when her latest girlfriend leaves, and he tends to her dutifully according to the old routine: turn her on her left side, leave the water and the pain medication on the bedside table. Clean up the pool of sick on the floor.

This time, though, she doesn't pass out, just watches John mutely as he bends over with a roll of paper towels. That's what breaks him.

“I can't do this anymore, Harry,” he says. “I really can't.”

“Then don't,” she answers. “I don't care.”

For years afterward, she will tell people that she drove her baby brother into the military, her face suffused with an equal mixture of pride and shame. The real truth, that she had nothing to do with it at all, would be too hard to bear.

***


She is at the airport years later when he comes home from Afghanistan, even though it's been ages since they've spoken and he doesn't remember telling her that he was coming home. He's limping toward the baggage claim, telling himself he is not jealous of the young men and women rushing past him toward signs that say WE LOVE YOU MUMMY and WELCOME HOME SERVICEMEN, and then suddenly Harry is there. No sign, no balloons, just his sister, wrapping her arms around him and saying over and over again, “I'm glad you're home.” He does not even think before he hugs her back.

But John's not Harry; he knows relationships do not change with a tearful airport reunion. With clinical detachment, he notes the tremor in her hands and the broken capillaries encircling her nose. When she says, “let's stop for a celebratory pint,” John doesn't fool himself into believing it's just because she's happy he's home. He still doesn't shrug her off when she clutches his arm in front of the luggage carousel, and he does not even mind when she insists on buying their beers and paying for the cab.

When she presses the mobile phone into his hand, he promises himself that he'll answer her messages, and he does – almost every other time.


Part II

Sherlock stares at John's mobile for exactly six seconds before he plucks it off the table and hacks the latest password. The phone's presence on their table is something of a mystery. It is a gift from a sister whom John dislikes, so Sherlock isn't surprised that John is careless with it. Yet, John does not often leave electronic goods unguarded in their flat. Perhaps he is merely being practical; he knows that Sherlock will eventually find it and read all the messages anyway, so he does not trouble himself to hide it. Perhaps he even wants Sherlock to read his text messages.

The text messages do not yield any interesting data. Many people would like to have lunch, meet for dinner, or go out for a pint with John, and John is interested in very few of them. Naturally, John would not admit this. Instead, he replies apologetically one or two days after the proposed meeting, claiming to have missed their message or been busy at work. To Sherlock, however, the truth is obvious: John gets bored with people too. Everyone except Sherlock. The thought cheers him for a moment before he drops the phone on the floor beside the sofa and resumes staring at the ceiling. It's boring, of course. He had long ago mined all the useful information about the flat's previous inhabitants.

The phone rings, some hideous bastardization of Ode to Joy that he has to change before it gets a chance to assault his eardrums again. He rolls over, snatches it off the floor. Harry's name is glowing on the screen, and he answers.

The voice on the other end of the line is gasping and nearly unintelligible. Sherlock makes out something about her ex-wife leaving again and sighs. Boring.

“It's not surprising,” he says.

“What?” Harry says, the word suddenly crystal clear.

“I said it's not surprising that she left you.” He enunciates each word carefully, more for effect than for ease of understanding. She heard correctly the first time, no doubt.

“Who is this?”

“Your brother's flatmate.”

“Could you give him a message then?” She swallows, and Sherlock anticipates a melodramatic statement to follow. “I could use a bit of help getting home.”

Boring, though arguably preferable to histrionics.

“You sound quite capable of hailing a cab,” Sherlock says.

“Yes.” Her voice wavers in earnest now, and Sherlock pictures her holding back tears, a cocktail napkin probably clenched in her fist. “It's just that, well, I don't feel like being alone right now. D'you think you could tell him that?”

“Mmm,” Sherlock says, pretending to consider. “Sorry, no.”

A plan is taking shape in his mind.

“Where are you?” he asks.

“Isn't John there?”

Sherlock peers up the stairs. John's door is closed, and there's not a trace of light beneath it. That will make things easier.

“Yes, but I'm not going to awaken him. If you want company, you'll have to get it from me.”

***


The pub was trendy ten years ago. Sherlock had untangled an elaborate fraud scheme for the owner, who had promised him drinks for life on the mistaken assumption that Sherlock would ever frequent such an establishment for recreational purposes. Harry is the only customer – not surprising as it's a Wednesday – and the bartender looks vaguely relieved when Sherlock takes the seat next to her.

Like John, she would be easy to miss in a crowd. Her hair is medium-length and dyed brown. A few millimeters of gray peek out at the roots. Even in the dim light, Sherlock can see the enlarged pores and rough skin of an alcoholic, but he had expected no less from a woman whose hands shook so badly every night that she couldn't plug in her phone. Her clothing is expensive and new but looks ten years out of date, which is hardly surprising considering the jumpers that she's given to John. He wonders if, like John, her ordinary appearance belies hidden depths, but he rather doubts it.

Still, when she looks at him levelly through bloodshot grey eyes, he admires the shrewdness in her gaze.

“Why are you here, then?” she asks.

Sherlock considers. The truth, his usual default answer, won't serve here. She'll send him away before he gets inside her flat.

“You're very important to John,” he says, managing a smile as best he can. It's not exactly a lie, but he knows the smile looks fake, and she knows it too.

“Drink?” she asks. He's interesting enough to distract her from her pain, so he knows she'll let him stay. But he shakes his head minutely in response to her offer; he doesn't care to have his focus disrupted by alcohol.

“Let's go,” he says instead, and she slides off the bar stool obediently enough.

“Where to?” she asks. She's steady on her feet even if her hands shake. It had been easy to deduce that she could get home on her own, but he's still pleased to have been right.

“Your flat.”

They walk side by side down the pavement, Sherlock keeping half a pace behind her when he can. He can't see much, but it's better for observation than walking beside her.

“I know I'm not important to John,” she says when the stop at a crosswalk.

Self-pitying, Sherlock thinks, but also sincere. He wonders if he is obliged to respond and whether he can succeed at rendering the complicated emotional truth in a remotely acceptable way. Her eyes narrow in a way he associates with an imminent question, and he watches her struggle to connect the right words in her alcohol-addled brain. A sudden surge of gratitude sweeps through him: he is glad that he no longer muddles his own beautiful brain with chemicals and intoxicants, even if the price is frequently boredom.

“Are you here because John is important to you?” she asks finally.

The truth rarely serves him well outside crime scenes and scientific investigations; he's glad it does now.

“Yes,” he says. The light changes and they cross the street together.

***


Harry's flat is sparsely furnished with modern gray furniture that does not match her dated clothing. A clumsy attempt at reinventing herself, Sherlock guesses, most likely after leaving Clara. The strange, angular sofa looks to be nine months old, which matches his calculations for the end of Harry's marriage. He can't find a single trace of alcohol, not even a dirty wine glass in the sink, but then, she functions well enough to hold a high-paying job. She must be adept at concealing the traces of her addiction.

“Well?” she asks, but Sherlock doesn't bother to look at her. He hasn't finished observing, and in any case, he has no intention to share the results of his inspection with her.

A key turns in the lock, and Sherlock steps away from the door just before it opens. It's a shame that he's standing directly in front of the door, guaranteeing that he will be the center of attention. He would have liked to watch this scene unfold without his presence.

“Who's that?” asks the slight, ginger-haired woman on the other side of the threshold, clearly startled by his appearance. No doubt she had expected a private meeting with her ex-wife.

“No one,” Harry says, and he can tell the remark was intended to hurt by the way she watches his face afterward. Sherlock says nothing, merely steps into the short corridor connecting the main room to what he supposes is the master bedroom. He will make himself less obtrusive, but he has no intention of providing complete privacy. This is far better observational data than he could have hoped for.

“Well, no matter,” the woman says, clearly not satisfied but clearly uninterested in initiating a longer conversation. “I've just come to get my things.”

Eleven o'clock at night is an odd hour for such a meeting, but Sherlock guesses she's just finished her shift at the hospital. She's changed out of her scrubs, but the antiseptic scent is impossible to miss.

“At this hour?” Harry asks, and Sherlock sees the hope flash in her eyes.

“Just got off my shift,” the woman answers, confirming his earlier hypothesis. “If you could just tell me where they are...”

“Bedroom.”

The woman pushes past Sherlock and emerges from the bedroom a few seconds later carrying a small cardboard box. Harry's eyes follow her silently while she removes a key from the ring in her pocket and deposits it on the table beside the door. Maneuvering the box awkwardly under her arm, she opens the door with one hand, and in spite of her obvious sadness, Harry offers neither assistance nor a goodbye. There is no pretense between them: the relationship is over, and they both know it.

“Well,” Sherlock says. “That was interesting.”

He means it: he had expected histrionics, or a few tears at least. Yet, there is no sign Harry is about to cry. Instead, she crosses her arms over her chest and stares at Sherlock defiantly.

“Why exactly are you here?”

“Because I want to know.”

He stops himself from speaking the full truth; he has come here to observe, not to wound. But he can see from the tense line of Harry's mouth and the defiant way she crosses her arms over her chest that she is braced to hurt, eager for it even. Sherlock remembers his own need for self-destruction and the dissatisfaction he had found in Mycroft's pity and forbearance. He decides he will help Harry.

“I want to know exactly what sort of behavior John finds repulsive.”

“So you can avoid it?” Harry asks, looking more curious than hurt. Sherlock doubts she has many honest conversations.

“Maybe,” Sherlock answers, even though he knows the answer is yes. He wants, for once, to understand someone's limits before he founders against them. “You're the only person I've heard John admit to disliking,” he adds, testing her appetite for honesty.

She offers a small “mmm” in response, as if Sherlock had said something particularly interesting, which he supposes he has. He is a very interesting person, after all, though perhaps he ought not give himself too much credit. John had said that he and Harry had never gotten on; the information is probably not new to her. In any case, she doesn't seem particularly moved, though Sherlock can feel her longing for a drink. No doubt there is observational data to support it, but he doesn't need it; the addict's desire for oblivion is familiar enough that he can sense it clearly. She won't lower herself to remove the bottle from its hiding place in his presence though, so Sherlock retreats to the toilet, where he takes his time washing his hands. He won't deny her the release she craves.

“Drink?” she asks when he emerges. There's a martini glass in her hand.

“No,” he says. “I think not.” Alcohol had never been his drug of choice, but he does not allow himself to forget how easily one intoxicant had led to another.

“Stick around for a bit?” she asks, and at that, he nods. He has what he came for, but he may as well be bored in her flat as his.

They do not speak much; both lost in their private worlds, and neither of them will pretend that this is the beginning of a friendship. He is merely convenient way to relieve some small part of her loneliness, and he has no interest in expanding his human connections. But when Harry has finally drunk herself to oblivion, Sherlock leaves a glass of water and two paracetamol on the table beside her. He does not imagine that she wants or needs it; it's simply a test for him, to complete the sort of gesture that John would have found appropriate. It does not bother him as much as he had feared it would.

Walking back to Baker Street takes nearly two hours, but the inconvenience is necessary. He doesn't want to return home before John has left for work; he won't think properly if he does. Sherlock is unique from Harry in all the important respects, but he is too observant to miss the obvious parallel between them. People are boring; finding their limits is not. With clinical detachment, he has observed the exact moment his addiction broke other men – friends, occasional lovers, his brother. Mycroft's limits had been rigid but easily reformed once Sherlock had methodically broken them; the man is his brother, and bound to him by obligations Sherlock has never been able to quantify.

But John is different; John can leave him. At least, Sherlock hopes he could.


***


The last of his stash is in the back of the refrigerator, wedged behind a box John believes to contain human fingers. Sherlock hasn't used anything in more than a year, but now he can barely stand to tear off his scarf and coat before he pulls open the refrigerator door and yanks it out. He walks to the bathroom in quick strides, his fingers automatically unsealing the bag as he goes.

The white powder arcs into the toilet bowl, hissing softly on its way down. The mere sight of the drug fills him with longing; the thought of flushing fills him with panic, though the past year has taught him he neither wants nor needs it. He clenches his left hand into a fist and regrets that his nails are too short to cause him any pain. One second longer and he will have to buy more before he rids himself of this, useless as it is. He presses the lever, watches the white powder swirl away. The nicotine patch on his forearm tugs on his skin, and suddenly it's not enough, it can never be enough.

The box is open on his bedside table -- not a stash, not hidden, but still a drug – and it's all he has. He rips open another patch and presses it into his skin, adds another and then another after that. Four. Too many and not enough. The nausea comes first, then the cramps. He vomits on the floor. The lettering on the box is blurred, but he can make out enough: “overdose” and “seek medical attention.” He laughs and can't stop laughing. How ironic to flush his stash and overdose on nicotine. He scrapes at his skin with too-short nails; the patches come away easily, and he totters toward the shower, where he curls under the hot spray until the worst of the sickness passes. He catches water droplets on the tips of his fingers, watches them fracture in the too-bright light.

He thinks, when John comes home, I'll be clean.
Wow, this is wonderful, with a really sharp edge to all the observations. Great job.
WOW! Just wow! This is the addict that is hidden from us. Brilliantly done.
This was full of insight into all three characters. Very nicely done.
This is outstanding. You provide an insightful look at all three characters, and into the nature of addiction, and the difference between family bonds and the bonds of friendship.

The last line is brilliant.
Thank you! This is a subject I've been wanting to address forever; I'm glad that you thought it was well presented here.
Oh wow. The last paragraph is heartbreaking, though a bit hopeful.

Hate to ask, is there a sequel? I'm curious as to how John would react to Sherlock.
There isn't a sequel yet - I wrote this one just before the new series started airing, and I've been too busy processing new canon to come up with any more story ideas. Thank you for asking though; this was actually one of the first full-length stories I wrote in this fandom, so it means a lot that you'd like to read more of it :)