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The Signs Were There

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Sherlock got out of the cab outside 221 Baker Street, pulling his holdall over his shoulder as he unlocked the door. He’d just spent the last few days in Geneva trying to figure out which of the staff at the headquarters of the World Trade Organisation was selling confidential economic information on the black market via the dark web.

It wasn’t a case that would normally interest the detective but Mycroft had called in one of the many favours Sherlock owed him to compel him to go. Seeing as John was at a British Medical Association conference in Liverpool that week, it ended up being a distraction if nothing else. Sherlock ascended the stairs and glanced into the sitting room when he reached the landing, it looked like he managed to beat John home.

Sherlock went to his room and put his bag on the bed and pulled his phone out of his pocket, switching it off of flight mode.

:: There’s an accident on the M6 toll and we’ve barely moved an inch for half an hour. I should have got the train instead of the coach. 14:23pm ::

:: We’re moving again finally. I’ll be two hours late unless the driver makes up the time. Leave me some hot water for a bath, I’m aching all over. 15:51pm ::

Sherlock checked his watch; it was just after seven, John wouldn’t be much longer so he decided against answering his message. He went into the kitchen and opened the fridge, groaning when he saw someone had cleared out his skin samples. Mrs Hudson was the most likely candidate seeing as there was evidence that she’d been dusting again.

Sherlock had just gone back into the living room when he heard the front door close and the sound of footsteps on the stairs. John arrived on the landing looking exhausted, dragging his suitcase up behind him. John gave him a nod of acknowledgement before leaving his baggage at the bottom of the second flight of stairs and heading straight for the bathroom.

Sherlock found himself frowning, he would have expected John to come and ask him about the resolution of the case in Geneva. The pair of them had been in contact via messages while they’d been away and John had told him yesterday afternoon that he didn’t want to hear how Sherlock had worked it out until they were both back in London. He preferred hearing these things in person rather than over text, the detective was a born showman after all.

Sherlock could only assume that John was especially tired from the journey, hours on a coach stuck in traffic probably made his shoulder and back ache terribly. He reached for his violin and decided to play something soothing, hoping that John would hear it and relax while he bathed. He’d been playing for half an hour when he heard the bathroom door open again.

Sherlock turned around as he played and watched John as he went into the kitchen to make them both a cup of tea. There was a definite stiffness about John’s movements, but instead of it being localised to one limb or the other, he seemed to be being careful with his entire body. The kettle popped and John made up the tea, carrying the mugs into the living room and placing Sherlock’s on the table by his chair.

“You have incredibly dark bags under your eyes.” Sherlock stated as he put the violin down and crossed the room to sit with him. John sank into his chair with an exhausted sigh, blowing on his drink before taking a sip.

“Yeah, didn’t sleep great last night.” John didn’t elaborate any more than that as he purposefully ignored the fact that Sherlock was studying him intently.

“Why not? You said yesterday that you and some conference friends were thinking of heading to the pub after the last day of the event. But you didn’t get inebriated and collapse into bed because you’re evidently not hungover.” Sherlock deduced. John had to keep his skills and knowledge fresh to retain his registration with the General Medical Council and attending conferences was one of the ways to do so. After seeing the same faces a few events in a row, John had struck up a friendship with a group of doctors that he tended to meet up and spend time with after the lectures and seminars were over for the day.

“Yeah, we went out but I only stayed for a couple before I headed back to the hotel. I spent the evening organising my notes but when I eventually laid down to go to sleep, I was thinking too hard about regeneration therapy and didn’t get to sleep till really late.” John told him. Sherlock frowned again, it wasn’t the fact that John was lying to him that bothered him per se, it was that it was actually a very decent lie that might have fooled the detective at the beginning of their friendship… but not now. “Anyway, never mind that. What happened in Geneva?”

Sherlock wanted to press and find out what was behind John’s sleepless night and lies but the doctor evidently didn’t want to talk about it so he allowed the subject to be changed… for now.

“It was the Portuguese economist with the lisp, obviously…”

~~~

The next morning found Sherlock sitting at the table with a cup of tea in one hand as he adjusted the focus of his microscope with the other. He looked up at the ceiling at the sound of movement. Sherlock glanced at the clock; John was up earlier than he’d expected considering how exhausted his friend had been yesterday.

Ten minutes later and John came down the stairs, he was fully dressed in his regular ensemble of jeans, shirt and jumper… and judging by the fact he went straight to the coffee machine, he was obviously still quite tired.

“I thought you said you didn’t have work today.” Sherlock commented as he abandoned his microscope and swivelled on his stool to face John.

“I don’t.” John replied, smothering a yawn in his arm as he went to the fridge to get the milk out, splashing a small amount in his mug while the coffee percolated.

“Where are you going then?” Sherlock interrogated him. John’s confused scrunched up eyebrows told him that he wasn’t heading out either. “You’re dressed. You tend to stay in your pyjamas and dressing gown if you don’t have anywhere to be, at least in the mornings.”

“Do I now?” John lifted his mug to his lips and sipped his coffee, his tone of voice was off to Sherlock’s ears. John had been aiming for the one he used when Sherlock was looking for meaning in something when there wasn’t any to find but it sounded forced and artificial.

“John… are you alright?” Sherlock asked in concern. He wasn’t used to being uncertain, especially when it came to his flatmate. John was normally as open and comprehensible as a newspaper but all his expression said to Sherlock right now was how much he didn’t want to be read.

“Yeah, course I am.” John insisted as he went into the living room, he grabbed his laptop from the table and sat in his chair. He pulled up some more of his notes from the conference to look through, yawning again. Sherlock went back to his microscope but kept half of his mind on John, he felt uneasy, John was keeping him at arm’s length and he didn’t understand why.

It was barely twenty minutes later when Sherlock realised that John had fallen asleep sitting up and the mug in his hand was in danger of slipping from his grasp. Sherlock got up with the intention of rescuing the cup, supporting it from underneath with one hand, the other going to gently loosen John’s fingers around the handle.

But as soon as Sherlock touched his hand, John jerked awake, automatically seizing Sherlock’s wrist with an uncomfortably tight grip as he stared wide eyed in disorientated and fearful confusion.

“Sh-Sherlock?” John was breathing hard but he let go of the detective. “What do you think you’re playing at? You startled me, you great prat!” Sherlock blinked at him before placing the mug on the side table with a determined thump before looming over the doctor with his hands on his hips.

“John Watson, something is not right with you and you are going to tell me what it is this instant.” Sherlock may have sounded angry to the uninformed spectator but much of his bluster was fuelled by worry for his best friend.

“I am fine, Sherlock! Just tired and cranky from spending a week listening to lectures on things I’m not likely to see at the surgery!” John looked up at Sherlock who folded his arms over his chest in impatience at yet another damn good attempt at lying from someone who was normally London’s worst actor.

“That’s not what is wrong and we both know it.” Sherlock nearly growled before tapping his foot in irritation. “Is this going to come down to who is the most stubborn, is it? Because I assure you, John, I can and will stand here all day.” John was about to answer when they heard the doorbell, making both of them look towards the stairs before they said together.

“Client.” They heard Mrs Hudson answer the door and send the visitor up the stairs. Sherlock darted to his room to get dressed while John put his laptop aside and stood to greet their potential client. It was a man who looked exceptionally anxious.

“Hello there, I’m John Watson.” John grabbed the chair that they used for clients and set it down and gestured towards it. “Sherlock will be with you in a few minutes so have a seat. Would you like some tea?” The nervous man sat down and nodded hesitantly at the offer. By the time the kettle had popped Sherlock had emerged dressed in one of his normal suits and sat down in his armchair with his fingers steepled.

“You’re here about your missing wife, Mr Munro.” Sherlock stated and the client’s surprised reaction made John smile as he handed over the cup of tea he had made before taking a seat himself. “Start from the beginning and don’t leave anything out.”

Sherlock was able to solve the case from his chair before the conversation was even over. Munro’s wife was (obviously) having an affair with her personal trainer and had ran away with him. John had expected anger and upset from the jilted husband but their client seemed oddly resigned and accepting of the news.

“I had suspected as much but I didn’t really want to face it. I was hoping you’d see some convoluted kidnapping scheme… wishful thinking I guess.” Mr Munro looked down at the carpet for a moment before he stood up. “I’m awfully sorry to have wasted your valuable time, thank you for seeing me.” Sherlock and John stood up as well to see him out, both saying similar platitudes of how it was quite alright and they were happy to help.

“It was a pleasure to meet you both.” Mr Munro offered his hand to Sherlock who shook it firmly with a small smile and a nod. “Especially you, John, you seem like a very nice and sympathetic man.” Munro extended his hand towards John who didn’t make any move to take it.

“It’s Dr Watson actually.” John’s tone was cool and anything but ‘nice’. There was an awkward moment of silence between the three of them before Mr Munro dropped his arm and hurried back down the stairs to leave. John’s shoulders relaxed only minutely when he heard the front door close, he pointedly ignored Sherlock as he put the dining chair back and resumed his spot in his chair.

“What was that about?” Sherlock asked as he sat opposite his best friend. John was choosing to play deaf as he pretended to be absorbed in the material he was reading on his laptop. Sherlock internally sighed as he consciously let the impatience he was feeling leech away as he settled himself in for the long haul. John would crack first, he always did.

~~~

John had not cracked.

It was the following morning and Sherlock was lying on the couch with his phone in hand. After the client had left, John had been quiet for hours. Several times his eyes had glazed over, no longer reading the text in front of him, instead going somewhere deep inside his head. When Sherlock’s patience had finally snapped John refused to answer any of the questions fired at him, except to reiterate that he was ‘fine’ before falling back into a pensive silence.

John had ended up fleeing the flat in the end, but it wasn’t Sherlock’s interrogation that drove him out. The detective had been sulking as his eyes bored a hole in John’s head. Sherlock’s keen gaze took in his pale complexion, the dark circles under his eyes and the deep lines of stress around his lips. Sherlock could see all these signs but not the reason for them, his friend was suffering and it was painful that John wouldn’t confide in him.

“You know you can tell me anything, right?” Sherlock had finally said in earnest, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. He wanted to reach out and squeeze John’s hand or wrist but thought better of it, considering John’s prior reaction. “Whatever it is, John, you can trust me.” John had stared at him with an intense expression for a few moments before he suddenly got up, grabbed his coat and left the flat.

Sherlock sighed for what felt like the millionth time. John had returned after being gone for three hours and he had headed straight up to his room and not re-emerged since. Sherlock idly hoped he’d managed to get some sleep as he tapped the corner of his phone to his lips; something had happened in Liverpool, no doubt about it. But what? And when? Sherlock opened his messages to look for clues.

:: I’m back at the hotel and I have over fifteen hours to kill before I have to go to the airport for my flight… and don’t just tell me to sleep, it’s dull. – SH 19:12pm ::

:: I’m sure you’ll find something to amuse yourself. Walk around and make sure none of the staff are stealing from the guests? 19:14pm ::

:: What an excellent idea! Thank you, John. – SH 19:16pm ::

:: Two thieves, a blackmailer and a crossdresser, all in a very interesting evening. – SH 20:39pm ::

:: You must be out with your doctor friends, judging by the lack of response. Try not to embarrass yourself and don’t go home with the first woman who smiles at you. – SH 21:01pm ::

:: Sorry, just saw these. Nice work, well done but crossdressing isn’t illegal in Switzerland, surely? 06:11am ::

:: It is if you aren’t using your own clothes. Good night, I take it? – SH 06:13am ::

:: Yes, that does put a different spin on things. Yup! Didn’t get in till gone four. Struck out though, oh well, not the end of the world. 06:17am ::

:: How tragic. What time is your coach? – SH 06:20am ::

:: Half eleven. I need to get packed up and checked out, then I want to find a certain keynote speaker to see if they’ll give me their details. I’m very interested in her stem cell research. I’ll text when I’m on the bus. 06:23am ::

Sherlock frowned as he read those messages again, he’d assumed the nearly twelve-hour gap between John’s texts was down to him getting drunk with his conference friends. But after he’d got back on Saturday, John said that he’d only stayed out for a couple before heading back to his hotel. Why hadn’t he answered Sherlock’s messages before six am then?

He noted that John had simply gone along with Sherlock’s assumption that the reason for the late reply had been because he was out. Then he had amended his story once Sherlock had deduced that he hadn’t been drinking to excess.

Sherlock almost dropped his phone on his face when he realised John was purposefully sharing as little information as possible, creating small inconsequential lies as needed rather than trying to feed Sherlock a huge unwieldy story that the detective could dismantle in moments. By keeping things simple he was starving Sherlock of much needed data.

“I can’t make bricks without clay.” Sherlock mumbled to himself when his phone buzzed on his chest. It was a message from Lestrade with an unexplained death, a locked room and an address. Sherlock jumped to his feet. “John!” He shouted as he ran up the stairs excitedly.

Sherlock grabbed the door handle to burst into the room and instead almost smashed his face against the unexpectedly locked door. He grimaced in pain and confusion as he jiggled the handle and tried to open the door again, to no avail.

“John? John! Why is the door locked? Open up!” Sherlock called as he knocked insistently with his free hand. He heard the creak of the mattress and bare footsteps across the floor. He listened as John drew the bolt across to unlatch the door. The door opened to show John wearing a dressing gown with an impressive amount of bed head for a short haired person.

“You’ve put a sliding bolt on your door. Why?” Sherlock stepped into the room and grabbed the door to look at the heavy-duty lock that had been recently fitted. John blinked at him tiredly and folded his arms across his chest. He wasn’t looking much better for spending so long in bed, evidently still having problems with sleeping.

“Because it’s my goddamn room and you know I like my privacy.” John yawned and shuffled over to his chest of drawers to pull out some clothes. “Do we have a case then?” John tried to change the subject but Sherlock was still hung up over the slide bolt.

“You’ve shouted at me about privacy since we started living together but this is the first time you’ve put a lock on your door. A lock that you know I’d be unable to pick from the outside, I might add. Why now?” Sherlock watched as John put the clothes he’d selected on the bed before he turned to his friend.

“I don’t have to explain or justify myself to anyone, not even you, Sherlock. Now go and let me get dressed and I’ll meet you downstairs in ten minutes.” John shooed Sherlock away with his hands and the detective felt like he had no choice but to acquiesce.

~~~

Sherlock was in the lab at St Barts after visiting the crime scene with John. He’d sent the doctor off to speak to the victim’s friends while he analysed samples. Sherlock was testing some trace evidence found on the windowsill but he was all elbows and knees today, knocking glassware to the floor by accident on repeated occasions. The third time it happened, Molly glared at him in exasperation.

“Sherlock! Whatever is the matter with you? I don’t know where your mind is right now but it’s not on the case for sure, and that’s got to be a first.” She stood up and grabbed the broom and a dustpan to sweep up the smashed slide cover. Sherlock grunted in frustration as he pinched the bridge of his nose.

“It is a case… of sorts. There has been something wrong with John since he got back from Liverpool. He won’t tell me what it is and I can’t figure it out either. He keeps saying he’s fine when he’s the exact opposite of fine. He’s jumpy, pensive and he’s not slept properly in days. He’s put a lock on his bedroom door and was actually rude to a client yesterday.” Sherlock hadn’t intended to rant at Molly but he was at a complete loss as to what to do.

Molly had finished brushing up the broken glass, she put the broom aside and sat on a stool next to Sherlock with a serious expression on her face.

“That really doesn’t sound like John at all. Is there anything else? Maybe a second opinion is what you need to try and work this out.” She suggested and Sherlock decided he had nothing to lose by trying, Molly was often unexpectedly insightful, especially when it came to emotional matters.

“He keeps lying about what happened on his last night in Liverpool, at first agreeing with me that he’d had a late night at a pub but changing his story by increments whenever I’ve poked a hole in it. I’ve always thought John was a terrible liar but maybe in the past he’s not really been trying very hard, unlike now.” Sherlock ran a hand through his hair in agitation while Molly just listened to him carefully, her face concerned but neutral.

“It might sound like a silly little thing, but he came down the stairs yesterday morning already fully dressed even though he didn’t have anywhere to go.” Sherlock struggled to explain why this particular detail felt important to him. “We’ve both lounged about the flat in our pyjamas and gowns before so him not doing it feels like he is… is…” Sherlock trailed off as he tried to articulate what he meant.

“It felt like he was wearing armour around you to keep you at a distance.” Molly supplied as she pressed her lips together in a worried line. Sherlock found himself nodding dumbly, the analogy was perfect for what he was trying to express. “Where is John? Do you think you could get him to come here without it being too obvious that something’s up?”

“That shouldn’t be hard, I’ll tell him it’s to do with the case.” Sherlock already had his phone in hand to send off the message as he stared at Molly. “You know what’s wrong with him, don’t you?”

“I don’t know… but I have my suspicions, yes.” Molly twisted her fingers together in her lap for a moment before she spoke again. “I’ll talk to him but if I’m right, it’s important that you don’t interrupt or interfere. I can’t tell you why right now, but I think you’ll understand when it comes to it.” Sherlock felt his anxiety levels spiking sharply, not for the first time he was forced to consider that whatever John wasn’t telling him, it was something truly awful.

When John arrived at the lab, Sherlock spent fifteen minutes grilling him on his interview with the victim’s friends while Molly kept a subtle watch from her desk. Once they were finished talking, John moved himself into a corner to stay out of the way while Sherlock worked. It wasn’t long before John got lost in his thoughts again, Sherlock catching Molly’s eye with a meaningful look.

Molly frowned and turned to the coffee maker she kept on her desk. It was a model that took pods so she had three cups made up in next to no time. She placed one next to Sherlock and walked towards John with the other two mugs in hand, stopping just out of arms reach.

“John?” Molly’s sudden voice made him jump but he recovered quickly enough to take the offered coffee. Molly studied him carefully for a moment before she spoke again. “John, are you ok? …And don’t just say you are because you think that’s what I want to hear because it isn’t. Something’s happened recently… and I think I’ve got a pretty good idea of what it might be.”

“Do you now?” John smiled as he spoke but it didn’t reach his eyes which undermined the tone of puzzled amusement that he’d been evidently aiming for. Molly bit her lip as she put her coffee down and moved to the door of the lab, flipping the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign over and locking the door. As she crossed back over the room to John, she grabbed a chair and sat down in front of him.

“You’re not alright.” Molly stated simply as John shifted in his chair, uncomfortable under her scrutiny. “I know you’re not because I know what it means when you can’t relax anymore, around anyone. When you can’t look people in the eye for too long because you’re afraid they’ll see it, like it’s written on a sign above your head.” Sherlock was watching John as he seemed to stop breathing, his grip on the ceramic cup so tight his knuckles were white.

“I know what it means when you lash out at everyone because you don’t want to give anyone the impression that you’re leading them on when you are just being nice.” Molly’s eyes were shimmering but she refused to look away from John as he stared back at her with a terrified expression. “I know all this because it’s what I did when I was… raped by someone I thought was my friend… and I know you’re not ok, because that’s what’s happened to you too, right?”

It took everything Sherlock had to hold his tongue and not react outwardly. It felt like all of the air had been sucked out of the room as the silence stretched out between them. It was only broken when John took a shuddering inhale, unable to hold his breath anymore. He dropped his head to stare down at his cooling drink as he finally nodded once sharply.

“Oh, John. I’m so sorry! Do you think you could tell me what happened?” Molly’s voice hitched slightly as she wiped her eyes with her sleeve. John took a few more steadying breaths before glancing towards Sherlock. “No no, don’t worry about him for now. Just talk to me.” Molly encouraged him gently.

“We’d gone out as a group but the pub was really crowded, full of kids at least ten years younger than us. Then Lucas suggested we go back to his hotel for a drink because his company was picking up the tab anyway and I agreed.” John’s hands were shaking noticeably so he put his mug down and clamped them under his armpits to try and suppress it.

“I was surprised when it was just us in the cab, but he said the others had wanted to go to a dance club and you know how much I hate dancing.” John looked up at Molly with the ghost of a smile on his face, reverting to humour as a familiar defence mechanism.

“When we walked past the hotel bar, I realised Lucas meant for us to drink in his room from the mini bar but I didn’t think anything of it, not then at least.” John paused in his story and took some more calming breaths before turning his gaze towards the wall as he spoke again.

“Lucas must have drugged my beer. One minute I’m laughing and joking with him while we watched some terrible low budget horror film on the tv and the next, I’m waking up on the floor of my own hotel room with no idea how I got there or how long I’d been out for.” John set his jaw and spoke the next words through tightly gritted teeth. “I didn’t remember anything but I knew what had happened to me.”

“I completely lost about six hours and it was another three before I felt I could think or walk straight. Judging by my symptoms I’m pretty sure it was flunitrazepam he gave me. It wasn’t until I picked up my phone that I realised Lucas had removed his number and deleted all our messages before he’d either dropped me off or put me in a taxi back to my hotel.” John’s trembling had spread from his hands to his entire body, he was trying to repress it and only succeeded in making himself jerk and twitch at random.

“Did you get some medical help or report it to anyone?” Molly asked gently, she was twisting the edge of her jumper in her fingers to quell her own anxiety. Neither paid attention to the third person in the room, which was just as well as Sherlock looked like a statue from the outside. Inwardly his mind was firing in several directions at once; half baked revenge plots, theories on Molly’s experience, ideas on how to help John and berating himself for not deducing this of either of them.

“I went to a walk-in clinic that morning when I said I was going to track down one of the speakers. They took some blood for a tox screen and did a kit before examining me but I was physically unharmed.” John coughed and stared at his knees again. “They asked me if I wanted them to report this to the police and I told them I’d think about it.”

“By the time I’d packed up and headed for the coach, I’d decided that I wanted to forget about it and pretend it never happened. I thought the fact I couldn’t remember anything would make it easier.” John looked up at Molly who gave a small nod of understanding. “But it really didn’t. I can’t stop thinking about it, trying to remember, wondering if I… responded positively. If I e-enjo-” John’s voice broke and Sherlock couldn’t stay silent a moment longer.

“You cannot hold yourself responsible for your reactions while you were under the influence of drugs, John, so please don’t torture yourself with such thoughts. You’ve done nothing wrong and the blame lies fully with that creature that dares call himself a doctor and a man.” Sherlock practically spat out that last sentence before he forcibly pushed away his vehemence.

“Why don’t you go back to Baker Street and try to get some more sleep?” Sherlock dug his wallet out of his pocket and opened it. He pulled out a few notes and offered them to John. “Or maybe swing by the Chinese and get us dinner? I’m almost finished here and I’ll have this case wrapped up in no time and come join you.” John nodded and got to his feet, taking the money and grabbing his coat. He gave Molly a watery smile before he walked to the door, unlocking it as he left the lab.

Sherlock had his face in his hands as soon as he heard John’s footsteps fade away. He had wanted to know what had happened so badly but now that he did, he had no idea how to make it better. Sherlock jumped a little when he felt a soft touch to his elbow, lowering his hands to find Molly standing next to him, her face a little blotchy from her tears.

“It’ll be ok. John is struggling at the moment but he will be alright if we support him as best we can.” She told Sherlock with a small smile and the type of confidence that comes from experience. He wanted to ask her about it and the question must have shown on his face as she spoke again.

“It was long before I met you, Sherlock, back when I was still in university. I wasn’t drugged and it took some time before I even admitted to myself that it was rape and not me inadvertently leading him on. I never reported it either.” Molly sniffled and looked downwards before glancing back up with an awkward laugh. “I’m alright, really. I’m just glad I can be there for someone who is going through the same thing. I just wish someone back then had spotted the signs in me like you did with John.”

“I may have seen them but I needed you to interpret them for me. You are an incredible person, Molly Hooper. I’m sorry you had to bear your burden alone.” Sherlock took one of Molly’s hands in both of his and squeezed it. “Thank you, I truly think John would have carried on denying this if you hadn’t been brave enough to share your experience too.” Molly shrugged and squeezed his hands back.

“You’re welcome… You’d best get your samples analysed so you can solve the case and get back to Baker Street. John is waiting for you.”

~~~

Later that evening found Sherlock and John watching Casino Royale while munching their way through a Chef’s Special Set for two from their favourite Chinese takeaway. Neither of them had mentioned what had happened, but they were conscious of it. Like it was hanging in the air around them. Eventually, John put his plate down on the table and sat back on the couch.

“I’m going to report him.” John kept his eyes trained on the tv as he spoke. “I really really don’t want to but he’s a doctor, that alone gives him a veil of respectability that he doesn’t deserve. Who knows how many times he’s done this? How many times he’s got away with it? He needs to be stopped.” Sherlock put his plate down too, picking up the remote to pause the DVD.

“We will stop him, without a doubt. If we go to the Yard now we are much less likely to bump into anyone who knows us.” Sherlock commented, knowing it was important to John to make sure as few people knew about the attack as possible. John took a deep breath, nodded and got to his feet, Sherlock following close behind.

While they were in the taxi, Sherlock used the information John had been able to tell him about Lucas to track down his full name, current employer, address and telephone number on his phone. This would make it much easier for the police to move swiftly to make an arrest. With that done, Sherlock opened an article he’d been reading earlier on how to support a friend or loved one after a sexual assault. It had some helpful advice, Sherlock just hoped he could successfully implement it.

The pair arrived at New Scotland Yard. John had reverted to soldier mode as he marched towards the front desk, leaning close to the clerk to tell her why he was there in a low voice. The woman was the epitome of tact and professionalism as she directed them to wait in an empty office instead of mixing with the other people in the lobby.

Sherlock closed the door behind him and turned to see how John was faring. The doctor’s respiratory rate was elevated and there were droplets of sweat beginning to bead on his forehead.

“John, take some deep breaths and try to calm down. All you need to do is tell them what happened, just like you told Molly earlier. I’ll be right beside you too.” Sherlock reassured John, half smiling when John made a conscious effort to slow down his breathing. It wasn’t long before a female officer came to fetch them, leading them to an interrogation room.

As Sherlock sat down next to John, he couldn’t help thinking it had been a long time since he was on this side of the table. The woman introduced herself as PC Adams and set up the equipment to record John’s complaint before asking those present to introduce themselves.

Sherlock was concentrating on being a solid and calm presence next to John, hoping to give him strength by some sort of radiation as John related the events of the previous Friday night. Once he was done, he proceeded to answer Ms Adams’ questions for clarification or further details.

That was when Sherlock noticed that John had his left hand clenched into a tight fist where it rested on his thigh, probably to still the tremors. Sherlock wanted to squeeze it to soothe him but he decided it was best not to, in case he startled John.

“Right, thank you for that, Dr Watson. We’ll liaise with the Liverpool police force to get the evidence from the walk-in clinic you visited, plus CCTV footage from the two hotels and statements from the staff. We’ll need to contact the officers in Essex as well seeing as that’s where Lucas Fern is based.” PC Adams stopped the recording and led the pair back to the lobby, promising to be in touch before long.

“Well I’ve done my part for now, it’s up to the Met to get things moving.” John commented as he sank back into the pleather seat of the taxi they flagged down once they left New Scotland Yard. Sherlock made a vague noise of acknowledgement as he wondered if he should ask Mycroft to smooth out the wheels of cross county co-operation or not? He decided to keep his elder brother as a back up plan if it looked like the police were dragging their feet at all.

By the time they got back into 221b Baker Street, John was visibly flagging, yawning and barely keeping his eyes open. So it wasn’t a huge surprise when he stood up and announced that he was planning to go to bed early.

“Oh, before you go…” Sherlock said as John turned to leave. “I’m not going to force you to discuss this but I want you to know that if you ever do want to talk about it then I’m here for you. Night or day, case or no case, I don’t care, even if you just want someone to sit with for a bit so you don’t feel like you’re doing this by yourself, I’ll do it.” John chewed his lip, eyes a little misty as he blinked rapidly.

“Thank you for the offer, Sherlock. It’s… really good to know that you’re here. Good night.”

~~~

John shuffled down the stairs late the next morning and walked into the kitchen. He pulled up a seat by the table and let his head fall on to his crossed arms with a thump.

“Problems sleeping again?” Sherlock asked sympathetically from where he was working with his microscope. John nodded without looking up, his shoulders rising and falling with a deep sigh. “Is it nightmares?”

“No, I just can’t relax enough to drop off. I’ll doze for a few minutes then wake up with a jump.” John’s words were muffled by the dressing gown fabric so he lifted his head off his arms. “It’s stupid because this is my home. I know I’m safe here but I just feel so vulnerable.”

“It’s not stupid at all. I’m no expert but I imagine it’s perfectly normal to feel that way after being drugged by someone you trusted.” Sherlock was glad that John was talking about things and opening up, he’d been afraid that John would clam up again and silently ruminate on it.

“Yeah but you’ve drugged me countless times and I’ve never felt like this afterwards.” John was rubbing his eyes so he didn’t spot Sherlock’s body becoming completely rigid at his words. “Maybe because I knew there was never any malice behind it and I was always ok, some side effects notwithstanding.”

“John…” Sherlock’s voice was thick with emotion, making John snap his attention towards him. Sherlock had turned his body towards John’s, leaning across the table like he wanted to take the doctor’s hand in his. “John, I swear that I will never drug you without your express consent again.” His face was filled with regret and guilt at realising what he’d done in the past to his friend was little better than Lucas.

“I’d appreciate that, thank you.” John took Sherlock’s outstretched hand and squeezed it. “Don’t worry, I don’t think you’re like him, not at all. You’re my best friend and I trust you with my life.” Sherlock offered him a smile full of relief that John returned weakly before his phone started ringing in the pocket of his dressing gown. He pulled it out to look but it was an unknown number.

“Hello? Oh, Officer Adams, good morning.” John answered the call and sat up straighter to brace himself once he realised who it was, Sherlock found himself unconsciously mirroring the posture. “Lucas confessed? That’s fantastic news!” John exhaled noisily as his whole body seemed to relax finally. He listened to Ms Adams for another couple of moments before they said goodbye and ended the call.

“The CCTV footage backed up my story, it showed Lucas pretty much carrying me back to my hotel. He tried to explain it away of course, saying that I’d got too drunk to remember that I’d consented, but rohypnol and a low alcohol level in my bloodwork threw that out the window. On advice from a lawyer, he confessed.” John was staring at his phone in disbelief as he reported the conversation to Sherlock.

“Good! That means it’s very unlikely that there will be a trial that you’d need to testify at.” Sherlock grinned at John, knowing how much of a weight off his shoulders this development was. “Lucas probably chose his targets carefully, going for ones he was sure wouldn’t report the incident out of misplaced shame or whatever.”

“I was very close to following that pattern… and if I hadn’t gone to the clinic and had the blood tests done then it would have been my word against his.” John shuddered a little at the thought of that eventuality. “He’ll lose his medical license when he’s convicted, he’ll never be able to work as a doctor again. So, at least his future patients will be safe from him.” John closed his eyes and breathed deeply for a moment to try and fully absorb the news.

“All that’s left for me to do now is to try and move on. Molly sent me the details of a charity that pairs people like me with counsellors that they can speak to via text or on the phone. Seems to be a good way to keep things as discrete as possible.” John admitted as he flicked through his phone to find the message. “It probably wouldn’t do any harm to try it…” He mused before he yawned loudly.

“Lie down on the couch and try to have a nap. I’ll be here and keep an eye on you.” Sherlock offered, hoping that a combination of Lucas’ confession and the fact Sherlock would be keeping watch would allow John to relax enough to get some sleep.

John nodded with another yawn, pushing up to stand and walking to the couch. He grabbed a throw to cover himself with and flopped down, curling up so he was facing the back of the seats. Sherlock stood silently and walked over to his violin, fitting the mute to lower the volume before launching into a medley of lullabies. It wasn’t long before he noticed John’s breathing had evened out as he finally dropped off.

FIN