Sherlock BBC fic: The Hazards of Being a Mindreader
current mood: cheerful
Title: The Hazards of Being a Mindreader
Length: 3,443 words
Warnings, kinks & contents: Sherlock/John. Warnings for implied kidnapping/torture/drugging
Author's notes: augustbird is a beautiful person/beta and this fic is far better for her help. This fic was originally written for the sherlockbbc commfest.
Summary/description: In which John becomes a telepath (unwillingly), Sherlock is a prat (as usual), Mycroft’s mind is even more enigmatic than the man himself (which is saying something), a mind palace is rearranged (slightly), and they all somehow manage to get on as usual (thankfully, it turns out mindreading doesn’t change too much after all).
In spite of Sherlock’s deductions and preparations, his plans didn’t always work. John would say that they often didn’t work, but John was a sensationalist and couldn’t be trusted to accurately recount such data. The important thing was that Sherlock always caught the criminal in the end.
In this instance, however, Sherlock could admit that he’d miscalculated. It was mostly stupidity on his part, because of course there’d been two smugglers, it was so obvious. John of all people had figured it out before he had -- though in all fairness, mindreading was practically cheating.
John and Sherlock had only barely stepped inside the warehouse when John’s eyes had narrowed. He’d drawn his gun and asked, “Sherlock, who did you say was going to be here?”
“Adams. His business is a front for his smuggling. He’s an obvious suspect, I can’t believe Lestrade couldn’t figure this one out. His flat is far too expensive for him to afford with only the revenue from his shop; no close relatives who could have lent him the money and his lifestyle is far too indulgent for him to have saved it up. He’s good about not leaving a trail, but bank accounts don’t lie, John.” Sherlock said impatiently, striding into the warehouse.
John shook his head and pulled on Sherlock’s arm, trying to keep him in place. “Sherlock, there are two people here,” he hissed.
Sherlock looked back at him and that was when John shoved Sherlock out of the way. A woman lunged from the shadows to thrust her knife directly where Sherlock had been standing.
John cried out, but he straightened, leveled his gun at the woman, and fired. Without even watching her go down, he stumbled towards the rafters and took another shot. A man’s pained grunt could be heard and Sherlock thought he must have been able to sense his position, useful ability at the same time as he thought John.
John stumbled to the ground, his breathing harsh and ragged. “Ambulance,” he said, as if Sherlock wasn’t already yelling into the phone to, “Come now, Lestrade, John’s been stabbed, bring an ambulance.” The mobile slipped from his fingertips as Sherlock rushed forward to catch John and carefully lower him to the ground. Sherlock unwound his scarf and pressed it against John’s wound. The smuggler didn’t get a good angle, only sliced at John’s side. The wound was bleeding profusely, but it didn't look like any vital organs were hit. Conclusion: John would live.
“Thank God,” Sherlock breathed, and John smiled weakly up at him in response to his thoughts. Maybe even to the ones Sherlock had never needed to say out loud, even before this whole mindreading business. But Sherlock’s own smile was short lived as his eyes were drawn back to John’s wound. “This can’t happen again, John.”
John rolled his eyes. “’Thanks so much for saving my life, John, I’m glad you amended my stupid plan so neither of us had to die.’ Oh, no problem, Sherlock, glad to help.’”
The man made jokes after he’d just been stabbed, but Sherlock could see the pain in John’s eyes. He knew that John was focusing too hard on his breathing to be truly okay. “No,” Sherlock said fiercely. “You can’t get hurt, not again, I can’t…” Frustrated, Sherlock grabbed John’s hand in his own and-
They both stood in his mind palace. John was about to say something, but the palace moved around them, unmarked doors and doors with rusty hinges and doors with Do Not Disturb signs whipping past, until a metal door with streaks of blood presented itself to them. Sherlock, or the mind palace -- or maybe they were one in the same -- pushed John towards the door and then--
He came into the room with Lestrade and a whole special forces team. He could see them take down the kidnapper, could see that awful man laughing on the ground -- but none of that mattered because there was John, writhing on the ground and wheezing for breath, an empty syringe right next to him and what did that man do to his John, what kind of drugs had he given him, how dare he lay a finger on him. Sherlock rushed towards John, noting the bruising evident on his wrists (John had been tied up), nearly a dozen track marks across his arm (drugged at least once a day, more likely two or three), pupils dilated, knife marks on the arms and legs. Sherlock was angry even though he knew the marks weren’t life threatening (they’d only been used to keep John trapped and wounded enough to be drugged). But the most serious damage was the kind Sherlock was unable to accurately assess at the moment: the drugs, what did that bastard drug John with?
“John?” he ventured, placing a hand on his friend’s shoulder.
John gasped and shook his head. “Jesus Christ, your mind is a fucking hurricane. Please stop, stop thinking, get away.”
Sherlock’s heart felt wrenched out of his chest. “John, your captor has been drugging you. Do you know what he used?”
John shook his head even more violently. “I don’t want to.”
Sherlock shook John’s shoulder, trying to keep him awake. How dare anyone do this to John, his John? But between the whirlwind of rage, there were moments of please be okay you can’t die please, and John shuddered so hard he was practically seizing, looking at Sherlock with wide eyes and, saying, “Stop it, you’re too loud, you’re all too loud. I can’t stop hearing it, I can’t stop hearing it.”
“What can’t you stop hearing?” Sherlock asked, oblivious to the roar of chaos surrounding him, to the paramedics bursting through the door, only seeing John, the track marks on John’s arms, John sweating and shaking and not okay.
“Everything,” John said. Sherlock placed his hand on John’s – to comfort him perhaps, maybe he did it for John’s benefit – and John froze. His eyes flew back and forth, seeing something only he knew -- and then they rolled into the back of his head as John slumped to the floor.
“John!” Sherlock roared. “John!”
Both Sherlock and John were gasping for air as they surfaced from the memory, John with his eyes closed and Sherlock feeling as though he were about to be sick. He could hear sirens -- finally -- the ambulance was here, John would go to hospital and spend a few agonizing days there, and then they could go back to 221B and it would all be okay and nothing like this would ever happen to John again.
“Did I mention that you’re an idiot?” John wheezed, putting pressure at his own side where Sherlock’s hand had loosened. Sherlock scowled and renewed his pressure, trying to avoid looking directly at the wound.
“You’ve mentioned it once or twice,” he replied shakily.
John’s eyes softened in an expression Sherlock honestly couldn’t read. “Sherlock...” John said, but then the paramedics swept in and there was no more room for words. Sherlock followed them silently into the ambulance, question perched on the end of his tongue -- but John’s eyes had already slipped closed when they began to drive away.
Hospitals were strange. The thoughts here were sluggish, whether they were from exhausted doctors, mourning families, or ill patients. They weighed down on John and made his arms and legs feel like lead. Though it was possible that was just the drugs.
“Sherlock?” he slurred, knowing even as he spoke that the thoughts across from him were far too calculating to belong to the consulting detective.
“I’m afraid not, John,” Mycroft said with an apologetic smile. “Sherlock’s stepped out to get something to eat.”
John snorted. “Not of his own free will I’m sure.”
Mycroft shrugged. “I only reminded him of how put out you would be if he neglected himself in your absence. Surely you wouldn’t fault me for that?”
John grunted and rubbed at his throbbing temples. He blocked out the murmuring thoughts of those in the building -- something he was getting better at -- and sighed. “Sorry, but I have a bit of a headache and I’m not really in the mood for pleasantries at the moment. So if you could just tell me what you want, I can say no and go back to sleep.”
Mycroft raised his eyebrows. “My brother’s actions got you stabbed last night. I am merely concerned for your health.”
“Yes,” John allowed. “But there’s something else too, isn’t there?” John tapped his forehead. “Mindreader, remember?”
Mycroft, for all his smoke and mirrors, had the decency not to deny it. He nodded and said, “I don’t know the entirety of what happened in that warehouse and I doubt Sherlock will ever tell me. But, given that you’re lying in a hospital bed, now seems like a good time to ensure that my brother’s shortcomings have not become an issue since your own situation has changed.”
How Mycroft managed to put it so delicately – since your own situation has changed, a group of words that still managed to induce flashbacks of captivityneedlesdrugspaintoomuchtoomanyt
“Honestly? It’s not that different from how it was before,” John said. “It’s not as if Sherlock has ever felt the need to hold back what he’s thinking. As for me getting stabbed, well, I knew this was dangerous when I signed up, didn’t I? I’m not going to leave him.”
Mycroft smiled. “Very well, John. Thank you for your time.”
What happened next was a mistake. John stretched his arms at the exact moment that Mycroft stood to leave. His hand brushed up against Mycroft’s and John’s eyes fluttered shut and-
John whirled around, blinking hard as he tried to focus on his surroundings. All he could see were vast hedges, at least double his height, boxing him in on all sides. John tried to breathe evenly and sighed in relief when he found a path to follow through the hedges. As he followed the path, he could catch glimpses of images, emotions, ideas in his peripheral vision, but he shook his head, trying to ignore them as he might ignore a shape he saw out of the corner of his eye at night. He ignored them out of desperation to remain ignorant, to remain safe. John soon reached a break in the hedges and went left on an impulse, but ran into a dead end. He could see a young boy with curly, black hair sniffling, and John was suddenly leaning down to reassure him, to tell him, “It’s difficult to explain, Sherlock. Ordinary people don’t see the way we do. When you know things about them they haven’t told you, they become alarmed, scared even.”
The boy at his feet laughed bitterly and replied, “So they’re ignorant cowards and I’m the one who gets punched in the face for it?”
John closed his eyes, didn’t wish to say it out loud, but Sherlock had either already realized it or soon would: that they were unlike normal people, and Sherlock would have to be prepared for the cruelty of children and teenagers, so John said, “Yes.”
John jerked his hand away and gasped as if he’d just broken the surface of a deep lake. He clutched his hand and stared at Mycroft. Mycroft’s mind became abruptly closed to John: he could barely read anything present beneath the surface of regular, routine thoughts.
Mycroft took a deep breath and nodded at John. “Get well soon, John,” he said again, quietly this time.
John didn’t watch Mycroft leave the room, too busy swimming in the afterimages of the memory to focus. He pressed his palms into his eyes. What was happening to him? He’d thought he had finally got his abilities under control and then this happened. John had noticed that touching intensified the telepathy. A few people had touched him since his incident and he’d felt the depth of their minds and an inkling of things that lay far below like secrets and forgotten thoughts, but this had been an actual memory. John was pretty sure he’d never be able to scrub this from his mind: what it felt like to be Mycroft Holmes and how helpless he’d been as he tried to explain to Sherlock why so many people hated him and--
When had Sherlock returned?
John could feel Sherlock willing him to return to his senses, his thoughts like a life raft to John. He opened his eyes and looked at Sherlock.
John wished Sherlock didn’t have to see him like this, still reeling from the aftershocks of Mycroft’s memory. It reminded John of when he and Sherlock had touched last night and he’d felt Sherlock’s acute panic as if it were his own. Was it going to be like this every time he touched someone? Would he even be able to walk down the street without invading the memories of every person he brushed up against?
“John,” Sherlock said firmly. “Breathe.”
John realized that he was breathing a mile a minute and tried to breathe more deeply, grasping for all the relaxation techniques his therapist had taught him when he came back to London. John inhaled slowly through his nose and released his breath through his mouth, finally beginning to feel like he wouldn’t die from all the thoughts and chaos in his brain.
“Focus on here,” Sherlock said. John closed his eyes and let his mind wander around the building, the mundane thoughts of its residents ordinary and comforting. He could feel Sherlock next to him, solid and stable and there.
John nodded slowly and opened his eyes. “I’m here. I’m here.” He coughed. “Sorry, it’s, I…sorry.”
“I believe I’m the one who should be apologizing,” Sherlock said carefully, glancing at the bandage covering John’s side.
“It’s okay. You’re an idiot, but it’s okay.”
Sherlock smiled uncertainly. John could feel Sherlock's frustration but couldn’t tell what Sherlock was anxious about. “Are you okay?” Sherlock finally asked.
John swallowed heavily before speaking. “I sort of…I accidently touched Mycroft's hand and read his thoughts,” he said, feeling somewhat ridiculous as he said it out loud.
“You’ve been reading people’s thoughts for two weeks now,” Sherlock said, raising an eyebrow.
“No, no, it was like…what happened last night, between us.”
John nodded. “Yeah. I saw this…I dunno what the hell it was, a labyrinth or maze of some sort. I guess it must have been his version of a mind palace. Then I saw a memory.” John said.
“What was the memory?”
“Don’t you think that’s a bit private?” John hesitated, thinking back to the crying boy with unruly black hair.
Sherlock rolled his eyes. “You already saw it, it’s not private anymore. And it’s obviously something to do with me. I saw the way you looked at me when you came to your senses. Therefore, no harm in telling me.”
“Um,” John said, wondering when his life had gotten so complicated. He wasn’t quite sure if it was before or after the telepathy. “Someone had just punched you, I think a kid from school, and Mycroft was, erm…comforting you.”
Sherlock’s mouth twitched, but he nodded. “He's always been so concerned. You should have seen him this morning.”
John snorted. “Well you did nearly get yourself killed yesterday.”
Sherlock stilled. “Nearly got you killed too.”
“But you didn’t.” John felt how restless Sherlock’s thoughts were and smiled. “I can tell you want to ask me something. Go on. Ask.”
Sherlock contemplated John carefully and hesitated slightly before asking, “What’s it like?”
John’s fingers fiddled with the edge of his sheet. As much as he wanted to explain it to Sherlock, to share his abilities with someone, John didn’t know how. It was like trying to describe the color red to someone who was colorblind. His telepathy simply was. “I...I dunno. You kind of experienced it last night, didn’t you?”
“That doesn’t mean I understood it,” Sherlock said tightly. John winced. Those can’t have been easy words to say for Sherlock Holmes.
John sighed. “I’m sorry, Sherlock, but I’m not sure if it’s something I can describe.”
Sherlock narrowed his eyes. John could feel the frustration coming off him. “Congratulations, John, you’re an enigmatic mindreader. A little cliche, don't you think? I don’t know why I bothered asking.”
“No, I honestly have no idea how to describe it. It’s like explaining your deductions, except I have no clues to drawn from, only whatever people happen to be thinking at the moment,” John said reasonably. “And believe me, I know how bloody annoying it is being around someone who knows what you’re thinking all the time.”
Sherlock crossed his arms. “Deduction is a science, something I’ve perfected and learned to utilize over decades. I observe and analyze. You, I don’t know, hear other people’s voices in their heads or feel their emotions or some other rubbish you can’t bother explaining. You can look at people’s memories by touching them, but I can deduce the same thing by merely looking. Mine is an art and yours is a parlor trick, so don’t compare our abilities.”
John’s fists clenched slightly. “Okay. Okay. Well first off, it’s not hearing voices or feeling emotions, you dick. At least, not in the way you’re thinking. And secondly, fuck you. I wish I didn’t know what you were thinking, because then I could at least pretend that you actually give a shit.”
Sherlock’s face became still and his mind was suddenly blank. He stood, looking steadily away from John, and John remembered how Sherlock had felt last night, the panic and desperation he’d felt directed towards him. “Sherlock, wait,” he said, grabbing at Sherlock’s sleeve. “I didn’t mean that. I know you give a shit.
“Are you sure? High-functioning sociopath, remember?” Sherlock said coolly.
“I know you too well for that line, Sherlock.” John took a breath. “I know you’re just trying to understand, and I know I’m not making it easy. To be fair though, neither are you.”
Sherlock sat back down. “So what really happened last night, John? Why did you see that memory? Usually you only hear my thoughts or emotions.” Sherlock said the last word with distaste.
John thought back to to standing in the middle of Sherlock’s mind, to how vast and organized the place had been. “It’s like...it’s like your mind palace, I guess, or I assume it is, I dunno. There have to be layers or levels to a system like that, right?”
“How do you mean?”
“Like, there’s the stuff you’ve stored only recently which you can reach pretty easily, and then there’s stuff like Project H.O.U.N.D. where you have to work at it,” John said. “So it’s the same thing with this, or it kind of is. There’s the stuff on the surface of people’s minds, mostly just general ideas or images or emotions, and that’s the stuff I usually hear. Sometimes thoughts, if people are thinking them loud enough.”
“But touching can add more depth to the process, another layer so to speak,” Sherlock said, mind racing ahead as he processed John’s words, a sort of pleasant white noise that settled into the back of John’s mind.
“Yeah, pretty much. It was probably that specific memory because you were thinking back to it already. Makes sense, you were panicked and-”
“I was not panicked,” Sherlock interrupted.
“You do remember that I can sense your emotions, right?”
Sherlock looked uncomfortable. “John, I...” John frowned. Sherlock’s mind felt like utter chaos. His thoughts even more of a whirlwind than they usually were.
“Oh God. I’m an idiot,” John said suddenly, “No, what am I talking about? You’re an idiot.”
Sherlock looked at him, clearly about to protest. But John just pulled Sherlock close to him and pressed their lips together.
Oh, Sherlock thought.
John couldn’t help but laugh into Sherlock’s mouth. “You really don’t know emotions, do you?”
Sherlock's voice was dismissive but he was smiling. “Why should I? I have you to know them for me.”
“You’re impossible,” John said, smiling wide as his head hit the pillow. He yawned. “And exhausting. Sleep now, kissing later.”
“Dull.” John felt Sherlock’s hand settle against his own. Memories washed over him: cups of hot tea, the two of them yelling at the telly during a truly awful film, them silently walking through London, their lips pressed together. John was asleep within moments.