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The Second Law of Thermodynamics

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John wakes up at two in the morning, because his face is freezing.

It's not the bitter cold of the desert, the kind that tries to knife all the way through you. No, it's the damp, clinging cold that wants to wrap around you and not let go. That leaves you wondering if your limbs have frozen solid without you noticing.

"Jesus," he says and the word comes out as a plume of mist.

He's tempted to pull the covers over his head but he's fairly sure the cold has already seeped down into the rest of him. He's shivering even with the duvet twisted round him, teeth clicking in the dark. Doesn't this place have heating?

Is he the only one with sense enough to turn it on?

He swears again and tries to struggle his way free and - fuck - venturing into the world outside his bed is like being slapped in the face by every cold morning that's ever existed.

He has to look out the window. Because there'd been a foot of snow outside at ten o'clock. It's more like two feet now. There's no such thing as a road anymore. There's just a huge mess of white and the vague smear that used to be London as far as the eye can see. He stumbles his way out of his room, trying to make his legs work well enough not to crash into anything. There has to be some form of heating for the place, since there are radiators, but he's buggered if he can find it.

He knows Mrs Hudson is away, and not likely to come back soon if the snow's going to keep piling up, but he doesn’t fancy going all the way downstairs and trying to find the heating in the dark. He's already roughly twenty degrees colder than when he struggled his way out of bed. He's vibrating with it.

He doesn't find the heating. He does find Sherlock though, hunched over the desk in his shirtsleeves frowning over a mess of papers that have clearly been carefully spread out from a Scotland Yard file.

John can see him breathing, there's a pale, frigid cloud on every exhale.

He swears and makes his way over to him.

"How long have you been sitting here without moving?"

Sherlock's teeth click, like he's been inhaling too much of that frozen air.

"Long enough to unravel the mysteries of at least five cold cases, all very pedestrian. Disappointing." He doesn't look up.

John eyes the stack of folders on the desk. "Have you been stealing files again?"

"Borrowing them, though there's some uncertainty as to whether it can even be called that, since Lestrade never notices."

Sherlock's pale fingers twitch and John can't help reaching out and catching them. They're ice cold, and there's a fine tremor running through his skin that John can feel now, fits and starts that are barely visible. John gets the feeling he's been ruthlessly clamping down on his body's natural defence against the cold for a while. The living room is like a crypt.

"You don't have a case, you're not in the middle of some sort of gruesome, time-sensitive experiment and you're freezing to death, you should go to bed."

"There's a dead owl in it," Sherlock provides, like that's a perfectly sensible answer to the question.

"A dead owl - " John shakes his head. "I don't think I want to know."

Sherlock's teeth click again.

"Sherlock if you get any colder your brain will slow down, and you won't even be able to remember what day it is," John offers. Because he figures that's some sort of fate worse than death approach that just might work.

Sherlock's brief twist of expression in reaction to that seems to suggest that his brain running at 50% is still more than a match for London and its long abandoned mysteries.

But, Sherlock freezing to death in a fit of stubbornness while John sleeps is not an option. Especially since the snow seems to be devouring the world every time he looks away.

"I can't believe I'm doing this," John says, helplessly, and physically drags Sherlock up from the chair.

He lists to one side and then winces, like his joints have forgotten how to work. Or more likely, like his blood's currently flowing like a slush puppy.

"Christ, Sherlock, do you have any idea how cold you are?"

"I'm becoming unpleasantly aware of that now, thank you."

"Do you even own a jumper? One you haven't spilled anything caustic on, or set on fire"

"Possibly," Sherlock provides.

"You could have at least put your coat on, or your gloves?"

"I meant to, I became distracted."

"Can you even feel your hands?"

Sherlock continues to protest his ignorance of his own body temperature all the way back to John's room.

John pushes him until he sits down on the bed.

"Left to your own devices you'll end up with hypothermia," he says sharply and steals Sherlock's shoes and socks before he can complain. His feet are so cold they almost burn the back of his hand. "And you felt the need to roll your sleeves up why exactly?"

"Expediency, freedom of movement." Sherlock's teeth are clicking regularly now, like he has a tick in his jaw.

"You're not supposed to resist the symptoms of cold you know, they're there for a reason."

John unwinds the shirt and tugs it off Sherlock's arms, which seem to bewilderingly go on forever, before throwing it somewhere on the floor.

"I wasn't resisting I was channelling, possibly, hard to decide for certain."

Sherlock's trousers are expensive and complicated and it takes John a minute to work out what the hell is going on with them. he ends up shivering and irritated long before he manages to get them open and drag them down his legs.

Sherlock puts a hand on John's shoulder, thumb pressed against his neck, and it's cold enough to make John shudder and lean away. But Sherlock doesn't protest when John shoves him down and tosses the cover over him.

"I need my phone?" Sherlock says and the sentence only breaks for cold once.

"Where is it?"

"I don't know," Sherlock admits.

"So, you technically mean 'can you find my phone for me,' the answer is no."

"You don't have to find it, you just have to ring it, it can find itself." The words are bitten out between teeth that really don't want to stop chattering now

John slides in the other side, drags the covers up.

Sherlock is cold, uncomfortably, worryingly cold. John can feel it rolling off of him. Much as he's still not entirely sure about the idea, he really has very little choice but to drag the other man close enough to awkwardly put his arms around.

Sherlock makes a muffled noise and John gets a face full of cold hair. He fully expects Sherlock to try and extricate himself again, or lecture him on the complexities of heat exchanges.

Instead there's an approving grunt, like John has had a marvellous idea. Sherlock has already slithered an ice cold hand where it has no business being and John sucks a breath and tries to cringe away from it, only there isn't anywhere to go. He's going to complain loudly - but Sherlock makes a noise like John has proven himself to be remarkable. After an intent shifting of skin on sheets, Sherlock is suddenly a collection of long freezing lines all the way along John's body and it's enough to steal all the air out of his throat.

There's a noise against the side of his face, and Sherlock's muttering something about the second law of thermodynamics.

Sherlock's not the only one who's shivering now.

"My fingers are too numb to do anything?" Sherlock complains, irritated.

"I can tell," John snaps. "Because they're freezing and you have one of them on my stomach."

"You're going to be angry about the misappropriation of body heat, John, really?"

"My stomach, Sherlock."

"Where else would you prefer?" Sherlock's hand stretches like it's perfectly willing to drain heat from wherever John decides is best. Sherlock seems to give in after a minute though. He lays his forehead against the curve of John's shoulder, and then presses half his face there. It's as close to greedy as John's ever known him to be.

"I thought human sensations were just distractions from the glorious, crystalline wonder of your brain," John says, between shivers.

Sherlock eyeballs him sideways in a way that very clearly says 'if you're going to put words in my mouth at least do better than that.'

"I get to mock you at will," John decides. "Since I wasn't the one stupid enough to sit around in the dark, in inappropriate clothing, in the middle of Winter."

"And I'm expected to put up with this?"

"Yes, due to the fact that you're in my bed," John decides.

"Dead owl," Sherlock reminds him, like John might have forgotten. Like that's the most important part of the equation here.

"Of course, how could I forget the dead owl."

"Clearly you only have yourself to blame, since you brought me here, I could have slept on the sofa."

"You would have frozen to death on the sofa," John says, completely ignoring Sherlock's eye roll at his dramatics. As if Sherlock has any right to lecture anyone on the art of being overly dramatic. "This way I don't have to worry about you."

"We do both stand a far greater chance of retaining a comfortable temperature if we remain exactly where we are," Sherlock concedes.

"A thank you would be nice about now," John says.

"I'm sure it would," Sherlock says.

"Sherlock," John growls warningly.

"Yes, yes, fine, thank you. I'm having much more fun now I can feel the cold."

"I like to think that this is your fault, somehow," John says.

"I can predict a lot of things with a certain amount of accuracy, the weather, frustratingly, is not one of them."

"Why doesn't the heating work?" John asks quietly. He's just guessing, but he thinks he knows Sherlock well enough by now.

There's a huff of air somewhere in the dark that ends against his face. It feels somewhere close to appropriately chastised.

"I've been meaning to see about some sort of back-up generator, maybe some sort of back-up heating would be a good idea too." Sherlock frowns, like he's suddenly impossibly vexed that he wasn't capable of planning for all eventualities.

He's shivering properly now, all shudders that feel nothing but awkward on his frame. It's probably a good sign that Sherlock's body chose to win this battle, for once. The magnificent engine that is his brain, no matter how good it is, has to occasionally bow to the engineer.

"How long is the to do list in your head anyway." John makes a noise. "No, lists are far too easy aren't they, it's probably a flow chart, or some sort of vast Venn diagram network."

"Hideously imprecise," Sherlock complains, and his head's turned far enough that he's mostly talking into John's good shoulder.

He resolutely ignores the rumble of vibration that causes.

"No one's going anywhere tomorrow, so unless you can build a snowmobile from kitchen appliances there'll be no hands on crime solving, or eyes on crime solving. No crime-solving at all."

Sherlock makes a noise like John is quite mad if he thinks their brief dip into artic temperatures is going to stop him.

"Unless you've developed remote viewing powers it's not happening, Sherlock."

"They could text me."

"You think you could solve a crime via text message. No - God, who am I talking to, of course you could."

"Does a picture count?" Sherlock asks.

"No, no pictures."

"Debatable," Sherlock decides. "Accuracy rating far too low."

"You could take a wild stab at it," John offers.

"John, if I just made wild stabs at things I'd be Wikipedia," Sherlock protests.

John laughs, helplessly, in the darkness and stretches his leg out. It doesn't like the cold.

"I think you're safe from being usurped by Wikipedia. Besides, I think the criminals probably looked out of the window today at the two feet of snow and thought to themselves 'y’know what, I don't fancy it.'"

Sherlock's fingers are fiddling with something under the covers. He is apparently now alive enough to reach the outside world.

"When did you get my phone?"

"When you were taking my shoes off," Sherlock provides. Though the combination of intermittent shivering and numb fingers is currently frustrating his ability to hold it up properly. He finally settles for balancing it against John's chest and the tiny clicks of the button and pressure from the phone back against the material of his t-shirt is strangely hypnotic.

A moment later there's the faraway sound of a phone.

"My phone's in the kitchen," Sherlock provides.

John grumbles something inaudible, though he's fairly sure Sherlock knows perfectly well what he said.

"Do not do anything untoward with my phone."

"That's a rather broad and unhelpful demand," Sherlock tells him, and his face looks particularly strange in the glow of the phone's light.

"Don't text any murderers."

"We're almost all of us capable of murder, John."

John sighs.

The rest of the tapping John is certain he wants to know nothing about. The quiet, almost inaudible muttering from Sherlock is a strange but familiar addition.

It's half lulled him to sleep when the phone suddenly buzzes sharply against his chest.

"What's that?"

"The battery," Sherlock says, irritated and too fast. It seems his distraction is about to be cut short.

The room abruptly goes dark.

There's a sigh - closely followed by Sherlock's sharp fingers and the soft thud of his own phone on his stomach.

"Plug it in."

"No."

"John."

"No." John says, frowning in the dark though he's fairly sure Sherlock can see him. He has irritatingly good eyesight.

One of Sherlock's legs, freezing and narrow, is threatening to slip sideways and take him out of the bed. John slides his own over and pins it still.

Sherlock gives a huff of frustrated annoyance, like John is being ridiculous.

"You're still half frozen, and I refuse to get up again and fetch you because you've found something fascinating in your bookshelves, or the fridge, or outside in the bloody snow."

Sherlock sighs, theatrically, and lets the dead phone fall into the sheets somewhere, unimportant now it's useless. John has no problem at all imaging the many things Sherlock leaves abandoned in his own room. John sort of hopes he never has to go in there. Judging by his worrying tendency to leave body parts lying around there's a better than average chance that a dead owl isn't the only morbid and disturbing thing lurking in Sherlock's room.

John's going to suggest as much when Sherlock yawns, he actually yawns. John doesn't think he's ever seen that before. A second later he tucks his face into John's shoulder, possibly to conserve heat because his nose is still freezing cold. His hair tickles where it drags against John's throat and jaw.

For a long stretch Sherlock doesn’t talk at all. There's just one steady flare of breath after another, warming John's skin and then leaving it to cool. The vague, nagging arousal he'd done a pretty good job of stamping into submission earlier proves itself more resilient than he'd thought.

"Pieces, John," Sherlock mumbles somewhere under the covers. "It's all pieces, in the wrong order, or in the right order but not looked at in the right way."

"What are you talking about?" John asks.

He doesn’t get an answer, just a strange murmur than means nothing.

And then -

Sherlock apparently snores.

It turns out he talks in his sleep as well.


*****


It's exactly as cold when John wakes up, if not moreso. The sunlight doesn’t help with anything but the unnecessary and unwelcome blinding. With any luck it won't have snowed any more during the night. Because last time there was this much snow everyone acted like the world was ending, for a week.

It takes him a confusing handful of seconds to work out why someone unexpectedly heavy is half laying on him. It takes him a longer minute to work out why on earth this all seemed such a good idea last night. Because in daylight this is so much more incriminating that it was in the dark at two in the morning.

John can only see the mad curls of Sherlock's hair and the curve of his mouth from his position. But if he tips his head, just a fraction, he can see the rest of Sherlock's face.

He feels a little bit like a wildlife photographer with a chance to get a picture of a snow leopard. Because this would be actual first hand proof, in daylight hours no less, that the great Sherlock Holmes sleeps.

"You dropped the camera in the Thames, and your phone, as we've already established, is dead," Sherlock says, without opening his eyes. Forcing John to wonder if his brain even knows the difference between asleep and awake.

"It's creepy when you do that," John tells him.

Sherlock doesn't reply.

It occurs to John that the other man is now perfectly warm and there's really no reason for him to still be here.

"Why are you still laying on me?"

There's a pause.

"You're comfortable," Sherlock offers at last, slowly and quietly, as if admitting the fact that he caved to sensation is something scandalous. Something he'll have to punish himself for later, possibly by being even more coldly brilliant to make up for it.

It's not entirely surprising though, since Sherlock mostly falls asleep in chairs, or on the sofa, or slumped over the desk. Those brief, terrible moments where his brain gives up in a fit of common sense. It also occurs to John that Sherlock appears to have perfected that greedy, dramatic sprawl that feels like it's never had to occupy less than as much space as possible, or ever pander to the whims of another bed partner.

John doesn't quite know what to do with that. He hasn't moved him yet though and he considers that a special sort of weakness. Because Sherlock is not - they're not - no matter how warm he is.

"Look, Sherlock, this really isn't -"

"Don't be pedestrian, John. You're far too good to be pedestrian."

John doesn't know whether to be flattered or annoyed by that.

He shuts his mouth though.

"Coffee," Sherlock decides.

John glares at his hair.

"Was that a hint?"

"I need stimulation," Sherlock provides, like it's a life or death situation.

John sighs, and shoves the covers off.

"Fuck," he says instantly. Because it's insanely cold, he thinks he may have to force Sherlock to fix the heating, somehow, especially if they're going to be forced to stay here until the snow melts.

John decides to hell with it and puts his jumper on before finding his way to the kitchen.

His feet nearly freeze to the floor, the numb bite of it leaves him sliding awkwardly from foot to foot while he waits for the kettle to boil (before first checking the kettle to make sure there's nothing disturbing in it.)

He takes both mugs back upstairs.

Sherlock's still sprawled out, messily, in his bed. There's a long, pale hand curved over the edge and a flare of dark hair on the pillow. It hits John, worryingly hard, that this isn't something he does. This would never happen, ever, with any other man he's known, in his entire life.

"Come back to bed, it's cold," Sherlock says irritably.

John's forced to wonder if you can have an entire relationship without ever having sex. Because it feels like that's what they're doing, and he's sure you're supposed to notice when things like this happen. You're supposed to notice when you cross the line from flatmate to friend, friend to...something else? The worst part is, he thinks he may actually be to blame for some of it. Times where other people - where normal people, would have put their foot down.

It's slightly more worrying that he's suddenly wondering what sex with Sherlock would be like. He's fairly sure he's not allowed to think things like that, for so many sensible reasons. He doesn't even know if Sherlock has sex, or whether he finds it all horribly unnecessary and beneath him.

He sets the coffee down on the other side of the bed, on top of the day before yesterday's paper.

Sherlock mutters something which sounds like 'seventeen minutes,' and then slides an arm out to retrieve the mug.

"Do not spill coffee in my bed," John tells him. Which still isn't 'get out of my bed' when it probably should be. When he should probably want it to be.

He ends up shoving Sherlock's legs over and climbing back into bed without really thinking about it. Because everywhere else is cold and Sherlock has been doing a marvellous job of keeping the sheets warm during John's long and unpleasant trek to the kitchen.

And because it's still too early to be up.

Or something like that.

Sherlock grumbles something unflattering and sets the mug down on the floor with one of his ridiculously long arms. Then he rolls in close again, body sliding against John's like he's decided that's something he can just do now. There's a hand that's impossibly warm - from being wrapped around a cup filled with boiling water - on the curve of John's ribs.

It's suddenly very hard to breathe properly.