John stepped into the flat and shook himself. Water droplets fell from his coat and showered the carpet.
"Bloody hell," he said. "It's soaking out there."
Sherlock sat on the couch, legs stretched out in front of him, head reclined on the back. He'd been gazing out the window but looked around when John came in. He stared at John a moment, as though trying to figure out who he was, then smiled.
"There you are," Sherlock said.
"Here I am." John started unbuttoning his coat. "What are you doing, then? Watching it rain?"
Sherlock looked back at the window. Rain sheeted down outside, making the streetlights ripple.
"Yes." Sherlock sat up. He watched John as he removed his coat and draped it over the back of a chair by the fire to dry. "I'm glad you're here," he said.
"Where else would I be?" John rubbed his hands together, trying to warm them.
Sherlock continued staring, looking at John the way he appraised a crime scene, gathering details, data scrolling behind his gaze.
"What?" John asked. He wasn't used to Sherlock putting that look on him.
"Can I talk to you a moment?"
"Er—sure. Should I sit?"
"If you're more comfortable that way."
"Will it be long? You look like you have something complicated to say."
Sherlock gestured—not to the chair behind John, nor the couch next to him, but to the coffee table in front of him. John tilted his head.
"I do have something complicated to say," Sherlock said. "I want you close and looking at me."
John complied, hesitantly. He sat down on the edge of the coffee table, facing Sherlock, so close their knees brushed. Sherlock's pale eyes pinned themselves on John's face, making his skin tingle under the damp fabric of his jumper. He needed to go change, to get into something snug and warm, but he wanted to hear what Sherlock said first.
"John," he began, and it was a voice John had heard him use once before, when he'd misconstrued John's questioning about his sexuality and wanted to let him down gently. John listened raptly, as he had then, overly aware of Sherlock's bony knee poking through the fabric of the pajama bottoms he wore and against John's own knee.
"I was discombobulated when I tried to express my gratitude," Sherlock said. "It wasn't very graceful."
John had to think for a moment what he meant, then he smiled, simply smiled.
"No one has ever offered their life for mine," Sherlock went on, and he cast his gaze down, his lashes shadowing his eyes. "No one ever thought it was worth that much."
Sherlock looked back up at him.
"Really John, do you think they would?"
"Well they ought to have."
Sherlock tilted his chin up, eyes gleaming faintly, the ghost-white, delicate beauty of his face like an alien object of art. And yet, he had a very human expression John had seen only a few times, an expression which said I am affected but no one shall ever know. John knew, but he'd let him keep believing in his own invincibility.
"Is that all then?" John asked.
"John, I'm trying to thank you."
"And you have."
"I'm also trying to say I'm sorry."
John was more taken aback by this than Sherlock thanking him.
"I've been—unkind." He looked down again, and then away, toward the window. Sirens passed in the street below. Flashes of red and blue lit the walls, glinted on Sherlock's curls. "I treated you harshly. I said cruel things and ridiculed you for caring."
John sighed. "I suppose you had a point," he said. "You just lacked the tact to express it properly."
Sherlock looked back at him. He swallowed, his Adam's apple bobbing, and John wondered what melancholy he'd been ruminating on tonight that made him say all this.
"You cared a great deal about me," Sherlock said. "Even when I didn't deserve it."
"Maybe it's because I know you do care, no matter what you say." He leaned toward him. "Moriarty said he'd burn the heart out of you, so you must have one, because he's a very clever man. Almost as clever as you."
Sherlock gazed at him a moment, and John gazed back, and then Sherlock broke into a wide smile and laughed. John smiled too and sat back.
"Do you know your face completely changes when you smile?" John asked him.
"What?" His smile became smaller, close-lipped, but remained.
"It does." John sat back on his hands, grinning, and let his knees fall comfortably against Sherlock's. "Your face is all severe and angular until you smile. Then your lips get all fat and your cheeks squish up and your eyes go squinty. It's like a completely different Sherlock."
Sherlock laughed again and John got to see the face he was talking about once more. John grinned and wobbled Sherlock's knee with his. "Now, is that quite enough being soft and silly for one night?"
Sherlock was still smiling. "You did an amazing thing."
John held up a hand. "You've done amazing things too. Let's call it even."
A sound distracted John then, a wet trickling noise, and he looked over his shoulder. Water was coming through a small crack in the ceiling and pattering on the carpet.
"Oh sodding hell," John said, and got up. "Now we've got a leak!"
John walked over to examine it, staring up at the ceiling. It wasn't terribly big, but there was already a dark patch on the carpet. He looked around at Sherlock. "Guess we better grab a pot from—Sherlock?"
Sherlock was staring up at the ceiling too, eyes fixed sharply on the leak and lips pursed as if it were a personal affront to him. Then he snapped out of it and looked at John. "Yes," he said, and stood. "I'll fetch one."
Sherlock went to the kitchen and came back with a pot. John took it from him and put it under the leak. The water plunked against the metal.
"Guess we'll have to have a word with Mrs. Hudson in the morning," John said. Before he straightened up though, he dipped two fingers in the water already gathering in the bottom of the pot. "Does that smell a bit strange to you?" He started to bring his wet fingers to his face but Sherlock gripped his arm and pulled him upright.
"Oh John," he chuckled lightly, "you were never very good at deductions, and I mean that in the fondest way. Leave it."
"What?" John furrowed his brow.
"Come on, let's watch some telly. Don't you have some more terrible shows to introduce me to?"
They sat on the couch side by side. John was cold and wrapped himself up in a blanket. He couldn't seem to get warm and his skin felt damp even after he changed clothes. He hoped he wasn't coming down with something. Sherlock was wrapped up in his dressing gown, legs drawn up on the couch and folded in on himself. They watched a few comedy sitcoms. John laughed and Sherlock made derisive noises but thankfully kept his commentary to himself. John wondered if this was part of the new—sure to be temporary—kinder, gentler Sherlock.
John dozed off eventually, still wrapped in his blanket and head on the back of the couch. He woke to the television on static and a warm weight against his knee. He looked down and found Sherlock's head there. He had curled into an impossibly tight ball between the arm of the couch and John's body.
John thought he was asleep. Then he noticed Sherlock's spider-leg fingers curled tightly in the edge of John's blanket, holding on like a frightened child in the dark. John reached down and slid his hand over Sherlock's and felt his knuckles shift as he relaxed his fingers.
"Are you all right?" John whispered.
Sherlock gave a slight, barely perceptible shake of his head.
John didn't know what to do, so he sifted his fingers through Sherlock's hair; it was thin and silky and cool, like mist.
"It'll get better," John murmured. "Things will go back to normal. Right now we're still raw from what happened. The way it all…" He paused, frowning thoughtfully.
"Don't talk about it," Sherlock whispered. He reached up and touched John's wrist, stilled his hand stroking his hair. "Leave it for now."
"All right," John said.
He kept his fingers entwined in Sherlock's hair, Sherlock's hand on his, and fell asleep again that way.
Life in the flat became easier than it had ever been. Quiet. Peaceful. They needed time to recover and realign and they were closer than ever before, sharing a bond formed by having gone through a life-threatening, life-changing event together. They no longer got under each other's skin. John found he could even forgive Sherlock's experiments all over the kitchen and his body parts in the fridge, though Sherlock suddenly seemed conscientious about keeping both reasonably in check.
The rain didn't stop. That was London for you. The crack in the ceiling widened enough to need two pots and John fussed at it every time he walked past. He wanted to get up there himself and seal it but Sherlock insisted neither of them were very adept handymen and he would probably only worsen it.
"There's nothing to do for it," Sherlock said. "Besides, don't you think it gives the place some character?" He was in the kitchen, cooking of all things. He shot John one of his sideways smiles from where he stood at the sink.
"Yes, it's like a regular Victorian novel in here." John stood by the counter, sipping tea and watching him strain pasta. "I didn't know you could cook."
"Food fascinates me." Sherlock dumped the pasta back in the pan. "The way different components can be put together to make something else."
"You couldn't tell your fascination by the way you never put it in your body."
"Just because I've never had something in me doesn't mean I'm not intrigued by it." He turned from the sink to the table, flashing John a look.
John stared at him a moment, mouth open, trying to find words.
"Sherlock—did you just…was that innuendo?"
"Here." Sherlock turned and thrust a wooden spoon at him. "Stir the sauce."
John went to the stove, still a bit uncertain what had just transpired. He glanced over his shoulder at Sherlock, who was busy setting the table—John didn't even know they had a proper set of dishes—then turned back to the sauce. It smelled surprisingly good.
A sharp crack followed by a crumbling sound made John look around. It sounded like someone had tossed a handful of gravel into the sink.
John gasped when he saw the tile above the sink had just crumbled away, exposing the wood beneath. It had fallen into the sink.
"For Godsakes!" John put the spoon down on the edge of the stove. "This bloody place is falling apart!"
John walked to the sink and looked in. Pieces of broken tile were scattered on the bottom.
"Yes it is," Sherlock said, joining him. "I had no idea what a slum Mrs. Hudson was coercing us into."
"What's next? Is the roof going to cave in on us?" John picked up a piece of tile and examined it, trying to decide if it could be salvaged and glued back up. As he turned it over in his fingers something struck him odd about it and he frowned, narrowing his eyes.
"Leave it for now." Sherlock took the tile out of his hand and put it aside. "Look after the sauce or it'll burn."
They finished making dinner without anything crashing down on them, though John groused at the tile every time he had to use the sink. Finally they sat down at the table, John at the end and Sherlock sat next to him. Sherlock watched expectantly as he took a bite.
After chewing thoughtfully, then swallowing, John smiled. "It's good. It's actually, really bloody good!" He gave a disbelieving laugh.
Sherlock smiled. "You of little faith in me."
"You have to admit, domesticity has never been your strong suit."
"I suppose I never had a reason to make it so."
They ate in silence for a few minutes, then John said, "Was that innuendo earlier?"
"Do you think it was?" Sherlock was pushing his food around more than eating it, but at least he was trying.
"I don't know. Maybe this is all just you shamming human again. I can never really tell."
Sherlock looked up at him, and the expression in his eyes made John instantly regret he'd said it.
"I've never shammed with you John," Sherlock said, evenly. "Because you can, in fact, tell. Don't depreciate yourself." He glanced up, his gaze skimming the ceiling. "You always figure things out eventually."
John frowned and twirled some pasta around his fork.
"Do you want some wine?" Sherlock asked. "I have some red."
"Yes, that would be nice."
After they ate, and after a glass of wine, John felt warm and languid and stretched out on the couch. Sherlock sat in a chair by the fire and observed him silently, fingers steepled beneath his chin. He looked several times like he wanted to say something, but didn't speak. John gazed at the ceiling.
When he felt Sherlock's long, lean body ease onto the couch beside him, John realized it was because he'd beckoned him, a small gesture of his hand Sherlock had obviously been waiting for. They lay in silence for a while, Sherlock's body warm against his side, his wine-scented breath tickling his cheek.
"I didn't mean to call you inhuman," John finally said, softly.
Sirens in the street below again. Always someone suffering, even when everything was so calm and peaceful right there in the flat.
"I didn't mean to give you the impression I was," Sherlock said in return.
John turned his face toward him. He lifted his hand and traced the line of Sherlock's jaw. Sherlock lifted his hand too, as if to touch John's face, but his fingers hovered just above his cheek.
John kissed him, gently, a firm but soft touch, and Sherlock's lips were warm and plump. They felt exactly the way they looked, so much John could picture them behind his closed eyelids.
They fell asleep pressed together, lips so close they were inhaling each other's breath. John woke once to the sensation of Sherlock's fingertips skimming his jaw. He awoke again later with Sherlock's curls pressed to his cheek and his face buried against his shoulder, and for a moment he swore Sherlock was weeping softly, a sound so strange John woke fully at once. But when he touched the back of his head he was silent; just a dream.
Still, as John closed his eyes again he whispered, "It's going to be all right…"
John came downstairs, scratching his head, huffy and irritated. He looked around the living room.
"Sherlock, have you seen my leather gloves?" He pushed a couch cushion up fruitlessly. "It's the damnedest thing, I can't find them anywhere. You know the ones I was wearing the night—"
He had turned toward the kitchen and stopped short. Sherlock was sitting in the middle of the floor, knees drawn up, still in his dressing down, staring plaintively at the wall above the sink.
John walked into the kitchen and looked at the sink. More of the tile had fallen away, scattered on the counter and on the floor in front of the sink.
"Well that's just marvelous!" John threw his hands up in exasperation. He looked around into the living room. "And it's still bloody raining? It never stops!" He strode over to the leak, glared up at it, then down at the half-full pots beneath. "Well that's it." He went back to the kitchen. "Mrs. Hudson is going to get a maintenance person up here and she's not seeing a bit of the rent until she does!"
Sherlock pulled his gaze from the wall and looked up at John. He seemed to contemplate him. "John," he said.
"What is it?"
"Do you feel oddly about last night?"
John stood still, staring down at him.
"No, no. Not at all. Do you?"
"I suppose I ought to."
"And why's that?"
Sherlock was silent a moment. He looked down. "It was innuendo."
John scoffed. "Don't beat yourself up about it." Sherlock looked up at him. John smiled. "It wasn't even very good innuendo. Quite heavy-handed, if you want the truth."
"Come on, get up from there. Use your brilliant mind to deduce where my gloves are."
"Forget the gloves. Stay in."
John did, without much protest. They sat on the couch together and watched telly, this time with John's arm draped comfortably around Sherlock's shoulders. He kept getting distracted by the leak, plunking away in the pots, and scowled over at it. Sherlock pulled his attention back with a delicately-rested hand on his thigh.
It was like being a teenager again, gradually inching closer, moving to holding hands, pretending to be focused on the TV when all John could think about was what move to make next. Finally they started kissing, but not like the night before, much more passionate this time.
John wondered if what was happening was not good, but then he needed to assess his reasons for kissing Sherlock to figure that out. Partly he wanted to comfort him and maybe comfort himself. Partly it was a response to the new bond they had. And yet another part was simply because he was and always had been fond of Sherlock. Even when he made it hard to be fond of him.
So maybe, good.
After a while they stretched out on the couch, John stroking Sherlock's hair, Sherlock's head on his chest.
"We ought to talk about what happened at the pool," John murmured. "If it's still bothering you."
"I'd rather not."
John twisted a curl around his finger. "Even a brilliant mind like yours is capable of trauma. Trust me, I'm an expert on the subject. It'll make you feel better."
"Trust me John," he drew a heavy sigh, "it won't in the least."
"But it was a very stressful thing that happened."
As if to mock the weight of the moment, the stream issuing from the ceiling increased, splashing in the pots.
"No." Sherlock tightened his arm around John's torso. "Help me think of good things. Wonderful things. Things in your head, not mine."
John knew there was no arguing with him when he insisted like that.
"I'm not sure the things in my head are good," John said lowly. Sherlock must have heard the change in his tone because he lifted his face to look up at him. John swallowed. "Perhaps…hasty things."
"We ought to be careful, Sherlock. We're both suffering from post-traumatic stress. That can make a person intensely emotional. We might do things we'll regret later, just to find some comfort."
"Do you think we'll do those things?"
John looked up at the ceiling. He slid his fingernails across Sherlock's scalp. "We might," he said.
"And do you think we'll regret them later?"
John didn't have an answer.
"And do you think they'll comfort us?"
Good or not, they ended up in John's bed.
It was, for John, simultaneously the most sexual experience he'd ever had, and yet not sexual in the least. They spent the night pressed together beneath the covers, completely naked. John had an erection at times, as did Sherlock, but neither had an orgasm and no actual sex—or even sexual touching—took place. Sherlock seemed more interested in wrapping himself completely around John, locking him up in his long limbs and pressing tightly against him as if trying to absorb him into his body. It was, indeed, very comforting.
In the morning John awoke before Sherlock and lay for a long while gazing at his face. Even in sleep Sherlock's brow was knitted in a tight, concentrated line. John stroked his fingertips across the high, sharp line of his cheekbone and his lips twitched.
John smiled, just taking him in and listening to the rain.
The rain. Was it still raining?
John frowned and turned his concentration to the sound of it pattering against the window and plopping on the roof. How many days had it been raining? Even for London this was a bit much.
Sherlock opened his eyes a slit and then shifted closer. "Good morning," he said, his voice more a rumble than usual. "Sleep well?"
"Sherlock, how many days has it been raining?"
Sherlock slid a hand over John's chest and rested it over his heart. "Let's just stay in bed a bit longer," he murmured. "Don't get up yet."
"All…all right." John didn't need much persuading. In fact, it would be much harder to convince him to ever get up again.
He did get up eventually though, as did Sherlock. John puttered around the kitchen, making tea and pondering things. He gazed at the broken tile over the sink and listened to the rain. He thought and thought but his thoughts kept running into dead ends.
"Sherlock…" John finally wandered into the living room. Sherlock stood by one of the windows, in his dressing gown, hands clasped behind his back and gazing out. He didn't turn. "Sherlock, you know, it's strange. Do you remember how we got away from Moriarty?"
Sherlock didn't answer, just lifted his chin a bit.
"I don't remember how we got away." John scratched his head. "I know that sounds bizarre. I mean—we keep talking about it. And we're suffering stress from it…aren't we?"
Sherlock heaved a soft sigh, his shoulders rising then slumping.
"In fact," John looked around, "I don't remember coming back here either. When did we come back? How many days have passed since? And have we gone out since then? I don't remember going out."
Sherlock turned from the window. His expression was strained—sad, almost. If Sherlock could express such a thing.
"Why can't I remember these things?" John asked, staring at him, filled with trepidation. "What's happened to my memory?"
Sherlock still didn't speak. John was distracted by the water running into the pots in the middle of the room. The crack was wider now and it was pouring out in a steady stream. John knelt beside one of the pots and dipped his fingers in the cold liquid. He brought them to his face and sniffed.
"It does smell strange," he said, more to himself than Sherlock. "It smells like…chlorine."
A crumbling sound came from the kitchen. More tile falling off the wall. John pictured it scattered in the sink. It looked like the tile at the pool.
John rose slowly, staring at Sherlock. Sherlock had the same look on his face he often did while patiently waiting for John to realize something.
"We—" John hesitated. "Sherlock…I don't think we survived the explosion."
Sherlock sighed again, but this time, it was resigned.
"You always figure things out eventually," Sherlock said, "even if it takes you a while, John. You're not me, after all. No one is. But you were always perfectly smart enough on your own."
John felt water rushing around his ankles and looked down. The floor was flooding, water flowing in from all around the room, seeming to gush from beneath the walls.
"We're dead," John said.
Sherlock walked toward him, the water rising up around his calves.
"You're dead," Sherlock said, and his voice was tight. "I'm in a coma, which I'll awake from shortly, now that you've figured this out."
John stared at him in disbelief. The water was nearly to his knees now. He heard sirens outside, saw the flashing lights on the surface of the water.
"I don't really know what this is or why," Sherlock said. "Maybe it's just a dream I'm having. But I'm grateful for it. I'm glad we got to have this time and I could say the things I ought to have said before."
"No—you." John shook his head. "No, Sherlock. You can't leave me!"
For the first time since John had known him, Sherlock looked truly, humanly grief-stricken.
"I'll come back John," he choked out the words. His eyes glittered and his pale pink lips trembled. "I promise. But I can't, until I've found Moriarty and taken him down. I have to make him pay."
The water was up to John's waist now—warm and almost relaxing, like slowly being drawn down into soft, silent peace. John thought he should be afraid but he wasn't. Sherlock stood before him, dressing gown spread out around him on the water. He gazed at John with such a heartbroken expression John had to smile, thinking he really did have a heart all along.
"I'll come back," Sherlock said, "when the only other reason I have to stay is gone."
John fell back and sunk into the growing flood, so it came up to his chest, then his chin.
"Don't be afraid," Sherlock whispered. "It's only death, John."
"I'll wait for you in the water," John promised, before sliding beneath the surface.
Sherlock observed, in the final moment, Moriarty plunged through the white spray at the bottom of the falls and hit the water. He knew, before he hit it himself a second later, that his enemy had been vanquished before him and he was content to die.
Everything left him as he went under: his breath, his heartbeat, all sensation and knowledge. Blackness swirled in as a great, complete nothingness that swallowed up the entirety of his essence. For long seconds he floated without awareness, and then something took shape.
A hand gripping his wrist. Lips were pressed to his.
Ah, there you are.
I told you I'd wait. Let's go home.
And they did.