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Appropriate Responses to Uncomfortable Situations

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Sherlock is standing by the window, gazing absently out at the busy streets of London.  Moonlight drifts over his fingers as they caress his violin, moving fluidly to coax Brahms out of it as naturally as his lungs breathe the air around him.

 

The music is sweet in the quiet of the flat, mingling with the sound of the soft rain falling outside, and it allows his mind to wander, to think, to obsess, just as it always does. He’s allowed himself to indulge in the rarity of maudlin, the mood having struck him quite unprepared, but he finds that embracing the sweet melancholy once in a while is quite pleasing, especially when his mind won’t stop turning and turning and turning over John.

 

It’s been this way for years, of course. When Sherlock was dead, John was his only thought. He would lie awake at night, wondering if Moriarty’s men had suddenly decided to kill him, or if perhaps Sherlock’s efforts to protect him had been in vain and there had been some freak accident and John walked out into the street at just the wrong moment –

 

His heart speeds up at the thought, and his fingers stumble over the Brahms for a moment.  He stops, abruptly switching to Debussy. Impressionism fits well with his mood, he thinks.

 

He closes his eyes to the outside view and focuses on nothing but the sound of his violin, trying desperately to stop the worrisome thoughts about Mary and John and their unborn child and Moriarty and the new frown lines that have cropped up on John’s face in the past few months and the rapid-fire appearance of a smattering of new gray hairs on the top of John’s head where it used to be nothing but pale browns and deep yellows.

 

The danger of caring, he thinks, is that it can set his mind into these unbearable loops, worrying and obsessing over things outside the realm of black and white fact, things over which he has no control. It’s torture, a sweet kind of torture that burns in his chest.

 

But suddenly, his eyes fly open when he hears a key turn in the door to 221B, and then he hears the familiar sounds of John’s favorite pair of shoes begin to climb the steps, the ones he’s clearly had since before he’d left for Afghanistan and which he clings to with an unhealthy emotional attachment, with soles that aren’t suitable for stepping in puddles and which he wears when he’s feeling particularly sad.

 

Sherlock forces his eyes to relax, forces his hands to continue the Debussy, even though his heart is pounding. He’s not emotionally prepared to see John in his current maudlin state, especially because as he falls into the familiar comfort of deductions, he knows that something has happened, something with Mary, judging by the late hour, and something which has John’s footsteps slowing to approximately one-third of their usual pace.

 

When John gets to the landing and opens the door, Sherlock doesn’t move, a strange sort of apprehension coming over him because he knows that he may have to comfort John. He doesn’t know how.

 

“Sherlock,” John says, and Sherlock doesn’t have to see him to know that his shoulders are sloped downward, that his eyebrows have that familiar crease of apprehension between them that twists his face into an overt display of worry and weariness, that his mouth is turned down at the corners, that his new frown lines are on full display. “I thought you might be up.”

 

Sherlock turns, but doesn’t lower his violin, continuing to play Debussy as his eyes confirm what he’d already imagined in his mind. “John,” he says, and even though he’d expected to see John looking like this, one of his least favorite versions of John, he can’t help but let his eyes flicker over him, cataloging everything he sees for later perusal. “Did something…happen?”

 

John sighs and hangs his umbrella over the door handle, the water dripping down onto the floor. “Can’t you deduce it?” he asks, an air of defeat clinging to his words. He goes over to his chair and sits heavily, looking up at Sherlock and resting his chin on his hand.

 

Sherlock stops playing, but keeps his violin and bow at his side, a sort of armor against his own uncertainty in conversations of this nature. He’s unsure how to proceed; John usually follows his deductions with brilliant amazing wonderful, but things are different now, and John’s clearly not in his best emotional state, and Sherlock can’t bear to see John switch to piss off. The deductions are swimming forward in his mind, though, so he speaks, his voice low.

 

“You’ve had a fight with Mary,” Sherlock says. “A serious one, perhaps the one that has been brewing ever since she shot me, but which both of you have been avoiding due to your desires to keep a calm and peaceful life for your unborn child, but it’s getting harder and harder for you to look at her and not wonder exactly what it is you’re forgiving her for, which she notices and has been growing increasingly resentful towards, but she hasn’t said anything due to her own fault in the situation.” He pauses, his eyes flickering over John. “Your…bedroom activities have been relatively nonexistent, and you’re both aware of the implications of the distance between you. You’re growing apart because you can’t stand not knowing what Mary has done, and your need for danger outweighs your need for normalcy, as usual, and you’re getting bored, John, because life with her is boring, even if her past is anything but, and your hand is starting to have a bit of a tremor now and again, isn’t it?   She’s not what you need and never has been and you’re wasting your time and you know-”

 

Sherlock stops speaking when John stands up suddenly. His eyes are bright, but his jaw is clenched. So is his fist at his side. Sherlock takes a slight step back, unsure.

 

“You always miss something, Sherlock,” John says. He sounds angry, and Sherlock’s not sure why.

 

“Do I?” Sherlock asks. His voice is softer than he’d meant it to be. His hands tighten on his violin.

 

“You see everything so bloody clearly,” John says, and his words are coming out faster now. “But you miss the most obvious parts.”

 

“John,” Sherlock says, his brow furrowed. “What-”

 

“You’re right,” John says. “Of course you are. We’re getting a divorce.”

 

Sherlock’s eyebrows shoot up to his hairline and his mouth falls slightly open. His brain is hung up on that one, because he hadn’t factored that into his possibilities. He didn’t want to, because it made him feel an uncomfortable mix of compassion and sadness for John, the unexpected sense of empathy making him reel a bit, but also elation for himself, which he knows is not good.

 

He knows that this means John could potentially move back to Baker Street, but he also knows that he wouldn’t be the same John who’d left, and that their lives wouldn’t be the same as before. But still, his brain is suddenly running in circles, imagining the possible outcomes – boxes and boxes of John’s things arriving in Baker Street, John stumbling down the stairs in the morning with his hair sticking up every which way, John grumbling about the body parts in the fridge, John dropping tea at Sherlock’s side while he’s staring down the end of a microscope, John cleaning his gun while Sherlock plays the violin – his heart is hammering and he finds that he can’t speak.

 

“That’s it?” John says. “You’ve got nothing to say?”

 

Sherlock stares at John, cutting off the alternate reality flooding his mind, and tries to search for the right thing to say in this situation. “I’m sorry,” he says, and even he winces at the ineffectiveness of it, a questioning lilt in his voice rendering the words insincere.

 

John’s expression closes off and his shoulders drop as he lets out a weary sigh. He runs a hand over his face and keeps it there, just for a moment, and Sherlock feels his heart clench, his fingers itching to do something and not knowing what.

 

“Sherlock,” John says as he drops his hand, a thin patience in his tone that sounds ready to snap. “Do you know why you’re saying that?”

 

Sherlock frowns. “Why I’m -”

 

“Have you filed that away under ‘appropriate responses to uncomfortable situations’ in your mind palace, then? Have you actually thought about how I must feel, about how I’ve been feeling-”

 

“Of course I have,” Sherlock interrupts. “I’ve just deduced the deterioration of your relationship, haven’t I?” Something is twisting in his chest, something that says his brain is not working with him on this one, and he doesn’t know how to solve it.

 

John doesn’t say anything for a moment, just stares at Sherlock. “Right,” he says. “Right. Okay. You…you’ve deduced it. But you’ve missed a lot. I’m not you, Sherlock. There’s a lot more that drives me than a need for danger. That’s not why I’m leaving Mary. That’s part of it, but it’s not why. You’ve missed something big.”

 

John doesn’t say anything, and Sherlock is standing, wide-eyed and unsure behind his violin. He swallows. “Then why?”

 

“Because I can’t be married to someone who doesn’t have my heart,” John says. The words come out in a heated rush, and he’s staring at Sherlock in an accusing manner that Sherlock can’t understand. “You’re a bloody idiot, Sherlock. You really are.”

 

Sherlock’s eyes focus somewhere to the left of John and his brow furrows as he retreats into his mind palace for a moment, images of John and Mary coming forward quickly. He’s scanning through them for a moment, but he knows he’s missing something obvious. He frowns, rewinding his memories, replaying slowly, focusing on what matters: John. He watches John smile at Mary, watches the slow upturn of his mouth, watches the lines in his face map out something akin to happiness, watches the almost bashful smile he’d never seen directed at himself, watches the restrained smiles, and his frown deepens.

 

He doesn’t mean to, but his mind turns to his favorite memories with John, the ones he keeps in the most secure area of his mind palace. He sees John smiling at him with an open mouth, with the lines at the corners of his eyes mapping out elation, and he watches John’s eyes catch his own before his entire being dissolves into giggles. He watches the small smile John gives him when he thinks Sherlock can’t see him, he watches the memory of John smiling at him after he’d just shot a cabbie for him, he watches John grin as he fondly calls him a tosser, he watches a blurry John drunkenly ask him if he’s a pretty lady, he watches John stay by his side after he got shot, he watches John cry as Sherlock jumps off the roof –

 

His thoughts stop immediately and his heart is pounding. He has data, so much data, and it’s hinting at a conclusion he doesn’t want to see. But still, his mind is spinning, recalling moments where John’s eyes lingered too long on Sherlock’s body, where John had looked at him with a soft gaze of understanding he’d never received before, where John had-

 

John.

 

It’s so clear to him now, and it leaves his heart pounding because it can’t be; surely his maudlin mood has gotten the better of him and he’s imagining things, surely he’s missing something and coming to the wrong conclusion.

 

With a start, he comes out of his mind palace. He needs to talk to John.

 

“John-”

 

But John isn’t there. He blinks, staring at the space where John had been, and then he swivels, turning towards the door. There’s still a puddle where John’s umbrella had dripped, but the umbrella is gone, and so is John.

 

Sherlock is still for a moment, staring at the puddle, hands sweaty around his violin. He sets it down slowly, carefully, and then remains where he’s standing, trying to work his mind around what it’s uncovered.

 

Again, his brain is visiting the alternate reality he’d constructed when John first told him he was getting divorced, only this time, it’s different. This time, John isn’t coming downstairs with his hair going every which way. This time, he wakes up in Sherlock’s bed with his hair brushing Sherlock’s chin, his nose pressed against Sherlock’s collarbone. This time, John’s clothes are hanging in Sherlock’s closet, John brings him tea in bed, John drops tea at his side while Sherlock stares down the end of a microscope but it’s accompanied by an affectionate ruffle of Sherlock’s hair, John is pressed against him, John’s lips are against his skin. He imagines it so clearly that he can almost feel John’s breath against him even now; the chance of this being a reality is making something inside him burn – is this what Moriarty meant? Is his heart being burnt out of him now, as he stands here and makes these realizations and can’t do anything –

 

Oh, he suddenly thinks, a new realization spreading over him. His body, previous relaxed, is suddenly full of energy. He can do something, can’t he? John has given him the clues to what’s possibly the greatest case he’ll ever solve, a case he couldn't possibly have solved before meeting John: his heart.

 

He stands still for a moment, heart pounding, and then nods in determination. He rushes to the door, grabs his coat, and takes the stairs two at a time. The game is on.

 

--

 

Sherlock gets outside, and of course there is no sight of John. But when he glances down, there’s a trail of raindrops from John’s umbrella heading left on the small patch of dry pavement under the overhang of his door. He follows it eagerly. But what’s to the left? Speedy’s, tube stop, library, Tesco – no, no, it’s the middle of the night, so he refines his search. Pub, Indian restaurant

 

And then he knows. The park. He sets off at a run, eager to catch up to John. His heart is still pounding, a mix of physical activity and nerves, but he ignores it along with the people staring at him as he runs by, pushing forward, eager to get to John.

 

And then after what seems like hours but can’t be more than minutes, he sees John at the other side of a crosswalk, just having crossed, but the light is changing.

 

“John!” he calls without thinking, but then stops running suddenly when a horn blares in front of him. He steps back – the light has changed, he can’t cross, but John has heard him.

 

John is staring back at him from under his umbrella, an expression of confusion on his face. Sherlock is panting. He leans forward and puts his hands on his knees, but he keeps his head tilted up to look at John. Their eyes are locked even with the cars passing between them, and Sherlock isn’t in control of his expression – he can’t be anymore, and he hopes it’s not too damning.

 

He breaks their eye contact for a moment, scanning the street for a break in cars, but there isn’t one. He’s relieved that John hasn’t moved – John is still standing on the other side of the street, but his face looks wary now. Sherlock stands straight and brushes some of the rain off his face, but it’s useless; it’s constantly dripping from his sopped curls, and his hands are too wet to be of any use, but he doesn’t care – it’s just transport.

 

When the light changes, his body jolts into action, carrying him across the street before he’d even consciously decided to do so, and then he’s there, standing opposite John.

 

John tugs him by the arm away from the crosswalk, over to the fence outside the park. “Sherlock, you’re bloody soaked, you idiot,” John says. He sounds a bit concerned despite his annoyance, and he holds his umbrella over Sherlock’s head.

 

Now that he’s faced with John, with the worried John he doesn’t like to see, Sherlock doesn’t know what to do. He ignores John’s words, unable to focus on anything but what he needs to do. “John, I – that is to say-”

 

He stops, frustrated and unsure, rain dripping down his nose, his ears, his eyelashes, making his coat heavy against his body. He doesn’t know what to do. He’s not good at this, and what if he’s wrong?

 

John looks impatient. Sherlock likes that better than worried, but it’s still not what he wants to see. “John,” he tries again. “It appears that I have –”

 

Again he stops, frustrated, and looks away from John, closing his eyes in annoyance. How do people do this?

 

“Sherlock, are you trying to apologize for something?” John suddenly asks. He’s smiling now. He looks amused, but it’s one of his smaller smiles, the one lined with a certain edge of sadness. Again, it’s not the one Sherlock wants to see.

 

Sherlock closes his eyes and looks upward for a moment, rooting through his mind palace for some hint of what to do next, but it’s showing him things he’s not sure he can do, and he sighs, looking at John again. His heart is pounding, but John is still staring at him, unwaveringly loyal even after having stomped out of the flat just minutes ago.

 

“John,” Sherlock begins. This time, his voice sounds raw. It’s not composed, it’s not dignified – it’s emotional, and he hates it as much as it thrills him. Unexpectedly, his hands are unsteady at his sides. He looks at John, his eyes flicking over John’s face and trying to gauge what will happen, but he’s seeing without observing. He simply can’t observe, not in this state of heightened emotional awareness. He swallows.

 

“Sherlock, are you-”

 

And that’s it, that’s all he needs to hear because John sounds worried, and Sherlock needs to end this right now. He’s already lost John once, and he doesn’t think he can bear to lose him again, but in the current state of things, he knows he can’t keep him – not when he’s realized all of this, and so he acts. He has no idea what he’s doing, but one of his shaking hands reaches up and cups the back of John’s head, his hair like heaven against Sherlock’s fingers, and something ignites in his stomach. He lowers his head, his wet lips brushing against John’s.

 

It’s too much at once – John tastes of rain and spaghetti, and the feel of someone else’s lips against his own is so unexpectedly wonderful, especially when it’s John – but he’s not sure he’s doing it right. John is motionless beneath him, he hasn’t moved, and so Sherlock thinks he must’ve made a mistake and his hands begin to shake more as his heart pounds, and just as he’s about to pull away, sure he’s ruined everything, he hears a clatter and realizes it’s John’s umbrella hitting the ground, and then one of John’s hands, steady and warm, is against his lower back, pulling him closer, and the other is winding into the wet curls on the back of Sherlock’s head, pulling him in.

 

And then John’s lips are moving beneath his, slippery and real and beyond anything he could’ve imagined, and then they part and Sherlock doesn’t know what he’s doing, but he wants to taste him, to catalogue everything about him, and his tongue pushes forward a little bit, lining the soft edges of the insides of John’s lips, brushing lightly against his teeth, and was that Sherlock that whimper just came out of? His hand tightens in John’s hair as something deep in his stomach clenches pleasantly, his brain on fire with the sensations of hair on his fingers and tongue against tongue and the silky insides of John’s mouth. He doesn’t know if he’s doing this right but he doesn’t care, because this is John, and John’s mouth is open beneath him and they’re sharing breaths and mouths and it’s too much, it really is, and he pulls away for a moment, his heart pounding.

 

He feels terrified at the loss of connection because it means facing what’s just happened, but when he hesitantly opens his eyes, feeling naked in the face of this fear, he sees John, radiant and smiling, and just like that, something lifts inside his chest, and he hesitantly smiles, and when John chuckles at him, suddenly they’re giggling and it’s like they’ve just met again, and their cherished connection is invigorated and reborn. He lets his head drift down until his forehead is flush against John’s and their laughter is suddenly quieter, hushed and intimate, hands entwined in each other, and when the laughter fades, their eyes meet, and there it is – the soft, warm smile Sherlock had longed to see, the lines around John’s eyes beautiful from such a close vantage point, the sensation of John’s skin against his perfect, the alternate reality he’d constructed earlier combining with reality in a dizzying way.

 

“Shall we go home?” John murmurs. His fingers are twisting into Sherlock’s hair.

 

Sherlock closes his eyes, pulls John closer, shifts until his lips are next to John’s ear, because his words are for John and John alone, his world is for John and John alone, his heart is for John and John alone, and he finally understands that John’s is also for him. He smiles, his breath ghosting over the shell of John’s ear as he whispers, “Yes.”