Embarrassingly, Sherlock couldn't process fast enough to understand what was happening. He registered John, though: that was the salient point, and the point that affected everything afterwards. John's hands on him, strong and forceful. John tugging him off balance. John bringing him to the ground, smashing him down. Only afterwards did his brain slot all the other evidence into place: the whoosh past his left ear, John's contorted expression, the clatter of the gun against the pavement.
He hadn't heard the shot. But of course he had. That ringing in his ears, the heaviness of the air: that was the shot. But that information wouldn't come; instead, he found himself lying on his back underneath John and thinking, oh.
John's eyes were unfocused; listening. Then John looked at him and said, "Bastard"—and before Sherlock could react, he hauled himself up and away.
Sherlock just lay there for a moment, processing the cold shiver moving all down his front. By the time he'd pulled himself together and rejoined the action, John had captured the gunman; Sherlock found him sitting atop a man sprawled on the pavement, slapping the side of his head and saying, "Shut up. No really, shut up," every time he protested. Lestrade came and took the man away in a van.
That night, John was restless and out of sorts, and drank whiskey, not beer. Sherlock discovered bruises on his shoulder, arm, and leg. They hurt when he touched them.
He touched them a lot.
It was a stabbing, next; just a little one. He'd been feeling exceptionally smug till then; he'd collared Flaxman just as he was about to leap up the concrete steps to Waterloo Bridge. Flaxman stumbled back and bent over, red faced, hands braced on his thighs. Sherlock felt slightly out of breath himself, but still he managed to gasp, "It's no use. You've nowhere to go, and I've got all the evidence I need to--"
Flaxman surprised him with a hard, swift punch to the gut, which knocked the air out of him but didn't otherwise hurt much. Still, his knees gave out, and he sat down hard on the cobbles. Flaxman fled up the stairs, and he might have got away if John hadn't’ve sprinted past him and up the steps two at a time: no sign of a limp, none. A moment later, Flaxman landed in a heap at Sherlock's feet. Sherlock broke into gleeful applause. Above him, John tipped an imaginary hat.
All was well until Sherlock tried to get up, and grunted with pain as he got to his feet. It wasn't his first punch, or his first broken rib… but John was looking at him strangely. Only when Sherlock looked down did he see the red stain on his shirt.
"Oh, damn," Sherlock muttered. John rushed back down the steps, shedding his jacket and pulling his jumper off over his head. Then John pulled off his t-shirt and stood there, bare-chested. "Hello," Sherlock thought, and deduced from the three visible scars and the discolored patch high up on John's right arm that John's father had not in fact died of cancer, as his obituary claimed. Alcoholism and depression were more likely; suicide a strong probability. He couldn't wait to ask.
John had shoved Sherlock's hands out of the way and bent down to deal with the whole boring thing of staunching the bleeding, even though the blade couldn't have been more than two inches long: hardly bigger than a pair of cuticle scissors. Sherlock raised his hands and tried to be patient, occupying himself by studying the top of John's head and shoulders from this unusual angle. He all too rarely got to see the tops of people's heads. He should make more of an effort.
John abruptly straightened, grabbed one of Sherlock's hands, and pressed it against the makeshift bandage he'd made of his t-shirt. "Press." He undid the buckle of Sherlock's belt and pulled it through the loops; Sherlock felt leather slide around his hips. "You're fine," John said, using the belt to secure the bandage, "but you're going to need stitches and a few jabs." John sounded normal, but his expression was tense, his complexion unusually pale. Sherlock realized he rather liked John looking like that. His fingers were tingling, and he'd gone semi-hard in his boxers. John's nipples were also hard but that was probably the cold.
"Can you mend me at the flat, or do we have to go to casualty?" Sherlock asked.
"What?" John took up his discarded jumper and put on again; he was shivering. "No, you'll need tetanus," he said. "Some other things I don't have." They heard sirens; above them, two police cars stopped on the bridge. Sherlock pulled his coat closed, determined to avoid an ambulance at any rate. John was on the same page. "We can stop at UCLH on the way home," he murmured, eyes following the police down.
"You should probably start building up a home surgery," Sherlock told him.
This seemed to startle John. "Well, yes," he sighed. "I suppose you're right."
So he was disappointed. Any idiot could draw a line between two points; the trick was to cast a ray from a single point in precisely the right direction. Worse, now that he was looking for a pattern, he could see many more than two points of data. John had shot a man on his account during their very first case, which should have been enough for an intelligent conclusion. But he had misinterpreted even his own reactions. He was no better than Anderson. Or—all right, that was a step too far.
It was a simple enough experiment. John was sitting comfortably in the armchair, reading the paper, a glass at his elbow; his back was to Sherlock, who was in the dining room. Working hypothesis: despite his apparently disregard, John was actually paying him close, subliminal attention. He tested this with a muscle twitch and a quick grimace, calling to mind a time he'd nearly overdosed on a poison (experimental; extremely dangerous) he'd been testing (anyone might have done it). John's shoulders stiffened a bit but he didn't turn around. Sherlock pondered this for a moment, then took a deliberately graceless step and knocked into a teacup.
It rattled in its saucer. The paper flapped to the ground. John appeared in front of him, brow furrowed, hands moving skillfully down Sherlock's torso, sliding in and among the folds of his clothes. Oh, yes. Sherlock closed his eyes. Fingers traced his ribs, gently prodded for soreness in his stomach, liver, spleen. Sherlock shivered and inhaled sharply – and heard John's softly muttered "ha."
"You're injured," John said decisively.
"No," Sherlock replied. John frowned and pushed again at the soft tissue just under his rib cage, repeating the experiment. Sherlock waited until John's cool, dry hands were splayed across his waist before saying, gently, "You touch me quite a lot."
John went very still, impulsively started to yank his hands back, decided not to. Sherlock watched these microscopic events play out: a flex, a twitch, a bitten lip.
John considered various replies, and finally went with, "I'm a doctor."
"Yes," Sherlock agreed. "But that doesn't explain why I like it."
John did yank his hands back, then; in fact, he took two full steps backward while casually lacing his fingers together and inverting them to stretch them: a concert pianist about to begin. The implication was clear: John Watson's hands were a professional tool, as clinical and impersonal as a pair of tongs. And this could have been persuasive, except John had left his fingers tightly interlaced, as if his hands might suddenly lurch forward and start an examination of their own accord.
"It's not," John said slowly. "It isn't…"
It was at this point that John usually tried to work out Sherlock's reasoning for himself. He was fairly good at it, actually; it was part of what made him a tolerable companion. Still, he seemed to be taking a long time today, and Sherlock cast his eyes about for a distraction. Normally, of course, he would only be paying partial attention, busy working out conclusions down the line. But this wasn't anything so complex as an actual case: it was just an anomaly; everything resolved; QED. So he counted the florets on the wallpaper, not that they'd have changed: 46.
Finally, John said, "So you're saying…" and oh my God, oh my God, this had to be prohibited by the Geneva Convention. He was trying to be patient, he honestly hadn't wanted to rush John through what he understood could be a potentially unwelcome revelation, but it had now been almost three minutes, and John had actually been presented with the answer: he'd only to verify the data.
"Look," Sherlock began, and then pressed his palms together and lifted them to his mouth. Wait. Insults were a bad way to begin. He turned, walked quickly to the wall, then came back. He had to walk John through it, was the thing. Pretend John was Anderson and hope that didn't kill sex for them indefinitely.
"Look," Sherlock began again, "you keep saving my life. And touching me," and hm, that wasn’t as conclusive as it had seemed in his head. His heart started to pound; aha. "And this," Sherlock said, grabbing John's hands and pressing them to his chest. John's eyes widened. "And this," Sherlock said, and cupped John's jaw. "It's perfectly obvious," he said, and bent his mouth to John's. His lips were dry, faintly chapped: hm, honeysuckle lip wax. The faintest hint of mint in his—
John's hands landed firmly on his shoulders and pushed him away. He was still wearing that familiar, baffled expression. "Too fast," he said, and that was more than Sherlock could stand, because whatever else this had been, it hadn't been fast. He could feel the insults welling up, clogging his throat: Do you need a: [diagram?!] [telegram?!] [lobotomy?!—sorry no, never mind.] Do they actually let you wander about on your own? Don't you feel a terrible, internal emptiness—in your skull?
He was fairly sure he wasn't going to be able to stop himself, but it was only two steps to his coat, and only seventeen stairs to the front door, and then only seventy-six steps to the newsagent, where he bought a pack of ten Marlboro Reds and then went behind the shop and smoked half of them one after the other, feeling like a criminal: fantastic.
He went for a long walk up to Hampstead Health, stopping in to check with the wreckheads who hung around the southwest entrance. He smoked the rest of his Marlboro Reds while they told him that the retired forger who lived in Chalk Farm had received several interesting-looking boxes through the post, and that the fence who lived up Finchley Road had recently started cruising for boys again. By the time he left, he was buzzing pleasantly with nicotine and had worked out a plan to crack a burglary ring whose operation Lestrade and co. hadn't yet even noticed, though the methodological repetition was astoundingly obvious. On the other hand, it would be satisfyingly efficient to articulate the problem and hand over the solution at a single meeting; possibly he could just send a text.
He didn't go home until John had turned off the lights, then he silently went up the stairs in darkness and slipped into his own bedroom. Four steps to the chest of drawers. He took off his coat, chucked it onto the armchair, and reached for—
Entirely the wrong sound. He froze immediately, listening.
"Smoking's terrible for you," John said, from the dark. "This coat reeks."
His impulse was to reach for the light. ---No. Sherlock stood there, weighing the odds for each possibility. John had tricked him into the flat and now wanted to talk (90%)/fuck (75%)/ admonish him (60%) /announce he was leaving (35%), or this visit could of course be about something completely unrelated to their previous interaction (10%). Also, the power may simply have gone off (5%).
"Reminds me of Afghanistan," John said. "Bit difficult to convince anyone to quit. Hardly seems the greatest risk to your health, though of course it is, statistically. I suppose that's true for you, too, with how often you get shot at or blown up. Still," John added thoughtfully, "I thought you'd be more persuaded by the numbers than most people."
"I am," Sherlock replied, offended. "That's why I don't smoke. Hardly ever," he added. "Just when I'm provoked or irritated."
"That's a common state for you, isn't it?"
Sherlock ignored this. "It's very calming, being revved up," he said. "You can create artificially what reality should do naturally if it weren't so unbefuckinglievably boring. Nicotine is a wonderful drug; cocaine even better. I wonder that no one's put them into a health cocktail and fortified them with riboflavin. Look, I'm sorry I kissed you."
"Don't be," John said, and Sherlock turned on the light, wanting more data.
John was sitting comfortably in the armchair, one booted foot resting on the opposite knee. Sherlock's coat was in a heap on his lap. John squinted a bit as his eyes adjusted to the light, but Sherlock saw no symptoms of stress, no sign he was lying.
"It's not that I don't trust your conclusions." John spoke more softly now that the lights were on, and Sherlock debated switching them off again. "I do. Obviously. That's why—" John bit his lip, and Sherlock resisted the impulse to rush over and shake him until he revealed whatever monkey-logic was clouding his judgment. Feng shui. Astrology. Psychoanalysis. Sherlock suppressed a shudder.
John was watching him intently, and now the corner of his mouth twitched. "It's only that I came to more or less the same conclusion myself," he said. "Months ago: the day after we met, in fact. And you told me I was wrong."
"I did not."
"You did. I said all that about boyfriends being okay and you said you were married to your work!"
"Well, that was true, wasn't it?" and before John could protest further, Sherlock said, "All right: I wasn't paying attention," and switched off the light again.
John was on his feet by the time Sherlock reached him: a darker silhouette in the already dark room. Hands gripped his biceps, and Sherlock thought there were still odds that John might shake him, or have a go at him—no, no it was kissing, and that was good. John's muscles flexed as he leaned up, into the kiss, and Sherlock couldn't stop himself running hands all over him; he was surprisingly hard-bodied. John seemed to like this, and grabbed hold of Sherlock's head and roughened the kiss until Sherlock's heart was hammering and he had to break away to breathe. It was all the best parts of being shot - the head rush, the adrenaline, John's hands on him – without the downside.
"I wasn't paying attention," Sherlock gasped, feeling it his duty to repeat this humbling truth as part payment for the pleasure John was giving him: hands moving down his chest, unbuttoning his shirt, pulling the tails out of his trousers. "Or rather, I was paying attention to the serial killer. You can't blame me: I don't get that sort of case every day. I'm entitled to enjoy it; aren't I? But I entirely failed to notice—" John's hands moved across his chest, skimmed. He lost his train of thought, and stood there, blinking into the darkness. John's mouth skated beneath his ear.
"--the obvious," John whispered, "sh. Less talking," and pulled him to the bed.