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A Righteous Man Beset

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Ezekiel 25:17. "The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee."

--Jules Winnfield, Pulp Fiction (Tarantino, 1994)

 

That Sherlock was having recurrent dreams that disturbed his rest and tormented his mind became apparent to John almost as soon as he moved back into 221B following the divorce. John himself was having a hard time sleeping, and, of course, Sherlock was a terrible sleeper at the best of times.

This was not the best of times.

Less than a week into John’s second tenure of tenancy in Baker Street, he was sitting on the sofa trying to lull his brain into a stupor by watching awful late night telly, perhaps by killing brain cells, or at least by making him forget the things that led to the dissolution of his marriage—the cheating wife who’d shot his best friend, the child who’d turned out not to be his…

John was startled from his reverie by the sound of Sherlock’s voice coming from his bedroom. It was just after 4 A.M.

John listened. At first there was nothing, but then he heard Sherlock again, muttering, then vocalizations growing louder and more agitated.

John stood, started toward Sherlock’s bedroom, then paused as he reached the door. He’d had more than his share of nightmares after Afghanistan, to be sure, and again after Moriarty and the pool, and then once again after The Fall. How would John have felt about being awakened in the middle of one of those dreams?

John opened Sherlock’s bedroom door. In the light that slanted from the doorway, John saw Sherlock’s disarrayed bedding. John waited to see if he would speak again, expecting him to say something possibly related to the shooting and Mary. He braced himself, because it wouldn’t be easy to hear. From the moment he knew she’d done it, he’d felt varying levels of culpability for her crime depending on his mood, and whether he felt inclined to aim most of his recriminations at Mary or himself that day.

But when Sherlock did speak, it wasn’t related to the shooting. It wasn’t even intelligible. If anything could be made of it, it sounded sort of…Slavic. And then, “No. No. NO!” Then Sherlock began to moan sadly. It was a terrible sound. John felt a tightening behind his solar plexus. All indecision was gone. He strode to Sherlock’s bed and put a hand gently on Sherlock’s shoulder.

“Sherlock…hey, Sherlock, wake up. Sherlock. Sherlock, you’re dreaming. Sherlock?”

“What?” Sherlock woke with a jerk. His eyes stared through John for an unexpectedly long time. Finally Sherlock blinked, and blinked again, eyelashes fluttering a bit in the mostly-darkness. “John. What? Did I wake you? How—“ Sherlock looked concerned suddenly.

“No, no, I was on the sofa, wide awake. You were talking a bit, that’s all. Nothing understandable, though. Sounded like a different language,” John added quickly. He didn’t want to embarrass him. “Do you want to tell me about it?”

“No.” Sherlock shook his head and looked away. “It’s nothing personal, but…I’d really rather not talk about it.”

“I understand.” John replied, in a tone that implied that he did, indeed, take no offence. “Well, goodnight then, Sherlock.”

“Goodnight, John.”

~~~

The next time John woke Sherlock from a nightmare was five days later, and the conditions were nearly exactly the same. There was either sleep-nonsense or what were words of another language (or possibly some combination of the two), words of refusal, and then that gut-wrenching moaning that went straight to John’s chest and lodged there. Again, he was at Sherlock’s side, shaking him to rouse him.

“Sherlock. Wake up.”

“John…what…what are you doing here?”

“You were having a nightmare. Seemed like the same one.”

Sherlock grew annoyed. “You don’t have to keep coming in here to comfort me like I’m a child.”

“Sherlock, I can hear you moaning, and I can’t not respond to that,” John said, in his Sherlock-You’re-Acting-Like-a-Child tone.

“Then don’t listen and you won’t have to hear it,” Sherlock replied petulantly.

“I can’t just not hear it,” John replied.

“Don’t come stand in my doorway and you won’t,” Sherlock retorted.

“Fine.” John huffed, and got up and left.

There was a part of him that could tell that Sherlock was covering up embarrassment about the nightmares (ridiculous), but John’s pride was touched in a couple of different respects; first by the idea that the nightmares should be embarrassing. John had suffered with recurrent nightmares. Did Sherlock think that having nightmares made him unmanly or something? Then what did that make John? Then there was that shot about standing in Sherlock’s doorway. Just what in the bloody hell was he implying, anyway? Well, he could just sod off then, him and his nightmares and his childish attitude.

John went to bed, but sleep eluded him for a long time. Once his anger eroded, he was occupied with pondering what Sherlock might have been dreaming about.

Luckily they had a few cases, one of which involved, rather improbably, a mongoose and man who hadn’t been murdered at all, but who’d had a stroke and had hit his head on his way down, dead before he’d hit the floor. This unfortunately placed some suspicion on his wife, which Sherlock was able to clear up quite nicely. John wrote up a lovely blog entry about it, the first since before the Magnussen disaster.

So there’d been distractions, and they’d sorted things between them as they usually did, by not discussing the row and just pretending it hadn’t happened at all.

~~~

A little over a week later, John had another bout of insomnia that drove him from bed to the lounge, where he had himself a cup of tea and tried reading a book. Anything just to get out of that bed where he brooded about the way things used to be but weren’t anymore, all the things he used to have but no longer did, and all the things he’d thought he’d had but in the end turned out to be as insubstantial and deceptive as images made of smoke.

Not that this was really any better. John found that sitting here in His Chair, he wasn’t paying any attention to the words on the page. He was listening for the sounds of his best friend’s distress. John found that his muscles were wound tight, and he made himself relax. There was nothing to hear.

The book was a classic, but as much as John was a reader, there was just something about it that made him not be able to get beyond the first forty pages. He’d tried more than once. Eventually he’d realized that the book was a great cure for insomnia. So even putting as little in storage as he had before he left for Afghanistan, and living with as little stuff as he had in the sad blank bedsit when he’d returned, this unread book had always been with him, a last resort in times of insomniac desperation.

Slowly but surely, it was working. The movement of John’s eyes back and forth across the pages of flowery prose was having its usual soporific effect. He began to nod in his chair.

Some time later, he jerked awake to the sounds of Sherlock’s negation followed by that same terrible moaning. John’s hands tightened on the chair’s arms. He looked down to where the book had fallen closed in his lap and sighed. Sherlock did not want John to wake him, so he wouldn’t. The feeling he had right then was exactly what he felt when he woke up from a nightmare himself—breathing-too-fast, heart-pounding, half-ill, fight-or-flight—but there was no relief as there was upon waking from a dream, because there was no waking from this and nothing to be done, no flying nor fighting, and it was a nightmare he was having on someone else’s behalf.

The best thing to do would be to just go back to bed and not listen. So to bed he went.

When he reached his upstairs room, he realized he could hear Sherlock, faintly but surely, through his vents.

The moaning continued, and now it had a sort of sobbing quality to it. John closed his eyes. In addition to the tightness he’d felt in his chest both times this had happened before, he now also had the helpless frustration of the knowledge that there was no escaping the sounds of Sherlock’s pain anywhere in the flat.

“No. NO!” And then a sound that was definitely a sob.

John leaned over where he’d seated himself on the edge of his bed and put his arms on his knees, putting his head down, pressing his eyes against his fists. Please. He thought. He had no idea who he was asking or what he was asking for, he just felt like he ought to be asking someone for something, for God’s sake.

Someone must have heard him, because there was only silence from Sherlock’s bedroom after that.

~~~

It was only three days later that John heard the next nightmare. Now that he knew he could hear it from upstairs in his room it didn’t really matter where he had his sleepless nights. John was awake, and the book wasn’t helping.

He felt the now-familiar ache in his chest begin, the dull anger of feeling ineffectual in the face of someone else’s pain. But it isn’t just anyone’s pain, is it? That makes it different, doesn’t it? He thought.

Then, suddenly, he heard it. Faintly, then not so faintly, but so clearly: “John, John, JOHN!”

John was off like a shot downstairs and was opening Sherlock’s door practically in one motion. His frenzied arrival woke Sherlock with a jolt. “John!” His brow was beaded in perspiration. He inhaled and exhaled rapidly several times, catching his breath from the nightmare. He looked at first like he was going to pretend to be angry again. Then his face fell, and his voice sounded like he was struggling for neutrality. “John. I thought I told you not to keep coming in. Why did you come this time of all times?”

“You were calling my name. I thought you wanted me to come this time.”

Sherlock considered this for a moment before answering. “The nightmare. I was…You were in the dream this time. That must be why I called your name. I’m sorry to have disturbed you.”

John was quick to reassure him, “You didn’t disturb me. Do you still not want to tell me?”

Sherlock hesitated. “It was…from part of the time between The Fall and my return.”

John swallowed. He had wondered what had gone on during the time between, of course, once enough of the bitterness had passed over Sherlock’s deception to allow John to do more than rage every time he thought about it at all. But by then, after Sherlock’s initial attempts to make amends through explanations and justifications that John had not been ready or willing to hear, the window of Sherlock’s willingness to provide any information at all about the Fall and its aftermath had closed; very little had been forthcoming since. About the places he’d been and dangers he’d faced in the in-between time he was particularly taciturn. John decided to use one of the Great Detective’s own techniques against him: Shut Up So The Other Person Will Start Talking. He didn’t think it would actually work; however since John had no idea what to say, it seemed like as good an idea as any. He was gratified and surprised when Sherlock began to speak again without further prompting:

“About two months before I returned I was taken prisoner after trying to break into a military installation in Serbia. What happened during the period of my captivity there was…unpleasant. They interrogated me repeatedly to determine what I was after. Mycroft arrived to extract me and likes to take credit for doing so, but I was well on my way to escaping with or without his help,” Sherlock said.

Torture. Sherlock had endured tortured in Serbia for months, and John had…things went hazy as John saw nothing but white and then red for a few seconds and then lost cognitive function briefly. He was going to have to process all of this later. Later. He couldn’t even begin to deal with this now. He was supposed to be comforting Sherlock in the aftermath of a nightmare, after all. Soldier mode—switch the brain OFF. He didn’t have Sherlock’s powers of total deletion, but he could do this temporarily, and had done before.

“Sherlock,” John began tentatively, and then trailed off, not sure what to say next.

“I’m glad you woke me this time,” Sherlock said, his voice barely above a whisper.

“Why? What was different this time?” John asked him.

“They were threatening you to get me to talk. But in the dream they were asking me questions I didn’t know the answers to and couldn’t answer.” Sherlock’s voice and body both shuddered almost imperceptibly.

“You know,” Sherlock said in voice that hardly sounded like his, “While it was actually happening, I had excellent control. I hardly ever made much noise.”

 ~~~

In the end, they made a deal that in the future John was allowed to wake Sherlock if John heard Sherlock calling John’s name in his sleep. Sherlock did not want to be coddled like a child for every nightmare, however. John agreed with this plan grudgingly.

Chapter Text

The burning feeling John carried in his chest when Sherlock was having a nightmare was much stronger now, and now it appeared to be permanent.

He hadn’t seen anyone tortured in Afghanistan, but knew it happened, and not always by the “bad guys,” either. There’d been that crazy American fucker he’d treated for gunshot in the thigh. They’d found six human ears in his pockets. “Hope those guys were dead at least when you took those,” John had quipped as he’d worked on him. The soldier had answered with a grimacing grin that had been all the answer John had needed. He had asked no more questions and had made no more small talk.

Then there was the local family they had found while on patrol outside a village near Nawzad. Apparently someone had wanted something from them. John didn’t know what or why or who, and he didn’t want to know, but he knew he would never be able to unsee what he’d seen in that house. An instance where Sherlock’s powers of deletion would really have come in handy. It wouldn’t do to dwell on that one. There had been a father, a mother, a grandmother, and two small children in that family.

And then there was the young Marine from Arkansas, Jayson Whitney, who had been taken by the Taliban and had somehow managed to cut loose and run, but not before they had interrogated him about the movements of his division and whatever else they could try to get out of him. His own mother wouldn’t have recognized him. John had spent hours stitching up that kid’s poor mutilated face and body.

The idea of someone or someones hurting Sherlock that way…

It took hours of sitting in his room alone from Sherlock’s original revelation, before he could think about it with more than red-tinged, incoherent, nauseous rage. Anyone looking at him would have seen the same deadly calm of the man who’d stood silent and still until the moment he’d thrown his arm heedlessly around the neck of Jim Moriarty at the pool, the man who’d serenely told the Golem, “Let him go, or I will kill you.” People tended to disregard unobtrusive John Watson when they threatened Sherlock, not realizing their danger until the moment their own lives suddenly hung in the balance. One who threatened Sherlock Holmes then had to deal with John Watson, just as calm, just as sure, just as dependable as the sun rising in the morning. As Sherlock had told Magnussen’s men, “If you know who I am, you know who he is.”

But John had not been there in Serbia, because Sherlock had left him behind. John had felt this pain behind his solar plexus three times connected with Sherlock Holmes, and the second, most recent was when Sherlock had “died.” When Sherlock was gone.

That was worse pain, certainly. Now it was like the two kinds of pain were mingled, because—well, but this, this was bad enough. Some useless piece of human garbage had put his hands on Sherlock, had…had…struck him, done who knows what terrible things to him, had done such awful things that it caused this kind of trauma to haunt him night after night in his dreams.

John thought of Sherlock’s perfect pale skin, marked with cuts, bruises and burns like that young Marine Whitney, and he let out an explosive exhalation. No, it wasn’t like the feeling of just anyone being hurt, that was certain. Get ahold of yourself, Watson. Surely that didn’t happen, like Jayson Whitney, or there would be scars all over Sherlock’s face, and there aren’t. His face is fine. His face looks like it always did, just a little older, maybe a bit more character. He’s seemed different since he’s been back, and maybe this is why, and I’ve thought I could see that sometimes in his face, something far away in his expression. There’s no marring of the features. Everything about his face is just as perfect and b…

John cut his own thoughts off abruptly. What the hell. We’re not going down this road again, are we? Thought we’d left this all behind. The first time he had walked around feeling a pain in his chest nearly all the time connected with Sherlock Holmes had been during the Irene Adler debacle, when he’d been so full of pent-up frustration and jealousy and want and denial that he felt like he was going to burst into flames nearly all the time. His one-sided…whatever it was…as a man of forty at the time, he refused to use the word crush…had subsided into terrible grief after the Fall, that burning turning into a searing grief turning into a different kind of pain—a terrible, crushing ache, empty, yet feeling like he was imploding constantly.

Incredible, how many kinds of heartache there are, isn’t it? John mused on the range of pain, the swiftness of pain, the ways the different types blended, and ebbed and flowed together, and tried to remember a time when he had lived without any pain at all. He found that he couldn’t.

Once Sherlock returned, there’d been Mary, and such a chaotic conflict of emotions, anger and relief, and then so much confusion and, yes, pain, as it all went to hell…that he really hardly knew exactly what he felt on any given day.

~~~

Late morning in Baker Street.

Cases meant distraction, and John craved them more than he ever had, so when he saw Sherlock straighten up in his chair after his phone pinged with a text, John felt the familiar curl of excitement mingle with a species of relief.

“Lestrade?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“Where?”

“Croydon.”

John needed less than five minutes to be ready.

Out on Baker Street, Sherlock hailed a cab, and they were off. John asked him once they were settled, “Lestrade give any details?”

“A woman, one Susan Cushing, mid-fifties, never married, no friends, practically a recluse, receives a box in the post with two severed human ears packed in salt.”

John jolted, violently, then was chagrined by his lack of control. But really, ears, of all things?

“What is it?” Sherlock asked sharply.

John decided that denying his reaction was useless, and would probably cause more problems than it would solve. “It’s nothing, really. The ear thing brought an association with Afghanistan, but it’s not going to cause a problem. I will be fine. It was just a momentary shock, is all. And no, I don’t want to discuss it.”

Sherlock said nothing, but John saw his jaw tighten, and he looked like he wanted to say something else. John tried to remember the last time Sherlock had visibly employed a verbal filter, and couldn’t think of one. He decided that he would give a lot to know what his friend was holding back. He was no longer thinking about severed ears.

It was a very long cab ride.

They arrived in Croydon at the home of Susan Cushing, where Lestrade was waiting for them. John thought Sherlock questioned the lady with uncharacteristic patience, considering that she was a less than cooperative witness.

“I don’t know how I can really help you since I don’t know anything.” Susan huffed, as if the three of them were really just terribly inconveniencing her, investigating the crime that had been committed against her. “It’s just so disgusting. I don’t believe the thing was even meant for me to receive at all. How could it be? I don’t know hardly anyone. I certainly don’t have any enemies.”

“Where are the ears, Miss Cushing? I’d like to see them please,” Sherlock asked her.

“They are in the garden shed. You think I’d keep that in the house? Ugh.”

On their way out the back door, Lestrade shared his theory that it must have been a prank played by her nephew or his friend, both medical students, who had stayed with Susan for a time a few years back. She had tossed them both out because they were too noisy. She was too set in her ways and too used to living alone to have boarders, it seemed. They might have the motive for such a nasty trick, and certainly the means of procuring something like ears, which were, to be sure, a specialty item.

“Hmph,” was Sherlock’s reply.

They opened the box of ears and peered at them, packed in coarse salt, just as Lestrade had said.

“This is no prank by med students. There’s no preservative chemicals, first of all. Med students don’t use salt to preserve body parts,” Sherlock said with characteristic disdain. He glanced over to John, who nodded confirmation. Lestrade looked abashed, realizing he should have known this. Sherlock went on, picking one of the ears out of the box, “Also these ears were sawn off with a dull serated blade. Not the sort of fine blade a med student would use. No. There’s foul play at work here.” He turned to the DI. “Surely you at least noticed that the ears are from two different people, yes?”

“Yes, of course,” Lestrade hissed, nettled now.

“Good. We’re looking for a murderer, not a prankster. I have to go ask Miss Cushing some more questions,” Sherlock said.

“Well, good luck with that, I don’t know what information you expect to get out of that one,” Lestrade sighed. “I’ll leave the two of you to it. I’ve got other things to do. Stop by the Yard or text if you get anything interesting.”

“Oh, I expect to.”

Lestrade gave a small weary head-shake as he departed back through the back door and through the house.

“Well, what do you think then?” John asked him.

“I have six ideas. We’ll see what happens after I question the lady.”

“But she doesn’t want to talk, you heard that.”

“She wants to talk. She’s lonely. All I have to do is ask her the right questions and she’ll tell me everything I want to know,” Sherlock said.

John felt uncomfortable the way he always did when Sherlock manipulated people’s emotions or their kindness in the course of a case only to toss the person aside when he’d finished, like they were nothing. It was the only time he could almost buy the sociopath thing. This woman didn’t seem like a particularly kind person, but that didn’t mean she deserved that. Besides, it made Sherlock seem so inhuman when John watched the smile drop from his face like a mask. John hated it.

Sherlock passed the ear-box to John, who closed it hastily. He’d been right—he felt just fine and hadn’t gotten flashbacks about the crazy American ear-trophy guy or been drawn toward his nighttime torture-thoughts when he’d seen them there in the salt, but he didn’t want to handle them all that much, or think about them more than he had to. Like whether or not their owners had already been dead when the serrated, dull blade had begun to saw—

Sherlock strode back into the house, and John shook his head to clear his mind and took off after him.

They found Susan Cushing with a cat on her lap, petting it. “I have a few more questions for you Miss Cushing. May I call you Susan?” Sherlock asked.

“I guess. I really think I’ve told you all I can tell you. Are you going to take that box with you? I hope so,” she said.

“Of course. You’ve said it makes you uncomfortable, so we wouldn’t leave it. Besides, it’s evidence now, Susan. You have two sisters, an older and a younger?”

“What? Why do you know that?” She asked suspiciously.

“That’s my job, Susan; I observe,” Sherlock smiled, and gestured toward a small framed photo on an end table across the room of three younger, smiling women; one of them John presumed was Susan Cushing. John was more interested in Sherlock at the moment. The smile he gave Miss Cushing was not his usual Manipulate-the-Client smile.

She visibly relaxed. “Of course. You’re not famous for nothing, I suppose. Those are my two sisters, Sarah and Kathy. “

“And which sister is that?” Sherlock indicated another photo, of a young woman with a man wearing the white clothing of pilot or a seafarer.

“That’s my younger sister Kathy, with her then-fiancé, Henry Browner. He’s a cruise ship captain in the Carribean.”

“Well, that seems like an interesting kind of life. Does Kathy stay with him on the boat?” Sherlock asked.

“She does, and it is, as long as he stays away from the bottle…”

Sherlock was right. She merely wanted someone to listen to her. She responded right away to Sherlock’s interested questions and patient listening. John found himself staring at polite-listener-Sherlock like he’d never seen him before. She told Sherlock all about her brother-in-law and how his temper was awful when he drank, how her older sister was unmarried as she was, how her two other sisters had spent time living together before the youngest sister’s marriage, and how Susan had tried living together with Sarah to save on expenses but they just couldn’t get along.

After about fifteen minutes, Sherlock brought the interview to a close.

“Susan, I don’t want to keep you from your day, but I believe that you are right, and that this package was never intended for you at all. You’ve been most helpful.”

John closed his mouth, which he’d just realized was slightly gaping. He swallowed and said, “Thank you, Miss Cushing, we’ll be in touch if there’s anything else.”

Once outside, Sherlock hailed another cab, and they went for lunch at a little café in Wallington.

“You’re eating,” John remarked. “Does that mean you’ve solved it?”

“Oh, yes. As soon as she told me about the brother-in-law, I knew he’d killed his wife and her lover, cut one ear off each and sent them to her Susan Cushing…but he meant to send them to the other sister, Sarah Cushing. It was only about a four, really. Hardly worth that long cab ride. I’ll call Lestrade later,” Sherlock said.

John made a sound of admiration, but didn’t say anything.

Sherlock was in unusually good humor, and said, “Did I ever tell you the story of how I got my violin? It’s a real Stradivarius, you know. I picked it up at a market in Tottenham Court Road…” from there Sherlock progressed to a discussion of the many merits of Paganini. John drank in his words like a fine port wine.

Despite the tightness in his chest, for the first time since before Richard Brook had come into their lives, since before the Fall, since before Mary, John felt that everything about their friendship was right and pure and uncomplicated.

It was absolutely worth the cab ride. Much better than a four.

Chapter Text

Nightly, John lay sleepless, trying to fill in the blanks of years of missing information. He listened for Sherlock’s dreams. When he heard Sherlock, John’s body sang with adrenaline pulsing all the way to his fingertips, and he felt the urge to fight, to kill, to protect, and, he could admit to himself, to give physical comfort.

Sherlock rarely called John’s name. When he did, John felt guiltily relieved—guilty, because he knew that Sherlock would not have agreed to John’s intervention if these dreams weren’t the worst of the worst, relieved because it meant at least John could be doing something. That something was limited to waking Sherlock, who would simply thank John and tell him to go back to bed. But anything was better than standing by helplessly.

John found himself thinking about Sherlock in danger all the time, and what could have happened: that John could have lost him for real, and he would have never known that Sherlock had even been alive. He never did more than shake Sherlock by the shoulder, but as John became more preoccupied with both the dreams and the time In-Between in Sherlock’s life that they symbolized, he wanted to wrap him up tightly in his arms and know at least in that moment, Sherlock was beyond the reach of anything that was going to cause that ache of loss in John’s chest ever again.

~~~

As they picked at the remains of Thai takeout one night about five weeks after the first “John!” nightmare, John blurted out, “Why did you do it, in the first place?”

“Now?” Sherlock, being Sherlock, knew exactly what John was asking without requiring clarification. “Must we?”

“You never answered when I asked you the first time. Or rather, you did, but it was a crap answer, and I knew it then. I’d like a real answer, please. I know Moriarty had to be stopped. You could have come up with another way. Moriarty was dead on the roof, so something else would have served, surely,” John said.

“I can tell you’ve been preoccupied lately. Is this what’s been bothering you?” Sherlock asked calmly.

John was encouraged by Sherlock’s demeanor; it didn’t appear that he was going to shut John down entirely. “In a manner of speaking, sort of, but not exactly; however, it’s what I want to know right now. Obviously you weren’t exactly out on a pleasure jaunt while you were away. I want to know why you subjected yourself to it, and alone.”

Sherlock took a breath, as though steeling himself. “On the roof, Moriarty told me there were three snipers, one each for you, Mrs. Hudson, and Lestrade. He told me that if I didn’t jump, he’d have all three of you killed, that only his word could call them off. So of course, first I tried to talk him into calling off the snipers. He shot himself so that they could never be called off, effectively forcing me to jump. As I tried to tell you when I first returned, I planned for a number of different scenarios on the roof. One of these was that he might be able to force me to jump off the roof somehow, and I took precautions not to die in the event that happened. However, I had to make it look real—entirely real, and you could never know that I was alive, because John, if you knew that I was alive before I had eliminated everyone in Moriarty’s network, and you came looking for me, or somehow tipped off the people he had watching you that I was alive somehow, your life was in grave danger, and I couldn’t risk that.”

Again, John experienced that red-white almost not-seeing. He wasn’t sure if he was glad he finally knew or sorry he’d asked.

To save his life, and the lives of others. His life. John’s life. He closed his eyes until he felt safe to open them in front of Sherlock. “But I would have come with you. I would have helped. I would have wanted to help.” John rasped. Something was terribly wrong with his voice. He decided he needed to stop talking, immediately.

“You would have been in danger. I didn’t want you in so much danger.” Sherlock said. His voice was quiet, too quiet.

“But we’re always in danger. You were in danger, and I wasn’t there. Besides, I love danger, we know this. I have it on good authority,” John chuckled weakly through his thickened voice.

Sherlock gave John a sad smile. “Besides, I miscalculated. My plans were already laid when you told me in the flat that you knew that I was for real, and when you punched the superintendent. I made the mistake that so many of our enemies make. I underestimated you. I should have known you’d never cooperate with me on the phone when I was on the roof, and I told you I was a fake and you had to tell others.”

John felt his body nearly seize with repressed emotion. He had to say something to salvage the situation, and quickly, before things spiraled out of John’s control. “Is the Great Sherlock Holmes actually saying he’s wrong about a thing?”

A slow smile spread across Sherlock’s face, and then he began to laugh. Seeing Sherlock smile never failed to make John follow suit, and soon they were both laughing. “Don’t tell Mycroft. I’ll never hear the end of it,” Sherlock said.

~~~

John had new thoughts to occupy him, to clench the fist inside his chest, to supplement the never-ending chorus-loop of fantasy about his finger, firm and sure, tightening on the trigger of his Sig and ending at close range the life of the bastard who’d hurt Sherlock in Serbia. Each of these fantasies was darker than the last. Sometimes John would blow a hole in the torturer’s heart and watch him bleed out, as he’d once nearly watched Sherlock do by the hand of his lying wife. Other times the gun would be pointed at the back of the Serbian interrogator’s head, where John imagined the bullet ripping into the base of the skull, through sweaty, dark hair right where the stubble of the neck met the hairline, the knobs at the top of the spine and the dark hair disappearing in a haze of red and white spray like anger and confusion. Sometimes he had the man, of whom he’d created a surely-wrong, but very vivid mental picture by this time, kneel and look John in the eye while John stood over him and pressed the gun barrel into one closed eyelid. John would force him to apologize for what he’d done to Sherlock over and over before finally pulling the trigger. Sometimes he thought about taking him apart bit by bit, shooting him first in the leg, then in the arm, then in the gut—letting him get a taste of what torture was like, if he liked it so much. These fantasies would inevitably meld into speculation about what had actually happened to Sherlock there, since John had not seen any visible scars; this would lead to trying not to wonder in such great detail about what had happened to Sherlock there, since John clearly had too good of an imagination where violence was concerned, which would usually lead to his wondering why in the hell Sherlock had felt the need to leave him and be on his own in the first place, which caused more anger, and then it was back to the beginning of the loop again.

But now, he had an answer. For me. That’s why. Well, and for Lestrade, and Mrs. Hudson. So, when Sherlock returned, not only had John tackled and then tried to choke, and then repeatedly hit, a man who had recently undergone months of captivity and torture, he’d done this to a man who’d undergone all of that to save John’s ungrateful fucking life. While he prided himself on being a rational person, and understood that he couldn’t have known at the time, and had every right to be angry, still. Yes, he could have known, he told himself, because Sherlock had tried to explain. John had attacked him in the restaurant and thrown him to the floor, and Sherlock had made no move to defend himself. Come to that, he had made no move to defend himself any of the times that John had attacked him after his return.

John felt just about as guilty as he could ever remember feeling about anything.

He’d thought that learning Sherlock’s reason for the Fall would somehow stop him obsessing about Serbia, but it seemed not to be the case. If anything, he now thought about Sherlock constantly, especially at night.

He listened for his friend’s dreams from his sleepless bed, and thought about how it must have been. When John was alone after Sherlock had “died” and left but before Serbia, and John was in the worst of his mourning for Sherlock, what was Sherlock doing? Was he hunting Moriarty’s hired snipers? Did he ever think of John and miss him? Did he ever wish he had John there to help him, or just for company? Or was he too busy with the game?

The nights when John heard Sherlock’s nightmares, he clenched his fists and his jaw, and wanted to go to him to comfort him, but didn’t.

John, being a rational man, as noted, understood that when a person immerses himself in thoughts about a person or thing for weeks or months on end, it’s bound to affect his dreams, so he wasn’t surprised when he began to dream about Sherlock.

~~~

Sherlock was in a grey cinderblock cell, with a cot bolted to the wall, but he was chained to the wall opposite, wearing nothing but a tattered pair of black trousers. His form was thin and dirty, and his hair was a wild riot of long, matted curls, much longer than John had ever seen them. He was sleeping on the stone floor, and crying out as if having a nightmare. “John! JOHN!” John knelt beside him and tried to wake him by shaking his shoulder gently, as he always did. He would not be roused. “JOHN!” Sherlock cried out again. Welts and cuts began to appear spontaneously on Sherlock’s body, more with each cry. John knew in the skewed logic of dreams that if he couldn’t wake Sherlock, he would eventually bleed to death. John hauled Sherlock into a seated position, frantically trying to wake him. Finally, desperately, he embraced him and rocked him, calling Sherlock’s name, just as Sherlock called his…

John woke, Sherlock’s whispered name on his lips. God. He hoped he wasn’t crying out Sherlock’s name in his sleep. That’s all they both needed, was for John to start waking Sherlock calling out his name. What a pair, the two of them.

He had Sherlock on the brain, was the problem. Being a rational man, when the constant ache in his chest had been rejoined by another fairly constant feeling, this one centered somewhat lower in the belly, and with which he was also pretty well acquainted…well.

He knew what it signified. He would wait for it to pass. It had once. Maybe it would do again.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4

Another case, what John thought would be another distraction, involving a very tense (at least on John’s part; he had no idea how Sherlock felt about it) hour hiding silently in extremely close quarters together in a tiny little room used to store boxes, in which John could actually smell Sherlock and listen to him breathe. Sherlock solved the Italian cypher used by the killer, and solved the case in less than three hours.

“Amazing,” John said, as the murderer was being arrested by Scotland Yard.

Sherlock turned to John, startled. “Really? I thought it was pretty elementary, honestly. I thought the ear case was more complicated than this.” But he looked away, pleased and embarrassed.

“Scotland Yard couldn’t figure it out,” John pointed out.

“You say that like it means something,” Sherlock returned.

“True.”

They walked silently for a few moments, and then Sherlock said, “You know, that’s the first time you’ve complimented me like that on a case since I’ve been back? You used to do it all the time.”

So it was. John felt the tightness in his chest intensify when he saw mingled wistfulness and pleasure playing on Sherlock’s face. What could he say to that? Why had he not? How could he let Sherlock think he was anything other than amazing?

Of course Sherlock was amazing.

~~~

“Sherlock…”

“Tell me I’m amazing, you know I’ve missed that.”

“Of course you are,” John said, wonderingly. He was sitting in His Chair, and Sherlock was facing him in Sherlock’s Chair. Their chairs were facing each other like they always did, except they were in an empty train carriage with a bomb between them set into the floor, just like the night Parliament was going to blow up. “You’ve always been amazing. Brilliant.”

“You stopped telling me. Why did you stop?” Sherlock’s voice had a mildly plaintive quality to it. He was wearing his Belstaff and a white button down shirt that strained across his chest, and black dress trousers. John was in a striped dressing gown. He felt shabby compared to Sherlock. This was nothing new.

“I…I don’t know! I’m sorry I did, I shouldn’t have…I should have appreciated you more, I guess,” John stammered. And he knew that this was true. John felt he’d been remiss in this area since Sherlock’s return.

The bomb set into the floor between them lit up, and the time began to count down from 3:00.

“Sherlock, can’t you stop it?”

“I don’t know, can I? Am I amazing? Am I brilliant?” Sherlock asked, and he sank out of his chair with the bomb between his knees, the Belstaff pooling all around him. He looked at John with supplicating upturned blue-green eyes and clasped his hands together. “Can you ever forgive me, John?”

“Jesus, Sherlock, yes! There’s nothing to forgive! Isn’t there an off-switch?”

“No, but I have less than three minutes now to show you how amazing I am. One time for all times.”

Sherlock leaned forward over the bomb set into the floor, covering the clock, which was ticking off the seconds, and began to untie the knot at John’s waist. Sherlock’s hands moved aside the folds of the dressing gown to reveal John’s cock for an instant before it was engulfed in Sherlock’s warm, wet mouth, swallowed to the base. John threw his head back for just a moment in shock, but he recovered quickly; he wanted to watch that dark, bobbing head. John decided that if he was going to die, this was absolutely the way to go—on a flood of adrenaline and oxytocin, in an explosion of unholy fire and probably feeling nothing when he went. He buried his hands in thick curls and said, “You’re amazing, so amazing…Oh my God, Sherlock, you amazing, precious thing…” Was it possible to get off in less than three minutes? John knew for sure it certainly was. Sherlock was as gifted at this as he was at everything else. How long had John wanted this? The feel of those hands, the touch of those lips, which were right now sliding on him with such delicious friction? He could feel his orgasm building, and hear the bomb beeping with increasing speed as it neared the moment of detonation….

He moved his hands to Sherlock’s shoulders and tightened them as his climax ripped through him. “Sherlock!”

He woke up just before the bomb presumably would have exploded, breathing heavily and realizing that he was pretty deeply in trouble.

~~~

Ever since Sherlock had revealed his reason for orchestrating the Fall, it was hard for John to look at Sherlock the same way. It had already been hard to do so since his return months prior. It was as if there was some kind of brain-lag, similar to the sensation of jet-lag, but longer lasting; like he expected Sherlock to still be the same selfish prick he once was, or had affected to be. Except he hadn’t been that selfish prick since before he’d returned, and John really had just sort of failed to notice it, expecting Sherlock to just be who he’d always been. (Maybe needing Sherlock to continue to be who he’d always been so that he could continue smoothly rolling on the tracks of denial toward the stupendous train wreck that was the outcome of his marriage.)

But Sherlock had shown himself as far from being that man. Hadn’t Sherlock let John beat the living shit out of him when he’d returned? Hadn’t he thrown himself with gusto into the wedding planning, and who on earth would have thought for even one second that Sherlock would tolerate wedding planning, or even wedding-attending? He’d been so patient with John, who had been a moody little shit, much more normal. Then, of course, the Magnussen affair. Everything about that from start to finish…there was nothing but selflessness in any of it. Oh, and he’d had the opportunity at Appledore to watch a looped video of Sherlock hurling himself like some kind of action hero into a fucking fire to save John’s life. So. There was also that minor detail.

Now that he’d come back to Baker Street, Sherlock never spoke of Mary, never brought up any of the ways that John had been a less-than-ideal friend when he’d returned, the ways he’d chosen Mary over him…

And the thing that John had felt had been Sherlock’s most selfish, thoughtless act, the faked suicide—had turned out not to be so after all, had turned out to be instead another act of staggering generosity and sacrifice.

It was a lot to take in. Sometimes John felt the breath want to leave his body when he thought all these thoughts at once.

John’s fantasies of revenge when he was alone began to be more frequently interspersed with other kinds of thoughts about his friend and flatmate, which he didn’t even bother to try to suppress or deny any longer. How could John not feel that way about a person who’d done what Sherlock had done, and for whom he’d already had so many feelings besides? John just made sure he had these thoughts, like the revenge fantasies, in the privacy of his bedroom where Sherlock couldn’t see him and deduce his thoughts from his facial expressions.

~~~

When he was in the other parts of the flat, John did not do any of the things that a man falling hard in love (if he ever really was out, which he doubted) would do. He did not study Sherlock when he thought Sherlock wasn’t looking. He didn’t stare. He didn’t try to get closer to him, or contrive “accidental” touches. What John did was try to act as much like nothing had changed as he possibly could, because now more than ever, what he valued was Sherlock’s friendship. He was not willing to risk it by making things uncomfortable with romantic feelings he knew Sherlock did not return. John had nearly ruined their friendship three times already by his reckoning—the first time before it had fairly begun at Angelo’s by bringing up the very thing that was concerning him now, the second time by rejecting so emphatically Sherlock’s attempts to explain when he returned from the Fall, and the third time because of his lying murderous wife. Which part? Well, just marrying her in the first place put sort of a damper on the friendship, but then there was the whole business of her shooting Sherlock in cold blood…

So John kept a stiff upper lip, because he didn’t want to give anything away to the World’s Most Observant Human Being.

“John, something bothering you?” Sherlock asked as John was reading the paper.

“No, why?” John asked, trying not to make too much nor too little eye contact and also trying not to change the pitch of his voice from its normal so that he wouldn’t think John was lying because it was one-sixty-fourth of an octave too high-pitched or some such thing. What was the pitch of it normally?

Sherlock side-eyed him. “Something is. I wish you would just tell me.”

“Fine. Sleeping a bit poorly is all.”

“Hmm.” He could tell Sherlock thought he was lying.

~~~

Faintly, faintly, the moaning. John could hear it. Barely. But he was listening for it, up in his room, where he’d been thinking about Sherlock so hard it was almost like his voice had started echoing in John’s thoughts. Almost before it had registered, he heard, “John,” and before it could be repeated, he was off down the stairs, and into Sherlock’s room.

What he found when he got there was not the usual scene. For one thing, Sherlock was awake and sitting up, and had thrown off the covers. His eyes flew wide when John burst into the room, and Sherlock looked down, then up again. “I..I’m fine…you don’t need to…go back to bed.”

Instinctively John had looked down as soon as Sherlock had. What he had seen had caused him nearly to gasp audibly—Sherlock’s dying erection and the wet spot on his pyjama trousers. John could not think of a single word to say, but could feel himself instantly getting hard, and he bent at the waist slightly to try to hide it. He nodded his head and cleared his throat. “Oh. Goodnight then.” He made a hasty retreat.

As he went, he realized, it had sounded a bit different, hadn’t it? He was so on edge waiting for the nightmares that it hadn’t even registered. Sherlock had been quieter, had not sounded as distressed, but John had heard his name, and had just reacted without thought.

He barely made it back into his room and had the door closed before pulling off his own pyjama bottoms and taking himself in hand. My name. He said MY name. My name. Mine. Dreaming about me. Like that. He drew his breath in sharply as he grasped his cock and almost immediately spilled over his fingers.

It was probably just a dream that didn’t mean anything. He lowered his head and sighed. Not like it does for me.

~~~

Breakfast was every bit as awkward as John was afraid it would be. He made eggs, and toast and tea. The loudest thing in the flat was the kettle boiling and then clicking, because there was surely no one talking.

John decided to break the silence. “So, anything on today?”

“I’ve changed my mind. I need to get a handle on my nightmares. I don’t want you to come in anymore, even if I call for you,” Sherlock said to John from behind The Guardian.

“Are you sure? Sometimes they sound pretty bad. Sometimes I think I’m coming in as much to comfort myself as I am to comfort you, honestly.”

“Yes, I’m sure,” He snapped. Then in a more modulated voice, “No more.”

“Alright, if that’s how you feel,” John said.

“It is,” Sherlock said.

“I’ll just clear away the dishes then shall I?”

No reply.

“So you never answered me, is there anything on for today?”

“I’m off to Bart’s. Molly has some eyeballs for me. No corneas, those were all donated for transplants.”

“Do I even want to know what you’re going to do with a bunch of cornea-less eyeballs?”

“Probably not.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 5

Another case. What had at first looked like a serial murderer, but had turned out to be a drug dealer killing off unreliable couriers. The man responsible was Alexander Lascar, who was a pretty big player in UK drug cartels. He was, of course, careful to keep his hands clean. It wasn’t going to be easy to tie him to the crimes.

Sherlock decided the best way to go about arresting the dealer and making the charges stick was to go undercover and try to infiltrate the operation. John didn’t like it. So many ways he didn’t like it. Sherlock was insistent.

“Look, it’s the best way to really know what’s going on inside. I’ll be in touch with you all the time, via text,” Sherlock said.

~~~

Within two weeks, Sherlock had infiltrated the drug gang far enough to be taken under the wing of a high-ranking soldier in the organization, one Jacob Malestein, by Sherlock’s reports a rather eccentric sort.

John shuddered to think what passed for “eccentric” in Sherlock’s mind. Sherlock was to meet with Malestein on Saturday, a meeting which was to take no more, Sherlock estimated, than a few hours. He’d text John when he was on his way back.

He left the flat at noon. John began to worry at five. He began to really worry at eight. He called Lestrade at ten, and Mycroft at one.

Even with Scotland Yard’s and the British Government’s attention on the matter, no trace of Sherlock could be found.

John knew that they just didn’t know where to look. He knew who did know where to look.

It still took John three frantic days and lots of contact with Billy Wiggins and the Homeless Network to find out that Sherlock’s cover had been blown, and to track Malestein to where he was holding Sherlock in a warehouse in Southwark.

John took not only the Sig, but Billy’s folding knife. Options were always good.

When he arrived at the warehouse, it was around 11 PM on Monday, and he felt like a dishrag that had been repeatedly dipped in some caustic chemical, wrung out, and then stretched to dry. He reconnoitered the outside and found no one guarding the perimeter, and no signs of life anywhere.

John drew his gun. He found a door and tried it. It was unlocked. John’s confusion grew.

Unguarded warehouse, unlocked door? What kind of idiots were running this cartel, anyway?

John’s skin crawled with dread at every step, fearing he’d find Sherlock already dead, trying to keep the panic-babble of pleaselethimbealivepleaselethimbeinonepieceplease at bay.

He didn’t have to search for very long. He found Sherlock bound to a metal folding chair, hands behind his back with zip ties and then again arms bound at the elbow to the chair itself with thin nylon rope, and feet to each to a chair leg with the same rope. He was gagged as well, cruelly tight with the rope again. He’d clearly been beaten. His face was bruised and bloody, and a long bloody stripe ran down one arm as if it had been cut with a sharp blade.

John’s rage was immense, a thing of stillness like a nuclear winter. He inhaled. He exhaled. All other sound in the world had ceased. He walked over to Sherlock and drew the knife, cutting the gag free first so that he could ask the only questions that mattered. “Who has done this, and where is he?”

“He’s right here.” A man had appeared.

John didn’t waste a single moment. He turned, and before anyone could react, before John could ascertain whether the man had a weapon of his own, whether there was more than one of them, whether what he did was suicidal—John took in the scene, aimed his weapon and blew off Malestein’s right kneecap. Malestein’s gun went flying out of reach. It didn’t matter. Malestein would have other things to think about.

Malestein dropped like a stone, screaming.

“John!” Sherlock was shocked, for the first since John had walked out into the pool covered in Semtex. “My God!”

“Are there more of them around?” John asked calmly.

“No, it’s just him. But John!”

“You are sure? His noise will draw others.”

“I’m sure! But, John, what--?”

“Later. What are your injuries? Are you alright?” John asked him.

“Yes, I think so. But John,” Sherlock began again, still shocked as the man continued his agonized shrieking.

“He beat you.”

“Yes.”

“Cut you.”

“Yes! But John, it’s mostly superficial; I can’t—my God, please, stop this!”

John walked over to the writhing, bawling form, put one foot on Malestein’s chest to hold him still and then looked down and shot him in the head.

 

Sherlock said nothing as John was questioned by Scotland Yard and claimed to have acted in self-defense when he’d shot the drug-lord’s minion, and also said nothing when John claimed to have stumbled while taking his first shot, hitting the man in the kneecap, then immediately taking a second shot that hit him in the head.

Jacob Malestein had turned out to be not just eccentric, he was just as mad as a hatter. For some reason he had decided that Sherlock was a mole. The fact that this was true, Sherlock insisted, was purely due to Malestein’s extreme paranoia. Sherlock was convinced that if he had, in fact been a real recruit into the cartel instead of an actual mole, Malestein still would have decided that he was lying to him and would have turned on him. “He had no reason, and no evidence; I was utterly convincing. I asked him for his reasons, and he admitted he had none except his own gut feeling.”

“Well, he was right,” Lestrade said.

“Please. It’s not even a lucky guess, just the ravings of a deluded paranoiac,” Sherlock scoffed.

“But he was right,” Donovan said.

“And now he is dead, do you have some kind of point?” Sherlock asked.

The idea that he had been deceived by Sherlock personally offended Malestein. Without telling anyone else in the gang, because he felt that having been duped, it was his reputation that would be ruined for letting in a rat, he’d taken Sherlock to the warehouse to try to extract what information he could from him—whom he’d worked for, what he’d hoped to accomplish by spying, and to get revenge for having the temerity to lie to him.

All the way home from the crime scene, Sherlock continued to eye John warily, like some exotic species of dog that might bite him if provoked.

Once there, Sherlock said, “You know, the ballistics report may not exactly support your version of events.” Sherlock didn’t mention that he might be able to get Mycroft to lend a hand in this regard. John had, after all, saved Sherlock’s life. Again.

“If it doesn’t, I guess I’ll have to deal with that when it happens,” John said stoically. “Now please, sit, and let me have a look at your injuries.”

Sherlock sat, on the sofa. John brought his kit, and a basin with warm water and a cloth, and sat on the coffee table, between Sherlock’s knees.

John carefully pushed back Sherlock’s curls from his forehead and began cleaning the blood from his face gently. He could feel his friend’s breath. John thought he’d never been so thankful to feel anything in his life. “You were crazy to go after them alone, you know. Alone is NOT what protects you.”

“Obviously.” Sherlock said quietly.

John continued to work, carefully applying antiseptic, doing his best not to cause any further pain.

Sherlock seemed to want to say something, but John wasn’t sure if he wanted to hear it, after what had just happened. He knew he’d done something that would be hard for most people to understand. He knew Sherlock wasn’t most people, but that didn’t mean Sherlock was necessarily going to understand it, either.

He decided he’d rather know than not. “Yes?”

“Those same hands that are on me now, the hands of the healer, were so ruthless just hours ago,” Sherlock said evenly.

John’s hand holding the antiseptic shook just a little. He put it down and looked down for what felt like a long time.

Sherlock started to speak again, as if to try to soften his words, “John,”

“No,” John said. “I’m sure I deserved that. It was ruthless. But I was there.

John could see Sherlock making rapid-fire deductions, but he said nothing else.

Sherlock’s shirt was shredded, especially where Malestein had sliced Sherlock’s arm.

“I think you’re going to have to take that shirt off so that I can clean the cut underneath. That’s more likely to get infected than any of these other injuries have been. I need to get a clean cloth.”

Sherlock seemed to freeze. But he unbuttoned and removed the shirt.

John saw that Sherlock had not been entirely forthcoming about the extent of the injuries he’d suffered at Malestein’s hands. His torso was covered with bruises.

“Sherlock! Your chest! You didn’t say anything about this!”

“I didn’t want you to shoot his other kneecap,” Sherlock replied.

John thought, I would have, too. He said, “I’m sorry, but this may burn a little, when I clean that cut, and then I want to check for broken ribs.”

“I don’t have any broken ribs.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

John cleaned the long, thin cut carefully. “What made this, straight razor?”

“Hmm.” Sherlock nodded.

John felt the white-redness start to return. He wished Malestein were here so he could shoot something else on him. Sherlock’s cut was a deep, angry looking wound. John wanted to lower his face to it and kiss the skin to either side.

“Ok, so no broken ribs, but this bruising! Is that around the back, too? Where is this scar from?” John saw a deep scar on Sherlock’s torso.

“My back is fine,” Sherlock said quickly, ignoring John’s question and snatching up his shirt while rising from the sofa, “Thank you for tending to me.”

A Sherlock rose, John craned around to Sherlock’s back, and saw it all—the criss-crossed scars all over, some of them terribly deep, the circular scars on the other arm…

John’s military control was nowhere to be found now. He fell back to sit on the coffee table with an undignified plop.

“Sh-Sherlock. Your back. Jesus Christ. That’s. That’s from Serbia, yes? And on your arm. Are those cigarette burns?”

Sherlock sighed. “Is it really helpful for me to tell you any more about this, John? It seems like maybe it isn’t, considering today’s events. I wasn’t aware you were so…affected by that kind of information. What you did to Malestein today…wasn’t…I didn’t think you had that kind of coldness in you. I know that you’ve…killed before, but this was…different. Today you weren’t the person I thought I knew. I’m the cold one. I don’t want to make you that way.”

“Please. Sherlock, please come back here and sit down. Right where you were, if you would.”

Sherlock raised an eyebrow at this and hesitated, but did as John asked. John looked down at the floor at first, trying to decide how to begin, but then he raised his eyes to Sherlock’s. They weren’t cold.

“You know these things are hard for me to say. I don’t talk like this. Let me try.” John took a few breaths. Considered his words. Almost had to build them and then push them out like things made of blocks, so unaccustomed was he to emotional speeches. “Ever since you told me about Serbia, I’ve wanted to do what I did to Malestein today and even worse to the person responsible for what happened to you while you were away. I’ve sat thinking about it, in my room at night while I listen to you having your nightmares, I hear you in pain, because of that pain you felt then, and I think about what I’d do if I could get my hands on the man who did this to you. And when just now, I spent days looking for you, thinking that I would not be able to go on in this world if I ever lost you again, and I saw you there like that, covered in blood, when I saw that fucking waste of oxygen, that was it. And Sherlock, I would do it again. For you. Every time. I’m sorry if it disappoints you, but that’s who I am. That’s all. So yes, I blew a man’s kneecap off today and watched him scream, and then I executed him in cold blood, and that’s not the man you know me to be.”

“No, that’s exactly the man I know you to be,” Sherlock said breathlessly.

John closed the distance between them, and their lips met and parted, just like it was always meant to be, because it always was. For the first time since John could remember, he felt the pressure in his chest ease, replaced with the sensation of falling as he tasted the wet warmth of Sherlock’s mouth. Two pairs of hands came to two faces. John was particularly gentle, because even though Sherlock was right and the beating had looked worse than it was, the last thing he wanted to do was to hurt his face.

They kissed for what felt like lifetimes, with John running his hands up and down Sherlock’s chest and back, feeling his skin at last, and Sherlock pulling John’s shirt from his jeans to do the same. Eventually John stood and pulled Sherlock with him. “Your room? S’closer…” John said into Sherlock’s mouth without really stopping kissing him. John never, ever again for the rest of his life wanted to stop kissing him, since it seemed like that was going to be permitted now, and it was brilliant, brilliant, amazing, fantastic, amazing. He made a mental note to tell him so at some point, no bombs required.

“Yes, John?” Sherlock asked, “Are you sure…?”

“Am I sure what?” John asked. He stopped kissing. Something about Sherlock’s tone told him that whatever it was, Sherlock was most certainly Not Sure.

“You really want to do this, this is…you’re not just caught up in the moment, or lonely or…”

“Are you bloody kidding me? I’ve wanted this for months. Longer than months, really.”

Sherlock looked shocked again. It had to be a record. He nodded. “Longer than months too.”

“Why do you look so surprised then? I’m the one should be surprised. You know what? No, no more talking. Stop talking. Talking can happen later,” John took Sherlock’s hand and led him to the bedroom.

Chapter Text

John unbuttoned his shirt and removed it, somehow toeing off his shoes as he walked without tripping, then reached down to remove his socks. Once they both stopped moving, John reached out and grabbed Sherlock by the front of the waistband of his trousers to pull him closer and was rewarded by a look of surprise. He was finding he really liked seeing these looks of shock and surprise on Sherlock’s face and knowing that ordinary old John Watson had put them there. John had seen more of those in this one day than he had the entire time he’d known him. He kind of wondered what else he could do in the future to inspire such looks. All kinds of ideas flooded his mind.

He pressed his lips to Sherlock’s neck and began exploring, tasting, sucking, and lightly biting, eliciting gorgeous noises. His skin was so warm, so smooth. Sherlock threw his head back, and let out a breathy sound, and brought his hands down to John’s arse. John drew in his breath sharply and smiled with his lips still against Sherlock’s skin.

John’s hands found the hair at the back of Sherlock’s neck and pulled gently, and when he was rewarded with a louder, more insistent sound, slightly less gently. John felt like Sherlock at a crime scene when Sherlock would survey the scene and say “Nine ideas,” Then after investigating a bit, he would say, “Hmmm…four ideas.” Except that for John, as he investigated Sherlock, the number of ideas he had was rising instead of declining.

Then it was Sherlock’s turn to explore John, kissing gently all over his face, his eyelids, his brow, his cheeks, ears, chin, as if John were a precious thing.

Then mouths again, more demanding now, as they worked at each other’s trousers, which were soon pooled around ankles. Sherlock tried to get his socks off without breaking contact, but they had to pause. They were soon back at it.

John stopped the action for a moment and drew back, holding Sherlock at arms-length, both of them in just their pants. John snapped Sherlock’s waist-band. “These. Have to go.”

“Just mine? Or yours too?” Sherlock’s voice sounded different from its normal confident baritone swagger. It sounded tentative, and too young.

“Both. Unless you want me to keep mine on,” John said.

“Oh no, yours too. Um, now might be a good time to tell you that you probably have a bit more experience in this arena than I do,” Sherlock said. That explained the tentativeness, then. John sought to reassure him.

“I don’t want to ask for a C.V. or anything right in the moment,” John ran the back of a gentle hand down Sherlock’s cheek, “but how little experience are we talking about?”

“Does it change things?” Sherlock asked quietly.

John seemed to consider this. “I guess it doesn’t, really. I would want it to be special either way.”

“It is special either way. I’ve experimented before. With men. Well, boys, really. Years ago. Just—this is as far as I’ve gone with anyone. I’ve never gone to bed with anyone before,” Sherlock said, still in that same unsure tone.

John found that he was wrong. It did matter. All of those instincts to protect the things about Sherlock that he found precious and perfect were fired by this admission.

He slid a hand around Sherlock’s neck and drew him in for a soft kiss into which he poured all of the feelings he’d repressed for weeks, months, years. He slid off his pants, slid his other hand down to help Sherlock off with his, and they got into Sherlock’s bed.

“John,” Sherlock breathed, as John caressed him.

“You,” John said, “Are amazing. How could I ever have stopped telling you so? Look at you. You are beautiful. Brilliant. Gorgeous.”

“John, I missed you so much. You have no idea. Every day I was gone. Every day I was here. I wanted to tell you so badly. I needed you like air.”

This information is an incredible revelation to John, the idea that he could possibly mean to Sherlock what Sherlock means to him, and he rolled onto his side, crushing Sherlock’s taller body to his, creating the first full-length body contact. They both gasped as their cocks made contact.

More kissing, like starving and then feeding on a banquet. “Promise me you’ll never leave me again,” John said, then wrapped his hand around both his and Sherlock’s cocks together and began to stroke them.

“Never!” Sherlock gasped. “Never, Christ. Just keep doing that.”

John chuckled, low and evilly into Sherlock’s ear and then lightly nipped at the lobe, making Sherlock gasp again. “Do you have lube? It will feel a lot better.”

“Bottom drawer, bedside table, there’s lotion.”

John took care of what needed taking care of with the lotion. “Oh, Sherlock I missed you too…” John said as he stroked. Sherlock’s arm was around him, his nails digging into John’s shoulder. “Wanted you so long… and I never knew.”

Sherlock let out a long shuddering moan that nearly finished things for John. “John, I wish I’d known. To think that all that time it could have been like this, or any of the things I thought of….”

“What did you want, Sherlock?”

Sherlock groaned. “Don’t make me say.” This kind of coyness was not a character trait John would have believed fearless Sherlock, who could throw himself off of buildings and into fires and be arrogant and nick things even in Buckingham Palace, was even capable of possessing, and he found it excruciatingly hot.

“Did you want my hands on you this way?”

“Yes.” Sherlock breathed, and his cock pulsated in John’s hand. Whether or not Sherlock could handle saying, he certainly reacted positively to having things said, that was for sure. John leaned in closer, so that he could speak directly into Sherlock’s ear.

“Did you want my mouth on you?”

Yes.”

“Did you want me to go down on you and suck you off?”

“Yes. Oh my God, John.”

“Do you want me to right now? Because I can do that…I’d love to taste--”

“Yes, but no, I want you right here when I…”

“Ok, ok.” John felt that protective feeling suffuse him again. He began to speak again, stroking all the while.

“Did you want to do that to me, suck me off? Did you want me in your mouth? I dreamed of that, you know, dreamed of my hands in your hair while you--”

Sherlock let out a cry, and John thought that was it, but it wasn’t, quite, but he was close; very close.

“Well, I guess that’s my answer. Sherlock, would you like me to fuck you? Because do you know how much I would love to be the first one ever to be inside you, taking you apart?” and then he stopped talking to kiss Sherlock on the mouth, who was crying out as his orgasm surged through him. John was right after him, and the two of them clung to each other and panted for air.

After they’d had a few minutes to lay there and clean off and recover, John asked Sherlock if everything was ok. He couldn’t quite interpret the look on Sherlock’s face. “Was it alright?” John asked him, suddenly worried that maybe he’d taken things too far, with the dirty talk and all.

“Of course, it was fantastic, don’t be daft,” Sherlock said. “I was just thinking of—that last time you came in when I was having a ‘nightmare…’ you knew what was happening, didn’t you; that it was no nightmare.”

“I did,” John confessed.

“Why did you play along at breakfast and try to continue to have permission to come in to stop my dreaming if you knew? That doesn’t seem fair, but I couldn’t believe you really didn’t notice that. I saw you look down.” Sherlock asked, seemingly both perplexed and somewhat distressed, as if he thought John had meant to deceive him.

“I pretended not to know because I knew you were embarrassed. I asked to continue coming in because I couldn’t bear to listen to your nightmares, and I wanted to come to you every time you had one, and I knew one sexual dream might have just been a fluke and it wasn’t going to make your nightmares stop. I wouldn’t allow myself to hope that you might have had a dream like that about me that about me and that it actually meant you had feelings for me.”

Sherlock pulled John closer to negate the statement.

“I was embarrassed. I was mortified. I haven’t felt like that since school, where I was made to feel like that all the time over all sorts of things,” Sherlock said ruefully.

“It’s not hard to imagine, because it’s exactly how I’d have felt if you’d walked in on one of the dreams I have like that about you,” John said.

“Would you…tell me about the content of some of these dreams, maybe, like the one you mentioned earlier?” Sherlock asked.

John groaned and laughed, “Maybe in an hour? I’m not as young as I used to be, you know. I have a feeling one thing is going to lead to another.”

They spent the night talking about dreams of all kinds, past and present. They both started to think about creating some new ones.

It was the first night out of many that John didn’t spend staring sleepless into the valley of darkness, wanting to inflict pain there, waiting only to hear Sherlock’s anguish. Now at last he had some light.