"Sherlock!" Mrs. Hudson called up the stairs. "John's home!"
"That's fine," came the reply. "Send him up."
Mrs. Hudson gave John a sheepish look, as if to say, "you know how he is." Except that John didn't, of course, and they both knew that. "He's always like this," she said in a loud whisper, as if they were on stage. "You go on up, now. Let me know if you need anything."
John found Sherlock Holmes lying on the couch, staring at the ceiling, palms pressed together under his chin. He wasn't sure what he'd been expecting, but very probably it hadn't been this pale-eyed young stranger in a mouse-coloured dressing gown, bare feet tucked up against the armrest, looking little like a madman or a genius. He didn't even really look like the photo John had up on his blog; in person he was somehow more human and more alien, and gave you the impression that he looked right through you because there was something more interesting on the other side.
Sherlock's gaze flicked toward him. "Afghanistan or Iraq?"
"What?" said John.
"The haircut, the way you hold yourself, said military. Your face is tan, but no tan above the wrists, you've been abroad but not sunbathing. The limp was really bad when you walked, but you didn't ask for a chair when you stood, like you'd forgotten about it, so it was at least partly psychosomatic. That said the original circumstances of the injury were traumatic, wounded in action, then. Wounded in action, suntan, Afghanistan or Iraq."
John sucked in a breath. Sherlock's voice was shockingly deep and left echoes in his skull. He leaned against the doorframe. "Afghanistan. But you knew that already."
"Yes." Sherlock sat up with a dramatic swirl of his dressing gown. He was wearing pyjama bottoms, but no shirt, and the bandages were stark and white against his skin. The cuts on his face were still healing, and there was an odd, short patch of hair at one temple, nearly hidden by his fringe, where they'd shaved it to stitch the scalp. "But did you remember any of that?"
John licked his lips and cast his mind back, but all he remembered was waking up in hospital with staples in his head and telling the doctors that the Prime Minister was Gordon Brown. Before that, he remembered getting shot, the sobbing, raw-throat pain of it. He shook his head.
The afternoon of the second day John was home, he abruptly screamed, "FUCK!" and flung a cup to the floor. It didn't make him feel any better. He stood there until his breathing slowed, and then went looking for the broom and dustpan. Then he realised that he didn't know where they were, and he stopped to lean with both hands on the counter, resisting the sudden urge to punch it.
"In the hall cupboard." John looked at Sherlock, who'd sat up from his reclining position on the couch at the sound of smashing crockery. "The broom and dustpan."
Strange that Sherlock knew where they were, considering he didn't seem to do any cleaning: John swept up not only fragments of teacup, but crumbs, hair, bits of straw (?), and other things that simply didn't bear thinking about. The hoover was in the hall cupboard, as well as toilet rolls, paper towels, and other cleaning supplies. He tried to remember this all for later.
He turned around to find Sherlock standing right behind him, close enough that they nearly bumped. John jumped. "Jesus!"
"What were you upset about?" Sherlock sounded genuinely curious.
"Nothing," John said. Sherlock gave John a look like you might give a very dim child, only without any of the exasperated affection. John sighed. "I have amnesia, Sherlock. I woke up three days ago thinking I was still in Afghanistan. I don't know who the Prime Minister is. I'm going to lose my temper once in a while. It's nothing to do with you."
"Everything about you has to do with me," Sherlock said, briskly. "And I never know who the Prime Minister is; it's hardly necessary information. Now: what upset you?"
John looked to the side, lips twisting. Sherlock was standing too close for John to be able to slip away. "I wanted to make tea, but there wasn't any milk. I thought, all right, I'll just pop out for some milk, then. But then I realised that I didn't know where the closest shop was. Where I could buy milk."
He expected Sherlock to say, "That's all?" But instead Sherlock said, sounding mildly puzzled, "It's not as if you've forgotten how to use the Internet. You can easily look that up. Or ask Mrs. Hudson. Or me."
"That's not the point!" John exploded, incensed into looking at Sherlock straight on. "The point is that I don't even know which of my keys are which. I don't know where we keep the toilet roll. I didn't even know where my bedroom was."
"But you figured it out," Sherlock pointed out.
John's hands tightened into fists. "I have this entire life that I don't remember, and it's a bit frustrating, all right? I read my blog, and it's like it happened to someone else. Well, glad he seemed to have loads of fun, because I'm not."
Sherlock tilted his head, and let his eyelids drop just so, and he was giving John a strange, soft look. "You're not an idiot," he said, which from him was a compliment of the highest order. "You'll catch up."
"The weirdest bit's been my room," said John.
Dr. Fitzgerald's face altered to one of vague encouragement. John wondered if they all learned the same faces in therapist school.
"It's like a stranger's room," said John. "I suppose it is, really. I'm not the same person that moved into that room, not really. But it's like... a hotel room. Worse. Everything's so bare. There's no... pictures, or anything.
"I went through all my stuff, my first day back. Just trying to get a sense of my personality, I guess. Nothing much. Clothes, mostly. Some books, Dan Brown, James Patterson, stuff like that. I guess I can reread them, I won't remember the endings now." He gave a weak little chuckle. Something that might have been a smile graced Dr. Fitzgerald's lips for a split-second. "Found my medals in the bottom of the wardrobe. And my dogtags. S'weird. I don't feel like someone who's been awarded a Military Cross. Guess I don't remember that bit." He'd looked at his scar in the mirror that morning too, poked it. It didn't seem right, that it was all but healed now, when it seemed like just last week he'd had it blown open. There was slightly limited mobility in his left arm. He'd have to remember to do exercises, to keep it limber.
John shifted his weight in the chair and tried not to think about how his every move was probably being evaluated. "Bed was made up in hospital corners. Habit, I guess."
There'd been a gun in the bedside table, too. Best not to mention that.
"The phone," Sherlock said, sounding bored. "Your phone was expensive, email-enabled, mp3 player. You were looking for a flatshare, you wouldn't have wasted money on that. It was a gift, then. Scratches, not one, many at a time, it'd been in the same pocket as keys and coins. You didn't strike me as one who'd treat a luxury item like that, so it must have had a previous owner. The engraving on the back said Harry Watson; clearly a family member who'd given you his old phone. Not your father; it was a young man's gadget. Could be a cousin, but you were a war hero who couldn't find a place to live, unlikely you had an extended family, at least not one you're close to." Sherlock blew out a breath. "Do I need to go on?"
John started and shook himself; he'd sunk into the rhythmic cadence of Sherlock's recited deductions. "No, no."
Sherlock looked at him. His eyes were so pale. John wondered if this was what it'd felt like the first time to be on the receiving end of one of Sherlock's deductions: breathless and anticipatory and hungry for more. "Anything?" Sherlock said.
John shook his head. "Doesn't ring a bell."
Sherlock's gaze slid away. He frowned and steepled his hands beneath his chin. John waited, but Sherlock didn't say anything more, and eventually John got up and went away.
"I think I'll call it The Six Caesars," John declared. "The Case of the Six Caesars. The Adventure of the Six Caesars? The Mystery of the Six Caesars?"
"Best stick to The Six Caesars," Sherlock said. "Keep it short and to the point."
"So says Mr. I-Shall-Gesture-Vaguely-In-The-Direction-Of-Broken-Streetlamps-Instead-Of-Saying-Something."
"John!" trilled a large man with an equally large Italian accent. "John Watson! It's so good to see you!" Sherlock froze; the large Italian man swooped down on John as if they were long-lost brothers. Perhaps they were, John thought from the depths of an effusive hug. Stranger things had happened to him in the last few weeks. "Oh, Sherlock was lost without you. So sad. I thought he would waste away."
"Angelo," Sherlock said, with a faint note of something that may have been worry, menace, some combination of both, or neither.
The man that was apparently called Angelo dropped John back into his chair. He peered into John's face.
"John has amnesia." It was difficult to tell if Sherlock had gone white, he was habitually so pale. But his fingers gripped the edge of the table rather tightly.
"Amnesia?" Angelo's mouth gaped. "You mean--he doesn't remember?"
"That's the definition of amnesia, yes," Sherlock agreed.
Angelo shut his jaw and stared at Sherlock, then at John, then at Sherlock, then at John again. He clapped his hands. "I will bring gnocchi," he boomed, turned on his heel, and strode away with apron strings swishing.
John stared after him. "Who--"
"Angelo," said Sherlock. "I saved him from being convicted for a rather nasty triple murder by proving he was in an entirely different part of town committing a burglary."
"Don't worry, the gnocchi will be on the house," Sherlock added.
"How does he know me?" John queried, after a rather pregnant pause.
Sherlock waved a hand. "We had our first dinner here. Right at this very table, as a matter of fact. This window is perfect for viewing the street." He demonstrated by bringing his legs up onto the bench. "There was a cab chase. It was divine." He smiled as he said it.
"Ah." John nodded. "And I left behind my cane."
Sherlock sat up. "Oh, do you remember?"
"No, oh, no." John shook his head. "I--it was on my blog."
Sherlock sank back down into his seat.
"Ah, so many memories," Angelo sang, floating a large plate of gnocchi down in front of John and a plate of pasta primavera for Sherlock. "Oh, one more thing!" He produced from his apron pocket a little tea candle, which he lit with a flourish of his wrist. "Makes it more romantic. Enjoy!"
John stared at the candle. "What--"
Sherlock stuck a mouthful of pasta in his mouth and didn't answer. The gnocchi was amazing--pillowy soft, with just the right amount of sauce--and John soon forgot about the candle altogether.
He was running, running, running, running after Sherlock, but he could only hear his voice echoing up ahead: "Come on! Hurry!" Sometimes he could hear Sherlock muttering to himself, directions and deductions and instructions, but those faded; mostly all he could hear was his own harsh panting and his blood in his ears.
Then he came to the edge of a roof. He could see the tips of his trainers as he contemplated the edge. Below he saw pale blue water. He smelled chlorine.
"Come on!" Sherlock urged. He was there now, on the other side of the chasm. "Hurry up!"
Theer was no way he could bridge the entire length of a swimming pool, but John backed up to take a running start anyway, and jumped. Water flashed below him as he sailed through the air and landed with a jarring thud on the other side, flushed with adrenaline and pride.
By the time he landed Sherlock was gone again, but John knew where he was. He dashed up the stairs and peered through doorways and windows, into classrooms, storerooms, offices, bedrooms. Most of them had bodies in them, lying on the floor in pools of their own blood, or slumped over in their chairs, or hanging noosed from the ceiling. A few had monsters in them, like something out of Doctor Who, and one had a clown with a sad mouth painted on in red. Finally, he came to the room Sherlock was in. Sherlock was next to the swimming pool now, about to take a pill, and beside him was the devil in a Westwood suit, a grin stretching his face into an unnatural rictus. John raised his gun. If he fired, the bomb hanging around his neck would go off, but Sherlock would live.
He woke up just as he pulled the trigger.
John opened his eyes. His heart hammered away at the inside of his chest. He sat up, swung his legs over the side of the bed, rubbed one hand over his face, and got up.
It didn't surprise him that Sherlock was sitting at the kitchen table, fully dressed, apparently doing nothing. He was slouched in his chair with his legs stuck straight out in front of him under the table, arms crossed and chin sunk on his chest. When John entered, his eyes flickered once, then again, as he seemed to actually take notice of John and sat up. "You had a nightmare."
"Yeah." John shuffled into the kitchen and stared at the kettle, debating the soothing merits of tea versus its caffeinated properties. Well, he probably wouldn't be sleeping any more tonight, anyway; he filled the kettle and got down--after some thought--two teacups and two teabags. When he turned back around, Sherlock was smiling faintly. "What?"
"Nothing." Sherlock brushed his fingers across his lips. "Tell me. Was it about Afghanistan?"
"Don't remember much about it now." John eased himself into the chair across from Sherlock, even though he'd just have to get up again in a few minutes when the kettle went off. "Wasn't Afghanistan, though. Was about you, I think. And I shot someone."
"Really?" Sherlock was as intrigued by murder in John's dreams as he was in real life. It was a little discomfiting. "Why?"
"I think it was to stop you doing something stupid." John closed his eyes. He could see Sherlock against the backs of his eyelids, that thin, sharp silhouette framed clean and black against a window, holding a pill to his upturned lips. "You were going to take poison."
"Ah." John could hear the kettle bubbling. It beeped a few seconds later, and he got up. He had his back turned to Sherlock, pouring water over the teabags, when Sherlock said, "That actually happened, you know."
Hot water splashed onto the counter. "What?"
"The first night we met. Well, the second, technically. But you were the one who shot the cab driver."
Oh. He'd written that on his blog. About how a mysterious someone, never caught, had killed the cab driver. It'd been a little too convenient, hadn't it? That gun in his drawer hadn't just been for show. He turned around. Sherlock had his hands loosely clasped in front of his chin. His gaze was calculating and curious. John opened his mouth, closed it, opened it again. "So you're telling me that a day after we met, I murdered someone for you?"
"The man was a serial killer. You felt he deserved it."
John turned back around and fished out the teabags. He left them in the sink and got out the sugar and milk. It was less that the cab driver deserved it and more that Sherlock didn't. He could well picture himself watching Sherlock about to do a very foolhardy thing, and thinking, if I don't stop him, I'll never find out what this infuriating, impossible, brilliant man is going to do next. "I told you that, did I?"
"You made a joke about it. We laughed."
Christ. Had he always been a psychotic nutter, or was this a new development? He sat back down at the table with two cups of tea. Sherlock accepted his tea without so much as a thank you, blew on it, and took a sip. He looked up at John. "You didn't ask me how I take my tea."
"Oh," said John. "I'm sorry, is it--?"
"It's perfect." Sherlock smiled. It was crooked and foolish and squinched up his eyes so that he looked a perfect idiot, and John's heart skipped a beat.
"Sarah Sawyer." She held out her hand. "I don't suppose you remember me." She let out a rueful chuckle. She was pretty, with minimal makeup and hair drawn back into a ponytail. Judging from her professional clothes and sensible shoes, she'd just come from the surgery. "Sorry. You probably get that a lot."
"A bit, yeah," he said. "D'you want to come in?"
She stepped into the sitting room, cradling a tea set in a basket, wrapped in cellophane. "I just wanted to see how you were doing. I'm sorry I didn't come see you in hospital."
"No, it's all right. I mean, we're exes. I didn't expect--I didn't expect. Have a seat. D'you want a cuppa?" He took the tea into the kitchen. He'd had too many pitying and unfamiliar visitors as it was. An ex-girlfriend probably would have started him foaming at the mouth.
"All right, although I probably shouldn't stay long." John kept his back to her, filling the kettle and setting it to boil, although he heard the couch cushions squish. When he turned back, she was perched on the edge of the cushion, as if she might need to flee at any moment. "How's Sherlock?"
"Oh, he's fine." John wondered if he was supposed to sit on the couch next to her. That was probably a little too friendly for exes, especially when one of them didn't even remember the other person. But surely he couldn't just stand and loom? Maybe he should sit on the coffee table? But that was eccentric. He settled for leaning against the arm of the couch. "He's same as ever, I suppose. As far as I can tell, anyway." He shrugged.
"Right, yeah." Her smile pulled at the edges of her mouth. "So you're still together, then?"
"Can't let him run around without backup." John rubbed his nose with the back of his hand. "He's likely to get himself killed."
Sarah looked down at her hands, smiled, shook her head. "Guess things really are the same as ever."
John wondered why they'd broken up. He'd found a picture of Sarah in his phone. In the photo she was laughing, slightly turned away from the camera. It was dark and slightly unfocused and had probably been taken in a restaurant. To John, the person in the photo was a stranger, but she was beautiful, in the way all people laughing are beautiful, and he'd felt a little wistful for something he didn't remember having. His blog had said only, Sarah broke up with me today. I wish I could say that I'm shocked, but I'm not. I'm afraid I wasn't very good. I wish her well.
Sherlock and Sarah must have passed each other on the stairs, because the next thing John knew, Sherlock was in the doorway, stripping off his gloves and saying, "Rekindling old romances, I see."
"What?" John paused in the act of clearing away the teacups. "Oh, no. No, no, no. I don't--I doubt she's interested." He carried the cups to the kitchen and put them in the sink. They would keep until morning.
"She might well be." Sherlock watched as John traipsed back and forth. "After all, you're practically a new man."
John snorted. "I have amnesia, Sherlock, that doesn't make me a different person. Whatever it was that made our relationship not work is still there, I just don't remember it."
"It's a second chance," said Sherlock, quietly.
"Why do you care, anyhow?" John turned to face him, hands fisted on his hips. "It's none of your business, is it?"
Sherlock's face went shuttered and guarded, and he swayed a little, as if he'd thought about taking a step back and then changed his mind. "Merely taking an interest in your wellbeing."
"Anyone would think you were jealous," John muttered. "I'm going to bed."
"But what if she were?" Sherlock called. John was halfway up the stairs. It was the pause that did it. Sherlock never hesitated, and Sherlock never asked questions: he made declarations.
John turned around. "What if she were what?"
"Interested," said Sherlock. "In second chances."
John sighed. "I... don't know." Sherlock stood at the bottom of the stairs with one hand on the banister, a pensive expression on his face. John descended, one step at a time, until he was standing on the bottom step, which placed him at much of a height with Sherlock. "Look, what're you on about? Do you want me and Sarah to get back together or something?"
"No." Sherlock looked away. "Nothing. Just an idle thought. Goodnight."
It was looking at Sherlock's unhappy profile, the corners of his mouth twisted down, that tugged at John's brain. He took ahold of the string and pulled, and suddenly the fog peeled away: the candle on the table, the talk of second chances, Sarah asking, so you're still together, then? He'd seen this expression on Sherlock's face before, he was certain of it, even as the tidal wave knocked all the breath out of him. Was this what it felt like when Sherlock had a case-solving epiphany? He reached out, seized Sherlock by the collar, and covered Sherlock's mouth with his own.
Sherlock froze. John's stomach sank, and he pulled away. Sherlock's eyes were wide, his mouth parted slightly, and John hadn't seen that face since--
the smell of chlorine, water lapping gently against the tile, the weight of semtex and wire around his shoulders, and Sherlock standing there with the Bruce-Partington plans, looking so lost--
When John slammed back into the present, Sherlock was the only thing holding him up, chanting his name in low, urgent tones. He let go of Sherlock's arms and leaned against the banister, nauseous. His heartbeat throbbed brightly in his head. "Why didn't you say something?" he demanded.
"John," Sherlock said, helplessly, hands hovering over John's shirt.
"About us." John closed his eyes. "I can't believe--no. Sherlock. Tell me. Were we--" He opened his eyes, but he couldn't find the words. That stricken look wouldn't leave Sherlock's face. Finally, he reached up with one hand to guide Sherlock's face to his and pressed a dry, chaste kiss to his lips.
After a long, long, weighty pause, during which John felt all his insides go cold and Sherlock stared at John as if he'd never seen him before, Sherlock whispered, "Yes."
Later, after they'd kissed one another stupid onto the couch, John said, "So why didn't you say something?"
Sherlock was on his back with John sprawled half on top of him, their legs tangled together. Sherlock had one arm flung up against the back of the couch, the other around John's shoulders. "You seemed overwhelmed," Sherlock said to the ceiling.
"Liar," said John. "You're selfish. Try again."
"Mmmm." Sherlock blinked once, slowly. "It seemed... I wasn't going to remind you of promises you didn't remember making."
That seemed more likely to be true. John turned it over in his mind and chewed on his bottom lip. "And why didn't anyone else? Lestrade, or Mrs. Hudson, or--"
"No one else knew." Sherlock's arm tightened around John's shoulders briefly. "I have a lot of enemies. They wouldn't hesitate to use you against me."
"They already have," John recalled.
"We were just friends, then."
But that had been enough. John recalled, very clearly, the look on Sherlock's face when John had stepped out of the changing cubicle. It was an odd memory, floating in a sea of lost time, but now that he had it, he was sure he would never forget it. That, and the sick lurch in his stomach when he'd seen the red dot on Sherlock's forehead, when Sherlock had failed to run.
"When did this happen, then?" he asked.
Sherlock stroked his fingertips across John's upper arm, just below his shoulder. "It was afterwards. We both ended up in hospital, of course. Minor injuries, some burns." John had had opportunity to see one of them: a shiny pink scar up Sherlock's forearm, visible when he rolled up his sleeves. He didn't know how far it went. "The incident... made clear certain things to me." He shifted underneath John. "But I was uncertain whether you felt the same way. And there was Sarah."
Ah. That explained Sherlock's behaviour. Some of it, anyhow. "But Sarah broke up with me."
"It wasn't unexpected. I was a large demand on your time." A ghost of a smile flickered across Sherlock's face. Even after it was gone, his eyes never stopped smiling.
John heaved himself up onto his elbows so that he could frown down at Sherlock. "That wasn't--did you--no, you know what, it doesn't matter anymore."
"Indeed," Sherlock said, softly.
John settled back down with his head on Sherlock's chest. God, Sherlock was really too thin. John hoped he'd have more of a say about that, now. "So, Sarah broke up with me. Then what?"
"It was after a case." Sherlock resumed his stroking, this time at the nape of John's neck, scratching through the short hair there. "The one you so fancifully termed the Affair of the Amateur Medicant Society."
Oh, yes. That case had been very exciting, judging from the writeup on John's blog. He was sorry he didn't actually remember it.
"We came back to the flat as usual," Sherlock said. "We were in the sitting room, laughing and congratulating ourselves. I'd never wanted to kiss you so much in my life."
John couldn't imagine what made Sherlock, of all people, want to kiss him. Maybe he'd shot someone. "So you did."
"I did. And fortunately for me, you reciprocated."
John made a meaningless affirmative noise and closed his eyes. He hadn't mentioned that bit on his blog, of course. Probably they'd had a talk about it and decided to keep it between them. Sherlock was right, he did have a lot of enemies. Or maybe John hadn't wanted the others ribbing him about it. There were lots of reasons.
"Mmm?" John opened his eyes.
"Earlier," said Sherlock. "On the stairs. When you fell. What happened there?"
"Huh? Oh. Oh, that." John tried to wriggle himself into a more comfortable position. "I--I remembered something."
"Really?" Sherlock tried to prop himself up on his elbows, but he didn't get very far with John lying half on top of him, and sank down again. "What did you remember?"
"The swimming pool," said John. "With Muh-Moriarty." He winced; summoning that name had been like pulling toffee from a loose tooth. "The look, the look on your face. And. You didn't run."
"Oh." Sherlock stared at the ceiling, absently petting the nape of John's neck some more.
"Dr. Fitzgerald said I'd probably get some memories back," said John. "Something about how they probably weren't really gone, just repressed. I don't know. Sounded a bit dodgy, to me."
Sherlock said nothing for the space of precisely two breaths, then sat up in a flurry of limbs, nearly smacking John in the chin, and lurched off the couch. His hair was all a-tangle, and his shirt was deliciously rumpled. He looked precisely like he'd been necking on the couch for the last forty minutes. He held out a hand to John. "Come. Let's go to bed."
Sherlock's room was chaos. Shelves against every available wall, crammed to overflowing with books and binders and other, less readily identifiable objects; Wanted posters and blurry newspaper photos papered all the other wall surfaces; the floor strewn with books, crumbs, the occasional plate, newspapers, and for some reason, feathers. Sherlock picked an unerring path through it, John following closely behind to avoid contracting tetanus or some even more unpleasant disease. When they reached the bed, John started to say, "Do you want to--?"
"Yes, yes, please," Sherlock said against John's ear, and tumbled him into the bed.
"But you have the advantage," John said, smiling, when they'd arranged themselves so that John was on his back, Sherlock hovering over him. "I don't even know what you like."
At this, Sherlock bent to press a kiss over John's heart. "I like everything about you."
The remark was so achingly sincere that John gave a nervous stutter of laughter. "What, even my scar? Even the amnesia?"
"Especially the scar. Especially the amnesia," Sherlock said, gravely.
What a strange thing to say. John tilted his head back to look at the ceiling. God, there were even posters on the ceiling. How had Sherlock gotten them up there? He couldn't imagine Sherlock standing on the bed with a broom. "You first, then. Since you know what I like."
Sherlock stared at John for so long that John's heart almost failed him. Had he said something wrong? Were Sherlock's eyeballs going to dry out? But then Sherlock bent his head again, this time to feather kisses along John's cheekbones, sprinkle them on his eyelids and forehead and the bridge of his nose. John closed his eyes and held his breath, puzzled. While he didn't dislike this sort of foreplay, it wasn't his favourite thing, either, and he couldn't quite see why Sherlock would start out with something like this.
Sherlock trailed kisses down John's jaw, back briefly to his ear, and then down his neck. He paid special attention to the hollow of John's throat and the bump of his Adam's apple before progressing down to John's collarbone. He unbuttoned John's shirt, kissing the skin as it was revealed. After he finished the last button and laid a kiss just above John's bellybutton, he spread the plackets of the shirt wide and stared down at John's exposed torso. There wasn't anything much to stare at: though he'd done his best to stay in shape, he'd gone a bit soft round the middle since leaving the Army, and his chest hair was slightly darker than the hair on his head. But Sherlock stared at it all hungrily, indexing, cataloguing, and John realised that right now, Sherlock was not paying attention to anything else. Sherlock looked at him like he usually looked at crime scenes. John sucked in a breath and let it out between his teeth, because having 100% of Sherlock Holmes' focus was, in fact, the hottest thing in the world.
Time went a little muddled after that. Sherlock slowly stripped John of every article of clothing, seemingly determined to press his lips to every square inch of John's skin, from the hair in his armpit to the sweaty crease of his inner thigh. John thought his teeth might be chattering with the tension, even as the rest of him went boneless. When he was finally naked, Sherlock turned him over and repeated the process on John's backside, from the nape of his neck down to the curve of his buttocks, the backs of his knees, and his feet. He stopped short of actually sucking on John's toes, which was good because John wasn't sure he could have tolerated that. Sherlock pressed his thumbs into John's soles, amd John let out a muffled moan. He was hard, but it was that lambent, slow-burning arousal that could last for ages and feel so good.
And then, when it seemed like Sherlock had had enough of mapping John's skin, he prised John's buttocks apart with his hands and went to town on John's arsehole.
John yelped and squirmed. He had perfectly adequate hygiene, thanks, but it wasn't like he'd just showered, and he probably wasn't squeaky clean down there. But Sherlock didn't seem to mind; he put his tongue all over, until John was wet and open and gasping and shivering. Then Sherlock turned him back over and went down on John's cock, and John's eyes slammed shut and he curled his toes into the sheets.
"Teeth," John gasped, and Sherlock pulled away with a discontented noise, then tried again. His blowjob technique was messy, and a couple of times he tried to take John in too far and choked. John brought up one hand to tangle in Sherlock's hair. "Easy," he murmured. "We have all night." Sherlock made that noise again, but this time around John's cock, and John gasped. So Sherlock did it again, and again, then pulled off to lick John's cock all over, just as he had with the rest of John's body. He sucked in just the head of John's cock, running his tongue all round the glans. It was sloppy and imprecise and glorious, and then Sherlock pulled away.
"I want you to fuck me," Sherlock said, low and urgent. "Please fuck me."
John opened his eyes, God, he could barely see. "What, right now?"
"Yes," Sherlock said, with a flash of his usual imperiousness, chin up and eyes narrowed and alert. He rolled off John and started unbuttoning his shirt.
"All right," said John. "You don't need to twist my arm, just give me a sec--" He yanked open the bedside table drawer. Pens, coins, more of those blasted feathers, a couple of mismatched socks, a hospital bracelet, receipts, a crumpled handkerchief, buttons, a rubber duck, a false moustache, but-- "Lube and condoms, where are the lube and condoms?"
"Don't need them." Sherlock threw his shirt on the floor and started on his trousers.
John shut the drawer with a firm bang. It figured that he'd be the only one to care about precautions. "I have some upstairs."
Sherlock snaked out one arm to grab John around the wrist. "Don't need them."
"Yes we do." John shook off Sherlock's arm and started up. Sherlock opened his mouth, closed it, then flung himself face-down on the bed and pointedly turned his back to John.
John came back with the whole strip, as well as half a bottle of lube, and stashed both in the bedside table. He crawled over Sherlock and kissed him on the back of the neck. Sherlock loosened and uncoiled as John kept kissing him, down both shoulders and his spine, rubbing and kneading the tense muscles there. Sherlock had gorgeous skin; even the burn scar that crawled up his left arm and fanned out over his torso was beautiful. John pressed kisses to Sherlock's moles and murmured, "C'mon, let's get these off," as he tugged at the back of Sherlock's waistband. Sherlock shuddered out a sigh and sat up to comply.
Finally, finally, Sherlock was naked, and now John could understand Sherlock's careful worship of John's body earlier, because he was seized with the urge to do the same thing now. But Sherlock was breathing hard and clutching at John like he wanted John to crawl inside him right now, and John was not really inclined to wait. He started to turn Sherlock over onto his front, but Sherlock gripped his arm and said, "No, no, I want to see your face."
"All right," said John, because he really wanted to see Sherlock's face too, and Sherlock lay on his back and pulled up his knees.
God, Sherlock was tight. Well, that made sense; Sherlock probably hadn't done this very often before he'd gotten together with John, and then John had gotten hit over the head and forgotten all about their relationship. John went slowly, but even just one finger made Sherlock hiss and tense up. He waited until Sherlock snapped "Hurry up already" before pushing on.
They were both sweating and breathing hard by the time John had three fingers in and felt like Sherlock could take it. He rolled on the condom with shaking hands while Sherlock chanted "John John John John hurry up now hurry up hurry up now now now," his eyes never leaving him. Pushing into Sherlock felt so good he was afraid this moment would never end, and when he was all the way inside he had to stop a moment and just hold on, his damp forehead pressed into Sherlock's shoulder, and breathe.
"John," Sherlock moaned like he was breaking, "do something."
"All right," John breathed. "All right." And he pulled out--Sherlock made a high, thready sound--and then pushed in again. Sherlock huffed out another keening breath and dug his nails into John's back. His eyes were closed. "Okay?" said John. Sherlock nodded; a tiny line had appeared between his eyebrows. John kissed him there. He pulled out, just a little, and thrust in again, so, so slow. Sherlock was so tight. "Am I hurting you?"
"No," said Sherlock. His voice cracked. He cleared his throat. "No."
John pushed his nose into Sherlock's neck and took a deep breath. Sherlock smelled like sweat and sex and something that must have been uniquely himself. He closed his eyes and tried to remember this smell; surely this kind of thing was seated deep in the hindbrain, the animal connection to pleasure and sex and hunger. He tried to impress on his brain this is important; remember this. He pulled out, pushed in again, and Sherlock tightened his legs around John's body and whimpered. "Sherlock, open your eyes," he said against Sherlock's skin. "Please. I want to see you. Please."
Sherlock opened his eyes, but it was pretty clear he couldn't see John. His pupils were blown, his expression glassy. John pulled out and thrust in again, faster this time, and Sherlock threw back his head, eyes squeezed shut. "John, please."
"All right," said John. He braced himself above Sherlock's body with one arm and slipped the other between them to grasp Sherlock's cock. Sherlock let out a strangled cry. "All right, I've got you," he said, and started long, steady pulls.
It didn't take long for Sherlock to come at all, with a sound that reminded John alarmingly of someone being shot. He stopped for a moment, to see if Sherlock was about to become oversensitive, but Sherlock went very still and stopped making any sound at all. He thrust in and out of Sherlock a few more times, then pulled out, stripped the condom off and finished himself into his hand. Sherlock had one arm over his eyes; his mouth, under it, was firm at the corners. John wiped off his hand with the handkerchief in Sherlock's drawer, left it balled up on the bedside table, and crawled up next to Sherlock.
"Hey," he said. He put one hand on Sherlock's arm. Sherlock twitched but didn't look at him. Maybe this had been too much. John felt a little watery, himself. "You all right?" When Sherlock still didn't respond, he shook Sherlock's arm a little. "Look at me."
Sherlock's eyes were rimmed red, and John sucked in a breath. "Did I hurt you?"
"No." Sherlock slowly wrapped himself around John until John couldn't see his face anymore, because it was buried in his neck.
John wrapped his arms around Sherlock's torso. God, it must have been terrible, to think that he would never have this again.
"Thought this was Fate giving you another chance to get out, but I suppose not," Lestrade remarked as they watched Sherlock disappear head-first into a drainpipe. He'd given John his coat to hold.
"If you could do it over again, would you?" said John. "Get out?"
Lestrade studied the space where Sherlock's shoes had been and pursed his lips. "S'pose not," he admitted. "He's a right wanker, but he gets the job done, doesn't he? Besides," and here he sighed, "I was desperate. Still am."
"Yeah," John said.
"Because Sherlock Holmes is a great man, and I think one day--if we're very lucky--he might even be a good one."
"--something about him, like he needs saving from himself," Lestrade was saying.
It was like having double vision, but in his brain. John squinched his eyes shut and pinched the bridge of his nose with forefinger and thumb while his stomach did a slow counter-clockwise revolution. There was a pressure in his forehead, right between his eyes, like something was trying to get out, sort of like that feeling you get when you've a word on the tip of your tongue.
"John?" Lestrade put a hand on John's shoulder.
John shook his head. "Sorry, what did you say?"
"You all right?" Lestrade peered into his face, eyebrows drawn together. "Your head? Want me to call a ride for you?"
"No, no." John put out his hand. "This--I think this happened once before." He swallowed. "I just--remembered something."
The concern transformed into something not dissimilar to one of Sherlock's ah ha, a clue! faces. John decided not to tell Lestrade that. "Really? What was it?"
"Something you said about Sherlock." John transferred Sherlock's coat to his other arm--it was heavy--and rubbed his hand across his lower face. "Something about how Sherlock's a great man, and someday, he might--"
"--he might be a good one," Lestrade finished with him. "I remember that. That's something I," he cleared his throat, "that was the day we did a drugs bust on your place."
"You did a drugs bust?" John said, startled. "Does he--does Sherlock--" His jaw dropped. "No. Really? Him?"
Lestrade laughed, and John realised that he'd never heard Lestrade laugh like that, like something was genuinely funny and he was having a good time. Poor man. Life was hard on him. They ought to go out for a pint sometime. "That's what you said then, too."
Sherlock chose that moment to squirt out of the drain pipe, covered from head to toe in mud and grinning like a loon. He swayed gently to his feet, seemingly unconcerned that he'd certainly just ruined his clothes and they still had to get home and no cabbie was going to take them--and waved something at Lestrade. "Behold: your murder weapon!" Even under all the filth and muck, John could see that it was very definitely a gun.
"You couldn't have just said something?" Lestrade spluttered. He fished a pair of gloves out of his pocket and waded into the mire to take the gun gingerly from Sherlock's hands.
Sherlock's grin widened, until it fairly rivalled the Cheshire Cat's. "And miss the look on your face? Never." His eyes darted to John, and the grin faded and fell away entirely. "John? What is it?"
John grimaced. Was he that readable? To Sherlock, probably. "S'nothing. I just remembered something."
At that, Sherlock bounded up to John, quivering all over like an excited hound. "What is it?" he asked urgently. "What did you remember?"
"Nothing--" John couldn't help but grin as he rubbed his eye with the heel of his hand. "About that time Lestrade did a drugs bust."
"Oh, that." Sherlock's tone was dismissive, but he touched John's arm gently. John sighed at the streaks of mud on his sleeve but said nothing; the look in Sherlock's eyes was too close to worried. Sherlock inspected John with the focus of a laser, but apparently found nothing, because he declared, "Well, there's nothing more to do here, John. Let's go home."
"Did you think I'd remembered something about us?" John sat on the edge of the bed, unbuttoning his shirt. "Earlier. When we were with Lestrade."
"You might have," said Sherlock. He chucked his own shirt into the hamper, which John had brought down from his room. Shockingly enough, Sherlock had just been heaping his clothes into a corner until he had them laundered. At least, John presumed he had them laundered; he couldn't picture Sherlock doing his own laundry. But he couldn't picture Sherlock porting a suitcase down to the cleaners, either. Perhaps a launderer owed him a favour.
John balled up his shirt and pitched it into the hamper, then pushed Sherlock down on the bed. Sherlock was still wearing his trousers, but he tilted his face up at John and gave him an indulgent, sleepy-eyed smile. His hair was still damp from the shower and stuck in dark curls against his forehead and cheeks. John buried his nose in Sherlock's throat and inhaled; he smelled like ginseng and vetiver and somewhere in there, like Sherlock.
"I like this," he said, conversationally.
Sherlock brought up a hand to clasp the back of John's shoulder. "What?"
John didn't reply right away; it was sort of embarrassing. But he loved the exploration of a new lover's body, finding out what made them writhe and what made them giggle, and he was sort of stupidly, selfishly glad that the amnesia had given him a second chance to discover Sherlock. He was going to miss this, in a few more weeks, when their sexual routine became comfortable and old-shoe. But that wasn't a very manly thing to say, so he kept it to himself and moved down Sherlock's body to press a kiss against his collarbone.
"What do you like?" Sherlock loathed repeating himself, but he loathed even more not getting the answer to a question.
"You know that already." John rested his chin on Sherlock's chest and smiled up at him. "What do I like?"
Sherlock arrested the sweep of his fingers across John's shoulder. He looked down at John, as if John were a puzzle that needed figuring. "You like us, together," he said, slowly, and John could almost see the wheels turning behind those eyes. "You like my hands." John hummed agreement; he did like Sherlock's hands. They were fine-fingered and dextrous and gentle when he wanted to be. "You like my voice," Sherlock added.
"Mmm, who wouldn't?" John fell to nuzzling Sherlock's armpit, then moved farther down to nose Sherlock's belly. That never failed to elicit a squirm and a huff of laughter; John smiled against Sherlock's skin and moved down again. "Talk to me, then." John plucked at Sherlock's waistband.
Sherlock's fingers fell into John's hair, but he didn't clutch. He just left his hand there. "We nearly died, on the Friesland. You don't recall that, of course."
"No. That's why they call it amnesia." John bit his bottom lip to hide his smile as he unfastened Sherlock's trousers. Sherlock lifted his legs so that John could pull them off and drop them on the floor. Trust Sherlock to mistake a request for dirty talk for a request for actual dialogue. He pulled off Sherlock's briefs, too.
"I remember it very clearly," said Sherlock. "I heard the explosion, saw the flames, and thought to myself that I had never told you."
John stilled. He looked up at Sherlock, who was staring resolutely at the ceiling. He could see Sherlock's adam's apple bob as he swallowed.
"And then I thought, if I died, at least I would not have a chance to regret it," said Sherlock.
John crawled up Sherlock's body, all in a rush, and crushed his mouth to Sherlock's. Sherlock jerked, as if startled, but opened his mouth for him.
"Did I tell you?" John demanded, and then closed his lips on Sherlock's again, because he couldn't bear not to. "Please tell me I told you." When Sherlock didn't respond, John said, "I love you. I'm saying it right now. I love you too."
"Oh John, you shouldn't have!"
John tried to look as if he were deserving of praise, but really, chocolates were the sort of thing you got for someone you didn't know very well but felt obligated to buy something for. It was a bare step above bath products or flowers. Sherlock was probably better at this sort of thing, seeing as how he had the power to deduce the perfect gift, but he was equally likely not to bother. At least they were Harrods chocolates; surely that counted for something.
"It's the least I could do," he said. Mrs. Hudson waved him inside and into a chair, then disappeared into the kitchen with her chocolates. "I'm--we're--very grateful for all you've done over the past few months. It's entirely possible we would've starved to death if you hadn't. Well, I might have," he amended, since Sherlock seemed able to subsist on air and tea.
"Yes, Sherlock's not very good at that sort of thing, is he?" Mrs. Hudson reappeared with the chocolates on a dish, still in their little brown wrappers. "Would you like some tea?"
"Er," said John. "No need to--"
"Nonsense, you'll need something with those chocolates, and tea goes with everything," Mrs. Hudson said briskly, and vanished back into the kitchen. "Won't be a tick!" she called. John wondered about that hip of hers. It didn't seem to limit her speed or mobility any.
It did indeed take only a tick, and then Mrs. Hudson was back and smoothing down her skirt in the seat opposite. She took one of the truffles. "Now, it's a good thing you came by, because there's something I've been meaning to talk to you about." She left the brown wrapper on the table and popped the chocolate into her mouth.
Now that Mrs. Hudson had taken one, and the chocolates were obviously out for both of them, John felt obligated. He settled on a dark brown one that was shaped like a leaf, and which was the most unlikely to be filled with coconut.
"You see," Mrs. Hudson went on, once she had swallowed and chewed, "it's been a trifle... loud on occasion." She gave a discreet little cough. "Now, I don't mind a couple of enthusiastic lads, makes me smile, but Mrs. Turner next door's already got a pair of married ones, and she doesn't need two of them, if you follow my meaning."
John accidentally swallowed his chocolate in one gulp. It might have had a coffee interior. "Er. Yes. Perfectly. I'm so very sorry."
"Oh, you've nothing to be sorry for!" Mrs. Hudson exclaimed. "Such a narrow escape, and it was dreadful, with the amnesia--poor Sherlock! I very nearly said something." She gave a firm little nod. "Really, it's perfectly understandable, and Lord knows it's none of my business, but Mrs. Turner will be such a busybody." She started up at a beep from the kitchen. "That'll be the kettle." And off she went. She returned with two cups of tea.
John took his cup mechanically. "We'll try to be quieter in future. Do apologise to Mrs. Turner for us." He took a too-large gulp of his tea and scalded his mouth.
"You know, whatever you were doing before--before the accident, you know, it kept you quiet as a pair of churchmice," Mrs. Hudson prattled. "Perhaps Sherlock remembers it."
"Certainly," said John. He took several more sips of his tea, just to be polite, and then fled.
"Hmmm," said Sherlock. "I don't recall us doing anything very differently before."
"I didn't think so," said John. "You know, some of these things could be moved upstairs."
Sherlock's wardrobe was currently a bit of a work in progress, in that John was in the process of moving some of his things into it. His uniform, medals, and other RAMC paraphernalia stayed upstairs, but his shirts, trousers, socks, shoes, etc. migrated slowly into Sherlock's wardrobe and drawers. His gun now resided in Sherlock's bedside table. (He was still undecided as to whether or not that was the best idea; he'd discovered the papered-over bullet holes in the sitting room.)
There was the issue of space, however. It wasn't that Sherlock was a clotheshorse--although he was, by John's standards--it was that Sherlock's wardrobe did not comprise merely of clothes. It included:
- a long black cocktail dress
- a clown costume, complete with red nose, oversized shoes, and bright red wig
- a policeman's uniform
- doctor's scrubs
and more. It was amazing it all fit in the wardrobe to begin with. Possibly it shared some properties with the TARDIS, but alas, it refused to budge for a few shirts. This could have been solved sooner, but Sherlock was loathe to participate in any kind of reorganisation, and had developed a cunning distraction tactic.
"I suppose the bulldog costume could," Sherlock conceded. "Did I tell you the story of--"
"I don't want to hear it." John hauled the animal costume out of the wardrobe and piled it into Sherlock's arms, with the large brown and white grinning mascot's head on top. "Just take it upstairs. This is getting done." He heard Sherlock's footsteps trudge out of the room and up the stairs, and he pulled a few more things out of the wardrobe that Sherlock surely didn't need within arm's reach. That clown costume, for one. And the commercial airline pilot uniform.
Sherlock made a noise when he came back into the room, perhaps at the pile on the bed. "Are you putting all my disguises upstairs?"
"It won't kill you," said John. He straightened himself up and out of the wardrobe, cracking his back. "I'm surprised I tolerated it this long."
"You're a very tolerant person." Sherlock flung himself onto the small clear space on the bed. "What about Mrs. Hudson, then?"
John frowned at the back of the wardrobe, which he could now see. Something was not adding up, here. "How does she even know about us?"
"How do you mean?"
"I thought no one knew about us," John said. He turned to look at Sherlock, who was perfectly unreadable, as usual. "But Mrs. Hudson talked about, about before the accident, and--"
Sherlock flapped one hand dismissively. "She's a rather nosy woman, as I'm sure you have noticed." John had. "Actually, she made an assumption about us when we moved in, before any attraction was felt and acted upon." He gave John a thin-lipped smile. "She is our landlady."
"Right," said John. That made sense, really. Mrs. Hudson lived in the same building as them; surely she would have noticed something, even if they'd been quiet as churchmice before. And she hadn't said anything when John turned up without his memory because she was discreet enough to know when Sherlock and John needed to work something out for themselves, such as an entire relationship. Good of her, really.
"Now come to bed," Sherlock complained. He waved his arm at John as if he could compel John into his embrace by sheer force of will. "This is enough tidying for today."
"There's still things all over the bed!"
Sherlock kicked the pile of disguises onto the floor. "Now there aren't. Come to bed."
John sighed. He supposed they could work on the rest tomorrow.
John liked Lestrade. When he'd been in hospital, Lestrade had come in with his coat over one arm, shook John's hand in a nice, strong grip, and told him who'd won the World Cup. Then he'd sat and they'd talked sport--football and rugby, mostly--for fifteen minutes, until John was tired, and then he'd left. It'd been nice.
They started meeting for beers. Greg--he was Greg, by that point--admitted that he'd been waiting for John to ask. "It was something we used to do, not regular like, but sometimes. I wanted to do it again, but it didn't seem right." So they'd meet at the pub, watch the game if it was on, complain about Sherlock and work and the government and Sherlock, and buy one another drinks.
A month or so into it, John told him about Sherlock. Sherlock and him.
Greg paused with his beer halfway to his lips and set it down again. "You and Sherlock? Really?" He didn't sound shocked. If it was surprise, it was the pleasant sort when you've been hinting what you want for Christmas and then it turns up in your stocking.
John leaned his arms on the bar. "We kept it a secret, apparently."
Greg snorted. "If that's the case, then you were terrible at it. We all wondered. I daresay some of the lads had a betting pool."
John grinned. "What did you lay odds on?"
"I'm not a gambling man," Greg drawled. They locked gazes for a moment, and then both men burst into laughter. John finished chortling into his beer and then called for another round.
"I was there, you know, when they pulled Sherlock from the water," said Greg. "I'd never seen him look like that before. The look on his face, the way he said your name--a child could have seen that he loved you more than his own life."
That night, John wrapped around Sherlock in the dark and said, "I told Greg about us today."
He felt Sherlock's breath stutter just slightly, his muscles stiffen. He probably wouldn't have noticed if they hadn't been pressed skin to skin, John's front to Sherlock's back, John's arm held across Sherlock's chest, their legs tangled together. "Ah."
John propped his chin up on Sherlock's shoulder. "Apparently he knew. Well, he suspected."
"He's not such a terrible detective," Sherlock said, softly.
John bit Sherlock on the muscle of his shoulder. It was just a light pressure, not even enough to leave a mark. "You ought to be nicer to him. He's a nice man."
"He shows promise."
John went back to using Sherlock's arm as a pillow. He didn't know how he'd kept this a secret from everyone before. He felt as if he sweated his love for Sherlock from his pores. If you cracked his chest open, he was sure his heart would beat the words I love him. I love him. I love him. "I think I'm going to tell everyone."
Sherlock craned his head around. "Surely not everyone," he said, sounding appalled.
"Well, I'm hardly going to announce it on the BBC," John laughed. "But no, I mean--I'm just not going to hide it. And I'm going to tell Harry. She of all people ought to know about the man in my life." He smiled at Sherlock. "I don't want this to be a secret anymore. This is important."
Sherlock stared at John for so long that John's insides went wobbly. Perhaps this was a mistake. Whatever decision they had come to before, it had surely been the right one for the circumstances. But, well, circumstances were different now, and John wanted--
"All right," said Sherlock, and he took a long, trembling breath.
"John! Yoohoo, visitor!"
The footsteps on the stair were unfamiliar, so probably a client. John got up from his chair anyway; someone had come all this way to see Sherlock, the least he could do was offer them something to drink. Besides, Sherlock would be home soon. Probably. In all likelihood.
"Sorry," he said, "Sherlock's not at home right now."
"I'm well aware of that," said the man in the doorway. John halted on his way to the kitchen. He knew this well-dressed man with the waistcoat and the gold pocketwatch chain and the black umbrella. He'd come to see John in the hospital, very soon after he'd woken up; he was the reason John had had a private room. He didn't remember much of their conversation then, if they'd had one; he'd been on some very strong drugs at the time.
"Oh," said John. "Can I get you something to drink?"
"Water, please," said Mycroft Holmes. "No ice." He perched on the edge of the nearest armchair--a squashy old thing that John always had trouble getting out of--somehow giving the impression that it was a wooden cabinet chair. He kept his umbrella between his knees and crossed his hands over the handle.
John fetched him a glass of water from the tap and set it on the coffee table in front of Mycroft, who made no move to take it. "So, what can I do for you?" He took the chair opposite.
"Just wanted to see how you're faring," said Mycroft. "Any headaches? Dizziness? Recovered any of your memories?"
Judging from the hospital treatment, his blog account of the Bruce-Partington plans, and Sherlock's remarks, John was fairly certain that Mycroft knew more than John did about his recovery. But he said, "Bits and pieces. Dr. Fitzgerald said I'll probably never get all of it back, but perhaps some. In time."
"That's good to hear." Mycroft curled his fingers round his umbrella handle. He said, "And has Sherlock been an adequate caretaker?"
"Look, what's this about?" John wished he'd fetched a drink for himself; it would give him something to do. "Don't beat around the bush. Are you here to check up on Sherlock?" But then, a man with the power to access his medical records certainly knew about-- "Is this--is this about us?"
Mycroft's expression didn't change, but John could have sworn something passed behind his eyes, darkening them like a cloud-shadow. "Ah," he said. "That confirms it, then."
"I would have thought you'd known about it already." John tried a smile. It didn't take.
"My dear boy, I am not omniscient."
"No, just omnipotent."
"Heh." Mycroft gave John a thin-lipped smile. He tipped his head to one side, as if he might gain a new angle on John that way. "Is it going well, then?"
"Well enough," said John. "But you must have known about us before. Before, I mean. The accident."
"I knew enough to see this coming," said Mycroft. He tapped his finger against the back of his hand in an absent-minded manner, but John knew enough to know that Mycroft was never absent-minded. "Sherlock has always had poor impulse control."
That was such a non-sequitur that John opened his mouth to question Mycroft further on it, but then Mycroft's phone trilled in his pocket. Mycroft silenced it without bothering to glance at the screen. He rose with the aid of his umbrella and said, "That will be Sherlock, returning. So good to have the chance to speak with you, John. Is there anything you need? Anything I can provide for you?"
John wondered what would happen if he requested ten million pounds, or perhaps a Ferrari. He didn't actually want to find out. He didn't know why he didn't trust this man who'd been nothing but kind to him, who'd flown in a specialist from Stockholm and found John a job at the local veterans' hospital after he'd recovered enough to work again. Perhaps it was natural suspicion of anything too good to be true, or perhaps it was some vestige of his old memories, a creepy-crawly sensation stored in the hindbrain. Dr. Fitzgerald had said to be mindful of such "gut feelings."
"No thanks," he said. "But I'll be sure to let you know."
Mycroft paused in the doorway and looked back at John, and there was something about his silhouette that was mournful. It was not unlike Sherlock's version of uncertainty. "You're quite certain of your feelings for him?" he said.
"Of course," John said, startled.
Something very like a smile flickered across Mycroft's face. "Then I beg that you remember that, and remember to be kind to him." He nodded to John and disappeared down the stairs, umbrella tucked under his arm.
John remained seated in his chair, staring at the lone glass of water on the table. What the hell had that been about? A few minutes later, Sherlock came pounding up the stairs.
"Jo--" Sherlock stopped in the middle with a click of his throat, eyes on the glass of water. He whipped his head round and gave the recently vacated chair a hard glare, and then the floor just in front of it. Then he snapped back to John. "Mycroft was here. What did he say?"
"Nothing. He was just checking up on me, I think." John rubbed his face with both hands, feeling suddenly exhausted. He let his hands drop back to his lap. "He knows about us, though."
John looked up. That statement had started loud, as if Sherlock had been ready to start shouting, and then ended in a clipped murmur. Sherlock never censored himself in such a way. Sherlock was looking over his shoulder now, in the direction his brother had gone, and John couldn't see his face.
"What's the matter?" John asked.
"Nothing," said Sherlock. He turned back to John and unslung his scarf from around his neck and hung it up. Then he did the same with his coat. "Tell me what he said. Don't leave anything out."
He did, to the best of his recollection, although it wasn't as if he'd been taking notes. Sherlock made him repeat it several times, questioning as to the exact phrasing and tone of certain statements. In the meantime, he disappeared into the kitchen and did something that made the flat smell like curry. John's mouth began to water--
"It's just science, John. It's not an art. Although I'm very good at that, too."
When the sitting room of 221b Baker Street swam back into his field of vision, Sherlock was there, one hand on John's face and saying his name in the manner of someone who's repeated it several times and is now worried. It still smelled like curry, and the sizzling in the kitchen was becoming alarming.
"Burning?" John mumbled.
"What did you remember?" Sherlock demanded. He had a tendency to be fierce when this happened, eyes searching the corners of John's face, as if each piece of John's recovered memories might be the solution to a riddle that only Sherlock could solve.
"That you can cook." John couldn't help grinning. "Now you're going to have to do it all the time, now I know you can. Wanker."
"I'm going to Harry's for dinner on Saturday," John said, later that night, as he did the washing-up. Sherlock had cooked, so John did the washing-up. Although usually, John cooked and did the washing-up, so really, the only conclusion to draw was that John did the washing-up, period.
"Mmmm." Sherlock was curled up in a chair in the sitting room, tuning his violin. He plucked the string, drew his bow across it once, made a dissatisfied twist of the mouth, and adjusted the peg.
"I'd like it if you came," John went on.
"No." Sherlock plucked the string again. "And I don't think you should go, either."
"What?" John shut off the water and stared at Sherlock.
Sherlock drew his bow across the string again and must have been satisfied with the sound it made, because he immediately went into a series of minor-key scales and arpeggios. John dried his hands on a flannel and stomped into the living room. He knew far better than to grab Sherlock's bow or violin--either of which probably cost more than he made in a year--but he could stand there and glower, hands on his hips.
Sure enough, eventually Sherlock's little warm-up routine came to an end, and he looked expectantly up at John.
"Why don't you want me to visit my sister?" John asked.
"You dislike your sister," Sherlock pointed out. "The vast majority of your phone calls end in an argument and put you in a foul mood for the rest of the day."
"She's still my sister," said John. "And I think she ought to know about my, my, about you. And I think you ought to be there."
"I'm not going," said Sherlock. He turned back to his violin.
"I'm not!" Sherlock snapped, and it was not his you-are-all-being-idiots tone of voice. It was not even his I-hope-Mycroft-dies-in-a-fire voice, or his I-will-find-Moriarty-and-end-him voice. It was something entirely new, as was the glare that accompanied it, and John decided with a lurch of his gut that it was better to just drop it. Sherlock and Harry could meet some other time.
"All right," he said. "But don't think you're getting out of this."
"No," said Sherlock, and he began to play something soft and a little bit sad. "I don't think I am."
John brought a baguette to dinner at Harry's. Harry didn't like flowers, and while John was sometimes uncertain of his own mind these days, he knew better than to bring a bottle of wine. She'd come to visit him in hospital several times, always with a hasty gift, probably purchased on the way to the hospital: flowers, Cadbury chocolates, various tacky cards with her nearly illegible spiky scrawl inside. The first time John was lucid enough to recognise her he'd asked where Clara was; weren't they attached at the hip? And Harry had cried.
In his memory, Harry still lived at a house in Sutton. Clara had picked the colour scheme; Harry had chosen the furniture. There'd been a studio for Clara's art and a plasma TV so that Harry could watch sport in high-definition. Now the TV was in the sitting room at Harry's flat in Clapton. The furniture was good quality, but a bit battered and scuffed at the edges, obviously secondhand. John wondered if Clara had bought a new television.
Harry appeared to be in good shape, however. Tired and thin, but healthy. Sometimes, healthy was all one could ask for. "John," she said. "It's so good to see you."
They hugged. It was good to hug Harry. John couldn't remember why he'd refused her offers of help.
"Nothing fancy," said Harry, leading the way to the dining room. "I'm not much of a cook, I hope you remember that." She tossed John a smile over her shoulder, so that he knew she was kidding. He smiled back. People didn't usually make jokes about the amnesia; people glanced at John nervously when they had to use words like "remember" and "forget." "But I remembered that you like a good roast chicken, so I did my best. Ta-da!" She threw her hands out at a roast chicken in pride of place at the table, with roast potatoes and carrots arranged round it like a photo in a cookbook. John couldn't help his exclamation.
The skin wasn't as crispy as John would have liked, and the breast was a bit dry. But it was herby and lemony, and the potatoes and carrots had cooked in the fat, so they were divine. They had bread and glasses of fizzy water to go with their meal, and a green salad that they more or less ignored. Harry told stories about her coworkers at work, and John told stories about Sherlock, and they both laughed until their sides ached.
"So, you said you had something to tell me," Harry said, when they'd reached the portion of the evening where they sat back in their seats and looked wistfully at all the good food that was left. She'd offered ice cream, but John had groaned at the prospect.
"Oh, yes." John smiled broadly, drunk on contentment. "Sherlock and I are together, now."
Harry lowered her glass. "Do you mean..."
"As a couple."
Harry banged her glass so hard on the table that John was afraid it'd break. "Finally!" she crowed.
John started, his chair skittering across the floor. "What do you mean, finally?"
"You've only been obsessed with him since day one!" Harry rolled her eyes, a remarkably Sherlockian gesture. "I've been telling you to make a move for ages."
John gaped at her. "But--"
"Congratulations, by the way," she added, brightly.
"But Sherlock and I were already together. Before."
"Before the accident," John clarified, because while Before was a convenient shorthand, not everyone could hear the capital B. "We kept it a secret."
"You were not," said Harry, and suddenly it was like they were children again, arguing over who had broken the lamp. "Unless you were the best secret-keeper in the universe, which I know is not the case. Every time I brought it up you were so scandalised, all 'Oh, I'm not gay!' or 'Oh, that's not Sherlock's area.'" She made sarcastic little finger-quotes around "area." "If you ask me the lady doth protest too much, but. Well. Glad that's all worked out, then."
John sat in stunned silence, hands on his knees. "But Sherlock said--"
Harry frowned. "What? What did Sherlock say?" Her eyes widened. "Did Sherlock tell you that you were a couple? Before?"
The room rippled around him. That pressure between his eyes was back, like something was trying to wriggle out of his frontal lobe. John hoped, very sincerely, that he was not about to throw up, because that had been a very nice meal.
"Fuck," said Harry. "Talk to me, John. Tell me everything."
He spent the ride home wondering how he could have been so stupid. Why hadn't he noticed that none of his things were in Sherlock's room? How hesitant Sherlock was in bed, for a man who was supposed to be familiar with his partner's body? How had Angelo known to put a candle on their table if no one had known they were a couple?
Sherlock was watching television, of all things, with his knees drawn up practically to his chest, wrapped up in a scruffy tartan blanket that John had never seen before. His eyes flickered to John as soon as he entered, and he dropped his feet to the floor and sat up. John wasn't sure what to do. If this were any other night, he would have come in, asked what was on television. Sherlock would have abandoned his seat to curl up next to him on the sofa. Now every surface was painted with lies and misled assumptions, and the thought of touching any of them made him feel sick.
John opened his mouth. What came out was, "Sherlock."
John had no idea how to continue this conversation, but he had a feeling he wanted to do it sitting down. So he did, in the other chair. He stared at his hands and wished he could've drank something at Harry's.
Sherlock had been watching John narrowly all this while. He cleared his throat and said, "She told you. About us."
"About how there was no us," John said into the thick and heavy air. "Yes."
Sherlock turned his gaze back on the television. John got up and turned it off. He stood in front of Sherlock's chair with his arms crossed over his chest. Sherlock didn't raise his eyes. His face was perfectly expressionless, like a statue's.
"You lied to me," said John. "And it wasn't just--this was not just any lie, Sherlock. You took advantage of my medical condition, which is horrendous, by the way, and took advantage of me. And that--that's just--that's beyond fucked up. That was wrong. And you had to have known that was wrong, don't give me this high-functioning sociopath bullshit."
Sherlock didn't reply.
John started pacing, waving his arms. "So how much of this was a lie? Huh? Did you lie to me about, about our favourite Chinese restaurant? About all your disguises? About--"
Sherlock looked up. He curled his hands together under his chin. "No."
John halted in his tracks. His hands tightened into fists.
"When you tell a lie," said Sherlock, voice low and words rapid, "the world of your lie must be as concrete and complete as the world of the truth." He unfolded to his feet in one smooth, unbroken motion, shedding the blanket onto the chair behind him. He was wearing his ratty pyjamas and his blue dressing gown. "Thus, when you construct a lie, it's better to keep as many of the details true as possible, so that there is less to remember when you're questioned."
"What the fuck is that supposed to mean?" John snarled. "Don't give me riddles, I can't--"
"It means I never lied to you about anything important!" Sherlock burst out.
"Fucking--what do you mean important, as if lying to me about an entire relationship doesn't mean anything--"
Sherlock seized John's hand in both of his, and suddenly their faces were but inches away. "You kissed me. Then. On the stairs. You kissed me."
John jerked his hand away and took a step back. "Don't blame this on me, don't make this about me--"
"It's about you! It's always been about you!" Sherlock's voice grew louder and more strident with every word, and surely the neighbours could hear them. John's hands curled into fists. "You presented me with my heart's fondest wish, and you expected me to resist? Why do I need to be perfect in order to satisfy you? I'm not a saint--"
"That doesn't require a saint!" John roared. "That only requires a good person!"
"Well, I'm not one of those, either!" Sherlock snarled, and as if to prove it, he seized John by the front of his shirt and covered his mouth with his. It was desperate and drowning, and for a moment John let himself be pulled into it.
When next John came to his senses, he was shaking all over and his breath sounded loud in his ears. He could feel the throbbing of his pulse in his temples. His knuckles felt tender. Sherlock was a few steps farther away than he had been, bracing himself with one hand on the chair, his other hand feeling his jaw. He gave John a look from behind his hair that was at once respectful and wary.
"Fuck. You," John said. His voice shook; it was because he was shaking, all over. He relaxed his arms, but still he trembled. "You think that makes it okay, what, like you can just--"
"I'm not a good man." Sherlock finally looked up; his jaw was going to swell mightily in a few hours, but his expression was defiant. "I won't apologise. I wouldn't give any of those days back, even though I knew they'd end with this one."
John was sorely tempted to punch Sherlock again, but he backed away instead. "I'm leaving."
Sherlock didn't answer. John turned and went into their room--Sherlock's room now. He yanked the wardrobe open and found his bag in it, with some clothes inside. It would do. He took that and slammed the door shut. Passing through the sitting room again, he glimpsed Sherlock in the chair he'd been in before, but didn't look at him. He clattered down the stairs, out into the street, and hailed a taxi.
"Oh, John." Harry's face crumpled in sympathetic misery. "It didn't go well, huh?"
"It went about as well as I expected," John said. "I don't want to talk about it. Just point me at the sofa."
She steered him to the sitting room, which he remembered from having been there six hours before, and he barely stopped to kick off his shoes before flopping on the sofa. Harry fussed over him for what felt like an eternity, bringing him blankets and pillows and offering him something to drink four times, before John had to tell her very sternly to go away.
Silence descended on the flat. John closed his eyes. There was something painful and hot lodged in his chest, and he hated it. He kept thinking of Sherlock's bruised, defiant face at the end, and he hated that, too. He hated that Sherlock had kissed him, he hated that he'd hit Sherlock, and he hated his unhappiness. He hated that last glimpse of Sherlock in their no-longer-shared sitting room, and he hated that Sherlock had done this to him. To them. They'd been fine, hadn't they, as flatmates? They'd gotten along. They'd had fun. And now everything was ruined, and John was lying on his sister's couch, unable to fall asleep. He wondered what Sherlock was doing, and then he hated himself for wondering.
He woke to sunlight streaming in through the windows, and John could hear Harry clattering about in the kitchen. His back was stiff from sleeping on a too-squashy sofa--God, how did Sherlock do this? He quashed that thought firmly--and he grimaced as he sat up, bit by bit, until he was upright. His eyelids felt glued together. He found his toothbrush and toothpaste inside his bag and shuffled off to the bathroom.
It wasn't until he had his toothbrush in his mouth that he realised he didn't remember packing it.
Actually, he remembered leaving his bag upstairs, with the rest of his Army gear and Sherlock's disguises and other odds and ends. It made sense, since he didn't do much travelling and the bag took up space. And yet it'd been in Sherlock's wardrobe, packed with John's things--including, apparently, his toothbrush and toothpaste. John spit, rinsed, and went to investigate.
The bag contained: four shirts, one pair of trousers, five pairs of socks, and four pairs of pants. Also his shampoo, his razor, his laptop and laptop charger, and even his mobile phone charger. Everything a man needed for escape to his sister's. John had not packed any of this, so Sherlock must have packed it.
That didn't actually make any sense.
Harry entered the sitting room to find her brother seated on the couch staring into his bag as if it contained the mysteries of the universe. "Er, feel up to any breakfast? I've eggs, and bacon, and toast. And coffee."
"That sounds lovely, thank you," John said. He even remembered to look up at her and smile.
The coffee had approximately the strength of ten thousand men, and John was certain his teeth would vibrate out of his skull within the next half-hour. But the eggs and bacon and toast were perfectly lovely. John relished not sharing the table with glassware and hazardous chemicals and wondered if Sherlock was remembering to eat. And then he hated himself, a little. He wondered if this would get better, as time went on.
"You can stay as long as you like," said Harry. "I know how rough it is--well. How rough it is."
John swallowed his bite of egg. "Thanks," he said. "I'll need a few days, to get things sorted, and then--well, I'll have to find my own flat, I suppose." He sighed and put down his toast. Now that he hadn't a flatshare, he faced the dilemma of finding affordable housing in London. His work paid decently, but in truth Sherlock had paid for nearly everything--now that he was on his own, his prospects were grim. And he supposed Mycroft would hardly pull strings for him now.
Harry's scrutiny was unsettlingly familiar. "John," she said tentatively, as if John were a stray cat she needed to coax closer, "do you want to talk about it?"
John crunched his toast, chewed, swallowed. "No."
The oncoming days were grey and strained.
He had work, so he went to work. Work was fine. It kept him occupied. The problem was when he went home (and it wasn't really home) and let himself in with Harry's spare key. Harry worked longer hours than he did, and so the flat would be dark and empty, and John would go round turning on lights just so it seemed less hollow, then turning them off because he was wasting electricity. Then he'd cook dinner for himself and Harry, because he liked to feel useful and because Harry seemed delighted to come home to food on the table. But he'd slam cupboard doors and mutter to himself while he did it, because cooking wasn't quite enough to keep his mind off that last argument.
"Never lied to me about anything important," John would mutter as he whisked eggs ferociously. "What does that even mean? Only lied to me about an entire relationship."
Lying on the sofa at night, John would recall Sherlock's careful worship of his body, the way he'd brush his lips against John's skin, how he'd beg John to fuck him, the way he'd said, "I like everything about you."
Especially the scar. Especially the amnesia. That hadn't made sense to John then. He tightened his fists in the blanket now. God, how he hated Sherlock.
Mycroft sent him a text, which John deleted without reading. He'd said to be kind to Sherlock, but fuck that. Mycroft had known, clearly known, and hadn't said anything.
He only had four extra shirts, and so three days into his sojourn at Harry's found John at the launderette, watching the timer and wondering why Sherlock had packed his bag for him. Had he wanted John to go? No; that was absurd on the very face of it. The only conclusion was that Sherlock had expected Harry's news and John's departure, and had for some reason packed a bag for John. John made a careful search of his bag, turning each pocket inside out, but turned up nothing but sand and a few coins.
He did go out for drinks with Greg, once. If Greg knew about what had happened, he didn't say. But he didn't mention Sherlock that night. Instead, they talked about football, the crap that was on television these days, music, things they used to love to eat when they were younger that they could no longer stomach, good restaurants, bad restaurants, and government. They could have talked forever, but Greg said he had an early shift the next morning, and so John wobbled from the pub to take a taxi home. He hadn't Sherlock's talent for summoning a cab, of course, and stood there for what felt like long minutes before one took pity on him and shifted over. John heaved himself into the backseat with a sigh of relief. His leg hurt, for some reason.
That night, he lay awake and wondered if Sherlock was sleeping.
Going to the launderette twice in one week was more than enough, and so John girded his loins for the trip back to Baker Street for more of his things. He needed his chequebook, his passport, and other personal documents, if he planned on finding a new flat or alternative employment. He should probably retrieve his gun; hopefully Sherlock hadn't put any holes in the wall while John was gone. The rest of his things he could probably send for later, or have Harry over to help him.
Maybe Sherlock wouldn't even be home.
No such luck: he found Sherlock just sitting up from a supine position on the sofa, still dressed in pyjamas and his blue dressing gown, and staring at John in the doorway with an expression of absolute bewilderment. This wasn't the thinking face that Sherlock adopted when he was confronted by a difficult puzzle, or his baffled look when John attempted to explain some sort of human social nicety. This was shock, as if talking mice had just shown up on his doorstep, or as if John had strolled into 221b Baker Street via the ceiling. John was a little proud; how many people could claim to have surprised Sherlock Holmes?
Sherlock swayed gently to his feet. "John," he said, which was how John knew that Sherlock was truly at a loss: he was always very snide when people on television said each other's names for no reason.
"I, ah." John held up his empty bag. "I came to get some more of my things."
"Oh. Of course." Sherlock sank back down into his seat.
John took two steps, then stopped. "You didn't pack any of it for me, did you?" He meant for it to come out teasing, but Sherlock just gave him a blank look. The awkwardness settled around John's ankles and stayed there. "You, er, you packed this bag for me, didn't you? Earlier."
Sherlock nodded and looked at his hands, which dangled between his knees.
"I thought you'd want to leave quickly."
John thought of Sherlock choosing four of John's shirts, folding them, and putting them in the bag. Doing the same with his socks and pants and trousers. Fetching John's shampoo and razor from the bathroom, his laptop from the sitting room, his mobile phone charger from the outlet by the bedside table. Waiting for hours until John came home from dinner with Harry and the other shoe dropped. And what, after all, if John hadn't left? What if Harry hadn't said anything to John?
"Well, thanks," said John. "It was thoughtful of you."
Sherlock inclined his head. John went to his room--their room--Sherlock's room--and opened the bedside table. Sherlock hadn't had any lube or condoms, that first time. That should have been a hint, right there. But instead, John had fetched some from his room and hadn't thought any more about it.
He took out his gun and put it in the bottom of his bag. He shut the drawer and went to the wardrobe. He brought down some more shirts, stripped them off their hangers, folded them, and put them in the bag as well. He took out two more pairs of trousers, four more pairs of pants, and stuffed as many socks into his bag as would fit. Then he sat on the bed and stared out in the direction of the sitting room.
The future yawned, beige, ahead of him. He'd go home to Harry's, kip at her place for a week or two more, until the aching of his back in the mornings became untenable. He'd find a place of his own, and keep working at the position Mycroft had found for him, or perhaps not; he might be in need of greater income, and he might no longer want to be indebted to Mycroft. Perhaps he'd have to leave London for a suburban practice, or the great green countryside, and spend the rest of his life dispensing flu shots and writing prescriptions for arthritis medication. Perhaps he'd meet a lovely woman--or man, one could never discount that possibility--and they'd spend the rest of their lives together. It wasn't too late for children.
He rubbed absently at his thigh, picked up his bag by the strap, and shuffled out to the sitting room. Sherlock was curled into a corner of the couch.
"Well." John hefted the bag over his shoulder. "Goodbye, then."
Sherlock remained still, face half-hidden in the cushions. John waited a moment, then turned to go. As soon as his foot touched the landing, however, there was a flurry of movement behind him. He turned around. Sherlock was standing on the coffee table.
"I'm sorry," said Sherlock. His chin jutted out proudly.
"I thought you weren't going to apologise," said John.
"I'm not," said Sherlock. His chin sank nearly to his chest. "I'm only sorry that I didn't say something earlier. Before."
"Why didn't you?"
Sherlock looked off to the side. "It didn't seem likely that anything would come of it."
John thought of Sherlock--the Sherlock who regretted his silence on the Friesland, who smothered John after they made love, who composed for John brilliant sonatas on the violin--not saying anything. Not saying anything while John went out with Sarah, not saying anything as they watched James Bond, not saying anything when John came back from hospital with staples in his head and his memories of Sherlock obliterated. He thought of that long, long look Sherlock had given him on the stairs, and the way he'd whispered yes.
Sherlock had lied, yes. But he hadn't put those feelings in John; they'd been there, all on their own. Perhaps they'd always been there. John didn't remember.
John's hand tightened on the strap of his bag until it creaked. "You could say something now."
Sherlock said nothing.
"Please," said John.
"Don't go," said Sherlock, all in a rush. He stumbled down from the coffee table with such a lack of his usual grace that John was afraid the evening would end with a sprained ankle. Once on the floor, Sherlock hovered six feet away, hands wringing the air in front of him. He took a deep breath, and more words forced themselves out. "Stay. I would--I would like it. That. We don't have to, have to do any of those things anymore, it can go back to the way it was before, that was fine, just. Please."
John sighed and let his bag slip off his shoulder to hit the floor. He rolled his neck on his shoulders and looked at Sherlock. "I hate you so much," he said, conversationally. Then he stepped over his bag, went to Sherlock, and took him in his arms.
Sherlock sucked in a breath. John could feel Sherlock's shoulders start to shake, and he squeezed him tighter. Slowly, Sherlock's arms came up around him, and for a long while afterwards there was nothing but the sound of Sherlock's ragged breathing.
"I'm still quite upset with you."
John said it quietly and without venom. They were on the couch by then, Sherlock curled up against John's side, his face buried in John's shoulder. John scraped his fingers through the hair at the base of Sherlock's neck and wondered who had suffered more, these past few months, and whether it mattered.
Harry was going to kill him.
"I love you," Sherlock said thickly, without moving.
"I know," said John.