It was a two a.m. game.
When John couldn't sleep, which was often, he used to get up and walk the streets of London. Watching drunks staggering home, fighting in bus stops as they awaited rare and elusive species of night buses. He would walk past Hanover square and into Piccadilly, where people and life and drink and lust were a permanent fixture. Sometimes he would turn back, or else follow the trail of theatres into Holborn and Covent Garden, where a more sophisticated type of drunk would fall off high heels that were caught in cobbled stones, sending jewellery and iphones skittering across the pebbles. Other nights, he would dive into the streets of Soho proper and examine what was on offer with the detached eye of a non-combatant. Young men falling out of bars and into each other with the glorious indifference of youth. Men and women leaning out of doorways and promising him pretty young girls inside, silhouettes behind curtains on the upper floors, sometimes alluring but mostly bored. An endless stream of lurching, swaying life that reminded him this was London, this was 2009 and he was, against all good sense, still alive and still here.
But now Sherlock had invaded, his life, his room and his bed in frighteningly quick succession. The urge to leave and walk in the cold outside world was abolished by the presence of a warm body. Besides, if he left Sherlock would inevitably wake and follow, because to him all actions were puzzles to be trailed and solved. So when he woke at two a.m. he stayed where he was, staring first at the ceiling and then at Sherlock, cast in an unearthly white light by a crisp full moon that shone through the curtains. His arms were outstretched, in sleep Sherlock had a tendency to fling his limbs carelessly about and this impulse hadn't been moderated by any previous bed partner, so John got the full brunt of his artless and occasionally violent fidgeting. Staring at the inside of Sherlock's left forearm John's eyes traced the now familiar marks there, dots and lines that chased the paths of veins under the skin, cephalic, basilic and median cubital. Of course he knew what they were, too many hours in A and E had shown him the same marks on the arms of dead eyed junkies and under the shirt sleeves of business men, red and furious or fine and pale. The patterns of them told tales on their owners, of where, when and how. Angry red lines showed poor technique with the needle, abscess scars meant the promise of delirium had won over the practicalities of sterility. Sherlock's marks were fine and almost silver in the moonlight. He would not have been the sort to re-use needles John supposed, he was too clever and too vain to risk the introduction of pathogenic invaders under his skin. He was also clever enough to change angles and sites, to avoid the popping and irritation that afflicted the veins of the desperate. He reached out a finger to trace lines between the dots, drawing the veins under the skin. Sherlock did not stir as John's fingers moved, feather-light, across his arm. This was his two a.m. game now, joining the dots of Sherlock's past. The image of a boat leapt out at him and he traced it, the mast stretching to the crook of Sherlock's elbow. He saw part of Orion in a line of three marks near his wrist and a fish swam away from his hand up his arm, a triangle for a tail and a loose circle of a body.
John smiled to himself, although he didn't quite know why. He felt that he should be horrified, or at least concerned by the web of marks on Sherlock's arms, but the same experience that told him what they were also told him that none of them were fresh. He wondered who had put a stop to it, but assumed it was Mycroft. He was not naÃ¯ve enough to think that Sherlock would have stopped himself, when boredom makes a man shoot the walls, he'll shoot anything. But Mycroft would have waited until Sherlock was suitably distracted by something criminal and fiendish, before quietly disposing of his paraphernalia and most likely, his dealer. He would have had someone else perform the actual work of course, John had quickly learnt that Mycroft had the hands of conjuror, making things move without touching them. It was also probably a temporary fix at best, Sherlock would find another source if he wanted one. That should worry him too, but in the detachment of two a.m. he was just content that Sherlock hadn't felt the need yet. When he had first seen the marks he had examined him surreptitiously from head to toe in search of fresh tracks and scars, but found only the fine tracery on his arms. Now he played with the marks whilst Sherlock slept, because in the light of two a.m. nothing seemed quite real enough to be important, whether it was inside this room or roaming the streets below.
John stretched out his fingers again, about to trace the image of an eye he had just seen, when Sherlock shifted and opened his real eyes, blinking sleepily at him.
"What are you doing?" He was looking at John's hand which was brushing his forearm.
"Playing dot to dot with your track marks." John replied, because lying was a pointless waste of time.
"Oh." Sherlock was unperturbed, but he slid a hand out above the duvet and twitched the covers away from John's shoulder.
"Can I join in?" He asked, fingers already tracing over the pock marks and scars where bullets and then scalpels had done their work. "I think you have a boat."
"So do you." John replied, repeating the pattern on Sherlock's arm. He leant over to kiss the marks and Sherlock smiled, patting John's head absently.
"Is this an odd form of foreplay or were you just bored?" he asked. John smiled, his lips still against Sherlock's skin.
"I was passing the time, but I'm open to other interpretations." He replied. Sherlock let out a quiet snort of laughter and reached his other arm around John, sliding it under his t-shirt. As he let out a staggering breath John mused that there were stupid things to put in your body, needles and bullets were just two of them. But the past was in the past and at 2 a.m., that was nowhere at all.