Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.
- The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
John marvelled every day, sometimes every hour, at the way Sherlock’s mind worked. His ability to analyse the most complex information and extract the relevant facts in order to accurately piece together results that eluded other men was uncanny. Not to mention impressive - very impressive. He was a walking library with adjacent laboratory; so gifted - a genius - but John often wondered if he was at all able to see the people around him as real, living, breathing beings that had frailties and emotions and needs.
John was a doctor, a very good one; he knew exactly how far to detach so that he could work on one of his comrades when injured on duty. He’d stitched men back together - men he’d been laughing with only hours before the ambush. He’d put the men he’d fought alongside in body bags and gone on to tend to the next man without shedding a tear. Until later, of course, when the nightmares came. Sherlock’s ability to detach was something else again. He didn’t have to make a conscious effort to step back in order to get on with a job, with him it was as if no one was real enough to engage him in the first place. Oh, John knew there were exceptions – Mrs Hudson, Lestrade, Mycroft; they were real, they registered in Sherlock’s mind like flashes of colour in an otherwise greyscale world. Even Donovan and Anderson were real enough to earn a regular bristling of irritation from Sherlock. Jim Moriarty, now he was frighteningly real. The spark of interest in Sherlock’s eyes was as terrifying as Moriarty was in person and John genuinely feared the things that man could do to Sherlock.
Then there was John himself. He was real to Sherlock, he knew that. He hadn’t always been - he’d had to earn his colour, as it were. He’d seen the cold detachment with which Sherlock had eyed him as he’d walked into Bart’s all those months ago. He knew now that bludgeoning him with information and then swooping theatrically out of the room with a tug of his scarf and a wink of his eye had been Sherlock, in his own distinctive way, trying to warn him. Warn him that he wasn’t an easy or pleasant or normal man, it had been the Sherlock equivalent of ‘run while you still can, John Watson’. Knowing him as he did now, however, John could look back and see that their first meeting had unsettled Sherlock as few other things did. Now he understood that was because Sherlock had seen something in John, something like a flash of colour that made him real enough to reach out and touch when he’d been deprived of anything like that for so long.
He’d suspected for a while that he was unlike any other acquaintance Sherlock had, but it had been incontrovertibly confirmed to him that night at the pool. The night that he had looked at him like John had stolen all the knowledge that Sherlock retained in that impressive brain right out of his head just by being there. For a second, it had crossed Sherlock’s mind - for just a single moment he had entertained the thought that John Watson had been behind all of Moriarty’s plans and it had brought his world crashing down around him. John didn’t think he would ever forget how Sherlock looked in that moment. The man for whom humanity barely even registered had found that he could feel betrayed, could feel disappointed when his own heroes fell. John was not harbouring any illusions that Sherlock thought him worthy of a pedestal and a halo of light but Sherlock had, irrefutably, placed him in a sacred place inside himself. John had realised at that moment that serial killers and criminal masterminds may not be able to destroy Sherlock Holmes but he could do it with the turn of his head or the closing of his eyes. John knew that to Sherlock he was the most solid and colourful thing this world had to offer and he wondered if that scared Sherlock as much as it scared him.
“What? Oh, thanks.” He took the cup that was being waved in front of his face and looked down into the slosh of tea within. “I was miles away.”
Sherlock just looked at him the way he always did when John took it upon himself to share obvious and useless information. John continued to do it though because he strongly believed it was good for Sherlock to experience the way normal people interacted.
“You made tea,” John said, looking back down at his mug and tipping it cautiously.
“Yes,” Sherlock agreed, rolling his eyes.
“You never make tea.”
“I just did.”
“What’s in it?” John asked.
“Boiled water, milk, sugar, the steeped flavour of the dried and oxidised leaves of two subspecies of the Camellia Sinensis plant,” Sherlock answered with a shrug.
“I bet you know which subspecies, too.” John grinned.
Sherlock answered slowly, clearly a little unsure as to whether John really wanted to know. He was almost reluctant, as if he’d been yelled at too many times before for unnecessarily flaunting his vast knowledge. “Camellia sinensis, subspecies sinensis and Camellia sinenses, subspecies assamica.”
John smiled at him. In his opinion, Sherlock had been reprimanded far too often for an intelligence he could never have controlled as a child – the way he was completely thrown when John complimented him aloud was a dead giveaway. Sherlock was used to being right and used to being resented for it; he was not used to being admired for it.
“How is it you know that but didn’t know the Earth revolved around the sun?” It was good to keep him grounded too, of course.
Sherlock made a disgusted sound but didn’t bother to hide the quick flash of a grin that pulled at the side of his mouth. “Tea is important.”
“And the planet isn’t?”
“Round and round the garden,” Sherlock sing-songed as he went and sprawled in the chair across from John, his leg flung over one arm and his back wedged securely into the corner.
“There’s another thing,” John pointed out quickly. “Why is it that knowledge of our solar system wasn’t worth the space on your hard drive but you remember nursery rhymes?”
“I once worked on a case with a serial killer whose murder-acts were inspired by popular nursery rhymes. He flung a woman into a cage full of angry birds that pecked through her eyes. Rolled a young couple down a cliff, sat another man on a wall in a seven storey roof top garden and pushed him off.”
“That’s...disturbing on a whole new level.”
“When we caught him he was sat in the corner of his room with his thumb stuck in a pie, claiming that he was a very good boy. Just as well I had retained the knowledge of those nursery rhymes otherwise we may never have caught him. Who knows what he’d have done next? London’s arachnid population were getting increasingly nervous. ”
John looked at him for a long moment. “Oh very funny. You’re hilarious.”
“I thought so.” Sherlock confirmed.
“Nursery rhyme serial killers? I genuinely wonder about the things that go on in that massive brain of yours sometimes.”
Sherlock actually smiled one of those wide, amused smiles that made him look years younger and John felt an answering grin grace his own face.
“It could happen,” Sherlock said.
“Let’s hope not,” John answered and sipped his tea, not minding that Sherlock paid more attention
to him than he did to the newspaper he was ostensibly flicking through.
“No,” John murmured and buried his head under the pillow. Whatever it was could be dealt with in the morning - later in the morning.
“What? ‘No’? Don’t be ridiculous – murder, intrigue. Come on, get up, we’re needed.” Sherlock was backlit by the hall light as he practically vibrated in the doorway, an impatient silhouette gesturing at John to get a move on.
“You, not me. You investigate crimes scenes and solve cryptic messages and arrest murderers. I’m mostly just there for you to talk at when the others ignore you because you’re being insufferable. You’re needed, I’m not.”
Sherlock paused for a very long moment. Long enough for John to wipe the sleep from his eyes and look at him properly.
“I need you,” he said to John’s bedroom carpet.
Something like a hot, creeping murmur of hope made itself known in John’s chest. “Lost without your blogger?” he asked, despite himself.
Something changed in that moment. Sherlock took a breath and when he lifted his eyes from the carpet it was to look at John the same way he had the very first day they met.
“Sherlock - ”
“No, not at all. I don’t know why I entertained a thought to the contrary, let alone voiced it. Stay in bed. You’re quite correct, John, I don’t need you.” He was out of the door, a tellingly graceless clatter of angry footsteps on the stairs.
“Sherlock. Fuck it, Sherlock, wait!”
John caught up with him in the lounge where he was casting about madly for his scarf. It was bloody cold down here and his pyjamas were no defence against the chill. John shivered even as he crossed the room and grabbed the scarf that had been carelessly discarded on the back of the sofa. He held it away from Sherlock and swiftly grabbed his arm when he leaned over to try and retrieve it from John’s hand.
“Listen to me, you great - ”
Sherlock straightened up so fast that John almost lost his grip. His eyes were furious and fixed on John’s fingers where they clutched his arm and for a moment John was tempted release him.
“Let go of me.”
There was fury in his eyes and plenty of it, but John had always been able to see deeper than Sherlock gave him credit for, deeper than Sherlock liked to acknowledge. He saw the anger but he saw the rejection and the fear too and he was desperate to make it right.
“I’m not – bloody hell, Sherlock – I’m not going to hurt you.”
“Ha, you couldn’t if you tried,” he spat.
“Well, we both know that’s not true because I already have once tonight, haven’t I?” John released his grip a little, no longer keeping him there, just holding him close instead.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Sherlock said quickly.
“I’m sorry.” John said. “I was annoyed at being woken up and I said something stupid. It was careless of me. I didn’t mean to imply that your...needing me was something – it clearly took a lot for you to vocalise it and I trivialised it – and – look, I’m sorry, okay?”
Sherlock pushed his fingers across his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. “This is unfair.”
“What is? What’s unfair?”
“You’re like chaos in my head that I can’t get in order. I don’t like it.”
“Well...Well, people are like that. They don’t fit into neat little subfolders only to be opened when you click on them. People are messy and a bit daft – they say stupid things they don’t mean and sometimes they hurt you when it was the last thing they intended.”
“I don’t know - ”
Sherlock was suddenly restless under his grasp. John tightened it instinctively, not wanting him to slip away. “What don’t you know?”
“Any of this. This sort of thing. It’s beneath me, it used to be completely unimportant to me but you, John, you get under my skin. You’re tempering me, I find myself not wanting to disappoint you or I’m actively seeking out your company or making tea, for god’s sake.”
John couldn’t help it, he smiled a little. “That’s what friends do,” he pointed out carefully.
“I - ” Sherlock seemed to thoroughly derail and settled for looking at John like he was completely alien. Which, he supposed, he was to Sherlock. John sighed and gave his arm a quick squeeze before letting it go.
“Just let me get dressed and we’ll go and check out this murder and intrigue that had you so excited before.”
“Yes, all right. Can I have my scarf back now or are you holding onto it for a specific reason?”
“Here.” He reached up and wrapped it carefully around Sherlock’s neck. Noting the way Sherlock froze as he did so, like he didn’t dare move. John pulled the ends through the folded loop and tightened it against Sherlock’s throat, the way he’d seen him do it himself, a hundred times. “Don’t go without me,” he said, ignoring the way his voice sounded low and rough even to his own ears.
“All right. Don’t be long though, we haven’t got all night.”
John turned away before he rolled his eyes.
“I saw that,” Sherlock said.
“No, you didn’t.”
He’d almost made it to the stairs when Sherlock appeared at the lounge doorway. “John.”
Sherlock closed the gap between them and lifted his hand letting it hang for a moment in midair. John considered giving him an encouraging smile but before he could Sherlock pushed on with a grim determination that at any other time might have been amusing. Right now it was oddly touching and just a little saddening. His hand fell on John’s shoulder, high enough that his fingers brushed his neck as Sherlock squeezed gently. He looked terrified.
“All right,” John said quietly. “We’re fine.”
“It’s all fine?” Sherlock asked, finally smiling a little.
“Yes, it’s all fine.” John reached up and returned the gesture quickly before turning away and heading upstairs to get dressed.
“Hurry up,” Sherlock called after him.
After that, it was hard not to notice all the little ways in which Sherlock touched him. It was like every press of skin was a novelty. John could easily believe that Sherlock had never had the sort of friendship that came with easy touches before. It started out tentative, a hand on his back when they passed through a door, or fingers brushing when they reached out to pass something between them or the two of them walking so closely that their shoulders pressed together. The day they were in Lestrade’s office, both sat forward with their elbows on their knees, animatedly explaining the details of the evidence they’d procured (without letting on exactly how they’d got hold of it) John didn’t think anything of it when Sherlock suddenly had a brilliant thought and reached over to cover John’s hands with one of his own. To John it was just a way to signify that Sherlock was on to something and he needed the world – and John – to shut up so that he could follow the thought through to its brilliant conclusion. He’d extracted his thumb from under Sherlock’s hand and used it to clamp down on the fingers covering his own. It was ridiculous but John felt a little like he could anchor Sherlock like this - he could hold him here until the thought was done and they could go haring off into danger together. When he looked up, Lestrade’s eyes flicked to their hands and his eyebrows rose slowly. John pulled away, embarrassed. Sherlock looked at him, clearly reading his sudden discomfort, then noticed the look on Lestrade’s face but said nothing. Sherlock didn’t touch him again for the rest of the day. John missed it so badly that the following day he waited until they were in full view of Lestrade, Anderson and Sally Bloody Donovan before catching Sherlock by the wrist and having an entire conversation while pressing his fingers against the reassuringly steady thump beneath the thin warm skin under his hand.
After that, Sherlock went back to touching as he pleased and John stared down anyone who dared look at them when he did.
From the banging of the front door and the call from the stairway, John was able to expertly deduce that Sherlock was home. He straightened the newspaper and stared down at the story he’d been reading, resolutely ignoring the heavy tread on the stairs. They were supposed to have met up hours ago but Sherlock had left him waiting, again. So, John had eventually come home, half expecting Sherlock to be here having gotten lost in the work on their current case and completely forgotten that they were supposed to be meeting at all. He was annoyed that Sherlock hadn’t been here and hadn’t answered his phone but more annoyed at himself for sitting and worrying about the infuriating bloody man for the best part of the evening.
“Where have you been?” he asked without looking up from his newspaper. “We were supposed to meet at six. And Lestrade’s been after you. He’s got an update on the whereabouts of Plester’s gang.”
“Oh, that’s okay. I found them.”
John winced, determined not to lose his temper. Trust Sherlock to go racing off on his own, besting the boys from the Yard to prove his obvious superiority.
“You found them?” John asked, finally looking over at him. Sherlock was standing in the doorway – actually he was leaning against the doorframe, leaning heavily. John couldn’t see his face properly, his head was hanging down and his hair was obscuring his features.
John folded the newspaper and threw it onto the side table. Something was clearly wrong.
“Well, more accurately I suppose you could say they found me.” His breath was short, the words clipped. John was across the room in seconds. Sherlock reached for him and stumbled and John caught him as he fell.
“Shit. I’ve got you. I’ve got you. Easy. What the hell happened?”
Sherlock was too busy trying to catch his breath to answer so John just kept him moving. “Come on, sofa. Careful, easy now. Let me take a look at you.”
He lowered Sherlock down onto the sofa and immediately noted the bruises on his face. Gently but quickly he unwound his scarf and found bruises on his throat and neck too. “Oh, they’ve done a number on you, all right. Did they have any weapons other than their fists? Knives? Chains?” He undid Sherlock’s coat and ran his hands under his sides and carefully around his back, feeling for any bleeding wounds. Sherlock sucked in a tight breath but there was no sign of any warm, sticky patches of blood. Thank god.
“No, just big boots. Very big boots – and an unfair advantage in numbers.”
“Which is one reason you shouldn’t have gone after them alone, you idiot.”
“I didn’t. They came after me. They must have realised we were close enough to help Lestrade get a conviction. I don’t think my ribs are broken,” he said, angling his head so he could see John’s hands as he pressed them gently against Sherlock’s ribcage. “Probably just bruised. I managed to get away fairly quickly.”
“Well, that’s a blessing at least. I can’t imagine what state you’d be in if you hadn’t.”
“I’m sure Molly would’ve let you into the morgue to look.”
John froze, his heart hammering in his chest and a hot, acidic feeling building with unwelcome rapidity in the back of his throat. His hands didn’t stray from Sherlock’s ribs but he stopped pressing down and instead twitched and straightened his fingertips into what could almost be a caress. He swallowed harshly and closed his eyes, feeling the thrum of life beneath his hands and clinging to it madly.
“Ah. That was one of those morbid and inappropriate comments you told me were upsetting to people, wasn’t it?” Sherlock asked quietly.
“Yes.” John nodded. “Yes, it was.” He lifted one hand to rub over his eyes and tried not to be surprised when Sherlock grabbed his forearm and held on tightly.
“I’m sorry, John.”
“It’s okay. Let’s get you cleaned up. No, don’t move, I’ll go and get my kit.”
“Did they hit your head?” he asked when he sat back down.
“I don’t think so – at least they didn’t focus on my head; remiss of them if they truly wanted to do some real damage.”
“Yes – well, I, for one, have never been so grateful for someone’s inattention to detail,” John said, shaking his head. He slipped his hands into Sherlock’s hair, gently probing for any bumps or blood.
“My head doesn’t feel broken.”
“Just let me check,” John said quietly.
He expected a protest when he started to undo Sherlock’s shirt but he barely moved while John started cleaning the scrapes and bruises.
“Breathe in and hold it,” John said, his hands back on Sherlock’s ribcage, pressing gently. “Breathe out slowly. Slowly. Does that hurt?”
“Would you tell me if it did?”
“Right now – yes.”
He didn’t complain when John made him sit up and lean forward so he could check his spine and the back of his neck. When John took Sherlock’s hands into his to wipe the scraped skin clean, Sherlock’s eyes tracked his every movement but he didn’t make a sound until John lightly gripped his jaw and angled his head so he could clean the split skin by his eye.
“That – hurts.”
“I’m not surprised. Keep still, I’m nearly done...okay, there you go. Take these.” John pressed a couple of painkillers into his hand and helped him sit up to swallow them. John kept his hand on the cup of water as Sherlock drank from it, both of them pretending it wasn’t at all necessary. He cleared up, moving Sherlock’s discarded shirt and hanging up his coat and scarf, throwing things back into his medical kit for next time.
“Stay there, I’ll go and get a blanket or two.” John jogged up the stairs to Sherlock’s room, negotiated the assault course of unidentifiable but no doubt dangerous objects and pulled a tee shirt from his closet and then the quilt and pillow from the bed. When he got back down to the lounge Sherlock was awkwardly removing his shoes.
“All right?” John asked.
“Thank you. Yes, I’m fine.”
John put the pillow on the sofa and handed the shirt to Sherlock, waiting for him to pull it on and lie back down. John spread the quilt over his feet but didn’t pull it any higher. He pushed the hem of the tee shirt back up and checked the blackening bruises underneath. His hand stopped at a patch of unmarred skin and, without allowing himself to curb the impulse, he spread his fingers and caressed Sherlock’s side. He needed to touch, he needed to reassure himself that the damage was minimal and that Sherlock was fine – that this bizarre and infuriating man, who had crept under his skin and become inexplicably important to him, was fine. Sherlock let him touch and something like understanding graced his eyes as he slid his hand over John’s and tangled their fingers together.
For a moment John very badly wanted to lean down and kiss him.
He pulled away, smoothing Sherlock’s tee shirt down and lifting the quilt up to his chest.
“Close your eyes; get some rest,” he ordered, standing up and heading for his armchair and the newspaper he’d discarded when Sherlock had returned.
Sherlock watched him; his clear, unnerving stare fixed on John as he picked up his paper and settled himself down.
“Shut your eyes, Sherlock,” he said again. He counted it as a triumph when Sherlock’s eyes fluttered closed and the frown relaxed from his face.
Look, i’m sorry, ok?
Sent @ 20:03
For gds sake John.
Said i was soryy!
Sent @ 20:16
John glared at the second text message and shuffled through his menu to delete them both before throwing the phone onto the table. It had already been a long night. He leaned back in his chair and rubbed a hand over his eyes. He’d waved Sherlock off to a crime scene that Lestrade thought had nothing to do with yesterday’s murder but Sherlock was convinced would prove fruitful; then he had gone to meet Harry for dinner. He’d been putting it off for as long as possible - he and Harry only ever got along when there was at least a city between them and they were communicating exclusively via text message. After weeks of badgering, he’d finally given in and agreed to have dinner with her. Harry was already drunk when he’d arrived at the restaurant. Hell, she’d already been drinking when he’d phoned her this afternoon to confirm their plans. Why he thought she’d be sober this evening was beyond him.
Things had gone downhill from there. John tried to be careful and patient with her but it made him so unaccountably sad to see her so wasted, clumsily functioning by rote through each day because that was how she lived her life now. It made him sick and angry and desperate, not to mention completely useless – that was the hardest part, she wouldn’t accept help because she didn’t see the problem, didn’t think she needed any help.
Harry had demanded to know how Clara was and when John had told her that he didn’t know because he hadn’t heard from her, Harry had accused him of lying and hiding Clara from her. When she’d finished telling him what a selfish and mean bastard he was and that he was going to end up alone and shouting his night terrors into an empty room, he’d asked her again to let him help her. He could get her into a rehab clinic and off the drink. She’d laughed in his face and told him that she was not the one that needed help.
John had told her she could contact him if she changed her mind, thrown some money on the table and walked out before they’d even got as far as dinner.
He’d walked back to Baker Street, his stomach churning and his head reeling as it always did after a run in with Harry. Worst thing was that as he sat here now he could feel the nightmares creeping closer. He was a soldier, he’d seen action, he had ghosts and demons that arrived uninvited and hung around for a while. The doctor in him knew it was a direct result of the evening’s emotional upheaval. The man in him felt it was his failing.
He went into the kitchen and put the kettle on - if the nightmares were going to come, they would come, the best he could hope for was that Sherlock and Mrs Hudson wouldn’t be woken by the shouting. He wondered how Sherlock was getting on with his crime scene. His phone beeped and John looked back at the table, speak of the devil.
Don’t sit at home. Come
to Lewis Street.
Sent @ 20:22
John really was not in the mood for tearing around dark, cold London streets trying to keep up with a hyped-up, nicotine-fuelled Sherlock Holmes. He texted back a ‘No’.
Sent @ 20:23
John dropped the phone onto his chair and hobbled back into the kitchen to make the tea. Great, his leg was playing up tonight, as well. Perfect. He stared down at his tea as it steeped, trying to think of the two subspecies - or even the name of the species of plant that his tea leaves had come from - rather than think of Harry and the way she was effectively killing herself a little more every day. It wasn’t a very successful distraction.
He took his tea over to the armchair and sat, stretching his leg out to try and ease some of the aching stiffness. He was going to drink his tea then start the Defence Committee report he’d been meaning to read on ‘Medical Care in the Armed Forces’. It turned out Mycroft was actually useful for something other than waging war and swinging elections; he could also smilingly hand over a full government report – with the odd page missing, of course.
Twenty minutes later he’d finished his tea and admitted to himself that he wasn’t going to read the report tonight. He was still too bloody furious with Harry to be able to concentrate on it anyway. He picked up his phone and selected a blank message, staring at it angrily and waiting for inspiration to strike.
He sighed; Sherlock was home. “I thought you were going to be at Lewis Street most of the evening,” he called as he heard Sherlock’s tread on the stair.
“I was,” Sherlock called back. “But that was before. Bad evening?” He came into the lounge, bringing a waft of cold air and the smell of Chinese food.
“You could say that,” John admitted, watching him as he circled through the flat like a hurricane. He dumped the bag of Chinese on the table, twirled his coat onto the back of a chair and grabbed John’s now empty mug from the coffee table before sweeping into the kitchen and flicking the kettle on with the sort of understated flourish that would have made anyone else look ridiculous. John felt the sick-feeling in his stomach ease just a little.
“Sherlock, what are you doing?”
“I’m making you a cup of tea – and I’ve brought home dinner. Look.” He nodded at the bag on the table.
“I see. Why?”
“Because that’s what friends do, yes? Isn’t that what you said before?”
“I – yes. I suppose it is,” John agreed. Sherlock was paying far too much attention to the tea bags he was placing in the cups he’d set out. John’s stomach eased a little more as he waited for Sherlock to measure out the sugar to his exacting standards and then dump it unceremoniously into John’s cup.
Sherlock spared him a quick grin and a nod. “I knew when I texted you and you were at home that you wouldn’t have eaten.”
“Yes, how did you know I was here when you sent that message?”
“When you were on the phone to Harry earlier this afternoon I could tell by your face and the tightening grip on your phone that you suspected she had already been drinking today. You’ve been melancholic and reflective for the last few days - since you first arranged the dinner, in fact; and I could tell by your incipient mood that you’d leave rather than argue with her. I took an educated guess at how long it would take her to become nasty, based on the fact that she’s been drinking since at least 2pm.”
“It certainly didn’t take her long,” John admitted with a very false smile.
“I know,” Sherlock said quietly. “What was it this time?”
“She accused me of having contact with Clara and keeping it from her.”
“I’ll put the food in the oven, keep it warm until we’re ready for it,” Sherlock said, approaching the oven like it was an experiment he’d never tackled before. John quickly reached out and turned it on before Sherlock could do anything that could potentially lead to some interesting pyrotechnics.
Apparently content to let John take care of the food, Sherlock turned and picked up the two cups of tea.
“And have you had any contact with Clara?” he asked, handing John his tea and ushering him towards the lounge.
“Very little - nothing for ages, and certainly not since I last saw Harry.”
Sherlock sat on the sofa, folding one leg up on the cushion and turning to face John. After a moment’s hesitation John followed and sat down next to him.
“She was so angry with me – and do you think I could make her believe me when I said I hadn’t heard from her? It was ridiculous. She’s getting worse, you know, but still won’t admit that she needs help. Still won’t bloody admit there’s a problem.”
“If you want to tell me what else she said, you can but don’t feel you have to if it makes you uncomfortable.”
John looked at him, he really was incredible - all that knowledge and ability to read people and yet as tactless as a child at times and completely clueless at others. Then there were times like these, when he could surprise even John. For a long moment he just looked at Sherlock; brilliant, oblivious Sherlock. Well, fuck it, why not tell him. John looked away and took a breath and then he told his tea cup what Harry had said.
“She said I’d live my life lonely and shouting my nightmares out into an empty room.”
“Really? What a bitch.”
John couldn’t help it, he laughed. “Yeah, yeah, she can be.”
“And an inaccurate one at that. She clearly is angry at you for not being able to fix a number of things that you had no control over in the first place – the breakdown of her marriage, for one example. Your father’s drinking, for another. You’re the only one still around, so you get the blame,” Sherlock summed up.
John knew he shouldn’t really be shocked but it truly never ceased to amaze him. “That was a depressingly insightful analysis, actually. And brilliant, as always.”
“People are irrational and confusing creatures.”
“No kidding.” John snorted, looking only at Sherlock.
“I’m sorry you had a wasted evening,” Sherlock said, dropping a careful hand onto John’s arm. “I know you hope for more each time you see her.”
“Yes, well, maybe one day. But thank you.”
Sherlock tipped his head.
“Shall we eat?” John asked. “I’m starving.” He was almost surprised to find he genuinely was. The sickening burn had receded leaving hunger and a little warmth in its place.
“John – John, quickly!”
“Sherlock, I’m mid-sentence, can’t it wait?” John asked, not looking up from his laptop. Sherlock had been restless all morning, pacing backwards and forwards, unsubtly hunting for John’s Browning (now even more carefully hidden). A couple of hours ago, John had caught him winding one end of his scarf around the door handle and the other end around his own neck and pulling slightly. John had refrained from comment until Sherlock had unwound the end from the door handle and gone and wrapped it around the banister next to the stairs. John had sighed and followed him out into the hallway.
“What are you doing?”
“Calculating the the actual likelihood of accidental strangulation-by-scarf in a domestic environment.”
“Why?” John asked.
“It could be useful,” Sherlock answered and resumed tugging at the scarf, moving his neck to pull from various angles. “And because London’s entire criminal element seem to have taken the day off and I am spiritless.”
“I got bored of saying ‘bored’.”
John closed his eyes and took a breath. “Just don’t accidentally actually strangle-yourself-by-scarf.”
“In this domestic environment?” Sherlock added with a grin.
“Or any other,” John muttered and had then gone to boot up his laptop.
He’d managed a good couple of hours writing up the next entry for his blog before Sherlock had come bursting in, scarf clearly forgotten, and demanded his immediate attention.
“No, it can’t wait, that’s why I said ‘quickly’. Come on.” He was across the room and pulling John out of his chair with childish impatience. At least it was the sort of impatience that was normally a precursor to ‘look at the fantastic hole I’ve made in the carpet using only lemonade and two pence piece,’ rather that the sort of impatience that meant ‘I’m bleeding from a wound in my side’ or ‘yes, those big men with guns are the ones I pissed off earlier.’ John had learned how to tell the difference a while ago.
“I swear, Sherlock, if you’ve killed one more kitchen appliance Mrs Hudson is going to hit you over the head with her broom and I’m just going to watch.”
“What? No. Come and look.”
Sherlock dragged him to the stairs and slowed them down so they could descend quietly. John could hear the radio playing from inside Mrs Hudson’s rooms and he could clearly hear her humming along. When they got to the bottom of the stairs he could see that her front door was wide open and that she was dusting the picture frames in her hallway.
Sherlock put his finger gently to his lips and John nodded, feeling the warmth of amusement already rolling in his stomach. Sherlock was being, well, playful – there was no other word for it. They crept forward and hid with their backs against the wall, tucked neatly behind the chair that was always sitting by the stairs. John bent slightly and peered around into Mrs Hudson’s flat; he was aware of Sherlock’s lanky frame leaning over above him to sneak a look as well. He could feel Sherlock shaking with silent laughter and felt his own shoulders convulsing with the same suppressed urge as Mrs Hudson, wearing her frilly purple cleaning apron and matching heels, danced to Lady Gaga on the radio.
When she shimmied a couple of steps to the side, dipped and came back up with a can of polish clutched in one Marigold-clad hand, John almost lost it. When she sang ‘woah-oh-oh-oh-oh, woah-oh-oh, caught in a bad romance’ as she polished, John had to flip back against the wall to double over with silent hysterics. When he was able to calm himself long enough to straighten up he found himself face to face with Sherlock and giggling helplessly again.
“Shh,” John whispered, not wanting to get caught and cause any embarrassment. Sherlock had the back of his fingers pressed fiercely against his lips but his eyes were absolutely alight with laughter and each time they looked at each other they dissolved into fits of ridiculous giggles.
“Stop it,” John said, trying to get his breath back.
“I can’t,” Sherlock gasped, shaking again.
“Oh my god, did she just say ‘freak bitch’?” John hissed, his throat burning with choked laughter.
“Baby,” Sherlock confirmed. He cracked up again and had to lean on John just to stay upright.
“Pull yourself together,” John chuckled. They were chest to chest; he could feel the length of Sherlock pressed against him and he wondered when they had become so close that this sort of thing took so long to register. He didn’t care; he liked it. Hell, he loved it - Sherlock felt so good against him.
John felt the laughter slowly ebb and looked Sherlock in the face. “Are you finished?” he whispered. Sherlock nodded but even as he did so he barely managed to swallow another fit of giggling and the nod quickly turned into a shake. John, filled with amusement and overwhelming affection, threw his arm around Sherlock’s neck and pulled him in. Sherlock immediately buried his face against John’s shoulder and laughed.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you like this. That’s really amused you, hasn’t it? Perhaps we should get Mrs Hudson to dance more often,” John whispered against his ear.
Sherlock made a sound like a badly swallowed hiccup and John shushed him again. Sherlock shivered against him. John paused, that was...interesting. He blew another whispered shush across Sherlock’s ear and again felt the answering shiver. The giggles subsided, the radio moved on to some classic Queen, and John’s world shifted and refocused solely on the man leaning against him. He hadn’t even noticed when Sherlock’s hand had curled around his hip but he could feel it now, the touch burning through his clothes. Sherlock turned his head slightly and John could feel each breath he released brush against his neck. A moment ago they had been clinging to each other in the remnants of laughter, now it was something else entirely. John lifted his hand, steady as a rock, and slid his fingers into Sherlock’s hair. Sherlock, with a sharp intake of breath, turned his head further and ghosted his lips against John’s throat.
For a moment he froze, there was no going back if they did this, no changing things after they crossed this line. Sherlock was all consuming and John had to be prepared to give every part of himself and take every element of Sherlock in return. And god, he wanted all of it.
He tipped his head, exposing his throat for Sherlock.
John could feel the smile on Sherlock’s lips as he pressed the first kisses into John’s neck. Not for the world could he have stopped himself from tightening the grip he had in Sherlock’s hair; pulling him up so they were face to face and kissing him hard.
Sherlock kissed him back, wild and possessive - just as John knew he would be - immediately taking everything John offered and more. He had made the first move and now Sherlock was responding in kind. One hand tightened convulsively on John’s hip and the other slid up to wrap around John’s neck, tilting his head to a better angle. Without warning Sherlock slowed the kiss, gentling their movements, their touches, making it so tender that John began to ache with it. Sherlock’s fingers played lightly in his hairline, the hand at his hip pressed reverent touches up and down his side and his kiss was deep and sweet against John’s mouth.
“Like this, John. Please? Like this,” Sherlock whispered.
“Okay. Yes, of course. Yes.” John let his fingertips trace briefly across Sherlock’s cheekbone. When Sherlock closed his eyes and a frown creased his brow, John pulled him down and kissed him again.
“This is completely insane,” John whispered.
“Do you want to stop?” Sherlock asked pulling back slightly.
“No. No, of course I don’t want to stop. Do you?”
Sherlock shook his head slowly, eyes fixed intently on John’s, and moved back in so cautiously that John leaned up and closed the gap between them. Sherlock made a very eager noise and pushed him tight against the wall. John arched up as the kiss deepened into something messy and hot and truly impatient.
Neither of them even noticed Mrs Hudson until she coughed loudly. “You have perfectly good rooms for that, dears.” Then she was gone again, leaving the two of them wrapped around each other in the hallway.
“Oh god,” John groaned. Sherlock huffed a laugh that betrayed the deeper amusement that was clearly written in his eyes and kissed John again.
Sherlock’s phone trilled in his pocket. Lestrade needed urgent help with a case. John sighed and pushed them both away from the wall.
The day after that Mycroft sent them a sandwich toaster. John was a little disturbed and eyed it with reservation. Sherlock dismantled it and used parts of it to melt plastics of varying density and solved Lestrade’s case.
“What’s the problem?” John asked, his shoulders stiffening and his heart leaping against his chest despite himself. He bloody knew this would happen. He must have been mad to think that he could be the one that Sherlock would finally see as real, the one thing that he would finally reach out and touch.
“There is no problem.” Sherlock pushed past him and into their living room.
“You pulled away from me when I kissed you – and now you’re deliberately being ‘busy’ so that you don’t have to look at me. How is that not a problem?”
“John - ”
“What? What? Come on, Sherlock – ‘John’ what?” He stalked across the room and grabbed the pile of case files out of Sherlock’s hands. “Put those the fuck down. ‘John’ what?”
“I’ve made you angry. I don’t...”
“Yes, I am a little angry right now and, if you must know, also disappointed, hurt, wholly unsurprised, and a little scared.”
Sherlock looked up sharply at that. “Scared?”
“In the hallway the other day you were the one that said ‘like this,’ you said ‘please’ and you asked for it to mean something and now you won’t look at me and yes, that scares me a little.”
“I didn’t know what I was asking for.”
“Really, Sherlock?” John closed his eyes and made himself speak. “If I packed up everything I owned and left here tonight how would you feel?”
Sherlock was clearly distressed. One hand was running through his hair, the other was jammed tightly in his pocket; he seemed to be vibrating where he stood. His eyes looked everywhere but at John and his head followed the direction of his gaze with tiny, uncoordinated movements.
John’s fingers itched with the need to hold out his hand. He wanted to take back those words and put a promise to never leave in their place. He wanted to swear he’d always be there even if Sherlock never touched him again. But, god, he couldn’t - that was no way for either of them to live. He had to know whether Sherlock was willing to reach out to him now while John was still strong enough to walk away.
He could see the frustration in Sherlock’s eyes as he tried to piece together an answer. John knew that right at that moment he was at war with his own head. All the times Sherlock had told himself not to care - trained himself not to feel - were battling against the vivid sight of John standing before him and making him chose; making him trust enough to let go. Asking him to love. John’s stomach churned and his throat was actually burning but he made himself ask again.
“Sherlock,” he said so very quietly. “Should I go?”
“You can’t place this in my hands, John,” Sherlock shouted. “I’m not equipped to handle this sort of situation – I can’t function with - ”
“Function?” John interrupted, furious and shouting back despite his best intentions. “You can’t function? Enough, Sherlock – you’re not a fucking machine! And we both know you’re not a fucking sociopath, so stop – just stop it. I’ll tell you exactly what I’m asking of you – I want you to choose me. I want you to decide that it’s time to stop ‘functioning’ and start expecting more. I’m asking you to take a risk and trust that I love you, you stupid fucking idiot. I need to know whether I mean enough to you for you to try.” John looked down at the carpet for a long moment and tried desperately to calm his breathing into something that wasn’t trying to rip his lungs apart. All he could do now was wait, wait to see whether Sherlock could abandon his emotional detachment and come out from behind that bloody fortress wall of his, and let John see him unprotected...wait to see exactly what he was worth to Sherlock Holmes.
All John could do now was stay behind the lines and await the outcome of the battle - and be ready to patch up what was left of the combatants.
Sherlock was standing so still, all the agitation from before leached out of him; only his eyes betrayed his remaining unrest as he fought with himself. He looked restlessly at John then around the room and his fists clenched tightly. The moment he turned back, John knew his decision had been made.
He refused to move even though every muscle in his body was screaming at him to ‘go and go now!’
Sherlock swallowed and tried again. “John, please. I want you.”
John did move then, forward without hesitation, and Sherlock moved too. It was desperate and possessive and painful but John pulled him tighter and kissed him harder. Sherlock moaned and pulled back.
“You. I choose you.”
“Thank god.” John kissed him again. “I’m not entirely sure I could have walked away if you hadn’t.”
“You could - and would have,” Sherlock told him. “Or I would never have taken the chance.”
“Sherlock - ” John tried to focus on kissing him even as he was being steered backwards until his shoulders hit the wall and Sherlock was a long press of heat against him. “Oh my nguh -”
Sherlock had his hand under John’s jumper and was making fast work of pulling his shirt free too.
John leaned forward and kissed his neck, mouthing his way up his throat and sucking on the tender skin just below his ear. He got one hand into Sherlock’s hair and used it to tug his head to a better angle, giving him more access to the warm, perfect skin.
John grinned and ran his tongue across the place he’d just tasted, as Sherlock clutched at him and pulled him closer.
“Sherlock,” John moaned. “Sherlock. Bed - right now.”
“Yes.” Sherlock followed where John led him.
It hadn’t taken long for John to realise that he was having an impact on Sherlock. The day that they stood in the middle of the office at Scotland Yard with Lestrade, Anderson and Donovan sneering at Sherlock’s cold detachment, John saw the underlying panic. Sherlock raced through the various scenarios in his head, trying to find the most plausible, the one that all the pieces fit into because now he truly cared. He understood the concept of caring, he realised that if the woman they were searching for died that there would be people to whom her loss was incalculable. John didn’t know whether to be proud that he had influenced Sherlock this way or regret ever putting him in this position. From here on, every failure would be a burden of guilt to carry forward. However, from this point onwards Sherlock would know what it was like to see in colour, to be a part of something that he could depend on and reach out and touch whenever he needed to. To be a part of something real and be the focus of someone’s world, of someone’s love, and John could never deny him that.
If John was being totally honest he thought Lestrade was completely hilarious. Seriously, the funniest thing he’d ever seen.
“You’re genuinely, genuinely, very funny, you know that?” John told him.
“So you’ve said a number of times already this evening,” Lestrade answered, hitching John more securely against his side as they stumbled up the stairs.
“Sherlock, don’t you think he’s funny?” John asked, his head lolling in a way that he had very little control over. Sherlock was smiling at him and John leaned closer, pulling away from Lestrade again.
“He amuses me all the time,” Sherlock whispered with a grin.
“Are you going to say that every time he asks you?” Lestrade grumbled.
“He finds it funny every time I say it.” Sherlock shrugged.
“That’s because he’s been pumped full of loopy juice.”
“Yes, I know. I was the one who found him.”
Sherlock sounded mad. John frowned and turned a disgusted look on Lestrade. “Don’t make him mad, he was smiling a second ago and now he’s angry.”
“I’m not angry, John,” Sherlock said as Lestrade mumbled something apologetic that John didn’t bother to listen to.
John sucked a breath through his teeth and looked up and up at Sherlock’s face. “You look a bit angry. A bit serious. Did something happen? Are we going to have to go to the police?” John asked, worried now.
“No, it’s fine. Everything’s fine. Look we’re home,” Sherlock said.
“Are you sure?”
“Certain. Come on, sofa’s calling your name.”
John stopped to listen. “It’s not. Sofa’s don’t talk...do they? No Sherlock – wait – do they? Because I don’t want to sit on a talking sofa, I might sit on its face and - ”
“John,” Sherlock interrupted him. “Just a figure of speech. Sit down.”
Sherlock lowered him carefully to the sofa and John thought how nice it was to be handled so gently. Especially by Sherlock. Lestrade had disappeared into the kitchen by the sound of it but John didn’t care because Sherlock was all he needed. He was all he’d ever need.
“Can I keep you? You know, until one of us has to go. Will you stay?” he asked, suddenly desperate to know the answer. Sherlock pushed him down until he was lying along the sofa and then he sat down by his hip and reached a hand out to touch his jaw.
“Always,” Sherlock promised.
“Good,” John sighed in relief. “You dropped that,” he called out to the kitchen after the sound of a glass clattering into the sink and Lestrade swearing. Sherlock was smiling at him. “I like when you smile,” John felt compelled to tell him. Sherlock tipped his head and ran his hand through his hair, looking slightly embarrassed as he did so. John reached up so he could push his own hand through Sherlock’s hair too. Sherlock leaned in to the touch and John grinned.
“You’re like a big cat,” he said, smiling.
“I am nothing like a cat,” Sherlock replied softly. “You should probably get some rest. You’re likely to succumb to weakness and vomiting when the drugs wear off.”
“They gave me drugs?” John asked, wide eyed. He didn’t remember that bit – but then most of the afternoon and evening was pretty hazy, to be honest.
“Yes, they did,” Lestrade answered as he put a glass of water down on the table next to John and handed Sherlock a cup of tea. “Time I was off. Are you two going to be okay?”
John looked up at him. He was really funny when he was upside down. “You’re really very funny,” John told him.
“Oh my god, I’m going. Sherlock, you know where I am if you need anything.”
“Yes, thank you, Lestrade.”
Sherlock was using his serious voice again but John had to ask him something and he needed to know the answer because Sherlock’s answers were always very important - probably the most important answers in the world. “Don’t you think he’s funny?” he asked.
“He amuses me all the time,” Sherlock answered as the door slammed. “Get some rest,” he said, and brushed his fingers lightly down over John’s eyes. John felt his world get really heavy.
When John woke up the room was dark. He turned his head and saw Sherlock in the chair by the fire, his eyes fixed on a small black-jacketed book in his hands. As soon as he saw John stir he closed the book and put it down.
“Sherlock - ” John’s stomach rolled and he was gagging.
“Bin,” Sherlock said.
John leaned over and vomited into their waste paper basket which had been lined with a plastic bag and placed at optimum vomiting distance from the sofa.
“Oh god, this is not going to be good,” John moaned. Sherlock appeared in front of him with a glass of water and John took it in shaky hands, managing a single sip before thrusting it back at Sherlock and leaning over the sofa again. “Bathroom.”
“Yes,” Sherlock agreed, sounding less than certain. “Yes, all right. If we move you now are you going to be sick in the hallway?”
“Not if we’re quick,” John answered. There was already sweat tickling the back of his neck and he could feel the heat building in his cheeks. Sherlock sat down and slid an arm around his waist, helping him to stand. God, movement hurt; he felt like his muscles were on fire and there was a hideous stabbing pain in his stomach and his head. Sherlock clung to him, curiously quiet as he concentrated on getting them to the bathroom.
“Almost there, John,” was the only thing he said as he practically hauled John into the bathroom.
John lurched for the toilet and was sick again. This time his stomach cramped and he ended up on his knees; his breathing sharp and irregular and painful. Then he started shaking, rattling from head to foot. His heart felt like it was trying to take flight from his chest, beating wildly and chaotically and John couldn’t regulate it. His muscles spasmed and the shaking intensified until even his teeth felt in danger of being shaken loose. Then there were knees pressed either side of his thighs, gentle arms wrapping around his body and Sherlock was a warm weight against his back as he was carefully unravelled and pulled into that warmth.
“You don’t have to stay,” John tried to tell him. “This can’t be pleasant for you.”
Sherlock’s hand smoothed through his hair and his head was guided back to rest in against the side of Sherlock’s face. “If I left now you’d rattle across this bathroom floor on your own all night. I wouldn’t want that for you,” he said quietly against John’s skin.
“Sher - ” John pulled away suddenly and reached for the toilet again.
“On the plus side,” Sherlock said. “You can’t have much left to throw up.”
“That’s the plus side?” John asked, wondering whether Sherlock would mind if he crawled back against him and curled into his body. The next muscle cramp wiped his mind of that and every other thought. “Shit! That hurts.”
“Is there anything you can take for the pain?” Sherlock asked.
“I don’t know what they gave me. I can’t medicate on top of an unknown drug.”
“I couldn’t tell what it was, some kind of home brewed chemical concoction,” Sherlock snapped - annoyed at his own inability to look at a drug and know immediately what it was made up of, no doubt.
“And you didn’t take samples to play with later?” John asked, trying to stretch the cramps out of his legs and keep a hold on the trembling in his shoulders and chest.
“I had more important things to worry about. I’m going to go and get you some water. I’ll be back.”
John watched him go and, between the shaking and the dry heaving and the muscle spasms, he wondered how many times Sherlock had been left to ‘rattle across this bathroom floor on his own all night.’
He gagged again but nothing came up.
Sherlock came back armed with a glass, a blanket, a hot water bottle and a pillow. He threw the pillow and blanket on the floor by the bath and went to the tap to fill the glass. He crouched down next to John, all folded legs and long fingers wrapped carefully around glass, and John nearly choked with the sudden wave of need that flared inside him. Yes, Sherlock drove him to distraction on a regular basis but, by god, he couldn’t live without him.
“John. John? You look like you’re about to pass out. Do we need to get you to hospital?”
“Sherlock, I have to – seriously, I have to tell you – I – I’m in – I - love you,” John said quickly. The shaking was due to the drugs and nothing else. Oh hell, and everything else.
“My god, you’re delirious,” Sherlock said looking vaguely panicked. “I’m calling an ambulance.”
That penetrated the hazy fug of John’s thoughts and he shook his head sharply. “No, no, I’m fine. Well, not fine but I don’t need to go to hospital. I’m not delirious you bastard. I was telling you something important.”
Sherlock looked at him for a long moment, his brow slightly creased with gentle confusion. “You’re not delirious?”
“No,” John snapped, irritated and in pain, but not bloody delirious, thank you very much.
“But you just said - ”
“I know what I said – I don’t have to be out of my mind to admit I care about you, you idiot.”
“Yes, oh” He was aching all over but the tremors were finally starting to subside.
Sherlock was busily not looking at him as he threw the pillow against the wall and arranged himself sitting with it tucked behind his back. He put the water, hot water bottle and blanket to hand and looked over at John.
“I can help,” Sherlock said, his eyes unwavering as they held John’s own. John nodded and shuffled towards him, crawling into the space between Sherlock’s legs. He was bodily arranged with his shoulder to Sherlock’s chest and long legs folded carefully over his own. John sighed, a long and drawn out sound, as warm hands wrapped around his head and pulled it gently into place against Sherlock’s neck. The hot water bottle was balanced carefully on his stomach, right where the muscle spasms had left him tender to the touch. “We’ll keep the blanket for when the fever sweats stop,” he said quietly.
John shuddered. He felt so strung out, tired and hurting and so bloody angry that this had been done to him beyond his control.
“Rest,” Sherlock said. “Try not to sleep just yet. When you’re sure that you’ve finished vomiting we’ll move to the bedroom and you can sleep where it’s comfortable.”
John, moved beyond clumsy words, just tightened the grip he had on Sherlock’s shirt, twisted the fabric around his desperate fingers and focused on the feeling of the warm, smooth skin just beneath.
Sherlock’s hand covered his and held it securely to his chest, his lips pressing against John’s hair until John relaxed and the shaking stopped.
“Thank you,” John whispered.
There were times when John knew his hypothesis was correct. That each step they took made him more real to Sherlock - more colourful. He could tell by the way Sherlock would occasionally stop everything he was doing and just look at him; it should have been completely unnerving, John thought, but instead it was oddly flattering. The same way John took it as a complement when Sherlock started swinging his legs up onto John’s lap like they belonged there; or when Sherlock got unaccountably annoyed with John when he went too long without reaching out to snag a kiss. The other obvious sign was the nights Sherlock slept beside him or wrapped around him, so warm and close. Before they shared a bed John had begun to think that Sherlock never slept at all, these days he was always there, his breath washing softly over John’s chest as he nestled his cheek over John’s heart and fell asleep to its beat.
Every night John wrapped his arms tighter around Sherlock’s shoulders and wondered how he had ever believed himself to be alive without this.
It had been at least four days since Sherlock had last slept. John had only managed a few hours himself but at least it had been something. Sherlock had spent the nights pacing restlessly in their lounge while he tried desperately to think; or spent the night in the labs at Bart’s. Last night he’d curled up against John and lay there still and quiet with his eyes wide open all night. John had curled a hand around the back of his head and begged him to sleep but those haunted eyes had turned on him and blinked slowly.
“I can’t, John,” was all Sherlock had said.
When John had woken up a few hours later Sherlock was still there, thank god, but still wide awake.
“Did you sleep at all?” John asked, already knowing the answer. Sherlock shook his head and John pulled him closer and rolled him on top so that he could look up into pale, tired eyes. “You need to sleep,” John told him.
“I don’t,” Sherlock countered. “Not yet.”
John sighed and tugged Sherlock down so he could press a kiss against his mouth.
Over the next two days, Sherlock’s smooth grace was replaced by a stuttering clumsiness that had John more than a little concerned. He knew the case was frustrating Sherlock, not because it was too complicated but because they were constantly one step behind where they needed to be to catch this guy. Sherlock was getting short tempered with Lestrade and even more dismissive of Anderson. John could see what it was costing him to be constantly running ahead of the others and having them trip him up time and time again.
“You’re just making this shit up,” Anderson spat, practically shouting to be heard over the noise of the building site that was currently the resting place of a dismembered foot believed to belong to one of their victims.
Sherlock whirled around, his shoes twisting in the red mud and rubble beneath his feet. “How do you not see it? My god, Anderson, if you were any more stupid we’d have to - ”
“All right,” Lestrade shouted, splashing through a puddle and cutting Sherlock off. “Anderson, go for a walk, get some air. Sherlock calm down and tell me what we need to know– civilly, or go away and come back when you can. I’m not having this kind of playground behaviour on my crime scene.”
“Me?” Anderson spluttered. “But he - ”
“Walk it off,” Lestrade said and pushed him towards the police cars and the mobile office that had been set up for them by the site foreman. “Now, that’s enough Sherlock - you can’t keep insulting my officers just because they irritate you; especially when the whole world irritates you.” The effect of his glare was somewhat ruined by the heavy, fat raindrops running down his forehead and into his eyes.
John swiped the wetness from his own face and scowled at the futility. God, this place was miserable; the rain wouldn’t let up, it was freezing bloody cold and the other side of the site was still hard at work and the noise was unbearable. The roar of engines and the clanging of hammers and the men shouting – no wonder all the site workers walked around in hard hats and ear protectors.
John looked up at them as the sound of concern clearly seeped through Lestrade’s irritation.
Sherlock was standing with his hands clapped tightly over his ears and his eyes screwed shut. John couldn’t hear everything that he was saying but he could see his lips moving and hear snippets of distressed mumbling.
“The freak finally lost it?” Donovan asked, wandering towards them with Anderson in tow. John ignored her.
“Sherlock? What’s wrong?” John asked, stepping closer.
“I can’t – the noise and the rain and Anderson’s face. I can’t – can’t - ”
“You can’t think,” John finished softly. Sherlock looked at him – so desperate and so grateful that someone understood. John caught his elbow and tugged him around gently so they were face to face.
“Can’t what?” Anderson called, his mouth twisted in a derisive sneer that John dearly wanted to wipe off his face.
“I can’t think!” Sherlock shouted, turning sharply in irritation.
“That’s probably because you haven’t slept in a week,” John suggested.
“I haven’t slept in a hundred and fifty one hours,” Sherlock corrected. “Are you going to help me or are you going to continue to do your best impression of my mother?”
“You have a mother?” Anderson sniffed. “I always assumed you’d been raised by wolves.”
“There’s no reason I can’t do both,” John answered, ignoring Anderson.
“Shut up, Anderson,” Sherlock snapped. “Or at least be original with your insults – come on, push yourself; aspire to originality. I’m sure you could do it if you tried. Or not. We’re missing something important,” he said, turning to John without skipping a beat. “What are we missing here, John?”
“The rest of the body for a start, genius,” Anderson snapped.
“Be quiet,” Lestrade said.
“John,” Sherlock murmured almost pleadingly. “What are we missing? John, John...”
“You’re so exhausted,” John said, quietly. He reached out again and curled a hand around Sherlock’s shoulder. “You’re not going to be able to think here; everything is working against you – the weather, the noise, even your own body. You need to rest. Let’s go home - we can work on this there.” A jackhammer started up nearby, filling the air with a piercing and persistent heavy noise. Sherlock looked at him wildly as if willing John to make it stop, make it all go away. For a moment John felt very much like it was his fault it was registering with Sherlock at all. His world had been much more focused before John had come blundering in and pointed out all the things that could distract that brilliant brain.
“There’s no time, John. If we stop now more people will die. He’ll get away and more people will be killed.” Sherlock looked at him and John could see the desperation in his eyes. His hands danced with agitation around his head; wiping rain from his eyes one second and covering his ears like a child the next. “I never used think about that,” he admitted in a whisper only John could hear. “I used to be able to filter that out.”
John felt a hot flash of warring guilt and love flare in his chest and brought his other hand up to pull Sherlock closer to him. “What do you need?” he asked.
“I need to think. I need to block it all out and think – we’re so close.”
“Let me,” John offered and grabbed Sherlock’s hands, pulling them away from his ears and replacing them with his own. Sherlock immediately grabbed John’s head and pulled it in towards his, pressing their foreheads tightly together. Then he took a great shuddering breath and went very still.
“That’s it,” John murmured very softly, thinking about how the screams in his nightmares could be soothed by Sherlock’s violin; sometimes all that was needed to filter out the noise was the distraction of something comfortable and familiar. Something you loved. John could do that - he could be the music to block out the screaming in Sherlock’s head. “Think about it. A foot but no body, dumped on a building site. Why just a foot? Why not the hand or the head? Think about why, Sherlock.”
“Oh, look at that, aren’t they sweet? Did it take you long to tame him, Dr Watson?” Anderson scoffed.
John didn’t look up, didn’t move at all, just kept his voice low and calm. “Why here? Why this site? And how did it get here? I’m not seeing any footprints around...actually...”
“Come on, Doctor? Does he get a reward if he performs well for you?”
John could feel the muscles in his shoulders tensing at Anderson’s goading but Sherlock’s fingers were moving gently where they were pressed to John’s head. His forehead was still tightly pushed against John’s own but it was starting to twitch and tilt, pulling at the press of skin, and John could tell that Sherlock was thinking now, his brain following the route mapped out for him in the clues the others could only hope to see.
“Yes, come on, Sherlock. You said yourself we were so close, we just need to be one step ahead – think about where we’ve got to get to.”
“Do you give him a treat when you get him home?” Anderson shouted at them.
John felt a deep and calm loathing settle in his chest. He gave himself a moment to breathe and check that Sherlock was lost in his thoughts before he slid his hand around the back of Sherlock’s head, his fingers tangling with wet hair and too warm skin. Gently, he shifted Sherlock’s head down to rest on his shoulder. He took his time, running his fingers across the back of that long, smooth neck as Sherlock went willingly. John settled him with a palm cupped soothingly over the nape of his neck and let him rest there and just think. He raised his eyes and looked across the mud and the rain and the din of the jackhammer at Anderson. His mouth was open as if to say something even more imbecilic but one look at John’s face shut him up before he uttered another word.
“Fuck off, Anderson,” John said coldly. Anderson looked like he was about to speak so John cut him off. “One more comment, and I promise it’ll hurt you more than it does either of us.”
Anderson’s mouth snapped shut and he took a step back. And another. “I’ve got to go and – and – look at the – the – umm - ”
Anderson fled and John buried his smile in Sherlock’s hair.
“You shouldn’t scare the Analysts,” Sherlock said quietly against his shoulder. John could hear the smile in the words.
“You piss them off all the time,” John defended himself.
“I offend them, I don’t scare them. That’s cruel, they’re only simple creatures, after all.”
John sniffed. “Yes, well, he was pissing me off.”
“You’re incredibly sexy when you’re furious,” Sherlock whispered and John snorted inelegantly. “I’m pretty sure it would have been kinder to just shoot him,” Sherlock continued. “He’s off somewhere now battling feelings of fear and confused sexual frustration and it’s entirely your fault.”
“You’re insane – and I never want to think of Anderson’s sexual frustrations ever again – least of all in conjunction with me in. So, have you got what you need?” John asked.
Sherlock raised his head, looked directly at John, and grinned.
“Oh, good,” John sighed. “Where are we off to?”
“Lestrade,” Sherlock called, spinning on his heel and stalking towards the Inspector. “You’d better come with us - we’ll need you to arrest the murderer now.”
“What? You know who it is? Sherlock?”
“Yes and where he’ll be,” Sherlock said, not stopping to see if they were following him. John rolled his eyes. Sherlock really enjoyed this bit far too much.
“Sherlock, wait? How?” Lestrade called after him.
“It’s clean,” Sherlock called back, turning and walking backwards so that he could look at them.
“What is?” Lestrade asked, hurrying to catch up with him.
“The foot. Look at this site; we’re practically swimming in mud and yet the foot is perfectly clean – not a spot on it,” he said as if this led to the most obvious conclusion. “No mud.” He disappeared under the police tape and headed for the cars. Lestrade paused and waited for John.
“Come on, Dr Frankenstein. Better get a move on.”
“Hey, I didn’t create him,” John said, holding his hands up.
“Maybe not but, god help us all, you brought him to life.”
With the case wrapped up and the murderer in custody, John sat in his favourite chair and let the evening unwind as it pleased back at 221b. He listened contentedly as Sherlock played out the conclusion on his violin. He could hear their case in the music - the frantic chase, the frustration of waiting, the lilting movement that was the evidence falling into place, then the slow swell of something much sweeter, much deeper, and Sherlock looked directly at John as he played. John happily looked back. It’d taken him a while, admittedly, but he was not ashamed of the love and fondness that he knew was blatantly obvious on his face whenever he looked at Sherlock like this.
“You’d be awful at poker,” Sherlock said as he lowered the violin to his lap.
John grinned. “Only against you.”
He stood up and walked over to where Sherlock sat looking up at him with an uncharacteristically soft smile. As John pushed between his knees to stand over him, Sherlock put the violin aside and moved forward to the edge of the chair. He wrapped his arms around John’s waist and nuzzled his cheek against his shirt.
John ran his fingers through Sherlock’s hair, bending down to kiss his head, cocooning them as he pulled Sherlock tighter against him. “You’re exhausted.”
“Your fingers are shaking with it.”
“An excellent observation,” Sherlock said and John could feel him smiling. He leaned down and tilted Sherlock’s face up to meet his own, kissing him soundly.
“Oh very flattering,” John sighed. “Come on, bed.”
Perhaps it was the way Sherlock stopped and stared. Perhaps it was the way he had learned to just lift his hand and touch, and John would always be within his reach when he needed him. Or perhaps it was the fact that Sherlock now regularly made him tea. All of these things meant John was real to Sherlock - that he was a bright, brilliant flash of colour that helped him to open his eyes and see and care about the technicolour world around him. More than that though, it was the way Sherlock slid over him as they lay in bed and covered John’s body with his own and looked down at John like he had never seen anything so amazing or so real. It never failed to steal John’s breath – but that was all right because a moment later Sherlock was guaranteed to lean down, nudge his lips softly against John’s and let him steal that breath right back again from Sherlock’s kiss.
But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.