It is an iridescent globe that looks as if it holds an entire world inside it. The colour of unshed tears, the ball contains all of Sherlock's sadness and sorrow; his melancholy, his woe, his heartache.
He doesn't quite understand it.
John understands. John understands and bears the weight of the tiny world of Sherlock's sorrow just as he bears his own, and bears Harry's, from time to time. He understands and he feels, something which Sherlock still can’t quite bring himself to do on a day-to-day basis.
Sherlock needs John on cases to remind him of things he forgets to consider, the things he forgets to even remember. ‘People have died, Sherlock,’ John shouts one evening, his face tight and lined, his body tense. There’s a vicious exchange between the two of them; snapped and bitten out, but Sherlock remembers, after -- he remembers that John is feeling what troubles Sherlock himself.
‘People have died,’ Sherlock tells Moriarty, his hands wrapped round John’s gun, John who is now draped in semtex, good, kind, essential John who reminds him of the things -- the important things -- that he forgets.
When Moriarty leaves, Sherlock presses his hand to John’s chest, over the ball, over John’s heart, but John already knows the extent of Sherlock’s sorrow over the whole affair and his legs give out under the weight of it.
Sometimes Sherlock asks to sit with it; to sit with the thing that John keeps in his shirt pocket, nestled close to his chest. He retreats into his room and sits on the edge of his bed, his bare feet flat on the floorboards. He holds the ball in the palm of one hand, his fingers together but stretched out tight, in the way that Mycroft taught him to hold his hand when feeding their horses when he was four. Sherlock sits and stares at the ball, his eyes narrowed, his head on the side as he contemplates it in the same focused way he contemplates everything.
Eventually he tightens his arachnidian fingers around the sphere and closes his eyes. He draws in a breath and allows himself to feel the days and weeks and months and years’ worth of pain and sadness he has collected. His body is wracked with dry sobs and the little ball Sherlock clutches loses its bright pearlescence as Sherlock cries the tears it contains. His heart tightens and it hurts, his breath coming in sharp gasps, his head throbbing. He stands it for as long as he can and then he calls John, who comes running, and takes his sorrow away with a chaste kiss and murmured words.
‘Are you alright?’ he whispers, and Sherlock nods, feeling weak and small and sad. He frowns with his eyes closed when he thinks how much stronger John is than him to carry two lots of sorrow at any one time, but then he knows what John would say about that and he relaxes, and feels better.
‘We’re built for different things, Sherlock,’ John would say, with that lovely disarming smile of his and a pat of reassurance to Sherlock’s thigh.
‘Are you sure?’ is what John actually says, and Sherlock neither nods nor shakes his head, but he does pull John down onto the bed and presses himself against John’s back and bum and legs. He rests the tip of his nose against the back of John’s neck. Sherlock’s fingers seek out the dense ball that John holds in his hand and he drops it back into John’s shirt pocket. Sherlock rests his palm over the ball, over John’s chest, over John’s heart, and allows himself to be comforted by the steady, ever-present, always constant rhythm.
He never quite knows what to say.
He settles for a mumbled ‘thank you,’ which cannot possibly convey what he really means, which cannot possibly convey the hundred thousand things that John is to Sherlock.
But John always understands. John understands and turns to look at Sherlock, presses his fingers lightly to the side of Sherlock’s throat. ‘You’re welcome,’ he replies with a sad smile that will be sad until he has adjusted once again to the heavy, tiny globe in his shirt pocket.
Sherlock kisses him, his heart and his head lighter.
‘Thank you,’ he says again, and John understands.