Sherlock waited two full weeks after the explosion at the docks. A week and three days of that he spent in hospital, bullying his body out of bed and then up and down the hall, clutching his IV stand for balance. The four days on his own in 221b were spent in trying trying to talk himself out of it. It was very likely not a good idea.
He went to see Molly with a face tiger striped by flying glass, with stitches in his neck, in his left arm, in two places on his back and three on his right thigh. All of them pulled, and all of them itched. He wanted to rip them out. He'd started with the biggest one on his thigh, picking at the stiff thread with his fingernails, but he could hear John in his head. Sherlock, behave.
Molly backed up against the nearest table when she saw him, and then took a step forward. Reached out, let her hand drop.
"You know what I'm here for," Sherlock said.
"It's evidence," Molly said.
He stood and looked at her, unable to dredge up compliments or smiles or anything approaching human. He could offer to fuck her for it, but she didn't really want that, and he didn't have any romance in him. He could kill her for it, but that was a last resort.
"I need it," he said. "They've done all the tests they'll do. It will sit here and get freezer burn and no one will look at it ever again."
"Do you think--" She swallowed. "Are there more tests you can do? You can find out more?"
"Yes," he said, instantly. It was a lie she'd want to believe, and that was the best sort of lie.
When he boiled the bones clean, the flat smelled like soup all day.
Carpals, metacarpals, proximal phalanges, intermediate phalanges, distal phalanges.
Scaphoid, lunate, triquetral, pisiform, trapezium, trapezoid, capitate, hamate.
Sherlock needed a diagram in the end to do the wiring properly. The hand had seemed like so little of John, but it had so many pieces. That was like John, just like him.
Lestrade came to call two days later. Sherlock had the hand in his pocket, now wired, clean, polished, and smooth. It was warm. That was from the heat of Sherlock's body, but it was nice all the same.
Lestrade sat on the sofa. Both of them looked at John's chair.
"I'm sorry," Lestrade said, finally.
"If I blamed you, do you imagine you would still be alive?"
"No. Look. Hell. Do you want some tea?"
There was only one thing Sherlock wanted, but he nodded anyway. Lestrade was trying to be kind, and John-- John. John. Sherlock touched the bones in his pocket (warm, polished, smooth) and listened to the sounds of Lestrade making tea. They were nothing like the sounds of John making tea. If Sherlock knew where John's gun was, he would've shot Lestrade for not sounding like John making tea. But John's gun was gone along with the rest of him.
Mrs Hudson started eating dinner with him.
"At least you'll get one good meal a day, love."
That was stupid, of course. He did eat. Even during cases, he ate every other day or so and off cases he ate like a normal person. Well. He ate. Two or even three meals a day. Even before John. Sometimes he forgot, but it wasn't often.
So it didn't make any sense that all his clothes were looser.
Sally stopped calling him a freak, started glaring when other people tried it. That was the most disturbing thing that happened.
"You feel sorry for me," he said.
She'd started smoking, and he had no reason to refuse her offer of a fag. Breathing was unutterably boring these days.
"I liked him," she said.
"Yes. So did I."
She looked at him with her face arranged into lines and angles like hieroglyphs, like linear A, like John's handwriting, which was atrocious. He reached into his pocket and held John's hand, smoothpolishedwarm. He couldn't show her. It would be bad if she knew, if anyone knew, though he could no longer remember why.
John's therapist had trouble with her husband. They talked about it like mature, responsible adults, which was the base of the trouble; they would be better off shouting at each other and getting over it instead of talking in endless circles. Sherlock told her so.
"We're not here to talk about me," she said, with a calm smile.
Sherlock wasn't here to talk at all.
"Maybe you'd like to tell me about how it happened?" she said.
"Oh, I killed him. That's obvious."
He was here to see this room and this woman, to gather up facts and details. John spent so much time here, and Sherlock felt there ought to be more of him left. In the end, it was just a room, and she was just another idiot, and it was clear she didn't know anything about John at all.
"I kept him with me. It's the same thing, bound to happen. Inevitable. I'd do it again. I'm not a selfless man."
"Do you feel guilty?"
Guilt was irrelevant, and he was done. He'd seen everything.
John's mother came to collect his things. Sherlock wouldn't let her in the flat.
Harry came to shout at him, and did, for a solid ten minutes in the doorway, until he said, "I have a lot of vodka upstairs."
The vodka was meant for an experiment (long term effects of different types of alcohol on human flesh, pity he hadn't thought of it before that body turned up in the whiskey barrel), but this was also an experiment of sorts. They got drunk, so very drunk. Sherlock was much bigger, but Harry's tolerance was stunning. Neither of them could stand by the end. Harry pissed in an ashtray rather than get up and find the loo, which Sherlock found to be a bloody impressive feat of coordination under the circumstances.
"I miss him," Harry said. "I miss him so much and I didn't even like him. That's awful, not to like your own brother."
"I hate my brother," Sherlock said, and for the first time he wasn't sure that was true.
"John was better than your brother."
That was certainly true.
Harry cried on him and got snot on his shirt and fell asleep like that, both of them on the floor, leaning back against the sofa. In the morning, Harry kissed him. Sherlock had never had anyone's tongue but his own in his mouth before, and he didn't enjoy the experience.
"You like women," he said. It was a stupid and obvious thing to say, but his head hurt so very badly and there was clearly no water left anywhere in his body, which technically meant that he was dead. He felt it.
"This isn't about liking. I don't like you. I hate you. You made him different."
I made him happy, Sherlock thought, but he let her kiss him again and grab his thigh and might have let her do more had not Mrs Hudson come in with a tray of muffins and coffee and porridge. Harry went to vomit in the bathroom, and then the three of them had breakfast together.
Sherlock held John's hand, and thought, I did make you happy, didn't I? He was almost sure.
Mycroft let himself in without knocking.
"You're putting weight back on, I see," they both said, at the same time.
Sherlock had been working on that. It would be inconvenient to buy new clothes.
Mycroft sat next to him on the sofa and put his arm around him.
Sherlock said nothing, did nothing. Mycroft stayed all afternoon.
As the light was waning and going dusty through the windows, Sherlock said, "I have his hand."
"I know," Mycroft said. "I think his mother might like his medals, don't you?"
"All right," Sherlock said, at length. "But just those. Nothing else."
The sun sank. The light faded.
"You're losing yourself," Mycroft said.
"There is nothing in me worth finding."
Mycroft's hand tightened on his shoulder. "I disagree."
He solved cases. It was easier than ever. He didn't talk to anyone about them, not even the skull. Sometimes he talked to John in his head, but not often. He was a bit afraid John would start talking back.
John's bones got smoother and more polished, varnished a shade darker from the oils in Sherlock's skin.
He came home one day and found John sitting on the sofa.
He left again, immediately. John followed him out into the street.
Past two tube stations and down to the nearest park, Sherlock, wait, wait, until Sherlock finally rounded on him near a winter wasted rosebush and shouted, "I'm mad enough already!"
He wondered why he was resisting. Madness would surely be a relief. But it wasn't real. John's hand was real. If he had to pick between a John his mind made up and this real piece of John, he would pick the real thing.
He sat on a bench. John sat beside him.
"I'm sorry," John said. "I had to go. It was the perfect opportunity." There was more, about Moriarty and a final confrontation and his brain in a jar if Sherlock wanted it.
"I have you in my pocket," Sherlock said.
John snorted. "I'm not that short."
Sherlock showed him.
There was a lot of quiet, a roaring sort of quiet that Sherlock generally heard when it wasn't important to hear things, when it was important to see things. He saw John reach for the hand with a hand that wasn't there anymore. He saw John's very wide eyes and the fingers of the hand he did have stroking over the bones that now, really, belonged to Sherlock.
John in his mind would be whole, would be less pale, would have hair not dyed muddy brown, would be wearing a rather pathetic jumper and not a suit.
"I have a lot of broth," Sherlock said. "In the freezer. I didn't eat it, I promise, but I couldn't throw it away."
"I had to boil the bones clean."
"Ah. John broth."
"I think I'm quite happy you didn't eat any."
Sherlock nodded again. That was right. He knew John wouldn't want him to do that. He'd got it right.
They threw out the broth. It was all right because he had all the rest of John.
He pulled John to his room after dinner. They took off their shoes, and John got into bed with him. He pressed as close to John as anyone could and said, "I think I almost had sex with your sister."
John squeezed him, arm over his back, arm around his shoulders, hand on the back of his neck, lack-of-hand rubbing at his spine. "Glad you didn't do that either."
For the first time in months, Sherlock knew what he was doing. He was saying the worst things on purpose. He could always say the worst things to John.
"I want to cut your feet off so you won't leave again. I wouldn't," he added quickly, dissatisfied with both words and sentiment. That wasn't what he wanted at all. He wanted some assurance that John would stay, some proof that removed all doubt. He didn't know how to ask for that, or what form it could possibly take.
John kissed his temple. "You're angry."
He spread his legs so John fitted between them and crossed his ankles behind John's knees.
"You were leaving me," John said, softly. "You were obsessed with him. You hardly saw me anymore. You hadn't taken a case from Lestrade for two months. And then the explosion, and... I woke up in a private hospital. Mycroft, of course."
Sherlock nodded. Of course it was Mycroft. He didn't care right now. It was still possible he might not care about anything else ever again except this, except John, except more of John, and he vaguely regretted throwing away the broth.
He pushed his hands under John's shirt. Not enough. He unbuttoned John's shirt and spread it open, pressed his ear and cheek over John's heart till he could feel the thud in his teeth. Not enough. He took his own shirt off as well, and that was closer.
John sounded uncertain, a bit of a catch in his voice. It was probably something to do with nudity and sex and how John liked women, but, as Harry had said, this wasn't about liking, or at least not that sort of liking.
"I don't care about sex," Sherlock said. "That's up to you, I will if you want, or not, but I would very much like to be naked with you and sleep with you every night for the rest of my life."
John ran his hand through Sherlock's hair, fingers rubbing gently against his scalp. Sherlock could feel him thinking and kept quiet.
"Naked, all right," John said, slowly. "Sleep, yes, great. Sleep sounds brilliant right now. We'll talk about the rest of your life when you're a little more..."
He trailed off, and there was a brief silence.
"Sane?" Sherlock suggested.
"Yeah, I think that's the word I was looking for. Thanks."
It was somehow much warmer with all their clothes off. Sherlock could feel John's soft penis against his thigh, the brush of pubic hair, the soft skin below his ribs, John's breath in the crook of his neck. Intimate touches he hadn't been allowed before. He laid his hand over the lacework scar on John's shoulder, shifted John's arm so that his lack-of-hand rested between them, against Sherlock's chest.
John's hand was still under the bed where he'd stashed it as they undressed. He held it up to the end of John's wrist, not quite touching. It fit, and that meant John was real. Didn't it? No. Dubious logic at best, wishful thinking at worst.
He thought about texting Mycroft, but if his brain could make him believe John was alive and naked and in bed with him, it could certainly make him see texts that weren't there. Or hallucinate phone calls. Or, oh, anything. If Mycroft did not confirm John's story, Sherlock was hallucinating, but there were any number of ways to establish he had gone mad.
There was no way to prove a negative. Sherlock spent the next five hours trying to think of one and watched the fabric of reality fray around him. Of course, he knew he might have lost his mind ages ago, might be strapped down in an asylum, safely out of the way, living on intravenous fluid and tranquilizers. Anyone might be.
At three, he shook John's shoulder until John squinted at him and thumped his chest and slurred a sleepy question.
"How do I know you're real?" Sherlock said.
John blinked at him for quite a while, and then his face screwed up into an exasperated scowl. "Oh my god, you tit. Shut up and go to sleep."
John wrapped more firmly around him and dragged Sherlock's head down until it lay on his chest. He pulled Sherlock's hair sharply and then stroked it.
Sherlock felt giddy. He grinned his joy into John's skin, so wide his lips stretched back and his teeth touched John's collar bone. There was no part of Sherlock's mind that would ever call himself a tit, even in the interests of verisimilitude.
Eventually, John's hand stilled, and his mild and unassuming snores filled the room. Sherlock set the skeletal hand aside and laced his fingers through John's, rough and warm and alive.