The first time Sherlock and John shared a bed was an accident. A storm had gotten them trapped, along with too many others, more people than the inn had rooms. John offered their room with its two beds to a set of parents and their kids. Sherlock scowled at him when they were put into another room, one bed. Quite a big bed, though. “If you don’t like it, you can sleep on the floor, or in the chair. I’m sleeping here.” John was grumpy, and why shouldn’t he be, after a week of running around after Sherlock, not understanding half of what was happening as usual, and then getting soundly stomped on by two enormous men – not even the right men, in the end. He eased himself onto the bed. He hadn’t been too badly hurt but he had some spectacular bruises around his ribs. At the sight of him wincing when the boot-shaped knot on his hip settled against the mattress, Sherlock stopped complaining. He sat on the hard backed chair and balanced his laptop on his knees. Eventually he got too frustrated with the slow speed of the hotel’s internet connection and slammed the laptop shut with a sigh. He paced around the room a bit, looking out the window at the rain bouncing off the cobblestones. Boring here. Dull. Quaint. It was a good case, but it was over now, and he’d been wrong and gotten John hurt, and that always made it difficult for him to settle. He turned to gripe at John for not allowing him to bring any back-up nicotine, and found that John had fallen asleep on top of the covers, still in his jeans and hiking boots, legs dangling over the edge of the bed.
At the sight, Sherlock felt a bit deflated. John, who was always so useful and so brave, and here he was, hurt again and it was Sherlock’s fault again. It obviously hadn’t been the shopkeeper and his brother, so obvious, how could he have made such a stupid mistake? Sending John after large, dangerous men alone. Sherlock remembered John’s smile, a little bloody, his wry laugh as Sherlock had passed him a handkerchief and he’d shoved it against his bleeding nose, tilting his head back. “Man’s fist was the size of my face!” and he’d giggled again, bringing a grin from Sherlock as response, even as he was worrying over the state of John’s ribs.
Remembering this, Sherlock thought it might be courteous to try to make John more comfortable, so he knelt beside the bed and pulled John’s shoes off, tucking them neatly under the foot of the bed as John himself would do. He shifted John’s legs a bit so they were properly on the bed, and reasoned that he had no way of getting John under the covers without waking him, so that was really as much as he could do. It was at that moment the power went out, leaving Sherlock standing in the dark. Nothing else for it, he supposed, and he tucked himself under the covers beside John. Sherlock typically slept across a bed, but he confined himself rather well to one side and fell asleep quickly in the total dark of the room, so much different than his room at home, where light always bled through from one place or another.
The power outage continued through the early morning, so that when Sherlock next opened his eyes it was still pitch black in the room, and the only sounds were the muffled rain and John’s – crying? Sherlock propped himself on an elbow and peered at John through the darkness. He was shivering, not crying, and no wonder, as Sherlock breathed out and realized he could see his breath. And John with no covers. Sherlock placed a hand on John’s shoulder and tapped him until his eyes fluttered open.
“Jesus! What the hell—it’s bloody freezing in here—what the hell?”
“The power’s gone out so I suppose the heating’s gone with it. You fell asleep on top of the covers, get under so you don’t freeze.”
John didn’t argue, just stood up, flicked the sheets and blanket back, and dived back in. Sherlock drew in a breath at the cold lines of John’s body invading the space.
“Sorry,” John breathed. “I’ll warm up in a second,” and his teeth were actually beginning to chatter. Sherlock laid quiet and still as John’s shivers subsided with the warmth of the blankets and Sherlock’s body spread into him. John fell back to sleep within minutes, but Sherlock found he couldn’t. He stared at the ceiling and listened to John’s breathing and the rain and felt suddenly impossibly lonely.
A car crash. Of all the things to land them both in the hospital. John would be amused if he weren’t bloody terrified. He can only lie on his own gurney and do his best to spot Mycroft or Lestrade or someone he knew, anyone who could tell him what the hell was going on with Sherlock. He tried to capture the attention of a nurse but failed. If they’d just get him off this backboard, and take this stupid neck brace off, he would go find the bloody idiot himself. His own emergency contact was Harry, but the nurses had tried her and gotten no response. He’d then said call Greg Lestrade of Scotland Yard. No one had come back to him since.
John let his eyes shut against the unreasonably bright fluorescents of the hallway. When he opened them again it was to several concerned, but strange, faces. “There we are, Doctor Watson, do your best to stay with us, all right?”
What was she on about, he’d just shut his eyes for a minute. Worried about concussion? He wanted to ask but his tongue felt thick and too heavy and his mouth was dry. Morphine? What for?
“John, oh my god!” Ah, so Harry had checked her messages. And was being predictably histrionic. “Oh my god, Johnny,” and her face swam into his vision, tears and shock and something else – and suddenly a cold fear crept into John’s belly.
“Harry, what’s wrong with Sherlock?” he got the words out but they sounded wrong, slurred.
Tears came faster down Harry’s face and John tried to shake his head, no, but it was still braced… oh. “What’s wrong with me?” Harry disappeared and returned a few moments later with a doctor who looked grimly down at John. He could only process snippets of the information. His jaw was broken, his clavicle, 3 ribs, need to test for spinal damage –
When he opened his eyes again it was darker, quieter. He was in a proper room, and the brace was off. He wiggled his toes experimentally and felt a nearly crushing wave of relief when they cooperated. He raised a hand and felt his face, and immediately wished he hadn’t. He made as much of a noise as he could manage with the gauze packed in his mouth.
“Shhh, you can’t talk.” John flicked his eyes to the side, and there was Sherlock, perched on the edge of the other bed, but in his own clothes so he was no longer a patient. Both of his eyes were blackened and his wrist was wrapped. John wanted to ask if he was all right, but Sherlock sprang from the bed and pressed a finger against John’s lips. “You really can’t talk, John. They’ve had to wire part of your jaw.” John just fixes him with a look, and Sherlock shakes his head. “I’m fine, you imbecile, you’re the one who nearly died. I’m not being dramatic, don’t give me that look, you’ve been really injured.” And his voice trembles, not much, but enough for John to know it must be true.
“It’s fine,” Sherlock whispers. John feels tears pricking the corners of his eyes and squeezes them shut. He feels Sherlock’s fingers on his wrist, delicate. He wants to move his other hand to cover Sherlock’s, but his body is still not cooperating with his brain. He falls asleep under the haze of narcotic painkillers, exhaustion, and the warm pressure of Sherlock’s hand.
He is in the hospital for far longer than he wants to be. He’s healed enough to be unhappy and uncomfortable but not healed enough to be able to go home. As a result, he’s grumpy. His jaw is unwired finally, leaving him free to complain vocally instead of scrawling notes which Sherlock usually balls up and throws away, though a few notes make Sherlock smirk, and those ones find their way into Sherlock’s coat pocket. He avails himself of the ability to use his voice to loudly and repeatedly state his desire to go home. “I hate being in the hospital. I could go home, they’re not doing anything here I can’t do for myself at home!”
“Isn’t there a saying about doctors making the worst patients?” Sherlock observes idly. He’s hardly left John’s side during visiting hours, but he sits and pecks at his phone, spies on hospital staff, and is generally being much more annoying than he is helpful or comforting. John’s stitches are itchy and pulling, and he just wants a decent, strong cup of tea and a meal that didn’t come on a plastic tray.
“Sherlock, why don’t you just go? There’s no need for you to be here everyday. And frankly you’re working my nerves.” He doesn’t mean to snap, but he’s really had enough, and Sherlock’s caged-tiger energy is not helping one bit.
Sherlock’s head snaps up from his phone and for one brief moment, he looks hurt, but it’s gone before John is even sure he saw it. Sherlock sweeps out of the room without another word, and John lies there, cranky and in pain and now alone. Probably better that way, he thinks, and pushes the button for a dose of morphine to carry him to sleep.
He wakes in the night to someone shifting his pillows. Nurses never want to let you sleep, he thinks blearily, before he opens his eyes and sees the familiar shape of Sherlock hovering in the dark beside his bed. Apparently fluffing his pillows. “Sherlock, what the hell—“
“Sorry, John. I know you didn’t want me here, but I couldn’t stand it. The flat’s too quiet without you.”
“Am I that loud?” he jokes, breath catching in his throat as Sherlock’s fingers gently brush his hair as he smoothes the stiff cotton of the pillowcase.
Sherlock seems to be contemplating the question, standing beside the bed, looking down at John for a split second before looking away. “When you’re there, I can’t hear myself think.”
John struggles for a moment but realizes, it’s a compliment, somehow, a good thing – if he hasn’t got a case, he doesn’t want to think. “I’ll be home soon. They have to let me go home,” and there’s desperation in his voice, like he’s asking Sherlock to make it happen – maybe he is.
“I’ll take care of it in the morning. For the time, though, budge over. I’m staying here.” And he is, indeed, shucking his coat and throwing it over the chair, pulling down the sheets and sliding himself in beside John, who shuffles over as much as he can manage, but it is a narrow hospital bed, and most of Sherlock is touching most of John. Sherlock turns on his side, facing John. “You’re high on morphine, aren’t you? You can just pretend this didn’t happen, if you want. But, god, John, I need—“ but he doesn’t finish, can’t finish. John can’t move much anyway, so when Sherlock completes his thoughts by sliding his arm over John’s stomach, and tucking John’s head under his own chin, he doesn’t wriggle or try to get away. If anything, he pushes a bit closer in so his head is against Sherlock’s chest, and he can almost hear Sherlock’s thoughts quiet. With Sherlock’s warmth and the morphine coursing through him, John drifts back to sleep, and is only dimly aware that Sherlock is shaking, whispering into John’s hair. “I was so scared.”
“Mycroft has an enormous place and no one lives there but him. We’re not spending money on a hotel, Sherlock.”
Sherlock knows he’s being petulant, but he likes 221B, things make sense there, and now it’s flooded and they have to get out for a whole week. “A week, John! A week with Mycroft?”
“A week in Mycroft’s bloody gigantic posh house, yes, how utterly terrible. Pack your stuff, Sherlock, or I’ll do it for you, and god knows I won’t do it right.”
Sherlock stomps to his room and throws his belongings in a case. He doesn’t like going to Mycroft’s, the house is too much like the one they grew up in, just big empty rooms. Sherlock doesn’t like empty rooms. He likes clutter, and other people’s footsteps in the kitchen. At least John will be there, too.
When they arrive, Sherlock is thrilled to learn Mycroft is traveling for work, and might not even be home before the week is up. He spends the first two days combing over the house for anything of substance he can use against Mycroft. He tries and spectacularly fails. The only rooms which seem likely to contain any sort of personal effects are Mycroft’s study and bedroom, and both have very sophisticated security locks which Sherlock cannot seem to outsmart. John finds him one evening, sitting on the floor with his back against the opposite wall, scowling at the study door.
“Still can’t get it open?” he stated, and Sherlock ignored it, because why must John always, always state the blatantly, irritatingly obvious?
“It’s locked me out now for making too many attempts.”
John settles on the floor next to Sherlock and cracks open his own bottle of beer. He didn’t bother bringing one for Sherlock, who wouldn’t have taken it, but it’s somehow still irritating that he didn’t. “So we’re hoping that scowling at the door will change its mind and it’ll let us in? Why do you even want to get in there?”
“Because he’s trying to keep me out.”
“To be fair, Sherlock, I don’t think he installed that door just because we’d be here. Mycroft tries to keep everyone out.”
“That doesn’t make me want to get in there any less.”
John gets back to his feet. “Come on, Sherlock, don’t just sit here and pout. Let’s take advantage of the huge telly.”
There are no cases, and they are too far from town to keep getting taxis, and the housekeeper brings groceries and makes food, and this house is so quiet, and Sherlock can’t sleep here. He wanders the halls and briefly contemplates just breaking down the study door, but he’s quite certain some of Mycroft’s men will appear then, and he’d rather not be tackled again.
Sherlock can hear John at the other end of the hallway, humming from the bathroom. John seems to be treating this whole thing as if it were a holiday. He’s watched football on Mycroft’s obscene television, yet another thing in this overlarge house that Mycroft doesn’t even use, doesn’t need, just has the way Mycroft has to have everything. Sherlock stands and listens to John’s tuneless song for a few moments before retreating to the library, the only room he feels any kind of content in. He has already rearranged all the books twice, into a system which he hopes Mycroft won’t understand, and though it gives him a weak pleasure to imagine Mycroft being unable to find a book he wants, he knows it is a rather small victory. He thinks he could settle in enough to read a book if it weren’t so quiet in here. He can’t even hear John humming. Can’t hear John at all, anymore, so he’s probably gone to bed.
Nothing at all going on, anywhere in the world. Nothing interesting. Sherlock wishes for a cigarette, wishes for more than that really, his mind whirring without really focusing on anything. It’s too loud in his head and too quiet outside it. Moments like this, he wishes he could be more like John. John, who is quiet and still at the other end of the hallway, sleeping or reading in bed, John who has troubles but seems to know how to handle them. John who is not where Sherlock is, something which is suddenly intolerable. Sherlock jumps up from the chair and heads back down the hall. John has his bedroom door closed and it draws Sherlock up short. For no reason he can understand, he suddenly feels like he’s going to cry.
“I hate this house!” he shouts, and turns and goes to his own room – the guest room, not his room, he doesn’t have a room here. It’s decorated sparsely, but in designer shades, and just like every other room in Mycroft’s house, it is cold and quiet and just for show. It is so much like their home growing up. Sherlock don’t touch that, Sherlock stay out of there, Sherlock your mother won’t like it if you’re dirty, Sherlock won’t your father be proud of you if keep your room neat.
He throws himself a bit dramatically across the bed, hanging his head off the edge and staring upside down at the wall beneath the window, where there is absolutely nothing. He doesn’t move from this position even when he hears John knock tentatively. When he doesn’t answer, John pushes the door open anyway. “Uh, Sherlock? Can I come in?” and just comes in anyway, even though Sherlock does not respond. He lifts his head and levels a glare at John. He intends to be angry but he sees John in his pajamas, his hair a little mussed from being in bed, and he looks so sleepy and warm that it takes Sherlock’s breath. Why should that be so?
“You, uh, all right then?”
Sherlock nods, sits upright and kicks the stupid duvet to the bottom of the bed. “I’m sorry if I woke you.”
“Nah, wasn’t sleeping yet.” John takes a few tentative steps towards the bed. “So. Why do you hate this house so much?”
“It’s too quiet.”
“Turn on the telly. Or put your iPod on that ridiculously expensive sound system.”
Sherlock crosses his arms over his chest and makes a hmpf noise. “That’s not what I mean. It’s… there’s nothing interesting here!”
“I’m here. So, okay, I see what you mean.” John is not really joking, he thinks he is boring, boring to Sherlock, and that’s about the saddest thing Sherlock can think of at this moment, and it makes him turn away from John and pull a pillow over his head.
“Go back to bed, John,” he instructs. The overhead light snaps off and Sherlock lies in the dark, hearing only the strange squishy sound of his own ear against the pillow and the hammering of his own heart. He’s startled when he feels John’s weight settle on the other side of the bed. His voice was muffled by the pillow, what did John think he’d said? He removes the pillow and tries to clarify. “I meant your own bed, John.”
John has actually laid down now and worked his feet under the flat sheet which is, of course, impeccably tucked in despite Sherlock’s explicit instructions to the housekeeper to leave his room alone. “Can’t do, my own bed’s at our flooded flat, remember? These are all guest beds. Fair game.”
And Sherlock knows that John is remembering what he’d said in the hospital weeks ago, that John helped the quiet go away, made it something different, something bearable. And he’s here to help. And it makes Sherlock’s chest hurt, strangely, that he and John are here together, lying flat on their backs, side by side, staring at the ludicrously vaulted ceiling. “It’s like the house we grew up in. It’s so bare. Like no one lives here at all.”
“It does feel… clinical, I suppose.”
“It’s cold, John, it’s cold and lonely.” And of course he means the house but doesn’t he also mean his childhood, his brother, doesn’t he also mean this thing inside himself? Sherlock sighs and rolls to his side, facing away from John, and focuses on the pattern of John’s breathing. How is it possible that one man’s breathing can so alter the world? They are quiet for some time, and Sherlock thinks John might have dropped off to sleep, so he turns to look and finds John, eyes closed, but there’s enough fine tension in his body that he’s awake. Awake and thinking, thinking so loudly that Sherlock can’t believe he didn’t hear it before.
“John? Are you all right?” He nods, doesn’t open his eyes. Sherlock turns away again, and nearly comes undone when John suddenly shifts and his arm is around Sherlock, his mouth is pressing against the nape of Sherlock’s neck, just huffing out warm damp breaths against his skin, his hand resting on Sherlock’s hip, and Sherlock is barely able to breathe.
“You don’t have to be lonely anymore, Sherlock.”
He didn’t answer, couldn’t answer, but he placed his hand over John’s and that seemed to be enough, because John didn’t move away. All night, he didn’t move away, and Sherlock slept as deeply as he could ever remember doing, because he wasn’t alone.
John started awake, ears ringing, gasping for breath. Again. His recovery time is faster these days, in under a minute he’s orientated himself to the fact that he’s home, he’s safe, it was a dream. Then the anger sets in, fades away to resignation, and he’s sinking back into the pillows, fully in control of himself, in under two minutes. If the nightmares won’t stop, at least he can manage them. He hasn’t even roused Sherlock this time. He gazes over at Sherlock’s sleeping form, and sighs as he tries to squash the desire to snuggle into his chest until he throws a sleepy arm around him and soothes him back to sleep. But it’s been years since John returned from Afghanistan, and there simply has to be a limit to the amount of coddling John can expect Sherlock to provide before he decides this isn’t worth it.
John lives in constant fear of the day that Sherlock decides he isn’t worth it.
He can’t go back to sleep, and can’t lie here, longing for the man he loves. He’s an arm’s length away but it’s too far for John to reach. So he gets up and wanders the flat, idly tidying up. 5 years of living together and Sherlock has not done anything like compromise when it comes to housekeeping. He’s every bit as disorganized as he always was, but does keep experiments more in his old bedroom than the kitchen, these days. It is to this room that John comes when he cannot sleep, when he cannot bring himself to wake Sherlock. He sits in the room, surrounded by books and papers and discarded experiments, and he thinks that if ever a room could resemble someone’s mind, this room is it. This room is Sherlock, and in here he can sleep.
Sherlock frowns at John over the kitchen table. “You slept in my study again?”
“Why do you ask me questions you already know the answer to?”
“Fine. So, you slept in my study again. Care to tell me why?”
“Not particularly,” John pushes his chair back and pours his unfinished tea down the sink. He leaves for work without another word. Sherlock walks into his study and reads where John walked around for a bit, running his fingers over the spines of books, shifting a few things to dig out a blanket, and curled up in the chair where he eventually fell asleep. Sherlock sinks into the chair and takes the same position he imagines John was in, legs tucked up, head in the crook of his own arm. He stays like this until the light has changed, and John will be home from work, and Sherlock should at least have changed out of his pajamas.
They pass the evening in silence, Sherlock working on an article. He’s had several offers from academic publishers over the contents of The Science of Deduction, and he’s decided he may as well write up some of the studies he does. If nothing else, it can supplement their income. Sherlock never worried about money before John. Someone usually fixed things for him. To be honest, someone would probably still fix things for him, but John doesn’t like to live that way. He wants to be self-sufficient, and he can’t make as much money as he’s worth because of Sherlock’s demands on his time. He should pull his weight. Make things more equitable.
John is reading a novel, something he didn’t do much when they’d first met. Over time, Sherlock had realized he simply was out of the habit of reading for recreation, having had no time or resources for this hobby while he was in the army. But John is an avid reader now he has time and a library card. He likes to work his way through an author’s entire catalogue and is currently immersed in Neil Gaiman. Tonight, he’s turning pages so slowly there’s no way he’s actually paying attention to what he reads. Sherlock bites the inside of his lip and decides, to hell with it, this fight needs to happen.
“You know, if you’re going to sleep in my study every other night, maybe we ought to put a bed back in there. It’s not good for your shoulder to curl up in that chair.” They’d moved Sherlock’s bed to John’s room when it became their room, and sold the other.
“Leave it alone, Sherlock!” John snaps, clenches his jaw.
“I’m just pointing out the obvious, John. There’s no need to get angry with me.”
“I’m not…” he heaves a sigh. “I’m not angry with you, okay? I just don’t want to talk about it.” Seeing Sherlock start to retort he closes his eyes and breathes, “Please,” and Sherlock wants to poke it, wants to open it up and find out why it’s broken, but John said please, and he looks so tired. Sherlock nods and goes back to writing. John sits with his head tipped back, eyes closed, novel forgotten. Eventually he rises. “Going to bed.” Sherlock doesn’t look up, just nods. ‘Go to bed, then,’ he thinks, petulant, spiteful. ‘Lie there alone and see how it feels.’ But to John he just says, “Good night.”
He listens to John settle himself in for the night, and picks up his violin. He plays something soothing, something sweet, and hopes that John hears it for what it is.
John lies in bed with his hands over his eyes. He presses the heels of his palms in until he sees bursts of color, and hopes it’ll keep him from crying. He hates crying. And the sad, lonely notes of Sherlock’s music surround him; press in until his chest shakes with holding back sobs. God, what is wrong with him? He hasn’t felt this alone or out of place since he first got back, when he lived in that miserable bedsit and limped around town feeling like a wounded animal. Everything had changed when he met Sherlock, even before they realized that they loved each other, and stopped being friends and became… whatever they were now. They’d never really bothered defining it. That had been fine with John. Really, it had. He hadn’t been a very good boyfriend to the women who came before Sherlock. Christ, some of them he couldn’t even remember clearly. It’d always been Sherlock first.
He’d gone into this with his eyes wide open. He didn’t expect Sherlock to change. Didn’t really want him to. But he did need. He needed, and he couldn’t ask, because it was hardly fair to expect Sherlock to suddenly become something he wasn’t. John just needed to be stronger. He burrowed his head under the pillow to block out the melancholy strings. He fell asleep alone. Sherlock never came to bed.
Sherlock has never been that bothered about expressing his emotions. Even after 3 years together, he's only told John the words "I love you" once. And John seemed to accept that, understood it. At the beginning, maybe he thought Sherlock would change. Or that he could handle it. He loved Sherlock so much, then, that maybe he didn't imagine that anything could change. But maybe 3 years of Sherlock is too much.
Or not enough. Because now John is distant, and the nightmares are back, and judging by the amount of time it takes him to get up the stairs, he's not far from needing his cane again. And Sherlock wishes he could find the words, wishes he could be better for John. He wishes he could fix this. But he tries to speak and loses his courage. He lays alone in their bed, listens to John pacing the flat. And he thinks of what he wants to say.
"I wish I could still be all that you need, when you find yourself gripped by terror, your heart racing, palms sweating, waking up in the middle of the night panting, terrified. I wish it could be like it used to be, and you could just press your face into my back, and wrap your arms around me and cling. I used to be the only solid thing in your world. The only thing that worked. But I don't work, not anymore. Now you toss and turn beside me, but you never ask for comfort, and I don't offer it -- why don't I offer it? You pace, and in my mind I take each step with you. I don't sleep. I don't speak. I just listen to your footsteps all over the house, and hold back the urge to run to you, to grab you and make you let me back in."
He feels John slip into bed, without words, without touch. He reaches across the space between them, and finds himself holding his breath as he steals his hand into John's. John tenses but doesn't pull away, and that's all the courage he needs to finally whisper, into the dark and quiet of their bedroom. "Let me back in."
“Let me back in.” It’s a plea, it’s the softest thing John’s ever heard him say. And it shocks him, because he didn’t realize that’s what he’d been doing. He’d been keeping Sherlock out. All he was trying to do was hide his weakness, to stave off the inevitable Sherlock tiring of him and his needs. But Sherlock’s hand is in his, and it’s trembling, and John feels a crushing weight break free, and he’s crying, god he’s bawling, and Sherlock’s arms are around him and he’s kissing his cheeks and smoothing his hair and murmuring something soothing, and John remembers the violin, the songs, they weren’t sad at all, were they? They were Sherlock, wrapping him in music because John pulled away from being wrapped in his arms.
“This is all my fault, isn’t it?” he choked, his hands grabbing fists full of Sherlock’s shirt. “God, Sherlock, I don’t know what’s wrong with me!”
Sherlock just held him closer, rubbed his back.
“You’ve been trying to help me, haven’t you? I didn’t even see it.”
Sherlock is out of his depth here, but he has to try. He loves John and John is in pain. “You don’t have to be strong all the time, John. You don’t have to hide from me.”
“You shouldn’t have to do this,” John mumbles, not crying anymore, and Sherlock grabs his hand to stop him covering his face. Sherlock strokes his thumbs over John’s cheeks, taking the tears away. He kisses the places the tears were.
“Don’t do that,” he whispers. “Don’t hide it. God, John. Of course I have to—I’m your partner, John, and part of that is taking care of you. I’m rubbish at it, apparently, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to do it.”
There is a long silence where Sherlock can almost feel John collecting his thoughts, and he keeps quiet, lets John roll away from him to catch his breath, to clear his head. He is holding his own breath as John’s finally steadies. He doesn’t want John to run from this. But he knows John, better maybe than John knows himself, and he will not let Sherlock take care of him.
He doesn’t have the skills to say the right thing, to comfort him, to make him feel better. But he does have the power of manipulation, and to help John, he’ll use it. He sees John sit up and make to get out of bed, and he knows if he doesn’t force it, he’ll lose this chance. John will pretend this never happened, and things will go on as they have been, and Sherlock cannot stand the idea of another night alone in bed, with John needing something he cannot give.
So Sherlock does something he never does with John. He acts. He lets tears well up in his eyes and his lower lip trembles. He looks up at John, half out of bed. “Don’t leave again,” he says. John presses his lips into an even thinner line than normal.
“Jesus, Sherlock. You either care or you don’t but don’t you fucking dare fake it with me.” He looks as close to disgusted as Sherlock has seen, and there’s a real danger the tears won’t be fake much longer. He launches himself out of the bed.
“I don’t know how to help you! And you can’t keep leaving me alone!” It’s not what he wants to say, not by far. He wants to say, your pain hurts me because I love you and I want to end it, not because it’s a burden on me, but because you only deserve to be happy.
“I’m sorry, Sherlock,” he shrugs, and he should find a way to record that and just play it because he’s tired of saying it. That’s it, really. He’s tired. He leaves their room without another word. And Sherlock lets him.
John can’t handle going into the study. He doesn’t want to be surrounded by Sherlock. He’s angry, and disappointed, and scared. He can’t believe Sherlock would try to act with him. Like John couldn’t tell the difference? Forget how long they’ve been together – John could read Sherlock from day one. Well, maybe day two. He sits on the sofa and counts his breathing, in and out. He tries to shove the topic out of his mind, but how can he? There’s something wrong with him, and Sherlock can’t help, and it isn’t fair of John to ask him to. So he sits, head in his hands, until he feels Sherlock slide onto the sofa beside him. Sherlock’s arm goes around John’s back without hesitation, and John drops his head onto Sherlock’s shoulder in sudden and complete relief. Sherlock kisses the top of John’s head. “I love you,” he whispers, and John clutches him tighter. “God. I love you, too,” he laughs. They are quiet for a moment, John collapsed against Sherlock, who rests his chin on John’s head and hopes that John can hear his heart, how wildly it’s thumping, how it’s doing that for John.
“I don’t always have the words, John. I can feel it, what I want to say. It crushes me. And I can’t make it come out right, if I can make it come out at all. I don’t think I can change that. But maybe you need me to change it? I can try. Okay, John? If you need me to be different, I’ll try.”
John straightens up and stares at Sherlock with an inscrutable look on his face. He shakes his head slowly and gently takes Sherlock’s face in his hands. “God. No, Sherlock. That’s not… you think… Jesus.”
“What is it, then?”
“I can’t think why, but I keep having nightmares. Flashbacks. I’m just scared and anxious all the time. All the time.”
“Why didn’t you tell me that? Instead of hiding it, or running away? Sleeping in my study.”
“It’s the most comforting place.”
Sherlock’s brow furrows. “More comforting than in bed with me?”
“I can’t bring myself to wake you up. To admit it. I had a bad dream. Like I’m a kid.”
“If I had a nightmare wouldn’t you want to comfort me? Of course you would. I know I don’t feel things the same way you do, the same way normal people do—“ and here John gritted his teeth, as he always did when Sherlock said he wasn’t normal, or was a freak, or a sociopath, things John didn’t believe. “—But I would try to make you feel better. I don’t like that you’ve been suffering and I didn’t even know about it.”
“How could you? I didn’t tell.”
“But I didn’t ask. I should have asked. I know you, I know you do this suffer in silence bit. I knew something was wrong I was just too—I don’t know. Scared, I suppose.”
John drops his hands back to his lap and closes his eyes. Sherlock feels the energy draining from him, feels his fear and frustration, and wants nothing more than to sap it away. He rests his forehead against John’s and whispers it again, the only thing he has left. “I really do love you, John.”
John relaxes a bit. “I love you, too, Sherlock.” He heaves a sigh. “Let’s go to bed.”
And for all that was unfinished, for all they were missing, at the moment they climbed into bed and curled around each other, they had enough.
Sherlock never expected John to go first. The life they’d led, it seemed almost inevitable that Sherlock would die first. He’d certainly never expected to grow old, but grow old they did, John’s shoulder’s slumping and the dark shock of Sherlock’s hair going white. When John’s arthritis got bad, and after Mrs. Hudson had passed on, they left 221B and bought a cottage on the south Downs. Sherlock watched birds and found he liked gardening, and became slightly obsessed with studying bees. John watched him from the window and smiled, and was grateful every day for the life they’d gotten to share.
He never actually told Sherlock about the cancer. He wanted to, tried to, but could never quite find the words. But age hadn’t done anything to Sherlock’s mind, and though they never said it, they both knew that John’s life was fading faster than either of them could have expected or were equipped to handle. Sherlock stroked his hair in the night when he was shaking with pain, and brought his pain medication and held him until he slept again.
John watched Sherlock in the hazy morning light, amidst the trees. He wrapped himself in Sherlock’s old coat, the one that Sherlock didn’t wear anymore, but it went around John nearly twice and it smelled like the past, and he found comfort in it. He wound his arms around Sherlock’s back and pressed his face there, like he’d done a thousand times before. If you looked under Sherlock’s skin, there might be an impression of John’s face there. “You know it’s soon,” he whispered. Sherlock tensed under his hands, but nodded.
“I love you, Sherlock. I always have.”
They spent the day sitting outside, John’s feet in Sherlock’s lap, catching up on emails with those few people they kept in touch with: Mycroft and Lestrade, of course, (and hadn’t that been a shock) and Molly, who sent pictures of her grandchildren which made John smile and Sherlock roll his eyes. They watched a movie in the evening, Sherlock’s feet on John’s lap this time, and when John fell into a light doze on the couch, Sherlock found the strength to scoop him up and carry him to bed. He wrapped John Watson in his limbs and kissed him awake, and they made love, gentle and warm and when Sherlock’s sleepy kisses sent John over the edge, he clung to Sherlock and kissed his tears.
“I love you, John. You’ve given me everything. I don’t want you to go,” and he cried in earnest then, and John should be the one receiving comfort, not giving it, but he always gave Sherlock whatever Sherlock needed, even if he couldn’t ask.
“I don’t want to go either, Sherlock. But you loved me, and you gave me my life back. We had some times, yeah?” And John chuckled, the vibration of it against Sherlock’s chest almost too much to take. “I don’t know what happens next, Sherlock. I don’t know where I’ll go. But I promise, I’ll find a way to miss you.”
“Maybe I’ll hurry up and join you, then.”
John’s arms tightened around him reflexively. “Sherlock bloody Holmes. I spent over half my life keeping your skinny arse alive, I’ll not have you checking out as soon as I’m not here to look after you.”
Sherlock nodded, and fought falling asleep, but the warmth of John and the effort of the day dragged him under, and took him away from John. When he woke, John’s hands were in his hair, and his breathing was almost imperceptibly shallow against the skin of Sherlock’s neck. Sherlock kissed his forehead, that remarkably soft place between his eyebrows, and stayed that way for hours, feeling the hot flare of John’s breath, until it stopped.
A good number of people turned up to mourn John, to give him a proper send-off, and though Sherlock as a rule couldn’t stand these sorts of events, he was pleased to know that John’s life had touched so many. He imagined his own death wouldn’t be accompanied by very much fanfare.
John had been laid to rest in the sort of quaint, quiet, peaceful place Sherlock used to abhor. Sherlock visited him, knowing as he did that it was silly, pointless – John isn’t here – but it was intolerable that John Watson should lie there alone.
After months, Sherlock had his own illness – his heart, and the doctor said it was natural for his age, with his history of drug use and smoking and near-death experiences. But as he lay down on the grass which covered John, he knew it was just because the only thing that had kept it beating had been buried here for all this time, and he just couldn’t carry on without it anymore.
They’d bought their plots when they moved to the Downs, side by side, and as Sherlock lay there, he indulged himself in imagining that he might see John, any version of John, the one who’d stolen his heat in a freezing room, the one who’d frightened him with the closeness of the call, the one who made him less alone, the one who let him back in, the one who finally had to leave.
The groundskeeper was familiar with Sherlock, the tall skinny bloke who came almost every day to visit someone. He looked at his body, curled over the grave of Dr. John Watson, loving husband, and sighed. When they pulled out his paperwork it was an odd request, but certainly one they could accommodate, and had done nearly a year before for this same Dr. Watson.
“We don’t want to lie the way most people do. Side by side, looking up. Let us face each other.”