He and John have shared many sofas, 221B being the most obvious. John usually sat in the chair, but he sometimes liked to take up the end of the sofa near Sherlock’s feet, his thigh only inches from Sherlock’s toes. Sometimes Sherlock came home to find him napping there, leaving the smell of his hair on the fleur-de-lis and the houndstooth cushions. A certain spot on one of the arms smells like the sweat from John’s palm.
And there have been others: in Mrs Hudson’s flat; in the flats of clients; in Mycroft’s office; Kitty Riley’s love seat with its scrolled ends pushing him and John together. He’d held John’s hand for a moment, his heart pounding, before unlocking the cuffs. If you love something, let it go.
Buckingham Palace. That ostentatious, opulent, ridiculous gold brocade. John sinking down into it, marvelling, eyes wide, taking it all in. (Sherlock loves when he can impress John.) It’s one of his favourite memories: John on that sofa, hands folded in his lap, laughing.
John has occupied many sofas without Sherlock: childhood sofas; Sarah’s sofa; sofas of other girlfriends; the revolting specimen in Kenny Prince’s equally revolting house, which made John reek of disinfectant; the sofa at his therapist’s — no. He would sit on a chair there.
Sherlock has lain on sofas without John, and he has lain on sofas since dying. Sofas in Germany, in Austria, even in Russia. Sofas in Istanbul (he prefers the name Constantinople). There were none in Tibet, not in the places he stayed. The sofa in Paris is inadequate. Uncomfortable, and far too short for him. And the smell. The smell is all wrong.
Most people are unaware of how scent works, that smell is molecules of the substance entering the nasal passages. Sherlock thinks of it as gathering evidence, but it repulses the Yarders, who cover their noses and mouths at crime scenes, all but the most seasoned of them. They don’t like the thought of consuming corpses and excrement and vomit and urine. The things that mean life. The things that mean death.
Breathing someone’s scent is to have their particles in your nose, deep in the epithelia of your lungs, inhaled like cigarette smoke. It was as close as he’d ever got to John without being handcuffed or locked in the boot of a car.
Sherlock is in Afghanistan when he smells it, something so familiar, it stops him in his tracks, in the middle of his burglary of an Army General’s office. He sniffs the air like a hound tracking the scent. It leads him to a sofa in the anteroom. He shines the torch at the ordinary piece of furniture. It’s faint and ancient, but there: John’s washing powder and soap, the specific combination, almost like having him in the room. Sherlock buries his face in the upholstery and inhales.
It’s been three years since Sherlock has smelled the real John, living and breathing.
The sofa speaks, saying: It’s time to go home.
Sherlock gathers what he needs, escapes the building, scans the files, sends them to Mycroft, then buys a plane ticket to London.
John has taken a flat in Salisbury, of all places. How he can tolerate it is beyond Sherlock.
He picks the lock with no trouble, and slips inside. The smells of the flat are like a drug. They make colours bloom in his brain, bursts of blues and greens and purples. All John’s colours.
The hooks in the hall hold John’s coat and a lead for a dog. A big dog, judging from the width of the lead. Sherlock shines the torch on it. Plucks a coarse, white hair. Not that big a dog. Bulldog. John always liked them. The lead smells of John’s hand. Sherlock breathes it deeply. Nests his face inside the coat, and breathes that, too.
Living room. No girlfriend, not at present. Sound of snoring. Not John. Ah, the dog. Of course. Those brachycephalic breeds. Prone to breathing trouble. John was charmed by them. Pugs, boxers, bulldogs, Cavalier King Charles spaniels. Why did John never ask if they could get a dog?
Bulldogs are terrible watchdogs, clearly. And John is asleep.
There is a new sofa. Well, not exactly new. Sherlock left John enough money to live like a king. Why didn’t he use it to buy a new sofa? Instead, he bought one from a family with two teenaged children and a German Shepherd. Three years, and their traces remain. The sofa is a dull, brown thing covered in tweedy upholstery. Three cushions long. Squarish arms and back. Nothing fancy. No curlicues, no flourishes.
There’s a good scattering of the bulldog’s fur on the cushions. John lets it sleep on the sofa. Sleeps here himself. Strands of his hair on one of the side pillows.
Things Sherlock has done on sofas: his best thinking, texting, reading, sulking, eating, drinking, smoking, shooting up, watching telly, absorbing John’s molecules. He has never kissed on a sofa. He has never had sex on a sofa. He loves sofas because he can sit with John, looking in the same direction or different ones. He doesn’t like chairs. Hateful, sitting alone.
Sitting on the sofa, he can see: the skull, the Persian slipper perched on the sill. There’s also a television, taken from Baker Street. He’s less pleased to see the walking stick, clearly recently used.
Sherlock is, in fact, tired. He’s travelled thousands of miles to find this sofa. It fits his whole height. It’s soft. Doesn’t want to let him up. It smells like John, like home. He breathes John’s shampoo, his soap, the oil from his scalp, flakes of his skin, the wool of his jumpers, his sweat, his arm hairs, his washing powder, his deodorant, his shaving foam, the faint perfume of one of his dates (didn’t last long, that one), Thai takeaway, coffee, tea, beer, and honey. Honey! New and wonderful.
He rolls around, marking the sofa with his scent. His sofa now. Sherlock covers himself with the Watson tartan blanket folded over the left arm, lays his head on John Watson’s pillow, mingles their molecules. He drifts to sleep, at long last, dreaming of bees and sweet-smelling honey.