“Hi there!” the young man chirps at him, walking right up to him and sticking out his hand in friendly greeting, face open and expression beguiling, a pleasant smile stretching his lips, crinkling the corners of his eyes. Sherlock looks at him. Can this man not see he’s busy thinking, busy deducing?
Sherlock can’t help but turn a critical eye on the man, vaguely startled at his appearance seemingly out of nowhere and his presumptions, can’t help the observations that flood him.
They are of a height. The man’s hair is light brown, almost a sandy blond, just a hint of strawberry in it. It’s his natural color, and straight, styled just so, and used to be kept very short. His eyes are bright and mischievous, flickering and dancing as he smiles at Sherlock, and he wears glasses--not prescription, meant to make him look smart in addition to fit. He ignores the crime scene completely: used to violence, used to blood. Military, obvious from his demeanor, his bearing, and the haircut, from the fact he doesn’t blink at the dead body, from his subtle strength; probably an officer. Well-dressed, high quality fabrics and good tailoring all point towards money, but his accent indicates he didn’t grow up with it.
Sherlock doesn’t know why he takes the man’s hand. Some strange compulsion seizes him. It doesn’t make sense, but there he is, reaching out to shake this strange man’s hand. The man seems to ooze not just confidence and charm, but a subtle aura of trustworthiness that Sherlock instantly distrusts.
“I’m Sebastian Moran,” the man continues, still smiling, still charming. “You’re Sherlock Holmes, am I right?”
“Yes,” Sherlock says slowly, expression closing off. What is going on here?
“I’m going to destroy you,” Sebastian says, pleasantly; still smiling, still charming. He squeezes. His grip is brutal, there’s that quiet strength because he doesn’t even seem to be exerting effort, it doesn’t let up; the man bears down, still smiling, still charming, and Sherlock actually hears one of his bones snap while he stares in growing horror at Sebastian’s smiling face.
The pain is sharp and immediate, and he chokes on the cry that wants to escape his throat. He won’t allow that.
Sebastian is still smiling at him, but it’s not so charming anymore, it’s like a shark, like deviousness personified, a wildness in his eyes that reminds Sherlock of someone else who’s now dead, whose ashes reside in a little box in a cupboard in their kitchen; Sebastian smiles and lets go his hand, turns and walks away.
On the other side of the crime scene, John has stopped speaking to Greg mid-sentence. Greg is looking at him in confusion, brows furrowed, but John stares across the scene for a moment in complete shock, and jumps into action just after Sebastian has broken Sherlock’s hand. Greg follows his line of sight and stares after John in confused fascination.
John practically vaults over the corpse to reach Sherlock’s side.
Greg makes a mental note to bring that up later so he can laugh at John’s expression, because he’s sure that John has no idea he’s just done that.
“Christ, what the fuck?!” John exclaims as he reaches Sherlock’s side; he’d ducked under the crime scene tape and back out again to reach Sherlock’s side without even a thought to the barrier between himself and the emotional residue of the scene. “Who the fuck was that? What the actual fuck did he just do?” He takes Sherlock injured hand gingerly, turning his arm slowly and carefully, wincing in sympathy as he goes through a quick examination. “Did he just break your hand?”
“I think so,” Sherlock grits out through a tightly clenched jaw. He’s actually trying not to cry from the pain, it’s too immediate, too acute for him to circumvent it. “I felt something snap. I think I heard it.”
“What the fuck was that?” John says, looking in the direction Moran had gone; the other man has disappeared.
“I have no idea,” Sherlock replies.
“Who the fuck was that?” John continues. Sherlock wonders if he’s aware of how much his swearing increases when he’s upset. And John is very upset on Sherlock’s behalf, alongside his careful ministrations. It’s... endearing. Sherlock likes it.
John stops swearing for a moment when that filters through and smiles at him. “Yeah, sorry. Stuck with me, remember?”
Sherlock nods, then winces. It hurts, and it’s his dominant hand, too. It’s going to be ages before he can properly play again.
“Come on then, we’re done here. I need to get you to A&E so we can get this x-rayed and set. You’re going to have to wear a cast.”
“Don’t argue with me on this one, that fucker just broke your goddamn hand, Sherlock. This won’t heal overnight no matter how much you will it to do so.”
Lestrade starts to protest when John tells him they’re leaving, but then he sees the way Sherlock’s hand is swelling and the pinched look around his eyes that means he’s in incredible pain and nods, asking only for Sherlock to text him later.
They go to Barts, thankfully.
Instead of going into the A&E, John leads Sherlock in by way of the morgue. Molly tuts over Sherlock, but she nods and goes quickly to gather the supplies John will need to cast Sherlock’s hand, when John asks her to with a warm smile. While she’s doing that, John leads Sherlock through the maze of corridors and classrooms and labs to the radiology department and bluffs his way into an x-ray for Sherlock.
Sherlock would be impressed if he weren’t in so much pain.
John sets his hand in the morgue. Sherlock yelps in a most undignified manner when he does it. John smiles at him, grim, a smile Sherlock feels certain is left over from his days in Afghanistan.
“I’ve got painkillers at home; can you wait that long to take something?” John sits back and admires the cast; it’s been ages since he had to do one, but it looks good.
“I don’t think paracetamol is going to cut it, John.” Sherlock keeps his voice low so that the pain in it won’t be so evident. John hears it anyway; he feels it right along with Sherlock.
“I wasn’t talking about that, actually.” John takes the opportunity of Molly being in the middle of a postmortem in the other room to lay his hand against Sherlock’s neck, leaning in and trying to take some of the pain from his friend. Grateful for the distraction, for the soothing presence that is John, Sherlock sighs and lets him, just for a moment.
“Then yes,” he replies eventually, “I suppose I can.” If you’ll help, he adds silently.
“OK, let’s go then.” Of course I will, the quirk of John’s mouth replies.
He tuts over Sherlock worse than Mrs Hudson would, were she not out for the afternoon when they get back to the flat. Sherlock is glad she’s not here to fuss over him as well, it would be too much, the both of them together making those sympathetic noises and giving him those looks. He thinks (hopes) maybe John can get her to make them a nice tea when she gets home. If she’s not too tired.
John sets Sherlock up on the couch with pillows--”I don’t need pillows, John, the sofa is perfectly comfortable without them.”--and blankets and computers and phones and forces tea and toast on him along with the painkillers. John then looms over him until he’s eaten the food and drunk all the tea before blessedly leaving him alone.
Sherlock’s asleep within twenty minutes, in spite of the pain, despite his determination to get some work done.
A week passes.
Sherlock solves three cold cases for Lestrade. He does so only grudgingly.
John updates his blog.
Sherlock ponders Sebastian Moran. He does this with far more attention than he’d given the cold cases, but with far less information.
John searches for Moran on Google, finds nothing except for a mention of him in reference to a military sniper program.
Sherlock tries to invent a way to scratch the incredibly dry skin under his cast, ends up hurting himself instead.
John tries not to laugh at him. He doesn’t do very well.
John wakes in the dark of pre-dawn, a long line of warmth against his back, a snuffling breath against his neck. Irritation washes over him, and he jerks away from his flatmate, pushing Sherlock away and yanking the blankets away from him, growling in anger, in frustration.
Sherlock jerks awake. “What? What’s wrong, John?” His voice slurs with sleep and confusion.
John stops snarling incoherently, blinks into the darkness. He can see the whites of Sherlock’s wide eyes in the pale light from the streetlamp outside. He can make out Sherlock’s curls standing up every which way, and he doesn’t know why he was irritated, why he was so angry. It has washed away from him in a flood, leaving him breathless and exhausted in its wake.
“I don’t know what that was,” John says quietly, trying to slow his breathing and his pounding heart. “Sorry. Sorry to wake you, Sherlock.”
“Are you OK, John?” Sherlock sounds half asleep still, and concerned.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine. I must’ve been dreaming. I woke, and I was so angry, so frustrated and irritated.”
“Yes, I can feel it. It doesn’t feel at all like you.”
John rubs his hands over his face and flops back down. Sherlock carefully arranges himself next to John, not quite touching, not quite sure. John moves closer, until he can feel the heat of Sherlock along his side, and they rearrange the blankets over themselves.
“Sorry,” John murmurs. “Go back to sleep.”
“Mmm,” is John’s only response, as he is already sliding back into sleep. Sherlock follows shortly thereafter, vowing to think this strangeness over in the morning.
Neither of them remembers it when they wake up again.
Sherlock bumps his hand on various and sundry doorjambs and tables, around the flat and beyond, once John has deemed him rested enough to get back to work. He howls every time, in a way that sends chills up John’s spine.
He howls every time except the third, when he’s standing in the hallway outside the flat and Mycroft is inside talking to John. Their voices are low enough that he can’t hear what they’re talking about, but John is angry with him, frustrated. It feels like an old frustration, like Mycroft is trying to convince John yet again of something John doesn’t wish to do.
When he hits his hand this time, flailing as he rails silently against his brother, he hastily stuffs his own scarf in his mouth to muffle the sound, and flees back downstairs and outside, down the street and into the Tesco to hide until his brother is gone.
He brings milk back with him.
John doesn’t say anything to him when he returns to the flat later, but the considering look on his face, the wry amusement John feels as he takes the milk from Sherlock and puts it in the fridge says it all. Sherlock only shrugs in reply, and has a bit of a sulk on the couch until John makes him eat dinner and puts in a dvd.
John goes to Tesco to pick up tea and bread and milk a few days later, and doesn’t come home again.
When it happens, it wakes Sherlock from a sound sleep, the first really sound sleep he’s had since his hand was broken. He wakes with a start, with a gasp, suddenly and intensely awake with no idea why. It’s not like waking naturally or even like waking from a nightmare, this is a snap, a break, like something had popped, had broken, had been severed.
The flat is dark; the only light comes from the streetlamp outside.
John had gone out hours ago, and he’s still not back yet. That’s odd. That’s more than odd, that’s plain wrong. He was only going to the Tesco down the street. He was only picking up a few things. They were going to order take-away. John was going to drink beer and make him watch Doctor Who.
“John?” Sherlock calls, sitting up on the sofa. It’s not something he does, calling for someone he knows isn’t there, speaking unnecessarily, but he does it anyway. And he waits for an answer anyway, hopeful.
Sherlock gets up and wanders through the flat, looking for John. It’s not something he does, looking for someone he knows isn’t there, wandering from room to room like a lost soul. He knows John isn’t here, but he does it anyway, hopeful.
Something isn’t right. He feels off, wrong. Like someone, something is missing.
John is missing.
Missing from the flat.
Missing from his head.
He paces through the flat, back and forth, back and forth, while his mind skitters from point to point, tearing itself to pieces, throwing itself against the spot where John should be but isn’t.
John isn’t there and he is at a loss. It’s a new feeling for him. They’d worked so hard to make it so this wouldn’t happen anymore. How do normal people function this way? With this great gaping hole where someone else belongs? How do they think around the vasty nothingness? Around the numbing cold of it?
Eventually his eyes fall on the plain manila envelope on the desk. That’s new. An image filters through his head of John holding a manila file when Mycroft had been in the flat the other day. He snatches it up and reads it through at lightning speed.
This is what Mycroft had come to talk to John about. This is what had frustrated John the other day.
His hand shakes as he dials his brother, and he’s not sure if it’s anger or relief that causes it.
Mycroft answers on the third ring.
“Where is he, Mycroft? What did you do with him?” Sherlock snarls, before Mycroft has even had a chance to say hello.
“I’m sorry?” Mycroft replies. He sounds startled. Genuinely startled, which is almost enough in itself to give Sherlock pause. He plows on, however, refusing to consider any other possible explanation. For once in his life he is fitting the facts to his theory.
“John. You took him. Where is he I want him back now.” His voice descends into a low growl.
“Sherlock, perhaps you should start from the beginning.”
“I found your proposal, you bastard. You just couldn’t handle him turning down your little experiments so you had him taken. Give him back right now.”
“Sherlock, I assure you--”
“Now, Mycroft!” Sherlock shouts. This isn’t going the way it should be. His hand is shaking even harder. His theory is falling apart and he does not like it at all.
“John is gone, Mycroft, and I can’t tell where he is. I will kill you I don’t care what Mother will say.”
Mycroft takes a deep breath. “We’ll be right over.” He hangs up.
Sherlock stares at his phone, breath hitching and vision blurring.
Mycroft shows up with Greg just over fifteen minutes later.
They find Sherlock curled up in his chair, knees drawn up and arms wrapped tight around them, rocking slightly, staring with wide, wild eyes at a spot on the floor. His phone is nearby, and the screen is a spiderweb of cracks from where it has shattered when he dropped it because the shaking got too bad. (Mycroft makes note of that.)
Sherlock looks at them only briefly before returning his gaze to the floor, staring, staring. That single glance is enough to show his brother and the detective inspector both what his state of mind is.
Greg and Mycroft exchange a glance of their own; a short conversation happens in the space of a few seconds. They’re getting good at that alarmingly quickly. Mycroft turns and heads for the kitchen, and Greg gets out his phone, starts texting Donovan to put the word out to keep an eye out for John Watson.
He wants to do more than that, but Mycroft has already put his own people on it, and he doesn’t want to risk his people clashing with Mycroft’s--it wouldn’t end well for anyone or their career, least of all his.
Greg finds Mycroft in the kitchen, concentrated on his mobile, leaning against the worktop.
“Checking CCTV footage?” Greg murmurs as he fills the kettle to make tea for all of them.
“Mmm,” Mycroft replies, not looking up from his phone. He does, however, move closer to Greg, to lean just a bit into him. Greg smiles.
Over tea that Sherlock doesn’t drink, Mycroft fills his brother in on what little information he’s been able to gather thus far. Generic lorry, blindfold and hood, possibly he was drugged, blah blah blah.
It doesn’t matter. Sherlock doesn’t care. John is gone, and no one is doing anything to bring him back. Sherlock snarls at his brother, sneers at Greg, and resumes his pacing.
At some point, after the sun has done down and the hours are stretching out in front of Sherlock, interminable and unbearable, he starts hunting up his maps. He hasn’t had need of them in ages; his mental map of London is astoundingly accurate.
He spreads them all over the lounge, on every available surface.
Sherlock pores over maps while his brother pores over CCTV footage on his phone and on Sherlock’s laptop, and Greg dozes against Mycroft’s shoulder.
The night passes. Sherlock’s agitation increases. Mycroft drinks tea, remains maddeningly calm. Greg tries to press food on Sherlock, with Mrs. Hudson’s help in the morning. Sherlock refuses, threatens to throw things. Greg hasn’t seen him this unstable since his last detox. Mrs Hudson flutters and then snaps, until Sherlock at least stops yelling at her.
Mrs. Hudson cajoles him into dressing. She assures him that he’ll want to be ready the moment they receive word about John. She tries to get him to eat. She goes back downstairs with a stricken expression, murmuring about cooking a good meal for John, for when he gets back.
Nothing. Nothing nothing nothing. Sherlock still hasn’t had even a glimmer of John, and he refuses to consider what he should be considering. He can see from the loaded looks Mycroft and Greg continue to exchange that they’re already considering it, already plotting how to ‘handle’ him if it turns out to be true.
He hates them both for that, a little bit. It’s inconceivable.
It halts him mid-stride, when it hits. Like being walloped across the face, and he thinks he might be moaning, when he collapses to his knees with his hands clamped to his head because it feels like it’s about to burst, hitting the floor hard enough that he’ll have bruises for days.
That’ll be nothing compared to how John feels. John!
“Got him,” Sherlock gasps, when his head has cleared enough that he can forms words again. “I’ve got him.”
Greg and his brother are at his side in a heartbeat, pulling him to his feet, talking too much, distracting him.
“Shut up, just shut up!” he orders, shutting his eyes to concentrate on getting a solid sense of where John is.
Sherlock springs into action, pawing through his maps while Greg and Mycroft look on, until he comes up with the proper one, mutters to himself as he traces lines and roads and alleyways.
“Here,” he announces, sounding relieved in the extreme, just a few moments later. “He’s here. He’s barely conscious, we have to go.”
John has been dumped into a heap of trash next to the bins behind a pub off North Gower Street. He is lying curled on his side when Sherlock comes dashing up to him, breath shallow, arms wrapped around his head, moaning softly.
He looks awful and feels worse, and he’s only barely conscious when Sherlock reaches his side.
“John! John? John, can you hear me?” Sherlock is trying to assess John’s injuries without moving him too much; it’s basically impossible given how tightly John has curled in on himself, tugging as gently as he can manage at John’s hands so he can see John’s face and god that’s an awful smell.
“Ungh,” John grunts, batting at Sherlock’s hands weakly.
Greg and Mycroft crowd in and start moving the bins to make access to John easier. Mycroft’s normal sneer at even the thought of legwork is remarkable in its absence.
“John, are you all right?”
“Fuck no,” John slurs, regaining consciousness slowly, with a great deal of work. It takes him long moments, but he almost manages to glare at Sherlock, and Sherlock sighs in relief at this indication of John’s improving mental state.
Gently, they help him sit up. His movements are stiff, his face swollen and bloodied. Sherlock checks his head, but it doesn’t appear that he took any substantial blows. Just to his face. Just everywhere else.
“Is anything broken?”
“Do you need an ambulance?” Greg cuts in. He’s already got his mobile out, poised to dial 999 and get John to hospital.
But John shakes his head, as vehemently as he can manage, which is to say: once, and slowly. “No, no ambulance.” It comes out sounding like “wam-blance.” John looks up at Sherlock, who is still trying to assess John’s state. “Home.”
“You’re sure, John?”
John nods. Once. Slowly.
“All right.” Sherlock looks to his brother. Mycroft nods and goes back to the mouth of the alley way to summon his people. They bring the car around and hurry forward to assist, nameless men in nice suits, wearing sunglasses despite the overcast day, but Sherlock won’t let any of them near John. He barely tolerates Greg’s presence on the other side of John, helping Sherlock hold him up as they half-carry, half-drag John to the car. John tries to help, tries to walk, and mostly just hinders Sherlock and Greg’s efforts to get him down the short alley.
In the car, John sags against Sherlock and shuts his eyes. Sherlock closes his eyes as well, places his hand over John’s despite the looks that both Mycroft and Greg are giving him, and thinks of the ocean, of soothing cool water and floating and the sound of waves.
John manages to feel a frisson of gratitude at him.
Their walls hold.
Sherlock doesn’t say anything about the filminess he can feel in John’s head. Now is not the time.
Greg helps him as much as Sherlock will allow in getting John upstairs and into their flat. Up the seventeen steps, through the door, down the hall and into Sherlock’s room. John murmurs something akin to a protest.
“Stairs, John,” Sherlock replies softly.
John grunts and leans back against the pillows they pile behind him.
Greg stands back and looks from one to the other. “You two’ll be okay?”
John nods. Once. Slowly. “Ta, Greg,” he whispers. His eyes are shut. His face is still not done swelling, and he’s already turning purple practically everywhere exposed.
“Let me know if you need anything,” Greg says, looking doubtful of the intelligence in leaving the doctor alone with the consulting detective. Sherlock’s never been known for his compassion. But then, Greg’s never seen him look at another person the way he’s looking at John right now, like he would gladly switch places with his flatmate, would just as gladly tear limb from limb the people who did this to him.
Sherlock follows him back out to the kitchen. He is practically wringing his hands, agitation a fine tremor coursing visibly through his body. Mycroft is waiting, still and serene.
“Let us know if John requires anything,” Mycroft tells his brother. Sherlock nods. Perhaps he can get one of Mycroft’s minions to do the shopping this week. That would be nice.
Sherlock takes a glass of water back to his room with him, after Greg and Mycroft have shown themselves out.
“Tell me what to do, John,” he says, sitting at the end of the bed and looking at his friend. He wants to curl up around him, shield him, but he’s afraid to touch him, because John seems to be one big bruise right now, and probably will get worse before he gets better.
John tries to take a deep breath, winces. “My kit?”
“Anything else? Tea? Biscuits?”
Sherlock nods, even though John can’t seem him with his eyes shut, and goes to gather the things John has requested. It worries him, how much John is slurring still.
John’s medical kit is in his room, in plain sight where either of them can put their hands on it at a moment’s notice. They’ve both had to do that before. Even Sherlock has lost count of the number of times.
Sherlock grabs the kit and John’s pyjamas and goes back downstairs to his room. John has slumped over a bit in his bed, and is wincing.
After he’s helped John sit back up, Sherlock starts digging through the kit.
“Tell me what to do, John,” he says again.
John nods. “Clothes,” he says, voice soft. “Off.” He looks at Sherlock and doesn’t explain how disgusting and worked over he feels; he doesn’t need to, it radiates from him in waves. Which is not surprising, as he was worked over, and he looks pretty disgusting; besides the bruises is the dirt and grime and the smell of garbage. Sherlock wonders briefly how difficult it would be for John to shower right now.
John lets Sherlock undress him, since he’s all but incapable of doing it himself. He almost manages to chuckle when he thinks of all the times he’s said “Now people will definitely talk.”
“Hush, John,” Sherlock admonishes, unbuttoning his shirt, smiling a little because he knows what John is thinking. John’s always the one to make jokes. Let them talk.
Sherlock is gentle and patient with him, getting John’s shirt and trousers off him, tossing them in his own hamper, changing his socks and helping him into cozy pyjama pants. John turns down the shirt, murmuring something barely intelligible about having his ribs wrapped. Sherlock shrugs and drops the t-shirt on the bed.
Sherlock goes into his en suite and comes back with a clean flannel, a towel, and a basin of warm, soapy water. He cleans John as best he can, as gently as he can, gets as much of the blood and grime off him as he can manage. He even manages to get rid of most of the smell of garbage; thankfully it was mostly in John’s clothes.
“Think you’ll be able to shower in the morning?” he asks.
“God I hope so. I still feel disgusting.”
“You look pretty disgusting as well. I’ll have to wash these sheets twice.”
John snorts, then moans at the pain it causes. “Like you ever do your own laundry. Don’t make me laugh right now, Sherlock, please.”
“No you aren’t.”
“Well, a little anyway.” Sherlock finishes in silence though, and John almost drifts off under his careful ministrations, only coming back to reality when Sherlock rests his hand over John’s heart and says, “What next, John?”
John forces his eyes open. “You need to listen to my lungs, make sure I haven’t punctured one of them.” It takes him longer to say that than it should due to his shortness of breath. It hurts too much to breathe deeply; he definitely has a couple of cracked ribs. Hopefully that’s all. Now that he’s home, the last thing he wants to do is leave again. Ever.
Sherlock nods at him, gets out his stethoscope and puts it on. He starts to lean forward to listen to John breathing, and John shakes his head. “Have to do it at my back.”
Sherlock looks funny wearing a stethoscope, and John smiles fondly at him. Sherlock would make a horrid doctor, his bedside manner with John notwithstanding. John briefly contemplates what life would be like if Sherlock were a doctor. Interesting still, he’s sure. He’d be an epidemiologist of some sort, John thinks. Maybe he’d never see patients at all, or maybe he’d only deign to work on the interesting diseases, the most baffling cases.
Sherlock adjusts per John’s instructions, puts his hands around John and helps him sit forward. John leans on him, into him, dropping his forehead onto Sherlock’s shoulder with a breathy moan of pain, and Sherlock carefully maneuvers so that he can listen to John’s lungs. John struggles to take deep, slow breaths and not grunt at the aching that is just everywhere.
After listening for a few long moments, Sherlock helps John sit back again. Tucking his chin down against his chest, Sherlock quickly puts the stethoscope against John’s chest. John watches for a minute while Sherlock listens to his heart. He doesn’t speak.
“Any wheezing?” John asks when Sherlock has finished listening to his heart and looks up at him. There’s a hint of a blush playing across his cheeks, but John doesn’t draw attention to it; he doesn’t blame Sherlock for needing a bit of reassurance.
“No, none,” Sherlock replies, voice a bit croaky. He clears his throat and speaks again. “That’s good, I’d hate to have to try and get a cab with you looking like that.”
John smiles again. It’s easy to smile here, where he’s safe. It’s easy to pretend this is almost a normal night. Almost a normal set of injuries. Almost normal. John lets himself pretend; he doesn’t fight it at all. He’ll worry about that, he’ll worry Sherlock in the morning. Tomorrow’s more than early enough to have a bit of a breakdown.
And for once Sherlock seems prepared to let him pretend, concerned not with solving the puzzle but with making sure John is cared for.
“I need you to wrap my ribs then.”
Sherlock helps him stand and wraps his ribs for him. John is silent all through, despite the pain radiating from his every pore. Sherlock tries to think of the ocean, tries to hum something soothing, but he keeps wincing when he feels John’s pain, and it isn’t really helpful to either of them.
“Shouldn’t you sleep now?”
“You have to make sure I’m not concussed. I don’t think I am, but I need you to check. Get out the penlight; there should be one in there unless you stole it again recently.”
Sherlock follows John’s instructions, checking his pupils for responsiveness, asking him a few questions and generally determining that somehow, some way, John lucked out and isn’t concussed. Either that, or the people who beat the shit out of him really knew what they were doing.
“Thank God,” John breathes, slumping back against the headboard. “I just want to sleep for about a week. Are there any painkillers in there?”
Sherlock digs around until he comes up with something more than a bit stronger than paracetemol, stronger even than what he’d given Sherlock after his hand had been broken. “John, you’ve been holding out on me.”
A ghost of a smile crosses John’s face. He accepts the two pills Sherlock hands him, and the glass of water. He drinks all of it before handing the glass back to Sherlock.
Between the two of them, they get John situated and as comfortable as he’s going to get in Sherlock’s bed, covered with blankets. Sherlock refills the glass from the tap in his bathroom, and stands next to the bed, looking down at his friend.
“I’ll let you sleep, John,” he says. But he doesn’t move. He hasn’t turned out the light yet, either.
“Sherlock,” John murmurs.
“Stay.” His voice is so low Sherlock almost doesn’t hear him. He doesn’t need to though, everything John is feeling right now says I need you to stay with me right now as clear as day.
“All right.” Sherlock turns out the light and changes in the dark, pulling on pyjama pants and the t-shirt he’d left at the end of the bed. He climbs carefully into bed beside John and curls up next to him, shifting and adjusting until his forehead is resting lightly against John’s (not bruised) shoulder. He ends up lying almost diagonally in the space left in the bed, in his care not to touch John except in that one spot. It’s the only spot on John that he’s fairly certain isn’t bruised or battered.
He still wants to curl over John, shield him, lock him up somewhere where no one can ever get to him again, like he hasn’t done since he saw John strapped with semtex at that pool, in Moriarty’s clutches. He knows John won’t appreciate it--doesn’t appreciate it. But it’s how he feels. Protective. Possessive. Angry.
“Sherlock, stop,” John murmurs, voice sliding into incoherence as he slips into sleep.
Sherlock makes a humming noise meant to indicate I‘m trying, John but doesn’t say anything.
“Re’mber when I showed you the layering thing?” John continues, words slurred.
Sherlock hums again.
Yet again, Sherlock hums, this time in assent. He sinks easily into his own mind, goes to the safe space John had helped him create, and slowly weaves together a blanket of comfort and love and numbness to spread over John, hoping he’s doing it right, hoping it will help.
It helps to distract him as much as it helps John feel better so he can sleep, and it helps John almost as much as the painkillers he took did, Sherlock’s carefully woven but far from perfect blanket of comfort. John slips into sleep easily, almost too easily. Sherlock wonders briefly how John can just let go the fact that he was taken, kidnapped, swiped from the street, dragged out of Sherlock’s head where Sherlock couldn’t follow, couldn’t find him. The worry and the fear that Sherlock had been fighting down and ignoring since he had woken on the sofa the previous afternoon and realized that John was gone swamped him. They overwhelm Sherlock, gathering all at once and hitting him across the face. It’s all he could do not to make any noise while he quietly lies beside his returned best friend. He’d meant to get back up and let John sleep in peace, but Sherlock can’t move. He’s paralyzed with relief and fear and he stays there next to John and eventually falls asleep as well, when the relief wins out over the fear and he’s finally convinced himself that John is home, John is safe, John isn’t going anywhere.
When he wakes up the next morning, he and John are holding hands, loose, comfortable. Comforting, for both of them. John is still asleep, breathing labored, skin mottled with bruises everywhere the Sherlock can observe.
He spends a long time sitting next to John in his bed, cataloging the bruises decorating John’s skin, putting together the sequence of events in his head, seeing each hit happen in stunning detail. They’d restrained him, drugged him, and methodically beaten him to within inches of his life. And then they’d dumped him for Sherlock to find.
John doesn’t wake til late that morning. He spends some time breathing, trying to decide how badly he hurts (answer: a whole fucking bloody damned lot, dammit), and then slowly turns his thoughts to whether or not he’s going to have a bit of a nervous breakdown over being kidnapped yet again.
It startles him when he realizes that, no, he’s really not.
Which isn’t to say that he’s cool with it. Because he’s not. It sucks. He hurts from head to toe, and when he lifts his head a bit and opens his eyes, he discovers that he’s pretty much purple from head to toe as well--at least the bits of himself he can see. Half his torso is swathed in the ace bandage Sherlock had wrapped him with, and he’s got on pyjama pants, but he can feel the tightness in his hamstrings and gastrocs that tells him he wasn’t doing as well at not tensing up when he was beaten as he’d thought he had.
He’s safe now though, and that’s the important part. He’s home, and he’s safe, and soon enough he’ll be able to take a full breath without wincing in pain, and Sherlock isn’t smothering him (at the moment, anyway).
He’s still lying there a couple minutes later when Sherlock appears in the doorway with a cup of tea. John raises his eyebrows (about the only thing he can move without it aching, stinging, or causing shooting pains. Or all three). Sherlock smiles hesitantly at him.
“Are you alright?”
John doesn’t bother answering, just rolls his eyes and sighs explosively. He doesn’t turn down the tea, though.
“Jesus Christ, Sherlock, I think I can manage to fucking shower on my own. GO.”
Sherlock blinks when the door is slammed in his face. He was only trying to help; there was no need to snap at him about it. Or slam the door in his face. So he scowls and walks away, making no effort to staunch the annoyance he feels.
John doesn’t hide that he really doesn’t care right now, that Sherlock needs to leave him alone.
Sherlock is on the sofa when John limps into the kitchen.
“Tea?” John calls.
Sherlock grunts in reply.
He waits for John to say something, anything, really, about his snapping at Sherlock, about Sherlock’s annoying and uncharacteristic need to hover and be solicitous, about Sherlock needing to stop worrying, stop smothering him, he’s fine, really.
John doesn’t say anything.
He doesn’t even seem to remember having snapped earlier. That’s a bit odd.
Sherlock lets it go. See, he thinks, I can do this.
After he’s had his tea, John asks Sherlock to help him rewrap his ribs, and then he takes a nap. Nothing more is said on the matter, by either of them.
The next day, John doesn’t offer to make him tea. Sherlock notices immediately, of course he does, he notices everything. John always offers to make him tea. John makes him tea even when he doesn’t want tea. John makes tea because of and for every possible reason under the sun. Tea is essential to John’s existence, and he’s always assumed that it is just as essential to Sherlock’s as to his own.
Sherlock stares at John from his chair as John shuffles slowly around the kitchen. John isn’t feeling anger or annoyance. He just... doesn’t extend the offer of tea to Sherlock like he normally does. He simply doesn’t get out that second mug, or pour extra water into the kettle. He just makes tea for himself.
Maybe it’s because he’s sore and bruised and because he still can’t quite breathe normally without it aching something awful. Maybe he just forgot. Maybe he’s concentrating on keeping the pain out of his head, away from Sherlock. Sherlock knows that John is in pain. He’s limping again, shuffling everywhere instead of walking properly, but he’d insisted that he needs the movement so that he won’t stiffen up too badly, so he won’t let Sherlock bring him things or keep him in bed. He takes several naps a day, however, because even the shuffling around the flat wears him out quickly, his body fighting to heal itself.
Sherlock tries to slip unnoticed into John’s head, to look at him, to figure it out, to decipher why John isn’t making him tea. Because it’s a curious thing, out of the ordinary, and Sherlock finds himself just a teensy bit hurt by it.
“Get out of my head, Sherlock,” John says, wearily. Not angrily, not defensively, not annoyed. Just very, very tired and hurt. Physical hurt, not mental hurt. He is very sore, and very tired. John takes his mug of tea and shuffles back into Sherlock’s bedroom, stretches carefully out on the bed with the tea and the newspaper Sherlock had left for him, and starts to read.
Sherlock thinks about that for a few minutes before he gets up and follows after John, stretching out next to him in Sherlock’s own bed, folding his hands together beneath his chin and shutting his eyes.
After a moment, John looks down at him and smiles a little, before returning his attention back to the paper.
Sherlock falls asleep there next to John, and after a while John decides that is a capital idea and does the same.
Sherlock has no real warning apart from the lack of apology for the snapping, and the lack of tea. He is napping fitfully on the sofa, not sure why he can’t settle into a solid doze, when John comes downstairs carrying his old army duffel bag. He’s walking with his cane again, still not fully recovered from the beating he’d received last week. John’s back is stiff, stiffer even than the military bearing he still sometimes falls into, like he’s bracing himself for something, his expression grim underneath the bruises.
Perhaps he’s taking something to be donated?
“Going out, John?”
“What?” Sherlock sits up. This... does not compute.
“Where are you going?”
“None of your fucking business, really.”
Uh, what? Sherlock’s brain stutters to a halt. “Uh, what?”
“I’m leaving, Sherlock. I can’t handle--this.” John gestures around him, at the flat, at Sherlock in his pyjamas, at the clutter, at everything. “I can’t deal anymore. I can’t--with you. I just can’t.” He’s angry, yes, but there’s more to it than that. He sounds tired, and worse, disappointed.
“What are you talking about, John? This isn’t you.” Why are you disappointed? What did I do? Why won’t you tell me? Why won’t you even look at me?
“Of course it’s me, who else would it be?” John puts on his jacket with jerky, angry moves. He isn’t meeting Sherlock’s eyes. He doesn’t acknowledge the stunned and hurt expression on Sherlock’s face.
“No, I mean--you don’t feel like this, John.” He can feel it, feel the difference, the wrongness, he knows it the same way he knows he’s panicking right now because John isn’t listening to him. John always listens to him. This is wrong.
“Of course I feel like this. I should fucking know how I feel, Sherlock; they’re my fucking feelings.” John sounds disgusted, at his wit’s end, angry and hateful and nothing like himself.
Sherlock looks up at him, barely recognizing the angry man before him. This isn’t his friend. This isn’t his John. This is wrong. Very, very wrong. Something is going on here and he can’t figure it out around the massive NO reverberating through his head. If John would just stop, just for a minute, if John would just listen to him, he’s sure he could put it together, piece the clues into a coherent whole, sort it and fix it and make it right and make this not be happening.
“John,” he manages to breathe. It sounds like he’s begging and he hates it but he doesn’t care because this is wrong and he needs to make it right, he needs to make it so John won’t leave. “Please, listen to me. This isn’t right. This is very not right. Something is going on here, I promise you, you don’t feel this way, not really. There’s something in your head, it’s wrong, you don’t feel like this.”
“How would you know?” John sneers at him. It’s an ugly expression, one he’s never seen on John’s wonderfully expressive face, and Sherlock flinches, actually flinches, unable to defend himself against this.
But John goes on, making it worse, making it even more wrong. “How would you know how anyone feels?” he scoffs. “You’re a robot. You don’t understand anyone or anything and you’re the most selfish man I’ve ever met in my life.” John’s laugh is brittle and bitter and wrong.
John grabs his duffel, snatches it up and throws it over his shoulder with angry movements, gasping when it lands on his back, against his broken ribs; he stalks out the door, stomps down the steps.
Sherlock hurries after him, nearly tripping over the coffee table in his haste to get over it, pulled along like he’s on a tether. There’s no way to fix this, none that he can see and he doesn’t know what he’s going to do. The rest of his life stretches out into blackness, into that echoing numb abyss he’d only recently felt the edges of again, when John had been kidnapped; his life stretches into despair and drugs and death.
It’s wrong. It’s unbelievably wrong, on so many levels he can’t even number all of them. It piles up around him, overwhelming him, blocking out rational thought. All that’s left is John is leaving me and this is wrong. John is all wrong, he doesn’t feel this way and he won’t listen and Sherlock is, for once in his life, entirely at a loss.
“John, please.” The words are torn from him like a sob, like a plea, like begging. Sherlock is begging. He’ll do anything, anything at all.
John stops, his hand on the front door. “What?” His voice is cold, empty. It feels like knives. John sounds like a stranger, and that feels like defeat.
“Tell me what you want me to say.”
John looks back at him, and there is no light in his eyes, no light, no expression on his face, only emptiness and awfulness. “Goodbye, Sherlock,” he says, before walking out the door and shutting it gently behind himself.
Sherlock’s legs disappear and he falls down onto the bottom stair and watches the door, stares at it, stares through it. Surely this is some sort of twisted, fucked up joke. Surely John will come back. He’ll be back. Yes. He has to be. Because things can’t be this wrong and be real.
Sherlock is still staring at the door when it opens again; only it isn’t John who walks through it but Mrs Hudson.
“Hello, dear,” she greets him as she shuts the door, oblivious to the fact the world is ending. “What’re you doing sitting on the steps in your pyjamas?”
“John’s gone,” Sherlock replies, voice dull. He doesn’t shift his gaze from the door to her.
John’s gone. It bounces around his head. John’s gone. John’s gone. John’s gone.
“Well, I’m sure he’ll be back shortly, dear. You two really depend on each other. Go on upstairs; you’ll catch your death down here in this drafty old hall.” She tuts at him and ruffles his hair as she passes on her way to her own flat, still totally oblivious to the fact the world is ending.
He doesn’t do so immediately, but eventually Sherlock finds his legs and does go back upstairs into the flat. He walks upstairs and lies down in John’s bed, but it smells too much like John, and John is gone and not coming back, so he has to get up again and go back downstairs or else simply expire in the darkness encroaching fast upon him.
He lies down on the couch, instead, as darkness falls all around him. John is still there in his head; Sherlock can still feel his anger and his disappointment and his sadness and that almost overpowering wrongness at the root of all those awful feelings.
He wants to pick at it, but he doesn’t. He wants to thrash against it, but he doesn’t. He wants to make it stop, but it won’t.
He gets dressed. It’s nearly midnight, but he gets dressed, pulls on his armour and then gathers his coat, his shield, and leaves the flat.
At first, he simply wanders. He lets his feet guide him as he attempts to think through this problem logically and come up with a solution that both makes sense and will work on John. Logic and John don’t often go together; John is very much concerned with the emotional, with what he can feel from other people, and what he feels himself. It’s a different way of thinking for Sherlock, one he still hasn’t quite got entirely used to.
Sherlock wanders, or at least that’s what he thinks he’s doing, at first.
It’s not until he realizes that he’s getting steadily closer to where John is that he realizes what he’s doing: he’s going after John. Really, he should’ve known as soon as he left the flat what he was doing, but John has always had the uncanny ability to blind him.
Sherlock’s going to fix it. He has no clue how--this has never been his area, to say the very least--but he’s going to try. He owes it to John, he owes it to the overwhelming sense that something is truly wrong with John, he owes it to their friendship, the bond they’ve worked so long to strengthen to this point, ever since John went and hooked them together. He owes it to himself, perhaps. Because if he can’t fix it, he doesn’t want to contemplate what will happen to him, what he’ll let happen to him.
He’ll throw himself at John, force him to listen, force him to see that this is wrong, that this really isn’t how he feels. Sherlock will rummage through John’s feelings, no matter how John protests, show them to him, show him the cracks in them, the way they’re just slightly off, the way they feel to Sherlock like they’re laid over John’s actual emotions, blotting them out and suffocating them, the way they glint with a malevolence that John could never feel himself. He’ll show John how cold it feels in his head, and how wrong that is, because John is many things but he’s never cold. Sherlock will do whatever, say whatever it takes to convince John to at least come home.
He’ll fix it. He will solve the puzzle. It’s what he does.
There’s a flyer taped up in the stairwell of the warehouse indicating that members of the AMS should head downstairs for the weekly meeting. He can smell burnt coffee and pastries and unwashed bodies, hear voices drifting up from wherever they are.
Sherlock doesn’t go down the stairs to investigate, though he wants to; he does make note of the location, in case he ever needs to cultivate contacts among the mendicants.
John is upstairs, somewhere, so Sherlock goes that way. His steps are slow and quiet and if he was anyone else he’d think they were hesitant. But he’s Sherlock Holmes, and he is never hesitant.
The warehouse is in the process of being converted into loft flats, as far as he can tell.
He wraps his coat, his shield, closer around himself, turns up the collar against absolutely nothing, and climbs the stairs. There is a freight lift, but he avoids that because of the noise.
There’s someone with John, someone who fairly oozes with unpleasantness. Sherlock wonders how it is that he can feel these things from the other person through John without John being particularly aware of them himself; John isn’t feeling any of the trepidation or wariness that he would normally around someone like this. In fact, John feels nothing but relaxed and happy, but even those normal emotions feel off to Sherlock. There’s something about them that sends chills racing up Sherlock’s spine, lodging in his neck and making his skin crawl.
Sherlock’s not sure what or who to expect; he just knows that the other person doesn’t matter at all. He’s got one goal, and one goal only, and no one is going to stand in his way.
No one, that is, except Sebastian Moran, who is lounging on the sofa in the huge room, which seems to be in the middle of being turned into a rather ultra modern and subtly quite posh flat, drinking a beer and grinning like the Cheshire cat. He’s not wearing the glasses this time, and his eyes are that same sort of wild that they had been after he’d broken Sherlock’s hand.
This... actually makes perfect sense, and pieces begin to slot into their proper places in Sherlock’s head, forming a more complete picture, in the middle of which stands John Hamish Watson.
I’ll burn you whispers through Sherlock’s head in another man’s voice. I’ll burn the heart out of you. Moriarty was never given the chance; Mycroft had him taken care of. Sherlock never got to play the game with Jim, but apparently Sebastian is taking over for his boss. But Moran isn’t playing the game either. He’s gone straight for Sherlock’s biggest weakness.
“Oh,” Sherlock says, rather stupidly (he will never admit to it). “You.”
John looks up from his beer, from where he’s sat at the other end of the sofa, relaxed and seemingly content, and scowls at Sherlock. It is not a pleasant expression. The emotions the roil up in him at the sight of Sherlock are not pleasant. They’re also not his.
“What do you want, Sherlock?” John asks, voice heavy with something quite a bit like anger, but somehow different. It’s not right.
This is a turn up, isn’t it? For a bare moment, Sherlock had thought it was John, that John had led him a merry dance, all those months of living together and he’d never known that John was Moriarty. It was the wrongness of John’s voice that had quashed those thoughts, and it’s the wrongness in his voice now that sends chills up Sherlock’s spine.
Things are falling into place, but far more slowly than they should be. He can’t think straight with all the emotions he’s feeling, with everything coming from John, with how overwhelming the sense of incorrectness is.
Some of the puzzle pieces, they’re the right shape, but aren’t quite the right size, and he can’t fit them. John’s place in the picture confuses him; his attachment to John confuses the picture and befuddles his normally lightning quick leaps. Emotions are a weakness; he can’t seem to push them down where they belong as far as John is concerned.
All right? Are you all right?
Sorry, boys! I’m so changeable!
Sherlock pushes the images away, pushes the memories away. This is entirely different. John wasn’t physically kidnapped this time, he’s been mentally kidnapped instead. This is far worse.
“I want you to come home, John.” His voice comes out soft, and if he were the sort to actually do such things, he’d be blushing. He doesn’t want to be having this conversation with John in front of Moran. It’s a simple enough request, and John is used to following his requests, but it doesn’t feel right, this is too private to be talking about in front of another person. No one understands (least of all Sherlock, and he’s half of the pair in this relationship).
John laughs, bitterly. “Yeah, no.”
“He’s like a puppy, isn’t he?” Sebastian puts in, smiling darkly, looking directly at Sherlock but not talking to him.
John laughs again, in delight this time, and Sherlock cringes at how wrong it sounds, how awful John feels in his head. He thinks of water and chlorine and screams which may or may not have been his own.
“Yeah, he keeps coming back no matter how many times you kick him down the stairs.”
Sherlock tries not to gape. He fights against it, works to control his expression, wipe it off his face. This has never been a problem for him before. He will give Sebastian no ammunition if he can help it. He wonders if John can even tell how this is making him feel, how it really does feel like his heart is being burned out of his chest.
He thinks of those dreams he still sometimes has, of that cozy spot next to John’s heart where he’d have been content to spend the rest of his life.
John doesn’t say anything, merely looks at him with his head tilted slightly to one side. His expressive face is blank, which never happens. Sherlock takes this as a good sign. John isn’t saying anything to Sebastian about the turmoil going on in Sherlock’s head.
That’s a good sign, right?
Sebastian stands and gestures at John to do the same; John does so silently, moving to stand next to Moran, looking at him in frank adoration that’s creepy in the extreme. John’s never looked at anyone like that, as far as Sherlock knows, not even him, and he’s caught some of the adoring looks John occasionally throws his way, when he thinks Sherlock won’t notice the way John feels.
Sherlock always notices, because it always makes him want to grin like an idiot or else purr like a cat (he’s never decided which is more apt). It always fills him with warmth.
Which is the opposite of what he’s feeling right now.
There’s something in the way Sebastian is looking at John, at the calculating, concentrated look in his eyes. And Sherlock has a flash of inspiration, a flash of intuition, a flash of dread, because he knows he’s right. Several more pieces slot into place, and the picture goes abruptly crystal clear.
“This is you,” Sherlock says in a flat voice.
It is a weakness with me, Jim whispers in his head. You see, but you don’t observe; you’re ordinary.
“I was wondering how long it would take you to figure it out,” Sebastian replies, practically clapping his hands in glee. He reminds Sherlock so much of Jim Moriarty in that moment that Sherlock shudders. They’re both entirely insane--they must have really suited each other.
“You’re a projective empath,” Sherlock adds. Because he’s sure of this: Sebastian Moran cannot feel what other people feel the way John does, the way Sherlock does by proxy. This would not be going at all like it is if Moran knew that John can do both, if he knew that Sherlock can feel some of what he feels through the connection he has to John.
And John isn’t bringing it up.
Definitely a good sign.
“Oh, very good,” Seb drawls; he seems not to have noticed how specific Sherlock was in his words, not to have noticed what that might mean. “Have you figured out what all this is about yet? Have you figured out how I’m going to destroy you?”
“Let me guess: you’re going to kill me.” Sherlock cannot help roll his eyes.
Sebastian laughs. “Oh, you do remember, how wonderful. No, I’m not going to kill you. John is.”
John looks up at Sebastian, face blank. Sebastian is controlling his every emotion.
And has been for a while now.
Looking back, Sherlock can see it.You see, but you do not observe. Stupid, stupid, stupid. All those little things, they add up over time. An assault on John’s mind, on the thing that most makes him John. Sebastian has been systematically chipping away at John’s defenses for ages now, and neither one of them ever realized it until it was far, far too late to stop it, to fight back.
I’m so sorry, John. Sherlock tries to let him know without words, without even looking at him, how awful this makes him feel.
“You had him kidnapped and beaten. Explain.”
“Just a last little prod, just what I needed to really get into his head. Right, Johnny?”
“Sure, Seb,” John replies, mechanical, smiling a brittle smile at Moran. Sebastian doesn’t seem to notice the brittleness in it, though.
Sherlock shudders. This is awful. Think, think! He has to get through to John, get through the awful layer of slime that Seb has pumped into his head, layered over his real emotions, over his abilities; Sherlock has to get through to John so that John can feel himself again, feel how wrong this is, wash away the sliminess and Moran’s influence.
Ugh, feelings. This is why he’s spent most of his life ignoring and suppressing his emotions in favor of logic. He doesn’t understand them, not the way John does. He doesn’t understand his own emotions the way John does, he’s not prepared for this he doesn’t know doesn’t know doesn’t know he hates not knowing what to do or how to get through. He only knows that he has to fix this.
Sebastian pulls a gun, grinning at Sherlock all the while. He handles it like he knows what he’s doing, and Sherlock remembers John telling him how he’d found a mention of Moran in connection with a military sniper program. But he hands it over to John almost immediately.
John checks the safety and chambers a round.
Sherlock looks on with what he hopes is an impassive expression. Inside he’s cowering and screaming at John.
Sebastian grins at him.
“I’m not going to play with you the way Jim wanted to,” Sebastian says.
“No?” Then what’s this?
Sebastian looks at John. “How do you feel about your flatmate, John?”
“Former flatmate,” John corrects. There’s no emotion in his voice at all; it’s dead in a way Sherlock has never experienced before, despite all his experience with dead things.
John tilts his head and gives Sherlock that considering look again, and Sherlock wonders if John can feel his emotions right now, or if whatever it is that Moran has done to him deadens their connection on John’s end.
Sherlock hopes not, as he has a feeling he needs it. And it certainly hasn’t stopped him from feeling all of John’s emotions. Sebastian has made John very nearly hate him, although it’s twisted and fractured, like something about John has made it so Sebastian’s hate won’t stick, won’t take root.
“Of course,” Sebastian allows. “How do you feel about your former flatmate?”
John shrugs. He keeps giving Sherlock that considering look. Like he’s trying to decide what he’s going to do with Sherlock.
“Do you hate him?”
John shrugs again.
Sherlock sees a flicker of frustration flash across Moran’s face. He feels it, reflected and refracted through John and slime; this is the first he’s felt of Sebastian’s emotions, and he’s not sure if John is letting it through on purpose or subconsciously. Maybe it’s just proximity.
Either way, the insides of Sebastian Moran give him a headache. John’s going to be felled for days recovering from dealing with Moran, if Sherlock is able to fix this. He’ll be a mess, and Sherlock thinks, that’s fine, John; I’ll take care of you, I’ll think of nothing but the ocean, I’ll feel nothing but cool and calm and collected and peaceful, just please come home and stop this, please.
“You hate him, right?”
“Sure, Seb,” John replies, dutifully. He nods, vaguely, half-heartedly. He lifts his left shoulder in a half-shrug. His hand doesn’t tremor at all.
John shrugs fully. “Well, he’s not a very nice man, is he?”
Sherlock can’t stop the pained sound that escapes his throat.
Sebastian smiles. “No, he really isn’t.”
John raises the gun, and Sherlock almost backs away, quickly drops himself into the safe space in his head. He wants to cower, to hide from this, but he can’t, he has to help John.
He tries to take his time, not to rush through this part. Despite the gun being pointed at his chest. At least John isn’t going for a headshot; there’s a chance he’ll survive a chest wound if John goes through with this before he can break through. Hopefully John won’t shoot him before he’s had his chance to attempt cracking through the miasma that Sebastian has layered over John’s mind.
First, he throws open the door in the flat, the one that connects him to John. It’s usually ajar, but now he throws it wide. Then he gathers his bees. He calls them all to him, all at once--there are far more of them than he remembers there being, but he doesn’t have time to wonder why that is right now. He morphs them (how this works he will never be able to explain, but then, John never seems to need an explanation) into carpenter bees, he attaches little bits of his care, his affection, his gratitude, and his love to them, little additional bits that they don’t already carry, and he sends them through the door, makes them swarm, tells them to find a new home off in that field, in that garden and under that huge old oak tree.
The bees buzz off into John’s head to do their work, and Sherlock opens his eyes, briefly. He’s staring down the barrel of the gun in John’s hand. John’s hand, which still doesn’t waver at all. Sherlock shuts his eyes again and steps through the door in his head, quickly, jumps through before he can wonder what it will do to both of them, to jump across like this instead of creeping in like he’s been doing, instead of curling up in the shade of that tree in John’s garden-safe-space and dreaming of his thumping heart. He opens his eyes again just in time to see John wince, and the gun waver, dropping towards John’s side.
Sherlock takes a step closer physically. His head is pounding, and he’s pretty sure John’s is too. He takes a deep breath and raises his hand, lays it against John’s chest, right over his heart. The gun is no longer pointing at Sherlock at all.
“Hello,” he says, quietly. “I’m right here.”
John shakes his head, as the layer of control that Sebastian had spread over John’s mind cracks and shatters; the bees did their job, Sherlock’s presence did what he’d hoped it would do.
The bees don’t come back.
“All right?” Sherlock asks.
John looks up at him, warmth flooding his eyes, and Sherlock sighs in relief. John nods, once, and turns on Moran.
In contrast to the warmth of John is the freezing cold of his rage. Sherlock steps close behind him, lays his hand against the back of John’s neck, and thinks go for it as hard as he can. It feels like holding on to dry ice, John’s rage feels like burning cold, but he doesn’t let go.
He has no idea what John is going to do to Moran; he can’t decide if a simple and clean death by gunshot would be too easy or not.
John doesn’t say anything, just stares hard at Sebastian. Sherlock can’t see his expression, but the way Moran flinches gives him an idea of how dark it must be. Sherlock hopes never to have to see whatever that expression is. Moran only reacts for a moment, however, before collapsing to his knees.
Sherlock doesn’t know what John does to Sebastian, he can’t tell except that it’s something empathic, but it makes his head hurt even more than it already does. Which is nothing, really, to what it must do to Moran, because he has sunk to the floor with a look of abject terror on his face, mouth stretched in a silent scream.
John looks at Moran for another moment before he turns to Sherlock.
“Do you have your phone?” His voice is steely and steady; Sherlock can feel how tightly clamped down on his emotions John is right now. It’s ok though, because John is back, John’s normal warmth is there.
Sherlock furrows his brow in a clear indication of Why? but he hands over his phone.
“I left mine at home,” John says by way of explanation. His expression clears; outwardly he gives no indication of how close to the edge he is, but Sherlock can feel it. He’s not sure what to do about it. John fiddles with the phone for a few minutes before muttering, under his breath, “I hate this touch screen.”
Sherlock doesn’t reply. John continues slowly typing for another few minutes before handing the phone back to Sherlock and walking towards the stairwell. Sherlock follows after, checking the text that John had just sent.
If you want someone to run your fucking tests on, then come and collect him. -JW
It takes longer than Sherlock feels like it should to find a cab, even given the lateness of the hour. Unacceptable. The fine edge of panic, of pain, of anguish coursing through John puts him on edge; they need to get home now. Now.
John climbs into the cab first, when Sherlock finally manages to flag one down, and keeps going until he is on the far side of the bench, leaning into the door, looking out the window with fierce determination not to have a panic attack in public, not to cry, not to let go.
Sherlock’s teeth hurt with it, making his headache even worse. He can’t imagine how badly John’s head must hurt right now. Sherlock follows, tries to crowd close to John, to try to help keep John calm. Or as calm as possible.
All things considered, anyway.
“Don’t,” John hisses, hunching over, shrinking away from Sherlock. He can’t handle it right now, the concern, the worry. Later, he’ll appreciate it, he’ll take advantage of it, he’ll cling to it, but right now he’s afraid if Sherlock touches him, gets too close to him, he’ll break, and keep breaking. At the very least, he’ll get them kicked out of the cab--the cabbie is already giving them sidelong glances in the rearview mirror--and all he wants right now is home.
Sherlock stops. He moves back to the other side of the cab and folds his hands in his lap.
John wants to apologize, but there’s no need. For once, Sherlock isn’t prying, isn’t pushing. He sits quietly on the other side of the cab and does his best to feel nothing at all. John finds it strangely soothing and far more comforting than he thinks he should--he’s spent so much time trying to convince Sherlock that it’s ok to emote that this near-shutdown really shouldn’t be so welcome.
He can’t speak to apologize anyway. If he speaks, if he moves, if he relaxes at all, it won’t be pretty. And he won’t let himself do that. Not here, not now.
Sebastian Moran is not worth that.
Sherlock watches him. John stares for all his worth out the window at the passing cars, at the lights of the city.
“Hungry?” Sherlock asks quietly, when they’re only a few blocks from home. Their favorite Chinese isn’t open anymore, but the owners would probably still be there, and they’re always willing to accommodate Sherlock and John.
John shakes his head. His stomach is too unsettled for him to eat right now. Or possibly ever again.
By the time they get home, he’s trembling with the effort of not breaking down, hardly able to walk a straight line because of the tremors wracking his body. Sherlock surreptitiously helps him up to the flat, walking close without actually touching him, making sure he doesn’t fall.
When they get into the flat, quietly so as not to wake Mrs Hudson, Sherlock takes off his coat and his scarf and goes into the kitchen while John stands in the middle of the lounge, shaking, shaking.
“I left my stuff at Se--Moran’s,” he says, eventually. Even his voice wobbles. He’s not sure he can move to sit down. He’s ready to fall down, actually. Screw it, maybe I’ll just curl up on the floor and sleep here. He wants to sleep for days.
Sherlock comes out of the kitchen with the tea tray. “Mycroft will have it brought by tomorrow. Don’t worry about it.”
John nods. Slowly, he takes off his coat. It feels weird, being back home, after the way he’d left. After the awful things he’s said to Sherlock, the awful things he’d felt about his best friend, that Sebastian had made him feel. He sits in his chair, slumps, folds his arms over his chest and shuts his eyes and tries to let the tremors take their course. But it’s not like shivering, it’s not a simple case of his muscles warming themselves back up to keep him from slipping into hypothermia. This is a different sort of shivering.
Sherlock puts the tea tray down next to him, pours two cups of tea, prepares them, and takes his own to his chair. He doesn’t speak, partly because he’s not sure what he can say that won’t crack John into pieces, and more importantly because he knows that whatever he says right now, it won’t be right. It won’t be enough. He watches John carefully.
John only drinks about half of his cup of tea.
This makes Sherlock worry.
The worry makes John itch. Itch to run away, itch to scream. The shivers aren’t stopping, and they make the itch worse.
“I’m going to shower,” he says, jumping to his feet abruptly.
Sherlock looks up at him, one brow quirking of its own volition. “All right.”
John stands under the shower spray until his skin is red and raw and tight and all the hot water is gone. His body stops shaking, for the most part, but his mind races, shakes, tremors and cowers away from the things he should be facing.
He should be facing what Sebastian Moran did to him; the violation of it. But he can’t.
He should be facing the fact that he can’t trust his own emotions anymore. But he doesn’t.
He should be accepting that he doesn’t feel safe in his own head. He can’t even put that into words, though.
He should be facing the fact that he’s terrified if his best friend even touches him, he’ll start sobbing and won’t stop ever again.
He’s terrified of how badly he needs the comfort.
Sherlock is stretched out on his bed when John comes out of the bathroom with his hair damp and his dressing gown wrapped tight around him. John takes one look at him and keeps going, straight upstairs to his room, do not pass go, do not grab that cuppa you were thinking about having, since you’d abandoned the one your friend made you for fear of spilling it on yourself due to the shaking you’d been doing at the time.
Sherlock hears the door shut upstairs. He gets up and goes out to the base of the stairs, where he listens to John moving around, putting on his pyjamas, pacing for a few moments, and then climbing into bed. He waits a few minutes more, listening to John toss and turn and try to settle (and failing), and ascends the stairs silently.
John’s door is shut, but not locked. Sherlock opens it without knocking, shuts it behind himself, and glides across the floor to the side of John’s bed. John is lying on his side facing away from Sherlock, on his bad shoulder. His shoulders move with each hitching breath, each sob stifled in his pillow. He doesn’t seem to know that Sherlock is there, or that Sherlock aches at his friend’s pain.
It’s a somewhat new feeling for Sherlock, this desire to just make it all go away for someone else. He’s used to it in himself, he remembers how he used to make it go away, knows how much John has helped with that, how much their bond has helped. He wants to do that for John.
Sherlock discards his own dressing gown and drops it to the floor before pulling the covers back and climbing into bed behind John.
John starts at the intrusion and half turns over.
“Sherlock, leave me be,” he whimpers. But he doesn’t fight it, he just turns away and curls up tighter, tries to make himself small, make himself invisible.
Sherlock ignores him, spoons up close behind him, and pulls the covers up over both their heads. “Big spoon,” he whispers into John’s neck.
“What’re you doing?” John murmurs. His breath hitches. In the dark, Sherlock can’t see the tears John is shedding, but he can smell them on John’s skin. Sherlock covers as much of John as he can mange with himself, tries to wrap around him, shield him, make him understand without words.
After a few minutes, though, John asks again, voice small in the cocoon of blankets around them.
“Trying to make you feel safe, John,” Sherlock replies. He thinks it’s rather obvious, but then, John’s not in a very good frame of mind right now.
John lets Sherlock hold him, lets himself accept the comfort. He sinks into his own head again, into the miasma of fear and pain, and it’s several long minutes before he hears what Sherlock is murmuring into his shoulder.
“Let me take it, John,” he’s saying. “Let me. Let me.”
John’s breath catches. He shuts his eyes tight and clenches his jaw, takes a deep breath, and lets Sherlock take it, draw it all out of his head like drawing poison from a wound. Lets him take it all and feed it into the fire in the flat in Sherlock’s head. Lets himself go limp with relief at being held for a while, at not having to feel it for a while, at not having to deal with it.
Sherlock draws it all out of him, until he’s entirely empty, until he’s simply a vessel, the outline of John. Sherlock keeps him safe, shields him, keeps him from flying apart, wraps him in long arms and a blanket of safe and warm and loved, wraps him in physical blankets. And John sleeps.
“He tried to make me hate you.”
It’s been a week. John hasn’t left the flat once. The first two days, he didn’t even get out of bed except when absolutely necessary. Sherlock had ended up dragging the telly and the dvd player upstairs so they could curl up together and watch films. John has mostly sat huddled in his chair or on the sofa since then, staring at nothing and drinking gallons of tea and wondering if he’s really feeling what he thinks he’s feeling.
No matter how many times Sherlock reassures him, it doesn’t seem to do any good. John just can’t seem to believe it.
“You didn’t,” Sherlock replies, from the kitchen where he’s cooking.
Yes, actually cooking. It’s something he can do, even though he doesn’t particularly care for it. But John won’t leave the flat to get food, and Sherlock is frankly sick of beans on toast.
“He tried to make me kill you,” John adds, so softly Sherlock barely hears him. When he looks up from the pot of pasta he’s stirring, John is standing at the end of the table.
“But,” Sherlock says, pointedly. “You. Did. Not.”
John sighs and nods. “I know.” He sits at the table and watches Sherlock move around the room.
“How can I ever trust what I think I’m feeling again, Sherlock?” he asks eventually, voice soft, unsure.
This is not the John that Sherlock knows. This is some shadow of him, insecure and unsure of himself, violated and very nearly broken.
Sherlock isn’t sure how forceful he should be with this version of John. But he answers honestly anyway. “If you can’t trust yourself, John, then trust me.”
“What?” John looks up at him with fearful eyes.
“I can tell if what you’re feeling is you or not.”
Sherlock takes the pasta off the fire and sits down across from John. “Yes. I could tell, when you were leaving, that what you were feeling did not actually originate with you. I didn’t know it at the time, but I could tell it was wrong. If you can’t trust yourself, then trust me. I will always be able to tell, and I will always be honest with you about it.”
John stares. “Really?”
Sherlock shrugs and gives him a small smile. Something tells him that the healing process he'd endured for his broken hand is going to turn out to have been far shorter than the one John--both of them, really--is in for. “I guess you’re stuck with me.”
John manages a tiny, worried smile in return. He doesn't say anything about it, but he knows what Sherlock is thinking, and he agrees. Nevertheless, a small feeling of hope takes root deep within him. “I’m glad.”