de·ni·al (dĭ-ni´il) n. Psychology . An unconscious defense mechanism characterized by refusal to acknowledge painful realities, thoughts, or feelings.
“ I'm staying right here, Sherlock. For as long as you want. I'm not going anywhere.”
--John Watson, “Sublimation”
When John comes downstairs the next morning (the morning after, he catches himself thinking), Sherlock is in a rare moment of stillness. He's leaning against the kitchen counter in his dressing gown, hair still sleep-mussed, eyes on the laboratory jumble on the table.
“I think it's best if one of us leaves.” It takes John a moment to make sense of the words. He sounds as if he's just suggested curry for dinner. No, actually, on the rare occasions he makes a decision about food, he usually sounds more interested than this.
“You heard me perfectly well.” Sherlock still isn't looking at him. “I think one of us should consider a new flat.”
“By one of us, you mean me,” John says, inner pugilist rising with both hands up.
“No, not necessarily. That might be more practical, but I'm willing to look as well.” He gestures carelessly with one long hand, as if he isn't tossing aside months worth of friendship, of... more.
“Sherlock, what happened last night--”
“This isn't about that.”
“Oh, of course,” John says. “It's purely coincidence that the morning after I get you off you decide to throw me out.”
Sherlock grimaces, lips twisting into a moue of distaste. “John--”
“Don't John me, you prat. If you regret last night, that's fine. But don't sit there and act like it was fine, everything's great, but now you need to move out, John.”
John sees the first hint of some kind of emotion cross Sherlock's face, fleeting and indefinable, but there. “I did warn you when we first met. I don't—I don't do... this.” Another random hand gesture, fingers twitching from John to Sherlock and back again.
“What, sex? Because a, that clearly wasn't your first time, and b, I already said it's fine if you regret it.”
“I don't regret it,” says Sherlock, speaking slowly. “But I don't wish to repeat it.”
“Fine,” John says, and steps past him to start making the tea.
John spends the day looking for something more permanent than the locum work he's been doing. Sherlock is—who knows, at St. Bart's, probably. It never seemed so important to John before, to find something that was his and his alone. To make certain that he could make his way in London without a flat share—if necessary. He even, once or twice, surfs idly through rental listings. It does nothing but depress him. Baker Street is the only true home he's had since leaving the one he grew up in. And even if Sherlock is the one who decides to leave, John can't possibly afford 221B alone. Mrs. Hudson is a wonderful woman, but she's no fool. Besides, John's not sure he would want to stay in the flat without Sherlock. Sherlock is what makes Baker Street home.
The thought catches him off-guard. Shit. When did that become true? Ultimately it doesn't matter, because it may not be home for much longer. He swallows the disappointment, and realizes it isn't the first time he's done so. Odd how he's grown accustomed to disappointment over the past months.
He's been ignoring a text from Maggie all morning, short and to the point: Well?
“Sod this,” he mutters savagely and sends back, I'm looking for a new place to live. Got any ideas?
--Shit. John, I'm so sorry.
--No, don't be. You weren't wrong. He's just a bigger arse than I could have imagined. It's fine.
And it is. Absolutely fine. “Fine” is, in fact, John's word of the day.
--Coffee? she texts.
--I don't need to talk about my feelings, Maggie. It's fine. It was a mistake, that's all.
Probably the biggest mistake of my life.
He's tempted to phone Harry. If he does need to leave Baker Street in a hurry, she's his only realistic option, short of asking if he can kip on Lestrade's couch. And the notion of word getting around the Yard that Sherlock kicked John out for getting too handsy... Lestrade's is not an option. Shitshitshit. Why didn't I think of this last night? He knows why. He was too amped up on adrenaline and hormones, too eager to dive head-first into a dangerous situation with Sherlock Bloody Holmes. Again.
John rubs at his face viciously with his palms, stubble and callouses rasping against each other. Regardless of the long-term situation, he has to clear out for a bit. Right now, the thought of coming face-to-face with Sherlock makes him feel slightly ill. He considers Maggie, just a for moment. Absolutely not . He swallows like a man taking ipecac, and dials his phone.
“Harry? Listen. I'm in a spot, and I need a favour.”
Family is family, he supposes, taking the second cup of tea Harry presses on him. Her flat's in a right state, but compared to Baker Street, it's not bad. There are—he assumes—no hidden body parts ready to fall out of cupboards here. He wonders how long it will be before Baker Street stops being his standard idea of living.
“I assume you are going to tell me what happened at some point,” says Harry, settling across from him with her own cuppa.
“Nothing. Nothing happened. It's fine. He's just.. well, you haven't met him. He can be overbearing at times. Plus, I—ah, he said something about a friend coming over.” He's a bad liar, and that was a bad lie to choose. He has a sudden image of a statuesque brunette leaning over Sherlock to breathe in his ear, while John sat there and wished he were anywhere else in the world, even Afghanistan. She was dead now, but there could be others. Would be others, no doubt. He takes a swallow of tea against the twist of his stomach.
“You're a terrible liar, Johnny.”
“Let it go, Harry. Please.”
It must be the 'please' that throws her, because for a wonder, she does. Grey-blue eyes that match his own study him for a long moment, then she nods. “In your own time, then. Think you can stand my couch for a few days?”
“Better than the alternative,” he says, scalding his throat with tea once more.
He left a note for Sherlock before he left, propped against the microscope: Family emergency. Will be at Harry's. But of course, that wasn't good enough, because three hours later he gets a text: Liar. She hasn't had a drink for a month. --SH
John doesn't answer.
He doesn't answer any of the texts he gets from Sherlock over the next few days.
There's a case. Meet me at the Yard in 20 minutes. --SH
John. There's a murderer stalking London for god's sake. Hide the whiskey, tuck your sister into bed and get down here. --SH
Anderson's making a botch of everything. --SH
It doesn't mean anything. Once John might have thought what Sherlock was really trying to say was “I miss you, come home.” But not now. All it means is that Sherlock isn't getting his way, and he's pissed off about it.
Good. That's just fine.
John's sent his CV out to every hospital and surgery in London (except for Bart's), it should only be a matter of time before he starts to hear back. Unless, like Sarah, they all decided he was overqualified. He keeps thinking he should go back to 221B and get a few more of his things, but he can never be certain when Sherlock will be out.
On the evening of fourth day, his phone rings. The number on the phone is Sherlock's. Who never calls when he can text. He grimaces and sends it to voice mail. Ten seconds later: ringing. Voice mail again. Another ten seconds. Jesus, the man is a spoiled brat. He answers. “I'm ignoring you right now. Take a hint.”
“John.” The voice isn't Sherlock's. It isn't even male. John is so startled by this that he can't place the voice at first. “It's Sergeant Donovan.”
“Sally? What--?” John's heart starts to thud painfully in his chest. “Why are you calling me from Sherlock's mobile?”
“John, there's been—an incident.”
John feels his lunch rising in his throat. “What.” Happened is supposed to follow that, but his throat closes with a dry click.
“He's been shot.”
Every nightmare John Watson has ever had is coming true, and it's not fine. He knows, he knows too well all of the ways projectile weapons can damage tissue, bones, organs, all of the ways they can spill blood, can stop a life. He knows intimately the grotesque modern art of warfare, flesh torn, viscera exposed, limbs gone. Every horrible thing, every atrocity he ever saw in the surgeries of Afghanistan dances in front of his eyes until he feels his vision begin to swim.
“John? John, did you hear me?”
John makes himself say the words. “Is he alive?”
“Yes. He's on his way to Royal London now.”
“How bad is it?”
There's a pause. “I don't know, John. There was a lot of blood.”
He can wave that away. That doesn't necessarily mean anything. It could still be okay. Sherlock could still be okay. “Right. I'll be there in ten.”