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 *

              The Night Of:

 

(There are seventeen steps from the entrance of the flat on Baker Street to the handle of the door at 221B. 

Sherlock can hear the echoes of John’s cadence on them all.  

The side effects will pass, he thinks as he stays yet another shiver that cracks each vertebrae of his spinal column, now lit like a bonfire. The side effects will pass, he knows, and bites the ridge of his knuckles until he tastes bright copper. The side effects will pass, despite the filmy way his own living room swims in and out of focus.  With the inexorable draw of his drug laced tide, the greying wave of dysphoria always returns. In. Every. Single. Fucking. Way.

John is coming.

John is going.

John was never here in the first place.

You are the train wreck, Sherlock dreams in litanies and cathedral hymns, his morphine heartbeat draining the remaining blood from his vision, and I am merely the crossroads where it happens.) 

 

I.           

 

*

 

 

              Four Weeks Before:

 

It’s four weeks before the Wedding, on a Tuesday, benign and unassuming.  And of course, It, or what he’ll later know as It, happens now, as he finally settles down in his chair in the living room of 221B to start composing the piece de resistance of his entire symphonic career.

It starts as a problem, as all things in life tend to, but four lines of scratched melody later, It transforms into three fucking notes that he can’t get right.

He tries, sixteen hundred and thirty seven times, times one million, times (“Hyperbole will get you absolutely nowhere” Mummy had always told him) infinity.  There is a pile of crumpled parchment; ink strokes burn the cartilage in between his fingers. He wants to gather the haphazard tangled lump of inadequacy from the bin, dip each torn page in gasoline, strike a single match, and let the licking flames obliterate all evidence of his ineptitude from the face of the universe.

Music, what once was his oasis of solace is now his fucking endless mirrored nightmare. And of course, it would have to be this, the one composition above all else that he has to get Right. There are no other options.  It. Has. To. Be. Perfect.  Much like who it’s intended for, although, rationally, who it’s intended for is:

-Horridly imperfect on a genetic level.

-Horridly imperfect on an emotional level.

-Horridly imperfect on an availability level.

- and yet, I can’t cut the pieces of him out of my blood. 

Forcing the thought to crystallize instantaneously, Sherlock swallows down what feels like a mouthful of glass.  The dull ache that plucks a single chord of his heartstrings reverberates in the chasm between his ribs.  Sherlock paces. Sherlock wrenches more paper from its bindings.  Thirty two hours, eighteen cups of coffee, and not one, but two amber sunsets later, he’s fairly certain that he’s gone completely and entirely mercury brimmed mad. 

The notes won’t fucking happen.

They won’t because somewhere in between twisting the follicles of his own hair out--the pain delicate and exquisite and bathing his neuroreceptors in a soft haze like a far off neon-lit desert town--he’s realized that it’s impossible to translate into ideas such as

I never thought that meeting you would turn me into ruins. Organs of rusted scrap metal and a skeleton tacked together with tape and safety pins and I know you’ve moved on, I know, but all I’ve thought about for the last two years is how I want to lay down beside you just for one night and map the peaks and valleys your heartbeat like a cartographer as you sleep into notes.

It’s all devastatingly Not Good.  And simultaneously makes him want to pull his fucking fingers out of his joints in overwhelming frustration. And three more cigarettes later, he tucks back into a brooding pile of limbs on the sofa, feeling the tug of sixteen nicotine patches against his forearm.

There has to some sort of straight path back up again into brilliance, into rationality, into not feeling, and out of his goddamn head just for two seconds.  Because when he used to compose, all Before, the notes had always flowed effortlessly from the whorls of his fingers, spun sugar in black upon parchment.  The rhythm and science of music used to be dictated by empirical levels of beauty, not sentiment, and most certainly, not the three plus years of emotion that he has so successfully repressed. 

And now nothing.   Sherlock can taste the caustic smile as it flowers across his face.

They all leave you in the end--it’s what you like, isn’t it?

Sherlock twists off the sofa, ignoring the cup of tea that somehow appeared at his elbow over the last, oh, hour, approximately (Mrs. Hudson, bless), and drags himself back to the window.  The heap of discarded notes and paper splits him open inside, somewhere deep within his breastbone.  With a narrow-eyed determination (and steadying his now shaking breath and the snap at the corner of his eyes because he is fucking failing at this too now, add that to the ever growing list of things Which He Has Fucked Up With John since his return), yet again, Sherlock picks up the Strad, tucking it under his chin, wishing that there was something additionally chemical besides nicotine patches and the heavily diluted caffeinated tea that could push the now spiraling, mm, somewhat out of control, maudlin sentimental laced fog of his inadequate fucking brain to--

Oh.

Oh.

...But, there is.

There is a way to burn away the layer of film and weave the masterpiece that he’s more than capable of producing--no debate about it.  Oh, but there is, and now, even the very thought of it clings to him like wet seaweed, making his pulse hammer in his throat, making the blood in his veins curdle and ache until they bruise themselves lavender with sheer need. Oh, but there is a way to remove the glass from his throat, and the hook lodged somewhere in the left ventricle of his heart, because he wants to do this, he has to make this composition better than anything that he’s ever even fathomed he could compose before.

The Thing is not Good.  No.  But it’s for a Good thing, and, god, it would be blessed relief just to let the cover of cloud spun peace envelop and absolve him of his misery for two fucking seconds--only two (hyperbolic, yet again)--it wouldn’t take much, you know that, you know how to control it, and so--

Sherlock lets the Strad slide from his shoulder, before decisively setting it, and the bow, neatly against the windowsill. 

It’s not supposed to happen like this.  But then again, nothing ever does.

 

*

 

(John Watson does not text Sherlock anymore, besides out of sheer necessity.  E.g. location.  Meetings with clients.  Press events.  The usual.

It’s not oversight on John’s part. Quite the opposite.  But as he stares at the soft glow of the words that he’s typed out on his mobile, against the sound of Mary’s quiet breathing, there is an ache inside the marrow of his bones that was all too familiar two years prior.

Two days, you twat. 

You still alive?

The cursor blinks unsent at the end of the question mark, and John stares at it, biting down on his lip until it’s bloodless and numb.   But John is lying in bed, and it’s 2am and then Mary’s breathing changes as she rolls over.  And then John’s breathing changes as she pushes her fingers gently through the side of his short hair, and kisses the side of his temple.  And then the underside of his jaw.  And then the hollow between his collarbones and throat. 

With Mary’s soft skin now against his own, John lets the phone slip to the bedsheets, somewhere. 

And then the unsent text message isn’t an issue, anymore.)

 

*

 

John Watson never texts Sherlock anymore besides out of sheer necessity. E.g. meetings with clients. Press events.  The usual. 

It’s not an oversight on John’s part. But what Sherlock can’t (or doesn’t) want to parse out is why.

Clicking off his deathly silent mobile, Sherlock jams his fingers into the pockets of his Belstaff and continues stalking through the alleyways of a post-midnight London, the Tube rattling the pavement beneath his steps.  Somehow, the first fact--the lack of texting, not the walking--hurts more than the breakdown of cartilage in the second.  The pain, on both parts, is the sole fucking thing that’s been comfortably familiar since walking those seventeen steps for the first time in nearly two years, approximately six months prior. 

But nicotine and beta-endorphins and neuropeptides are all pantomimes of the compounds that he now desperately needs.

[And this, Sherlock will later realise, amber grenadine blood seeping from his veins as he clings to the metronome of Mycroft's voice, Mycroft who is desperately spinning him a story about swans strung from starfire--this is merely the beginning.] 

 

II.

 

*

 

The first time Sherlock gets high again, it feels, for lack of a more profound simile, like returning home.

Or at least, that’s the simile he’d choose, however, the English language has never been able to accurately capture the experiences of all thirty-four years spent alone on this fucking atrabilious planet. 

Hence:

The first time Sherlock gets high again, it feels like weightlessly free falling off a ten thousand foot skyscraper before smashing into a million and a half fragments of crazed glass amidst the impervious and stolid cobblestones below.

Better.

It’s not that he’s not cognizant of the ground, no.  After all, he knows that the pavement and inexorable crash is there, it always is, at the very end.  But for now, for now, the rush of the wind between his outstretched fingertips, and the hook of the summer sun braising the skin on the back of his neck, and the heady flood of invincibility through his veins that makes his heart flutter in his throat like the beat of a hummingbird’s wing is all is just too fucking stunning to stop.

-And it’s not addiction if you have it under control.

 Which he does. Always. 

And, as Sherlock’s murky grasp on consciousness begins to ebb back into just the whorls of his fingertips, he realizes how very much in control. He. Is.

Sherlock pushes himself up from the threadbare mattress and into a sitting position, doing his best to stay within the boundaries of his morphine-dazed euphoria.  He presses the length of his spine against the cracked plaster wall and tucks his knees to his ribs and for two glorious seconds, just breathes.  It’s delightful.  And horrid.  And everything in between.

Sherlock allows himself to tear his hands through his sweat matted curls, just once.

-Pathetic how merely 10 ml of morphine can curdle maudlinly in your veins.  Didn’t used to be that way.

 Underneath the grey hoodie that he has haphazardly pulled on to meld into his surroundings of yet another seedy London crack den, Sherlock tilts the tip of his nose toward the collar of the white v neck shirt he’s wearing, and sits on the threadbare mattress and stares through the window at the stars smeared with London fog.  The white shirt, or what used to be white and is now akin to a muted lighthouse grey.  It also used to be John’s, the one of Eleven and a Half Items which he had presumably, accidentally left back at the flat Before.  And even though right now Sherlock feels somewhere between being fucking amazing and dangerous, struck like the wavering flare of a match over kerosene, even just the smell of John, patheticpatheticpatheticpatheticpathetic, begins to stay the frantic discordant throbbing of his heartbeat against the bone of his ribs.  And hence, breathing and smelling is a fucking start even though it does nothing to stay the winding burn throughout his veins that screeches like a god damn banshee for the crystal liquid contained in the small bottle that he’s holding in the palm of his hand.

If only seven percent was the solution to all of his problem these days. 

Sherlock swallows so hard that he winces at the mere thought.

In spite of the fog, the moon is very bright tonight, and so very full.  Stars positively litter the sky as well--stars which he’d rather not think about for reasons, as all of that information had been deleted for a very salient purpose approximately three years prior.

But--

Somewhere, Sherlock realises as he stares up and smells John, the waves are pulled from the curve of the sun glazed horizon to the shore by the same moon.  The waves are pulled to islands formed from shale and volcanic ash, pulled to somewhere else.  And somewhere else, well, string theory, surely there are other universes out there somewhere and--

Somewhere, he realises, there is a Sherlock who can pull himself the fuck together.

Somewhere, he realises, there is a Sherlock who surely has to be less irreparable.

Somewhere, he realises, there is a Sherlock who has to be marginally happy.

This place is not here. 

It’s not among the moss and lichen smeared window panes, nor among the haphazard line of mattresses with their coils flattened down by those whose souls are born of lead and weigh more than their bodies.  It’s not among those whom society leaves to rot in plain sight, forgotten anchors cast aside to rust along the seashore.  It’s not among this particular infestation of London’s addicts, and junkies, and teenage college dropouts, with their petty little problems in their subcutaneous world, whom he is so much better and so much brighter than.  And above all else, it’s not among those for whom the only form of love that they’ve ever known and craved to the point of peeling off their own skin can be scribbled down by scientists in laboratories with a letter and a number that follows. No. The place where he was happy was in 221B, bathed in the grenadine red sunrise of morning, when he accidentally brushed the hair on the back of your neck with his thumb, and pressed a mug of coffee into your palm.

Sherlock picks up the crystal bottle, nearly drained dry, and the needle, new, lying next to it.  Syringe full, he presses the needle into his arm once more, his eyelashes fluttering and his mouth fishing open.  He’s fairly certain that he looks abstractly magnificent now, like a painting, (John wouldn’t say magnificent, though, “No, you stupid fucking idiot”), but he’s not a Monet (too cliche), he’s a Renoir (far more detail oriented), done in dawn coloured brushstrokes.  Except once the viewer steps further away from the center, the picture is the most grotesque thing that one has ever seen. (Eyes rolled back in his head like stones. The slow seep of blood into the one article of clothing that he actually cares about.)

Self-destruction to a romantic however, is positively ravishing. 

And bottom line, the sweet, bright arc in his bloodstream is the one and only thing that even when he has yet to find himself, he can still lose himself in, always.  And always.  And always.

*

Much to Sherlock’s dismay, the next morning he arrives back to the flat, and is toweling his unruly hair dry mid yawn whilst walking to the kitchen to fetch coffee--only to see his god damned brother sitting sententiously in John’s chair. And, as Sherlock whips the towel from his hair and slings it around his hipbones, all he can think amidst the murderous thoughts that lance through the downfall of his delirious high is that it hadn’t always been like this:

“Who the,” Sherlock bites down on an edited word, “--hell let you in?”

The corner of Mycroft’s mouth curls Cheshire, just the faintest whisper of a grin.

“You have your ostensible and dubiously questionable methodology; I have my own. On certain days, I tend to find members of clandestine organizations beneficiary; on others, a certain individual who lives approximately seventeen steps underneath yourself--yes, yourself, singular.”

It wasn’t as if singular was the intended end game.  Wincing internally,Sherlock brushes off the jab.

“For the record, if I indeed succeed in murdering my own landlady for this--preferably in some sort of humane manner as she does occasionally offer me,” Sherlock waves a hand, “food or whatnot--I’ll be the first to tell Mummy and Daddy that it was actually a sordid government cover-up instituted at your direct orders.”

“Mummy and Daddy,” Mycroft tuts, “Well.  Clearly it would be far too egregiously painful for you to even attempt to act your age for once.”

“Clearly it would be far too egregiously painful for you to quit interfering with my private affairs.”

Sherlock rolls his eyes so hard that he can feel them examine the back of his skull as he flops in the chair opposite his smug arse pompous sibling.   Because for fucks sake it hadn’t always been like this.

As the smallest son of world renowned academic mathematician, M.L Holmes, the world had followed a strict pattern of order (empiricism, Mycroft corrected from behind the pages of Dostoevsky on the sofa one summer afternoon with all of the insouciance of an early teen who had just tested above the 99th percentile of the country’s intelligence.)  As a child, there was his world of Mummy with her ostensibly strict house rules and stiff upturned coat collar, Daddy with his dependable accountant job and soft threadbare jumpers, and Mycroft with his lackadaisical brilliance that seemed so effortless and simultaneously frustratingly out of reach despite his most ardent efforts that it had driven Sherlock to tears on multiple occasions.  But Sherlock had been brilliant, this much, he is now certain of. After all, he and Mycroft had been playing deductions for ages back them, and when he was five he was sent packing to Le Rosey (“the French will know how to handle him,”  Mummy said exasperatedly after Sherlock had been found in his room, mid-dissection of the pet rat that Redbeard had brought him as a present earlier that morning) where he skulked, feigning indifference, in the incandescent shadow that his brother had left six years prior.  Le Rosey, where he had met other children at school, mindless children, so, so, very stupid, and unobservant,  well, then things had changed. 

And then, there was Redbeard. 

...Past tense. 

(“He was just a dog,”  Mycroft insisted from the kitchen, his tone flat as a summer’s day at sea.  

Two weeks not since Redbeard had passed, but since Sherlock had learned the truth about the fact that his beloved pet was not off at a neighbors for summer holiday but indeed decaying carbon six feet underneath the soil.  Two weeks and listless and with minimal food and Sherlock had dropped nearly one and a half stone.

“Yes”, Mummy agreed, and then a hesitant, “Grief can drive people to extraordinary lengths.  Well.”)

Well,

Since Sherlock was going to be a pirate, even at a young age, he had been familiar that the word ‘offing’ meant the portion of the sea between the horizon and the shore. And after the only thing on earth that had ever truly, purely, and freely chosen to love him had been taken from him, that’s what grief had felt like, stretched long and endless, the cessation of such sentiment just out of the sunset-glazed reach.

Except this time, his offing is not his beloved dog.  It’s something far greater.  And even the idea of it makes him feel wrenched apart inside, like a wishbone. Sherlock swallows down the thought, steeples his fingers under his nose, and turns his focus to the problem at hand:

“Quite peculiar,” says Mycroft, still staring out the window with a smile that Sherlock can only describe as ‘mercurial’, “the sunrise, is it not?”

“Astounding.  Groundbreaking in our relationship, to be sure.  You break into my flat to have a conversation about the sunrise.  And what, pray tell, prompted this startling outburst of familial sentiment?”

“You’ve failed to notice anything different, brother mine?” Mycroft clips, turning his expression back to Sherlock.

“Perhaps I’ve failed to notice anything ‘different’ because you’ve come over to my flat unannounced at a time when the sunrise is still a relatively salient topic of conversation.  It’s half past seven in the morning.”

“Correct, for once, however, as we all know by now, timing has never been your specialty. It’s practically lunchtime, wouldn’t you say?”

“Says the man who has spent his whole life looking forward to the next meal before he’s finished the one that he’s currently on.”

Mycroft presses his lips together in a thin line, seemingly unaffected.  But his counter cuts Sherlock to the bone:

“And how is John?”

Doing his best not to emulate a dead fish, Sherlock flops his aching ribs to the side to pick up the cup of tea that has (yet again) mysteriously appeared on the table next to his usual chair in the living room at 221B.  How is John?  Again, no idea.  He can tell you how John’s things are--John’s former possessions are--however.  After Sherlock’s phosphorescent high--controlled, as always--he returned this morning, disrobed from John’s t-shirt, showered twice with John’s favorite shower gel, shaved, and (before being so unceremoniously interrupted) had pulled out his freshly pressed aubergine shirt to wear the one which made John’s mouth go soft around the edges (and nearly drop the tin of beans that he had been holding in the kitchen) the first time that Sherlock had stepped out of his bedroom, said shirt still yet to be buttoned, nearly three years prior.  John’s things, his possessions--the ones that he left here, are fine

At least, most of them are.

Sherlock’s brain aches at the thought.  He pushes his fingers into his temples, into the leaking cerebellum fluid that he’s fairly certain is pooling there from how much pressure it takes to relieve the pain, and exhales through his nose. Because he can control it, he can control this, and it’s controlled, it is, and it’s not supposed to hurt this much. 

All of it.

“Are you quite finished with your far less interesting version of the Spanish Inquisition?  I do have cases, you know.”

“Not at all,” counters Mycroft, “And you don’t, I’m more than well aware of your ostensible ‘caseload’ at present.  Here to solve that however, as it seems like I always do--case for you.  Came in last night--a bit of a personal favour, courtesy of the Prime Minister himself.   His niece has a bit of a dilemma in regards to, shall we say, certain career choices.  Seemed she wanted a second opinion, and after all, you’re highly recommended.”

-Personal favour.

Sherlock opens and closes his mouth once.  Computation is momentarily uncalibrated, side effects of the crash, of course.

Mycroft is…asking...this--no--this is not….

When he finally strings words together in a sentence, they’re terse.  “This isn’t your usual sort of interference.”

Mycroft steeples his fingers in front of him and smiles with just the corners of his mouth.  It’s not a particularly kind smile, nor is it particularly unkind.  It’s a shrewd, calculating, weighing smile and makes Sherlock feel as if he’s spread thin on a glass slide and being examined, or perhaps about six years old again and attempting to tug along his trunk, far too large for his scrawny body, up the stone steps to his dormitory.  He hadn’t looked back, for fear of Mycroft noticing his red-rimmed eyes. 

Needless to say, Sherlock hates it when Mycroft smiles like that at him.  Wants to slap it off his bloody bureaucratic face, if he could.  However, it would most likely be unwise at present as he can feel the residual morphine pooling black and thick at just the tips of his fingers.

10 ml of morphine, note to include .5 mg cocaine to negate the effects next time--theoretically next time, obviously.

“Indeed.  It’s precisely not ‘my sort of usual interference,’” finishes Mycroft, raising his eyebrows. “However, the case is now yours, just as Sirius rises to the east.”

Sherlock rolls his eyes. “Again, that’s highly irrelevant to the actual reason why you’re recruiting me for your insipid trivial tasks and for gods sake, apparently middle age has taken its toll on you--Sirius rises to the west--”

Sherlock slams his mouth shut because seven layers of Dante’s fucking hell.

In retrospect, he should have seen it coming.  But on the downfall of a spectacular high and uncertain of what neurons remain partially functional, it doesn’t even occur to him for two seconds that his brother could peel back this layer so quickly.  That’s the aggravating part. 

Mycroft’s smile turns glacial and Sherlock’s heart crystallizes to a complete and total stop.

“How would you know?”

Because Mycroft is correct, under normal circumstances, under sober circumstances, Sherlock shouldn’t know anything--anything at all--about the solar system, for entirely. Valid. Reasons. Incredibly valid ones, which he doesn’t particularly want to think about right now.

“For a man who has a self-professed lack of knowledge regarding the solar system, yet studied the stars ardently, and dare I even say fondly, as a child--’

Sherlock clenches his fist--in place of slamming it against his elder brother’s smug jawline at present, which, as he digs his nails into his own palm, is actually a quite adult decision. Mummy would commend him.  Daddy too.  As well as the Queen, at this point.

“--and, as we all so wonderfully remember, spent not just one, but two overdoses in the downstairs guest bedroom of my flat, half delirious, clinging to life and unable to speak, save the one solid bit of empiricism that he hadn’t obliterated from his own brain cells.  It’s fascinating what information actually remains in those moments of lucidity, isn’t it, dear brother?  Something deleted and inaccessible on the surface level tends to betray the subconscious at times.”  

“Indeed,”  snarls Sherlock. “If I did have anything at all to prove at present.”

“Ah, of course not, ” Mycroft tuts. “What on earth would you need to prove? Seems as if Mummy called you not once, not twice, but six times over the last twenty-four hours and to no avail.  Nothing like being given the dulcet task of checking to make your younger brother, who, needless to say, has a natural proclivity towards illicit activities like a moth to a flame, is still alive.  Which would be appallingly pathetic with John and Mary’s wedding a little less than four weeks away.”

Sentiment that hinges upon playing the same three fucking notes of a wedding waltz over and over and over and over again until the tips of his fingers are claret with blood bubble to the surface of Sherlock’s addled brain.

You can’t possibly understand, is what Sherlock wants to scream, but as he opens his mouth--

“Try changing the tempo,” Mycroft interjects.  “For someone who was as ostensible music prodigy, your banality and propensity towards the cliche is revolting.”

“If you think I went and got high because I couldn’t think of the ending to a bloody song, you’re entirely and wholly wrong.”

“No,” corrects Mycroft, “I don’t think, you know far better than that.  How delightful to hear that this was a one time occurrence now that you’re busy with a case once more.”

Silence.  Part of Sherlock wants to break Mycroft in half.  Part of him wants to collapse to the rug in sheer relief that this one time event will go unreported.  Part of him wants to burrow himself back in the blankets of his bed and forget that this ever happened.

All of him wishes that it was four weeks later and these feelings were under control.

Impassively, Mycroft stands, and straightens his suit jacket.  He picks up his umbrella, palming the handle once before he turns back to Sherlock.

“Brother mine, in keeping with that thought, let me provide you with a wonderful suggestion,”  Mycroft continues, his eyes holding Sherlock’s own like dry ice. “Stop setting yourself on fire just to see who will stay to watch you burn.” 

Brother mine, thinks Sherlock as he slides deeper into the leather of his chair, wincing as the sunlight leaning through the window lances his brain, you’ve come to the bonfire well after it’s ended.

 

*

 

By the time the Prime Minister’s niece--Violet Hunter--arrives, just as the sun has finally slid into the direct clockwork center of the sky, Sherlock can hardly bring himself to even care about the case. 

Because the Problem, the Reason that he actually decided to get high--or at least, the biggest proponent of it--is currently sitting on the sofa of his living room.   Actually, Two Problems.  One with a laptop balancing carefully on her knees, the other halfheartedly perusing the world news section of the Herald and absentmindedly blowing over the rim of his PG Tips.

It wasn’t supposed to happen like this.  But it did, and now, there is Mary:

“Blue-grey or grey-blue for the accent colour,” she muses, squinting at her laptop screen, “they look all the bloody same---I--Sherlock, can you just take a look at this for a moment, love?”

From the kitchen--and only half listening while examining arachnid embryos-- Sherlock waves a hand her way.

“It’s called ‘Downing Slate’, for the third time now,” Sherlock responds, carefully removing the outer shell of the embryo with tweezers, “Blue-grey rather than grey-blue.  For the record, I’m growing tired of re-arranging your color schematics via your poorly matched undertones.  You should refocus your entire Pinterest at this point.  I’m finding my upkeep of your wedding boards to be rather tedious with your ad libituml pins.  If you remember our agreement, we agreed to split the task, 50/50, last I checked.”

Mary holds up a palm in resigned desperation.  “Lord help me, Sherlock, but I bloody hate that site, it’s awful, just awful. I can’t do it anymore.  Just delete the entire profile and we’ll do it here, you can do it however you please, just don’t make me scroll thought anymore ‘101 Easy Wedding Favour Ideas Made out of Mason Jars’ or ‘52 Ways to Get Your Wedding Body Ready’ ever again, that color, slate--”

“--downing slate---” Sherlock corrects.

“--and all.”

From the general area of the sofa, there is a rustle of newspaper, and behind it, the bark of a laugh which makes Sherlock’s heart leap from his chest cavity to his esophagus before he can clamp it down.

“Jesus Christ, Sherlock. You should do this for a living, you know?  Downing slate, bloody christ.  At least this case is right up your alley then, with the fashion things.”

“I have far better things to do than admire the cacophonous parade of walking coat hangers and the throngs of brainless zombies who continue to throw an astronomical and unbelievable sum of money at magniloquent “designers”--quotation marks included--just because a bag or a shirt has their initials on it.”

“Right.  Just, yeah.  Putting aside the fact that you’ve been doing...mmmm, 90 percent of the wedding planning for us, this is all coming from the man who has Yves St. Laurent shower products,”  John says, snapping the newspaper shut and pushing his hands on his knees to stand, “That, those, Sherlock, they’re something ridiculous like, 35 pounds apiece.”

“I put them on Mycroft’s account,”  sniffs Sherlock, fiddling with the dials of his microscope, “They’re expensive, they’re supposed to work better.”

Much like coming back from the dead was supposed to do, work better.   

-They were supposed to work better, this all was supposed to work better, I was supposed to come back from the dead to you--you who have taken up all the space in my brain and oxygen in every room for functional logical thought.  You who have made me felt this way since you first climbed the seventeen steps of our flat, since ‘it’s all fine’.  You who I’ve died for a thousand times over again, and would do without question if you even so much glanced my way.

-You who chose her.

Sherlock swallows, trying to stay the feeling of various organs from his body with a dull knife.  Even I don’t function correctly anymore.  Drugs necessary to compose.  Or not to feel, that too, that’s a marvelous side effect, like the afterglow haze of an atomic bomb.

Because out of all of this, he didn’t mean for any of this to happen, nor how he ended up in the middle of it before he even knew when it begun.

But Violet Hunter does arrive.  And the world spins on, oblivious. As it does. As it did for two years, while he was tearing down the world for John, who was busy falling in love.

In heels, and at a mere 20 years old, Violet is nearly taller than Sherlock, but in a quietly disarming fashion with all the gawkiness of a giraffe who hasn’t gotten quite used to the size of its limbs.  She has nearly waist length hair that reminds Sherlock of the chestnut colour of a sparrow’s wing, an undercut on the left side, and eyes that are clear and hazel and bright. She’s also articulate, far more than Sherlock would expect from, in his words ‘a walking coat hanger,’ however, the air of independence that she carries just under the twist of her jaw screams London College of Fashion, as opposed to her familial London School of Economics. Her problem is one of a peculiar (and quite frankly, mundane, nature.) As an aspiring designer and part time model (“Aren’t they all,” Sherlock had sighed to John while listening to Violet recount her case, earning a sharp elbow in between the ribs), she had recently been hired as a summer intern with an exclusive French designer, who was in the process of expanding her business from France into London. 

“Juliet Rucastle, of Spence’s,” Violet explains as she sits and crosses her limbs nearly in on herself, from where Sherlock and John now sit, with Mary still on the sofa, “Relocating her entire studio from Paris to London, her last four seasons have been on Vogue nearly every single months, and the last three interns have made so much money that they’ve retired and now are responsible for keeping her studio in Paris running while she opens this one.  It’s a contract to die for, you know?"

Sherlock narrows his eyes through his fingers and begins to shape his mouth into a ‘b’ for ‘because she’s an entrepreneur who appreciates the economic benefit”, but is stayed by a very pointed Look from John.  Sherlock sham smiles, takes a moment, plucks the Good words from his vocabulary for use, and reshapes his sentence.

“...And how much is she paying you for the summer, exactly?”

“Just started last week,” Violet says, “20,000 pounds, for six weeks.”

John nearly chokes on his own saliva.

But then there’s the blue.  The dress that is.  All of couture fashion starts with a theme and it’s--

“L'Hetre arbe, is the name of the Fall line that she’s working on, and the concept, or what I’m allowed to talk about--is brilliant,” Violet explains, twisting her freshly cut ends in between her two fingers. “Everything is in shades of copper besides this one dress which is this...stunning blue--it’s the cornerstone of the line.  I originally thought that I was supposed to be help designing, but instead, she’s been making me model it literally all day long.  I’ve seen more of Oxford Street from the window of her office than the actual office itself, I think.”

I’ve sunk to a new low, Sherlock wants to say, but the way that he inhales a sharp piece of air into his lungs, his fingers steepled just so, earns him a decisive thwack on the shoulder from John, now standing behind him, who somehow has linked brain cells with him today.

“And other than that, everything seems normal?  Nothing out of the ordinary, no clandestine meetings, nothing that requires you to sign over any vital organs before looking through designs, nothing?”

“Um, about as normal as working in fashion can be.  Spence is high couture and the atmosphere, especially Juliet, tend to be a little,” Violet searches for the word. “Mmmm, Meryl Streep in the Devil Wears Prada.”

Sherlock blinks six times in a row, because he knows Prada very well from their latest spring line--which was simply marvelous--while absentmindedly flipping though the most recent issue of Cosmo UK.   But he’s fairly certain that he’s never heard of the devil wearing it, and hence, he then looks to John, who promptly turns to Mary, eyebrows raised.

“What?” Mary exclaims after a pause, looking incredulously at the two and realising what they’re asking her to do, “I am not your female Rosetta stone, Christ--do you two actually expect me to know what that means? A bit presumptuous, that.  I do have a job, don’t have time to watch every stupid romantic comedy that comes across the telly.”

John licks his lips, trying to erase just the smudge smile that has begun to form there. “So. Um. Yes. It’s a movie then, right?”

Mary sighs and looks at Violet with do you understand what I have to go through with these two, do you, really?  But the way that John looks at her as she does so, and how she’s all so normal and right, is why Sherlock, despite his greatest wish to loathe everything that the woman who stole John’s heart from under him could possible be, actually….likes Mary.  He can’t hate her. And lord knows, he’s tried. 

Inadvertently, Sherlock can feel his face curl in with a smile as presses himself up and out of his chair, and leaves John to dismiss their guest with a ‘Um yeah, we’ll get back with you,” and, “I’ll show you out,” and a “We’ll follow up as soon as possible,”

Which even Sherlock doesn’t know when.  Bit more on his mind these days than he’d bargained for.  A slip up regarding a little bad habit--the first in nearly four years--the prior evening.  A piece that he cannot compose.  Feelings that are burning down the remaining heartstrings inside of him like the wick of a candle. 

And all that he cannot articulate, because when the way that John looks at her--it’s as if the whole world has stopped.

Which is how it used to be with us. 

While John is still showing Violet out, Sherlock walks to the kitchen, spreads his palms onto the ledge of the sink, and leans his body weight into the heels of his hands, apparently insatiably intent on studying the grout while he ponders the facts: A woman who is obsessed with a blue dress.  An intern who is concerned about her own future.  A man who is in love with his flatmate who is in love with another woman.

Mary loves Sherlock.  John loves Mary.  Sherlock loves John.  And through John’s eyes, loves Mary as well, in a way. It’s all a fucked up weird triangulation of mismatched pinpoints, like a tapestry that forms a picture, the Bayeux, perhaps--but when you turn it over, up close, it doesn’t make any sense.

When Sherlock looks back up and over toward the living room, Mary is leaning against the door frame, her lips pressed into a ribbon thin line. Her expression is neutral and to Sherlock, appears almost--what?  Apologetic? 

“The case.  It sounds exciting, and I suppose a bit mad,” Mary begins, “to become so obsessed with perfection that it’s literally all you can think about is one dress.  Can’t imagine what it’s like in the mind of someone like that.”

 -A nightmare, I assure you.  

 Sherlock shrugs, attempting to appear increasingly interested in the exact ratio that the tiles tessellate on the kitchen counter.  But she knows--and he knows that she knows--because it’s been written on his face, like a fucking pathetic puppy, since the moment that he stepped back into John’s life.  It’s etched into her eyes and expression in this moment, you still love him, even though he chose me.

“Right, so what do you think about linens, then?” suggests Mary with a neutral smile, taking in a hard piece of air as she places her hands on her hips.  She’s braver than he is, at least in this capacity, of emotions, “Since we’re back at it.”

“Ah, yes.  Best to go with ‘ecru’,” offers Sherlock, and too quickly, “French for unbleached. More environmentally sound, as the world is more and more concerned with these days.  Unfortunately, little do they realize that humanity as a whole has already left a carbon footprint so large that any negligible efforts in all first, and perhaps second world countries, to ‘recycle’ and ‘go green’ are absolutely futile to prevent the inevitable and expectedly gory mass extinction of the human race in several hundreds and/or thousands of years.”

He’s not the man who he was before he stepped off the roof of Bart’s, even though he fervidly wishes that he was.  Impassive.  Impenetrable.  Invincible.

Or so he once believed.  But when you’ve been alone your entire life, three years with someone falling in line with the shadows of your step is a lifetime, and the blood bond forged in battle snakes into your veins and your heart and settles there in ways that you could never imagine.

I didn’t mean to fall in love with him, Sherlock wishes that he could plead to her right now, the words wrenched in his belly, and never to be released, I didn’t.  I didn’t.  I didn’t.

 

*

 

First: There’s no air in the fucking room. 

Second: It appears that the room has now horizontal and soupy around the edges

Third: Breaking and entering has gone horribly wrong.

Or, at second though, according to Sherlock, for once, everything goes right. 

John gets hurt, that’s the gist of it. 

[To be fair, and thoroughly so, they had been breaking the “law”, whatever that means, later as Lestrade exasperatedly explains via slow responding and overlapping text messages, after asking Sherlock to look further into his own break in at Spence’s in the night prior.]

It’s a starless night later that evening when Sherlock and John break into a far too sleek and far too white building off of Oxford in the warehouse district, on the account of what Sherlock had persuaded an exasperated and utterly wedding-fried John was “further investigation.”  However, what Sherlock’s wasn’t expecting were the four armed security guards positioned at different corners of the Spence’s showroom, thus making their whole ordeal far more difficult than expected.

In less than two minutes, all four security guards have both Sherlock and John pinned to the wall and semi-incapacitated.  And as Sherlock’s face slams into the drywall, mid shouting, the guards whirl him around and with growling threats, press a gun to his breastbone.  Sherlock throws back his head and laughs, radiant.  Because the nozzle of the gun is cold against his heart but it’s impossible to destroy something which he doesn’t have in possession anymore (it’s tacked onto chest of the man cursing slightly to his left.)  Before Sherlock sends a sharp elbow to the security guard’s temple, the heady, reckless abandon that floods his brain at being held at gunpoint is the Best Thing that’s happened to him since being beaten by John multiple times in 24 hours upon his return from the dead.  That and the drugs.  The drugs which happened Just. Once.

John bless military training god John suntanned and his appallingly low thread count cotton t-shirt sticking to the small of his back damp with sweat and sand and blood follows suit. 

After the scrap, which entails various points of bones cracking against Sherlock’s body, they find themselves on the floor, the only two conscious beings in the entirety of the dark showroom.   Kneeling, Sherlock scrabbles to where John is currently pressing himself up by his elbow.  Sherlock fastens his fingertips to the growing welt on the side of John’s temple, and John winces and swears in pain, and It all hits Sherlock like a wave crashing against a sea wall, this is what happens when you repress these things, people get hurt, people other than you get hurt and oh god, you’ve fucked up and broken him and he’s the one thing in your life that you cannot break--

“You alright?” John growls and fuck Sherlock is supposed to be asking him that question, not the other way around.

“Fine.”  Sherlock pants, fighting the panic in his throat as he continues to feel the bruise on John’s temple.  He’s trying to stay the trembling in his hands and in his voice and in his body as the room begins to turn glassy around the edges, what the hell is happening, “You?  Are you alright?”

“Never been better, except, fuck, if you weren't pressing into my goddamn head that would be rather nice.  But Sherlock--calm down--what on earth--Jesus--sit down, now.”

Fighting back a crashing roll of nausea, Sherlock collapses to the floor.  The room around Sherlock dives. Vines of panic knot themselves around the already growing fist in his chest.  The smell of copper is the same as in Serbia, seventeen lashings into an interrogation, half of which he couldn’t even understand (but guessed right anyway) because of three days of sleep deprivation and dehydration and he’s so fucking tired--fuck--fuck--no.

Any attempts to catch his breath--damp cell, black mold, incessant dripdripdripintwothirdstempojustoffdripdripdripping--seems to be futile as he’s gasping like a fish out of water for air.  

This is new.  And the worst part, unlike the drugs, is he. Can’t. Control. It.  

“Sherlock Holmes,” John commands, “Talk to me, now.”

Talk to you, how can I talk to you, I can’t remember how long I’ve been here or how long I will be here or what I’m doing here and I can’t see the way the sun sets nor the numbers on the clock, directly in shadow over what had been his own brother’s fucking skull between the lashes, I can’t tell anything anymore, it’s all slid together, the colours and the sensations and the pictures and the feelings, all blurry--

“Time is upside down,” Sherlock exhales, honestly, ignoring the cacophonous throbbing on the own side of his skull, even though he knows where he is and that right now this is just his transport betraying him yet again, he’s not in Serbia, he’s not, he’s not in Serbia he doesn’t know what the fuck is happening or why now of all times,  “It’s melted, like the clocks.”

John doesn’t even blink, “Melted like the--what?”

“The clocks,” Sherlock babbles, his voice hitched in desperation, as he tries to explain and calm down all at once, “Like in the painting.  But not that one. The clocks are in the painting and melting, but it’s the wrong time period. Clocks are surrealism, but it’s not right now--everything is melted in watercolour.  I can’t tell.” 

John looks at Sherlock, his pupils blown wide. Sherlock can’t remember if they’ve ever been this close.  Maybe while pulling John from the bonfire, but now--the way that John is looking at him, dazed, slightly, but darker, as if watching a train mid wreck.  Which he is.  I am the train wreck, you are the crossroads.

Sherlock’s belly somersaults at the last thought. 

“I have no idea what the fuck you’re talking about.  Time is linear, no, there is no painting nor watercolour, you idiot, and fuck, just, yeah. Alright.  And stop trying to touch me--that hurts, okay, yeah, even more so with your fingertips in my bloody skull.  I obviously have a pulse as I’m still breathing, right, we’ll go with that.”

Sherlock can hear the words, he can see John’s mouth move, I still have a pulse because my heart was given to someone else to take care of, but before he can ever rationalise it, Sherlock presses his fingers into John’s carotid artery and the warmth from John’s neck seeps into Sherlock’s fucking skin.

“Your pulse--you have an arrhythmia--didn’t have it two years ago--probably PTSD related--should apologize, won’t. Read about it in your medical file--never mind you that right now” Sherlock breathes, unsteadily, as he counts the rate of beats, which is raising by the nanosecond, seventeeneighteennineteentwentytwentytwodoeshehaveaheartmurmernohedoesn’tshutupthirtyseven, “You need medical attention.  You don’t look to be concussed, but you can’t be too careful with these type of things and you have Mary to think about now.  I would ask you a question to determine your mental state, but your knowledge of useful facts is rather limited, as is mine of seemingly inconsequential information, however, I’m sure we can come to some sort of--” 

“Sherlock. Bloody. Holmes. I am--sod it--just--calm the fuck down,” John commands, and circles Sherlock’s wrist, “Now.”

The world ices over.  Everything does, in fact.  Sherlock’s hand on John’s neck.  John’s eyes on Sherlock’s own.  Sherlock’s skin and his heart and all of his internal organs and the air in the room and outside, stale on the street and in the starless night.

John touches Sherlock gently, rubbing his thumb over the blue blood feathering through Sherlock’s veins on the inside of his white wrist and he’s saying something over and over again in a very steady voice, but Sherlock can’t focus because when you touch me it’s like my body is a dead language and you pronounce each word perfectly and if only I could fuse myself into the bits of your skull that haven’t been smashed you’d think of nothing else but me and my body for the rest of your life.

“Just breathe for me, alright? Good--just like that--that’s good, that’s very good,” John seems to be emphasizing, over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over again, “Stop worrying about me. I’m fine.”

Unlike me, thinks Sherlock, his brain murky, and only part of that because of the blow to his head.

He’s not fine, not now more than ever, no.  Because in this moment of NOT FINE and John’s hands willingly and kindly on his skin and everything in shattered glass, Sherlock can see all the possibilities of them neatly spliced out in kaleidoscope splinters.  There are a thousand roads they have never taken, a thousand divergent possibilities which would not have led to John’s engagement and Sherlock’s imprisonment and Sherlock scoring 80ml off a drug dealer two nights prior because he can’t seem to find the right way to finish a song written for a man who does not and can never love him in return.

They have to be together in every other world because this feels just too goddamn right.

“Right.  Stop that now.  You’re hyperventilating again, and quite obviously out of your sodding crackers mind right now.  Now get a grip, listen to me and fucking breathe, or I’m calling your brother.”

“You wouldn’t.”

“You’re in the middle of what is very obviously some sort of panic attack right now and judging by the like of it, oh, about five minutes away from your heart bursting out of your body--clearly you underestimate my judgement. I. Am. Fine. A little bruised, but you are too.  And fine.”

Sherlock inhales.  Sherlock exhales.  Sherlock focuses on John’s fingertips dancing along his veins.  Sherlock focuses on John breathing.  John touching him. Slowly the world slides back into focus.  He’s not in Serbia, no, nor in a Monet. He’s just in an silent building with the love of his life, who is in love with someone else and, now on top of everything, has a medical condition that makes his heart beat irregularly in a way that didn’t Before Sherlock decided to take a little step off of a building. 

He doesn’t know which is worse. 

“You have a medical file on me now?”  John’s voice echoes. 

“It just sort of happened.” Sherlock admits. The moon has slid approximately 16 degrees to the right, which has to mean that they’ve been here for a total of 47 minutes and are straight on till morning now, and god, how Sherlock wishes that he didn’t remember what knowing those sorts of things again meant.

“Is that how you learned about the heart...thing?”

“Of course not.  It wasn’t particularly difficult to deduce when you were throttling the life out of me on the tile of The Landmark. I’m still certain that you’re going to be the death of me, one of these days. ”

“Right.  Yeah.  Um, I’m supposed to say that to you, I think. But, no,” says John, carefully encircling  Sherlock’s hand with his own, removing it from pressing against his pulse, and then placing it back into the Sherlock’s lap, “I think that you dying one time for me was already more than enough.”

 

*

 

Post panic attack, they don’t discover anything of use at Spence’s, save the fact that Juliet Rucastle obsessively seals nearly all of her correspondences, even interoffice, with a white wax seal with her initials on it (“Denotes she considers herself the monarch of fashion, wonderful.”)  Other than that, it’s all locked doors of “Design Studios’ that Sherlock is ironically and egregiously unable to pick.  He should know.  He had nearly bloodied his fingers from trying, “Data, John, I need more data.  I can’t make bricks without clay”, until John had wrenched his own hands away from the door.

“If you’re so keen on giving yourself tetanus, by all means, I have a few suggestions,” John had said, pulling Sherlock miserably away from the lure of the unsolved, the wail of Scotland Yard’s finest two blocks over and heading towards them by the second.

Not to mention his throbbing headache from the skirmish with the security guards. When they arrive back to the flat and Sherlock steps from the cab, John immediately has the audacity to attempt to Doctor him. 

“Paracetamol,” instructs John, directing his unflinching stare from the crook of Sherlock's elbow up to his eyes and back down again, “Only.”

John clenches his fist once before leaving Sherlock standing alone on the sidewalk.  Sherlock wishes that he could bash John’s skull against the pavement in front of what used to be their home and examine him just to see what that statement meant.

-It’s merely overly worrisome prattle, residual from the fight at Spence’s--nothing more.   

But if it were indeed related to Sherlock’s recent illicit activities, there’s no way he could know, rationalises Sherlock as he whips his coat around his thin frame and trudges up the seventeen steps aloneIt was just one occurrence, after all, despite the 80 ml he had brought back with him (a strictly economical decision), each nestled in neat little crystal bottles under the sofa in the very toe a Persian Slipper.  John knows that’s where Sherlock keeps his cigarettes.   Hence, as John already blatantly knows what substance that hiding place holds, it’s the last place John would look, if indeed he knew to be looking at all. 

Upon arrival back to his dark and empty flat, Sherlock collapses into a pile of bones on the sofa, and drinks half a bottle of the finest Scotch that he had sniffed from Mycroft’s collection over Easter brunch, a 1939 Macallan.  Far easier than picking up his music, which has betrayed him, or his mobile, which remains silent, no messages from John, never from John anymore these days.  Should he text him and ask him to stay--no that would be pathetic, he’d feel sorry and responsible for you and your solitude and your fucked up crazy behavior and then begrudgingly take the seventeen steps that he doesn’t want to take any more out of sheer pity.

The thought nearly makes Sherlock vomit. And so, to stop that line of thinking before it spirals far out of control, twisting the cork out of the top, Sherlock drinks the scotch straight from the bottle again. It burns, and in a way that is comfortingly both Good and Bad, but the Bad is fine.  He's a pathetic mess and an excuse of a human anyway at present; it’s more than he deserves, really.

Sherlock glances at the Strad and weighs his options with what he thinks is an unparalleled judicial gaze. The wedding piece still has yet to be worked on.  Slightly less than four weeks.  But music has betrayed him before, and now, fourteen drags of Scotch in, his head is spinning gold straw and his veins ache for something else.  Sleep sounds positively decadent. The case, while intriguing, isn’t pressing.  Tonight could have gone far worse.  And he’s fine. He’s not an addict.  No cocaine this time (even though, during his last trip, he picked up just a bit of that as well, along with oxycodone, just in case) just a touch of morphine, for sleep, and then just the alcohol. He’s not an addict, nor a junkie, he just wants something to stop feeling this way.

Sherlock reaches under the sofa, his fingers brushing over the cigarettes and onto something far better.  Just 10 ml--no, just 12 ml.

With these chemical instruments he’s finely tuned and strung like the Strad that sits forlornly in the corner of the living room. But every damn time he slides his fingers along the bow, it’s a dirge of love lost, not a waltz of a love that has bloomed.  With the morphine--oh, and the cocaine and oxy too, yes--life is kinder; it’s like walking anesthetization, but at times, can have the proclivity to feel like Russian roulette. 

One can't kill someone who has already died six months prior, the moment Sherlock watched their fingers weave together whilst in a graveyard, standing in front of a bouquet of ivory lilies and Sherlock’s name etched in granite.

Sherlock settles down on the sofa, one sleeve rolled up as he injects himself.  It’s dangerous, empirically so, but it’s addictive at the same time, on both sides.  John Watson loves danger, the lure of a fast car, the thrill of the chase, the kickback and powder burns of a sleek gun.

Sherlock loves things that destroy him.  John Watson loves to stop them.

You could love me if you knew how dangerous I really am, is the last thought that Sherlock glassily remembers before slipping into blessed cotton white nothingness, you could love me, and you would choose me, you really would.

 

*

Still half high, so he thinks

There are

Three texts the next morning

                          he keeps saying I don’t love you, I don’t love you, I don’t love you

                          in the seconds between the heartbeats.

but they’re not from John, John who has hardly texted him since #sherlocklives means #johnwatsonlives,

and if he does it’s only case related

John who slid his fingers along the ridges of Sherlock’s veins last night

John who he wants to touch the inside of his white wrist forever.

John who--

                ‘just shut up’, he would growl and slam my shoulder blades against the wall and keep saying ‘I owe you for everything--stop this, just fucking stop’ and all I could whisper is ‘reciprocal force-’-that’s how the Newtonian paradigm works,

you knew when you cradled my cranial plate against pavement, your hands soaked red with my blood that my hemoglobin was already bound to your oxygen with Semtex and the waft of chlorine so many years prior

              but we’ve been together far longer than our lifetimes, this much we both know

               the average lifespan of a star is 10 million years

               I’ve loved you for ages beyond than that.

 

*

 

Sherlock emerges from his high approximately three days later, or so he’s later deduces.  There are three messages on his mobile from Mary two days prior--pictures of various wedding decor, which he apparently responded to each time with THAT IS NOT DOWNING SLATE. -SH.  Followed by a single cryptic and passive aggressive text from Mycroft, which he deletes without reading it in it’s entirely. Two unanswered calls from Mummy.

And, of course, nothing from John.

Sherlock collapses back into his bed sheets, leaving his inbox unchecked because, what. Even. For? He has a case that for some reason he uncharacteristically doesn’t want to focus on and, apparently his three days high is irrelevant to the time span of solving said case.  But if Sherlock were plan out these sort of things, these highs, they wouldn’t be self-destructive, they would be self-constructive, which goes out of all sorts according to his ethos.  And it’s not self-destructive, he has it under control.

It’s three and a half weeks before the wedding now, and to stay the slight tremble in his hands and pang in his frontal lobe, he’s found himself Googling different ways to fold bloody napkins which leads him to YouTube, which leads him to first searching for Mrs. Hudson’s name (wrong--oh god, WRONG, delete it, delete it, now) and then onto How to Fold Serviettes for dinner, for summer holiday, for a wedding, into flowers, into Christmas trees, into swans--

Somewhere in between his sixteenth fold of the next overly bleached serviette, he realises that he once knew a story about a swan, strung together by the stars, but for some reason, where there was once a tale behind the invisible shapes that watched over them, all he can think about is how when John is angry, he tilts his head to the right with the smallest of smiles and clenches his right fist in a discordant tempo, and how sad that the swan in the stars must have been to look down on the world, in this universe, and watch how Sherlock is in love with John while he’s in love with someone else.

At some point, there is the rap of two tentative knuckles upon the partially opened door. Far too reluctant to be a client, yet tentative enough to be someone who is familiar with the flat. 

“Lestrade,” the voice begins, tentative footsteps approaching, “He’s called you a few times.  Texted you too.  He…finally sent me over here to check on you, I was the only one off--John’s out at dinner with well, you know.  I mean, wedding planning and all--I understand how, you know, busy it gets.  I was just stopping by on my way home, you know, Tom and I are supposed to meet up--”

Doing his best to look whole, Sherlock looks up at Molly Hooper.

Molly Hooper who sees right through the cracks, and can trace the pieces of the high functioning sociopath that is Sherlock Holmes. 

Molly Hooper who kneels down next to Sherlock and pries the napkin from his fingers, doing her best to not look at the veritable blizzard of white fabric that covers every livable surface of the flat, the coffee table, the wooden floors, his chair, John’s chair, each millimetre of carpet.  There is a pile of them in the corner, over the Strad, three resting in a row on the music stand, covering the one thing that he can’t bring himself to complete because then it would be over, it would be inadequate and fucking wrong and then they would be over--everything would be over.

Sherlock can hardly find his voice.  He hasn’t used it in, oh, about three days.

“It ….just sort of happened,” Like so very many other things.

“Oh my god,”  Molly’s hesitant cadence trails off as she registers the snowstorm of serviettes, folded into thousands upon thousands upon thousands upon thousands of shapes. “How many then?”

“I don’t know.  The original goal was eighteen hundred and ninety five of each, but specific numbers tend to be rather amorphous at present,”  answers Sherlock as he smooths along the edge of the seven hundredth swan. “It’s the year that the multiverse theory was founded, don’t expect you to fully comprehend--started with tulips first, signify true love--love between John and Mary--then I decided that no, perhaps tulips weren’t the best choice and there were far more refined styles--”

“Sherlock, you’ve been out of touch for the last seventy two hours.  You’ve been doing this for seventy-two hours. ”

But Sherlock waves her away, because technically he hasn’t, he’s been high for approximately sixty four of those hours and ergo, only manic for approximately eight. “Swans are better, more elegant.  More cohesive with the overall theme, after all, lilac, grey--or, Downing Slate, actually, magpies and--”

“Sherlock.”

“--Sydney Opera Houses, how did you get there, Sherlock?  I’d lie to you, but you’d know I’d be lying, so in all honesty, I happened just stumbled upon that one.  These things do happen, after all, when you’ve loads of free time on your hands.  Which I don’t, actually, I’ve cases--very interesting and important and blue, oh yes--the case about the blue, of course--we’ve cases, perhaps, John and I--yes--loads of cases--several all going on at once now, I can hardly keep count at this point--”

Sherlock.”

Molly wrenches his own hands away and into her own.  And Sherlock looks up at her, finally, hopelessly and utterly lost.   And Molly doesn’t look dismayed, nor angry, nor hurt.  Just sad.  And that’s the worst part of it.  Sherlock hasn’t ever been certain that he’s been looked at in that way before, as if someone is sad for you and not sad at something that you’ve done.

I didn’t mean to he wants to say, I never meant to.  Ever.

It doesn’t matter I’ve never felt this way with anyone else before, not about John, I didn’t intend it to be him, it should have been someone else.  It should have been Victor, his next door neighbor, who had leaned forward and kissed Sherlock when they were both home from college and sixteen, in the upstairs bedroom of Mummy and Daddy’s house while they were away for a long weekend somewhere flat and full of wheat and boring.  It should have been Victor, who was equally as bright and lanky as he was, top of his class in Maths at Eton, and exquisitely beautiful with bright fern green eyes and hair the colour of braised wheat.  It should have been Victor, who had kissed him on that June morning in his bedroom, amidst stacks of books upon books about chemistry, while the lilacs bloomed outside, unaware.

It should have been Victor.  Who Sherlock had just asked what normal people, such as Victor, thought about in their heads besides IUPAC nomenclature, when the kiss happened.  And one minute it had been molecules, and the next Victor’s mouth was slipping into his and Sherlock’s heart had sprung into his throat, and his eyes had slid shut, but despite his best efforts, all he could do was sit there and let himself be kissed.

When Victor had finally pulled back with a sly smile, he had merely looked at Sherlock through his eyelashes.

“Far better than polymer solvant complexes, wouldn’t you say?”

Tracing his fingers along his own now swollen lips, Sherlock had murmured, “I….don’t know.”

And then Victor had cupped his face and kissed Sherlock again.  And then there had been much, much more. Messy and under the covers of his childhood bed, too warm and too flushed and too thinking and just too much.  And after, as Sherlock had detached himself from his friend’s tangle of limbs to go smoke, Sherlock hadn’t known if it had been good, or bad, or proper, or something that he’d ever want to do again, or something that he’d never experience ever again in his life because he just didn’t know.

Just like four years later,  in an alleyway somewhere near Oxford Street, someone near a pub, or something--and Sherlock had been going...somewhere, listless with needle marks bruising every available vein just to shut his goddamn brain OFF, there Victor had been in all his half-drunk Leonidas-esque glory and there Sherlock was bruised and stained and dirty and too worthless and too skinny and too sad and too much.  And Sherlock had been expecting to have his arm wrenched back by the man who had started something ever so long ago, he had expected to have Victor stare at him agape, or slap him back to sense, but instead, as Sherlock had darkly trudged  past, Victor didn’t even look up.  If he recognized Sherlock, then clearly he had decided that he wasn’t worth the time

-or effort

-or…anything.

And that’s how it’s always been, not worth anything.  And it’s not as if Sherlock hasn’t fucked a bloke here and there for drugs, but it’s always left him with a metallic laced pang of regret in his belly while lying in the sweaty sheets or slumped in a dingy hotel corridor after, because sex is just sex--it’s a biological, or economical, function, and it doesn’t mean a thing--you’ll never mean a thing.

And hence, Sherlock still doesn’t know where he falls on that spectrum, the sex one, the one that matters to so many little people in their little worlds--all exchanges for drugs aside.  It’s never bothered him until a 5’7 thunderstorm of a man limped into his life and subsequently something dark and secretive inside of Sherlock had bloomed from absolutely nowhere.

“I didn’t mean for it to happen,”  says Sherlock--and surely, his voice couldn’t have actually sounded that pathetic, could it?

Molly gently pulls Sherlock up by the hand, her own engagement ring cutting into the base of his index finger quite severely.  And Sherlock wonders if everyone in this world is meant for someone and that in the possibility of string theory and alternate universes, he and Molly end up together in one, one where she can’t see through the pieces and instead see’s just him.  Perhaps, just perhaps, in this other world, he can change who he is and who he is so irreparably in love with to make things work between them.  

But he doesn’t want that. The cruelest irony in the world is that he’s never wanted anything besides the one thing that he cannot have, and he doesn’t know when exactly that just sort of happened, but it was somewhere after ‘Afghanistan or Iraq’ and before ‘Keep your eyes fixed on me.’

“C’mon,” Molly says.  Sherlock follows.  Sherlock’s brain cannot properly function for himself anymore.  Sherlock thinks how grateful he is that she’s thinking for him.

Molly somehow maneuvers Sherlock into his bedroom where he numbly changes from his button down shirt, into soft navy pyjamas and his purple dressing gown, and then collapses back into bed.  From his living room, just beyond the edge of the door, he can hear Molly speaking quietly into her mobile, to someone, about something that sounds very important, but, after nearly four days high and with glassy sleep at best and manic no sleep at worst, all he can think about when Molly returns is how the way that her brows are knit together scream ‘J-O-H-N W-A-T-S-O-N’ in regards to the mobile call he just made.

“Oh, he’ll call you now, but not myself, wonderful.”  Sherlock mumbles into his pillow. Replaced in every capacity.  This hadn’t been the plan at all.

“He’s been really busy, you know,” Molly muses, her fingertips lingering on the light switch, her words starting Sherlock back to life, just a bit, “but you still have the rest of us, too.” 

It’s Not Good, I know, but I don’t want the rest of you, not in this way, Sherlock wants to say as he mashes his aching eye sockets into his pillow, because there’s never been anyone but him seared into my head.

 

*

 

It happens like this: (you are the train wreck, I am the cross roads)

It’s raining, this much Sherlock knows.  He can hear the drops pelt and slide down the windows, and as he begins to blink back to life, just by the sound he can see them glistening from the streetlights and pooling on the street, leaving rainbow oil slicks illuminating the cobblestone and tar. 

Sherlock wakes up to the smell of toast and fried eggs around sometime, at least, he surmises, the next early morning...ish.  Curtains are nearly entirely drawn, and hence minimal light leaking in, and with the rain, it’s hard to tell.  But there’s coffee freshly brewing, that too.  Two packets of sugar set out beside it, in neat military order--he can practically see it.  And yet, when Sherlock finally, finally, finally manages to roll out of bed and slide his silk dressing gown back over his far too prominent shoulder blades and manages to shuffle into the kitchen, he is startled to see one of several things:

(1) It is most certainly not morning anymore.

The flat is nearly dark, save for a light in the kitchen and the small lamp next to John’s chair. John’s chair, which is:

(2) occupied with John himself, looking aggravatingly charming as he sets something down in his lap to meet Sherlock’s bleary gaze. 

In the dim light, John looks soft like smeared paint, his clothing rumpled ever so slightly, just a button down, jeans and socks that he’s been wearing, since, what Sherlock can surmise, approximately twenty eight hours previous.  He’s reading, it looks like, an actual book.  Sherlock’s eyes travel down the spine (Don Quixote.) He blinks once and shakes his head, trying to remove the muzzy feeling of 20-something ml of morphine, and three days’ worth of drugged silence and mania now juxtaposed with sleep that would rival the dead.  His ears still ring.  Everything is in shades of watercolour, again, but not the bad kind, the good kind.  The Renoir kind, not the Monet kind--not that there’s anything particularly Wrong with Gare Saint-Lazare, now that he thinks about it.  

“I didn’t think that you cared nor you could presumably understand the fine literary nuances of Cervantes.”

Per usual, John smiles with just the corner of his mouth, blinks twice, and then looks up at Sherlock.  He waits two seconds longer than normal to answer. 

“You’re right. I actually don’t care a tad about some stupid git who spends his life tilting at windmills.”

“Then why on earth would you read a book that you don’t even want to read, nor has any applicable saliency in your life?”

John exhales through his nose and looks back down, clearly steadying himself for Sherlock’s own version of the Spanish Inquisition.  “It was open, sitting on the coffee table.  Never read it before, didn’t care much for lit at Uni, too busy with anatomy and the like.  Just wanted to try and understand what it’s like in your sodding, brilliantly, noisy, mad head for a moment that might explain why you were somehow alive but completely non-communicative for the last four days. But.  I--Yes.  Um.  Alright then, carrying on.”

“You...read it because you knew I was reading it.”

“Er--yes.  That’s right.”

Sherlock counts the silence in raindrops.  He doesn’t know what to say.

-That’s the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me.

“It’s,” Sherlock tries next, feeling as if he’s made of static and steel wool and trying to connect the two together to make some sort of cohesive thought, “evening, you’ve been here--’

“Yeah, all day, and right--it’s Tuesday evening, half seven, and according to my calculations, you have approximately thirty minutes to eat something before I send you right back to bed.”

“You can’t send me anywhere.  I have a case.  We have a case.  L’Hetre Arbe.”  Which, for some reason, I haven’t been able to really care about despite my best efforts. 

“According to what a very anonymous source told me last night, it’s also been three days since you last slept or ate or even worked on said case at all, unless it has something to do with the huge pile of serviettes stacked in the corner of the living room.  So yep, I’m thinking that’s about mmm, 9000 calories of food and twenty-four hours of sleep or so until I’m letting you function again.  I’ve already texted Violet about an update on her internship situation, I’m sure she’ll be in contact soon.” John checks his messages, before clicking his phone blank.

You’ll text a client, the irrational part of Sherlock’s brain screams, but even since I’ve come back into your life, you won’t text me, and I can’t ask you why because I don’t want to know.  You’ll text Molly and Lestrade and Mary even though you live with her and see her at work, and you’ll link stupid cat videos on Facebook, and I can see you’re alive, but you never text me, even when you have to know by now, you have to, and I am always the last thing on your fucking mind, even though you’re all that endlessly loops around mine, do you know what is it to live like that. 

Sherlock can’t breathe.   He feels like rotting wood.

He doesn’t know what to do.

It’s not supposed to happen like this.  Or perhaps it is.  There are nearly six feet of space in between them, which is less than the seventeen steps from the door of 221 up to the living room of the flat, and the life the once shared.  Seventeen steps to the door of their flat, seventeen steps that John Watson took up and into the madness of 221B and Sherlock’s life, less six steps now.

Then five.  John has pressed himself out of his chair and walks toward Sherlock.

Four. Three. Two.

“Sherlock...you look….not good right now,” John is saying, now pressing two fingers against Sherlock’s pulse in his neck, “You know that if you need….anything--if…” John exhales a hard piece of air, “Look. I find this shit difficult, okay, but right now, it seems as if you’re a little...erm, more unhinged than usual.  And not just after the other night at Spence’s.”

There are nearly six inches of space in between them, and it startles Sherlock, being this stripped down and just fucking lost, easy it is to slide across three of them, just by tilting his head down.  Sherlock is a thunderstorm, John is a hurricane and when combined these things have the proclivity to get out of control, it’s the natural order of the world.

Sherlock’s voice is as dry as brittle firewood.  “I’m fine.

“No,” says John, “If there is anything I can do...whatever is behind all of this...just.  Yeah.”

“You can end a sentence with a complete stop for once, that would help.”

John laughs. The laugh, this close, is the most amazing sunset over the Pyramids vaults of the Louvre standing high and invincible on the rooftop of Bart’s with the wind in between his fingertips lying on his back in the tall reeds of Mummy’s summer beach house and looking at those things in the sky that he’s ever experienced.

“Right. Grammar, okay.  Anything...else?”

And so, he’s not quite sure what possesses him to do it besides the fact that he can’t not do it anymore because this, it’s killing him, slowly like the music, and then faster, like the drugs, and his latent death wish has become maybe not to latent anymore and John loves danger.  And Sherlock is danger right now, two relapses in and three days manic and disheveled and simultaneously not caring about anything besides the one thing now six inches closer to him, and so Sherlock tilts his head, and with a slanting of lips, kisses John as if he’s fucking oxygen. 

It’s a nuclear explosion of a kiss, which is precisely how Sherlock intends it to be.

Sherlock clutches and kisses John as if the world is ending, as if they were the last two souls on the crumbling ledge of an apocalyptic facade.   Which is actually a kindness.  It’s far less manipulative than what he wants to do, press just the corner of his mouth to John’s and kiss him sweetly and hard and hopeless and passionate in the most achingly delirious ‘better than any high ever humanly achievable’ dizzying sort of way.

But instead, Sherlock kisses John as if the world is ending.

--Until John rips away from him, winds his left arm back, and with all of the combined fission of a thousand nuclear explosions, cracks Sherlock against the jaw.

The punch is entirely unexpected. 

No, actually, quite the opposite, actually, the punch is expected.  I never expected to like it, that’s the unexpected bit.

Thoroughly stung in every sense of the work, Sherlock staggers back into the brick and mortar of the dust and ash laden fireplace, one arm reaching to keep his balance.  He wins the fight, but just marginally, managing to steady himself, the entire world diving around him, a gull in sharp incline from the air to the water.

“You son of a bitch,”  John spits, venomous and exquisitely dark and rough, “What the actual fuck--Jesus Christ--”

His head still positively spinning and feeling like a bag stuffed full of cotton, Sherlock brings his fingers up to touch his cheek.  It’s wet and warm and far deeper a laceration than expected.  It will flower darkly and bloom, much like the bruise that Sherlock so maddeningly wants John to want to suck on his own neck at present.

The silence in between their heartbeats seems to stretch forever. Raindrops continue to pelt against the windowpane, the only other sound in the flat between the harsh breathing from both.

The universe is merciless. And oblivious.

“That, goddamn it.  No.  A thousand times, no.  Sherlock, I love her,” John seethes, his eyes boring right into Sherlock’s soul, but he’s laughing, bitter as black coffee grounds, as if he’s been stabbed through the ribs, “Not that you’re even capable of the concept of love, shit, jesus.  And now, of all times, after you’ve been bloody manic for the last three god damn days, and I’ve spent the last nearly twenty four hours making sure that you were still alive--making sure that you’re still breathing--”

“You care if I breathe?”  Sherlock says, his voice hitched in desperation, and that’s not what he meant to say, but it’s true, because the punch must have caused the The Really Not Good to pool out from the corners of his brain and sometimes I don’t, when you’re not here, I don’t.

“You really honestly think that I fucking don’t? For one goddamn second, you really think that?  You really, honestly believe that--truly?”

Sherlock is fairly certain that various parts of his cerebellum and nearly all of his cerebral fluid have pooled onto the floor at this point.  And perhaps his sanity as well because, there are a million other words on his lips that he should say (I didn’t ask for this, you have to believe that I didn’t.  I would have never asked for this.  I didn’t ask to fall in love with you, it just happened) as opposed to what he says next:

“To be gratingly obvious, we’re clearly never going to talk about it, so if you would be so kind, just hit me again, like you so obviously want to, and get this over with, please,” Sherlock begs, still breathless,

John moves, his fists uncontrollably clenched, and Sherlock winces his eyes shut because it will hurt, god yes, it will.  It always does, but it’s hurts less than what’s inside of him, the gnarled tissue that clouds his head like the down comforter of fog in the London morning.  But instead of punching him, in less than three seconds, John grabs the edges of Sherlock’s dressing own, slams Sherlock’s shoulder blades against the wallpaper and presses his own mouth against Sherlock’s.

Hard.

Harder than hard, actually, and Sherlock’s brain drops completely out at the bottom as he moves his hands to clench John’s button down shirt tightly between his fingers. John isn’t kissing him like the world is ending--when he kisses, kisses as if his soul is bleeding through his mouth and he tastes like when a firework explodes and lights up the smoke of those that have gone off before it and black coffee and Tom Ford and linen sheets fresh from the dryer and petrichor-- 

“If you are going to kiss me, kiss me as if you fucking mean it,”  John growls against Sherlock’s lips before slamming Sherlock’s spine against the wall again, and fuck, “If you’re going to do this, after all we’ve been through, right now--”

Sherlock doesn’t have to be asked twice.  He wrenches his hands from John’s button down and into John’s hair and kisses John, hopeless and selfish and softly, melting like a sugar cube in his mouth because if you want me to mean it I can mean it, if you’re going to light up the sky like fireworks, then I am the gunpowder that ignites us both.

Time stops again, just like at Spence’s. The way John’s eyelashes flick against his cheek, the low oh god from the back of John’s throat that Sherlock steals with his lips.  The clockwork tick of John’s heart, even and steady, against inside of Sherlock’s forearm and all Sherlock can see from behind his closed eyelids as he kisses John for god only knows how long, is the printed textbook words “if two stars should really be situated very near each other, and at the same time so far insulated as not to be materially affected by the attractions of neighbouring stars, they will then compose a separate system, and remain united by the bond of their own mutual gravitation towards each other.”

-We were meant to be binary stars.

When Sherlock finally stops, he pulls back to lean his temple against John’s forehead, his chest heaving for reasons he doesn’t want to ascertain at present.  And John cups the side of Sherlock’s face, and that’s more painful than being punched, why is it painful, and traces Sherlock’s blood wet cheekbone with his thumb.  Sherlock can feel him, he can feel him, and for some reason, it reminds him of being six and having ash smeared on his forehead on Ash Wednesday. From dust to dust, and yet they remain, always.

And what for?

“You have a concussion at the very least from that, god.” John murmurs assessing the damage by pressing his fingertips lightly against the laceration on Sherlock’s cheek, “I’m not sorry though, and I never will be.  At all.”

“I’d let you break every bone in my body, if you’d wanted.” Sherlock laughs and leans into John’s touch, his voice hitched in truthful desperation because I would, I would a million times over.

John swears and then drops his forehead back against Sherlock’s temple harder this time, as if trying to get him to understand, what Sherlock knows he’s genetically programmed never to comprehend.

“No.  Just.  No,” growls John, “That’s not good enough, it’s not and you know it.”

Sherlock does.  But this moment, carefully constructed in blown glass is the only one that they’re ever going to get, and neither of them cares if Sherlock is Not Good enough, because neither of them ever will be. 

Sherlock draws in a shuddering gasp. Rain continues to slide mercilessly down the windowpane.  John continues to share Sherlock’s breath.  Everything is blanketed in cotton.  Sherlock can feel John’s heartbeat though his button down, but it’s not arrhythmic for some reason, as he counts the blood that throbs there, it’s completely on tempo.

“Forgive me,”  Sherlock finally whispers and buries his nose into John’s carotid artery, right against the knot of blood that beats light blue with the love of his life.

“Never,”  John responds, his voice merely an echo, his hand now resting softly on the small of Sherlock’s back, “God fucking damn it, Sherlock, never.”

And then he pulls back and kisses Sherlock again.  And again.  And again. And Again. 

 

III.

 

 

Sherlock thinks about the word obsessed. It’s easy to do. Two syllables, startlingly repeatable. 

 

Ob

sessed.

 

And that’s all he can see, obsessedobsesssedobsessedobsessed, as sits on the linoleum of the kitchen floor and clutches his own curls in between the spaces of his fingers, the aching small of his back pressed against the kitchen cupboard.  His mobile, cast approximately six feet to the side, has been lighting up like bonfire on the 5th of November (none from John though, they’re never from John why are they never from John it’s the most excruciating thing that he’s ever been through, all of these texts that are Not. From. John.) but he cannot answer it because he cannot move, because the ungovernable gyre of the events of the evening replays itself over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over.

Tuesday in the rain, or in the flat whilst it rained-- no, now it’s Tuesday in the Rain.  Capitalized because in the calender of Sherlock, it's now akin to a national holiday. 

But it doesn’t change the fact that it was all.  An.  Impulsive.  Mistake. 

-There is a theory in particular physics that nothing never entirely touches because of the constant movement of atoms; based upon premise, I did not kiss John Watson earlier and he did not kiss me back because on an atomic level, we were never together.  On an atomic level, the kiss never happened, it couldn’t have because of the laws that dictate the universe, the same ones that have simultaneously kept us separate and together for seventeen steps and three years.

It’s at least quite a while until he moves again, this much he can deduce from the way that the shadows yawn and stretch in and out, and in and out again, across the linoleum.  He doesn’t know how long he’s been sitting in the kitchen, but as he finally swoops his Belstaff around his bones before leaving the flat, he registers four cups of tea on the table next to his chair. 

But he can’t live in his own body right now. And he has a case to solve, yes.   And with, apparently, 60ml gone after his three day binge and the tremble of his hands now more obvious than ever and  the obsessive thoughts of the way that John’s mouth moved against his own and then his chin and then down his neck and then against his collarbone and there’s a word in French, sillage, for when you have a lingering impression of something that’s passed and--

-DELETE.

Sherlock. Can’t.

Somewhere near an hour later, in front of what some would call an old haunting ground, two blocks off of the Regent’s Canal, Sherlock lights a cigarette and mashes it against his lips, full tar, his sixth in the last approximate 47 minutes.  He sucks in the nicotine and holds it in his lungs until he can feel his cells start to wither, and fuck, it feels good to hurt in this way, in precise control as opposed to wanton aberration. 

It never happened.

The building in front of Sherlock, the usual drug den ten blocks from the Thames, isn’t lopsided, nor run down, just an ordinary house. He knows what goes on inside there, however, the lurid highs and the vice and the slow death that addiction entails--how nice it must be to be normal and not to suspect such things on a daily basis.  And Sherlock supposes that it’s an apt metaphor, he isn’t lopsided, nor run down, just fractured apart inside and the pieces knit together by bowstring with glaring neon arrows pointing to addictions to so many things at once it’s a miracle that he’s able to walk in a straight line.

But now, Sherlock crushes the dying embers of the cigarette into the palm of his hand.   He’s left his soft leather gloves behind at the flat, he doesn’t know where they are, actually, John would know but, apparently, somewhere around two days and six hours ago, he kissed John Watson, two days and six hours ago, John beat the living shit out of him, and then two days and six hours ago, John kissed him back to life. 

And then two days, six hours, and three minutes ago John had kissed him and then wordlessly left him alone in the living room of his flat.

Even if they didn’t happen on an atomic level, these things have consequences.

Sherlock flicks the remaining ash of the cigarette off of his palm and it flares once, achingly sweet and bright, before total the darkness enfolds him.

According to string theory, there are a thousand universes which are not their own.  Perhaps, in another world, there is someone who loves him enough to rip him back before he flings himself off the ledge again, and even harder this time, without anything to tether him back because he’s gotten the only thing that he’s ever wanted in life but he can’t keep it, god.

There are a thousand worlds in which John Watson and Sherlock Holmes are together, in every sense of the word.

But here, never.  And it always comes back to this.

 

*

 

(It always comes back to this. 

Sherlock leaves John. And thus, John leave Sherlock, swiping his coat from his chair at 221B, and catching a glance of the way that Sherlock had crumpled like paper against the wall of what used to be their flat, before sliding to the floor in utter silence, the crown of his head pressed against the wallpaper, his eyes clenched shut, and his breathing still ragged. 

John wants to forget.  He wants to drink. Instead, that night, he goes home, the bones in his hands knotted tightly during the entire cab ride.

Mary has her back facing John when he enters their bedroom.  She’s waiting for him, wearing her sensible summer sky coloured ribbed cotton pyjama top with John’s robe over it, and is sitting on the edge of the bed, the pale expanse of her neck illuminated by the moonlight.  When she turns around, his heart swells six times its normal size with ferocity and love and regret.

Wordlessly, John leaves the bedroom, goes to the kitchen, is in the process of pouring himself a glass of ten quid whiskey that he had picked up from Whole Foods while purchasing organic flour for Mary’s bread two weeks prior, when he feels arms around his hips and Clair de Lune right behind him. And as John sets the bottle of whiskey down, he knows that she can smell Yves St. Laurent lingering in his hair, and see the darkening gooseflesh on his neck where Sherlock’s lips were less than an hour ago. Mary Morstan is many wonderful, delightful, beautiful, clever, and amazing things--and she is not stupid.

John stares into the tumbler.  Mary continues to hold John and presses her cheek against his shoulder blade, which makes him screw his eyes shut because even though he loves her, god yes, he does, he can’t tell her that her fingertip against his hipbones do nothing to fill the ache in his fucking soul, which he’ll never be able to explain, nor make his heart beat correctly. 

“I don’t deserve you,” John finally admits, his voice catching, still staring at the rim of the glass, “Not at all.” )

 

*

 

The world must be in fine order, broods Sherlock the next day, staring at the flowers directly in front of him.  He’s on the downside of a high, a sickness lines the epithelial cells of his belly, and a throbbing sensation drums in relentless cadence against his cerebral cortex.  Symptoms aside, he’s fine however--last night had been nothing more than another controlled high just to forget the consequences of particular physics.  Hence, everything.  Is.  Fine.  Besides the sunflowers. Sunflowers represent things that flourish in good times:  honesty, happiness, and faith.  It seems grotesquely unfair that he’s staring at a face full of them now, these ridiculous symbols of all of the things that he’s never allowed to have.

 “No sunflowers,” says Mary pointedly.  They’re over at Sherlock’s flat looking at the cascade of floral options that he has so seemingly effortlessly scattered all over every coverable surface, “Not with the colors and all.”

Sherlock stands next to John whose lips are pursed and two and a half feet from his own.  John who is standing next to Mary and surveying the final three on top of the coffee table and pretending is everything is normal.  And everything is back to their form of normal at this point.  Sherlock Holmes and John Watson will always be well timed jibes, unfathomable comprehension, and breathless chases. They are a thousand things neither will ever say to the other.  They are John kissing Sherlock and then leaving him alone, aching and hollow, with the small of his back pressed to the garish wallpaper of what once was their flat well into the amber honeycomb grenadine sunrise lazy tone of his voice when considering options of floral arrangements that he really doesn’t give two fucks about--NO--

“Mmmm,” muses Sherlock as he sets his hands to his hips, relishing the sensation of bone underneath his fingertips, one stone down since picking up old habits again.  And it’s Not Good to be happy, but on some level, skinny means sick, and sick is external, something which people can see, and thus, some sort of justification for what seven layers of self-loathing hell he has to deal with on a daily basis within,  “I agree with Mary, best not, evocative of the gruesome:  Sunflowers. Van Gogh ate yellow paint just to try and feel happy and, while it’s been largely debated, most likely killed himself. Shot to the head.”  

John blinks himself nearly blind as he looks over at Sherlock, Sherlock who is imitating putting a gun into his mouth.  Should be funny.  Instead, John frowns deeply.  At Sherlock, not to Sherlock.   Which is still normal.  Both have a semi-dormant and yet precisely controlled death wish.  Sherlock with his drugs, John with his addiction to danger.

“Yeah.  Right. I--okay.  No sunflowers then,” John quips, turning his attention back to the wedding spread. 

 “He’s always so cheery, I love it,” Mary sidelines with a sarcastic grin, and now closer to Sherlock glances up, and double takes, “Christ, Sherlock--you still look a mess.  That from your little ‘breaking and entering has gone horribly wrong’ incident the other night?” 

Sherlock brings his fingertips up to the ridge of his cheekbone.  It’s bruised, still, just slightly, a splash of lilac watercolour against his otherwise colourless face. Breaking and entering, technically, but not from Spence’s.  Breaking and entering John’s carefully constructed life.

John huffs a laugh--too quick--and turns to Mary.  “Uh, yeah, technically legalities aside, he deserved it.  Believe me.”

And then John and Mary proceed to talk about petty little things in their little bucolic world of married life and Sherlock wonders why, when his life should be colour, downing slate and white, and yellow and blue, electric blue--all he can see right now is everything in shades of black and white and grey and all he can feel are John’s lips pressed against his own and all he can smell are sunflowers which are happiness, but somehow he’s never felt more siphoned out inside.

It doesn’t make sense

“Yep,” concludes John, nodding and examining what appears to be a calla lily as he addresses Mary,  “Pretty much.  Er---your friend, the one with the flower….decorating...skills.  Beth, um, was that her name?  Why don’t you give her a call on the way down to grab Mrs. Hudson just for her final opinion before we’re off to the florist.  I’ll meet you down there, in a minute, love. We’re just going to decide which er--option to go with.”

Sherlock isn’t even paying attention anymore, he’s too busy staring, hollow, at the splashes of leaves amidst the xylem and phloem and chlorophyll to register the soft way that John presses a kiss to the lines at the center of Mary’s forehead before turning his attention back to Sherlock.  It aches in ways that he’ll never understand.  Or perhaps that he could have understood, that’s the worst of all.

John crosses his arms, and stares at the flowers as well.   The thousand things that they could have said stretching in between them.  But how do you even begin to bridge something, that, on a molecular level was  Not Good for all the right reasons.

Eventually John clears his throat.   “Er, so, how is the case going?”

The kiss never happened to John either, it seems.  Not on a molecular level.  Not on any level.   And if that’s how things have to go, then so be it.  The numbness that follows should make Sherlock wince, but he's just so damn used to it at this point that if it does, physically, nothing even seems to register. 

“Meeting Violet for tea again--she apparently has some new developments.  Restaurant in the Black Swan Hotel, 3pm,” Sherlock retorts, “ You’re not coming.”

“Then you’re not going.” 

-How am I supposed to not be in love with you when every word that spills out of your fucking mouth is perfection.

“I--”  Sherlock starts, just at the same time that John starts with a “Sherlock--” 

Both stop and John uncrosses his arms. And Sherlock can read the words in John’s eyes as John stands there and flexes his wrist seventeen times never again I’m so sorry for all of it, and Sherlock hopes that John can read his own I’m sorry, never again, I’m so sorry for all of it, and just like in the carriage, I don’t know how to fix this, I don’t. 

“It is my favorite colour,”  Sherlock finally settles on, his voice hardly above a whisper, “Just for the record.” 

John exhales and turns his focus back to the flowers. 

“Right, yeah, okay” John half laughs, his tone colored with nonchalance, “What is, then?”

Yellow, aches Sherlock as he thinks of the way that John’s mouth felt slipping into his own, dying over, and over, and over, and over again in the living room of his own flat, Like the paint; like the sun.

 

*

 

That night, the composing is worse than ever.  Sherlock makes is three bars down and then

Nothing

Not one

Single

Thing.

How the fuck is that even possible? How the fuck is that even possible right now, even with the drugs? 

He could blame it on a million things, blame it on the kiss, blame it on the sunflowers, blame it on the way that John’s lips wrap around the words ‘James Sholto’ earlier that day in a way that yanks the pit of Sherlock’s stomach out how many times have you fucked him, how many times have you fallen asleep in his arms sun braised and sand swept, how many times has he gotten to count the number of breaths that you take per minute when in REM, has he gotten to taste your eyelashes in the morning sun, I tried to delete it and I’ll pretend that I did but I can’t, did you tell him that you loved him, you told Mary that you loved her, but you’ve never loved me, it’s been never me, you’re too Good for me and I want nothing more than to be Good for you---

Sherlock doesn’t even realise that he’s plucked his Strad bare until Mrs. Hudson places a cup of tea at the cook of his elbow the next morning.  Amidst a pile of bowstring.  And crumpled parchment paper. And how when he numbly puts his lips to the rim of the PG Tips, now cold, it tastes like rain tarnished copper, and the unwinding carbon of a falling star, and guilt, and guilt, and guilt.

 

*

 

It’s not supposed to happen like this. Or, perhaps it is.

Days after the flowers, and after mid-morning lunch with Lestrade where the first thing out of Lestrade’s mouth after he had sized up Sherlock’s too-pronounced cheekbones was to ask if Sherlock was okay, days after the floral arrangement meeting and then the catering meeting, after Mary had sat in Sherlock’s chair and Sherlock on the floor and Mrs. Hudson had brought them all tea, hours after Sherlock had bestowed a kiss to Mary’s cheek and a nod to John after they had left, hours after John and Sherlock had met Violet Hunter only to hear that Rucastle had asked her to work overtime and had berated her when Violet had said that she had to be back at school, hours after he and John had departed to now separate ways and separate lives, and Sherlock changed into his purple dressing gown and curled himself into the smallest possible ball that someone of his bone structure could possibly make, hours later after the moon has glazed the night sky with its dim presence, Sherlock gets high. 

Again.

It’s to solve the case, primarily.  The case is begging to be solved, positively begging.  Sherlock doesn’t know why it’s been so hard to focus.  Or how to solve it at present, and Sherlock needs to Think.

Which requires silence from the

 

ob

sessed.

 

Hence, morphine.   He did score another 60ml, four nights previous after all, just as a reserve (since he had depleted his original reserve), and for circumstances just as these.  60ml of morphine for Dulling the distracting.  Additional cocaine for Thinking. Oxycontin for...whatever he decides necessary.  He doesn’t have anyone to justify anything to.

And so, on that evening where It’s Not Supposed to Happen like This, Sherlock stretches the length of the sofa, his feet bare, rolls up the sleeve of his 200 quid Armani dressing gown, slides the needle in his arm, and injects the ever loving fuck out of himself.

Once the drugs start to kick in, approximately ten minutes later, he starts with researching the case by flipping through a six years stash of Vogue that's been tossed haphazardly in the corner.  There's a bit about Rucastle in nearly every segment and her "artistic inspiration" which started nearly six years ago with the colour white (absence of colour, thinks Sherlock with a sardonic frown) and has gotten progressively darker on the colour spectrum ever since (“sunset”, “ochre”, “vermillion”--pretentious.)  What's strange, at least to Sherlock, however, is how she changes interns seemingly with every season, retiring one to work at her studio in Paris, and then seemingly never heard from again.  And after a quick background scan, courtesy of his brother’s access code and password, Rucastle doesn't even own any property in Paris at present, which doesn't quite fit the puzzle.  But, despite the fact this is work--this is supposed to be the entire axis on which his life should revolve around--Sherlock. Just. Doesn't. Care

Correction: he does care, actually, but simultaneously, he doesn’t. It’s all very complicated, his recent apathy towards the work.  If he were to analyze someone else with his same symptoms, it would lead to neon arrows over their head with DEPRESSION written all over them, but he is not depressed.  He’s brilliant.  And fine.  And will be even more so once he solves this case.

Hence, again, the morphine. Or more, that is.  10 ml, just to be precise.  Just to dim the noise in his head up and care about the case.

Not the best decision, he thinks, because it had started with just a little to numb the (obvious pain) noise and to help him think, and then a slight bit more, 5ml, because the thinking is loud and it’s still hard to care, and then perhaps, 2ml more, because he's so god damn bored and tired of trying to care when it’s all futile and everyone is eventually going to just die anyway. 

Which is how, at approximately 7:16pm, Sherlock finds himself staring at lines between the wallpaper of his living room, his mouth open, and only then, realizing that he is….appallingly high.  There are an infinite number of parallel universes where he isn’t a high functioning addict.  Where 10ml doesn’t turn into an additional 2ml because he really won’t feel it, and then another 5ml  because he can handle it--he’s high functioning, remember, and just wants to numb the pain, numb the feelings and he fucking can handle it and he’s a god everyone else is inferior waste of oxygen on the planet because he’s more intelligible than handfuls of their brain cells lumped together, he can handle it ALL--and then 17ml turns into 20ml just because He. Can’t. Anymore. Sherlock rolls up his sleeve once more.

Ten minutes later, 25ml, it seems, is a fucking neon flare of silence.  It’s glorious.

-This is how it always should be, this, where I can’t feel him, nor his lips against mine, nor the way that he growled, just ever so slightly into my mouth, and hence, somewhere into my fucking soul as well.  This is how it should be, where the last three years never happened, and Serbia doesn’t still imbue every sweat drenched night, and where I don’t stumble back into John Watson’s life three years too late and where the person sitting across the table as he proposes isn’t myself. This is how it always should be, the mind dictated and controlled by chemical reactions, or otherwise blank, as opposed to anchored the the silt in the bottomless ocean of sentiment 

-This is how it should be.

Sherlock pushes himself up to stand. And he doesn’t know when exactly he does this---could have been hours, could have been days--but as he sets his hands on his thighs, everything.

Goes.

Blank.

The entire room is bleached and god, he feels as if he’s been bleached, entirely.  Of John.  Of all emotion. Of himself.

Marvelous.

He’s not entirely sure why his legs aren’t quite working properly, but he’s making his way down the hallway, slowly toward the kitchen for a cool glass of water, but surely, and there is feedback, static and twining through his skull, but he’s not quite sure from where, and he’s stretching towards something--somewhere in the distance, somewhere as his vision goes fuzzy at the edges--there’s the wall, he can feel that--and his knees, god why aren’t they working, he just?//--

------------FLOOR_______--------------.

-……….kitchen

-sink

-his stomach churns like the sea and his bones are made of granite

-the pieces of glass in his head clatter together in a symphonic discordance of epic proportions.

When Sherlock gasps back into consciousness this time, he’s half slumped on the floor of his living room, his back pressed against the sofa, his button down slick against his body drenched in sweat.  He’s fairly certain that he’s still fine, yes, god yes, everything is so quiet, just FINE god he’s fucking fine he’s never been better as he focuses on the two bottles and multiple syringes that now lay on Mrs. Hudson’s second hand Persian rug.  There is blood running down his arm, ostensibly from trying to find a working vein. How much more did he actually take? There was a second bottle, so more than the 25ml. Alcohol somewhere nearby too, he can smell it (whiskey knocked over three feet to his right--next to the bottle of open pills which contain god only knows.)  That's all he can be empirically certain of. And as he swallows, dry, his belly feels perplexingly lined with quicksilver, pooling out of his chest and out of his mouth and in a puddle on the floor.

When you walk along the tightrope of self-destruction, how easy it is to get far too comfortable before you realize that you’ve slipped and are already in mid-air.

The kettle is screeching--the tea kettle, that is--somewhere from the kitchen, (when did he put the kettle on?) and Sherlock, god, knows that feeling. The screech of every god damn cell whenever the cord that tightens around his heart at every half uttered word, or second too long glance, or lazy smile. He’s screeching too, in a way, always has been.  Silently.  No one ever seems to notice, or if they do, they never seem to care.  It should bother him, but right now it’s lancing through his fucking delirious high.   It’s so quiet besides the shrill, it feel as if the world is made of nothing feather white down pillows.

He’s standing, going for the kettle, he has it, taken it off the stove, but then his knees buckle under him once, the water scalds the back of his hand and then down his chest and, fuck--and then he’s not standing anymore, he’s on his knees and then the floor and then he’s crawling and then vomiting and--

-Forgiveness, John laughs, acerbic, as he melts like a snow cone on the pavement in late August, I will never, ever forgive you for this.

When Sherlock comes relatively to again, with a caustic gasp and a wrenching start, there’s….tile pressed to his cheek--

no, //////////porcelain--NOT tile,

his (everything hurts)

fingertips are scraped with chalk and caulk and scalded skin and blood. 

He’s resting his temple on the floor of his

...bathtub.

His entire body trembles like the most brittle of fall leaves,

beautiful and blessedly, blessedly, blessedly, blessedly, blessedly, blessedly, dead. 

His heart roars like the seashore in his ears, it’s all he can hear and feel, and Christ, when did it become so loud. 

His lips are cracked and bleeding, and the front of his shirt is wet with his own stomach acid, his mouth is full of what feels like fire and sand, but his shoulder--his shoulder, his left shoulder--what the hell, christ, what the hell oh god--

With his free hand, Sherlock reaches up to the throbbing epicenter of the pain.  What he touches is jagged against his fingertips--hard pieces of glass and blood. 

 -Blood, at far too vast a quantity for just veins.

-glass=bathroom door.

Broken, all of it, smashed glass everywhere glittering like stars. Must have fallen right through.  Despite himself, Sherlock feels his mouth curl up into a smile. And then a laugh.  And then more laughing, deep from the pit of his belly. Because it would go like this, wouldn’t it?  Third try is a charm, after all.  This is how he’s going to die.  Overdose AND blood loss on his own bathroom floor, glorious.  Sherlock looks out the small window in his bathroom, at the stars, at already dead embers in the sky. So impassive. 

Oh, how he envies them.

-Sirius rises to the east, brother mine.

the East Wind takes us all in the end, hence, go west. go west, they said,

follow the sunset.

sunset….

sunset-->ochre

sunset-->ochre-->vermilion-->cerulean-->Rucastle is going through the visible colour spectrum,

interns “working” in Paris, sealing wax everywhere,

no actual studio in Paris, locked room on the second floor, I'd bet.

fuck

it’s been so, so, obvious the entire time, I’ve just been too fucking depressed and self-indulgent to see it.

Sherlock tries to twist himself from the floor. He’d kill for perfection, she would too, but while Sherlock would easily kill himself, for most, it’s far easier to kill others and of course, now, now, while I’m enjoying dying, the curse of introspection is self-inflicted ennui which leads to revelations at the last god damn minute--

His mobile is to the left, and gripping it, slick with sweat, Sherlock rings Mycroft.

Not because Mycroft can shake sense into Sherlock’s bones when Sherlock cannot, but because that, in addition to solving the case, there’s a story that Sherlock needs to know, hovering on just the murky edge of Sherlock’s brain.   It’s the one about the swan in the stars.  Because if swans exist, if it was able to transform from something hideous into something ethereally beautiful, perhaps, there is hope for him as well.

The mobile rings through not even once.  But before he saves his own life (why) there is Work. To. Be. Done.   At least the Work will never choose someone else (or will it?)

“Get Violet out of Rucastle’s internship immediately,” Sherlock begins, and he’s not slurring--he’s fairly certain, at least, “She’ll be murdered within a fortnight, preserved in wax and then strung up with the rest of her previous interns in her ‘inspiration gallery’, all in the name of art.  The French, always madly autotelic.  Madly so.  You remember leaving me there, of course, in Paris, before I left for Rolle.  You were allowed to attend Eton, Mummy and Daddy didn’t know what to do with me after Redbeard and hence, I was sent away. I was sent away.”

A pause.  Mycroft swears, and audibly.  Because, despite the obvious case, there’s no discrepancy as to why Sherlock is calling as opposed to saving the day himself.  He would never sound this serrated normally.

“How much.”

“Irrelevant, I’m dying. More importantly, you once told me about a constellation, brother mine, I’m staring at it now, actually,”  Sherlock jaggedly breathes into the speaker as he lies on his shoulder blade and bleeds his life down the drain,  “and I can’t for the life of me remember the story.” 

Mycroft say nothing, although his breathing, from what Sherlock can make out, has quickened imperceptibly.  Or perhaps that’s his own. Pulse rate becomes elevated during blood loss.

“Keep talking,”  his brother orders, “And keep living. You’ve saved one life tonight, surely there’s room for another.” 

“What was its name?”

“Paramedics have been dispatched and are approximately six minutes from your flat.”

“Its name--I need to know the constellation’s name.

“You already know it,” Mycroft responds, his voice trying desperately not to soften from stone to porcelain. “Right ascension of 20.62, declination of +42.03, visible in late summer and autumn.  Think.

But Sherlock is trying to tell Mycroft, trying to tell him that he while his brother is superhuman, he is only human, only remembers fragments that he had previously deleted, a gene mutation in his own memory that has inserted again what had previously been written off forever.  Sherlock is trying to tell Mycroft that he remembers being five years old and two weeks after he realized that Redbeard had indeed died and he was teetering off the brink of self destruction because of sheer feeling, his older brother had given him the one coping mechanism that he needed in the form of a book that mapped the stars and several very advanced lessons on the stories behind them and how pirates used the stars to navigate whilst lost at sea, where Sherlock has been his entire life.

 --Sherlock is trying to tell Mycroft that he knows the name of the star.

--Sherlock is trying.

--He’s--

(Cygnus, he sobs, and buries his face into Redbeard’s shoulder blade.

In the end, it seems, he’s always crying about goddamn stars. )

 

*

     Cygnus contains Deneb,

one of the brightest stars in the sky and one corner of the northern triangle.  Isosceles, he answers before smashing himself into broken glass, a champagne flute flicked absentmindedly to the floor

     No, obtuse.

     Like you, little darling, says Mummy, meaning the stars, not the obtuse.  He is six, no, seven. She scuffles his hair, like a mop.  She pushes it behind his ear.

     It does nothing.

     He’s a duckling, rubber and floating in the pool while on holiday in Bath. But the deep end is fathomless and brine murky, and the chlorine clclcclclclclclclcl (he’s twelve years old--only twelve and carved the molecular structure into his arm with a penblade, and yet he still doesn’t know how many isotopes despite his brother’s acerbic mockingbird laugh) burns when he swallows it

     in gasping

     shallow

     sobs--deleted//////////////

     CYGNUS. 

Cygnus contains Deneb/Many of the stars there have

what astronomers have called earth

twins.                                    Made of the same heartstring and bone and then sawed straight down the middle, like crustless white bread sandwiches,

no, not in lines, in triangles

three points, like a waltz

they’re not a waltz, they’re two firing lines pointing at each other.

tied together, not with red string

but yellow

(Not here.)

I’d follow you into hell, he once said, small and deliciously ragged and half punch drunk with a double murder and whiskey laced adrenaline and infinite possibilities,

infinite like the orbs of dead carbon and fire in the sky

Well, you had said, wanting nothing more than to close his hand in yours,

(forever,)

                                                                                the planets there orbit all the same.

 

*

 

Sometime later, he’s not quite certain when, Sherlock realises that he’s still alive.

Technically.  He’s not living at all, actually.  A machine lives for him. 

When Sherlock’s muzzy world finally pinpoints into some grotesque form of crosshairs for the first time since god only knows when, it is to the click and whirr of the ICU machinery he’s surrounded by.  Or, encompassed with, to be technical.   He vaguely remembers watching a movie, on the sofa with John, John who had been wearing tan wool socks, his feet crossed at the ankles and resting on just on the edge of the coffee table, sipping beer out of a glass necked bottle in a tempo of 5/8ths.  They had watched a movie about that, or...something like that, once.  “More machine like now than man.” 

(“That one movie, the one with the functional rubbish bin, the idiot with the bowl haircut and a stick, the hermit perpetually wearing a dressing gown, the girl with no fashion sense--honestly, who wears white with the disgusting particular consistency of space, however, I digress, let's carry on--you do know what I'm talking about, yes?  There's also a roguish chap with the large and perplexingly non-aerodynamic plane, and a large---furry...thing--”  Sherlock had said.

“Star Wars,”  John had said into his palm, having just planted his wonderfully lined forehead there seconds earlier, “Fucking.  Star.  Wars.  Darth Vader.”)

Stretching his senses, Sherlock lolls further back into consciousness-like waves lapping at the seashore during low tide: one tenth of a millimetere at a time.

-ventilator (obvious)

-intubated.  (obvious as well)

-veins feel

-full (disgusting)

-flushed (wrong)

-waterlogged (the human body is 60-65% water)

-and appallingly filled with lead.

He had forgotten how painful death could be. Nearly ten years since the previous two overdoses, both ruled accidental. But were they?  Even he couldn’t begin to surmise. 

As Sherlock blinks once to the left, he realises that there is the warm pull of fingers around his wrist, eternally taking his pulse, eternally making sure he’s alright, and that those fingers belong to a man whose jawline possesses the finest layer of most elegant stubble, as he sits on a plastic chair next to Sherlock’s bedside. 

John’s mouth is moving.

Sherlock can’t understand. It makes his heart wind itself around his entire chest in a tight cord because John is talking to him and he can’t make out the words and it’s the most tragic thing in the world to wake up to this and not be able to hear those words.

Sherlock squints.  And focuses on John’s lips, which is never too difficult.

-“Welcome back, you”

-“sick”

 -“….sonofabitch.”

Oh.

John’s speaking through his teeth as he bitterly shakes his head, this much Sherlock can make out.  The tissue of his eyes is lined with red, and the bags that hang nearly black underneath are battle scars.  His creased button down shirt is two--no, no, three--days old, wrinkled in all the places that scream of sleepless spent not at home with Mary, no, but tethered to Sherlock’s own pulse.

The thought makes something beautiful bloom from the first within Sherlock’s chest, like the first lily stretching into spring. 

I’ll never understand your limits, aches Sherlock as his eyes roll back in his head--

But a hand slaps against the side of his face. Sherlock spirals back into the world.  It feels positively horrendous, not being able to sleep, when above all else, you’re a machine and all you’re supposed to do is sleep and not feel a thing.

“Nope, nope, not at all, you are not going back to fucking sleep while I sit here and watch you try not to die, not without dealing with me first.  Heard that you solved it too, the case with Violet, wonderful.  And now you can’t even rattle your bloody brilliant mouth off to me, you’re forced to just sit there with it, and that is just delicious.”

John takes Sherlock face in his hand, and turns it towards his own visage.  It’s a perfect fit, and reminds Sherlock--disgustingly cliche, however, you’re a machine, what do you expect--of a lock sliding into a key.  But it’s a skeleton key here, a skeleton key that belongs to a thousand other universes other than this one. What a shame it is that this is the only time my face will be in the palm of your hand again, thinks Sherlock, as it fits so perfectly.  

The sadness, after all, never seems to end. After all, even the axioms of homeostasis dictate that an infinity sign of negative feedback can only loop back in on itself.

-It was new at first,

But now it’s so tiring

wearing thimbles on all my fingers and ripping myself apart,

only to have you try and weave the  p  i  e  c  e  s together again.

you’re tired of it, and god, I am too.

                you don’t have to prick your fingers sewing any longer.

                just hold the pieces in your palms, and let me finally unravel myself for good,

                to die with you would be kindness, please

this is a kindness.

“Yep, just, look at me,” John continues, his voice gravel, “god fucking damn it, you’re still intubated, but, oh, luckily I’m a doctor and I know that you can open your eyes, yep, yep, right on, keep going, that’s it, just...brilliant job, you.  You’re wonderful.  Oh yes.  Lovely.  The game is on, or so you say, so let’s get to it, shall we?  That, on your door, taped to your door, is a bloody fucking sunflower.  You do know what that means, you do know why they put that on the doors of in the ICU don’t you? Well, let me refresh your memory, besides the fact that you’re here because the amount of drugs in your system were off the charts and you sent your body into total organ failure, also, somehow, you managed to crash through the fucking bathroom door, so you’ve been stitched up all over, christ almighty.  The ‘s’ for sunflower stands for something else that doctors don’t really want to broadcast to visitors, something with rhymes with ‘uacide’--do you want to take a damn guess?”

John releases his grip from Sherlock’s visage, tears a single hand through his glorious wheat coloured hair once, swallows hard and blinks six times.  From this close, to Sherlock, it’s a national holiday.

“I’ve had a look at your charts,” John says as he turns his focus back to Sherlock, his voice gravel, “the unforged ones--yes, you can thank Mary for that--and it seems to me, that you took not just morphine, not just cocaine, not just Oxycontin, not just alcohol, but you took a bloody cocktail of all sorts of fuckery at a high enough dose to drop a fucking office building of people, congratulations.  Very well done.”

-In some other world you trace the lines of my palms,

like tree rings,

up and down the ladder, climbing where? you have the map.

I bottled it up and threw it off a cliff into the sea long ago.

listen to the rings of oak, you say, read the scorched bark, and measure all the years and months you’ve been burned and yet still alive.

“Are you just--really?  I can see you trying to fucking smile right now and no.  You think it’s funny to try and take yourself away from me for the second time?  Do you think this is a game to me, do you think I don’t get a fucking say whether you’re alright? Do you think that after--” John swallows what appears to be a knot of something down, “what happened, that I don’t fucking care about you?  Because, Sherlock, god damn it, it’s quite the opposite, you ignorant fuck.  And when you’re back to normal, when you’re back alive again, I am going to rip you apart limb by fucking limb for even thinking so.  Do you know what?  Because this has been written off your chart, probably at your brother’s bloody command as a simple ‘miscalculation’ you think that you’ll be fine, but you know what is just very, very funny to me right now?  Somewhere, along the four years that has been this utter fuckery of you, I’ve learned something, something very, very valuable--do you want to know what it is?  Sherlock Holmes is human, he tends to get things wrong from time to time, and yeah, I suppose you were already high, right, you could have messed up the dosage, and sure, we’ll throw out the fact that yes, you’re a high functioning addict with a very latent death wish mediated only by how fucking vain you are--however, do you know what I know above all else?”

John leans in very, very close, his breath hot against the shell of Sherlock’s ear

“Sherlock. Holmes.” John hisses, ”is a god damn graduate chemist.  He has an eidetic memory which he has carefully honed into a machine, at the risk of his own body and health multiple times.  He is a high functioning addict who is disturbingly adept at using drugs to control his own brain. But most importantly, he does. not. fucking. miscalculate.”

Technically, John is wrong, reconciles Sherlock as everything gets a bit blurry again for reasons that he can’t quite understand.

Technically, John is wrong, John who with weary frustration collapses in the chair next to Sherlock again.

Technically, John is wrong because yes, Sherlock has miscalculated one very, painfully blatant fact:

John is staying.  And has Sherlock's aching palm stretched against his own again and is tracing lightly over the lavender bruised veins on the top of his hand and John's fingers are warm and the colour of summer sky.  And never before has anyone been there just to sit next to Sherlock and hold his fucking hand while he tries and fails again and again and again to step out of the darkness in every single god damn way possible.

-"The maddest thing of all is to see life as it is and not as it should be."

(Cervantes, Sherlock smiles bitterly as he melds away into the gossamer, of all the fucking things.)

But this is how it is. And right now, for once, it’s perfect.

 

*

 

The next time Sherlock wakes up, it is amidst the numb and yet perplexingly haranguing discordant chaos of the ICU.  Somewhere around 5am, from what he can tell, by the way that the shadows lean in through the hollow glass of the room.  The sunflower on the window is gone, swept under the carpet by Mycroft’s half whispered threats and vise-like grip on any sort of bureaucracy, especially that of a government funded hospital. 

John is also gone.  The hard plastic chair next to his bed is dismayingly empty. 

Sherlock swallows down what is a bubble of shame and regret. I didn’t want you to see me like that, you looking at me with everything that I can’t stand to see in your eyes--pity and anger--not when I'm supposed to be beautiful and infallible and everything that you want but what neither of us can have.

Trying to calm his fucking breathing down, especially now that he’s breathing on his own now (just marginally, the nasal cannulae hurt) Sherlock just feels. And his head, slightly fuzzy with an almost the white noise of static feels...blank.  Looking to the right, he registers why, which is the river of methadone and Narcan that is now pumping through his veins.  And yet even that, now legal, does nothing to numb the physical retributions of his own body nearly dying from within:  His throat is impossibly shredded, as if scraped voraciously with barbed wire.  His veins feel overused and world weary from the journey that has been his survival song over the past seven days.  His body hurts. Even with legal medication. Legal medication which a drug addict should probably not be on the receiving end of. Bless the tender spot Mycroft has for his younger fuck up of a brother hidden somewhere in his heart.

Sherlock swears as he lets his head fall back against the pillows.  He can feel the multiple days of grime and sweat and germs still layered on himself and it makes him want to shed his skin like a snake.

Appalling.

The pull of the nasal cannulae against his face brings forth the faint impressions of someone gently cradling the back of his head while coaxing cough, love, cough, easy there, easy. yes that’s it, good job, good, you. do you know how good you are, shit, jesus, and then a gasped and very, very painfully gravelly attempt at wrapping his lips around the words you should be home, followed by a I’m not going anywhere you fucking idiot.  Sherlock knows who the fucking idiot is, but not the love, so that has to be wrong, because no one ever has had the unmitigated audacity to love him, and especially in a moment such as this. 

Not even Mycroft.  Mummy and Daddy, perhaps, but never as much as they’ll love their shining golden star of government bureaucracy.

Instead of dwelling in the dregs of lachrymosity, Sherlock surveys the coffee stained paper cup (cold) that rests on his bedside table and desperately tries to stay a shiver from running down his spinal column.  One coffee cup, but one side has lipstick on it, drugstore--something...all thoughts are akin to the speed of molasses, still--the color is….fuchsia, Revlon, or—whatever--he doesn’t want to turn the drugs that are currently keeping his dying organs somewhat tolerable off in regards to deductions of such a superficial nature.

But John--and Mary--it seems, are actually here. 

And judging from the angle of the cup, they’ve made another trip down to the cafeteria, which means, as Sherlock swallows down a swell of deep wrenching tightness in his chest that feels vaguely like fear, twelve more minutes to deal with the ineffable silence of his own brain, at the most.

Twelve minutes.  He cannot live with himself for that long. Not in this state. 

Sherlock snatches the bed sheets to his chest and carelessly flips over onto his left hip, doing his best to ignore the way that the IV needle and tubes tug against his skin.  There will be bruises, for sure--more of them, always--and plenty of them in all sorts of wonderful places in his arms and neck and chest and the back of his hands. And he would be lying if he said that every single time he looks at them, the decaying black and purple webs of veins, like Rorschach blots, over the next week he won’t feel the tiniest bit of pride. Survived, yet again. Third time. There’s a part, albeit just a spark, that thinks if he’s clung this far along in life, surely there’s a reason why, surely there has to be a reason why he has suffered for so long. 

And then there’s the other part, the part which reinforces that he’s just:

a) very un/lucky

and obviously

b) Certifiably and horrifically insane with a latent death wish more than a mile wide.

-Propensity falls on the latter.

Sherlock lets his head loll back on the pillow, and is just about to shut his eyes once more when a splash of white catches the corner of his eye.  There is a solitary vase resting on the windowsill.  Single pot. One flower.  The only one in his room in fact. Apparently, one individual in this world has taken it upon themselves to send him a singular white tulip.

To a normal person, the single flower means absolutely nothing, Victorian floriography has been as useless as the Babylonian language for over a hundred years now, after all.  To Sherlock, however, the meaning and question smack him across the face with something akin to a shovel as he lies in a hospital bed in a world where John is not lying there next to him and tries to keep breathing because of course, of course, of course it would be that, of course I live in a fucking world where no one ever says what they mean because they can’t and we all rely on shitty metaphors to convey what it feels like when a dull spoon is carving out the ventricles of your heart, when in fact, the entire human lexicon can’t put that ache and loss into words.

And then the answer to the flower is obvious: Never. Not as long as I live.

The subject in question, or more precisely, the subject who Sherlock can see outside the glass door, is drenched grey with worry, and is walking hand in hand with the woman who is doing her best to keep both of their threads pulled tightly together.  Mary catches Sherlock’s eye before John does and Sherlock can see it, the momentary flight of pity as she clenches her fingers inadvertently around John’s own. It’s the desperate grasp of someone who clings to the edge of a crumbling facade, but of what, Sherlock isn’t sure.   And it is only then that Sherlock wonders if there is another universe out there somewhere where Mary is the madly addictive self-destructive one and Sherlock is the sane one, or if everyone is just fucking crazy inside and some people are born with the natural capacity to shove it down with normalcy and hide it far, far better than others. 

He doesn’t know. 

He just doesn’t know.

John kisses Mary on the forehead and gives her a nod before walking over to Sherlock, the muscles in his jaw clenched tightly. John pulls up his chair. John sits by the bed. John stares at Sherlock in way that is indescribable: it’s murderous and glad and grateful and hurt and a thousand things all in one, a tangle of feelings which Sherlock had deliberately spent two years away from so that he would never have to watch John Watson experience them first hand ever again, because watching someone you’ve hurt actually hurt is the worst thing in the entirety of the human existence.

Sherlock speaks first. Or at least, tries to.

“Violet Hunter wasn’t in any immediate danger due to her status, but it was best that she removed herself from the situation, immediately.  Mycroft has already taken care of it, I’ve heard, however, Rucastle is a serial killer who has murdered her former muses and most likely has them preserved in the upstairs room of her studio.  The inability to achieve perfection tends to do the most startling things to the human brain.”

John's face furrows for two seconds and raises his eyebrows slightly. Even whilst drugged, Sherlock can see the unmasked hurt that is still etched into every pore on John Watson’s face. He’s forgiven you once for dying, surely he’ll forgive you again.

“Really, a deduction before some sort of ‘I’m sorry I almost died on the bathroom floor of our flat?’  Really, honestly, right now?”

Sherlock sets his eyes slide back shut and his head sink into the pillow more.  And since he’s solved the case, it’s sick, but for once, he can just enjoy a situation where drugs are actually societally okay. The oxygen flowing over his lips feels splendid.  The cocktail winding through his veins is decadent.  John just referred to 221B as ‘theirs’.

“Would you expect anything else?” Sherlock asks to the darkness.

He can hear the sarcasm in John’s snort, but then there are kind hands readjusting his oxygen, and pausing for just a hair's breadth second longer, smoothing Sherlock’s curls back behind his ear.

“So, for the record, before you try to speak again and irreparably tarnish your very verbose image, you’ve got a bit of temporary aphasia. Only mmm, about six of whatever the sounds you just made were actual words, you massive dick, but I got the gist of it, I think. Now, back to sleep,” John says, and then softer, and now brushing his thumb on Sherlock’s temple, but for what medical reason Sherlock can’t possibly deduce at this time, “I’ll kill you in the morning, never you mind.”

Warm with methadone and John’s hands on him again, it's all too easy to edge towards the silk spun darkness once more, but just before it captures him, Sherlock can hear the starlight catch at just the corner of John’s eye that whispers, ‘I could understand it all,’  and then, even more heartbreaking, ‘Magnificent’

 

*

 

Three days later, things are quite the same. With the Spence’s scandal finally ousted, the entire London fashion market had been in uproar.  The pieces had been selling on eBay for an upwards of seventeen times the original price.   Not that Sherlock hadn’t been directing John to stalk said pieces and bid them up a bit, just to see how ridiculous the fashion world could be.

Humanity is disgusting, Sherlock thought later on, eyes closed and half asleep as John had been tapping away at the keyboard next to him.  He felt like a caged animal, being kept at hospital for another 24 hours after he could breathe by himself again, under the purported reasons of making sure that his organs continue to function.  He doesn’t need organs, he doesn’t have a heart. 

Because it normally resides within less than fingertips reach of his body, inside of John Watson, who has no fucking clue.  John Watson, who two days prior had the audacity to suggest--

 

       --“Official blog post title: A killer fashion statement, or, killer fashion sense?”

Sherlock, who had been lolling in and out and in and out of consciousness at that moment, had immediately snapped his eyes open.

The telly was playing a show about some self-professed doctor, named, of all things, Phillip, who has, without a doubt, never even set foot in a seven mile radius of a medical school.  No need for elucidation.  Everything had been grating.

“There will be two serial killers found today if you use either of those.”

John had smiled, just the corner of his mouth curling up, the dismaying and soft smile, the one that Sherlock adored.

“You’re in detox, you look like a bloody Dementor, you’re shaking and sweating buckets, like the addict you are so I think you don’t get a say in anything I do, mmmm, pretty much ever again.”

“A “dementor”?” Sherlock had snapped,  “Was it really necessary to attempt to invent a word?”

“I. Just. Right.  Of course.  Never mind.  Scratch that, besides the last bit.”

“Furthermore, need I even say it, however, even while in purported “detox”, I’m still more astute than you’ll ever hope to be.  It’s a case and I solved it; for the love of god, do take it seriously for once.”

Sherlock had nudged his chin towards the cup of ice chips and begins to reach for them, more for punctuation than of actual necessity, but his hand, still threaded through with needles, had been stayed by John’s own.--

     ---Delete. Delete. DELETE. 

 

But today John has gone, back at the clinic for a day shift.  Mary as well.  John and Mary have a house and a mortgage and petrol and food and a seemingly endless avalanche of bills to pay, after all, and they can’t be expected to look after Sherlock all day long.  Which is fine, as he’s being discharged anyway, and now he has a certain ex-army doctor’s blog to hack into and delete a post from--

...Clarification:

Which would be fine if his fucking brother weren’t walking around the room like a magisterial vest-clad ferret having just delighted in his younger brother’s failure, yet again.  Overdose Number Three now, Mycroft will never forget it, as long as Sherlock continues to draw oxygen into his lungs.

“Your continual and simultaneously delighted silence is much appreciated, dear brother,”  snaps Sherlock as he slides his arms back into the comfort of his Belstaff for the first time in five days.  It smells faintly of tobacco ash and way the streets had smelled--wet and chemically clean--when he had pressed the cool barrel of a gun to John Watson’s temple before the doctor had taken his lifeline along with his hand, approximately three years prior.

The standard issue white plastic hospital bag, in which his clothing remains, lies crumpled on the bedsheets.  Mycroft oversees the entire operation, the discharge, whilst sitting, somewhat gleefully, in the chair in the corner of the room.

“To state the obvious, I haven’t said a word.” 

That’s always the problem, thinks Sherlock, wincing back a memory of being literally chained to life back in Serbia like some sort of feral dog, you never say a word.

Sherlock snaps his coat collar back up.

“You want to know why, of course,” Sherlock drawls, clicking his mobile back to life. “‘Why this time Sherlock why now’ why now that you’ve returned, six months later, why would you do this to Mummy and Daddy, why now?  ‘Wir sind gewohnt dass die Menschen verhohnen was sie nicht verstehen’--we are accustomed to seeing man despite what he does not understand.”

It’s far easier than speaking the truth: because once when I was sixteen I realized that I wanted to die and I’ve never stopped trying. 

When Sherlock looks back up, Mycroft simply stares at Sherlock.  Guarded, and sadly in the way that his older brother who will never comprehend that some people are born with innate and far larger self-destruct buttons than the human genome should ever allow. 

Mycroft ticks his head to the table, where the tulip, still fresh, rests in its vase. 

“Quoting Goethe again, I see.  Pitiful.  If you’re going to feign an answer, do try and refrain from the German Romantics, they’re terribly cliché.  Hence, now, in response, the answer to your outlandish child hyperbolic display is ‘agency’,” drawls Mycroft, looking far off into the distance, “As it always is with you.” 

Sherlock bites his lip, tasting copper, as his elder brother sweeps from the room.  As always, Mycroft knows Sherlock far better than he knows himself.  Because, it’s true and the terrifying truth is that

in that moment, and that moment

                                       (alone)

there was some semblance of control over my own life.

 

*

 

As opposed to going back to Baker Street, after much coaxing from Mary (not John, of course he’d never text Sherlock) Sherlock stays the night at John and Mary’s.

As to the night, it is spent shivering and sleepless amidst the familiar fabric softener sheets of their guest bed, cocooned tightly in two blankets, his joints tucked in on himself, feeling blighted and impossible and alone. Mary is working an overnight shift at the clinic, and John is asleep upstairs. 

-Until, somewhere around what Sherlock can surmise is 3am, he is awakened by a soft thump, pressure on the bed, an increase of warmth, soft hands tucking a thicker blanket around his shivering fame, and then--

“I can practically hear your bones clacking together,” murmurs John as he finishes tucking the blankets Sherlock, his voice rough with midnight, “And quite frankly, I would like some sleep for the first time in--oh, about seven days.”

Sherlock doesn’t respond, but merely blinks up at John, John who is now taking Sherlock’s pulse, two fingers wrapped around Sherlock’s wrist.  John is decadently disheveled and smells like sleep and bay rum aftershave and is wearing a silk dressing gown, not dissimilar to Sherlock’s own (Mary purchased it for him last Christmas) over his pyjamas. 

It’s simultaneously the most beautiful and heartbreaking thing that Sherlock has ever seen.

“I’m well aware that waking up to a corpse in your guest room is what seemingly normal people call a ‘nightmare’ even though I couldn’t think of a more splendid start to the day--hence, you needn't worry, I’m alive,” struggles Sherlock, after what he surmises to be approximately sixty seconds of recalculating the golden ratio to fit the sight in front of him,  “For now,”

 “For now,” echoes John with a faint smile, “Oh, wonderful.  You got any other unspoken requests for basic necessities like warmth, or are we finished then?”

 John withdraws his hand, his eyebrows still knit together. 

“No, we're finished.” Sherlock says, mashing his face into the pillow, before succumbing to one more spine shattering shiver and tucking his knees to his ribs.  And the thing is, he’s quite adept at suppressing his own bodily needs, and so he could have stopped the melodramatic display of worthy of the most packed showing of a Victorian Penny Dreadful to denote the idea of ‘still cold’--but Sherlock knows John and knows what happens when someone is still breathing into your hair and watching you in the darkness, even after you’ve so obviously turned away, and god, he doesn’t care if he’s being hyperbolic (MUMMY) or manipulative right now and so, so Not Good, but he’s just stripped to the bone tired of being alone for all of his life.

-You can write it off to the drugs, wanting the obvious--wanting John in bed with you--you can write it off to the nearly seven and a half days spent in the hospital, you can write it off and then ignore it just like the kiss, you both can, you unintelligible, overly-emotional, unguarded, selfish, pathetic, sad, alone, failure of an amalgamation of atoms and axons and neurons --

But there is a shift and dip in the mattress and before Sherlock can even finish the usual self-degradation, John pulls Sherlock into his arms.  And Sherlock can’t remember the last time he’s been held like this, if ever (no, not ever) and he can’t stop himself, you can’t stop kinetic energy three years in the making, and so he just tucks his head into the crook of John’s neck and let’s himself be encompassed by warmth and limbs and John’s warm breath lightly ruffling his hair.   John pushes Sherlock’s t-shirt up from the small of his back and begins to rubs Sherlock’s skin with his thumb, easing whatever tremors remain from Sherlock’s body (careful, very careful to ghost over the scars, both from Serbia and now those recently self-inflicted.)  John has shucked his dressing gown and it’s just skin against skin and cotton and warmth.  Sherlock presses the balls of his feet across John’s toes.  John is warm and pliant and perfect.

Nothing has ever felt more right. Even if he had to manipulate the hell out of the situation to make it happen.

“We are not cuddling right now.”  John clarifies, once Sherlock is finally finished curling into him like a kitten,  “Just to get down to semantics.  This is a medical necessity, mostly for me, mostly because I’ve mm, spent nearly every sodding moment not working at a hospital, in a hospital, which, as I’m certain you’re aware, are impossible to sleep in.”  

But Sherlock isn’t aware because he’s not tired, he’s aware because he can’t think. Heartbeat, breath, heartbeat, breath--it’s in rallentando--white and blue and green brushstrokes, how is that even possible?  Synesthesia is a simultaneous blessing and a horrid curse, you see the world in ways that no one else can.

“Your heart beats in watercolour,” Sherlock whispers,  John’s warmth seeping into his bones, and his eyelids now lead, “It’s exquisite.  Arrhythmia and all--which is regulating now, for your information.  The tempo is decadent.”

John exhales, laced with sarcasm.  “Oh, like the watercolour in Rucastle’s?  Because that’s PTSD, for the record--probably has to do with whatever the hell you were up to in god even knows where over the last two years.”

“I’m well aware of what it is, and furthermore, I’m fine.  But no, not the same.  Different, now.  Better.  Renoir.  Not Monet.  Always hated him.  Overrated.  Renoir’s technique was far more refined.”

Sherlock can feel John’s ribs expand just once.  It’s laughter now, not sarcastic--it’s the closest to tender that Sherlock would ever allow himself to admit and Sherlock’s heart curls in on itself because fuck, it hurts.

“Better.  Of course.  Yeah.  I was thinking the same thing, obviously,” soothes John, his voice honey thick and now barely audible against Sherlock’s temple. “But, just...go the hell to sleep.”

There are more words said quietly at some point, but the only images that Sherlock’s grey matter can hold onto are sensation of John’s mouth slipping against Sherlock’s temple and, at some point, the word ‘love’.  However, he knows that he’s not the ‘love’ in John’s life, nor is he the type of person who people fall in love with.   But, as he awakes the next morning amidst a cocoon of warm limbs, his mind smooth and silent, stretched as if clay by the man beside him, there is John, still half asleep, his cock hard against Sherlock’s thigh.  John muzzily draws the slope of his nose down the back of Sherlock’s neck, sighs once, and then nuzzles himself back into Sherlock’s hair.  And then it doesn’t matter who the ‘love’ of John’s life is right now.

Because this is the closest to ‘love’ that Sherlock is ever going to get, and god, it’s perfect, perfect, perfect. 

 

IV.

 

*

 

Stag Night happens.  Or, at least, the part where “I don’t mind” happens. And the part on the sofa while listening to Tessa, where Sherlock has his arm slung around John’s shoulder, and John slumps into Sherlock’s hip, just slightly.  And the part where John, drunk and soft, turns to Sherlock and then moves his gaze from Sherlock’s chin, to his lips, and then his eyes, and John’s breath is warm with whiskey and starfire and want--

--when they’re pulled apart by, of all things, a “ghost” (and a case, that later on, he realizes he can’t even fucking solve.)

 Neither of them mentions it.  On an atomic level, that apparently never happened either.

 

*

 

(Stag night happens, “I don’t mind” happens.

“It’s all fine,” John says, later, as Sherlock is obsessively cracking open every laptop after laptop on his living room table, ostensibly in manic pursuit of the Mayfly Man.

“It’s all fine,” John echoes, but Sherlock continues on, oblivious, per usual, which should warm John’s heart, just a bit, because Sherlock is back to his obsessive, relentless, usual self, which has to mean that Sherlock is doing better.

But in truth, it’s not all fine. He’s not all fine.  They’re not all fine.

Not at all.)

 

*

 

Sherlock doesn’t give the recent incidents--or he can’t give the incidents--sleeping in the same bed with John and then Stag Night--any more thought until several weeks later, mere days before the wedding. It can’t have credence in his grey matter because, bless, almost immediately there is a voracious time sucking hurricane of Work that HAS to be done. There are cases besides the Mayfly Man: The Poisoned Giant--voraciously entertaining, “Sherlock, you cannot call---just….--every little person is NOT named Tyrion Lannister--that is so politically incorrect on so many levels that I can’t even begin to explain it all. His name, as you well know, is James Swandale.  We will be referring to him as Swandale.  NOT Tyrion.”  “Technically, it’s your fault, you were the one who left the telly on last week before ‘retiring for the evening because you were exhausted’ when it was appallingly clear that you were actually leaving to have pre-marital coitu--”  “Jesus. Fucking. Christ, Sherlock, I cannot even deal with the words tha--” -The Hollow Client--dull, but intriguing--Happily Ever After--hitting too close to home, and then even more aggravatingly adding to the ever present tune of his surmounting failure (topped off with a walloping dose of James Sholto talk), The Bloody Guardsman.  There is avoiding drugs.  Easy, he’s not an addict.  There is not checking his phone, to see how John has NOT texted him; slightly more difficult.  There is the wedding planning, and gleefully exchanging Pinterest pins with an exasperated Mary--yes, easy too, lovely--and then over tea at the Diogenes one morning, Mycroft slides him another personal favour that has to do with the first female cyclist in the Tour de France being supposedly stalked by an unknown source.  Sherlock takes the case (Good), gives it ample consideration (Good), begins some online research and sends John to wait at a spot in Surrey along her training rides (Good.) This, of course, happens all before verbally berating John’s so called ‘spying techniques’  in which he’s too busy not texting Sherlock to actually see who’s behind the whole mess besides, according to John, ‘eh, you know, an average looking bloke on a bike’, which, on the night that John reports this information to Sherlock, becomes the Fourth Time John Has Been Kicked Out of The Flat (Not Good.) 

The case does get solved however.  And it’s dreadfully smashing:

The cyclist, Violet Smith, “Violet, again, of all the names in the world, how unique--this is what happens when flower children of the 60s and 70s begin to spawn,” is being sponsored by Carruthers Corporation, Inc., a mass sports marketing firm, headed by entrepreneur Robert Carruthers, with holds in all major sporting endeavors in metropolitan London, and just starting to branch into contracts in the USA.  She has (1) a fiancé who is an electrical engineer named Cyril Morton (Good), (2) a rival marketing company fighting for sponsorship (InterSport4 LLC), which is owned by a friend named Jack Woodley who she went to primary school with (Fair), and (3) a slew of issues swirling in worrisome head involving those who would like to see her fail (Not Good.)  As a women, to attempt to navigate in a sport dominated by the male ego, these sorts of things are difficult, to say the least. And Sherlock, god, he fiercely admires the fire in her for doing so.

Things come to a head after a short train ride to Surrey for Sherlock, John, and Robert Carruthers (under the pretense of ‘checking in on his rising star’) to watch Violet compete in the Road Training Cup, which she had qualified for with an unprecedented record breaking finishing time--for both male and female--one week prior. However, when the first cyclist goes by, and then the second, and third, and fourth, and the seventh, and they’re all not Violet, Carruthers (and Sherlock) know that something has gone horribly wrong. 

They find her in a wooded thicket, east of the 25th mile marker (which Carruthers perplexingly knows far too well) a needle stuck in her arm, her shirt half torn off, and, of all people, Woodley over her, proclaiming to have loved her since they were young over, and over, and over, again. But the problem isn’t that. Well, assesses Sherlock, staring at the deranged man who is shaking the ragdoll girl down to her very bones and demanding that she love him back, it is problematic--very psychiatrically problematic, on all sorts of disturbing levels--but not to the extent of the following actions: Carruthers kills Woodley on sight. 

That’s not problematic either.  That is thrilling.

Nothing like a good murder to raise the spirits.  But unfortunately, murder violates all sorts of “gun laws” and “evidentiary procedures” and also attracts hordes of media attention and all sorts of wrong.  The Surrey police are even duller than the Yard’s finest (singular) and even after six aggravated phone calls to Lestrade’s cell (the aforementioned ‘London's finest’), both Sherlock and John are required to stay at the crime scene well into the evening for questioning.

Still not the problem, however.  The problem was, or is, thinks Sherlock, his fingers tented in front of his nose, trying not to grind the enamel off of his teeth in frustration, is a little bet that he and John had made earlier: 

      --“Obviously, Woodley is the stalker,” Sherlock had said, while lying on the living room floor two nights prior at 221B, “Former childhood love, rival marketing company--he’s clearly the one who’s been following her, probably trying to coerce her into a deal or a marriage or whatever those sorts of love addicted people want.”

John, sitting on the sofa and sifting through the case files at an aggravatingly slow rate, furrowed his eyebrows before looking up at Sherlock.

“You going to get up anytime soon?”

“You’re on the sofa.  I need to think.  Lying down helps.  Ergo, answer: no, continue on with your flawed logic so that I may deconstruct it in a precise and demeaning manner.”

“According to Woodley’s credit card statement, the aforementioned card which was still in his wallet last you nicked when we visited his office today--which is illegal, by the way, and I don’t care if it’s ‘neat’ because it’s one of those vertical ones as opposed to a horizontal one and “you need it for an experiment that requires polymers”--Jesus, Sherlock.  Anyway, Woodley can’t have been in Surrey at the same time as the training rides because he’s been busy faffing about in London with lunches and dinners and cocktails and--what was it that you said? “All the tokens of the scheming social climbing lump mediocrity?”’

Sherlock looked up to the ceiling, and exhaled once, “Mmm, something akin to that. Back to the case, however.  All facts point that Woodley has to be the stalker, there’s no one else--he wants her to sign with him, they grew up together, he’s probably had loads of adolescent masturbatory fantasies regarding---” 

“Stop.  Just.  Stop.  Twenty quid to shut you up and prove it’s someone else.  Like Carruthers.  You saw the way that he was talking about Violet--as if she were more of an object than a person--an investment.”

“Thirty. Agreed, Carruthers is an incorrigible misogynistic arse, but it’s still Woodley.”

“Sixty.  You can’t even be arsed to actually look at the evidence, you twat.”

“One hundred, and I don’t care. I don’t need to look at it facts repetitively stated on paper---in case you’ve so blatantly forgotten, it’s my business to know what other people don’t.”

John had paused and pursed his lips. “You know what, sod money.  If you’re wrong, which you are, you owe me a guest blog post about the case.  Written in front of me, so I can watch you squirm at every damn word that you type.”------

 

Hence, while, yes, Woodley was the actual perpetrator, Carruthers admitted that he had been the one stalking Violet during her rides, and thus, this is the problem.  Which apparently makes John Watson grin like a complete and total brain damaged idiot, until he’s practically lit like a fucking light bulb.  Sherlock wants to strangle him:

“Shut up. If you utter one more syllable--if you think, for even one second, that I won’t leave you garroted and strung up under this tree in less than two minutes, you’re, per usual, glaringly incorrect.”

“Right. I wasn’t saying anything, actually, but yeah, okay, I’ll do that.  I’ll shut up about you owing me a blog post, yeah. Maybe I’ll just shut up a little more about it then for a bit then, since you’re so excited.  Perhaps, I’ll keep shutting up, and maybe, this is just a thought--”

“Oh, you have those now? How reassuring.  Are they nice, these little “thoughts’?”

Sherlock knows he’s in a tar black mood, yes, and he knows he’s being pedantic and childish, but his tolerance for the mundane withered away approximately thirty six seconds after Carruthers gave his statement--his statement which denoted that the reason he had been following Violet was because she was nothing more than an acquisition to him, which had struck something like flint in Sherlock’s belly, hard and angry.

“Doesn’t matter, ” John says casually to Sherlock, his hands on his knees and his back pressed against the base of a large tree on the knoll that overlooks the crime scene.  The sun in the cloud-scarred sky is setting, which bathes the lights and sirens of the ambulances and police cars and witnesses giving statements below in a hazy glow, “as the stalker was Carruthers making sure that she was alright.  ‘Protecting his investment’, he told me--nothing more.”

“Before you punched him in the face, yes. Wonderful.  More paperwork on our end, which they haven’t even begun.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Shut up. A person is not an investment,”  Sherlock spits as he presses his spine into the back of the same tree, approximately 17 inches from John.  He knits his gloved hands in front of him, and tucks his knees to his ribs, egregiously sick of waiting. “Investments in humanity are temporal and ergo, unwise.  People change--such is the ebb of human nature.”

Like yourself.  And all because I left, Sherlock thinks, his skin starting to crawl because now that he’s had adequate time to think it over, this case is striking far closer to his heart than he intended.  You have to know that I don’t want you in that way, I promise, it’s not like that. If I did, things would be different, you’re not a prize to be won, that’s not how love is.

John appears to consider Sherlock’s statement for a moment, and nods, looking straight ahead. 

“Some people are worth it,”  John responds, his voice iron, “Making investments in.”

“Yourself excluded I’d imagine,” Sherlock responds. “At this age, you’d hardly be worth it. The average male life expectancy is  78.2 years; with your history, arrhythmia, alcoholism in the family, PTSD, and anger issues, yours would be substantially less.”

“Oh, a reminder of my impending morbidity, lovely.  Ta, thanks for that.”  John pauses, and then sucks in a piece of darkening air.  “But you did--make an investment, that is.  Five years and seventeen steps ago.  Mary did too, after you left.”

And Sherlock doesn’t mean the words to come out the way they do, god he doesn’t, especially after seventeen steps because John has counted them too.  “How horrendous it must be to have not one, but two people on this earth who care about you and are willing to do so.  Such hardship.  Most people, as in Woodley and Carruthers’ case, never even find one.”

Or myself. Because I found my one, but you chose her over me.

 John goes so silent that Sherlock can practically hear the flashbulbs from the press lights below them flare and die.  Crickets welcome nightfall during the pause; their cadence is offbeat with John’s breathing, the same that Sherlock had fallen asleep to not even three nights prior.

When John finally looks over at him, there is something like a dying solar flare behind his eyes and it knocks the breath out of Sherlock’s fucking chest. 

 “What they had--Carruthers and Violet, that wasn’t love, Sherlock.  It was selfishness.  Which you should know quite a lot about these days, I’d presume.”  There’s something simmering under his words, something that speaks of cotton white and morphine, and John’s lips moving with no sound coming out, and sunflowers taped against tempered glass. 

Sherlock doesn’t like it.  You have no idea how precisely unselfish I’ve been. How much kinder it’s been to drug myself into nothingness and forget our mistakes rather than ruin the promise of your happy life.

“Oh, are we the one making declaratory conclusions about my mental status now?”   Sherlock retorts and this is NOT how it’s supposed to happen again--just like everything these days, this is NOT where this conversation is going, not here and not now--

“You know,” remarks John scathingly, seemingly to himself, but not to himself, not at all. “While we’re here and since we have the time, yeah--now is the perfect time, because you owe me this, Sherlock--I haven’t brought it up at all, and shit, you need to hear me out.  Half the story was missing then, but now it’s all really, very, disturbingly clear.  And yeah, in case you’re wondering, which, why would you, really?--trying to read between the lines if you’re going to accidentally off yourself again is, quite frankly, starting to fuck me up. You came back from the dead, right that’s fine. Everything would have been fine had you just let me know that you were, I don’t know, dealing with things or whatever, but instead you cut yourself off from everything who loves you, start using drugs again, and then accidentally nearly bleed down your own drain, alone, and too high to live.  Third time that happened, apparently--and yes, you can thank your lovely brother.”

Sherlock swallows down an iron rod of shame that tastes like hospital grade plastic and meals in Styrofoam boxes. “Mycroft had no authority to inform you of that.”

“Right, but he did anyway.  Sherlock Holmes, take a fucking look at yourself, a good hard long look.  Do you know what you would see, if you were anyone else?  Go ahead.  Deduce.  Oh, it is what you do best, after all.”

Love sick beyond the point of nearly all rational thought, his brain fires despite desperate attempts to override the circuitry.  No, love suicidal.  Hate sick--if that were a word.  An addict to a certain fix that’s simultaneously always and never within fingertips reach, sillage, and the way that the nape of your neck smells like the lingering scent of fireworks long after they’ve burst in the sky

“I’m fine.  Marvelous, actually.”

“Oh, of course you are, of course, as ever. That--that right there, the ‘I’m fine’?  That is selfish.”

Selfishness, actual selfishness, Sherlock is startlingly familiar with.  But, he’s not selfish because he ignores the way that John is still staring at his lips amidst the flashing cherry, pool tile, cherry police lights and the crime scene, crime scenes being where they were first baptized and wedded in blood and sinew and bone and powder burns so very long ago.

-Selfishness would be tilting seventeen inches to the left and kissing you right now.  Selfishness would have been telling you the moment that I saw you in the Landmark waiting to propose.  Selfishness would have been begging you to stay after we kissed on Tuesday in the Rain, or kissing you awake when we slept in the same bed.  Selfishness would have been asking for more in those moments, not being restrained, letting my hands move to your belt buckle, or work the buttons of your shirt down.

-That is selfishness.

 But Sherlock can’t. focus. On. That.

“You’re going to Paris on your honeymoon, yes?” he asks,  “And then Malta?”

“Sherlock, what the actual fuck, we’re having a conversation here--”

“I did help plan it, your honeymoon that is, so here’s a little bit of trivia--in Paris, bridges that overlook the Seine have locks all over them, sentimental little idiotic people who believe that if they place a lock there, their love will ‘last forever.’  What they never realize is that these locked bridges collapse from the weight of the locks, and metaphorically, love.  The collapses have been reported to kill innocents, from time to time,” responds Sherlock, pushing himself up from the tree and fixing his gaze on the crime scene below very hard, “Isn’t that a form of selfishness as well?”

“Don’t bring up some posh public school metaphorical shit right now--you know,”  John growls, pushing himself up as well and ripping Sherlock’s eyes back to his own, “You fucking know and we’ve never talked about it because this isn’t the type of shit that we do, water under the bridge, half thrown away declarations, fucking kissing and then--Sherlock. Sherlock. I wanted you.  I wanted the world with you--in front of our fireplace, tied up in some dark cell with the barrel of a pistol against our skulls, eating cold leftover Chinese while listening to Mrs. Hudson prattle on downstairs. Sherlock, I would have done anything for you.  And I would have gone anywhere that you had asked me to go.”

It’s a strange phenomenal, notes Sherlock, to be sitting under a tree, which is supposed to produce oxygen, when instead, it feels as if all of the oxygen has been sucked from the surface of the earth.  I wanted you.  I would have done anything for you.  I would have been with you in Serbia and would have put antiseptic and strips of cotton on your wounds and whenever you woke from a nightmare after, I would have nuzzled into the soft skin right behind your ear, and maybe called you ‘love’ in Pashto, and you would have felt human and okay.

“Past tense.” Notes Sherlock, his voice floating in the ether somewhere in front of his lips.  He can’t quite grasp the words fully, because his heart is too busy folding in on itself over and over and over again, like a tiny origami crane.

“It doesn’t change a thing,” John’s voice snags on a minuscule level, just once,  “I would have done it.”

“And in another universe”  Sherlock counters quietly, his eyes never leaving John’s, “I would have let you.”

 

*

 

Mary Morstan, much like Sherlock, does not miscalculate.  It’s part of the reason Sherlock adores her. She knows it as well.  And so, when Sherlock raps his knuckles against the front door of John and Mary’s tidy little white picket fence flat later that evening, she’s already there, pulling the door open and looking at Sherlock with equal parts bemusement and expectancy.

“Limbs like a starfish, you--John didn’t tell me that you’d be popping over tonight,”  Mary laughs as she takes Sherlock’s coat to hang it up on the hook in the hallway, “He’s not even back yet himself--did something happen on your case?”

“Nothing of importance,” replies Sherlock as he walks past her and into the living room, “Solved it, of course.  You’ll read all about it in the papers in the morning if John doesn’t weave a romantic tale of adventure to you tonight, or on his blog.  If I were to deduce where he’s off to, it’s most likely to meet Lestrade at the pub for a pint, or several.”

“That ‘several’ have anything to do with you?”

“I’m not at liberty to say.”

“Which means yes, brilliant.  He has a last minute appointment at the tailor’s first thing tomorrow morning, he bloody well be back soon. “

“He will be,” says Sherlock, settling down on the edge of the cream coloured chair that is across from the sofa, “But he’s not why I’m here.  Nor anything to do with the planning.”

Mary laughs uneasily.  Mary sits opposite Sherlock on the sofa and folds her hands in front of her.  Mary smiles, but not up to her eyes.  It’s unnerving, a bit like watching a shark wind along the smooth sandy ocean floor.  He likes that about her, for some reason.  John does too, this much Sherlock is certain of.  Mary looks at Sherlock evenly.  But with...something--god, now it’s clear--else as well:

 -Pity.

-it’s pity that’s what it’s most akin to. 

-Pity because the man who you’re in love with is marrying the woman across from you and everyone can see it plain as daybreak over the ocean besides John himself.

 Sherlock’s skin suddenly feels stretched too small and the room too hot and this fucking idea too stupid.  But it had to happen eventually, Newton's Third Law of Motion.  She made the first move.  Reciprocal action always follows. 

He wants this to be right.

Sherlock and Mary have a very different relationship than Sherlock and John.  Sherlock has Mary’s password to Pinterest and Twitter and will tell her when her colour nomenclature is incorrect.  Sherlock and John don’t talk but argue constantly, and kiss in the rain, and sleep in the same bed, and hold hands as the other one tries not to die.  Most importantly, Sherlock and Mary both know that Sherlock is desperately and irrevocably in love with John, and neither of them knows the proper thing to say about it.

“It’s several days before your wedding,” Sherlock begins, “and I’m sure you’d like an answer to your question.  Or not question--I clarify--it was more of a statement.  At the hospital, you left me something, asking for forgiveness, symbolically, and otherwise.  I don’t need to voice what for.”

“No, you don’t.” 

“Hence, you’ll also know what my response will be that I absolutely won’t accept.”

Mary exhales a laugh and shakes her head, a knowing half smile on her face.  “Didn’t expect you to, really.  The flower was more of a formality. John says you’re quite into--how did he put it--’halfcocked, smart arse, clouded symbolism and everything and anything potentially dramatic.’”

Sherlock squeezes his palms together tighter and tighter, winding like a shark-->ocean-->most of the ocean has 3000 to 9000 pounds of pressure per square inch, his expression seemingly unchanged.  “Ah, brilliant.  Formalities.  Are those really as necessary as everyone says?”

“Yes, yes they are, god,”  answers Mary, slightly incredulous, and then, looking at Sherlock’s clasped hands, her face changes from ‘slight chagrin’ into ‘crumbling alarm’, “Sherlock--Sherlock--do you have any idea what you’re doing right now--stop--just--” 

Mary strides forward, crouches down next to Sherlock, and wrenches his own palm open in his lap.  Somehow there are spots of blood there--from his own fingernails?--and as she stretches his hand out, it feels as if he’s inadvertently fractured both the proximal and distal phalanges from clenching his own bones together only seconds earlier. Prone to self-destruction, he can glassily recall Mycroft drawling on his mobile, as always.

And now that self-destruction has fucked up this as well.

“Inadvertent, I had no idea.”  Sherlock fumbles as Mary examines his hand.  Which is a lie because you always do this in some way, and you do know on some subconscious level, but you stopped caring so long ago that it doesn’t even register anymore.

Or

-Because it’s far easier to physically break yourself rather than try to deal with anything else right now.

Mary snaps her gaze up, defensive, her eyes full of brimstone.

“For the record, the last time I checked,”  Mary says, still holding his palm, “John wanted to keep this--your blood--in you, you know?  He cares about you--he wants to spend the rest of his life with you, and at the rate you’re going, it will be less than a year.  And I don’t know if you’ve realised it yet, but you’re a clever chap, and I’m fairly certain that you have: I won’t stand by and watch him die alongside with you.  You weren’t there the last time, you weren’t the one who had to pick up the pieces of the wreckage that you left.  It was like trying to resurrect the bloody Titanic.”

“The--what?”

 “Christ, never mind.  Big ship.  Millions dead in the water--right up your alley.” 

Being dead in the water, he surmises. Because he knows Mary Morstan and knows that she does not miscalculate, and the way that she glances at just the corner of Sherlock’s lips before turning her attention back to Sherlock’s palm screams that I know John Watson has kissed you approximately one hundred thirty six times since you’ve resurrected yourself from the dead but he chose me and I don’t know what that means for either of us.   

Mary stands.  Mary leaves the room, and Sherlock can hear rummaging through a bathroom cabinet.  And then Mary is in front of him, and the smell of antiseptic is stinging his nostrils, and she’s cleaning and bandaging his palm in utter silence.

“Forgive me.”  Sherlock finally says, doing his best to swallow the tension in the room.  He doesn’t even know how long it’s been.  Time has melted, slipped off the clocks, one number sliding at a time. 

When Mary glances back up to meet Sherlock’s gaze again, there is something which reminds Sherlock of the way that frost covers the first blooms of flowers in early April.  There’s no malice in her glance anymore, but a ferocity that parallels Sherlock’s own--along with hollow bone white pity. No envy, either, not at all.  How could you be envious of this, when you’re the one being chosen and not the one left behind?

“Never,” answers Mary, her voice still slightly out of focus as she closes Sherlock’s now mended hand on his lap with her own, “Because I think I should be the one asking you that very same question.”

 

*

 

After his conversation with Mary, the second Sherlock steps back into 221B with a halfhearted hello to Mrs. Hudson along the way, he shucks his coat along the way to the bedroom, nearly rips his third dresser drawer off its hinges, and after a brief shuffling of pants--the last place John would want to look is anywhere regarding pants, because after all, John Watson who kissed Sherlock in the rain, and soothed Sherlock to sleep, and was once was in love with James Sholto in some capacity, is also John Watson who, despite all of the above, very clearly and publicly states that he is ‘Not Gay’ in regards to anything Sherlock--fishes out a small plastic bag with the syringes inside brimming and neatly lined up. 

After his conversation with Mary, the second Sherlock steps back into 221B, he rolls up his left sleeve and looks at the constellation of bruises there and realises, painfully, that they nearly look like Ursa Major and Ursa Minor before slipping the needle into his arm. He adds Eta Ursae Majoris to the tail end, presses his back against his dresser to close the drawer, and then slides down to the bedroom floor, immediately relishing in the perverse delirious high (12ml straight away, far easier.)

After his conversation with Mary, the second Sherlock steps back into 221B, he gets high for the first time since Overdose Number Three. 

He wishes that it were an accident.  Or that he were dead.  Sometimes, Sherlock wishes that they would have died at the pool that night, with John’s eyes burning yes, yes, yes and lighting each vertebrae of his spinal column like individual lanterns, bright with hope for the first time in his life.

It’s selfish, yes, and it’s a thousand times Not Good.

But anything would be easier than this.  

 

V.

 

 

First: the pressure of someone’s thumbprint over his carotid artery. 

Second: the frantic rustling 1500 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets and half bitten swearing.

Then: the lancing glare of someone who has the audacity to peel back his own eyelid in his own bed. 

--His bed.  Which got to...how, exactly?  The last thing he remembers is the floor of his bedroom sliding out of focus.  Sherlock runs a hand lazily up his chest, stretching against the same button down shirt he had come home in earlier.  No shoes though. Interesting.

Through his eyelashes, which feel like cement, he can deduce that it’s still dark outside, the slatted angle of the moon sifting against the reflection of the streetlights.  It’s rained earlier--god like Tuesday--Sherlock can fuzzily tell from the angle of the shadows and the smell of the London streetlights that are behind the glass panes of the windows. But that doesn’t matter.  The only thing that matters is on the edge of Sherlock’s bed, and currently has one hand on Sherlock’s orbital bone and the other on his cheek.  John sits above Sherlock on his bed, one thigh tucked under the other looking egregiously Concerned and Doctor-ly and Angry and splendid.

Sherlock shifts his pelvis and makes a small sound from the very back of his throat.  It could be an agreement, for all he’s aware. He’s not entirely aware (yet) though, despite wanting to be very badly. Which would be related to the drugs.  And as to how much he had taken, he attempts to deduce a rough estimate by the way the room is still slightly filmy around the edges and how he can see the dust in the moonlight more so than the stars dragging through the sky outside--but that still doesn’t explain how he ended up fully dressed on the floor of his room to--

 -Oh.  

But it does. Obvious.

Sherlock searches for his voice. “You put me...to bed?”

“Shut up,” John commands, pressing into Sherlock harder, examining him,  “Now that you’re up, Sleeping Beauty, let me do a little bit of deducing of my own: bloodshot eyes, shallow breathing, your lips were fucking blue, took your pulse as soon as I got here, and it was practically bursting out of your skin.  Found you slumped in a pile of limbs and syringes on the floor.  You were high.  What I need to know is how much.”

Sherlock searches for an appropriate answer while trying to stay the trembling in his bones, the comedown from aforementioned high just beginning its vise over his body now that he’s halfway awake.  There’s the headache which feels like a lobotomy yes, and the metallic nausea, and the sweating ice, that too. Which would mean approximately just the 12ml--no, level 7 headache or above means at least 15ml morphine-- just enough to numb everything for a bit, and perhaps half a tab of oxy, or perhaps two--but did that even happen, however, because--

“One more time, Sherlock, before your brother is on the phone and you’re carted off to be locked up in the nearest rehab, where you so clearly need to be right now,” John demands,  “How. Fucking. Much?”

“Mmmmm, would you prefer it in actual quantities, or on a numerical scale of 1-10 that determines my current lucidity?”

John throws back his head and laughs, all teeth and it’s the laugh that Sherlock has seen before, but never directed at him, the Angry one. Not the ‘Angry at Sherlock’ one, which he had been on the receiving end of, even after the Fall, but the ‘Angry-Angry’ one.

“Before you hit me, might I elucidate that any dosage, which you’re refreshingly accurate in your logical assumptions for once in regards to my taking, happened” Sherlock glances at his bedside clock with a sharp wince, glowing phosphorus green in the dark,  “approximately six hours ago. Just morphine.  Very short half life. Hence, I’m not presently high, I’m coming down from a high, which you should know as a doctor because even a brain dead monkey with one working hand could figure it out via Google.  In sum: I’m not an addict.”

To the drugs, Sherlock mentally corrects.  Technical veracity is a virtue, Mummy had always said.

“Correct--you’re absolutely right--no, you’re not a drug addict, you’re a high functioning addict to fucking with your own brain chemistry and your heart, and your body, and subsequently mine as well, congratulations.”  John clarifies, “Let me know where to send your medal of honor.”

 Sherlock tries to wriggle out of John’s grip to sit up, because he can play the continuation of this game too--this ‘Let’s Get Angry at the Other’--and he’s better, he’s smarter. “Says the adrenaline addict and high functioning alcoholic who is addicted to throwing his life on the train tracks right before an oncoming collision.  Who is so in love with the thrill of the chase that he’s nearly done everything in his power to throw away what he’s spent his whole life trying to find.”

 John opens mouth to answer, but screws his jaw once before looking away.  The fragments of Sherlock’s heart sink into his belly.

-You cut him to the core without reason and you break him without meaning to--this is why--this is why.

The room feels static and white as John stares off into the window and Sherlock stares at John.  Sherlock wants to say John’s name, but the words are too heavy in his mouth.  Instead, he pushes himself to his elbows and then up, so he’s sitting and he can look at John dead on.

In case I haven’t made myself clear enough, I am the train,”  Sherlock adds quietly, sharing John’s breath, “You are merely the crossroads.”

“No, Sherlock,” John says, his jaw iron as he looks back over at Sherlock. “You don’t get make your own suffering sound so god damn poetic and beautiful when we both know it’s not.  I’ve watched you inexplicably hate and hurt yourself to the point of being declared medically dead for the third time in your life.  If I lose you, Sherlock, to this, in this way, watching you tear off pieces of yourself over, and over, and over, until there’s nothing left, I will absolutely lose my shit. I asked you for one more miracle, and you heard me, but Sherlock, this is not a miracle.  It’s a nightmare of goddamn Poe-esque maelstrom of self-destruction on an epic proportion.  If you go, like this, because of---whatever--I’d just as soon as kill you myself rather than stand by and watch.”

A ghost of a smile tugs at Sherlock’s lips. “That would be marvelous--not the you being dead bit, but the standing there and watching.” there would be nothing more fucked up and romantic, it would be like Romeo and Juliet, which isn’t exactly an ideal love story, but--

“Christ, you’re not supposed to say things like that,”

“I don’t care.”

“But someone else does,” says John with quiet steel, and god, the way that he drinks in Sherlock’s face reminds Sherlock of nearly drowning in the offing.  And John’s not Angry-Angry now, it’s something else--something between ferocity and want and hurt and reminds Sherlock of Bonfire Night and fingers tracing the lines of his veins, and John slipping into his mouth, soft, but not chaste, asking, but not demanding, all at the same time over and over and over again. 

It has been scientifically proven that no two people can replicate the exact chemical levels of dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin in one’s brain.  A honeybee can remember the scent of a specific flower for its entire life, this much Sherlock knows.  John has been in love with Major Sholto.  John is in love with Mary.  And judging by the way that John is looking at Sherlock now, as if he’s desperate to fling himself into the sea, means that he is, or has, been in love with--

The thought yanks something stinging to Sherlock’s eyes.  Instead, Sherlock focuses on the creases in John’s button down, and jeans, and the hollow circles under his eyes--

     -and on the way that John had kissed him in the rain, as if he had meant it;

     -and the way that John had caressed the inside of his knee drunkenly during Stag Night;

     -and the way that they had woken up together, woven into one;

     -and the way that John had taken his pulse and held his hand all throughout the night;

     -and the way that Mary looked at Sherlock apologetically but fiercely, as if she knew;,

     -and all that Sherlock can see and observe, but has never allowed himself to believe.

And here Sherlock is, in all of his half-drugged, rumpled, sleep addled, and fucked up glory, in bed with the love of his life, and now of all times, now, it--this--them--smacks him across his face so hard that the realization is like stepping back from the brushstrokes on canvas and seeing the watercolour sunset over the Thames:

“You don’t text me anymore because you think that it’s easier this way---it’s easier not to talk about anything besides cases anymore.  You can see it, what this has done to me.”

“Brilliant, you.” John breathes.

“You still love your wife, and you’re still getting married in mere days.”

“Correct.”

“You’ve stayed here with me for five hours--you’ve always stayed with me….because...you--”

“Yes, god damn it, you don’t have to say it, you idiot,” John swears, his face crumbling because-- “Sherlock fucking Holmes, I would have stayed with you for a lifetime.” 

Feeling his belly pitch, Sherlock throws the covers back and tries to push himself out of way and out of the bed and out of this man’s fucking life before he ruins it even more, but then John stays Sherlock’s face with his hand. And then Sherlock doesn’t even realize that they’re kissing until they’re actually kissing, with John’s fingers sifting through his hair, slowly, massaging his scalp, as if his soul is spooling, slowly, into Sherlock’s own again. It’s better than Tuesday in the Rain, it’s different--it’s a reverent, and longing, and heated, and heart rendering kiss.  And this, this, this is what he’s always wanted, god fucking yes, it would be lovely, beautiful like a triple murder on a Tuesday, beautiful like two cars smashing head on in each other in slow motion.

This isn’t how it’s supposed to happen. 

Sherlock, who has been fucked approximately thirty six different times, in different ways and by different people to whom he’s had absolutely no attachment to, has imagined and charted every single possible combination of factors that would lead regrettable decisions in the morning after some sort of one night stand with John.  But never in his wildest calculations would it come to a head like this--it would have been adrenaline filled, and then rough and then detached.  But never like the present, not the way that John look at him, almost equally broken, as he stokes his thumb just under Sherlock’s eye in such a tender way that Sherlock believes he’s actually, really, physically, and finally this time, dead.

“John,” Sherlock gasps, breaking the kiss, unable to breathe, “Christ,”

“Sherlock,  I can’t read you right now--can you--is this what you want right now?”

-I don’t want you to cheat on your fiancée.

-I don’t want you to be brimming with regret on your wedding day.

-I don’t want to know what this is like, being touched like a china plate when the world has forcefully smashed me into the ground in so very many way, and then never experience it again.

-I don’t want to have to give you away here, even if it means that we’re together in every other universe besides this one.

-I don’t want to think about how, above all else, nothing I’ve ever achieved on this earth will allow me to deserve this moment with you.

 “No, this isn’t what I want,” Sherlock pants, and before John’s face deflates any further, he finishes with the Not Good truth,“I want to write the man in Afghanistan who shot you a sonnet.”

John squints once, his mouth curling in on a small smile, the one that makes Sherlock’s world go blindingly summer hope bright. “Yes.  Alright. Okay, Keats, Ode to an Insurgent Sniper.”

“You’re perfect,”  Sherlock responds, half laugh, half sob, but there is something very real behind the latter, and he doesn’t understand why there’s a manic tightness in his throat.

“Oh god,” says John as he covers Sherlock’s mouth with his own again, “Far from it.”

This isn’t how it supposed to happen--it’s not supposed to--and yet it does.  Previously, in Sherlock’s life, there has been nothing Good about the idea of sex--never has been--but the kissing, the kissing, at least with John, has been spectacular.  And so when John begins to trace the curve of Sherlock’s hipbone with his fingers, and god, do you know how long I’ve been wanting to do this you mad bastard, and Sherlock now has his shoulder blades pressed against the mattress and all he can think about is how the careful way that John works his mouth to connect each freckle from Sherlock’s neck down to his still too-slim hips.  But it’s when John, with his mouth and teeth and fingers,  slides Sherlock’s trousers and pants off in a way that pulls a moan from somewhere low in Sherlock’s belly and a flash of heat through his cock and--”oh god, yes, let me hear you, yes, that’s it,”--that Sherlock’s realises this is probably not the type of sex that he’s ever experienced before--this is something else.

Which is Good.  He’ll parse the rest out later.

And it’s been eight--eight years,--he thinks, or cannot, with John tracing Sherlock’s jawline with his nose now, since he’s had technical sex-sex, and not sucked some junkie off in a dingy hotel room for a bottle of pills and a shiny new syringe, but the mechanics are startlingly easy to recall.  Sherlock keeps lube in his bedside drawer, strictly for nights after solving cases that go electrifyingly well.  Sherlock is exceedingly familiar with human anatomy, and his dexterity as a musician does not go unnoticed, nor vocally unappreciated, by John.  Sherlock is an extraordinary good kisser with a beautiful mouth and a talent for acquiring certain data that he knows John likes, such as when Sherlock moans around John’s cock as John fists his hair and fucks his face. But, John has a Three Continents reputation for a reason, Sherlock realizes later, unable to filter oxygen when John is on top of him again and when he finally replaces the two fingers he has in Sherlock with his cock and the pooling honey in Sherlock’s belly goes taught like bowstring.  It’s here that the room becomes filmy, of course, not because of the way that John keeps kissing him, as if in the rain on a Tuesday, nor because of the little murmurs of encouragement whispered hot against Sherlock’s skin, god yes, just like that, do you have any idea how fucking gorgeous you are with my cock in you, nor I want to hear you, I want to see you, but because of something...else.  Which doesn’t hit Sherlock until John comes with a long groan, dropping his damp hair to Sherlock’s shoulder, and as he does, all Sherlock can think is there has to be a reason why you’ve lived this long so far and this, this is it.   And then, John is stroking Sherlock’s cock again, still inside him, and Sherlock full of John and raw emotion and all sorts of dopamine and serotonin, is nearly convulsing with need, and someone is whimpering please, please, please, John, please and three deft strokes later, Sherlock nearly cracks his neck as he spills over his belly, and John’s, and the bedsheets, and then something else is spilling over as well, down his cheeks and the oxygen in the room won’t circulate into his lungs.

The next thing Sherlock remembers is his cheek pressed against John’s thigh and pyjama pants.

...Correction: Sherlock’s pyjamas on John--now wet underneath, and fingers gently carding through his hair.  Sherlock lets a shuddering gasp--when had he started even doing that, how long has been breathing like that considered normal--wrack through his body once more, before slamming his eyes shut and burying his face even further into John’s thigh.  John has his back pressed against Sherlock’s headboard and is wearing Sherlock’s pyjamas and Sherlock’s soft t-shirt. Sherlock, as he passes one hand over his own ribcage, is also wearing pyjamas now and John’s own shirt, presumably extracted from his carefully catalogued drawer.   John has snugged Sherlock’s trembling frame into the blankets.  John is deliciously sex rumpled and radiating warmth and sex and oxytocin and dopamine and serotonin and so, so much of something else that Sherlock wants to believe he could have one day, but will never allow himself to have, that it nearly shatters him on the spot.

"Shhhh, it's okay. It's fine."

 -Don't be an idiot, I know it’s fine.

 "So, er--I don’t know if you’re aware how long you’ve been like this, and yes, I am being an idiot--I know that you know it’s fine,” responds John--and get out of my head, you’re only making this worse and simultaneously more smashing, “However, this whole ‘emotions=catatonic state’ thing is getting, yeah, just a bit scary again. So, if it’s not too much trouble, would you just--Sherlock.  A word would be nice--a sound? Anything, at this point. Just let me know that you’re okay.”

Sherlock tilts his head up at John.  John, who looks deliciously sex ravaged and ragged and beautiful, wearing Sherlock’s own clothing.

“You’re wearing my shirt,” Sherlock manages, his voice still raw because it’s easier than ’yes, you know that both it--the sex--and I were more than alright’ and then, John slides into focuses even more and, “You know that I’ve had one of yours since two years ago.”  And the second you take it off, I’ll weave the fibers into my skin.  

A pause.  John shifts slightly, his hand ghosting over the warm skin on the curve of Sherlock’s hip now.  

“Um, well, not much of a surprise, that.  Paramedics found you in it on the most recent day that you almost died--which sounds horrible, for the record,”  something in John’s voice sounds like spun clouds, far away. “Your brother wouldn’t let them cut it off of you, he brought you different clothes to change into.  Then he proceeded to warn me that I’d be kicked out of the country if I ever revealed that he had it saved, so you might want to avoid that topic at your next Christmas dinner.  He gave it to me while you were in the ICU, and I told him, in return--Sherlock….shit, I have to put this into context before you hear it from him at some point: you were coding, it was the middle of the night, and I was so, so, so, angry--”

“You told him that you wished I had actually died this time.”

John tenses, but Sherlock doesn’t even blink.  Sherlock tilts his face a bit, this time away from John’s thigh and toward the window at the full moon and the London sky.

“Yeah.  Yeah I did.”

“Your feelings weren’t necessarily difficult to deduce upon waking up.  Death,” Sherlock answers, his tone strangely detached, “would have been a kindness on so very many levels.  You were angry.  It was a natural reaction.  Everything dies eventually, after all.  Everything is made of carbon, some of us who life has forgotten just have a proclivity to return to our natural state more quickly than others.  Everything dies.  Even the...”

Sherlock blinks, hard.

-points of light in the sky.

 “....those..things.” He makes a gesture to the window.  Which is odd, because he’s fairly certain that he used to know quite a bit about, “the...stars?”

“What about them?”

 Sherlock doesn’t know.  Because, as his eyes frantically jump from star to star, he can’t name a single. Damn. One.

“I can’t remember their names, any of them.”  Sherlock’s voice hitches from 11 on a scale of 10 of ‘manic’,  because it’s impossible, this is impossible oh god, it was unconscious this time, how did this happen--

“You’ve never been able to, you twat.”

“Wrong, again, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.  Would someone who claims to be a scientist really not know the basic premise and laws of the universe?  Surely, you’ve spoken with my dear brother and realized the depth and significance of my childhood obsession with the solar system.  Coping mechanisms related to an incident with a childhood...friend that I’d rather not discuss. We all have them--coping mechanisms, that is.  Had to be deleted, however, as these things often tend to. I was starting to remember them again, substitution of important information, you see.  But not now--not ever again.  You’ve broken the hard drive irreparably, congratulations, I do hope that you’re happy.”

Somewhere three streets over, a siren begins its wail.  John merely looks out in the direction of the siren, and then up to the sky. As Sherlock follows his gaze, there is a wash of realization over John’s worn features so amazing and brilliant and beautiful it reminds me of the birth of a star, and how after supernova’s collapse, entire galaxies are born. John stares at the stars out the window in the way that first looked at Sherlock, full of awe and reverence.

Sod supernovas, Sherlock thinks, deleting them instantly--and consciously this time--you’ll want to remember this.  

“You deleted the entire solar system for me,” John concludes. “Christ, and you say that you’re not a romantic.”

“Obvious,” Sherlock’s voice is not hoarse and wavering now as he clutches the fabric of his own shirt between his fingers, it’s not.

But John knows what this means for Sherlock, this moment, this confession, and instead of continuing the conversation and saying words that are empty compared to this, John merely brushes his knuckle gently over Sherlock’s orbital bone, back and forth.  Contented and touched, Sherlock lets his eyes slide shut and his breathing even out.

“There’s a place, in Afghanistan,” John eventually soothes, his voice impossibly low, “The locals call it 'The Blue Mosque.’  Traveled through there a bit, during my tour--never went in, but saw it from the outside and it’s spectacular. It’s all a mosaic, you know? Millions of tiles, in all different shades of blue. To see it--even the outside--just as the sunlight is rising over the desert is just...stunning. Reminds me of you, you know.”

Sherlock swallows very hard, for an inexplicable reason.  There appears to be something the size of a wrench lodged in his throat, which makes no sense, because it’s just a stupid little war story, in world where Sherlock Holmes has yet to exist in John’s life. But, as he tells it, John’s fingers sift through Sherlock’s hair and John is staring at the stars which now neither of them can name and Sherlock is in his lap, and soft and warm and home

“Yes, but how do you not see the pieces?” Sherlock asks, his voice thick with sleep.

“Dunno, love,” John replies, the hitch in his breath as clear as day break, “I just see you.”

 

*

 

Sherlock stretches awake the next morning alone in his bed to the sound of--what?--nothing. 

Magnificent.

He’s snugged tightly in two wool blankets from the living room of 221B that smell egregiously of languid nights of horrid telly and Chinese takeaway and too many glasses of whiskey and eye rolls behind client’s backs.   He’s still wearing John’s t-shirt.  Sherlock rolls over and as he stretches the length of his vertebrae in the mirror he can see the damage of last night, the swollen lips, the abrasive burn of stubble on his chin, the smell of John on his hands and mouth and lips and John’s finger bruises just under the collar of his t-shirt and, as Sherlock lifts the hem of his (actually John’s shirt) up seconds later, ribs.  He looks like a beaten corpse.

It’s glorious.

Mesmerized, Sherlock matches his own trembling fingers in the spaces between the darkening bruises, but he can’t get his hands to stop shaking.  If John were to take a pencil knife and etch just his initials, JHM, into the intercostal spaces, everything would be perfect, every time I would look into a mirror I’d be reminded that I was his just once, it would be enough, it’s not, but it has to be, and it would be glorious, it would be--

His shower is running, the tap on, and in it, has to be John.

Sherlock wants to join him, but instead, collapses back into the sheets.

You’ve broken me, he wants to say, but it’s not true because he remembers that for a star to be born, a nebulae must collapse in on itself first but here, fuck, is that being broken or fixed?

He can’t decide.  It’s a perpetual conundrum.  Sherlock rolls himself snugly into the blankets, and stares at the ceiling.  The fan above spins like a windmill. The taste of John still on his tongue melts like candy floss and Sherlock lets it carry him back to dreams spun of spider silk and warm summer breeze.   After a very short while, lips gently press against the crown of Sherlock’s head.

“Morning, you.”

John rests his forehead against Sherlock’s own, with Sherlock doing his best not to purr as John traces Sherlock’s jaw with his thumb. John smells of Sherlock’s shower gel--of eucalyptus and cedar and camphor wood--and he’s still slightly damp and worn and looking at Sherlock carefully, as if at any moment, he might break him.  John has pulled his cardigan over his button down that he had been wearing last night, his clothing rumpled in the softest, most beautiful way.

“You’re like Christmas.  And cashmere.  And soot.”  Devastating.  The most dangerous man in London, in my very own bedroom. 

John fondly nuzzles Sherlock’s nose with his own before kissing just the corner of Sherlock’s smile.  “Yves St. Laurent.  Doesn’t just smell good on you, you twat.”

Sherlock’s hand find the top button of John’s collar and then the shirt underneath.  Which is perplexing, because, as Sherlock runs his fingertips over the material, he recognises the cashmere cotton blend and cracks his eyes open, just a bit, to see that neckline of one of his own shirts hidden under John’s clothing.

“You’re wearing...my shirt?”

“Mmm, yes.  Problem?”

“Well, no, other than you’re obviously in need of new clothing if you’re stealing my possessions.  Quick reminder--Mycroft’s card is always on file.”

John’s breath is warm against Sherlock’s cheek. “No.  This.  This one is mine.  I have others at home and you have a million other 20 quid half silk and whatever grey ones here.  Or downing slate, whatever you call it.”

John doesn’t mean it, this much Sherlock knows.  It’s an innocent enough comment.  But it’s with that--the single mention of a colour, specifically of their wedding colour--that Sherlock’s little bubble of their euphoric world comes crashing against a cement wall as the previous night’s events finally register on an actual cognitive level:

 1)      John Watson had sex with you and cheated on his fiancée last night.

2)      His fiancée who you actually approve of.

3)      His fiancée who he’s supposed to have the life he deserves with.

4)      His fiancée who he loves and who loves him back.

5)      The fiancée who is the sole reason why you’re doing this now.

 And it's instantly. Too. Much

There are an infinite number of possibilities between in the colour spectrum of black (Not Good) and white (Good) and grey (Dubious) and infinite names to give them all.  But this, what happened between them, doesn’t have a name.  It’s not Good, this much Sherlock knows, he knows, swallowing down the tears and hoping that John can’t feel the way his pulse hammers in his throat, nor how he blinks rapidly, because affairs almost always lead to disastrous consequences. Water under the table, but Daddy had discovered that when Sherlock was merely five years old.

There is a Sherlock, somewhere, whose life is this: stolen moments of unfathomably tender touches, rows where Sherlock buries himself into the leather of the sofa and won’t speak to John for days, of lazy Sunday morning sex with John smearing his lips on the nape of Sherlock’s neck while he fucks him languidly, John’s breath hot on Sherlock’s ear with “yes, touch yourself, god yes, like that,”  and “do you want me to fuck you harder.” “ah--yes” “that’s a yes, sir” and Sherlock comes right then and there.  Of nights where John dreams of river of blood running through sand and London pavement and wakes drenched in sweat, screws his face once, assures Sherlock that he’s fine, and then rolls over, but Sherlock reaches out and finds John’s wrist in the darkness anyway (under the purported purposes of taking his pulse.)  There are nights of chases, smirks over dead bodies, and Sherlock getting the breath knocked out of his chest right in the middle of Harrod’s when John comes out of a fitting room with dark denim jeans and a simple light blue button down.  There is a Sherlock who has this life.

But it’s not here.

Sherlock knows that something in him has fallen apart, because he can see it in elegant way that the creases instantly darken in John’s forehead as John gently cups Sherlock’s face in his hands. 

“Hey, hey,”  John murmurs rubbing his thumb over Sherlock’s eyebrow, “Come back to me, you beautiful, chaotic, messy thing.  That’s it.  Breathe for me--I know I’ve been asking that a lot of you lately, though, so you should be rather good at it by now. What’s going on in there?”

Everything, Sherlock wants to answer, his heart wrenching in two, because he’s not supposed to have these moments of tenderness, this kind of colour in life, and he’s bleeding, god, he didn’t mean for it to happen this way. 

“You didn’t want to be the man who cheats on his fiancée two days before you’re getting married.”

-We’ve had this for less than twenty four hours and I’ve already broken you.

 John exhales hard with obvious regret--regret because he obviously never wanted this, he didn’t want you, this just sort of happened, he’s never loved you, he never has, why did you ever think he could possibly want you and what the ever-loving fuck have you done, it was all a momentary mistake--

“No.  I didn’t.  And I’m going to have to parse that out by myself.  But I also didn’t want to be the man who has to watch...someone who he cares about more than anyone one else in this world die because he thinks that he’s never deserved to be loved.  I couldn’t decide which crime would be worse.”

Sherlock’s mouth contorts in what he feels is the beginnings of an ugly sob as he rifles through his mental lexicon for the correct words because that doesn’t make any sense--not at all--feeling strung up by the heartstrings, but only on one side, a broken marionette.  But the problem is that as Sherlock searches for what to say, John tilts his head towards Sherlock again and --

“You’re about to kiss me right now,” Sherlock manages to choke out,  “Don’t.  We don’t get this here--this isn’t supposed to happen.  If you’ve ever cared for me, which I think that you--” 

But Sherlock can’t be certain of what he was about to finish his sentence with because John’s mouth covers Sherlock’s own softly.  John kisses Sherlock as if he means it and then Sherlock can’t breathe, because he’s somewhere in the offing, John’s lips falling on the creases on Sherlock’s forehead, and cheeks, and eyelids over and over and over like those things in the sky.

 

*

 

Later that day, Sherlock hyperventilates into his pillow for sixteen minutes. 

Despite his brain’s greatest efforts to overthrow nearly everything Good in his life for rationality, he can’t let himself delete it.

No, not that can’t--he won’t.  He won’t. He won’t.

 

*

 

Later that day, after Sherlock has hyperventilated into his pillow for sixteen minutes, pulled himself the fuck together again, showered, had his daily cup of tea with Mrs. Hudson, and sat down at his desk in the living room to begin to write what promises to be the most trying piece of “literature” he’s ever attempted to create (that begins with, “I love cases!!!! Cycling, is so exciting!!!!! ”), Sherlock looks down to see his mobile dark and dead. 

Still.

-It shouldn’t be like this.

 And so he won’t let it be for any longer. Snapping up his mobile, Sherlock begins to type:

Finished with your article. It has a variegated amount of improper grammar and misuse of words.  Do take your time revising. -SH

 Sherlock sets the mobile back down, and begins to push himself up for his second cuppa, when there is the buzzing sound against the wood grain and--

John Watson (1)

Oh, it will be my greatest joy and privilege.

Sherlock lets his curls fall to the screen, unable to stop the Oxytocin laced hot iron through his heart.  Slightly more difficult than expected, to constantly see the name of the love of your life pop up as you carry your mobile around alongside your heart, with words that are perfectly perfect for you alone.

That was sarcastic, by the way, just for the record.

 

Obvious. -SH

Sherlock clicks his mobile dark to stay the reply that he knows will never come.  If he wanted to continue the conversation, it would be simple to do so. But yes, it is easier not to talk, it always has been, because John Watson knows what this is doing to Sherlock--what watching the person who you love not choose you--must do to your heart. And if not loving Sherlock is actually loving him, then of course, he’d do it a hundred times over.

-You taste like fireworks, something that you can get close to, but never really call your own.  You own thirty two horrid jumpers and I want to burn them all.  I am irrevocably in love with you, and you simultaneously do, and cannot, love me back.  But if it has to be this way here so that you are happy and safe and we end up together in every single other fabric of the multiverse, then it’s worth it, a lifetime and a thousand over again, and again.

That afternoon, as Sherlock dozes languidly on the sofa, he dreams windmills spinning endlessly, of the threads of the universe pulling them apart, and of beds of white tulips, forgiveness for all of the steps that he’s never taken, a thousand.

 

*

 

(They’re at the dining room table, eating an early dinner that Mary has prepared, an tenuous wire stretching between them since John had gone straight from Sherlock’s to the clinic earlier that morning.  Even though the first thing John did upon coming back home was to shower, to get the Yves St. Laurent and Sherlock Holmes off of him. 

It doesn’t make a difference.  Sherlock will never be off of him. And so, as John sits in their sterile kitchen, cheery and devoid of scientific equipment, or body parts, or this brooding, magnificent, broken creature who owns an inexplicable piece of him.  John is slathering butter on a piece of bread, Mary’s homemade bread, silver knife against buttercream,  when--

 “He still loves you, you know.”

 John purses his lips, and finally flicks his eyes to Mary. He tries to keep his tone even and light, light as the whipped butter, the color yellow, Sherlock’s favorite--

 “Yeah, I know. Not hard to see that.  But--you know, not like that, he doesn’t love things that way, never has, and never will.”

 It’s the most difficult lie John has ever had to tell.)

 

*

Sometime later, amidst the glow of his laptop and the sixteen half written paragraphs on ‘The Science of Deduction’ about what Sherlock really would prefer to call ‘The Problems with Misogyny and Bicycling,’ as opposed to John’s title of ‘Hell on Wheels,” Sherlock wakes with a lolling start off the sofa, gasping back to life just in time to watch his brother lift what is his third cup of tea to his lips.

“Ah the Byronic hero awakes,” Mycroft begins, sitting in John’s chair, setting down his tea cup with duplicitous precision, “I suppose congratulations are in order, in regards to the whole Tour de France matter.  Although really, should have been simple enough for you to parse out from the facts alone--pity.” 

Sherlock nearly falls off the sofa, angrily shoving himself into a sitting position.

“And why,” Sherlock cards a hand through his haphazard curls, “On earth would you break into my flat, watch me sleep for presumably what has been approximately forty five minutes, make yourself tea with my kettle, just to tell me that?”

“Wrong, I came for merely for an exercise in hedonistic calculus, I suppose.”  Instead of directly answering, Mycroft merely looks out the window--the sun is just starting to set now--and begins to jut his chin at distinct--what?

“Perseus” Mycroft says, but--the way that John’s fingers trailed along the curve of his hipbone--”Andromeda” the soft brush of John’s eyelashes against his, “Scorpius?”

-What the--?

“Is this a game?” Sherlock blinks, annoyed. “Are those words relevant to something?  Anything?  A new fad diet perhaps?”

“They’re stars,” drawls Mycroft as he turns back to Sherlock, his face egregiously neutral. “Although it would only take one look at you to know that they’ve been unconsciously deleted for something else approximately twelve hours ago.  I told you not to get involved.”

Swallowing down--what--shame?  “When have I ever, in my entire life, listened to you?”

There is something in the way that Mycroft’s face shifts, imperceptibly, and, while the rest of the world would never know it, Sherlock can see the briefest flash of regret tinge his brother’s features. 

“Once,”  Mycroft retorts, gripping the handle of his umbrella tightly, “When you were five, approximately.  I, in a pre-teenage hormone fueled act of...severity, told you the truth about Redbeard, and that he was not off in some idyllic part of the Sussex countryside, frolicking around in a park with friends, but a rotting corpse underground.  You listened.  Perhaps too well.”

Sherlock opens his mouth in protest because this is not the time to bring up the fucking dog, not when the love of his life is getting married in less than 24 hours and his brother can deduce exactly what the livid amethyst coloured marks around Sherlock’s throat mean and who exactly sucked them there, before taking Sherlock apart with his fingers and mouth and cock and then just holding him and letting him start to piece himself back together again for the very first time.

“In all honesty,” Mycroft continues, “I wish you’d never to do it again, about these sorts of matters, but it seems that ah, there’s a salient quote, shall we?  ‘As soon as you trust yourself, you’ll learn how to live.’

“Goethe, again, hm,” counters Sherlock, pursing lips to counter the small smile starting to glow from within,  “Such pity, yes?   Had I the superfluous time, I’d write a dissertation countering all his ideas to yours.  Perhaps not now, perhaps in ten years.”

“I thought, according to your own words during your first little brush with death, you’ve been living on borrowed time since you were 19.”

“Perhaps I’ve reconsidered.”

Mycroft doesn’t need to ask why, this much Sherlock knows. The fact that Sherlock has done absolutely nothing to conceal his thoroughly debauched body screams volumes.  And it’s not that he’s ever going to stop being hopelessly in love with John, nor that John will ever choose him (or Sherlock would ever allow it), but it’s more so that last night, with John’s fingers in his hair and speaking quietly to Sherlock, it was the first time in his life that he’s ever felt so broken and yet simultaneously so okay.

“Now,” continues Sherlock, “are you planning to spout the usual ‘caring is not an advantage’ sound bites and have your acolytes raid my flat in search of god knows what?”

Mycroft tuts and shakes his head, “Oh, brother mine, I will ever so gladly return back to our usual verbal haranguing, and as a self-professed masochist, I’m sure you’ll provoke me into it soon enough.  But if only you could see how desperate you are to live for the first time since you’ve been back.”

Sherlock nearly chokes on his own esophagus, ‘What the hell am I supposed to do with that?”

“Tell me how the wedding composition is going, perhaps?”

“Finished, thank you very much.”  Technically, nearly finished. Or at least, more so than twelve hours prior.   

“And my I ask how indeed you solved your little problem?”

Sherlock examines the tips of his fingers.  Because as I laid there last night, with my head in his lap, his heartbeat was normal, and there was the tempo, quietly, set in three’s like a waltz.  It’s been there all along, when we’re together--even when the universe separates us, everything is right. 

“The absence of an arrhythmia.”

“Ah,” agrees Mycroft softly, his eyes softer around the edges than they’ve been for longer than Sherlock would care to remember, “A sound choice indeed.”

 

VI.

*

      The Night Before:

 

“Someone still owes me a blog post.”

It’s nearly 12 am when Sherlock’s chin snaps from the Strad so hard that he nearly severs his own spinal cord. Whirling around, his fawn coloured dressing gown tangled in his limbs, Sherlock finds John standing in just the silhouetted light of the door.  Sherlock’s throat tightens, as he inhales a shard of air. Because John.

-Don’t bleed out in front of him again, not here, not in the moonlight with your violin, like a goddamn piece of floridly foppish Romantic poetry. He deserves better than that.

“Precisely how long have you been standing there?" 

John gives Sherlock a wry smile, washed in the glow of the hallway light as he steps fully into the flat.  “Probably longer than you would like.”

“You.”  Sherlock starts and then starts again because 'You'  isn’t technically a sentence, “You weren’t meant to hear that bit of it.  Or, you weren’t supposed to. The entirety of it, I mean--you’ve heard bits, and pieces, yes.  At least, not until the ceremony tomorrow.”  It’s the world’s saddest metaphor for us.  All we’ve ever been able to piece together are fragments of a great confession

“Are you telling me that Sherlock Holmes, the man who has planned every inane detail of this ridiculous ceremony down to the microcosm--including getting his best man speech professionally proofread--has in fact, procrastinated on what, in my opinion, is going to be the most poignant and important moment of the day?  That he has waited until the night before the night of?”

“I tend to work more adeptly under pressure.”

 -Correction: I wasn’t ready.  I was a broken china plate in a pile, last night you were the one who picked up the first piece for me and then held my hand and gave me hope while I glued myself back together. 

John is the one to close the six foot gap in between them.  And Sherlock can do nothing but stand there, numbly settling the Strad down first, his dressing gown pooling off his shoulder and exposing the curve of his left elbow.   John takes Sherlock’s elbow in his hand, looking for the fresh pinpoint of needles that he won’t find.  The way that John looks at Sherlock as he does so makes the back of Sherlock’s skull prickle with warmth and pulls something thick and low in his belly again--it’s a fucking biochemical response at this point, this is what sex does--and Sherlock knows better, but there’s nothing more that he wants to happen then for John to shove him against the wall and take him apart to within an inch of his life.

“Not high at present, if that’s what you’re wondering.  My lovely brother paid his respects this afternoon and left with any and all ‘drug paraphernalia’ that I still happened to possess,” Sherlock answers, swallowing down those impulses, “But I can’t promise the same for the future.  Too many variables in flux--I may require some sort of illicit substance use for a case.” 

John screws his face into something that reminds Sherlock of shattered glass, a combination of hurt and sad and angry and hopeful and wise and kind and brutal--a million things in one, a million multifaceted emotions that make up the enigma that John Watson will always be to Sherlock Holmes, and why, yet again, he’s so devastatingly perfect.

“Sherlock Holmes, please, just for one night, will you stop breaking my god damn heart.”

“Can’t.  Innate talent, it seems.”

“It is an innate talent.  You rip it out and stamp all over it, without even a second’s consideration.”

“Say’s the man who is about to have ostensibly what he calls ‘the most important day of his life’  in less than twenty-four hours.”

“Shut up.  Just.  Shut up,” replies John, finally meeting Sherlock’s gaze, “We both know that day happened long, long before tomorrow.”

-At the swimming pool,

brimming with chlorine, a bullet through the heart but not of steel no,

something far more deadly that snaked its vines in

two months and seventeen steps prior, we’d both been dead

but now, neither of us wants to die unless it’s together.- 

Neither of them speaks as John rubs his thumb over Sherlock’s elbow before he flicks his gaze to Sherlock’s neck, pulling down the collar of his shirt, apparently to determine the extent of the bruising that he caused the previous evening.

“Mary knows about...last night, assuredly.” says Sherlock as John continues to examine him,  “She won’t tell you, however.”

But John, ever the soldier when he needs to be, doesn’t even blink.

“I don’t know--I don’t even--listen, Sherlock, I can’t--this--this kind of stuff--it’s not simple, and it’s not easy and it’s not a fucking garden party for everyone involved besides yourself.  Tonight is the night before the night of the wedding. Tomorrow, I am marrying a woman who I love, who loves me very much.  Who loves me enough to allow me to fuck up for a night to go save someone who I love more than dearly, someone who has given me away time and time again to keep me from his greatest fear: himself.”

Sherlock turns to look at John, John who now stands directly behind him.  He too could have cut you down to the bone with honesty in regards to this, if he wanted to--at any point. If he knew you could handle it, which of course, he knows that you can’t.

 “Your deductive skills aren’t nearly as dull as I’d originally--” 

 “--Hoped?”

 “--Imagined.” Sherlock answers, his voice merely a ghost of a whisper.  But John isn’t laughing, instead his lips are pressed in a tight line and his brown are knit even tighter because we’re both bleeding here, pull out your heart and his comes out too, but this was never meant to work, not here and not now.

“You love her,” Sherlock gently reminds John.  “If I were a better man, I’d be able to share you. If she’d be willing to do the same, I’m sure with much, much negotiation we’d be able to work things out. But you know me far better than that.  Mary is everything that you’ve ever wanted.  She’s the life you deserve.”

“And what if I don’t deserve it?  What then, genius?”

“I would never let you do that.”

Sherlock shakes his head ‘no’ for emphasis, because that’s what people are supposed to do when they mean something, even though simultaneously, his neurons screech god, how I’d want to let you though.  And it’s true.  He wants it more than anything.  He wants to drug John and take him to a tattoo parlour and tattoo his name on John Watson’s chest, right over the left ventricle.  He wants to shriek choose me, and kiss John down to his bones, and strip him bare of flesh, here on the carpet of their unlit flat and suck him dry until the only word that John can say is Sherlock, Sherlock, Sherlock.  Sherlock wants all of John, body and soul, but there’s a difference between want and love and the recognition between the two hurts, so, so, so very much, however, love is letting someone go.

But John merely smiles, apparently bemused and unfathomably...sad. “And you say that you don’t love me.  God, Sherlock.  You have no idea what the meaning of that word is.”

“Mmmm, I think I already stated that it’s locked bridges.”

“But you’re not the bridge, here.  You don’t think that you’re worthy of being loved because you’ve never loved yourself.  But god, you are so fucking wrong.  You don’t want to die from that.”

John is correct, at least technically.  Sherlock has never particularly wanted to die, from that or anything else, he’s just not certain how much longer he can continue to live--how he can keep control of the jagged pieces of himself without someone to take them away from him and just fucking hold them every now and then.

-I just want to stop hurting.  Some days are phenomenal, and some days I enjoy it and deserve it, but some days are just too much.   Some days there is bleak fog and others, pencil lights of hope.  And others only unfathomable loneliness, and the sensation of your ribcage being scraped clean.

“Sherlock, talk to me.  Please.  About anything. Consider it an early wedding present.”

“It’s not...Good.” Understatement.  It’s horrid. 

“I don’t care. I’ve never cared. You say horrible shit all the time, nothing that comes out of your mouth will surprise me, honestly.”

Sherlock inhales, you asked, you asked and I’m telling you what I want, when this is all said and done, because you asked, and I'll always, always do what you ask even if it's--

“In that case," Sherlock responds, "Mary will die, one day.”

There is approximately a ten second pause, as Sherlock can hear John blink through it all.  “...Please tell me that you are not considering murdering my fiancee on the night before our wedding--?

“No---no. Although I can’t say that it hasn’t crossed my mind--sociopath, sorry about that. However, when she does, if it’s before--” Sherlock obliterates that thought because not now, not now “...you know--you’re to return here immediately.  We’ll retire together in Sussex.  Property taxes are minimal there, it’s by the seaside, which you’ll like. I plan on keeping bees, I know that you’re allergic to them, so extra precautions will be necessary, but you can be assured that I’ll take them.  I’ll sell the honey, it will be horrid, and you’ll think I’m mad.  We’ll get into rows every day and every night, we’ll sleep in the same bed, even if you do not, or cannot love me.  If this isn’t meant to happen now, promise me then that we’ll at least have bees and Sussex, even though this is never meant to work, not like it was supposed to. You don’t have to love me, then or now.  You’re allowed to lie even.  Just promise me.”

“Sherlock fucking Holmes, although you’ll never allow yourself to believe this, I’m going to say it anyway:  you are worth so much more than anyone who would lie to you right now, in this very moment.”

“That’s a yes then.”

“A god yes.” exhales John.

Because it’s too late for us now, thinks Sherlock who is staring out the window and to the starlight.  His eyes are stinging again, and he’s fairly certain that they’re now the exquisite colour of seaglass blue that Victor once said he had loved, but he really hadn’t, not when he had gotten to the ugly parts down below.  And Sherlock is fairly certain that in the starlight, John can see his jaw, rubbed raw and red from John’s stubble, and that under his shirt, there are bruises that will take longer than normal to heal because Sherlock doesn’t want to let them.  He’s just begun to piece himself back together, and he wants to take his fucking time and get it right.  Sometimes you have to break something beyond how far you think it can take, in order to start the process of reshaping your life once more. 

But this time, it’s not Sherlock breaking John--it’s not the train and the impending collision--and it’s not the drugs breaking Sherlock, nor the world. It’s Sherlock breaking Sherlock, and for once, there’s an incredible sense of relief standing in the crossroads and just being broken and finally being okay with it. Bruised and battered by himself until he’s lavender and claret, laughing maniacally, dead in the water, but somehow still standing.  And, above all else, facing the one thing that is the most terrifying and thrilling of all: if John Watson has found something to love in you, then there must be something there worth loving.

Even if he doesn’t know what it is yet.

And it’s not going to be easy, living like this.

Sometimes the people who you give your heart to handle it as carefully as possible, but like clay, they can’t help but leave impressions of their fingerprints at every touch. In the end, their story isn’t one that’s boxed up neatly, tied in a heartstring bow. Love stories such as theirs unwind in clockwork spirals, a frayed thread, slowly. 

But this is not the end.  The train the crossroads. They watch each other but share no story, for now. 

I will not cross you and you must move on.

It’s not going to be easy, loving John this way. 

John clears his throat. “What will you call it?  Er, the song that is?”

-How once a petal is pulled from a flower, you can still see the veins and the xylem and chlorophyll even when you hold it up to the light, but what you can’t see if that the veins and the plant and the cells are all dying, its mass genocide, but they’re still so beautiful, and perfect, and can mean so much.

 “Your wedding waltz? To name a piece of music means that it should be completed.  Finite.  I don’t know it should ever be.”

 Sherlock bites down on the end of his sentence want it to be over, not like this. Sherlock looks down at the windowsill.  Sherlock picks up the Strad and bow again.  It’s easier than waiting for John’s response, which, when it comes--

“Neither do I.”

Sherlock watches John clench his fist in the moonlight.  And then watches John look down.  And then John bites just the edge of his lip, looks to the window, his expression laced with everything that they’ve never said.  But this is what love is, giving away something for the better.  And when John moves to stand directly behind Sherlock’s shoulder, Sherlock doesn’t even turn around.  Sherlock juts his chin to his laptop on the desk, which now holds the recording of the musical fragments of his greatest confession:

 -You saved my life, and I owe you everything.  You’ll never take it, because you’ll say the same.  And we’ll keep on saving and owing, and maybe, someday, things will parse themselves together and we’ll always have nights like Tuesdays in the Rain.

 “Your waltz,” Sherlock clears his throat.  “You should learn it.  It’s glaringly obvious a man like yourself has never danced a single step in his life.”

“Well then,” John murmurs, “I suppose you’ll have to teach me a bit later on tonight.  You do love dancing, after all.  And irony.  And pain.”

And you, Sherlock wishes he could add. For both of their sake, he doesn’t. 

“Quite.  But first--there’s the nomenclature.”

“I suppose so.”

Sherlock can only feel his breath catch once in his chest as he continues staring out the window, because he’s trying to not tell John that he loves him and he’s trying to choke down this feeling, this drowning in the Middle Eastern sun, and he’s trembling and there aren’t words for this kind of loss and love and hope and life, there aren’t words in any language for this, the way that when John touches him, it makes him feel fragile like glass and crazy and sad and happy and everything, there aren’t words for whatever is between them, nor will there ever be.  Or that Sherlock knows that nothing he’ll ever do in a thousand lifetimes will ever allow him to deserve this man who loves him and hates him and has taught him that he’s worth fighting for and everything in between.

“Shall I name it then?”  Sherlock chokes, tightening his grip on the bow.  Because I know what the name would be, it would be a particular flower that was left on my hospital table, from what we both pretend is your fiancée, but was really from yourself, because you are a goddamn romantic at heart.  It means forgiveness, for everything that we have done and been and are and simultaneously are not. 

John should turn away.

John should say yes and leave.

John shouldn’t cross these tracks that Sherlock has carefully laid, carefully constructed out of his own fuckery to the glass palace that is himself.  And there are a thousand choices here as well;  Sherlock would do anything that John asked--he always has, and always will.  John could tell him ‘no’--to end their charade now and kiss him and Sherlock would--he would take all of John and claim him and make him his and stretch out the membrane half of John’s heart to make a whole one. Or Sherlock could be selfish, he could make John choose him with just one word, take away the potential for this man, the love of his fucking life, to live normally and have everything that he’s ever wanted and have a chance to be happy without drugs or their rows or the emotional fuckery.  And it would light Sherlock on fire, to do so.  Like a phoenix. 

But of course, John loves Sherlock too.  That’s the tragedy of it all.  And the inherent beauty.  When the time is right, we’ll unite like Perseus and Andromeda, we’ll light up the fucking sky--but not now, not in this way--and if it doesn’t happen here, that’s fine, I’ll still love you just as much as I do in all the other worlds where we’re together, it’s fine, it’s fine, it feels like dying--worse than all three overdoses combined, but it’s fine, it’s fine, because I love you, I love you, I am irreparably and hopelessly in love with you before this universe existed and after we’ve turned to ashes and stardust, but it’s the night before the night of and-

“Name it,” breathes John in reply, as he covers Sherlock’s hand with his own, for what both know is the very last time, “but god, play on.”

 

*