John lowers the newspaper to his lap and calmly regards his flatmate.
Using his ‘you are being irksome and your non-compliance is both pointless and childish’ voice, Sherlock grudgingly decides to sacrifice a sliver of his time and attention to the ongoing project “Train your resident John”.
“You have almost finished the current news section and you were 90 – no – 75 seconds away from going to the kitchen to make a fresh cup of tea, before starting on the sports section. You always offer to make a cup for me as well, I was merely being efficient in pre-empting the question.”
John’s expression of polite interest remains intact while he listens and nods his agreement with the detective’s observations. It continues to last while he picks the newspaper up and flicks through the top right-hand corners till he reaches the sports section.
“And yet”, he says, as he spreads the pages open, flips them up to eye-level, and settles in for a prolonged and enjoyable perusal of the latest rugby scores, “the answer remains ‘no’”.
There may be the faintest hint of a smile, Sherlock can’t be sure, the paper is obscuring John’s face, and he has become annoyingly good at keeping emotion out of his voice.
Non-plussed, Sherlock stares at the newspaper-shaped space framed by John’s hands and lower arms. When the passing seconds come perilously close to adding up to a minute, he ducks his head back towards the satisfyingly volatile and surprisingly toxic green substance on his slide. He instructs five percent of his brain to review the past ten minutes, just in case something flags up that can explain the unexpected lack of fresh tea. While the green gunk fizzes under the lens of the microscope he replays his deductions (all correct), then cross-checks them against the file he has tagged ‘tedious and pointless things that John nevertheless cares about’ and BINGO!
Pushing the safety goggles up to nestle in the tangle of his curls, he briefly concentrates on composing his features so that they do not betray the glee he feels at having cracked the puzzle.
One corner of the paper dips down, one fair eyebrow lifts in silent enquiry.
“Your tea-making skills are far superior to mine. If you are gong to be making tea any time soon, I would very much appreciate it, if you could make one for me as well.”
John’s eyebrow remains elevated. Nothing else moves.
And there it is. Sherlock feels rather smug as he operates the key to John’s compliance so skillfully. John rises from his armchair with a cheerful “Actually, I was just about to pop the kettle on”, and wanders into the kitchen.
Sherlock allows himself a little congratulatory smirk, just a faint hitch to the right side of his mouth, as he slides the green gunk from underneath the lens and replaces it with an iridescent gelatinous substance that smells faintly of sprouts. Yes, project ‘Train your resident John’ was nicely back on track.
Meanwhile, as the tea bags steep in their respective mugs, John reflects on the progress he is making with project ‘teach the arrogant git some bloody manners’, and adds an extra couple of biscuits to the tray as a reward for everyone involved in getting Sherlock to say ‘please’, rather than simply ‘more’.
* * * * *
“You’ve already applied two, you really can’t have any more. You will make yourself ill.”
“In the past, I have used more than twice this amount, and I hardly ever suffered any adverse effects, so if you could kindly desist from acting like a doctor all the time …”
“But I am a doctor, Sherlock, and what’s more, I know you and I also know that you think you are indestructible, but you aren’t, and I am worried about …"
"Look, I am concerned that you haven’t slept or eaten. This case has made you push yourself to the edge and I am certainly not going to stand back and watch you fall.”
“I don’t need you, or Mycroft, or anyone to watch out for me. I am perfectly fine, and if you would just hand over the patches and then remove yourself, I will be able to concentrate properly and then I’ll … the case will be … it’s ….”
“Sherlock! ... Damn it!”
“How are you feeling?”
“Remind me, why am I lying on the floor with my head in your lap?”
“Why were you stroking my hair?”
“I was just … checking for head injuries.”
“It’s not entirely … unpleasant. I find I am not disinclined to tolerate your … examination.”
“Sherlock, are you asking for …?”
“Yes, John. I must be quite concussed. Please do continue with that … just a little more.”
* * * * *
“Mate, I’m sure he is the flatmate from hell, but do you really think another pint will improve things?
“Look, Lestre…, Lester… GREG! Sorry. Shhh. Greg. I appreciate your listing. Listening. And buying rounds. I do. You’re great. Good bloke. Sh’lock says you’re not as bad as the rest, could even be quite useful if you ever stopped messing about with paperwork and did some proper obser … detecti...ving.”
The steadying hand remains firmly on John’s shoulder and the bartender is dismissed with a brief shake of a silver head.
“Yeah, well, seems to me that a certain arrogant tosser might have missed a couple of observations a bit closer to home”, Lestrade mutters.
“Never mind. Let’s get you back to Baker Street. You’ll be nursing a nasty hangover in the morning.” What he doesn’t say out loud is “You poor bastard. Living with him must have been hard enough without this, what with the explosions, the assassins and the body parts in the microwave.”
Lestrade is an excellent listener, particularly adept at hearing those things that are carefully withheld. Halfway through John’s sixth pint Lestrade had realised, with some misgivings, that Sherlock had transitioned in John’s estimation, from being an annoying flatmate to being something … more.
* * * * *
Sherlock closes his eyes and clamps his jaw shut with a supreme effort of will. When he opens his eyes moments later, the anguish within them is undiminished, fear bleeding them of colour till they are as close to silver as human eyes can possibly be. It is a startling sight, haunting, beautiful, and exceedingly rare.
It is also, unfortunately, entirely wasted on the only other person in the hospital room.
John has been hunted across half of London, beaten and drugged by a sadistic forger, who was more than a little put out when Sherlock proved very bad for business, and who had, by targeting John, shown himself to be both intuitive and persistent in exacting his revenge.
Sherlock catalogues the physical injuries – fractures, contusions, a number of vicious lacerations – and goes on to extrapolate the psychological wounds his flatmate will be working hard to conceal from him in the weeks ahead.
Hospital staff have long since given up on trying to get this silent spectre to rest, to have a break, to eat, to leave. Wrapped in a dark coat, hands shoved far into deep pockets and collar turned up like a shield, he continues to haunt the room while the patient remains unconscious.
Powerless, Sherlock watches John, his own body curling in on itself under the pressure of concern and sorrow as he observes John’s valiant struggle against the drug-induced slumber, against the memories and nightmares taking turns to torment him. John shifts, restlessly, on the narrow hospital bed. And each frantic sob, each tortured plea – “no more … please … stop, please stop”, each unconscious whimper breaks Sherlock’s heart a little more.
* * * * *
The teaspoon hovers over the steaming cup, liquid gold pooled in its centre, to which it clings stubbornly, even as the hand holding it gently tilts to one side, and the amber nectar slowly begins its descent.
The fragrant infusion is stirred, then the cup is placed within comfortable reach.
John does not like honey in his tea. It’s fine on toast or the occasional crumpet, and he’ll readily recommend it with fresh lemon and ginger to anyone suffering from a sore throat, but the truth is that he likes his tea with just a splash of milk, and no additional sweetness of any kind.
He would, however, rather die strapped to a bomb in a swimming pool than tell this to the clucking hen that has been posing as his aloof super-genius sleuth of a flatmate since John was released from the hospital. Tucked under a blanket, fussily adjusted by Sherlock, John shifts to lean more comfortably against the back of the sofa.
That bastard of a forger did a right job on him, and his recovery isn’t as rapid as he’d like it to be. The cracked ribs are uncomfortable, but the real problem is the fractured left wrist – a small frustrated grunt escapes him before he can stifle it.
Silently, Sherlock appears in John’s field of vision. He leans across John to pick up a small cushion, which is efficiently stuffed behind John’s back, a soft push against John’s shoulder ensuring that he leans back at a comfortable angle. Two tablets are handed over, together with a glass of water. John’s fingers briefly tangle with the longer fingers of the detective as he draws the painkillers towards him across Sherlock’s palm.
A brief nod, a quick scan of John and a calculation of any needs that might arise in the next five minutes, then Sherlock withdraws to his observation post behind the microscope.
John lifts the cup of tea a little awkwardly with his right hand. His eyes slide shut as the fragrant steam curls upward and he leans forward minutely to take a careful sip. With a contented sigh, he rests the cup on his chest, savouring the flavour – the intermingling of the delicate blend of tea with the creamy softness added by the milk, and the surprisingly spiced and subtle sweetness of Sherlock’s favourite honey. It tastes of Sherlock’s concern and Sherlock’s regard and possibly – John takes another sip – of something more.
* * * * *
“More”, he whispers. Soft lips trail kisses along his collar bone.
“More”, he breathes against the warm skin of a palm as gentle fingers carefully trace his jaw.
“More, please, more”, he sighs. Goosebumps prickle across skin, as hot breath gusts over his ribs and swirls in eddies around his sensitive nipples.
Arching into touch, his body signals “more”, as thumbs rub over hip bones and fingers slide between thighs.
Sated and sleepy, a consulting detective draws a stunned but delighted former army doctor close against his body, wrapping long limbs around him and nuzzling his neck.
“You stopped asking for more”, he rumbles against the smooth expanse of skin below his lover’s ear.
“I already have everything I want, right here.” John reaches back and tugs till Sherlock’s palm rests over his heart, fingers interlaced with his own.