15 July 1999 - Cambridge
'I guess, the important thing is to leave a mark,' John took a lung-blackening drag of his cigarette. He glanced around, there was no ashtray so he let the ash fall into an empty tumbler on the bedside table.
'What do you mean, leave a mark?' Sherlock leaned on his elbow next to John on the narrow bed, one hand lightly resting on John's belly. They were both in their pants and T-shirts.
'Well, you know – save some lives – make a life-changing invention – win the Nobel Peace Prize. That sort of thing,' he took another drag of his cigarette. The way he narrowed his eyes was supposed to make him look mysterious and world-weary. Sherlock saw right trough this act, but didn't call his bluff, he liked him, somehow. He liked to listen to him boasting and that's why he urged him on.
'What will it be for you, then? A lifesaver or an inventor?' He was careful to keep the usual sarcasm out of his voice. Not for the life of him did he want to threaten this John away. It wasn't often that somebody would actually talk to him, let alone spend the night with him, sort of. And he found this John truly intriguing.
'I don't really know yet. I'm still torn between becoming a doctor or going to the army. My medical training is almost finished, but the army's still an option. I could have both really. My father's in the army, always seemed a decent thing to do.' He stubbed his cigarette out in the tumbler and slid down to lie next to Sherlock giving him the perfect opportunity to study his face.
'I really want to make an impact, leave a mark, change something. I don't know, that seems important to me –' he trailed off, apparently unable to find more ways to express his urge to be something special.
Sherlock drew a breath, 'You want to impress your father who was probably quite successful in the army. Some kind of war hero. The Falklands, I'd presume. He was away for long periods of time, leaving you to your mother who wasn't strict enough with the children according to his opinion. When he finally came home he reproached you for not being brave enough, urging you to be the fastest, the strongest, therefore installing in you the wish to prove yourself, to leave a mark, am I right?'
Sherlock had spoken quickly, almost rattling off these deductions and the longer he had spoken the more uneasy John had become. How on earth could he know all that?
John turned to face this extraordinary man, 'That was amazing. Outstanding and quite - amazing.'
Two ice blue and steely eyes looked back at him - Eyes which had the ability to see right through you. John had the distinct feeling that you couldn't lie when looking into those eyes. The rest of this face was equally remarkable. It was dominated by extraordinary cheekbones and a pronounced cupid's bow, edging plush and, very likely, kissable lips. He looked like a dark angel. This was accentuated by a mass of black curls, unruly and shiny which framed his pale face. John had to fight the urge to weave his fingers through them.
'That's not what people normally say,' Sherlock finally said - calm, holding his scrutinizing gaze.
'What do people normally say?'
John guffawed and doing so he moved closer to Sherlock. Since they were lying so close this meant their foreheads almost touched and those eyes in such close proximity did strange things to his hitherto strictly heterosexual psyche. He abruptly flipped back onto his back and stared at the ceiling trying to calm down his pounding heart.
Sherlock remained where he was staring down on John who was clearly upset. As clever as he was in deducing John's motives for becoming a mover and shaker as clueless he was now. Why is he upset? Did I say something wrong?
John grabbed the sheets and made to get up. Sherlock's heart clenched, instinctively he tightened his grip on John's T-shirt. John noticed and looked down on his hand, 'I'm just off to the loo. Where is it?'
Sherlock eased his grip, 'Down the hall, first door to the right.'
John climbed out of the bed, conscious of his half-naked array and of a certain arousal he couldn't for the life of him explain. I'm not into men, for God's sakes. I had three girlfriends in the last six months. What the heck? He carefully avoided turning around and made his way out of the room.
Sherlock stayed where he was.
They had met this evening. Sherlock's flatmates had dragged him along. Last night of term, last night of university life really. In the coming days all the flatmates, he wouldn't have called them friends, would leave and start their lives, their adult, serious lives. Playtime was over. At least for the others because Sherlock had never taken part in that four year-long party they had called studying.
These four years had nevertheless taught him a few things: He wasn't like the others, the others weren't like him, he didn't like other people, other people didn't like him. That's why John amazed him so much.
They had met in a pub. No, it was important to be precise here - John had met him in the pub because Sherlock had only been able to watch him for a while and it had been John who eventually had walked over to him and struck up a conversation. John who was a few years older and who had been in the company of a few students Sherlock didn't know. They had started to talk and John hadn't been put off by his cutting retorts and after a while he had lost the pleasure in riling him and had found that he could talk to him naturally, assuming an almost normal student persona. It had been a revelation. Later that night John had agreed to continue their conversation in his room and they had talked and laughed and somehow they had ended up on Sherlock's narrow bed in their pants and T-shirts.
There had been a lot of alcohol, more for John than for Sherlock who didn't like what alcohol did to his intellectual capacities. But should John have wished for an excuse why he was in Sherlock's bed, half-naked, he could have fooled himself. Mind you, it had all been very innocent so far. Sherlock wouldn't have known otherwise because at the age of twenty-three Sherlock had never been with anyone, he was still a virgin, had not even been kissed.
Strangely enough he didn't mind John being physically close to him, liked it even. He also liked to look at his face, into those dark blue eyes, liked to imagine the texture of the sandy hair. He liked his open face, the way he seemed to be settled and at ease with himself and the world. John's steady presence had a calming influence on his usually overactive mind. He wanted him to stay for the rest of the night, very much so. Whatever that might mean - he really had no idea.
He heard the flushing of the toilet and a few seconds later the door opened and John came back. He didn't slip back into the bed, 'Maybe I should be going now – um – it's late and I have to drive back with my friends tomorrow morning.' He glanced over at Sherlock who lay there in his bed and his heart skipped a beat. Quickly he averted his gaze and searched the room for his clothes.
'Can't you stay?' Sherlock's voice was soft and not much of the confidence of a few minutes ago left, 'I want you to stay.' He was blunt, he didn't know otherwise, didn't know the rules of dating, of courting. He only knew that he wanted John to stay with him.
'Oh - Oh right,' John wasn't sure why he said that when really he wanted to go and not be tempted by those amazing eyes and – my God – the rest of him. He padded over to the bed and slipped under the sheets next to Sherlock who quite naturally placed his head on John's chest and his hand on his belly.
John cleared his throat to chase away the awkwardness and after a moment he asked, 'What about you? What are your plans for the future?'
'I don't know yet. I will travel for a while, I guess. My brother organised something for me in India, a kind of teaching job. Mummy wants me to see the world.'
John's eyebrows shot up – Mummy? – That should have sounded strange out of the mouth of a grown man, but when Sherlock said it he found it whimsical, yet strangely endearing. Mummy wants him to travel! - Oh my! That also told him a lot about Sherlock's background because he really had a posh air about him, what with the expensive suit and shirt he wore or rather had been wearing. So at odds with John's sound middle-class T-shirt and jeans-origins.
'Oh, aye. Your brother? What's he doing?'
'Playing secret service and climbing the career ladder in the British Government or so he says –' there was a certain derisive undertone, John felt that this was a dead-end and changed track.
'India! Interesting country. How long will you be gone?'
'A year! That's a long time.' Why did I say that? I'm not planning on seeing him again, why would I care?
'Yes, it's quite long, isn't it.' Sherlock lifted his head and fixed his unnerving eyes on John. He would never see John again, but now, right now he wanted to be as close to him as possible. John held his gaze and felt his insides go all warm and without thinking he moved closer and pressed his lips on Sherlock's. When Sherlock didn't respond John blushed and cursed himself - Stupid me, but I was sure that's what he – and his thought was cut short by Sherlock who plunged towards him and clumsily answered John's kiss. It wasn't a good kiss and it made John realise something was at odds.
He drew back, 'Sherlock, are you okay with that? Have you ever - um -?' John squirmed a bit, it really was slightly embarrassing. Sherlock frowned and shook his head, his cheeks flushing slightly. 'Seriously. We don't have to – you know – we could just talk and – um – cuddle,' John winced inwardly. He, who was straight, had kissed a man - a startling man – a man who had never kissed before and now he suggested cuddling, for God's sakes.
Sherlock didn't answer, but leaned on his elbow and looked at John. He leaned down and softly, tentatively kissed him. And it was an innocent, a sweet kiss which John answered just as innocently and sweetly. After a moment Sherlock broke off and lay down next to John again, placing his head on John's chest right over his wildly pounding heart. He smiled.
'Thank you,' Sherlock whispered, his fingers playing with the fabric of John's T-shirt, creasing it with his long, slender fingers. John didn't answer, but planted a kiss on top of his head. They were comfortable and happy to stay like that and it felt right for both of them. After a while John dozed off, his arms wrapped around this amazing, fascinating and disconcerting young man.
When Sherlock woke up the next morning, John was gone. Startled he sat up in his bed and looked around. On the floor in front of his bed he found a paper torn out of a note book. In a curvy handwriting John had written:
thank you for this night. I had to leave early with my friends and I didn't want to wake you. Here's my address: John Watson, 43 Carson Road, SE21 8HT, London. Mobile: 0876534.
I'm waiting for news from India!
Chapter 2: First Goodbye
John comes back for breakfast, but soon they have to say goodbye again. Sherlock will be off to India and John has to take a train back to London with his friends...
Thank you so much for all your comments and kudos - you really made my day! Keep it up! JJ
16 July 1999 – Cambridge
Sherlock crumpled the scrap of paper into a tight ball and threw it away – he was angry and disappointed. And something else was clouding his mood, but he couldn't grasp what it was. He slumped back onto his bed and pulled the duvet up to his eyes, shutting himself off from the bright sunlight streaming in through the windows. He couldn't muster enough energy to get up.
A high piercing voice yelling his name from somewhere in the flat. He didn't bother to answer. It was only Yelda, a particularly obnoxious young woman, one flatmate Sherlock loved to rattle. To his delight she had proven to be a worthy opponent on more than one occasion.
Not a yell this time, but a softly phrased question, a lot nearer and in a different voice. A tentative knock on his door and a few seconds later he heard the door open with a creak. He lowered the duvet a bit.
'John!' he sat up in surprise.
'Car broke down, so I thought I might as well come back for a breakfast and a proper goodbye before you're off to India.'
John smiled shyly when he stepped into the room and carefully closed the door behind him. He glanced at Sherlock, involuntarily shifting from one foot to the other in an attempt to control his nervousness. Sherlock noticed, but didn't react. Neither did he answer, but continued to stare at John with his steely eyes and unwavering gaze. John was beginning to feel uneasy, maybe it hadn't been such a good idea to come back.
'We are going to take a train back to London right after noon, so I – um – have a bit of time on my hands.'
Sherlock nodded, but he felt vulnerable with John there - unexpected, looming over him, fully dressed - whereas he was in his pants and nothing else.
He looks so young, John thought, those sleep-tousled curls, those eyes – He cleared his throat, 'So, where could we go and have breakfast?'
They walked down St. John's Street to a nice French bistro serving late breakfast. Sherlock had had to ask his flatmate for a decent location because, the unsociable creature that he was, he had never entertained the habit of breakfasting anywhere else than in his own room. Yelda had smirked and rolled her eyes before giving John the directions, apparently assuming that Sherlock was unfit to remember them.
'What will you have?' John asked, settling on the rickety chair and facing Sherlock. He placed his cigarettes and lighter on the small table next to a candle crammed into an old wine bottle.
'Just coffee. Black, two sugars, please.'
'That's it?' Sherlock nodded and lit a cigarette he had fumbled out of John's packet.
John got up and walked to the counter to order their breakfast, turning his back, thus giving Sherlock the perfect opportunity to study him unobtrusively. He narrowed his eyes when he took in the dark blue polo shirt and the faded jeans teamed with old sneakers. He apparently wasn't much of a dresser, but seemed very comfortable in his clothes and in his body. Sherlock always felt the need to dress immaculately; it was like putting on an armour protecting him from the world. His clothes set him apart whereas John's clothes made him blend in.
John came back with a tray full of breakfast temptations.
'Sherlock, you really must eat something! Doctor's orders! Let me assure you that your body needs some form of nutrition - apart from nicotine and caffeine that is,' he said half-jokingly.
Last night he had noticed that Sherlock was all skin and bone. Now, dressed in a dark grey shirt and black suit trousers, it wasn't as evident, but he remembered the touch of his fingers on his ribcage, the ribs easily discernible beneath the soft skin. John squinted into the cigarette smoke escaping from Sherlock's mouth. He sat down and spread everything on the table, evidence of his ambition to tempt Sherlock into eating.
'Must I? You sound so like my brother,' Sherlock tapped the cigarette ash into a battered ashtray before taking another drag. 'Don't worry, John. I can go for days without food. I found out that I am hindered by my body when I give it too much to do,' he exhaled a lungful of smoke out of the corner of his mouth, careful to avoid John.
'I always need to be able to think, to make full use of my mental capacities. And I can't think properly when my stomach's busy digesting food. Those bodily functions are only transport, so I try to keep that to a minimum.'
'But yesterday you did drink!' John took one of the croissants and bit into it, 'Didn't seem to hinder your thinking too much.'
'True,' Sherlock conceded and smiled. He stole a few crumbs from John's plate and popped them into his mouth, cocking his eyebrows, daring him to object. John smiled back.
'When's the big day, then. Your passage to India?'
'Tomorrow. 10 am from Heathrow to Delhi, from there by train to some place in the suburbs. I don't know where exactly, Mycroft most certainly told me, but I chose to forget.'
'My dear, dear brother,' said with a sneer and John felt for the second time that there was a minefield underlying that sibling rivalry which seemed to be far more explosive than his own stormy relationship with his sister Harriet.
'Why do I get the impression that you don't really want to go? Why did you agree to that year at all?'
Sherlock shrugged, 'I didn't really have an alternative. You should know, John, that I don't know what to do with my life. I'm quite hopeless,' he was obviously quoting what someone else had thrown at him during a fight or a heated conversation. The brother probably.
'So why not go to India, it might be distracting. It might give me some direction,' he stubbed out the cigarette in the ashtray and immediately lit another, this time taking one of his own. He inhaled deeply and flicked a tiny piece of tobacco from his lips with his little finger. Seeing that made John's skin tingle, it was a sexy little gesture.
Sherlock noticed John watching him and smiled lopsidedly. If he had been a bit more experienced he would have known he was flirting. He pinched some more crumbs from John's plate. John pushed it towards him, offering the rest of his croissant and Sherlock started picking it to pieces. John watched him torturing the innocent pastry and smiled. He finished his coffee, he didn't want anything else so he took one of Sherlock's cigarettes and lit it. They both smoked in companiable silence, it was nice and peaceful sitting there with Sherlock, smoking, and none of them felt the need to talk.
John took one last drag and glanced at his watch, it was time for him to go. 'Sherlock, I'm sorry, but I need to be going. I promised to meet my friends at noon.'
Sherlock stopped playing with the croissant, stubbed out his cigarette and got up, 'I'll walk you to the corner. I have to go into town anyway, I need to get a few things for my trip.'
Their shoulders brushed when they pushed through the door of the bistro. The day was unnaturally hot and Sherlock, who hated heat, gave in to it by rolling up the sleeves of his shirt. John couldn't help but notice the graceful moves and the frivolous way yet another cigarette, unlit, dangled between his lips. He felt a blush creeping up his neck and averted his eyes.
Taking their time they strolled up to the corner of Green Street where they stopped and turned to face each other. Sherlock tried to think of a pretence, a reason, anything to make John stay a little bit longer. He glanced down to the ground, to the busy street, his eyes darting back to John's open face, his fingers playing with the unlit cigarette -
'Well,' John said, breaking the silence, 'I guess it's time to say goodbye now. I need to be going.'
He really couldn't stay any longer, he was already late as it was, his friends would be furious. They stood at an arm's length, unsure what to do - That they were unwilling to part was obvious to both of them.
'I have your address,' Sherlock finally said, 'I will be in touch.'
John nodded and extended his hand. Sherlock looked down on it and gingerly enveloped John's warm hand in his. It felt good. They locked eyes for a moment and then John turned to walk away. Sherlock's eyes followed him down the street and all of a sudden he felt a pang of regret.
'John!' He cried out, running after him. John stopped in his tracks and turned around.
'John,' Sherlock panted, 'I just wanted to say that I will write to you as soon as I'm settled, I promise,' and he threw his arms around him. John hugged him back and held on, burying his nose in the taller man's neck. After a moment Sherlock drew back and for a split second John thought he was going to kiss him, but he just smiled and walked away.
c/o Dr Sanjay Gupta
4732 Kanpur Road
7ET 54Q Delhi - India
03 September 1999
What a life I lead! It's tedious to the extreme. You cannot imagine the dullness I have to endure! The only activity that breaks my monotonous days and brings a bit of tension and excitement to my life is when Dr Gupta sneaks off to meet his mistress. I follow him every time and I keep a journal of his misdeeds, his infidelity. Don't raise an eyebrow, John – I AM BORED!
As for directions in life I have to say that I have learned that teaching isn't for me. How can you expect me to be patient with ten-year old idiots? Little snotty children of various diplomats here in town, driven to school every morning by their chauffeurs. Oh, maybe I should explain – My dear brother has procured an assistant teacher to an assistant teacher-job for me and what a mind-numbing bore she is, the assistant teacher that is, a German woman. You should hear her speak English 'Sherlock, sis is not right! You must know sis!' Thankfully she's almost never here, she's 'wis her boyfriend' all the time and expects me to cover her back for God's sakes.
Haven't told you about the school yet – Well, it's a private international school, a small one, and I'm supposed to do a bit of teaching English. It's outrageously dull – the best part of my working day are the breaks I spend smoking with the older boys behind the shed - which is of course 'verboten'. Apart from that I stick to myself, I read a lot and I use the nights to sneak into the lab to carry out a series of experiments.
I live, I sleep, I eat, don't worry, John - but the local food doesn't particularly agree with me so I tend to stick to the bare essentials (nicotine and caffeine being among them …)
My brother keeps needling me about my future – seriously, though – this won't give me any direction. I'm still as 'hopeless' as I was before. If anything, it helps me to see what I don't want to do in life.
John, I don't know if I can stand to be here for a year –
John squinted, he could just about make out the email address and the mobile number Sherlock had scribbled at the bottom of the page in his spidery handwriting. The letter had taken six weeks to arrive and he was sure Sherlock must have already given up hope of ever receiving an answer.
18 October 1999 - London
From: John Watson
To: Sherlock Holmes
I can't tell you how relieved I was when I finally received your letter. It must have actually travelled around the world - it has taken six weeks to reach me in good old England, can you believe that? I'm sorry to hear that India isn't the distraction you expected – Just try to stick it out a little bit longer. I'm sure it will give you some ideas, new experiences, a new outlook on lif, may-
John stopped typing, it didn't feel right. His words rang false, they were too impersonal, didn't really express what he felt. There were other things that he wanted to say, other things much closer to his heart, but he couldn't put them in a mail. He didn't know if he should ever let them surface, if it would be wise to do so. He wasn't even sure if this was the way he wanted to live.
I'm off to my final exams next week. Thank GOD! The first part went great and I'm hoping for another set of excellent marks. I haven't been back to Cambridge, a friend repaired my car and brought it down to London one weekend. I found that I don't really need it here, so I might be selling it soon or give it to my sister Harry.
She just set up camp with her girlfriend, Clara. I will move to a little bedsit in Camden in a few weeks, nice neighbourhood and still affordable on a junior doctor's salary.
Life is full of work nowadays, but I try to get my fair share of fun and games, Friday night at the pub is a must.
He was babbling, beating around the bush in fact – he was well aware of that. But Sherlock hadn't alluded to anything in his letter and he felt more than insecure. Better safe than sorry.
Please, write to me whenever you like. I don't know about texting, emails seem to be the best option. Stick it out!
1 January 2000 - Delhi
From: Sherlock Holmes
To: John Watson
Subject: Happy New Year
Happy New Year. I only have one wish for this coming year and that is returning to England. My life is a misery here -
I will be travelling for the next six months - might help – I try to be in contact as much as I can.
2 January 2000 - London
From: John Watson
To: Sherlock Holmes
Subject: Re: Happy New Year
I wish you all the best for the coming year. My biggest wish would be for us to meet aga-
He stopped writing and after a moment's thought he pressed the delete button.
My biggest wish for the coming year would be to find a good job somewhere in a surgery or a hospital.
Army is still an option. I might be even trying for that.
The additional medical training would be in London, at St. Bart's.
Overall I'm okay, going out a lot. Not seeing anyone at the moment.
Please, always let me know where you are. Let's meet when you're safely back in England,
18 September 2000 - London
John nervously tried to finger his phone out of his trouser pocket, the text alert had shrilly announced a new message. The phone slipped out his fingers and crashed onto the floor. Damn it! – John picked it up and flipped it open.
Back in England! Can we meet? SH
John blinked in surprise, he hadn't heard from Sherlock in more than five months. After the occasional text telling him where he was and how bored he was, there had only been silence. First John had been anxious, then desperate, then furious. After those feelings had gradually subsided he had tried very hard to convince himself that he didn't care. He had tried to move on.
But one message from Sherlock managed to rattle him and without thinking he answered the text.
Chapter 3: Truths
Sherlock and John meet again in London. It's an awkward meeting at first, made even more so because they both have a hidden agenda ....
4 November 2000 - London
There he was – Sherlock.
He was casually leaning against one of the white columns framing the entrance of the museum. One hand was buried deep in his coat pocket, the other was holding a cigarette. A black great coat, the coat collar turned up against the cold, accentuated his tall, gangly figure. His posture was relaxed, one foot propped against the marble column. He was staring straight ahead offering John his profile, the long elegant nose, high forehead and dark curls. Mouth and chin were buried deep inside the upturned coat collar, sheltering from the biting cold.
Seeing Sherlock there unsettled John - he stopped in his tracks, craving a moment of repose - he was sure he hadn't been seen yet. A moment of respite was crucial, he needed it to collect his thoughts, to check on his emotions, to listen to his heart. So much had changed for him since they had met and seeing him standing there, in the flesh, was disquieting. It felt like reliving a long-forgotten memory.
Out of the corners of his eyes Sherlock saw John walking across the open square, saw his worried face, the uneasiness expressed in his movements. John had one of those faces that couldn't hide anything and Sherlock was able to read him like a book. He saw the emotions flickering across John's face, could make out the uneasiness, the disquiet, but he couldn't fathom why he was so bothered. He didn't understand - What was holding him back? Why didn't he hurry?
Sherlock took a deep drag of his cigarette, a habit he more and more came to despise. He really should stop smoking. Maybe John could help.
He was shivering, as much as from the cold as from anticipation. In his head Sherlock had gone through this reunion countless times in the last weeks. It had helped him to focus, to get a grip. He unobtrusively glanced at John who had stopped walking towards him and stood quite still at a distance.
John looked around the park, trying to gather his wits. It was hard to admit, but he had been a coward, had in fact never dared to examine his feelings for Sherlock, to look closer into whatever it was that was was trapped inside his mind – in his heart. It had been so much easier to fool himself, to neatly label everything they had shared 'friendship', and that's how he was determined to see Sherlock now - Just a friend recently returned from travelling.
They hadn't seen each other for more than a year. Sporadic contact, very loose contact in the last seven months in fact, was all there had been. And now they would meet again. They would slap each other on the back, reminisce, share a cigarette and a coffee and they would resume their friendship. Yes – that's how it was going to be!
John exhaled deeply and straightening his back he tried to convey some self-confidence he didn't feel. He walked up to the entrance of the museum, up to Sherlock who was stomping out his cigarette with the heel of his shoe.
Sherlock sensed him coming up to him and looked up, 'John!'
On impulse, he snatched him into an embrace.
'John,' he whispered against his hair and John buried his nose in the scratchy wool of his coat, inhaling the smokey scent that clung to it. Feeling the younger man, leaning into him.
'Sherlock,' John mumbled, but then words failed him. Honestly, what could he say?
Sherlock held on to him for what seemed a very long time and John glanced around, worrying what passers-by would make of that little scene. Ambivalent emotions were battling within him – one part of him just wanted to give in to the sensation of holding Sherlock, another part told him that he shouldn't, that it would be dangerous.
Sherlock finally released him. 'John. Look at you. So the army finally got you! You are – all military. Your hair, your posture, your …' he broke off and peered closely at him.
His hair was much shorter, there were a few more lines around his eyes and his clothes were plain, but very sensible. He was well-protected against the chilly winds which seeped through Sherlock's wool coat and straight into his bones. But John's face was as open and friendly as it used to be and immediately Sherlock felt some tension seep away. Everything was going to be alright.
'Yes, joined some weeks ago. Currently in training. At St. Bart's for additional medical courses.'
Without noticing John had spoken in the clipped speech usually reserved for his superiors and fellow soldiers. Sherlock of course noticed, he also noticed the underlying pride and raised an eyebrow.
'Well, it seems to do you good. You're already completely immersed in that manly universe. Fighting for Queen and country. Desperate to make your father proud, no doubt.'
This didn't come out right, Sherlock thought as he noticed John's frown, they weren't off to a good start. John blinked and looked past Sherlock to some point in the distance. When he focused on him again he changed the subject, moving on to safer grounds.
'How long have you been in London, Sherlock?'
'Two weeks,' Sherlock recognized what John was trying to achieve and went along with it, 'I'm currently trying to find a place to stay, a small flat or something. But you know – without a job,' he hesitated, 'Mother apparently refuses to pay for me infinitely. Mycroft might be of help, but I really don't know if I should …'
He let the sentence hang unfinished in the air. Sherlock sounded tired, defeated even, it saddened John to see that some of his sparkle had been lost during the last year. He shyly glanced at him. He was well aware that he had so far avoided looking at him properly. He was aware of it, yet he couldn't explain why. On a cursory glance, Sherlock hadn't changed much. Dark curls still framed his angular face, his hair was maybe a bit shorter. The eyes as ice blue as ever … – Somehow John couldn't bring himself to let his gaze linger on his face.
But he noticed how Sherlock hunched his shoulders and buried his hands in the coat pockets, how he was shivering in the cold November air.
'Shall we go for a walk?' John suggested, 'You can tell me about me about India and all the places you went to.'
Sherlock nodded and they set off towards the little park adjoining the museum. They walked slowly and in silence. It felt awkward, tense even, they had to get used to each other's presence again. They had forgotten their ease, had forgotten how the other looked, how he smelled, moved, and had to match their hazy memories of each other with the reality they had just found.
John felt nervous and apprehensive, he risked another glance at Sherlock who appeared uncomfortable and was shivering uncontrollably now.
'Sherlock, listen. Why don' we go to my place?' He turned to him and smiled, 'Let's warm you up a bit.'
Sherlock's eyes scanned the little bedsit, it was very neat and tidy. There was a smallish sofa of an unrecognisable colour teamed with an oak coffee table, a sturdy desk, a shelve full of medical textbooks and some novels. A narrow bachelor bed, a small bedside table and a wardrobe adorned the other side of the room. That was it. There surely was a tiny bathroom somewhere and a rudimentary kitchen had been squeezed into one corner, consisting of a fridge, a tiny oven and two wall units. Everything was sober and utilitarian. It looked like any other bedsit.
Despite the fact that it was so tiny and almost cramped with furniture it had a cosy, yet distinctly masculine air about it. Sherlock quickly checked for any signs of a second person, something out of place, feminine or masculine, something not belonging to John. He couldn't make out anything and marginally relaxed. He shrugged out off his coat and threw it on the bed. Sitting down on the bed seemed too intimate, so he chose the lumpy sofa. John was busy preparing tea in the kitchen corner, the kettle had just boiled. Soon he walked over to Sherlock with two steaming mugs of tea.
'Thank you, John,' Sherlock took a sip of the scalding liquid and noticed that John had put sugar in it. The corners of his lips twitched into a smile.
'What?' John asked, mirroring his smile.
'Nothing. It's just so – um – nice that you didn't forget about the sugar,' Sherlock said, a bit embarrassed. Nice – yes, that's what it felt like. The first time in months that anything felt nice.
'Oh – right. I did remember, didn't I. Sorry I can't offer you coffee, but we – I - never drink any.'
Sherlock noticed but chose not to dwell on the implication of the we. He was sure he didn't want to know what it meant. Carefully he placed the mug on the coffee table.
'How about your military training? Care to tell me?' Sherlock tried to break the ice he felt had somehow grown between them.
'Right. Yes. It's quite exciting. I have to go through some basic training, of course. Lots of target practice, as well. Although I have done quite a bit of that with my father. I'm a good shot. Or so I've been told …' he placed his mug next to Sherlock's and turned to him. He didn't know what else to tell him, he certainly didn't want to go on about his military training. This part of his personality needed to be kept apart from what he shared with him. Sherlock belonged to another part of his life.
John shyly smiled at Sherlock and was rewarded with a lopsided smile that made his heart skip a beat. Damn it, he thought. Don't do that to me. He averted his eyes, busying himself with his tea again.
Sherlock noticed John's confusion. To give him time he let his eyes dart around the room, taking in all the details he had missed before. He shifted on the lumpy sofa, trying to sit more comfortably. Sherlock's throat was dry. He desperately craved a cigarette, but he was determined to fight this urge. Fiddling with the buttons of his shirt he opened the top one, it was very hot in this small room all of a sudden.
He glanced at John, he seemed to have regained his composure. Sherlock nervously kneaded his fingers - he might as well tell him now.
'John, I'm sure you wondered why I wasn't in touch more often over the last months,' Sherlock said softly, looking down on his hands, the coffee table, the floor, carefully avoiding his friend.
'I did,' John simply conceded and waited for the explanation he was sure he would be given now.
'I –' he cleared his throat, his eyes darting to John, 'I didn't get in contact because I could not bring myself to do it – I - I was so ashamed.'
'Why, Sherlock?' John softly asked.
'I was ashamed because I messed up thoroughly in India. I was an utter and complete failure – as an assistant teacher, as a guest, as a friend to you. I didn't do anything right. Normally I wouldn't mind what other people think of me, but with the alien surroundings, nothing to occupy my mind - I was completely out of my depths. I wasn't able to ignore the others. I just couldn't and –'
'Yes?' John gently urged him on.
'I – um – I drank too much,' he halted, 'So much in fact that I wasn't myself anymore. And it felt good because I didn't want to be myself anymore, I wanted to be different. I drank to forget my shortcomings, and when I was sober I hated myself for it. I didn't want to face up to my frailties. I cannot accept weakness, not in others and not in myself.'
John flinched, it hurt to listen to Sherlock's self-chastisement and it immensely saddened him how wrongly Sherlock judged himself.
'John, you can't imagine how people reacted to me, how they looked at me. Like I was useless. I didn't count, I wasn't worth the effort. They wouldn't take time to …, ' he brushed both hands through his hair in exasperation. 'I know that I am not like most people and that I put people off most of the time. But in Delhi they actually shied away from me. I don't know - It was horrendous. And behind my back they were going on about me being unsocial, a freak, outlandish, impossible.'
He glanced at John, gauging his reaction, but John knew better than to stop him now.
'John, it was humiliating and I was so alone – there was nobody there – ' he broke off and buried his head in his hands, breathing heavily, overwhelmed by memories, trying hard not to cry. His fingers were fluttering nervously mere milimetres from his head. John slid closer and put his arms around him. Sherlock's body stiffened so he began to rock him gently, whispering soothing words. He trailed a hand over his soft curls, gently patting his head – comforting his forlorn friend.
Slowly Sherlock relaxed and sank against his chest, but he was shaking in earnest now. John held unto him and very gradually the shaking subsided, leaving him limp in John's arms.
'John, I was desperate,' he said softly after a moment, 'And I tried so hard to forget. I drank and I - I took drugs –'
John stopped the rocking motion and his fingers clenched around Sherlock's bony shoulders.
'What did you take?'
'Some weed and on one or two occasions coke,' he whispered, the shame choking him.
'Are you clean now?'
'Yes. Mycroft came and took me home. That's where I spent the last three months. I'm better.'
'Why didn't you tell me before, Sherlock?' John spoke softly, but he was getting irritated, 'For God's sakes! I thought I was your friend!' he roughly grabbed hold of his arms and forced him to raise his head. When he looked into Sherlock's face he almost recoiled.
There was so much shame and sadness in those piercing eyes. His whole face looked changed, he hadn't wanted to notice before, but it had a gaunt look to it, almost up to the point of emanciation. His cheekbones were even more prominent, the skin a deathly pallor and there was a sheen of sweat on his brow, despite the low temperature in the room. He didn't look healthy at all. John doubted what he had said about being clean.
'Sherlock, why didn't you tell me?' he repeated, more gently this time.
'John, I was so ashamed, still am. How could I have told you? I didn't want to disappoint you. I needed you to believe in me, I needed to be strong for you because I – ' he broke off, startled, as if he realized he had already said too much.
'Because?' John gently took hold of his hand and squeezed it encouragingly.
'Because,' Sherlock looked down on his fingers, firmly embedded in John's warm hands, 'I have feelings for you,' he looked into his eyes, 'More than feelings, actually.'
John's breath hitched in his throat, his words were like a slap across his face, 'Sherlock, why did you never …?' John let go of his hand and got up, 'For God's sakes, why did you never say anything?' he started pacing the room, clearly agitated. Sherlock stood up and grabbed John's sleeve urging him to stop the frantic pacing, trying to gather him into an embrace, to still his movement. But John broke free from his grip and continued pacing, confusion and hurt flickering across his features.
'I just told you why I couldn't – But I am telling you now, doesn't that count?'
John couldn't think of anything to say, he tried to fight against the urge to touch Sherlock's face, his body, to hold him - because he really couldn't, could he? He ruffled his hair in frustration. He came to a halt in front of Sherlock. Everything was too much, too sudden and he screwed his eyes shut. Possibilites, missed opportunities and visions of guilt were coursing through his mind, fighting for supremacy, making him dizzy.
'John,' Sherlock's low voice whispered and when he heard his name spoken so tenderly, something snapped inside John. His shoulders sagged, his whole body deflated. He gave in and wrapped his arm around Sherlock's waist. When he felt his warmth, his body, his closeness the tension drained away and it felt right, it felt right, yes, it felt right.
He searched Sherlock's eyes. What he saw in them gave him assurance – It felt so right, and it was so wrong. How could it be right? It couldn't - For fuck's sake, it was too late!
'Sherlock -' he said, but Sherlock cut him short by pressing his lips against his and kissing him - tenderly, questioningly - demanding an answer and John answered without thinking and kissed him back. Yes, this was so right! He parted his lips, welcoming Sherlock's tongue sliding against his own. He gave in to the sensation of feeling those lips, tasting him, fighting for dominance. It was not awkward, but it was alien, so different. Heat pooled inside him, making his insides go all liquid.
John kissed Sherlock with force, abandoning himself, moaning into his mouth. His hands roamed up and down his slender back, trying to find a way underneath the clothes – he wanted to feel him now, his skin, everything. Sherlock gasped when he felt John's fingers touching the small of his back. He kissed him with even more force and urgency, letting out little gasps and moans, pressing his hips against John. He was overwhelmed by what he felt, after all those weeks of misery, it was just so good. They were lost for –
'John!' A thud and an outcry, 'What the fuck are you doing!'
Sherlock's head jolted up and he stared wide-eyed at a young woman who had suddenly appeared in the room, house keys dangling from her fingers. Two bags with shopping had thudded onto the floor, their content spread, milk spilling out of a broken tetrapack, tomatoes and apples rolling under the bed.
Sherlock pushed John away, grabbed his coat and stormed out of the flat.
Chapter 4: Rejection
John hasn't heard from Sherlock in five months - No text is answered, no call is ever returned - His last resort is to turn to Mycroft for help ...
21 March 2001 - London - Mycroft Holmes' Office
'You're a hard man to get,' John said sourly, 'It took me weeks to get through to you.'
'I very much hope so!' Mycroft Holmes gave John the once-over before he offered him a cold hand to shake. 'Dr John Watson, I presume?'
John nodded and shook the offered hand. He took advantage of this moment of relative proximity to examine the older of the Holmes brothers. Somehow he was hoping for some family resemblance, but Sherlock and his brother couldn't have been more different. In John's mind Sherlock was a dark angel - brooding, disquieting, yes - but also adorable and fascinating. Mycroft on the other hand, with his stiff manners and cold ways, seemed like ice. John was positive it would be a mistake to underestimate him, there certainly was much more to him than he let on.
Mycroft gestured to the visitor's chair in front of an enormous mahogany desk, obviously designed with the aim to dwarf anybody sitting in front of it. He sauntered around the desk and sat down in an equally gigantic black leather chair, gently swivelling from side to side.
'You are here on account of my little brother, no doubt.'
'I am.' John decided that bluntness was called for. 'I don't know how much you know, how much Sherlock told you?'
'I know that something must have happened between him and you.'
John dropped his gaze to his hands, a blush slowly creeping up his neck. He cleared his throat before firmly fixing his eyes on Mycroft again.
'That's correct – we had a little – um - disagreement.' John struggled to hold Mycroft's inquisitive stare. 'I haven't heard from him since. I tried to contact him countless times, but he didn't answer any of my calls or texts or mails. I don't know where he is, I don't know where he lives. The last time we met he told me he was looking for a place to stay - Mr Holmes, I am here to ask you where I can find him - Maybe he's staying with a friend?'
'You've met him. How many friends do you imagine he has?'
What a sad thing to say, John thought. The sadness flickering across John's face didn't escape Mycroft's attention, he was very perceptive - a distinctive Holmesian quality.
'He's not in London, John.'
John felt heartened by Mycroft's use of his Christian name as if this indicated a certain level of understanding or even closeness – a melting of the ice.
'I'm afraid I have to tell you that he suffered a relapse last November. He was in a right state, so Mummy and I decided to have him under constant surveillance. However he is gradually improving and I think he might be coming back to London in a few weeks and live with me.'
'And you consider this a wise move?' John had spoken on instinct.
Mycroft frowned, 'What are you trying to imply, John? As far as I know Sherlock met you before he relapsed and I would very much like to know what happened between the two of you.'
'He didn't tell you?'
'He didn't. But I know about you and him, of course.'
'Him and me?'
'Yes, I know when and where you met and I deduce from my little brother's behaviour what you mean to him.'
There it was – the family resemblance. It wasn't so much in their appearance as they were completely different – as in their cool, calculating personality. But whereas Sherlock had a very appealing wild charm there was only coldness in Mycroft Holmes. What they obviously shared was an overly sharp intelligence and a brilliant mind.
'Can I meet him?'
'I'm afraid he doesn't want to see you, John. And I personally don't think it would be a good idea just yet.'
'But I have to meet him!' For a moment John lost all restraint and his desperation surfaced. 'Please, you have to tell him that I must see him and that I want to explain … '
Mycroft cocked an eyebrow inquisitively, but otherwise his face remained impassive. With deliberate slowness he got up and walked around the desk. He took a moment to study this Dr John Watson who caused his little brother so much anguish and heartache. His stare was unsettling and John dipped his chin in defiance. Apparently satisfied by what he had seen Mycroft Holmes extended a hand to John, thus signalling the end of their little conversation.
'I'll see what I can do for you, John. I'll be in touch.'
John's heart sank and he let out a deep sigh that would have tugged at any heart not as cold as Mycroft's, but John had no choice than to accept this goodbye.
So he got up, shook the proffered hand and left the office.
21 March 2001 - Late evening - Holmes Mansion
Mycroft shrugged out of his elegant cashmere coat, placed his black umbrella in the iron umbrella stand and ascended the stairs of their family home. His footsteps were swallowed by a thick carpet covering the wooden steps. He walked along the landing and stopped in front of Sherlock's room. He strained his ears for any sign of his brother, but he couldn't discern anything. No footsteps, no rustling of paper, no violin – Mycroft frowned – utter silence in connection with his frankly unhinged brother was very disturbing.
He gently pressed down the handle and opened the door. A quick cursory glance didn't tell him where he was, so he stepped into the dimly-lit room and with a few quick strides he crossed the room to the bed where he found him. Sherlock was sitting between his unmade bed and the wall, his back leaning against his bed, his knees drawn up protectively to his chest. He was staring straight ahead, playing with a little blue rubber ball which he started bouncing against the wall when Mycroft approached.
His pale face looked very tired and his hair was unkempt and dishevelled. He wore a tatty pair of jeans and a faded black T-shirt and his feet were bare despite the chill in his room, his slender toes digging into the old rug. Mycroft leaned against the bedpost.
'He came to see me today.'
Sherlock gave no sign of having heard his brother, but continued bouncing the ball – plop –plop – plop - against the wall.
'He was very concerned. Seemed quite desperate, in fact.'
Plop –plop –plop
'He beseeched me to tell him where you are.'
'He wants to meet you – explain himself.'
Sherlock caught the ball. 'What did you tell him?' Sherlock quietly asked, his voice croaky and unused.
'I told him you don't want to see him. I told him I'd be in touch.'
Plop –plop –plop - Sherlock caught the ball and fiddled with a tiny piece of rubber that had come loose. When he spoke it was almost inaudible.
'Do you ever wonder if there's something wrong with us?'
Mycroft didn't understand, it was too general a question.
'Sherlock, there's nothing wrong with you. You are going through a rough patch – but we are all here to help. You are not alone.'
'Oh, but that's where you are very wrong, my dear brother. I am alone!'
Mycroft sat down on the bed close to Sherlock.
'I don't know what happened to you. Why exactly you feel the way you do. You chose not to tell me, but it has to do with John, I'm sure. Let me tell you one thing, Sherlock. I know for certain that you are not alone in this, that all hearts will get broken at some point. But I assume right now it seems to you as if caring was not an advantage …'
Sherlock scoffed, 'Caring is a snake that eats away at your heart and when you're weak and vulnerable, it bites you and poisons you and leaves you drained and desperate. And all you want is to forget, to end this …' he hesitated, collecting his thoughts, trying to phrase it right.
'I have to try harder, I have to fight it. I know that I'm better off without it, without sentiment. The last months have taught me that I must detach myself from feelings.'
Mycroft secretly agreed with what Sherlock had just verbalized, after all he himself was always trying to sustain a rational outlook on life, but he feared for his little brother when he was in that mood, feared very much.
'Listen, Sherlock. I think it best if you came to live with me in London. I procured a little post for you in my department. Working will help you free your head. Lots of files need to be looked into by a cool, analytical mind. No colleagues, just you and your work. You will have to confer with me and only if you wish to do so.'
Sherlock sighed deeply, and when he answered he sounded dejected.
'Fine, Mycroft. That's fine by me.'
Mycroft awkwardly patted Sherlock's head. The Holmes brothers weren't very affectionate at the best of times, but now he felt the urge to touch him.
'Well - I'll be downstairs with Mummy if you'll need anything.'
Sherlock nodded. When the door had clicked shut, indicating that he was finally alone again, he fished his phone out from underneath the bed where he had hastily shoved it when Mycroft had entered the room. He scrolled down John's text messages of which there were one-hundred and ninety-four in total. He wanted to read them now as he had done every day for the last months. This time he picked some at random.
Sherlock, where are you? Call me! J
We need to talk! Call me! Please! J
Please - Sherlock. Talk to me J
I'm desperate, Sherlock. I'm so sorry J
I wanted to tell you before we met. I didn't want this to happen - I'm devastated J
Sherlock, I don't know what else to do J
Sherlock, please forgive me J
Sherlock scrolled back up to the top of the list and started to go through the texts again - slowly, one by one. Ambivalent feelings were running riot inside him – on the one hand these texts were his lifeline, they anchored him to the one person who mattered to him. But on the other hand they reminded him of the greatest humiliation and anguish he had had to endure in his life. The last months had been hellish – thankfully much of it remained in a haze - but this piercing sensation, the acute sharpness of the pain in his heart just wouldn't lessen, wouldn't budge. He couldn't move on, couldn't forgive.
He thought of John whom he loved with all his heart and whom he despised for what he had done to him. He felt his eyes get warm and blinked the treacherous tears away – oh, he still fought them with all his might – and tried to focus on the texts again. And after he had read the last one a decision had been reached and he deleted the messages - one by one – save for one unopened text which had arrived this morning. For a reason unclear to him he wanted to hang on to it.
25 March 2001 - London
John had left Mycroft's office slightly heartened although the outcome of their encounter didn't offer much ground for optimism. He accepted it, would have accepted even less because the last five months had frankly been horrendous.
That November afternoon – Sherlock's revelation, their passion – had opened his eyes and he had finally been able to own up to his feelings. But then Anna had come home unexpectedly and the whole dream had collapsed spectacularly. Anna and John had split up two days later - anything else would have been dishonest and false – for Anna, for John.
They had been together for about two months. She was a vivacious young woman and a doctor, like him. They had met at the Royal Hospital where John had gone for a course on endoscopy. Her brunette wavy hair and her lively green eyes had struck a chord with John and she had been more than happy to go out with him that night. John had been lonely and confused and also irritated. Sherlock was away, contact was sparse, he felt more than justified to move on.
Anna had been easy to talk to, a sensible, down to earth, hard-working junior doctor and John had liked the stability she seemed to offer. Sex with her had been calming, quiet, restrained - not much passion to be found in Anna.
But kissing Sherlock had driven home with force what passion really meant and how he missed it in his life. And he had been awed by his heart, how it had been completely filled by him, by his presence. How could Sherlock have been so demanding and being with him so fulfilling at the same time? The intensitiy of his feelings had shocked John.
On that blasted afternoon Sherlock had stormed out of John's flat and since then he had not heard from him. No answer to any of his calls, texts or mails, no sign. John had been denied a chance to explain, both had been robbed of the chance to possibly start anew.
After months of futile attempts to reach out to him he had finally found a way to contact Mycroft - And contacting him had been his very last resort. All he could do now was to wait for Sherlock or Mycroft to make the next move. John felt so helpless and afraid that he was almost paralysed, now that another four days had passed without a sign.
And what made matters infinitely worse - John was running out of time because in less than two months he would be leaving the country.
Chapter 5: Obliquity
So far this story turned out to be much darker than I thought it would … So much suffering, so much angst - but this chapter offers a few lighter moments for the boys ...
24 August 2001
A tiny bird spreading its wings, brushing its feathers against his ribs, tickling him.
Strangely, that's what it felt like when it commenced deep inside his chest.
But whatever it was soon felt confined there, it wanted to expand, to grow, to break free. So it was bubbling, like boiling water, rising, ascending until it spilled over and broke free from Sherlock leaving him laughing like a madman, exuberant and lighthearted. Truly side-splitting laughter, that's what it was - He laughed until he had to bend over and hold his sides. He laughed until he felt almost too exhausted to go on. He laughed until his eyes were swimming with tears and they were spilling over and coursing down his cheeks and he couldn't focus on his little cousin Jamie anymore.
Little Jamie who had made him laugh, properly laugh, for the first time in months. And once the walls had been torn down there was no stopping him. Four-year-old Jamie watched him with a toothy grin, happy to be part of this spectacle, happy to see Sherlock like that. Sherlock, his tall, gangly cousin, who had been his playmate for the last hour. Jamie was content, he liked to play the clown, loved being the centre of attention - And today was extra special because he had his cousin all for himself.
Together they had played hide and seek, they had roamed through the huge and wild garden, had picked sun-kissed raspberries in the orchard and just a minute ago Jamie's antics had burst the bubble and Sherlock had lost all restraint and abandoned himself completely to laughing. But something was wrong now and Jamie had no clue what had happened.
'Sherl, are you hurt?' Jamie's little chubby face expressed utter confusion. He looked at his big cousin and saw all those tears streaming down his face, so there must be something wrong, surely? He frowned - Maybe he had done something to hurt him? On impulse he wrapped his little arms fiercely around Sherlock's legs and buried his face in his trousers. Sherlock stopped laughing and looked down on him.
'Jamie? What's the matter?' He patted him gently on the back, 'Hey, Jamie? - James? - Did the cat get your tongue?'
Jamie shook his head and hugged him even more tightly. Sherlock was amused by this sudden show of affection. He bent down to gently extricate Jamie's fingers from his trousers and picked him up.
'Hey, Jamie-James – What's wrong with you?' He held him in his arms and narrowed his eyes to peer at him, into dark blue eyes under a blonde, curly fringe, his open face full of confusion.
'Sherl, why are you laughing and crying at the same time? Did you hurt yourself?'
'God no, Jamie. I was just laughing so hard that I had to cry. Sometimes that happens when you laugh really hard, so hard that you think your lungs will burst and your heart will explode. And sometimes tears start streaming down your face – It's not crying because you are sad, it's just a bodily reaction to overstimulation.'
Jamie looked even more confused.
'Well, it's all part of the package when you laugh.'
'Oh! That's like when Mycroft fell into the pond last Sunday and I couldn't stop laughing. I laughed so hard I fell backwards – ' Jamie giggled when he remembered his other big cousin emerging dripping wet from the little artificial fish pond in the garden.
'Yes, it's exactly like that. Some people start to cry and other people fall backwards, due to overstimulation the body loses control. Not to worry, Jamie!'
He hoisted his little cousin onto his shoulders, 'Care for a piggyback ride?'
'Shall we sneak into the kitchen and get some tea? I'm starving.'
'Yeees! I want ginger nuts and custard creams! And chocolate cupcakes!'
'I'll see what I can do for you! Come on …!' And Sherlock started running with Jamie on his shoulders, who was squealing with delight. He crossed the orchard and dashed over the vast expanse of lawn over to the house where the rest of his family was gathered for Mummy's birthday.
Sherlock flopped down on his bed and pressed the '1' on his phone dialling the number of a mobile currently in Canada.
'Captain John Watson speaking. What can I do for you?'
'Oh, stop pretending, John. Even your outdated model displays incoming numbers. And I know that my number is stored.'
'Glad to speak to you, too, Sherlock. How are we today?'
'And no doctor routine for me, please. But since you're asking, I'm fine. It's Mummy's birthday today and I just about survived my large nosy family and their hysterical incessant chatter.'
John's soft chuckle sounded in his ear, 'Glad to hear you are back among the living.'
'Yes, well – I manage.'
There was an awkward silence. They had just recently found back to a normal way of communicating, fairly normal that was, considering their shared history.
'When will your exchange programme end, John? When will you come back? I forgot.'
'If all goes as planned I will be back in London at the beginning of December. I will be on leave for two weeks before I have to go back to Alnwick.'
Sherlock didn't say what he wanted to say, didn't dare suggest a meeting. He didn't know if he really wanted to see John without … - well, he didn't know what he really wanted. What was John for him now? His emotional map had to be rewritten, all the landmarks blown away during the last months - at the moment it was a blank canvas with a few brushes of light grey left there by his family, but John had to find his way back onto it.
'Sherlock, listen. I'm sorry, but I've got to go. There's a meeting of the medical staff in ten minutes and I have to get back to my room first to get a textbook I forgot. I'll call you back as soon as I can!'
'Yes, John. Please do.'
Sherlock ended the call. These phone calls always left him strangely drained. Talking to John left him yearning, his voice still echoing in his ear made him crave for more, it left him counting the hours until he would call again.
He sighed and settled more comfortably onto his bed staring out through the open window into the fading light of this hot August day. Downstairs on the patio he could hear the laughter and witty banter of his sprawling family. Mycroft's voice booming above the racket, very likely trying to drown out their very opinionated uncle Basil. Sherlock's lips twitched into a smile - But he felt no desire to go down and join their hilarity.
Today had been one of the better days. He had actually enjoyed the sunny afternoon he had spent reading in the orchard, alone, far away from his tedious family. Later Jamie had found him there and coaxed him into playing with him. Jamie's innocent affection and their lighthearted interaction had been like a soothing balm on Sherlock's raw soul and for the first time in months he felt something close to inner peace.
John's voice still vivid in his mind his thoughts wandered back to the beginning of June when his last bit of resolve had finally crumbled and he had read the one unopened text from John he had held onto, the one sent on the day John had gone to see Mycroft. In this text John had told him that he would be off to Canada soon and that he would not bother him anymore and that it was up to him now whether to contact him or not. He'd also told him that he had been to see Mycroft, obviously expecting him to react to this breach of trust.
What Sherlock regretted immensely was that he had waited so long to read it, too long to say goodbye before John left for Canada. John had already been gone for two weeks by then. Dr John Watson had agreed to take part in a six months long exchange programme with The Royal Canadian Regiment which was allied with John's regiment, the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers. It was a big opportunity for him as he was part of a team of surgeons selected for military missions abroad. Sherlock wasn't entirely at ease with this idea, John going abroad, which would very likely mean live action. But as all was relatively quiet in the world as for now, it was more or less a hypothetical danger.
Sherlock had rushed to send a text on that very day. He remembered that he had been rambling a bit, so unlike his usual straight to the point-personality, how difficult it had been to find the right words. The final version had run along these lines: How sorry he was for not having said goodbye and how he hoped that they could keep in touch. Thankfully John had answered immediately and from there things had gradually developed.
They were still on a very superficial level, still picking up the pieces, not daring to go deeper or to delve into their past. What had happened between them on that blasted November afternoon had not been touched upon. But it felt good to have John back in his life even if it was only sporadically over the phone or in their weekly mails. There was a silent agreement that they would try to keep contact on a more regular basis, India and its aftermath being all too fresh on their minds.
The geographical distance between them had emboldened them to tentatively reach out for each other again. They still weren't back to their easy ways and banter often served as a means to cover awkwardness, but it was a beginning and, surely, when they would finally meet personally in December, they would be able to sort things out and to talk properly.
7 December 2001
leave has been cancelled due to 9/11 and the following troop movements. Sorry, I'm not allowed to tell you more.
After all, you're a civilian … (!) Only that much, I'll probably be moving around quite a bit.
Hope to catch up with you soon
That had been it – A text, shattering his hopes of a meeting, of a chance to actually look at each other, to gauge reactions, to read John's face, possibly to touch while trying to explain, while trying to find out if there still was something, anything - And Sherlock feared for John, so far there had been no talk of him leaving the country, but it was always an option.
Of course they had talked in the following days and weeks, there had been lengthy phone calls, and they had agreed that they would meet as soon as possible, but they couldn't have known that it would be more than eighteen months before they would finally meet again - And that by then explanations would be no longer easy.
18 July 2003
John was waiting impatiently in the little café in London they had chosen as their meeting place. Every time the door opened he looked up expecting to see the tall familiar figure. He had taken a seat in the back of the café overlooking the small room, facing the green wooden door. Sherlock was late, but then John had been too early, twenty minutes to be precise. The crowded room was warm, the summer sun breaking through the large glass windows heating it up additionally. Maybe they should consider going for a walk later, catch some fresh air - but July heat trapped in London's busy streets wasn't very desirable either.
John was in comfortable civilian clothes, a pale green T-shirt and navy blue chinos, glad to be out of uniform for once. He was on leave, two weeks of respite, much earned and much wished for. The door opened for the umpteenth time and this time it was Sherlock who walked in. He glanced around, looking for John and when he saw him his face lit up in a smile. John answered it instinctively and hastily got up to greet him.
Sherlock looked stunning - there simply was no other word for it. He looked healthy, fairly glowing and he was dressed to the nines in a close-fitting black summer suit teamed with a dark grey shirt. John noticed the heads of the other guests turning when Sherlock walked past them, the man in question being entirely oblivious of it and heading straight to John.
'John!' They awkwardly embraced, 'It's so good to see you.'
John noticed that he sounded distant, obviously delighted to see him, but distant.
'Sherlock! - Reunited at last!' A lame retort accompanied by a sad excuse of a wink trying to cover the awkwardness he felt. But Sherlock let it go without remark.
They sat down and Sherlock summoned the young waitress with one slight motion of the head. She sauntered over with swaying hips, beaming all over her pretty little face, practically undressing Sherlock with her eyes.
'Hello! And what can I do for you?'
Addressing Sherlock, ignoring John who smirked because Sherlock was entirely and innocently oblivious of the effect he had on her.
'I'll have a coffee,' he said curtly, barely glancing up at her from his phone.
Apparently unaffected by his brusque manner she turned to John.
She really is impolite, John thought, who nevertheless gave her the benefit of his most charming smile which usually worked wonders with the ladies, but usually he wasn't with Sherlock who seemed to have turned into a magnet attracting admiring stares.
'I'll have a glass of water and a coffee, too, if you don't mind.'
She just shrugged and with one last glance at Sherlock, who was still busy fiddling with his phone, she left their table.
'So?' John said trying to gain Sherlock's attention. Sherlock looked up and pocketed his phone to fully concentrate on John.
'I'm fine, John, thank you.' He paused and cleared his throat. 'I think we should get this out of the way right from the start. I'm over what happened almost two years ago. I had a very bad time and I honestly thought I could never forgive you, but I recovered and I'm clean - I don't even smoke. I don't know how you feel about it, but I would very much like to forget what happened and I would very much like us to stay friends.'
John was a bit taken aback by his words. He's never expected this forthrightness, this bluntness. It sounded like a well-rehearsed little opening speech and John couldn't help but wonder.
'That's fine - Absolutely fine. Yes -' John nodded to underline what he had said and what he wanted to believe.
'Good,' Sherlock said in his low voice, 'Thank you, John.'
They were glad for the waitress to have chosen this moment to slam down the coffees on the table casually brushing over Sherlock's hand while doing so. He scowled at her and the smile died on her face. John snorted and buried his smirk in the scalding hot coffee. He tried to think of a less burdened conversational topic and came up with the obvious.
'Do you want to tell me about your job, Sherlock? What do you call it? Your minor post in the British government?'
'That's just something to keep me occupied.' He waved his hand dismissively. 'It's okay, I guess - I'm looking into old operations, trying to find the glitch. Of course, it's all top secret. But some cases are really interesting, you can't imagine how much they actually cover up, it's unbelievable, John. Ten years ago there was this operation in Grenada, and it had been of utmost importance that ...'
John watched Sherlock's animated face, his hands flying through the air, gesturing wildly and from time to time a real smile flickered across his features when he ranted about the ignorance of the department. He looked quite happy. John nodded when he thought it appropriate, smiled when he deemed it right and when Sherlock had finished talking he asked without thinking.
'Are you seeing someone, Sherlock?'
Sherlock frowned and dropped his gaze to his hands. He started fiddling with the teaspoon, it took a him while before he could answer.
'I am not.' He glanced up at John, 'Are you?'
'Good. That's good.'
And they left it at that - Because they were cowards.
But how to go on now? – How to move on to less dangerous territory? They studied the other guests, caught a glimpse of life outside their realm, finished their coffees - occupied themselves, trying to fill the awkward silence that had settled over them with action.
'You know, John,' Sherlock finally said, glancing at him, 'It's almost four years to the day that we first met.'
'You're right. My goodness – Four years? I can't believe it!' John narrowed his eyes and shook his head to express his disbelief - Dishonest, cowardly gestures because he had been well aware of the significance of the date.
'Look at us, where we stand now! I'm a fully trained army doctor and you –' He hesitated, he didn't know how to finish that sentence without coming across as condescending or hurting. What was Sherlock? What had he achieved so far? He was twenty-seven years old and he had no proper job, and what was worse he was relying entirely on his rich family.
'I occupy a minor post in the British government,' Sherlock said sarcastically, quoting Mycroft's favourite quip and feeling very bad about it. He could read the pity and revulsion in John's face which he, the hard-working army doctor, felt towards him, the son of a rich family. Not a care in the world, no need to work properly, always a helping hand to pamper him. This realization hurt, very much.
'It's not like that, John.'
John squinted - He still has this unnerving ability to read my face, he thought, and braced himself for the coming deductions.
'I'm not the useless heir of a rich country squire. My brother and my family helped me because I was drifting through life for a while and I'm thankful for their help and I'm a grateful that they have the means to do so. But I'm not happy with my situation and I would be more than willing to give up everything to find something to get my teeth into, something that would alleviate my sense of failure, something that would help me fight the boredom that rules my every single day. I want to find something that will give my life meaning.'
'I didn't mean to judge you, Sherlock. Honestly - I know that the last years were hard for you, and that I'm not entirely innocent of that –' He cleared his throat. 'I just want you to be happy. I don't want to see you hurt anymore, that's all I'm saying.'
John leaned forward, closer to Sherlock and looked straight into those piercing ice blue eyes. Sherlock held his stare for ten, twenty, twenty-five seconds until John broke eye contact and sat back. Sherlock cocked an eyebrow, John was acting stangely indeed.
What John was doing was testing his feelings, actually, he wanted to figure out if there still was a spark, a special something that connected him to Sherlock. He wasn't sure – he definitely felt a strong physical attraction, his heart had actually skipped a beat when he had leaned close to him and felt his eyes boring into his – but he also realized how troubled Sherlock still was and how unstable and he wasn't sure if he wanted to be the one to always pick him up when he'd fallen. He wasn't sure at all if he was willing to carry such a burden additionally to the one that was his own life. John was startled by the clarity of this insight. Being friends was fine and that was what Sherlock wanted as well, wasn't it? Yes, he would be his friend and he would help him occasionally, but there wouldn't be more than that.
Sherlock watched him all the time and read his face, saw the emotions in those dark blue eyes. What he saw was hurting and disappointing when it shouldn't be. After all he had been the one to suggest friendship and now it looked as if friendship was definitely all he was going to get from John. He briefly closed his eyes, trying to overcome the disappointment that was seeping from his heart through his whole body, filling every vein, every fibre - it actually felt like all his nerves were contracting and sizzling with the sensation – a very strong reaction, he thought bitterly, his useless body once more betraying his mind. After all this time? Why can't I just let go?
He steeled himself and feeling the necessity to move on, to disperse the awkwardness, to talk, to do anything but think, he casually asked John, 'Care to tell me about the last ill-fated military operation? – Leave out all the boring bits and move straight on to the top secret details. I'm desperate to know where they went wrong again.'
Thanks for all the kudos and comments - That's so lovely!
Please keep it up ...!
Chapter 6: Healing
Sherlock and John finally find together ... and the healing can begin ...
18 December 2005 - London
The door bell rang – once, twice and a very cruel third time – Sherlock blinked, the shrill screeching of this damn thing had woken him - Another insistent screech –
'Coming! - Damn it,' he spat impatiently.
He tried to disentangle himself from the old blanket that had wrapped itself around his pyjama bottoms and clung to his legs like a vine. Tiredly he dragged his feet to the door, but he had to lean against the wall to steady his dizzy head. Tiny white stars danced in front of his eyes, he screwed them shut willing these irritating things to disappear.
The bell rang again, the overly shrill sound drilling into his head. Slowly Sherlock lifted his hand, unlocked the Yale and pulled the door marginally open. Movement made him dizzy, everything around him started spinning and he had to lean back against the wall.
Outside in the draughty hall John saw the front door open a crack and when it didn't open further he pushed it, carefully, because Sherlock must surely be somewhere behind. He stepped into the hall of Sherlock's tiny flat and froze when he saw him leaning against the wall, his face ashen and sweating.
'Sherlock – What the hell have you done?' he quickly closed the door behind him.
'J- John,' Sherlock slurred, evidently putting all his available strength into the effort to keep his eyes open for more than a second.
John checked his pulse – sky high – and his pupils – fully blown.
'Sherlock? – Sherlock! For fuck's sake. What did you take? What? Tell me!'
John dragged Sherlock into the tiny bathroom and unceremoniously leaned him against the wall. He knew where Sherlock kept his supplies, his pills, and quickly rifled through them.
'Bloody hell, Sherlock. What did you take? What was it?'
'I – I – can't – don't know anymore.'
John sniffed, he definitely didn't smell of alcohol – must be drugs then. But what, what? He checked Sherlock's eyes and pulse again - no change. His skin was cold to the touch, clammy, he was sweating and dizzy. He checked his arms, and squinted, this prick looked fairly fresh. He cursed under his breath - All things considering it looked to John like he was going through a low after a cocaine-high – Sherlock's bloody drug of choice.
'For fuck's sake, Sherlock! You told me you were clean – Why are you doing this?'
Sherlock just gazed at him and it was terrifying to see the emptiness in those usually so vivid eyes. They weren't able to focus properly, but darted nervously around, to a point behind John's head and back to his face. John drained a flannel in cold water and wiped the sweat from Sherlock's pale face and his bare arms. Sherlock looked a mess, neglected, his curls unkempt and he hadn't shaved for a few days. The dark stubble stood out in stark contrast against the deathly pallor of his skin. His skinny frame was clothed in pyjama bottoms and a tatty stained t-shirt. John looked around for some fresh clothes, he couldn't find anything. A hamper underneath the sink was overflowing with dirty laundry.
'Come on, Sherlock. Get undressed and take a bath. I'll go and fetch some clean clothes for you.'
When John came back with a fresh t-shirt, boxers and a pair of clean jeans, Sherlock had not budged.
'Oh for God's sakes –' John muttered under his breath and started to undress him. Sherlock just leaned back and let him touch him, let him wrench the dirty clothes off his body. John finally got him into the tub and turned on the water.
'Will you manage alone?'
Sherlock tried to focus on John, there was a bit more clarity in those eyes now and he nodded weakly. John left the door slightly ajar, he preferred to keep an eye on Sherlock in the tub, there was always the danger of him losing consciousness and slipping underwater. He set out to clean Sherlock's flat a bit, opened the windows and cleared away some of the dirty glasses and mugs. Judging by the state they were in they had been there a good while.
After more than half an hour Sherlock emerged from the bathroom, his hair still wet, clad in his clean clothes, his eyes almost back to normal. He had shaved and resembled his usual self. He avoided John's eyes and slinked over to his chair, slumping into it.
John put away the mugs he had just cleaned and walked over to him. He got down on his knees and placed both hands on Sherlock's thighs. He flinched at the touch, avoiding his gaze, but John didn't relent, he increased the pressure of his fingers on those bony thighs. Sherlock looked up then and straight into John's eyes. Tears coursed down his face, silently, but he didn't wipe them away, he just let them flow.
'Why did you take it, Sherlock?' John's voice was low, but firm and insistent.
Sherlock just shook his head and bit his lips.
'What happened? The last time we met you were quite happy. You told me you were fine. What happened in those few weeks?'
'Nothing,' Sherlock mumbled.
'Nothing? But there must have been something that made you relapse,' John believed in causes, as a doctor he was trained to look for them.
'Nothing happened, nothing at all. That's the problem,' Sherlock cleared his throat, 'Nothing happens to me. My life is slow, empty, boring, utterly meaningless. I just tried to speed things up, give my mind something to do.'
'I don't see how injecting coke could possibly help with anything!'
John was getting irritated. How could Sherlock be so outstandingly stupid, how could this brilliant mind of his not realise where he was heading?
'I know it doesn't. I know quite well, John – But I can control it - ' Sherlock said quietly.
John didn't know what to answer. He dragged a wooden chair next to Sherlock's and sat as close to him as possible. He took his hand and gently stroked it with his thumb. Sherlock glanced up at him, unsure what to make of this tender gesture. He sighed and let his head fall back against the headrest of his chair.
'I don't - know – what – to - do - with my life. I will be thirty next year and I'm floating through my days, not knowing what do to do, just wasting my time, really. I feel the overwhelming urge to keep myself occupied, my mind screams for distraction, but I simply - don't- know – what – to - do.'
John was hit by the desperation, anger and hopelessness that was so obvious in Sherlock. But he also felt exasperation that he seemed to simply accept it – and what was even worse that he thought drugs would help and that he believed to be in control.
'Sherlock, you have to get a grip. You have to find something to do. If your brother can't help, then you must get off your arse and help yourself! You are not a child anymore. That's life for you, Sherlock – Most of the time there isn't anybody to tell you what to do. You must do it yourself - change your life, look for meaning – and if it doesn't work immediately - try harder, try again, for fuck's sake!'
John hadn't meant to be so blunt, so rude, but he was growing frustrated with Sherlock's attitude.
'Let's start by getting you out of this flat more. Stop sitting around, feeling sorry for yourself and moping like a five-year-old,' he paused, he saw clearly that Sherlock needed help to get started on his life and he realised that he was willing to offer it to him, 'Say, why don't you join me on my hikes?'
Sherlock lazily turned his head so that he could face John – a ghost of a smile was playing around his lips. He wasn't offended at all by John's bluntness.
'Are you serious, John? Me? Hiking? I'm probably the least trained person you have ever met. And after all this -' he vaguely waved his left hand indicating the state of the flat and his life.
'It doesn't matter. We'll go easy at the beginning. You'll like it. I promise!'
John squeezed Sherlock's hand encouragingly before he let go and got up. The emptiness John's hand left behind made Sherlock's heart clench. His eyes followed him over to his jacket from where he fetched a smallish gift-wrapped parcel he had brought with him. Sherlock had been too stoned to notice before.
'Merry Christmas, Sherlock,' John said and handed him the shiny red parcel.
Sherlock raised his eyebrows and straightening his back he sat up on his chair. 'Thank you,' he muttered, embarrassed because he couldn't offer anything in return. He ripped the shiny parcel open to reveal a woollen scarf with stripes in dark and light blue. It was a wonderful scarf, he liked it very much and he was more than humbled by John's gesture.
He got up and embraced him, 'Thank you so much, John. It's wonderful.' He wound the scarf around his neck and left it there.
John cleared his throat, 'It's nothing. I just thought you might like it.'
He liked it, liked it a lot – And it made him feel better, John made him feel better - How astonishing that being with John made everything so much better. He was awed by the fact that John had such a calming influence on him and that he was able to make him see where he went wrong. Of course he was right, he had to get a grip, simply had to change his life instead of whining like a baby, instead of harming himself.
'When will you take me –' he asked and when he saw John's eyebrow shoot up suggestively a blush crept up on his pale cheeks and he quickly added, 'For a hike, I mean.'
John smiled, 'I'd say New Year's Eve would be a wonderful first, don't you think?'
New Year's Eve 2005 – The New Forest
There was only a little bit of snow, dotted here and there in the hollows or covering the tips of tress, but it was freezing cold out in the country near Lyndhurst in the New Forest where they had driven in the morning. On arrival they had booked two rooms in a little country inn just outside Lyndhurst. They had agreed that it would not be wise to attempt driving back tonight and spend New Year's Eve on the road. They would rather have a quiet dinner and maybe a pint or two at the local pub before one year would give way to yet another.
John had chosen the New Forest because it wasn't too far away from London and a hike in this beautiful countryside would not be too demanding even in the middle of winter. On top of that the wild roaming horses were a sight to behold and John knew his way around fairly well.
They set out right after lunch. John as the experienced hiker he was wore sturdy boots, a warm down jacket, gloves and a woollen hat. Sherlock of course possessed nothing of the kind, so John had at least offered him a warm jumper, too big for himself, but just the right size for the taller man. Sherlock had donned jeans and boots, but wore his usual coat and no gloves or hat, but the woollen scarf John had given him for Christmas was wound tightly around his neck.
They walked in silence for the first few miles; neither John nor Sherlock felt the need for chatter. John thought back to a morning more than six years ago when they had sat together in a French bistro in Cambridge, in amiable silence, and it felt much the same today. From time to time they would look at each other and exchange a smile or a quick touch. John was slightly tense and nervous, he was aware of it, but he couldn't explain why.
'John, honestly -This is rather beautiful, all the horses, the cold, the neat little cottages, but I have to say that this extraordinary large amount of fresh air hurts my lungs and I feel a headache coming on,' Sherlock tried hard to keep a straight face. He glanced at John who sat next to him and found him smiling.
'You're doing really well, Sherlock. No whining! It's only a bit more than an hour back to the inn, you'll manage fine!' He got up again, 'Come on, let's hurry. I'd like to be back before six.'
He extended a hand to help Sherlock up from the stone bench they had rested on for the last ten minutes. Sherlock took his hand and held on to it and they continued their hike in silence. Sherlock had to admit that he enjoyed it, enjoyed the silence between them, the slowness, the nothingness of this landscape. It calmed him greatly and he was glad to be here with John.
They had spent a lot of time together since that day John had found him out on drugs. They had grown very close again, closer than ever really. Sherlock enjoyed John's company very much and felt that familiar tingling sensation whenever he came near him, a sensation he had believed to have left behind.
And John? He didn't quite know why, when asked he probably wouldn't be able to explain, but the awkwardness he had always felt around Sherlock had somehow vanished. It had been replaced by other feelings – anticipation, excitement, concern, calm, interest, attraction, infatuation. He glanced at Sherlock, at their joined hands - It was strange, after all those years, after all those women who had crossed his path and shared his bed, that he was here with him, about to celebrate New Year's Eve in a small country inn - and it felt right.
At around half past five they finally saw the lights of the little inn glimmer in the darkness. Sherlock breathed a sigh of relief, he was tired, his feet ached and he was frozen to the bone. He glanced at John whose face was reddened from the cold as if he was glowing from the inside - he looked quite beautiful. Sherlock quickly averted his eyes and busied himself with his scarf. It had come loose and needed some readjusting.
'Thank God,' Sherlock muttered under his breath when they entered the cosy and well-heated hall of their inn.
John chuckled, 'I'm proud of you, Sherlock. I really am. You managed to keep the whining to a minimum and for an untrained civilian you did extremely well.'
He patted Sherlock awkwardly on the back and Sherlock looked at him.
'I guess I should say thank you for that - compliment.'
They locked eyes for a moment, but John couldn't hold his gaze – He's doing it again, he's reading me – so he cleared his throat and turned to the counter and the waiting receptionist. Sherlock cocked an eyebrow, John was acting strangely, he broke eye contact and he blushed when they locked eyes. Maybe this outing was going to be much more interesting than he had thought.
John took care of all the formalities and Sherlock was happy to watch and lean his tired body against the counter close to John. The receptionist wished them a pleasant stay and John turned to Sherlock.
'Here's your key. I have the room right next to you. Shall we meet downstairs for dinner in an hour?'
Sherlock nodded. John grabbed his bag and walked up the stairs leaving it to Sherlock to follow. They climbed to the second floor and after walking a few metres down a narrow hall they stood in front of their rooms. They opened their doors and smiled at each other.
'Right, John. See you downstairs.'
Sherlock's room was small, but cosy. There was a single bed, a bedside table complete with reading lamp, a wardrobe, a chair and a little coffee table. He took off his scarf and coat and threw his weekend bag on the bed. Taking in the details of the room, the curtains, the books, the ashtray on the coffee table, he shrugged out of John's jumper and looked for the bathroom. He switched on the light and peered into it, the light revealing a rather small, but utilitarian facility. Quickly he shed his clothes and stepped into the shower. The hot water was soothing, it warmed his aching bones and made him feel much better.
A bit later he rifled through his weekend bag to choose fresh clothes. He settled for a white shirt and black trousers, after all it was New Year's Eve. He got dressed quickly and when he sat down on the bed, tying his shoe laces, he noticed that there was another door exactly opposite the bathroom. Sherlock grinned when he realized what it was.
He walked over and softly knocked on the door, 'John?'
He heard a key being turned and the connecting door opened to John's room which was a mirror image of his own.
'I'd say this comes quite handy, doesn't it?' Sherlock peered into John's room, but did not enter. He wasn't entirely sure how he should take his, had John known? He didn't mind, to be honest. No, he really didn't.
John closed the gap between them and stood in front of Sherlock, very close. 'Yes, that's nice.'
Sherlock wasn't entirely sure what he was referring to.
John watched him, gauging his reactions, trying to read him. After a few moments he tentatively placed a hand on his chest feeling for his heartbeat. Sherlock's eyes followed John's hand, watched it settle on his chest, watched the fingers expand as in slow motion to cover more of him. Carefully he placed his left hand on top and lifted his gaze until his eyes found John's.
Sherlock nodded and placed his right hand over John's heart to feel the steady heartbeat of his friend. He gently moved his fingers over the soft fabric there and felt John's heartbeat elevate in response. Sherlock lightly scratched his nails over John's shirt and trailed his fingers upwards until they rested on the nape of his neck. The smaller man leaned into this touch and closed his eyes, he all but hummed and Sherlock leaned forward to kiss his Adam's apple and the soft skin around it, John's humming pleasantly tickling his lips. John tilted his head to the side, giving Sherlock's lips permission to trail all along his neck to his nape. He wrapped both arms around Sherlock's slender waist and pulled him close.
'Sherlock –' he whispered, 'I don't exactly know what happened and when, but I know that I want you, I want you more than anything. I want to be with you, I want to sleep with you – I want to …' He hesitated for a moment, 'Sherlock, this is – a bit awkward - I don't know how to put it, but you never told me about anybody in your life, so – I – I don't know if you ever have –' He coughed, it was embarrassing to ask.
'No, John –' Sherlock's voice was husky, low, it was sexier than ever, 'I never have. But you can show me. I want you to show me all there is …'
John felt a shiver running down his spine and smiled. He knew what he wanted, what he wanted to share with Sherlock, but he also knew that this would have to wait, they would take it slow tonight. There were so many ways to love and he was willing to go each and every one with Sherlock, but tonight there was no rush. After all, they had all the time in the world. The future was finally theirs, starting now.
John weaved his fingers into Sherlock's soft curls and pulled him closer. He let his gaze roam over his face, let it caress his cheekbones, linger on his nose, the sensuous curve of his lips. John was once again amazed by his beauty, he knew he would never get enough of that remarkable, angular face. Sherlock's skin began to tingle under John's scrutinizing gaze and he wanted nothing more than to be touched. He moaned involuntarily and his eyelids fluttered, his body was aching for him. When John finally touched, his fingers ghosting over his cheeks, his lips gently brushing over his neck, Sherlock gasped and arched his back. When his head fell forward again his lips sought John's, inexpertly, hungrily. John tried to slow him down, but found himself drawn irresistibly to Sherlock. He frantically groped for skin, tugging impatiently at the hem of his shirt. Sherlock unbuttoned it and John slid it over his shoulders and let it fall to the floor in one fluid movement. John shed his own shirt and they paused to study each other, standing there, panting, naked to the waist.
John's body was muscular, toned, the sculptured body of a soldier. Sherlock gently traced his fingers over the smooth skin on John's shoulders. He was perfect, unblemished, and he placed little kisses on those lightly tanned shoulder blades. Sherlock was skinny, but his long limbs were elegant and smooth. John noticed the faint silver scars in the crooks of his arms that spoke of his drug abuse and traced a finger over them. Sherlock turned his arms better to show them. He wasn't ashamed and he felt that this was their moment of truth, no need to hide anything.
'Sherlock, you are beautiful,' John breathed, 'Everything about you is beautiful.'
He kissed Sherlock's scars and moved upwards, kissing his biceps, his smooth, pale skin umblemished there, untouched yet. Seeing him naked, his lean, but muscular body, made him gasp - he was perfect. Sherlock leaned forward and let his head sink on John's shoulders, embracing him. John pressed into Sherlock's body in response, bringing them flush against each other and when their arousal touched Sherlock gasped and his head shot up, 'John.'
'Sherlock,' John whispered, 'Let me do this for you. Trust me.'
Sherlock nodded and John manoeuvred his back against the wall. His hands caressed his shoulders and chest and slid up and down his arms leaving goose bumps in their wake. He pressed his mouth on Sherlock's and kissed him, tenderly first and more demanding then. His fingers sneaked to Sherlock's navel and moved down from there, slipping underneath the waistband of his trousers. Then he opened the button and slipped his hand inside his boxers. Sherlock moaned into his mouth and began to move his hips against John.
'Slow, Sherlock – let me,' John whispered between kisses.
He broke away and Sherlock eyes flew open, startled at the sudden loss of contact - My God, he looks so young, so beautiful. I want nothing more than to see him come undone - John slowly got on his knees and when Sherlock felt John's lips on him he closed his eyes and leaned back against the wall, prepared to let go completely.
John watched Sherlock sleep, his head resting on John's chest and his hand placed lightly on his belly. John held him in his arms and it was exactly like that first night more than six years ago with the crucial difference that he was entirely his now, that they had finally found together.
The church bells started to chime announcing the beginning of a new year. John lightly kissed Sherlock's forehead, 'Happy New Year, my beautiful.'
Sherlock stirred in his sleep, but didn't wake. John smiled and smoothed some unruly curls from his face. He glanced to the window, the curtains were not drawn and he could see that snow had started to fall in thick flakes. They might have to stay on for another day should winter decide to come back with force. This wouldn't bother him at all, no, being snowed in with Sherlock held a distinctive appeal. And it would give them time to talk about the coming days and weeks – and probably more importantly about their past.
John felt a warm and content sleepiness settle over him and wiggled a bit to find a comfortable sleeping position.
'Tomorrow, ' he muttered drowsily to himself, 'tomorrow we'll finally talk.'
Chapter 7: Clarity
There's so much to talk about - so much to learn ... and absolutely no reason at all to leave the bed ...
New Year's Day 2006 – Lyndhurst – The New Forest
'I still believe in the importance of leaving a mark,' John said.
He was propped up on his elbow next to Sherlock who was lying on his front, one arm buried beneath his belly, his face resting on the other, his smooth, pale back on display for John's admiration.
'Why is it so important for you?'
Sherlock was really curious -To him leaving a mark meant to possess the will and foremost the need to impress other people, which in return meant taking other people into account, their opinions, their values, their outlooks on life - In short it meant caring about what other people think of you and your actions and that was a concept he personally was not willing to adhere to. Sherlock couldn't care less what other people thought of him.
John trailed his fingers down the soft skin on Sherlock's back, all along the spine down to his smooth and perfectly rounded backside where he rested his hand, rightfully and possessively. He leaned down and planted a kiss on his shoulder, gently brushing his lips over the soft skin there.
'I believe it's part of what I am and what I want to be. Take my profession for example - I chose to be a doctor because I'm interested in people, in their lives, their problems. I'm interested in helping them and it's human that I would like to be recognized for what I do, that I'm eager for appreciation, maybe even admiration.' John shrugged, and added half-jokingly, 'It's part of my charming character, I guess. I want to be outstanding in what I do.'
Sherlock smiled, John was so easy to read, so transparent, he had been so on their first encounter and he hadn't changed.
'It's still because of your father, isn't it? You want to impress him, make him proud. Does he recognize your efforts at all? Does he appreciate you - Is he proud of his son?'
'Yes – At least I believe so. He's not much of a talker.'
John slipped down on the cushion again so that their faces almost touched. 'What do you think of me?' he asked bluntly. With Sherlock he felt no need for pretence, no need for false modesty either.
Sherlock knew that John cared about what other people thought of him and he cared about John so he was more than willing to play along.
'I appreciate you, John - very much and I am proud of you and of what you do as a doctor. I admire various things about you, among them your forthrightness, your calm, your determination, your strength – and – I – um - think you are very handsome,' Sherlock smiled shyly and John noticed a blush creeping up his pale cheeks.
'Thank you,' John kissed his face trying to cover as much of this adorable blush as he could. He brushed his lips over Sherlock's incredibly kissable Cupid's bow before settling down on the cushion again.
'I really love what I do, always have -' he muttered, absentmindedly weaving his fingers through Sherlock's curls. 'You know, as an army doctor I have the means to do a lot of good and it's often quite exciting -'
'Yes, there's that.' John conceded, 'I'd lie if I denied that there's a certain amount of danger, adventure and thrill involved. Let's not forget friendship, hard work, fellowship – well, all the clichés really –'
'I wish you wouldn't –' Sherlock blurted out, but then regretted having spoken. Obviously John had just expressed perfectly what being an army doctor and soldier meant for him, quite clearly not taking into account that it meant something else entirely for Sherlock. For him it represented mainly a threat, something that had the potential to separate them, temporarily or even worse – 'I wish you wouldn't have to go abroad and I pray you will never have to see live action,' he finished quietly.
John frowned, this wasn't something he had the liberty to decide upon, and he neither wanted to discuss it nor think about it unless the need arose. Given the troubles in Afghanistan and Iraq he knew that he would have to leave his British army base eventually – But they would cross that bridge when they would come to it.
'Sherlock, there's no talk of me going abroad. At least not at the moment, so don't worry,' John tried to inject as much confidence into his voice as possible and his effort was rewarded with a tiny smile curling the corners of Sherlock's lips.
John glanced over to the window; it was dazzling bright outside, the glaring winter sun reflected million-fold by the snow that had fallen during the night. The sunbeams falling through the window were creeping over their bed now, so he got up to close the curtains. The snow-clad world outside looked freezing cold and he involuntarily shivered – the room was warm and cosy, though, and he quickly returned to their warm bed.
Sherlock followed him with his eyes, studying each and every of his movements and storing every tiny emotion that flickered across his face. John smiled at him, it was unbelievable that they were here, content to be with each other, on the verge of a life together. John had never felt contentment like that before, certainly not with any of his numerous short-time girlfriends. They seemed a hazy memory now, remembered only as a number of detours he had to take before he could finally find home.
Sherlock looked amazingly young and innocent the way he rested on his belly and gazed up at him and he just couldn't get enough of looking at him, of touching him. He slipped next to him under the duvet eager to resume caressing Sherlock's back, grazing his fingers gently up and down his marble skin. Sherlock wiggled a bit as if his touch was uncomfortable. His face bore an expression John couldn't fathom.
'Don't you like it when I caress you like that? Do you want me to stop?' John asked, knitting his brows.
'No, I do like it. It's just –' Sherlock paused, the adorable flush creeping back onto his features, 'I don't know if it is normal –'
'Is it normal that I feel desire every time you touch me?'
John grinned, 'What exactly do you mean?'
'I mean that my skin tingles, my nerves contract, my stomach flutters – and in my body there's something like a yearning, almost like a dull aching. My breathing becomes jerky and all I can focus on is you and your touch and I want to be as close as humanly possible to you, to crawl under your skin - I want to become one with you. Is that normal?'
John was touched by this innocent, childlike question, 'It is normal - I feel the same when you touch me, Sherlock.'
'Oh, right –' he nodded solemnly, apparently satisfied with his reply and John had to suppress a grin.
'But John, there's more – When we touch like that I want nothing more than to repeat what we did last night.'
Sherlock turned on his side the better to face John. His ice blue eyes were gleaming with wickedness and he dropped his voice to a very dangerous low, 'John, I asked you to show me and you have. I want to reciprocate - I want to give you what you gave me.'
John felt himself responding, as much to the words as to the way they were spoken and nodded.
Sherlock leaned close to him, his curls brushing softly over John's face and whispered in his ear, 'And I can't think of any reason whatsoever to leave this bed any time soon. What about you?'
'Did you have any childhood dreams, Sherlock? Like ordinary children? Did you want to be a train driver or an astronaut?'
John bit into his buttered toast. They had ordered a very late breakfast to their room because Sherlock had been true to his word and downright refused to leave the bed. Now they were awkwardly juggling plates on their laps and constantly trying to avoid spilling scalding hot tea over their naked chests.
'Quite a few, actually. I wanted to be a famous inventor, a cowboy, a professor, that sort of dull, predictable, ordinary thing. Initially I wanted to be a pirate. Mycroft used to tease me about this dream and he was more than happy to burst the bubble when I was seven.'
'Oh! He did? - How?'
'He showed me a documentary about pirates which was outstandingly concise in the depiction of diseases pirates apparently inevitably contracted and the punishment awaiting a caught and condemned pirate. I was of an impressionable age and bang went the dream of my early childhood.'
Sherlock pinched the half-eaten toast from John's plate, too lazy to butter one for himself. John just snorted and leaned out of the bed to the little table to snatch another one from the breakfast tray.
'Later I wanted to be a composer, a famous creator of immortal violin sonata cycles. I was fascinated by the technique and finesse of Johann Sebastian Bach or Vivaldi. I even composed a few pieces, but they were utterly worthless, amateurism concocted by an overexcited teenage mind.'
'I didn't know you played the violin, Sherlock.'
'No, you wouldn't. I never told you. I always play when I need to think. You will get used to it I hope.'
Sherlock glanced at John aware of the allusion and John reassured him by saying, 'I'm sure I will.'
He peered into Sherlock's almost empty mug, 'More tea?'
Sherlock nodded and John poured him another mug, added two sugars, and then poured a fresh one for himself. It felt natural to be the one taking care of Sherlock.
'After that I saw myself as a scientist for a while, I even had my own little lab in the basement and spent all of my free time there, conducting experiments. I came close to blowing up the house on more than one occasion. Mycroft used to cover my back, bless him. Mind you, that meant I had to cover his on those not so rare occasions when he sneaked out of the house to meet his friend.'
John chuckled, 'You mean he is … also?'
'What do you mean?'
'Interested in … Oh, never mind, Sherlock. You were saying?'
'Well, as I said, I was quite content in my own little world. I never much liked to socialize, never had any school friends over to entertain –'
John reacted to this confession of self-inflicted solitude with an intake of breath and Sherlock glanced at him.
'Don't worry, John. I wanted it that way. I liked to be alone - I was never good with people. You know what I'm like. I don't have the ability to dissemble, I can't hide my feelings and I certainly can't abide stupidity. What makes matters worse is that I can't help it and always need to point out when someone is wrong. How many people do you think are willing to put up with that?'
'I am,' John quietly said and dropped his gaze to his hands, 'Although it took me bloody ages to realize what I want.'
Sherlock was silent for a few moments and then he leaned out of the bed to put his mug down on the wooden floor before he turned back to John.
'Yes, John. Why for God's sakes did we wait so long?' He fixed his piercing eyes on John who willed himself to hold his unwavering stare. It was important that he did now.
'I don't know. I guess I wasn't sure of myself – or of you, or of our feelings.'
He shrugged, no matter how many times he had gone through this reasoning in his head in the last weeks it had never been easy, or transparent or understandable.
'I have thought about this a lot, especially since Christmas, when I found you … - I know that nothing I can say is good enough, but I will try to explain –' he trailed off.
'Shall I tell you what I think, John?' Sherlock took John's hand, he felt that they had to spell it out now, go to the roots of their relationship. 'After we'd met in Cambridge I shouldn't have gone away so soon, I should have stayed in England. I knew from the start that this whole endeavour was ill-fated and I should have stood up to Mycroft. If I'd done that we might have had a chance.'
'Sherlock, I don't think you going away was the reason, at least not the only one. I admit that you fascinated me from the very beginning, I would even say I was mesmerized by your ethereal quality…' Sherlock raised an eyebrow, but John continued undeterred, 'And I probably would have gone for it, would have tried to come nearer to you, but I honestly believe we wouldn't have stood a bloody chance. I wasn't ready for us - for you. You know, I'd never been interested in a man before. Until I met you I never thought I would be. I'd always been with women.'
Sherlock smiled, of course he'd realized that John had gone through a so called sexual identity crisis, it had been so obvious. But he hadn't realized that this had posed such a problem for him. He gently moved his fingers in circling motions over John's warm hand, urging him to go on.
'I was waiting for a sign from you because I was a coward. I couldn't bring myself to take the first step. It was so much easier not to – But ever since then I have asked myself the same question over and over again: Why didn't I say something? I really should have. And when I didn't hear from you, no letter, no text, I saw myself justified to ignore my feelings and to move on instead of trying to find out what had happened to you and to me. Honestly, Sherlock, I was mortified that I would have to own up to my feelings for you,' he paused. 'But on that bloody November day – when we met again, I was determined to tell you that there was Anna -'
'Yes – But when I saw you standing there outside the museum, saw you again after all those months it was like an emotional rollercoaster and I couldn't tell you. Maybe deep inside I even made myself believe I could have you both – '
'That was callous –'
'Yes - I know – then you told me you had feelings for me and I knew I'd choose you, my heart did choose you, but then – well…'
'My world collapsed that afternoon, John –' Sherlock said quietly, 'I never felt like that for anyone and nobody hurt me that way before. It was so hard for me to confess to you and I honestly thought I could never forgive you for betraying me. Going through that excruciating pain taught me a lot about sentiment, most importantly that feelings are strange buggers indeed, aren't they? They are elusive, they can only be controlled that much.'
Sherlock had spoken quietly, but he became more and more agitated, 'I swore to myself that I would detach myself from feelings that I would shut off my heart. God, John, I hated you so much for what you'd done to me. But I just couldn't let you go and so I was caught in a dilemma – There I was, pitiful me, hating you as much as I loved you …'
John glanced at him, Sherlock's voice had grown louder and he tried to calm down by controlling his breathing.
'I thought I had succeeded, that I had willed my mind to win over my heart, but the past two years and – oh, those last days - showed me that there is no such thing as will when dealing with love – And I wholeheartedly embrace the notion that I will never be able to forget you or to let you go from my life because you have become a part of me and for better or worse you are in here –' Sherlock placed a hand over his heart and looked at John.
John gently took Sherlock's hand and placed it over his own heart, 'Sherlock, you are in my heart too. I can only say I deeply regret that it took me so long to realize that you have in fact always been.'
Sherlock felt the steady pounding of John's heart and it was all the reassurance he needed. He placed his other hand in John's neck, twining his fingers through the short hair there. Carefully he pulled him down to meet him in a lingering kiss. But as much as he wanted to succumb to the sensation of kissing the man he loved he willingly kept his eyes open. He wanted to store this moment away, wanted to have it ready whenever he would feel the need to replay it in his mind.
John's closed eyes, his relaxed and slightly flushed face. Up close Sherlock could make out a few tiny freckles on the bridge of his nose, indiscernible from afar. His sandy hair was cut short, but still managed to stand on end where Sherlock's long fingers had smoothed it into something resembling spikes. He was beautiful - as was this moment, this hour, this day.
Sherlock sighed deeply into John's mouth and John's eyes opened a crack. There was a trace of amusement in them and he whispered between kisses, 'Stop analysing, love. Shut off your brain and kiss me!'
And so Sherlock did.
Chapter 8: Crossroads
Sherlock and John finally live together - Everything is fine until John receives his marching orders for Afhganistan and Sherlock panics ...
25 September 2006 – London
John unlocked the door to their flat, stepped into the narrow hall and with a heartfelt sigh dumped his heavy army duffel bag on the floor. The movement made him wince and he rolled his aching shoulders a few times to loosen the cramped muscles. He shrugged out of his uniform jacket and tossed the beret and his house keys on the small wooden side table in the hall.
After five hours on a train and an excruciating trip on the tube, stuck with dozens of tired commuters in an overheated, fuggy compartment, unable to move unless others let him, he wanted nothing more than a hot shower, stretch his legs on the sofa with a fresh cuppa – and Sherlock. The intensity of his feelings for him when they were apart surprised him and the longing he felt was sometimes unbearable. He had never felt like that before, had always been thankful for some quality time apart in his earlier relationships. Not so with Sherlock – he virtually hated every minute that he was separated from him.
He kicked off his boots with a flourish, 'Sherlock? I'm home!'
To his surprise no velvety baritone answered, only a disappointing silence lapped against him. He frowned - How odd, I told him when to expect me home - He probably just nipped out to get something edible for tonight - Sherlock was notoriously out of food, and fresh food in particular seemed a concept alien to him – only heaven knew how he managed to stay healthy. John chuckled, getting him to eat his share of greens was one of the challenges of living with Sherlock, but as he had learned in the past months there was so much more.
Violin practice in the middle of the night, hours in front of his laptop, especially since he had started working on his website The Science of Deduction, strange experiments oozing out of the fridge or his science equipment covering all available surfaces in their flat – you never knew what to expect. It all added a lot of spice to their life and John certainly was never bored. After they had finally found together last New Year's Eve they had wasted no more time and John had moved into Sherlock's flat. It had seemed the most sensible solution since he spent most of the month at his army base in Alnwick anyway. John was on leave every other weekend and Sherlock tried to ruthlessly kick everything out of his way and be available when he came home.
But now he wasn't here when he had promised he would be and John felt a pang of unease – Where was he? He fished his phone out of his trouser pocket and checked for new messages. To his surprise there were none. He quickly typed – I'm home. Where are you? - and hit the send button. He was sure to hear from him within the next minutes. Sherlock was the most avid user of text messages he had ever come across, he'd rather text than speak.
John knew that keeping busy was the best way to quench his worry and started to range his things. He dragged the duffel bag into their small bedroom - He had to move some of Sherlock's piles of books out of the way in order to find a bit of space for the blasted thing. When he straightened his back with a sigh John's gaze fell on the wall. Amazingly Sherlock had hung a framed periodic table over their bed. Something he apparently found either useful or relevant enough to serve as a decorative element in a bedroom. John glanced around, everything else seemed unchanged – No, wait, what's that? - He peered at Sherlock's side of the bed and when he realized what he was looking at he felt tears sting his eyes.
John sat down on the bed and picked up the small rectangular form from Sherlock's night table. He had printed out one of the snapshots they had taken in snowy Lyndhurst months ago. It showed John in the snow, eyes slightly screwed up because of the glaring sun, smiling happily into the camera. He had even taken the trouble to find a frame for it. That Sherlock had done this tugged at his heart more than this little gesture probably warranted - He really was full of surprises, Sherlock.
John noticed that his hands holding the picture were dirty and all of a sudden the repercussions of his long day assaulted him - he felt sweaty and tired. He carefully put the frame back exactly where it had been, and started to undress, getting rid of everything that connected him to his military world. He rifled through their wardrobe and grabbed a comfortable shirt, a clean pair of jeans and a fresh towel. He checked his phone again – still no message from Sherlock. This was highly unusual and he felt the first hint of panic flutter in his chest. Keep occupied – He's okay, don't worry.
In the bathroom he placed the phone on the little shelf underneath the mirror, just in case, and then he finally stepped into the shower and let the hot water stream over him, merciful and soothing. With a generous amount of shower gel he thoroughly rinsed off all the smells and dirt belonging to his life as a soldier. Sherlock couldn't get used to the peculiarities and specifics of his military life and wouldn't approve if he found him in uniform or smelling like a bunch of unwashed soldiers as he once put it.
They had fought out countless arguments about the potential danger of John's job as an army doctor in the past weeks. Sherlock couldn't accept that he might get his marching orders soon, he wasn't willing to live with this dark shadow looming over their future and it marred each and every conversation that came even remotely near this topic. The fact that John might have to go abroad and the consequence of being apart for an uncertain time and of course the potential danger of such an operation was something that Sherlock couldn't live with. He was like a child when they talked about it, he couldn't face it rationally, he was consumed by fear - It was as if his brilliant mind had no compartment for this anxiety, he could neither file it away nor find a relevant cross-reference.
John tried to put up with Sherlock's rejection, but his patience was beginning to wear thin because he seemed incapable to see beyond that danger and to recognize the joy and fulfilment John found in his job. It was more than a job to him, being a surgeon and working with a team that he trusted with all his heart was his vocation. Sherlock had scoffed derisively when John had thrown that word at him in one of their heated arguments. So John had adopted the tendency to avoid any potential trigger for a fight. Though sometimes it was impossible, and on those occasions when a confrontation couldn't be avoided they proved true to their gender - combative, aggressive, neither one ready to relent, egos crashing, tempers flaring - two men fighting for dominance.
John got out of the shower and toweled dry. He nervously checked his phone again – still no message from Sherlock and the panic in his chest formed into a tight knot chasing away all the ease and anticipation he had arrived with. The mirror in the small bathroom was all steamed up and he used his towel to wipe the steam off. He peered at his reflection – a tired and worried version of his usual self looked back at him. After two weeks of almost constant duty in the operating theatre he was exhausted and now with Sherlock not here, no clue where he was and no bloody idea what might have happened to him he was deeply worried as well.
What made matters worse was that John knew that today or preferably some other time over the weekend they would have to talk – seriously talk about their future.
'Tell me again, from the beginning. I need as much data as possible. Where is your husband and what has he been accused of?'
Sherlock steepled his fingers beneath his chin and peered intently at the elderly woman who was sitting across the walnut dinner-room table. They sat together in the living room of her house in central London. Sherlock had admittedly had a bit of trouble finding this Baker Street 221b, but at least the leisurely stroll through the streets had shown him that this location was quite handy for the Jubilee Line which would take him home quickly once this conversation was over.
He concentrated on his opponent and studied her in the light of an old-fashioned table lamp, trying to read her.
- Must have been a stunning woman in her youth, still a fine-looking lady. Light auburn hair cut fashionably short, just the right amount of make-up for a woman her age. Obviously no such things as jumper and jeans for her, she wears a fine dark purple silky dress, so she's got taste and a certain wealth. It's a bit worn at the elbows, not a new one. No money for new silk dresses at the moment if she chose this one, but it's likely her best as she certainly wants to make a good first impression –
Unobtrusively he glanced at her from head to toe.
- A good body, a dancer's body, gracious and nimble -
The way she sat in her living room now was quite at odds with those impressions which spoke of a woman in control of herself and her appearance. Right now she presented a pitiful picture, her eyes were swollen from crying, her hand nervously crumpling a cotton hanky and when she started to speak her voice trembled. Sherlock detected a hint of insincerity behind it all, it rather looked like a performance to him.
'Well, my husband is in Florida, in a state prison,' she began, but then she paused a moment.
She glanced up at him and Sherlock noticed a change going on in her posture, in her gaze - She is weighing her words, unsure if she can be completely open, unsure if she can trust me -
She fixed her eyes on him, 'And he is there, rightfully - because he has cheated on me, that sanctimonious, little swine,' she spat.
Sherlock cocked an eyebrow - this was going to be interesting indeed. Not a loving woman then - a spiteful woman, a woman scorned, definitely the most dangerous kind.
'Go on, Mrs Hudson,' he gently prompted her.
'He cheated on me with a young nurse, a blond bimbo, pardon my French. I don't know what she saw in him, but money apparently makes even an old, disgusting, wrinkled man attractive, doesn't it?'
She leaned towards Sherlock, 'Mind you, we are not rich, maybe well-off, but definitely not rich. We own this house and rent a little flat in Florida. He must obviously have pretended otherwise, buying her fancy champagne and silly dresses, throwing our hard-earned money out of the window. She must have gotten a bit too demanding over time and so he got rid of her.'
'And what exactly do you want me to do…?'
Sherlock was fairly sure what was expected of him, but he wanted her to say it as he was certain she would - No more money wasted on the barristers for her husband, she wants proof, she wants closure and most importantly she wants revenge.
'I want you to ensure that he will never leave that prison again.'
She looked at him, calculating, taking in his frown, his clear intelligent eyes and his boldness - she was fairly sure now to have chosen the right man for her request, this Sherlock Holmes seemed cold and distant, with a quick, brilliant mind and he was certainly not going to question her motives.
'Don't worry, Mrs Hudson. I'm sure I can be of assistance to you,' Sherlock said and aimed his warmest smile at her.
'John, I'm back.' Sherlock slammed the front door shut behind him and stormed into the living room.
'I'm sorry, I'm late. I had a ….'
He fell silent mid-sentence and stopped in his tracks. The living-room was dark safe for a dim floor-lamp and the garish light from the telly. John was lying on their small sofa, curled up in a foetal position in order to cram his body onto the old, lumpy thing. The fingers of his right hand were curled tightly around his mobile phone. Sherlock felt a pang of guilt, he hadn't answered any of his messages, had even forgotten to check for new ones because his mind had been so occupied.
John was gently snoring and his face looked slack and utterly relaxed. Sherlock smiled - he shrugged out of his suit jacket, threw it over a chair and turned off the silently flickering telly. He walked over to John and kneeled down next to him. Gently he brushed his fingers through his hair, letting the straight, silky strands glide through his fingers. He leaned down and buried his nose in John's freshly washed hair, deeply inhaling his scent – It was essential for him to obtain this assurance of his presence, Sherlock needed to be aware of him with all his senses. His let his fingers softly follow a familiar trail over his forehead and sleep-warm cheeks.
'John' he whispered, trying to rouse him from no doubt well-deserved slumber. But not now! - They could sleep later, now was the time to talk to him, tell him all about the last hours, hold him.
'John, wake up - Wake up, love.'
John stirred and then opened his eyes, sat up and wrapped his arms around Sherlock in one fluid movement, 'Sherlock! Jesus! I was so worried. Where the fuck have you been?'
'Out on a case.'
Sherlock leaned into his embrace, basking in the much missed warmth and closeness of his John. John fairly melted into his body and trailed his hands down his back, gripping him tightly. He was overwhelmed by relief of having him back, alive, unharmed and the panic gradually subsided. In fact all this fear seemed almost ridiculous, now that he was holding Sherlock, feeling him, breathing him.
But all too soon Sherlock started fidgeting, he couldn't hold back, he was so excited, he simply had to tell him. He sat back on his heels, but unwilling to break contact completely he took John's hand.
'John, you know the website I sat up a few months ago? Well, now the first cases are coming in, that's why I was out. I had a very interesting meeting with an astounding elderly lady. I completely forgot about the time – I'm really sorry.'
He lightly kissed John, but then excitement got the better of him and he had to get up and started pacing the room, his hands flying through the air, his whole body speaking of excitement, eagerness, tension. He was fairly exuding enthusiasm and John was electrified to see him like that. He sat forward on the edge of the sofa and looked up at Sherlock expectantly, 'Tell me!'
'Her name is Mrs Hudson and her husband is on death-row in Florida. Killed a woman, apparently. Mrs Hudson wants me to ensure that he will never leave prison again. He cheated on her and she's not willing to spend her last money on those predators of barristers. She wants me to prove his guilt - Oh, John, this is going to be so much fun!'
'Sherlock!' John frowned in disbelief, 'You are aware that you talking about a man on death row? I have no doubt you will find proof of his guilt and help his wife. But fun? You really shouldn't talk about fun.'
Sherlock stopped pacing and turned to John, his face showing real concern.
'A bit not good, Sherlock.' John got up and walked over to him, 'I can see why you are so eager, I can even understand the intellectual challenge behind it, but don't forget you are talking about a human fate here.'
'Right, I see,' Sherlock said, but to be honest he didn't. He frowned, this wasn't the most important factor here, couldn't John observe? He tried again.
'John, don't you realise what this means to me?'
John wrapped his arms around Sherlock's waist and leaned his head against his chest. He listened to Sherlock's pounding heart and closed his eyes, enveloped in his warmth and his scent– since Sherlock had quit smoking, he always smelt slightly of lemons and dust and fresh linen, a mixture that was distinctly Sherlock and it meant home for John.
He inhaled deeply and mumbled against his shirt, 'I know how much this means to you and I'm very glad, I really am. But right now…' he lifted his head and nuzzled his nose against his slender pale neck. 'Right now, Sherlock I have a couple of other things on my mind.'
Sherlock chuckled, a low rumble deep inside his chest and he was well aware that this was one of the quickest ways to make John lose all restraint. John softly nipped a few times at his jaw, grazing his teeth over the skin and Sherlock lifted his head further to grant him access. This neck - tantalizing, elegant and strong - was one of the things John loved most about Sherlock's beautiful physique. Sherlock bent down to John and their mouths met in a deep and sensuous kiss, eager to make up for the past two weeks they had been separated.
Their lips parted, welcoming the other, getting to know again what had grown alien to a certain extent when they were apart – The past months had taught them that every time they came back together they had to reclaim their property, somehow had to get acquainted anew. It was frightening how quickly those little things could slip one's mind - smells, tastes, touches, sensations, moans - but on the other hand it offered them the chance to explore, to pleasure, to give and to take over and over again.
They did so now - tenderly and slowly - and although they would more often than not fight for dominance in their mundane life, playfully on some occasions, with underlying steel on others, they would never do so in those intimate moments when they found each other again. These were times to succumb to each other - for both of them.
The blueish light of the laptop cast an eerie glow on Sherlock's face. He was tapping furiously, putting together all the data he had accumulated in the last two hours. The clock at the bottom of the screen told him it was five o'clock in the morning.
John stirred in his sleep. His subconsciousness had alerted him that something was wrong – he blinked and tried to find his bearings. Sherlock! He sighed, but it didn't really surprise him to find Sherlock awake and working next to him in bed. When he got his teeth into something, a problem, an equation or now this case, he wouldn't rest until it was solved. Thank God the last months had brought his life everything that his overly active mind had been craving for so long - meaning, occupation, distraction. It was as if the personal happiness and contentment he found in living with John had opened up an array of opportunities for him.
'Sorry, I woke you love,' Sherlock said softly, smiling down on John. 'But now is the best time to access all prison and state police files.'
'It's okay. I'll get back to sleep –' John yawned, but then something odd struck him, 'What do you mean, access those files? Classified stuff? Please tell me that we're talking strictly legal here!'
'What do you think?' Sherlock grinned wickedly and continued typing.
'Jesus, I'd rather not know, Sherlock. Wouldn't be advisable for someone in my position to be living with a hacker. Knowingly, I mean.'
Sherlock snorted, 'Then all you need to know is that I picked up a few useful tricks while working for Mycroft. And once in a while they do indeed come handy.'
He tilted the screen of the laptop so that John could see, 'I found some very interesting things regarding Mr Gerald Hudson. Not even a high-profile barrister could possibly pick that evidence apart.'
He snorted derisively, 'John, the police over there made some stupid, stupid mistakes. I just had to go through all the evidence, the interviews, forensic reports, police statements with a fine comb. It's unbelievable how vacant some people are – So much stupid in one investigation! But I'm sure the clever detectives over there will appreciate my file of undisputable evidence which will appear in their inbox … now!'
He clicked the send button with a smile on his face that could only be described as smug. Carefully he placed the laptop on the night table and turned to John.
'And Mrs Hudson will be over the moon, no doubt.'
He was grinning happily, a veritable ear-to-ear-grin and John twined his fingers into his dishevelled curls and pulled him down towards him. Sherlock's eyes were swimming merely inches above his own gleaming with excitement and satisfaction.
'Done with the working now?' John adopted a stern look, but they both knew that it was put-on as they both realised that John was exhilarated Sherlock had finally found something to keep him occupied, excited and happy and if they were very lucky it might even turn into something earning him a living.
Sherlock leaned down and barely brushed his lips over John's, teasing him, hovering over his mouth, not going for a proper kiss immediately. He knew that John equally hated and loved this kind of teasing – So he went on playing with him, nipping at the corners of his mouth and planting firm little pecks just next to John's lips, purposefully avoiding them. A growl of frustration escaped John and Sherlock smiled.
'You don't like that, do you? Do you want me to kiss you? – Properly?'
John nodded and strained his head to catch those soft, full lips, but Sherlock tilted his head to the side and John's lips landed on his sharp cheekbone instead.
Another growl ,'Sherlock, I'm warning you …'
Sherlock cocked an amused eyebrow, 'You are now, aren't you? Well, what are you going to do about it, Dr John Watson?'
Sherlock looked down on John and tried to read his face, but John knew that in dealing with Sherlock in that mode, speed was of the utmost importance, so he sat up quickly and pushed hard against Sherlock's shoulders making him fall backwards onto the bed. He used this split-second of surprise and straddled him, pinning his wrists next to his head.
Panting he said, 'Sherlock, I told you before and I will tell you again: You should never tease a soldier.'
'Tease? That's not exactly what I had in mind, Captain John Watson,' Sherlock smirked.
John kept his wrists pinned down and leaned towards Sherlock's mouth to finally claim his lips. Tantalizingly slow Sherlock turned his head to the side, avoiding to be kissed.
'Oh no, you don't,' John growled and releasing Sherlock's wrists he grabbed his head with both hands and turned it towards him. They locked eyes for a moment before Sherlock lunged upwards and pressed his lips on John's. He finally kissed him – passionately - but he did so with his eyes open, something John had gotten used to and didn't mind. It was one of Sherlock's quirks – from time to time he would watch John when they were kissing, when they made love – it didn't mean he wasn't enjoying it or that he was detaching himself, no, he was catalogueing John's responses, enjoying the pleasure, the arousal he could provoke in him.
Sherlock was a skilful kisser, eliciting moans and gasps from John who had taught him everything about the art of kissing he knew. Sherlock of course had soon excelled him – much to John's delight who loved being kissed. Sometimes that was all they did as it was a tender means of sharing closeness and intimacy, no need to go all the way every time.
As they were kissing now Sherlock suddenly hesitated, confusion flickered across his face and a slight frown darkened his features.
Breaking their kiss, he said, 'John, when were you planning to tell me?'
John opened his eyes a bit, unwilling to leave that dreamy mood, 'Tell you? Tell you what?'
'That you've got your marching orders, obviously.'
'Sherlock, how the hell …? Oh, never mind.' John rolled off Sherlock and stared at the ceiling. He tiredly rubbed a hand over his face - Damn it, that's not the way I wanted it to happen.
He sighed and turned to Sherlock again. 'Sherlock, I wanted to tell you in a quiet moment. I didn't want to spoil the entire weekend so I would probably have told you on Sunday.'
'Now, that would've been convenient. When exactly? Ten minutes before your train leaves? Leaving us no opportunity to talk about it?'
Sherlock was furious and he made no attempt to hide it, he sat up and grabbed his pyjama bottoms and t-shirt.
'It's not like that, and you know it. I just wanted to find the right time to tell you.'
John lightly touched Sherlock's back who shrugged his hand off angrily. He dressed and stormed off into the direction of the living room.
'What are you doing, Sherlock?'
'Think. I need to think. Leave me alone, John.'
John sank back into the cushions – Now, that hadn't gone exactly as planned. Damn it! – But he knew better than to follow him. It would be completely useless to try and talk to him now. John bit his lips in frustration and his hands involuntarily clenched into fists - it was so hard for him not to go after Sherlock and calm him, soothe him, hold him. He wanted to cradle him to his chest and whisper in his ear that everything would be alright, that nothing could ever happen to him, nothing would ever separate them.
But John also knew that this would not be enough, that there could never be enough words, endearments or embraces to ease the panic in Sherlock's heart. He didn't believe it himself - And how could he offer Sherlock any comfort when exactly that gut-wrenching panic had filled John's own entire being ever since he had received his marching orders?
Chapter 9: Farewell
John is off to Afghanistan and they have to say goodbye - Sorry for all the sadness ...
26 September 2006 - London
'First of November.'
John walked up to Sherlock who stood at the open window looking down on the street. It was dawning, the day almost born, but the windows in the houses opposite were all dark. It was Saturday, the street not yet awake and oblivious to the drama going on in their flat. John gingerly touched Sherlock's shoulders, but he shrugged his fingers off with a slight twitch of his body.
Sherlock's arms were crossed defiantly in front of his chest, his right elbow propped on his left hand. He was gently swaying from side to side and nervously rubbing his fingers together, swirling them in front of his face. His whole posture spoke of agitation, and it was clearly meant to build a barrier between them.
'Sherlock,' John tried to reach out to him again, with words this time, 'Please let me explain … I didn't tell you immediately because I didn't want to spoil our weekend. I would have told you, of course I would - Just not now, not today … You must believe me.'
Sherlock scoffed, but didn't answer, and John continued talking because he wouldn't allow silence take up residence between them.
'I got my orders on Tuesday. We all did - And ever since then it was frantic madness at the base. An operation like that requires so much planning ahead, we virtually have to pack and ship a whole operating theatre. All eventualities need to be considered, we have to take all the supplies, meds, instruments. We need to get a complete medical ourselves, booster jabs …'
John trailed off when he noticed that Sherlock had become quite still. John gently curled his fingers around his shoulder and this time he allowed the touch.
'Sherlock, I'm sure everything will be fine …'
Sherlock suddenly twirled around, his face contorted by fury.
'How can you say that, John? Do you know how many British soldiers have been wounded or killed this year? Do you? Well, I do and I can tell you that the chance that something will go wrong is not negligible! So don't feed me that insincere childish comfort crap when it's simply – not - true!'
John was taken aback by Sherlock's fury, but even more so by the desperation behind all this anger that he vented at him.
'All right – All right - I won't, Sherlock. You're right, no one could ever give you a guarantee that nothing will happen to me. I'd bloody well take it if there was such a thing. But you must not allow fear to rule your thoughts because once you let that panic into your heart it will eat you alive and you will not be able to help me.'
John enveloped Sherlock's hand in his own, 'You know that I need your help, Sherlock. I need you on my side - I cannot go through this alone. Believe me, I'm frightened as well. It's not as if I am willingly invading the country, brandishing a machine gun, yelling like a crazed Rambo, happy to fight terrorists. I have no desire to save the world. I don't want to be a hero.'
This confession earned him an almost imperceptible upturning of one corner of Sherlock's mouth and John was heartened by this ghost of a smile.
'But I'm an army surgeon and I love what I do, and now it's part of my job to go to Afghanistan. I'd lie if I said I was happy about it and I would love to stay here with you, but I have to go.'
John could virtually feel the urge in Sherlock to run away, to simply turn his back on this conversation and to shut himself off from it, but they both knew there was no way out. There was no avoiding what lay ahead of them. He traced his thumb in little circling motions over Sherlock's warm hand and gently pulled him into an embrace. His body was unyielding, stiff, rejection apparent in every fibre of his being, but John didn't relent and caressed his back, his neck, weaving his fingers through his dark curls until he felt his body go limp and melt into his embrace.
'I will not lie to you, love,' John whispered, 'It's a dangerous mission and I will probably see live action. I will see horrendous things, mutilations, death. I might be injured …'
He broke off and closed his eyes to fight the fluttering fear in his chest. He knew that Sherlock felt his anxiety just as much because he tightened his grip and pressed his body against John's. Drawing a deep breath he tried to calm down.
'I can give you no guarantees. No, I can't do that – but, please Sherlock, don't turn away from me. We have to go through this together.'
'How long?' Sherlock's voice was low, choked with emotion.
'I don't know. It's an unlimited mission.'
A shudder went through Sherlock's body in response to this bleak answer.
'Will you be able to come home in between?'
'Yes. But it always depends on the situation. If it's critical there's no way for me to come back for leave.'
In that moment they both realized what John going away for an uncertain time meant for them, what strain it would put on their fresh relationship. What a challenge it presented for their lives – Despite what he had told Sherlock John felt panic now that he was confronted with his imminent departure, this life-changing moment. Even if he came out of it unharmed, what about the possible consequences for his life?
There had been courses on Afghan cultures, traditions, culture clashes and lapses to be avoided at all costs, but he guessed nothing could prepare you for the real thing, no one ever knew what might happen in exceptional circumstances.
What troubled him greatly was Sherlock's fragile constitution. He feared that he might let himself go, drift through life or even relapse should desperation get the better of him. Barely nine months ago John had found him here in this flat out on drugs. Since then he had been clean, but he was an addictive personality and there would always be danger nights and days for him. What gave John hope was that Sherlock could probably find solace in his new-found enthusiasm for his work.
'Sherlock, look at me,' John cupped his face and fixed his gaze on Sherlock's eyes, which usually were so vivid, piercing and superior, but now there was only sadness and despair.
'Sherlock, we will go through this time together and I'm sure we will be laughing about all our worries when it's over. 'He kissed him and whispered, 'I love you, Sherlock.'
Sherlock slightly recoiled, his face expressing confusion and hurt.
'Don't say it like that, John. I can't take it ... It sounds like a goodbye, like a parting gift. I know you do, but don't say it like that …'
'No! - Sherlock - It wasn't meant like that. No!' John urged him to believe, 'You know it wasn't.'
Sherlock nodded tiredly, once and then another time for good measure as if to assert the truth of this little motion and let his head sink on John's shoulder. John wrapped his arm around Sherlock's waist and gently turned him around to lead him back to their bedroom. Maybe they could find a bit more rest before they would set out to fight out the next round.
1 November 2006 – London
The day was grey, overcast and chilly, but not freezing. Occasionally cold rain would fall and add some glimmer to this dark day when lights were reflected in the wet surfaces. A cab took Sherlock and John to King's Cross Station. It offered them a few more moments of silence and relative privacy before John's departure. Sherlock sat huddled in one corner of the cab, staring outside at the familiar streets whooshing past. He saw, but didn't observe because his mind was filled with things he wanted to say, endearments he wanted to whisper, memories he wanted to share.
He glanced at John who sat next to him, close, barely touching. His chest constricted and he quickly looked away fixing his gaze on the window pane again. The reflection of John's profile was clearly visible and Sherlock could trust his feelings just enough to lose himself in this reflection. Involuntarily he sighed, but it came out more like a sob than a sigh and John turned to him.
Hearing his name was enough to crack his barely upheld resolve and he turned and embraced John, burying his face in his neck. His chest heaved with all the confusion and sadness that surfaced and broke free and his tears stained John's skin and his uniform jacket, but he couldn't care less. John weaved his fingers through his curls and leaned down to him, kissed his hair, his ear and then tilted his chin upwards and kissed the tears away from his face, one by one by one.
'Sherlock,' he whispered again, there wasn't much else to say.
Everything had been talked about, every fear dissected, every hope augmented, every vow of love renewed – what was left now was a raw feeling of loss and it was undisputable.
'King's Cross, mates,' the cabbie announced who had followed the little drama unfolding on the backseats attentively. Nothing unusual for him - Welcome to London, mate!
'Could you – um – could you leave us alone for a while, please?' Sherlock said in a very small voice.
'I don't know, mate. There are loads of fares waiting, innit? – I can't just hang around doing nothing, can I?'
'We'll pay you, don't worry -' Sherlock said through gritted teeth, 'Just get out! - Now!'
'Ta, mate! No problem.' The cabbie smirked and got out for a little chat and a fag – Strange blokes, those queers.
Sherlock closed his eyes for a moment – this was an absurd situation – but he knew he couldn't face saying goodbye to John under the eyes of nosy onlookers, not here in the cab with the cabbie and most certainly not on the platform with John's fellow soldiers and other passers-by.
It had to be here and it had to be now.
Sherlock leaned forward until his head hit John's chest. He exhaled to clear his nose and then he drew a deep, deep breath, drinking in John's scent. It was John's unique scent underlined by the strange smell of his uniform. Sherlock put his hand on his chest and gently rubbed his fingers over the rough fabric of John's uniform jacket. But all this wasn't enough, he needed more contact, as much contact as possible and he wrapped his arms around him, pulling him close, almost pulling him onto his lap.
Still with his eyes closed his lips sought John's neck on instinct and he licked over the soft skin, tasting him, his teeth biting, his lips sucking, drawing blood. They were in a cab, for God's sakes, in public, hundreds of people milling around them and he couldn't do anything else, but his instincts told him to give him this. His mind intending to battle those instincts told him it was childish, something a hormone-driven teenager would do when he was marking a conquest. But he couldn't bloody care less - All he wanted to do now was mark him, mar his skin, leave him something - a memory, an injury, a distinctive mark.
John felt the almost feral drive behind Sherlock's action and gave into it, he tilted his head backwards and gave him access, let him reign. He would take any sarcastic remark, any witty banter from his fellow soldiers regarding these obscene lovebites in good grace, would wear them like a badge of honour. He would treasure them until they faded.
After a minute Sherlock relented and John felt the anger and passion that had come so suddenly leave him. Sherlock opened his eyes and kissed the mottled skin, gently, ashamed of what he had done. He sank against his chest, panting. John softly stroked over Sherlock's back, slowly, consolingly.
'I love you, John,' Sherlock mumbled against his uniform jacket and John knew then that this was their goodbye, that Sherlock would not come with him into the station.
He closed his eyes because tears welled up and he didn't want to cry, no weakness now - he wanted to be strong for him. He nodded, it was a gesture of reassurance meant more for himself because Sherlock couldn't see it.
'I love you too, Sherlock. Never ever forget that I do.'
John leaned back to take one last long look at Sherlock. He let his gaze roam across Sherlock's face, those eyes, those cheekbones, those lips. With a gesture of infinite tenderness he smoothed some unruly curls off his forehead before he embraced and kissed him one more time. He knew he couldn't take a long goodbye, so he grabbed his bag and got out of the cab. Before he closed the door he glanced back at Sherlock who attempted a lopsided smile which didn't quite reach his eyes. John tried to smile back, then closed the door with a soft thud.
Sherlock's eyes followed John's way to the entrance of the station, but when he was almost gone he couldn't resist the pull any longer and pushed out of the cab to storm after him.
'John!' he screamed, but John didn't hear and he almost lost sight of him because a full busload of Chinese tourists suddenly swarmed the pavement in front of him. He ducked them, 'John, wait!' And this time John heard him and turned around, his face lighting up with a surprised smile. He dropped his heavy bag and wrapped his arms around Sherlock. They kissed goodbye, in public, in earnest, tenderly and seriously.
When they finally broke their embrace Sherlock pressed his forehead against John's and whispered, 'Come back to me.'
'I will, Sherlock – Of course I will.'
John tenderly kissed him one last time and walked away. The indistinguishable mass of commuters, tourists and travellers swallowed John immediately and Sherlock remained alone on the wet pavement in front of King's Cross Station.
Note: The cabbie's use of the term 'queers' is of course derogative and represents his opinion and in no way mine
Chapter 10: Adjustment
New Year's Eve - It's their first anniversary and they have to spend it apart. It's hard to come to terms with their separation and Sherlock doesn't cope very well ...
31 December 2006 - London
'Damn it, John.'
Sherlock was pacing the living room, fairly treading a path into the wooden floor. His fingers were clasped in front of his face as he was covering the length of the living room – incessantly and increasingly fierce. His body was slightly contorted owing to the fact that his gaze was fixed on his phone on the coffee table, his eyes barely leaving the display, lest he would miss the illumination indicating an incoming call before the phone actually rang.
'Call me, John – Come on, John! Please!'
It was past ten already and John was more than an hour overdue which was highly unusual as he always tried to call between eight and nine in the evening. Afghanistan was roughly four hours ahead, so John could always be fairly sure to be off duty by then. But no call so far and this delay aggravated Sherlock's already tense condition. His mind went through all kinds of scenarios - he saw John chatting with a fellow soldier forgetting the time, he saw him exhausted in the operating theatre with no chance for a break, he saw him held hostage by terrorists, he saw him dumped in a ditch, unconscious and bleeding.
Sherlock growled with frustration. He stopped pacing and sat down on the sofa, fixing his piercing eyes on the phone, hypnotizing the inanimate object, willing the blasted thing to ring – Come! On! Now! - He kept it up for a full two minutes before he let his head fall forward and sighed. He was exhausted, drained - This waiting for a call every evening made him sick -bodily sick – it felt like waves of nausea washing over him. He closed his eyes for a moment, biting back the nauseous feeling rising in his throat once again.
It certainly didn't help that he could not eat or drink while he was waiting, let alone find other distraction as he could barely concentrate on something else - Oh, he tried - but when he knew the arranged hour was drawing near, it became very difficult indeed to distract his mind. He knew that once he had spoken to John calm would flood him for a while and he would eat then, work and live in relative contentment until anxiety would come back with a vengeance. Those blasted emotions - disquiet, insecurity and anxiety - were constant companion of his life now. When he looked at it from his usual rational perspective he knew that he had to learn to cope and live with them if he didn't want to go under.
Sherlock looked up from the phone and let his gaze flicker through the room – he was acutely aware that he had to pass the time somehow until John would finally call, he simply had to find distraction now. What could he do? What? His gaze lingered a moment on their overflowing book shelf before it moved on to his desk and quickly darted back to the shelf.
The books! Yes, that has helped before! - What if I arranged the books in order of purchase date? That would be a neat way of cataloguing them!
He quickly got up, elated to be finally doing something, crossed the room and kneeled down in front of the walnut shelf, the phone placed neatly next to him on the floor. He narrowed his eyes and bit his lower lip when he looked at the books and the way they were currently arranged. What had he been thinking? The filing system he saw in front of him and which he had worked out three days ago while waiting for John to call, was exceedingly dull. A boring and ordinary alphabetical order starting with Achebe, Chinua and not surprisingly ending with Zola, Emile.
He scoffed – Now that was even duller than the one he had worked out last week: Then his idea had been to arrange the numerous volumes according to their publication date, working his way up from Shakespeare's Macbeth to Julian Barnes' Arthur and George. Sherlock let his gaze wander over the vast number of books he and John had accumulated during their lives and satisfied with the sheer mass of them he nodded to himself - Yes, it would take him at least two hours to work his way through the books and apply his newly devised system.
He would have to draw on his knowledge of different periods of his life, delve back into his childhood, his adolescence, his times as a student to remember the date of purchase or how they were acquired ... Sherlock grabbed a book at random and suddenly hesitated, his hand hovering in mid-air. He sat back on his heels. Maybe this was hitting a bit too close to home – maybe this wasn't a very good idea – He shook his head as if to berate himself - No, definitely a stupid, stupid idea.
How could he do this when it actually meant reliving awful moments, when it meant reliving the pain he'd felt over John? - He would virtually open a Pandora's box. He looked at the book that he had grabbed from the shelf and was holding absent-mindedly in his hand. He turned it over to read the cover – Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go. How odd that it was this one that he had inadvertently chosen - Sherlock smiled when he remembered how John had given it to him as a present last summer. At least that was a good memory – one he liked to relive.
They had been in Waterstone's, browsing through their favourite departments for hours, losing themselves in other people's fictional lives, flipping through new medical publications or chemistry compendiums and in the evening John had given him this wonderful novel. Sherlock really appreciated this story, he could somehow relate to Ruth and Kath and Tommy – their difficulties with life, with their destination in life, their difficulties with normal human interactions.
How typical of John to give him a novel. Presented with a choice Sherlock would probably have gone for a psychological textbook. He gently caressed the cover and put it back on the shelf.
There must still be another way of arranging the books ... Why not arrange them according to their colour? – Sherlock snorted and shook his head unbelievingly - What a childish idea! – But as long as it helped him pass the time, as long as it distracted him, colours would be it, thank you very much!
He set out to pull all the books from the shelf and commenced piling them - blues, greens, yellows and of course the reds, the white ones and the blacks. He was weighing two hefty volumes of Marlowe's plays with a garish orange cover in his hands, unable to decide whether to put them with the yellows or the reds when his peripheral vision picked up the illumination of the display of his phone. He let the books tumble from his hands and snatched the phone in the exact moment when it rang for the first time.
And then the connection broke.
Sherlock cursed under his breath, and tried to keep calm. This happened all the time, it was not unusual, and normally John would call back immediately.
He stared at the display.
His skin started to tingle, he felt impatience take over and he started pacing again to get some of the tension out of his body.
- Come on! – Come! - On! –
The phone rang again.
'Sherlock ... I'm so ... from the US base ... five injured sold ...'
The connection was shoddy, swallowing large chunks of the sentences, but Sherlock found that he didn't mind very much, so flooded was he by relief to finally hear John's voice.
' ... are you doing ... '
John was saying and Sherlock answered what he assumed had been his question.
'I'm fine, John. I was just - um - working on a case. A really intriguing double murder. The police are clueless as usual, but I have made the acquaintance of a decently capable inspector at the Yard, called Lestrade. He will call me next time when he needs help, I made sure of that.'
There was some static in the line and Sherlock thought the connection might have broken again when John's voice came back, but fainter than before.
' ... interesting, Sherlock ... glad you're occupied ... New Year's Eve ... Mycroft ... our anniversary, love ... '
'Yes, John. Our anniversary, I'm aware ... I'll stay at home, I'm really not in the mood to go out and see Mother or Mycroft. I'll probably do some work on my website and try to catch up on some sleep,' Sherlock paused a moment, 'John, I miss you so much. I wish you were here ... I ... '
Crackling was the only answer he got and Sherlock closed his eyes, exhausted by this situation.
' ... too Sherlock ... love you ... raise my glass to you in an hour. Will you do that ...'
'Yes, I will. Of course ... I will greet you through the stars, John. I ... '
The dial tone indicated that the connection was completely broken now and he didn't know if John had heard him.
'I'll just pretend you are here,' Sherlock said quietly to the empty room.
He glanced at his watch, it was almost half past eleven, a bit more than half an hour before this year would give way to another, before one more day would have passed and he would have crawled a bit nearer to having John back in his life. He poured himself a drink, a good measure of a smooth single malt whisky and resumed the painstaking work of colour-coding their books.
31 December 2006 – Afghanistan – British Army Base
John put the phone down on the table and quickly got up, he didn't want to make the others who were queuing outside the little cubicle to call their loved ones wait any longer than necessary. Although it was late at night, the queue was substantial owing to the special date.
He opened the door, 'Next, please. Don't cry your little hearts out and don't be too long.'
This feeble attempt of a joke earned him some sniggering and snorts. He donned his beret and straightened his uniform jacket, it just wouldn't do to present an untidy appearance to lower ranks. Walking along the line someone suddenly tugged at his sleeve.
'Hiya John! Called the wife?'
'Steven! Hi – yes, called – um – my loved one.'
There was a moment of awkward silence.
'Why don't we have a quick drink in the mess when I'm finished, John? Say goodbye to the old year, welcome the new one. You are off-duty, aren't you?'
'Yes, as long as there is no emergency.'
John hesitated, he'd rather have a bit of time for himself after this frankly stressful night and he was absolutely knackered, but this Steven was a decent bloke, one of the other doctors, and a bit of company would probably not come amiss.
'Hell! Yeah - Why not – I'll just go for a quick stroll and then I'll meet you there!'
'Right, John!' and Steven winked at him before he shuffled a bit forward in the queue.
John went outside and glanced at his watch in the dark night surrounding the base, it was early morning here, almost midnight in London and his thoughts were entirely with Sherlock. While walking through the dark night John tried to conjure up his face. As much as he loved this remarkable face when he was laughing or sneering or berating somebody or the way his lovely lips moved when he was rattling off his remarkable deductions, this wasn't what his heart was longing for now. Now he chose to conjure up his relaxed face, his sleeping face, the face he didn't have any control over – He wanted to think back to the way he had looked the night before John had left for Afghanistan.
That night John had fought hard to stay awake because he had wanted to memorise every tiny particle of his face, his skin, the sharp angles and hollows, the shadows. He had stared at him and when this hadn't been enough anymore he had ghosted his fingertips over the outlines of his face like a blind man, etching every minuscule detail into his memory.
And, right enough John could see him quite clearly now and that made him smile.
He walked for a bit, Sherlock's face floating in the darkness in front of him, but he couldn't go far, he had to stick close to the barracks, there was no way he could leave the compound. In the eight weeks he had already spent here, he had found a spot or two where he would find relative peace and solitude. He sat down on a rock not too close to the perimeter fence and peered into the darkness. He felt a slight unease, but didn't pay it much heed as it had become a constant companion, a welcome one really because it helped to stay alert.
He fished a cigarette from his crumpled packet and lit it. After so many years of abstinence smoking had become his guilty pleasure here. He took a deep drag and savoured the sharp taste of the tobacco, for the umpteenth time making a mental note to quit this vice again, but he knew it was useless as he needed it as a kind of crutch. After sitting there a while, quietly smoking and enjoying the peace of this moment, he glanced at his watch and found that it was time to return inside and join Steven as promised - He stumped out his cigarette and looked up into the clear dark sky, sparkling with stars. It was somehow heartening that above him there was actually the same sky as the one Sherlock saw when he looked up into the light-polluted night in London. John quietly chuckled - Well, sort of.
He got up with a grunt and walked back to the mess. It was noisy and fuggy inside, lots of soldiers gathered to have something to drink, not overdoing it of course, this was an army base after all, but still enough to lend the last night of this year a certain festivity. It was kind of strange - 2007 had already started here, but they all waited for midnight in Greenwich Mean Time, unwilling to ignore that fragile connection to what was their home.
John glanced around, looking for Steven. He glimpsed him sitting in the back at a small table and saw him motioning for him to come over.
'John, over here!' Steven cheerfully pointed to a full pint of lager next to his own already half-drunk glass.
'Cheers, mate,' John sat down and gulped down a large amount of his beer at once which made Steven chuckle appreciatively. John sat the glass down with a thump and smiled at him.
'Did you catch the wife, Steven? Everything okay?'
'Yeah – Thank God. They are always waiting for me to call. It's awful for them. I imagine it's quite hard that they can't contact us and always have to wait for us to call. Excruciating, that' what it is ... my wife certainly hates it, keeps nagging me about it all the time – But there's nothing I can do, is there?'
John grunted his approval.
'How's your wife taking it, John?'
'Ah ... the same, basically. Feels the same.'
John buried his face in his beer again, unsure why he had said that. He took a sip and noisily clearing his throat he asked.
'And the kids? How are they coping?'
'Oh, all right. I mean, they're really still too small to notice much. It's the wife who bears the brunt. She's the one who has to cope with everything at the home front. But she manages fine, she's strong. And she knew what lay ahead when she married a soldier!'
'Right,' John glanced at his watch again, it was midnight in London.
Steven noticed John's glance and mimicked the motion, 'Midnight at home! Let's raise our glass to our families.'
He raised his glass and said, 'To Emily, Sean and Sophie. Happy New Year!'
John raised his glass as well and without thinking he said, 'To Sherlock!'
They clinked glasses and drank to the New Year and their loved ones. Steven carefully put down his glass on the table and played around with it a bit, dragging it over the smooth surface of the table.
'Sherlock? That's a very unusual name.'
John hesitated for a second, but then he took heart and said, 'Yes, it is. It's an unusual name for a very unusual man.'
Steven raised an eyebrow, but didn't respond otherwise, so John went on.
'Sherlock Holmes. He's my partner. We live together and he takes it very hard.'
'Yes – They do, don't they?' Steven said, smiling openly.
And that was his only reaction – there was no reserve, no change in his attitude towards John, no snide remark. John was surprised how thankful he was for that and relaxed. This Steven proved to be interesting, amiable and open-minded. John was astonished that he felt relieved that someone knew about Sherlock and that he might have found someone to talk to in the future.
John smiled back at him, 'A happy New Year to you too, Steven!'
01 January 2007 - London
'John, here's to you!'
Sherlock raised his tumbler when the nearby church bells started to chime midnight and the cheering and singing in the streets started. He had no desire to be part of the festivities so he closed the window and turned off the lights in the living room. He returned to his place at the window for a moment though, and let his forehead sink against the cold window pane. He watched his neighbours coming out of their houses, cheerful, inebriated, without a worry, clueless.
Sherlock downed the last of his whisky and let his hand slowly sink downwards, the tumbler still dangling between his fingers.
John, come back to me, that's all I wish for. I don't care for anything else, just this, just do this for me
He glanced down at the empty tumbler, but decided against another drink and set it down on the coffee table. There was no way he would find sleep now so he sat down in front of his desk and opened his laptop. He didn't bother to turn the light on again, he liked working with the eerie blueish light emanating from the screen.
He accessed his site The Science of Deduction and checked for new messages – His heart actually skipped a beat when his saw the little icon indicating 21 New Messages in his inbox. His site had proven to be a huge distraction for him and he loved puzzling over the questions his followers or sometimes even clients posted. Last week a case had brought him into contact with Inspector Lestrade from Scotland Yard. He had followed the case his team had been working on and couldn't resist the urge to show them the error of their ways. A few texts to the inspector and the case had been history. Lestrade had been in contact, had grudgingly acknowledged his help – and Sherlock was sure he would hear more from him in the future.
He worked his way through the new messages, some of the problems presented to him were so easy to crack that he got slightly irritated, but there was one particular enquiry that made him forget everything - time, place and worries - and when he looked up from the screen the next time, New Year's Day was already dawning. Sherlock yawned and stretched his back, loosening the cramped neck muscles. If John were here he would see to it, massaging his cramped shoulders, gently easing the pain away.
Sherlock closed his eyes, trying to fight the wave of longing that flooded his body. He slowly exhaled, willing his heart to calm down, to accept, to adapt. He opened his eyes again and glanced at the little clock on the screen, it said 7.38 am. He had been working through the entire night. He saved the file he had been working on and shut down the computer.
Tiredly he got up and slinked over to the sofa, slumping down on it. He was too tired to care about getting undressed. Folding his long legs onto it he grabbed something from the back of the sofa. It was a beige cable knit jumper that John had left behind and Sherlock wrapped it around his shoulders and his neck. Some nights this was the only way he would find rest, on the lumpy sofa, cradling one of John's garments closely to his chest.
It would help him find sleep now, he was certain of it.
Sherlock buried his nose deeply in the wool and inhaled the remnants of John's scent that still clung to it. He snuggled closer down into the cushions of the sofa and slowly drifted into sleep guarded by the first sunbeams of the new year breaking through the windows.
Thank you all so much for the positive feedback. I really appreciate all your comments and kudos ... Please keep it up! JJ
Chapter 11: Weakening
Sherlock finds contentment and distraction in his work, but John is feeling more and more restless. As a result they are slowly growing apart ...
23 August 2007 - London
It was summer and London was basking in the fiery glow of a rare heat wave. Sherlock, though, walked through this heat unaffected because something had changed compared to the past bleak winter and the rainy spring. Sherlock was experiencing happiness.
He was happy because he had been summoned to a crime scene, to a particular gruesome crime scene in a green residential street in Hampstead Heath.
He was happy because he was occupied, because his mind had been offered a riddle to mull over. Something had been presented to him that was really worth his attention.
He was happy because he knew that he excelled in what he did and he was enjoying to show others where their train of thought had derailed and which tracks they should have taken instead.
He was happy because this incident wasn't the first of this kind. In fact it happened with increasing regularity, in the past six months Sherlock had been called to at least a dozen cases. Inspector Lestrade had called for his aid in all these instances and he had been more than delighted to assist in every single one. It was an arrangement that suited Sherlock fine, although his frankly arrogant and grandiloquent demeanour had made sure that even after such a short time there were several people at the Yard who downright refused to work with him. Sherlock himself wasn't bothered by their hostility, if they weren't able to work professionally it was better for them to steer clear of him.
Working for Lestrade had a few welcome side effects. It brought him contentment, what with work being a steady presence in his life now and not only a fleeting insubstantial guest. It helped him greatly to find structure in his daily life, it helped him to cope and it helped him to fill the emptiness left behind by John.
Sherlock peered closely at the woman lying sprawled over the sofa in her living room, his small rectangular magnifying glass showing him the burst veins in her eyes in vivid detail. He frowned – She must have fought her attacker ferociously. He checked her hands to look for confirmation of his theory.
Yes, cuts and scratches – defense injuries – her fingers and fingernails ?– scratched as well, two, no three broken fingernails - recently manicured, hair freshly cut and dyed - expensive tailored suit –
He sniffed, a classy perfume was just about discernible through the overlying smells of violent death. He glimpsed a flimsy black bra underneath the jacket and nothing else. He quirked an eyebrow.
'Got anything, Sherlock?' Lestrade was eager to hear what this astonishing young man had to add to his investigation.
'Not much - She knew her attacker and I'd say it was a straight forward domestic, judging by the way she was found and no sign of a forced entry. There are two glasses of red wine on the table, one knocked over. Perpetrator must have panicked, and conveniently left their DNA behind, on the glass obviously. So, not a premeditated murder, but a crime of passion. Most likely a lover's tiff gone horribly wrong. No need to look for the husband …'
'Husband? How do you know she was married?'
'Distinctive tan line on her right ring finger, she must have taken off her wedding ring recently. Not for her husband, obviously, so a lover it is. More evidence for that is the frankly racy underwear that we can glimpse beneath the jacket. Look for her lover and you've got the murderer.'
Sherlock looked at Lestrade, smiling smugly – and the inspector offered him the satisfaction of appearing suitably impressed - but not entirely.
'The lover - right – Well, the clues were all there - Even our lot could have found that.'
He sighed, there must be more to be had from Sherlock Holmes, surely that could not be the end of it? He would never be able to justify calling him in again – To be honest, with that result he would be the laughing stock of his department.
'Maybe you could be a bit more specific. Any ideas as to where we can find him?'
Sherlock turned back to the victim and searched the pockets of her pinstripe suit jacket. He fished out stubs of cinema tickets, a chit of a fancy restaurant and the ticket of a car park. He checked the dates on the paper scraps – The cinema tickets were old, but the ticket from the car park and the chit matched the assumed date of the murder. He handed them over to Lestrade.
'Ask the waiters at the restaurant. I'm sure they will be able to tell you that she has been there with her lover. Oh – and tell your people that they are looking for a woman.'
'A woman?' Lestrade was incredulous, 'How the hell do you know it's a woman?'
'It's obvious, isn't it?'
'It's not obvious to me!'
'Well – The victim is not a very feminine woman, in fact she wears clothes that are distinctly masculine. These clothes are expensive, these clothes are rarely worn, so saved for special occasions. Apparently she likes to bring out her masculine side once in a while. Could be for a male lover, of course, but the signs clearly point to the fact that she was here with a woman. Also, the MO has a distinctive feminine flavor. A knife! The murderer used the fruit knife because it was handy. By the way, it can be found underneath the chair. A man would have used his hands, his sheer force, but not her. She stabbed her in a passionate frenzy– five, ten times – and the victim used her hands to defend herself.'
'I still don't see why it is a woman,' Lestrade said stubbornly.
Sherlock sighed, 'It's because you see, but don't observe! Just look! The murderer broke one of her long fingernails during the fight. There –'
He pointed to a pink fingernail embedded in the victim's hair, barely visible in the brunette curls.
'The victim has short, sensible nails and no sign of nail varnish. Can't be hers then, can it?'
He raised his eyebrows in Lestrade's direction clearly indicating his exasperation with the level of incompetence he had to put up with.
'Why didn't my men see this?' Lestrade ran a hand over his face and sighed. 'Anderson! Now!'
Crime scene investigator Anderson took his time before he came leisurely strolling into the room, his asinine face clearly expressing what he thought of the stranger allowed amidst them. This Sherlock Holmes who seemed to pop up at his crime scenes on a more or less regular basis was a real pain in the neck.
'Anderson. Did you examine the victim closely? Did you bag all the evidence?' Lestrade's voice was friendly, eerily so.
'Of course. You know I did. I know my job.'
'Do you? Well, how come that you missed the one vital clue which Mr Holmes had the honour to point out?' Lestrade bellowed and Anderson hunched his shoulders in an attempt to ward off this verbal attack.
'Do your work! Now!'
Lestrade stormed out of the living room and Anderson fixed his cutting gaze on the smirking Sherlock.
'Get out, Holmes! I don't want you contaminating my crime scene any longer!' Anderson snarled.
'As you please, Anderson. I'd never dare standing in the way of a true professional.'
Sherlock nodded a greeting to the glowering Anderson and left this bundle of incompetence to his own devices. It was obvious to everybody who cared to look that there was a certain spring to his step – Unmistakably indicating that Sherlock Holmes was a happy and content as he could be in that very moment.
23 August 2007 –Afghanistan – British Army Base
'John? - John, I have to tell you about today.' Sherlock sounded excited, like a little child eager to share an amazing moment. John could hear his exaltation – it travelled all the way from London to Afghanistan - and it made him smile.
'Tell me, love.'
'Lestrade summoned me to a murder inquiry today and I can't begin to describe how thrilling it was to dive into the mind of a murderer, to read the clues she had left behind at the crime scene, to observe the details, to deduce. It turned out to be a crime of passion – Oh, John - love is such a vicious motivator, much more than hate. And along the way I made one of Lestrade's colleagues look a real idiot. The level of incompetence in that man is unsurmountable – John, you should've been there!'
John's heart clenched, yes, he should have been there – he should always be there, with Sherlock, at home, where he belonged. This blasted feeling had been his companion for quite a while now and had taken on an almost overpowering dimension in the last few weeks. This homesickness, this longing for Sherlock's body and mind and this feeling of utter emotional depravation weakened him. He wanted nothing more than being with Sherlock, he wanted to go home and he didn't know for how much longer he would be able to take being separated from him.
Sherlock's voice lapped against his ear, 'John? Are you still there? – John?'
'Yes – Yes, I am here. It's just … to hear you're so excited and to listen to your voice, but not being able to see your face, to hold you, touch …'
He broke off to choke back the emotions that were stifling his throat. He couldn't pinpoint the exact moment when the tables had been turned. All those months it had always been him to uphold morale, to comfort Sherlock, but somehow he couldn't bring himself to be strong anymore. He was exhausted, drained – A few horrendous incidents in the last weeks had shaken him to the core, had rattled his resolve, had weakened his belief in the just cause - and missing Sherlock with every fibre of his being ... well ...
'Sherlock, I think I can't take it any longer … I …' he whispered.
'Love, don't … please … don't be sad,' Sherlock was quick to reassure, but he sounded surprised and there was also insecurity, 'I … I don't know what to say, but you know that I'm here for you, we can talk every night, we …'
'I know … but for fuck's sake, that's not enough! I need you. I need to feel you … I honestly think I can't go on …'
He fell silent, he really didn't want to appear so weak, to whine and whimper like a little child. What good did it do? He was just dragging Sherlock down with him into this bottomless pit. He sighed resignedly.
'Look, Sherlock – I'm sorry. I spoiled it, didn't I? You were telling me about your day and I just keep on whining.'
'No, you didn't. I'm sure it's hard for you. I understand. I really do …'
When John heard Sherlock utter these universal terms of comfort, it was as if a haze descended on him and he screwed his eyes shut. His thoughts drifted back to what Sherlock had told him a minute ago and he was astonished how much he resented it. He couldn't believe that Sherlock seemed to enjoy cruelty, that he loved diving into a killer's mind and didn't shy away from blood and gore – it just didn't sit right with John, he somehow couldn't take it –
'John? Did you hear me? I said I really understand …'
'How can you? You are not here!' John suddenly snapped, 'You don't know what real horrors I have to see every day! I see children mutilated by landmines. I see soldiers who have horrendous bullet wounds, I see what typhoid and malaria does to people. I see soldiers losing their mind. I don't find pleasure in that. You are safe in your pathetic little world and you just play with danger. I am NOT SAFE! And I have no choice! You have no idea what I'm going through, so don't pretend you do!'
This outbreak was greeted with silence – and John feared for a moment that Sherlock had hung up on him. He let his head sink on his chest and closed his eyes. What was this war doing to him? What? What was it doing to them?
'Jesus - I'm sorry, Sherlock … I didn't …' he whispered.
John could hear the hurt in that single word and fear started to flutter inside his chest. What had possessed him to talk like that? What?
'I don't know why I said that … I … I am tired and …'
'Yes, John. I see …'
But John heard that Sherlock's voice had gone cold, the usual softness reserved for their precious conversations was gone.
'I think it's better not to talk about it now. I … Let's talk tomorrow, John.'
'Right. You're right ... That's probably best. Honestly, Sherlock - I'm so sorry …'
John listened, craving for more, for a little something, a kind word that would tell him that nothing had changed between them, but all he heard was some distant crackling.
'Good night, love,' he finally said.
'Good night, John.'
John ended the call and buried his head in his hands. What had he done? What had he been thinking? Surely it wasn't Sherlock's fault that their realities didn't match at the moment? Their lives were completely different – or were they?
Sherlock was seeking danger because it distracted him, John was submitted to danger and he barely endured it.
He felt very strongly that he couldn't go on like that, this suffering, those constant threats from the outside. All of that had changed him, it had changed his attitude, it had changed his outlook on life – And it had to stop.
There must be something he could do – Something, anything -
If he didn't want to lose what was dear to him something had to happen – Soon.
01 September 2007 - Afghanistan – British Army Base
John was busy catching up on the inevitable paper work that accompanied each and every step he did as an army doctor here at the base. Whether he was stitching up a cut or injecting yet another booster jab, everything had to be recorded meticulously. Steven and John referred to it as the curse of their profession as it literally soaked up hours of every week. All the doctors had decided to take turns in bearing the brunt of it and this week it had fallen on John.
He had been sitting in their office for a good two hours now and cursed under his breath as he filled in yet another computer form. The door to the small doctor's office opened and Steven poked his head around it. When he saw John's miserable face he guffawed and observed good-humouredly, 'Looking at you one might think the world has come to an end and you're the one sentenced to wrap up the remaining paper work.'
'That's exactly what it bloody feels like.'
John stared at the screen where the cursor had mysteriously disappeared because this bloody system was slower than a bloody snail and took bloody forever to process their data.
'Jesus! I can't believe it! What the fuck is this? How are we supposed to work with shit like that,' John almost screamed in frustration.
Steven frowned in surprise – he knew John had a temper, but he hadn't lost it over such a trivial thing as a slow computer before.
'What's the matter, John?' Steven stepped into the office and closed the door behind him.
John sighed, 'I don't know – but I feel that I can't stand much more of this.' He waved his hand about, vaguely indicating the computer, the office, the army base, his life.
'I see,' Steven sat down opposite John. He peered at him enquiringly, John looked pale beneath the tan he had acquired in the last months and the worry lines around his eyes were more pronounced.
'How's Sherlock, John?'
John looked up at Steven, how typical of him to see right through him and to get down to the heart of the matter. That was one of his qualities – he was a quiet, honest man, a very good friend. John sat back in his chair and faced him directly.
'I snapped at him repeatedly in the last days. I just couldn't help myself – He told me about his life in London and I felt that it had nothing to do with me. It irritated me like hell that he seemed so content and at the same time he was so alien, like someone I only knew fleetingly. I fear that he's slipping out of my grasp. It's as if we don't connect anymore – If I don't speak face to face with him soon, I … ' his breath hitched in his throat, 'I fear that I'm going to lose him.'
'Yes –There's always that possibility,' Steven said bluntly and sat forward. When he spoke his voice was insistent, his words simple. 'John, you have to go home for a few days. It won't do trying to clear everything over the phone. You haven't been home for more than nine months, John. You need to go!'
'But how could I? You will be leaving in two weeks and your replacement hasn't arrived yet. There's no way they will let me go home now.'
'Listen, John. Why don't I stay a week longer? After all, it doesn't really matter as it is the end of my deployment and I have been home two months ago. I'll stay the extra week and you go home and see Sherlock. Work out everything.'
John stared at Steven, he was awed by this offer, 'No, Steven – I can't accept that. Your family is waiting for you. Your wife, the kids …'
'You can, John. And you will accept. I really want you to go.'
Steven smiled at his friend who had been moody and sad for the last weeks. He wanted to give him this week at home, it would be his parting gift.
John smiled back at Steven, 'Cheers, mate. I'd love to go home.'
Steven was a true friend and he made everything sound so simple, just go home and everything will be fine – John prayed with all his heart that it would be just that. Steven and John had gone through so much in the last months. Two doctors - working hand in hand in the operating theatre - and outside their professional realm, there was a lot more that bound them together. A similar upbringing, shared values and the belief that it was actually a good cause that had brought them here.
Living in a war zone was a truly frightening and exceptional circumstance and it accelerated everything, intensified feelings – which explained why Steven knew so much about John and his life after such a relatively short time and why he was able to tell him that going home to Sherlock was the only thing that would help him.
Steven glanced at his watch, it was time for the next minor operation. Nothing serious, just a broken arm. He got up and walked around the desk to John. They embraced and it didn't feel awkward because it was an embrace fuelled by friendship and a deep understanding of each other.
'Thank you so much, Steven. I can't tell you how much this means to me.'
'Always willing to help,' Steven said with a wink. He patted John on the back as a goodbye and left the stuffy little office. John sighed and turned his attention back to the screen again.
'Bloody fucking hell!'
The cursor was still not blinking, the computer still processing data which meant that he couldn't fill in any more of those useless forms right now. He got up to fetch a cup of tea from the staff room – maybe there would even be time for a quick fag. He felt as if a weight had been lifted from his heart and for the first time in more than a week he was looking forward to speaking to Sherlock tonight.
01 September 2007 – London
Sherlock snatched the ringing phone from the coffee table.
'Sherlock! - I'm coming home.'
'Oh, John ... this is ...'
Sherlock didn't know what to say, emotions flooded him and he closed his eyes trying to get a grip. How often had he imagined hearing those words, how much had he wished for them in the past nine months.
'John, when? When will you come?'
'In two weeks. I'll be in London on the 15th.'
'Oh God! ... John?'
'It's good ... so good.'
Sherlock nodded to reassure himself. Yes, it was and everything would be fine now.
Chapter 12: Readjustment
John is on leave and they are finally together again - But there is a lot to talk about ...
15 September 2007 - London
'Sherlock, you have no idea how angry I was with you …'
John pointed at finger at Sherlock, his face vivid with emotion. He started pacing the room, trying to channel his agitation into movement. Sherlock stayed where he was, close to the door, and fixed his gaze on John, surprise flickering in those piercing eyes. He frowned and a deep furrow above his nose indicated his incomprehension.
'How angry I still am,' John added and came to a halt in front of Sherlock.
They locked eyes and John held his gaze unwaveringly, he knew it was time to get down to the heart of the matter. He had been in London for two hours – After Sherlock had met him at the station they had had a quick lunch at a Thai restaurant around the corner before heading home. Their reunion had been much anticipated and, yes, wonderful, but there had been a shadow hanging over them that maybe only John felt. There was irritation and anger in John's heart, fluttering there, giving him a constant feeling of unease. He could feel it in the restlessness of his limbs, in the need to move. It needed to come out - It wanted out and it couldn't be restrained any longer.
'The past weeks have been very difficult for me ...' John started, but the need to channel his thoughts made him stop.
Sherlock nodded, encouraging John to go on. Not that John needed any encouragement now that they were finally face to face. He started pacing the room again, unable to keep still.
'You were going about your business here in London, quite happily it seemed, and I went through horrendous times at the base,' John felt his heartbeat elevating, but he didn't care, and he also didn't care that his voice was growing more and more agitated with what he had to say. 'But you never – never once asked about my feelings! No, you were giving me the cold shoulder, Sherlock!'
John stopped pacing and looked at Sherlock, obviously expecting him to react, but Sherlock wasn't able to give an appropriate response, not yet.
'Do you know how much I needed some words of comfort from you? – Or, if that had been beyond you, at least the feeling that you were remotely interested!'
Sherlock remained silent, his face unreadable. He glanced down on his hands, he felt attacked, but there was something else, there was also shame and the knowledge that John's anger was justified.
'You hurt me and I cannot accept that you weren't interested in me and my life, that you were always entirely focused on yourself.'
John was aiming for a reaction, he wanted Sherlock's apparent indifference shaken. Sherlock looked up at him and John saw a variety of emotions flickering in his eyes.
'How can you say that, John? I am interested in your life. It's just that you are so far away and …'
'Yes, and you are far away from me, too,' John intercepted impatiently, 'That is part of our life now, Sherlock. But I am still interested in what you do, in your life, here in London.'
He pointed his finger accusingly in Sherlock's direction again.
'But you?' He screwed his eyes shut in exasperation for a moment. 'You never asked what happened to me. When I told you about my day I got next to no response. Jesus, Sherlock ... you are not alone anymore. It's not you versus the world ... it's us, and I need you to take an interest in my life, in me.'
John turned away from Sherlock and walked over to the window. His fingers played with the curtains, absentmindedly creasing and un-creasing them, and all the time he was trying to clothe his thoughts in the right words. John's voice trembled when he started to speak again. Whether it was anger or sadness Sherlock couldn't tell and it frightened him that he couldn't read John's face.
'That's not all - When we talked and I was irritated with you or I was weak because of my situation and everything that was happening around me, I always had the feeling that I have to apologize. As if I wasn't allowed this kind of feeling. I always had to be the strong one, the one to support you.'
Sherlock who had remained close to the door all the time finally walked over to the sofa and sat down. He clasped his hands in front of his face, concentrating, thinking, listening to John's agitation and working his way backwards through his memories, trying to piece together the last days and weeks.
'Yes! – Apologize for having troubled you, for having caused you irritation, for making you sad.'
Sherlock unclasped his hands and opened his arms in a gesture indicating lack of understanding, 'There's no need to apologize …'
'That's not the bloody point, Sherlock,' John snapped and punched his fist against the wall, his outburst causing Sherlock to flinch. 'The thing is that I allowed you to make me feel guilty and that I couldn't bring myself to tell you … I always - constantly - felt guilty of having signed up for the army and that it affected you as well as me …'
'Did I make you feel that way?'
John turned to fully face Sherlock before he answered, 'Yes.'
Sherlock's gaze flickered past him before it settled on his face, he obviously needed a moment before he could say what he wanted to say.
'John – I'm sorry.'
He bit his lip, an excuse was simple, but it surely wasn't enough, so he went on, 'Believe me I didn't want to make you feel guilty. That was never my intention. Of course I realised that something was amiss in the last weeks, but I … I … John, please tell me when I go wrong.'
John looked at him, took in the regret on his face and after a moment he nodded, 'Right.'
The tension between them was palpable, the distance too big to cover immediately. Yes, he had heard Sherlock's excuse and he believed him, but he was still angry. John was a passionate man and he couldn't just turn anger on and off like a tap. He turned back to the window to collect his thoughts and after a few silent moments he said, much quieter now, 'I told you now.'
John absentmindedly played with the curtains again and then, much to Sherlock's surprise, he snorted, but it was more with exasperation than with mirth.
'I will always tell you when you are an impossible git, Sherlock. I guess this is going to be a lifelong occupation, pointing out to you when you have been insufferable – again.'
He sensed that the shadow was lifting and that the mood was a bit lighter, now it was possible for him to allow closeness and contact. He walked over to Sherlock and sat down next to him.
'You have to learn to be more considerate, to reach out for me, to offer instead of only taking. For fuck's sake, Sherlock, you are grown man. Don't be such a selfish bastard.'
Sherlock flinched slightly, but he accepted John's reproach.
'Yes –' he cleared his throat, 'I think you have made yourself clear.'
They sat next to each other for a while, legs barely brushing, looking down on their hands, inspecting the floor, the coffee table - in silence, unsure where to move from here. After a while Sherlock nervously cleared his throat again and asked.
'How is Steven?'
John sat back on the sofa and slightly turned to face Sherlock, 'Steven is fine - I hope. His deployment is coming to an end when I come back next week. He will go back to Alnwick for a debriefing first before he joins his family for a long holiday.'
Sherlock glanced at John and nodded to acknowledge this information, he racked his brain to find the right question to keep their conversation going.
'You said you saw some horrendous things in the last weeks. I … I remember you told me about a small boy and his parents. How are they?'
And John told him, about this particular family, their little boy who had lost a leg, about the increasing number of bomb threats in the past weeks and about the attack on one of their convoys. About the constant feeling of danger and alertness that was eating you slowly from the inside. In fact he told him about most of the worries of the past months, the things that had been bothering him, everything that he had kept hidden inside. It was so good to get everything off his chest, to be able to do something that was to be considered normal in a relationship. And it was easy.
Sherlock listened attentively, asking questions from time to time. When John had finished and had fallen silent, Sherlock shyly glanced at him as if to seek his permission before he gathered him into an embrace. He buried his nose in John's hair and whispered.
'I didn't want to know because it would have allowed all of these horrendous things and threats to become real and my worries would have increased tenfold. I see now that I was selfish and that it was wrong. I was wrong. I'm sorry, John.'
John leaned into his embrace and held on. Sherlock's apology wasn't much, but it was a beginning, something they could build upon.
'Sherlock – what on earth have you done with the books?'
John stared incredulously at their book shelf from where neat rows of colour-coded books blinked back at him. Their spines formed a display of colour, worthy of an impressionist painter. The blues were softly fading into the purples which gave way to the reds and oranges. All the colours were neatly paired and it was a very pretty sight indeed.
Sherlock lazily lifted his head from John's chest and peered at the shelf.
'Oh, that. It'something I do from time to time when I'm waiting for your call. I have different systems, colour, publication date and alphabet. I alternate. It helps me when I'm waiting. It's a mindless occupation, but it passes the time.'
He shrugged and let his head sink back on John's chest. John inspected their pretty book shelf once again and chuckled. Sherlock loved the way John's chest reverberated with the soft laughter and he closed his eyes, relishing the moment. When John yawned Sherlock's head slowly lifted with this movement of his ribcage. John's naked chest was warm and his skin soft and Sherlock traced his fingers slowly across the ribs and towards his navel and slowly upwards again. He gently trailed along the tan lines across John's wrists, rubbing his thumbs over them. He tilted his head upwards to marvel at the one on John's neck, how it formed a neat barrier for the milky white skin on his chest and stomach.
It wasn't the only thing that was new or unusual. John's hair was shorter and lighter due to the constant exposure to the sun. There were strands of hair that were almost completely bleached, giving him a very young and slightly rakish air. His face was deeply tanned and there were freckles on his cheekbones and on the bridge of his nose. When they kissed the contrast between Sherlock's alabaster skin and John's glowing tan was startling and exciting. But the biggest difference was his scent – it was alien, not unpleasant at all, but different. Sherlock buried his nose in the soft skin on John's stomach and inhaled, his long lashes leaving butterfly kisses on the exposed skin.
'Tickles …' John murmured. He had almost drifted to sleep in the lazy afternoon sun of their first day together. Their argument had left them slightly wary and exhausted, but as they were lying on the small sofa now, limbs entangled, trying to be as close as possible, neither of them was willing to allow much space between them. Sherlock was cradled securely in John's arms, his hand caressing every inch of perfect skin he could reach.
'Hmm …' John wiggled a bit to grant him access to more skin, 'Don't stop.'
Sherlock smiled and did as he was told. His let his cool fingers slide over John's hot skin and his lips slowly wander across his stomach and his chest to leave more butterfly kisses, more kisses - just more.
The late afternoon sun sent her last powerful rays through the window and highlighted Sherlock and John as they were lying in a tangle of limbs on their bed. Panting, exhausted, satisfied. After a while their breathing became more regular and evened out into a more relaxed pattern. Sherlock carefully disentangled himself from John's loving grip and kissed his shoulder blades to cushion this sudden loss of contact. He reached down and meticulously freed the sheet from its resting place at the foot of the bed. A few ferocious tugs and it covered them up to their hips, a cool, pleasant sensation on their overheated bodies.
Sherlock lay down again, on their flat pillow, and faced John. He couldn't get enough of studying his face, his eyes trailing along the line the freckles had painted across his cheeks. With the tip of his index finger he gently touched some of those tiny dots, trying to connect them.
'John, are you afraid of death?' He asked out of the blue, a blunt, a raw question.
John frowned, this question had been entirely unexpected, 'Yes – I am,' he conceded, 'I think most people are.'
He placed a hand on Sherlock's slender neck and felt life pulsing underneath his fingertips in a steady, reassuring rhythm.
'I guess I have never been as close to death as I am now in Afghanistan. I have seen people dying. People blown up by bombs, horribly mutilated by landmines…' he trailed off, absentmindedly circling his thumb over the smooth paleness of Sherlock's neck.
'How do you deal with it?' Sherlock propped his head on his hand and searched John's face for an answer, 'Can you rationalise?'
'I can – Yes, to a certain extent. I can rationalise when I'm operating, when I'm dealing with a medical problem. But off duty it's another matter altogether, it's not so easy then. At the base, as a soldier in a warzone, you have no chance of leaving this realm of danger, you don't get a break. We live with this constant feeling of danger. It's like something buzzing incessantly inside your body, like a wasp hitting a window pane, desperate to find a way out –'
'Interesting,' Sherlock said in his low voice and John glanced at him.
'Yes, that's one way of putting it. For me it's a feeling that you almost get used to, but not entirely, never entirely. And that's good because it keeps you on your toes. You remain alert – all the time.'
'What about you? Do you ever think about your own death? Are you afraid of it?'
Sherlock thought about it for a moment, 'I guess when I did drugs I was actually daring death – Like come and get me. I mean it's a kind of fuck you to life, isn't it? Taking drugs.'
Sherlock shrugged and John traced his fingers over the faint silver lines in the crook of Sherlock's arms. Sherlock's eyes followed John's fingers and he found that it intensified the sensation of those fingers ghosting over the scars. He glanced back at John.
'I'm not afraid of death in the sense that it makes me shiver with anxiety. No – Nothing like that. But I assume I will die quite young.'
John was surprised, he'd never heard Sherlock voice a thought like that before, 'What makes you think that?'
'It's just a feeling, one that has always been part of me. It's just there. I know I should be able to explain it, but I have to disappoint you. Let's revert to an indistinct term and call it intuition. Other than that I'm very interested in the scientific, the pathological aspects of death, fascinated even – and I am curious as to why and how a person becomes a killer. What drives a man or a woman to the point of taking away someone else's life.'
Sherlock sank back onto the cushion – close to John, so close that their breaths mingled.
'I have to say that I find it hard to share your enthusiasm for diving into a killer's twisted mind,' John admitted, 'But as a doctor I can acknowledge the rather intricate processes of death.'
John weaved his fingers through Sherlock's curls, gently tugging and teasing. 'But for me? I'm aware of death, of course, but I never think about meeting an untimely death myself. I don't want to give this fear of going before I'm old, wise and very grey any more space than necessary.'
'That's good, John.'
Sherlock nodded his assent, it was like a teacher's appraisal for a particularly eager pupil, and John briefly wondered if it had been the scientist or the lover in him that had brought those dark thoughts to the fore.
'What brought this on, Sherlock?'
'It's a rather long-winded apology actually because ... I - um - I have to admit that I was wrong,' Sherlock's voice was low and intense.
John raised an eyebrow mockingly, but Sherlock chose to ignore this taunt.
'After everything you told me today I realised that you are dealing with death on a daily basis, that it is a part of your job in Afghanistan. It hurts me that you have to see so much anguish and that it's part of your life.' Sherlock draped his arm over John's back, drawing him even nearer, 'I was wrong and I am so sorry that I let you alone with all that sorrow and pain. I didn't think … Please forgive me, love.'
John's gaze plunged into those ice blue orbs dancing in front of his face, he saw the seriousness and openness in them and nodded. When he kissed Sherlock, his lover and friend, slowly and lovingly, he was happy and elated. He broke their kiss and nuzzled close to this pale, tantalizing neck, inhaling the musky scent which lingered there and whispered, 'I do.'
18 September 2007 – London
'Captain John Watson?'
'I'm sorry, Captain Watson, but I have to inform you that your leave has been cancelled and you have to report back immediately. We expect you back tomorrow. Your train leaves tonight at 7pm, Kings Cross. Plane leaves at 10 pm from the military airport. I'll text you the details in about ten minutes.'
'Understood. Can you tell me why?'
'There have been several attacks on our medical convoys and we need you back asap.'
'What about Captain Hummings?'
'I can't give you any detailed information, but he has been injured.'
'Thank you. Understood.'
John ended the call and sat down on the sofa.
Tonight - 7 pm – Going back - Steven injured –
Injured because he had stayed in Afghanistan, because he had given this week to John. John buried his head in his hands and tried to keep calm – but what was coursing through his mind was that it could have been him, not Steven. And that Steven had been injured because he had … Oh God.
John was angry that they hadn't told him exactly what had happened to Steven, that he hadn't been granted more information, but he knew to be patient. There was no other way than trying to get somebody on the phone later when he was on the train to the military airport. John tried to stay calm, tried not to be overcome by insecurity and worry. He glanced at his watch - only two hours left - Sherlock wasn't at home because he had dashed out two hours ago to meet Inspector Lestrade at the Yard. John grabbed his phone and texted him, telling him what had happened and to come back immediately.
It was important to get ready fairly quickly, there wasn't much time. However he decided to take a shower, the day would be long and no time to think about trivia like personal hygiene when lives were at stake at his arrival. Still dripping with water he rifled through their things in the bathroom, gathering his toothbrush, shaver, shower gel and all the other toiletries and threw it into his washbag. He quickly scanned the tiny bathroom, no, nothing left. He towelled dry and padded over to their bedroom to get dressed and pack his bag.
It was amazing how he switched from civilian to military mode in the course of packing his things. He dropped his civilian trousers, shirts, boxers and all the rest of his clothes and personal belongings into his bag and closed the zipper. All that was left now was to put on his uniform to become Captain John Watson again. He slipped into his khaki trousers and shirt and when he shrugged into his uniform jacket he heard Sherlock coming back.
'In here,' John called and Sherlock entered their bedroom. He looked pale and anxious.
'John, what do you mean, you have to go back? You can't go back – you've only been here for three days.'
'I have to – there have been attacks on the medical convoys. They need me. It's my job, Sherlock.'
'We didn't nearly have enough time together. You can't go!'
'I know, Sherlock. I would love to stay, I really would! But there's no way around it.'
Sherlock sat down on the bed and absentmindedly grabbed John's beret and played with it, sliding it through his fingers. He just sat there, on their bed, trying to fend off the waves of disappointment, sadness and confusion. The last three days had been a jumble of mixed emotions. First elation had been overwhelming because they had finally been together again, but he had also sensed the need to reassess their positions within the relationship, and there had been strangeness because it had been more than evident that they had effectively grown apart during the last eleven months. Sherlock realised that there was a lot of unfinished business between them and he felt the urge for John to stay. He knew it was selfish to a certain degree, dangerous even and that he wasn't helping John. But there was nothing he could do to change those feelings.
'Please, John. Try to call your base, tell the commanding officer you need to stay for the rest of the week.'
John had finished dressing and sat down next to Sherlock, his voice was firm, 'I can't and you know that. It's impossible. You're not helping here, Sherlock. You really aren't!'
Sherlock glanced at John, there was this irritation again and he tried to keep his own emotions in reign.
'I need you, John …'
'I need you too, Sherlock. You know that, but right now I need your support more than anything else.' John sighed, he loathed saying it, loathed uttering a threat, but he feared that Sherlock wouldn't see otherwise. 'I can't take this now, Sherlock. I won't take it and if you're not willing to give me your support or if you don't understand, then it's probably better we …'
John didn't finish his sentence, let the consequence of what he had said hang in the air between them and Sherlock saw the danger. He saw it clearly, could read it in John's face, in his posture, hear it in his voice. He wasn't ignorant and it was more than obvious that John wasn't willing to put up with any selfish or immature behaviour. This moment forced Sherlock to make another step forward, to leave yet another chunk of his self-centredness behind and to focus on helping John. He saw it, clearly, yes, he could feel it with every fibre of his body and it made him see what he really wanted. He looked down on the beret he was still holding and softly said.
'I understand, John.'
Sherlock carefully placed the beret next to them on the bed and took John's hand. He enveloped it in his own, marvelling once again at the tanned fingers and the startling contrast to his own pale skin. He closed his eyes for a moment and tried to focus completely on John and his situation.
'Is there anything you need me to do?'
John's lips turned up in the ghost of a smile, he was touched by Sherlock's eagerness, but he couldn't get the worries out of his heart and head.
'No, Sherlock. I'm fine for the moment. I'll call you as soon as I am back at the base … but Steven was …' he cleared his throat startled by the emotions that were threatening to steal his voice, 'Steven was injured. I don't know exactly what happened to him, they wouldn't tell me … For fuck's sake, he was there because of me, he gave this bloody week to me and this is his reward?'
A sob escaped John's mouth and then he couldn't hold back those tears and let his head sink against Sherlock's shoulder, unashamed of his weakness.
Sherlock wrapped his arms around him and whispered, 'It's not your fault, John. Don't you even think that. Steven will be fine, I'm sure it's not that bad. They would have told you, wouldn't they? They help him at the base. I'm sure he will be all right.'
It was novel for Sherlock to be the one to offer comfort, to whisper those sentences meant to soothe the worry away. Sentiments like that, empathy and solace, had never been steady companions, had only been with him when he wanted them to be, but now he felt content that he was able to give them to John and it was absolutely right.
He cupped John's face and slowly kissed the tears away, 'Everything will be all right, love.'
John nodded and blinked to clear his vision, to focus on Sherlock.
'Yes,' he nodded, 'Yes - I hope so. I'll try to contact Emily, his wife. She'll probably know more.'
'Yes. I think that's a good idea, John.'
Sherlock gently traced his fingers over John's cheekbones, wiping away one last stray tear. He asked softly, 'When will you have to leave?'
John glanced at his watch, they would have to leave in ten minutes, traffic tended to be hellish at that time.
'Train's at seven. From King's Cross. Ten minutes.'
This was unexpected, it felt like a punch in the gut and Sherlock flinched, 'That's not fair, it's not nearly enough …'
John turned to him and pressed his lips on Sherlock's, wanting to take the memory of those soft lips on his own with him. He broke their kiss, 'Yes - I know, it's not fair.'
He gathered Sherlock into an embrace and they just sat there, holding on to each other, waiting for their separation to sneak into the room, sad and lost in their sadness.
It felt like bursting a bubble when John glanced at his watch again, but he knew they had to go, 'It's time, love.'
They got up from their bed and Sherlock grabbed John's bag. They joined hands, lacing their fingers together and left the flat without speaking another word.
Chapter 13: Shattering
John is wounded in Afghanistan ...
16 February 2008 – Afghanistan - London
Deafening noise – Blinding pain - Quickening pulse – Oozing blood - Weakening -
Move – Quick, quick, quick! – Over here! – Move – Move!
Dizziness – White noise – Pulsing – Stuttering pulse – Murmuring -
Captain Wats … hear me? What …? … Watson? Can you …?
Glaring whiteness – Obscure pulse – Stuttering, stuttering, stuttering pulse – Are you afraid of death, John? Are you? - Oh God, yes!
'Shit! He's lost consciousness. Quick, quick. Move! Let's get him back to the base. Careful now! Steady, steady. That's it. Now move!'
The large jeep raced over the dusty road back to the base while Major Donaldson informed the medical unit that they had one severely injured soldier, Captain Watson, shot in the left shoulder. He instructed the nurses to prepare the operating theatre, they needed to get the bullet out, it was still embedded in the wound, and they very likely would have to deal with a severed artery, blood loss was critical.
'MOVE! Fucking move – we're losing him!' Donaldson bellowed and the driver put his foot down on the accelerator. The jeep thundered over miles of unpaved road, passing Afghan farmers who followed the jeep which raced past them at breakneck speed with tired eyes. Donaldson flinched when he glanced down on Watson who was flung about mercilessly on the back seat. He did his best to try and steady him on the seat by covering him with his own body, cushioning him from the constant bumping. Watson's unconsciousness worried him greatly and he cursed the goddamn sniper, the bumpy road and the blood that was oozing constantly from Dr Watson's shoulder wound crimsoning his uniform jacket.
Sherlock sat back on his heels and paused for a moment. Something had irritated him, for a split-second there had been something flickering across his vision - no, not his vision. There had been a fraction of … of something, clouding his perception, clouding his …
He abruptly got up from the floor where he had knelt next to a murder victim and stood, motionless, listening to the silence around him, the stillness inside him. His face was blank and he was entirely drawn into himself, seemingly unreachable.
'What is it, Sherlock? Lestrade asked, worried.
Sherlock didn't answer, but waved his hand motioning him to remain silent. A puzzled frown knitted his brows, he couldn't grasp what had troubled him, couldn't pinpoint it and it bothered him greatly. Closing his eyes he tried to go back to this moment, tried to bring it back to life and possibly understand it the second time around. He tilted his head and moved it ever so slowly from side to side, his hands matching the movement of his head, gently swaying through the air. But all he could conjure up was a feeling of fear, fluttering in his heart like a bird of prey - Fear? Why fear? He clasped his hands in front of his face, aiming at utmost concentration, but this blasted moment eluded him and its outlines refused to become any clearer. He growled in frustration and opened his eyes.
Lestrade was staring at him, bewilderment flickering over his face. Anderson and Sergeant Sally Donovan, who had been watching Sherlock's little performance from the door, exchanged a knowing glance. Donovan turned away rolling her eyes and Anderson smugly nodded his assent. Sherlock didn't pay them any heed and lightly shook his head to free it of the remnants of this feeling, but it wouldn't budge, fear had taken residence within him and he simply couldn't understand.
'Get him in now. Is everything ready?' Major Donaldson was running next to the stretcher on which Captain John Watson lay unconscious. He really hoped that they would be able to stop this blood loss. He glanced at the nurse scurrying next to him.
'Yes, we prepared the operating theatre as soon as you called. We got as much Rh negative blood as we could. Dr Isaacs and Dr Laurel are on duty and ready to go.'
'Okay, let's wheel him in and hope for the best.' They reached the entrance of the operating theatre and Donaldson remained behind, he wasn't allowed to enter the sterile area of the ward. He watched the swinging doors fall closed behind the stretcher. All the tension seemed to drain way from him at once, leaving him weak and slightly dizzy. He leaned against the tiled walls to steady himself and closed his eyes – He knew he couldn't do anything else for Watson at the moment.
Still, one more thing remained to be done, he had to call his family and tell them about the incident. Major Donaldson sighed deeply, but then he straightened his back and smoothed down his crumpled uniform jacket. Calling the families and telling them what had happened to their loved ones was the task everybody had come to dread and hate the most, but he knew it had to be done.
A feather-light voice was lapping against his consciousness, tickling him, trying to sneak its way through the thick haze surrounding him. The voice was light, but it wouldn't relent, in defiance of its lightness it was insistent and it started to ring in his ears.
'Dr Watson? Can you hear me – hear me – hear me …?'
Why did she have to ask three times? John tried to open his eyes because it grated on his nerves that she said everything repeatedly when it was really not necessary.
'Ah! I see you're waking up – waking up – waking up …'
He tried to open his eyes, to find the source of this irritating voice. He was astounded that he actually had to fight the tiredness that was holding his eyes shut with steely claws, he couldn't just simply open them although he fought to with all his might. He was growing more and impatient, but he …
'Dr Watson? Dr Watson? Come on! Fight it - You are so close!' The nurse cursed under a breath and then quickly scanned the Intensive Care Unit, 'Dr Isaacs?'
Dr Isaacs, who had been one of the doctors who had operated on John, had just entered the ward. He looked up from the papers he was studying and joined her at John's bed.
'Dr Watson has still not responded by opening his eyes, but he was close. I thought I saw his eyes moving and I got the impression that he heard me.'
'That's a good sign. Keep talking to him. I hope he will come around in the next hour. I really hope he will.'
Dr Isaacs checked the patient's vital signs, everything was fairly normal, hopefully he would regain consciousness soon. If he didn't they would have to consider different measures altogether. Another pressing matter was the mobility of his left arm and the fingers of his left hand, which would be depending on how much damage the bullet had done to the nerves – Mobility of the fingers, crucial for every ordinary person of course, but more than essential for a surgeon like Dr Watson. A colleague who lived for his job and who excelled in what he did.
Dr Isaacs studied John Watson's pale face for a moment. He glanced up at the nurse - Was it Nancy? - and aimed a distracted smile at her before he moved on to the next patient.
Sherlock had decided to walk back home, he was far too agitated to sit still in the back of a cab. Ever since that fleeting moment he had felt restlessness buzzing inside him, not the one he recognized from when he was bored, when his mind was screaming for distraction – no, it was something else entirely. He slowly walked down the street, trying to avoid the gazes of the passers-by, trying to blend in, trying to be unobtrusive. He fairly slinked through the throng of people streaming past him.
People taking the time to glance at him saw a serious, yet very attentive face, although Sherlock was in fact oblivious to the world around him, he was entirely focused on himself, on his perception. He was trying to fathom where this fear which still filled him had originated from. This damn thing hadn't budged, it hadn't revealed its source - it just was. In fact, if anything, it had grown.
Sherlock buried his hands deep in his coat pockets and hunched his shoulders against the cold. He quickly shook his head to chase away this useless fear at least for a moment, and his thoughts wandered to John as they always did, bringing back moments from yesterday evening when they had last talked. John had told him about Steven's recovery and that he was back to his old self and taking up locum work in Exeter. Sherlock recalled his relief that everything had turned out so well for Steven. Guilt and responsibility for what had happened all those months ago had remained with John nevertheless, and no matter how often Sherlock and Steven had told him not to worry and to forget, John hadn't been able to cast off this feeling.
But, important as this was, it hadn't been the most memorable aspect of their phonecall and Sherlock couldn't help but chuckle despite the uneasiness he felt - He remembered that John had been outstandingly funny and that he had made Sherlock giggle like a schoolboy when he had told him about one of his colleagues' antics. To be honest, it hadn't been what John had told him, but how - His voice so animated, full of amusement and joy, mimicking his colleague's Cockney accent. Sherlock smiled and he heard John's voice vividly - but then it faded ever so gradually, and he fought to bring it back, to bring it to life again. But no matter how hard he tried he couldn't and Sherlock's heart clenched painfully - Suddenly something made him stop in his tracks and everything - everything - fell into place - 'No, John – please, no…' - And Sherlock started to run, all he could think of was to get home as quickly as possible.
He bounded noisily up the stairs to their flat, unlocked the door and stormed into the living room to check the phone for messages. He knew if something had happened to John they would call him on the landline. Sherlock had no idea why they adhered to this old-fashioned means of communications instead of texting or calling his mobile and had often sneered at the backwardness of the British Army, but John had told him that was the way it worked. However, there were no messages and he marginally relaxed.
He shrugged out of his coat and scarf and threw them over the wooden chair at his desk. He didn't want to lose any more time so he fished the mobile phone out of the pocket of his suit jacket and composed a text to Mycroft.
Any news about incidents in Afghanistan?
Mycroft answered almost immediately.
Not that I am aware off. I'll keep my eyes open.
I'll do my very best
Sherlock put the phone down on the coffee table next to their landline. He sat down on the sofa fixing his angry stare on both phones, willing them to bring him clarity one way or another. After what seemed an eternity to him he glanced at his watch, it was shortly after five in the afternoon, and it had grown almost completely dark outside and in their flat. Tiredly he got up to switch on a lamp on the desk, his eyes never quite leaving the two phones, his only connection to John. He slumped back onto the sofa and prepared for a long wait.
'Hello there, Dr Watson. So good to have you back!'
'W-what …' John cleared his throat, it was thickly coated with some residue, he neither knew what it was nor why it was there.
'What … happened?' John could only speak slowly because his throat was all sore and his voice sounded croaky. He blinked a few times, the glaring whiteness in front of his eyes was swimming, but it was important to focus, to grasp where he was. But all he could see was white, glaring white, dizzying white. He blinked rapidly again. No, that won't do! Get a grip, Watson!
He tried to lift his head and to sit up in the white hospital bed, but he found that it was impossible. His numb fingers found no purchase on the slippery sheets and his upper body slid ever so slightly away to the side. It was a tiny movement, but he flinched when a sudden wave of pain shot through his shoulder and arm and left him gasping.
'Careful there, Dr Watson. We don't want the stitching to come undone, do we?' Nancy attempted to smooth down the sheet covering Dr John Watson, but was held back by the glare he shot her. She knew him well, liked him, he was one of the nicest doctors at the base, but now she was taken aback by the fury in his glare. She also saw impatience, frustration and incomprehension in those dark blue eyes.
He lay back, panting, dizzy and just stared at her, a blob of white in front of his eyes.
'Well, let me tell you what happened, Dr Watson. Or would you rather Dr Isaacs told you…?' She motioned towards the staff room where Dr Isaacs was going through some paper work. John just about saw this motion and shook his head, but he soon regretted it as it brought another onslaught of pain and increased his dizziness tenfold.
'No,' he whispered hoarsely, 'You tell me.'
'Major Donaldson, who brought you here, said that there had been an attack on your convoy, a sniper. You were hit in the left shoulder. The bullet severed an artery, that's why you lost so much blood which of course accounts for your weakness …'
'I know ... I'm a doctor!' John snapped, but much of the intended sting was taken out of his retort because he sounded so weak.
'Of course, you are, Dr Watson.' Nancy was used to snappy patients, it didn't deter her overly much. She thought it better not to go on, though, she saw John's helplessness and weakness and decided that everthing else could very well wait.
'I'll let you rest, Dr Watson. If you need anything, just press the button.' She indicated a little button in the remote control of the hospital bed. She smiled warmly at John and then walked off to check on another patient.
John was thankful for being alone, it gave him the opportunity to come to terms with the situation, possibly to assess the damage. He lay back and closed his eyes to ease the dizziness, inhaling and exhaling a few times to calm down. Slowly the nausea and dizziness passed and when he opened his eyes he found that it was easier to focus now. He let his eyes roam over his body as far as he could. His legs - Apparently they were fine, no visible damage there and he could wiggle his toes. Good. He moved further upwards and eyed the bandage which stretched downwards from his neck, covering both shoulders and effectively strapping his left arm to his body. It was like a straightjacket making movement with his left arm and both shoulders virtually impossible. Remembering the involuntary movement from a few minutes ago he knew moving would be probably painful. Stubbornly ignoring this knowledge he raised the index finger of his right hand to gingerly touch the bandage. But even this tiny movement was highly uncomfortable and pain came back with a vengeance. He winced and refrained from further probing.
What troubled him much more than the pain though, was the fact that he couldn't feel the fingers of his left hand, couldn't move them either. Panic shot through his body at this realization, pooling hotly in his stomach, making his breathing jerky. Panting he glanced around to see where the nurse had gone to, but he couldn't find her. The movement of his head made him feel woozy again and the pain seemed almost unbearable now as if the panic spreading in his body had fired all his nerves, sending pain through every fibre of his being.
'Please, I – I … something, please. It's quite …' his voice trailed off, he was exhausted all of a sudden. He tried to grab the remote control, but it slipped from his grasp and he had to grapple for it awkwardly. His breathing became more and laboured, and he just about managed to press the button.
Nancy looked up from the filing cabinet at the end of the ward when she saw the flashing red light and hurried over to Dr Watson. He looked haggard and pale and his face was contorted with pain.
'I'll get you something, Dr Watson. No need for you to suffer,' she soothingly patted John's arm and went off to get more painkillers and to call Dr Isaacs.
Major Donaldson had waited for the confirmation that Dr John Watson had come through the operation well and had regained consciousness before he went to Lieutenant Clift to find him the contact numbers for his family.
'It says here Next of kin: Harriet Watson. Is that his wife?' Lieutenant Clift asked.
Donaldson looked over his Clift's shoulder and peered at the computer screen, 'No, it's his sister. He's not married as far as I know.'
Donaldson had chosen to call himself just in case Dr Watson's family should have questions that he as an eyewitness would be prepared to answer.
'All right. Girlfriend, then?'
'No, I don't think so. But I think he mentioned a partner. He told me once that they were living together. It should be in his papers. The person to call in an emergency?'
Clift frowned as his eyes moved down the computer screen until he had found the right column.
'Oh, yes, there it is. Sherlock Holmes, London. Sherlock - Now that's a funny name. I had no idea that our good doctor was one for buggery, he doesn't look at all camp to me …'
'What are you on about? '
'I mean, two men … It's not something I understand. I think it's unnatural. If God had meant two men to be …'
'Keep your opinion to yourself, Clift. I don't want to hear anything like that from you again, understood?' Major Donaldson snapped.
'Now give me the number! The man needs to know.'
17 February 2008 - London
The phone rang, a shrill, deafening noise, cutting through the sleep of the exhausted Sherlock. Once, twice and the third time finally managed to rouse him. He blinked and when he recognized what had woken him he snatched the phone from the coffee table, 'John?'
'Good morning, Sir. Major Donaldson speaking, British Army Headquarters in Afghanistan. Am I talking to Mr Sherlock Holmes?'
'Yes. What happened? Tell me, get straight to the point. I want to know!'
The caller seemed to be taken aback by his bluntness because Sherlock got no response, heard nothing but crackling which barely drowned out the sound of his frantically pounding heart, and finally the noisy clearing of a throat as the only indicator that the Major was still there.
'Very well, Sir. I am calling to inform you that Captain John Watson, attached to the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers, has in honourable exercise of his duties …'
Sherlock's hearing failed and he slumped back onto the sofa. He screwed his eyes shut and shivers were running down his spine, it felt as if his whole body had snapped into panic mode and was about to shut down section after section in order to protect him. He shook his head jerkily trying to bring his hearing back.
'… A sniper … shot … shoulder wound … massive blood loss …'
He could hear those words now, yes, he heard them and they were washing over him, breaking at the point where his panic was peaking, rolling off it to launch a new assault on his sanity. He felt a weakness that was absolute, swallowing him up entirely.
'… operation … unconscious … once he is more stable we will …'
What … stable? - Sherlock's mind, his will clawed at the word – Stable, stable! That could only mean …
'He's alive?' Sherlock asked and the answer seemed to take hours to come when it was in fact only a second.
'Yes, Sir.' Sherlock screwed his eyes shut to keep the tears from overflowing. He didn't want to break down now. He wiped a hand over his eyes and whispered, 'Thank God.'
'Yes ...' Donaldson felt the need to clear his throat again, 'As I said, he is alive, but severely wounded and not stable enough to travel back home yet. As soon as he is he and it is safe to move him he will be transferred to England for further treatment.'
'Can I contact him? I want to talk him – please!' Sherlock didn't like to beg, never liked it and it was unbelievably hard for him to beg this man who had given him the worst fright of his life, but he knew he was his key to John and he had no choice.
'I will pass your request on to the doctors and they will contact you. I sincerely hope that your – um – partner will recover soon and to the fullest.'
Sherlock ended the call. He buried his head in his hands and let out a lungful of air, so much that it made him dizzy and he saw tiny white stars dancing in front of his eyes. A mixture of emotions was churning inside him, confusing him - for there was exuberant elation that John was alive, but also anger that he couldn't reach him immediately. And he felt hate, outrageous, overpowering hate for the sniper who had shot him and for a war that was neither his nor John's.
But what tormented him most and what almost broke his heart was that he couldn't be there for him, that there were thousands of miles between them, making it impossible to pay back some of his debt and to offer the same loving care which he had received from John when he had been down, taking drugs and making life miserable for all involved. The only thing that brightened this horrible moment was the hope that John would soon be stable enough to come home - to him, to their life and that they could be together again. He swore that he would be there for him then, entirely.
Sherlock wiped his hands over his tired eyes and glanced over to the window. It was still dark outside and he checked the time on his watch - four am, half past eight in the morning in Afghanistan. That probably meant that they had waited through the night before they had called him. He was torn between cursing them for leaving him in the dark and admiring their patience for having waited in order to be able to give a more grounded prognosis.
Sherlock checked his mobile that he had carelessly tossed onto the coffee table a few hours before and found that he had two new messages. He had been so exhausted that the text alert hadn't been able to cut through his sleep. There was one was from Lestrade – Are you all right? You looked a bit under the weather. Call me! – and one from his brother – There has indeed been an incident. I'll get back to you as soon as I know more. Sherlock's tired features relaxed and the corners of his lips turned up in a tiny smile – people caring for other people – maybe not quite such a bad thing. He fiddled with the phone that he still held in his fingers, trying to decide what to do next. It didn't take long to decide what he really wanted to do.
When John asked him later Sherlock couldn't find a rational answer as to why he had felt the passionate urge to do this at that very moment. Right then, in the early hours of this new day, when he sat down on his desk and opened his laptop he knew it was the only sensible, the only possible occupation – Writing a letter to John, to his love and his life, whom he had believed to have lost that day.
Chapter 14: Scars
John is back home, but has difficulties to adapt and Sherlock tries to help him ...
20 May 2008 - London
Sherlock lightly placed a hand on John's right shoulder, 'You have to be patient, John!'
'Patient?' John spat and shrugged Sherlock's hand off, 'What do you mean patient? It's fucking three months since … since that … that incident and I still can't hold a pen properly. My fingers are bloody useless!'
John glared at his left hand which was lying on the table in front of him as if it was something alien, detached from his body. He fixed a stare of undisguised hatred and disgust on the digits which were curling slightly inwards, a pen lying next to them. Sherlock lowered himself next to him and made to touch his left hand, but John quickly covered the fingers with his unharmed right.
'Don't,' he shook his head, 'Don't, Sherlock.' John bit his lip and looked away, turned away from the body heat that was emanating from Sherlock, turned away from his scent, his closeness. He couldn't take his sympathy.
Sherlock got up quickly, taken aback by John's reaction. The corners of his lips turned down and he thrust his chin slightly forward - Of course he was able to see how hard it was for John to adjust and he tried not to let it get to him, but he found it difficult to fight the impulse to react to his rejection or to lash out in return.
John quickly glanced up at Sherlock, saw his knitted brows, the incomprehension on his face, and regretted their distance. He had not been able to allow physical closeness, hadn't let Sherlock come near him since he had come home. He couldn't imagine those perfect hands on his marred skin, those soft lips on his ragged shoulder, on his imperfect, useless skin. It was inconceivable for him that Sherlock could still find him attractive.
John had been home for three days now. Afghanistan grew more and more distant as he had left it three weeks after the incident and had been transferred to a military hospital near London. He had spent the last two months there and had gone through extensive rehab training focusing on bringing back the mobility of his fingers. He knew he had come a long way, after all he could use his arm almost normally, but what worried John out of his mind was that the fine motor functions hadn't fully returned to his fingers and he was left with a weakness and an intermittent tremor in his left hand.
On top of that he had developed a limp in his right leg that was entirely unrelated to the injury, inexplicable to the physiotherapists, but it was undoubtedly there and John had reverted to using a cane when he walked. Sherlock had noticed immediately and suspected it was psychosomatic, a symptom of PTSD, but he knew better than to confront John with his diagnosis at the moment. He rightly assumed that John had subconsciously looked for a counterweight to balance the weakness in the left side of his body.
John wiggled his fingers again, moving them ever so slowly, describing little circles and squares in the air, flexing them as the therapist had taught him at the hospital. Gritting his teeth he repeated those exercises again and again as if the sheer intensity of the repetition would bring full mobility back quicker. Sherlock watched him, attentively, saw the tension in his face, the flexed muscles in his jaw and despite or even owing to John's distance, he felt the need to reach out for him.
'Is there anything I can do for you, love?' Sherlock asked.
John stopped and looked up. 'Right,' he said with an air of defeat, 'That's how it's going to be from now on …'
'You asking what you can do for me … because I can't.'
John focused on his fingers again, grimly concentrating, avoiding Sherlock's gaze. When no retort came, he quickly glanced up at him and continued.
'I'm unable to hold a pen, I can't button my shirts, I can't write and most certainly I won't be able to operate again – for FUCK'S sake …' he broke off, breathing heavily. John's fingers stilled and after a moment he stretched them as far as he could, relishing the slight pain the movement caused him.
'John, your therapists told you that it might take a while to fully recuperate. Months before everything will be back to normal!'
'Or never – 'John said softly, 'Or it will never be back to normal, Sherlock. Did you know that? I bloody well do and I know what it means for me. It means that I can't go back to being an army surgeon. It means that I will have no job, no goal in life. It means that I will be utterly useless.'
'How can you say that, John?' Sherlock leaned towards John, but his posture was forbidding, so Sherlock kept a distance. 'What makes you think the temporary loss of full mobility in one hand makes you useless? That it makes you less than perfect? You are perfect the way you are. You are always perfect for me. Isn't that enough?'
John didn't answer immediately, but dropped his gaze to the table.
'No, Sherlock,' he eventually said in a quiet and small voice, 'No, it isn't … it's not enough for me.'
This remark, spoken ever so softly, was like a slap across Sherlock's face and he pressed his lips together, willing his face to assume a blank expression. John made to get up, it was cumbersome for him and Sherlock involuntarily moved towards him to help, but John's scowl stopped him in his tracks. He impatiently grabbed the cane that had been hanging over the back of the chair and hobbled over to the window. The day outside was bright and hot - amazingly so for May – and John stared down onto the street which was buzzing with life. When he spoke again it was almost inaudible.
'It kills me … that I … probably… very likely… won't be able to operate again. I am a good surgeon, an excellent surgeon. It's what I am, Sherlock. What is left when that is taken away from me …?'
John hung his head, his shoulders slumped forward and he looked so forlorn and beaten that Sherlock's heart clenched painfully. He pushed aside his hurt and quickly closed the gap between them. John's back was unyielding, a barrier, but he ignored it and slipped his arms around his waist and even when Sherlock felt John's body tensing in response to his touch, he held on to him undeterred.
'You are left, John!' He spoke softly, his voice an insistent low whisper. 'Everything is still there which makes you what you are - Your character, your sense of humour, your gentleness, your stubbornness, your caring, your love. I am still there - My love for you is still there, John.'
Sherlock felt John's chest heave and then convulse, he didn't hear a sob or a whimper, but he could feel that John was crying. He eased his grip and gently turned him around so that he faced him. Silent tears of frustration and desperation were sliding down John's still tanned cheeks. Tenderly Sherlock cupped John's face and moved the pads of his thumbs over his soft and tear-stained skin.
'John, please don't give up on you! I know I never will and I don't want you to despair either. Your mobility will come back if you continue with your exercises. Studies have shown that twenty minutes every day improve fine motor functions, strength, mobility and dexterity tremendously. There are rubber ball exercises, pegboards, you should play computer games. There is so much you can do! I compiled a list for you and I looked up the best physiotherapists in London. They know your case, I talked to them. We can make appointments whenever you're ready. Although they all assured me it would be best to start immediately, so …'
'Sherlock!' John intercepted, an almost imperceptible glimmer of amusement shining through his tears. 'Stop it. This is too … much! Jesus, Sherlock … what are you on about?'
'I researched everything I could, I made sure to learn all there is about your medical condition. I talked to your colleagues in Afghanistan and to Steven and I know what will help you.'
Sherlock was full of enthusiasm, eager to tell John about his extensive research, even more eager to start everything immediately; all that he wanted was John to get better.
'I know all the possible therapies, I have got all the relevant addresses … John, we can do this together.'
John took in his lively face with those vivid and piercing eyes, the eagerness and seriousness in his voice and nodded - 'Yes.'
He let his tired head sink against Sherlock's chest and listened to the steady, reassuring pounding of his heart, 'Yes – please help me.'
Sherlock tenderly placed his chin on top of John's head and wrapped both arms around the muscular frame of his John. John let him and didn't wiggle or squirm away and for the first time since John was home, Sherlock felt optimistic and was filled with the hope that they could indeed go through this together.
A piercing scream made Sherlock leap from his chair.
'No! … Go away … I don't … NOOO!'
Sherlock ran into the bedroom where John was tossing and turning in their bed. In the dim light coming in from the hall Sherlock saw that John was drenched in sweat. His hair stood on end as if had been brushing his hands through it incessantly. Sherlock sat down on the bed and gently touched John's arm.
'Don't!' John screamed and sat up, startled. His chest was heaving and he looked around wild-eyed before his eyes focused on Sherlock. 'Sher …' he breathed and sank back on the bed, 'Sher …'
'Yes, John. I'm here,' Sherlock whispered, 'Nothing can happen to you. Everything is all right.'
Nightmares – John had been going through them every night. Sherlock suspected that they had become a steady companion of John's sleep since that traumatic incident, another symptom of PTSD. Sherlock smoothed down John's hair and gently traced his fingers along his forehead. John's breathing gradually evened out as lungful after lungful of air gushed out, his chest still heaving with the panic that lingered there. His whole body was trembling, but as soon as calmness had once more seeped into his bones he sat up and pushed past Sherlock.
He got up with difficulty and his limp was very pronounced so he had to grab the cane leaning against the wardrobe before he could set off for the bathroom. Sherlock stared after him, surprised, but stayed where he was respecting John's obvious wish for privacy. He assumed that he would like to get changed before going back to sleep so he got up to fetch a fresh t-shirt for him. He rummaged through John's things and fished out a faded blue one.
The toilet was flushed and a few moments later John came back. He looked much more composed, he had obviously washed his face and smoothed down his hair, doing his utmost to look less like a frantic hedgehog caught in the headlights of a car. Sherlock held out his hand with the t-shirt, 'You're drenched in sweat, you should change.'
John eyed the t-shirt in Sherlock's hand wearily and shook his head, 'No, I'm fine.' He brushed past him and climbed back into bed, pointedly turning away from Sherlock. John's rejection hurt, it felt like a stab to his heart and he had to fight hard not to fall back into despair.
'Right … I'll leave it on the night table for you.'
'Yes,' John said, but he didn't turn around.
Sherlock waited a moment longer, hoping for a sign, a word, but when none came, he left the bedroom and returned to his laptop looking for something to take his mind off John's guardedness for a while.
When John's cry had startled him he had been working on a case for Lestrade and he had been checking the latest developments in fine motor skill research almost simultaneously, attempting to distract his mind, to keep his thoughts from running riot, from playing out all kinds of scenarios regarding his life with John. But there had been something that had struck him when he had gone through his files earlier. Something, not forgotten, but pushed to the recesses of his mind by all the excitement and horror of the last weeks: The letter he had started writing all those months ago on the day John had been shot.
He opened the file labeled John and read through it again. Suddenly the feeling that things had been left out and that this letter wasn't complete yet and he should add more to it overwhelmed him and he started typing.
When Sherlock finally went to bed two hours later he saw that John had indeed changed his t-shirt and he was relieved to see that he was sleeping soundly, lying on his side, gently snoring. He slipped underneath the covers next to John and snuggled up to him, seeking the warmth and closeness that John wouldn't allow him when awake.
21 May 2008 – London
Sherlock woke up only to find the place in bed next to him empty and cold, 'John?' He got no answer, the flat was silent. Sherlock turned to glance at his watch, it was half past seven.
Still no answer, but then he heard water running in the bathroom. With a grunt Sherlock pushed back the sheets and got up to look for him. He wore nothing but a pair of black briefs and his hair was a mess, a chaotic mass of sleep-tousled, unruly curls. Yawning he padded to the bathroom, not bothering to knock and opened the door.
He found John in front of the sink, staring at his reflection in the bathroom mirror. He was naked, but as soon as he saw the door opening and Sherlock slinking inside he snatched a towel from the tower rail to cover himself.
'Don't sneak up on me like that, Sherlock,' he said, venom and surprise fighting for dominance in his voice. He desperately tried to hide his left shoulder and his scar from Sherlock who was befuddled by the vehemence of John's reaction and just stared at him. Since Sherlock's body was effectively blocking the door John had no choice but to endure his scrutinizing look. Sherlock stepped into the bathroom and firmly closed the door behind him with a thud indicating finality. John found he couldn't hold his gaze, but he pursed his lips and dipped his chin in defiance, ready to stand his ground.
'Sherlock, let me out. I want to get dressed.' His eyes darted to Sherlock's face and when he saw the determination written all over his features, his heart sank.
'What do you mean no? I need to get dressed, I … I have an appointment … in … at St. Bart's.'
'No, you don't.'
Sherlock took a step towards John, invading his personal space. It was a small bathroom, not much room for two grown men anyway and John felt very uncomfortable. This was the confrontation he had dreaded. Slowly Sherlock raised a hand and gripped the edge of the towel. He tugged until John's resistance wavered and then he pulled it away, leaving John vulnerable and naked in front of him. John closed his eyes and breathed in and out through his mouth a few times to calm his wildly beating heart. He braced himself for what he was sure would come - This is it, he thought, this is the end.
Sherlock fixed his piercing eyes on him, taking in every detail of John. It was the first time in months, the first time since John had come home, that he saw his naked muscular frame, the still discernible tan lines, the muscular arms and shoulders. He was well aware that John had done his utmost to avoid being seen by him, that he was probably ashamed, and now was the moment to get over it. He made sure to look thoroughly, with a clinical eye, with a friend's eye, with a lover's eye.
What he saw was angry red scar tissue blooming on John's left shoulder, about an inch in diameter. A scar that looked like a beautiful wild star flower, like something an expressionist painter might have created. He saw it and it didn't revolt him, of course not, it fascinated him, it was beautiful, it was John. He lifted his fingers, ghosting them over the marred skin, his light touch making John shiver.
'Does it hurt?'
John opened his eyes and shook his head and Sherlock grew bolder, tracing his fingers over the outlines of this distinguishing mark, exerting a little pressure and circling around it. Heartened he leaned down and his lips followed his fingers, exploring the red skin, the soft skin around the scar, the scar, the beautiful, amazing scar that was undoubtedly there, but he loved it because it meant that John was here, alive and with him. A soft moan escaped his mouth and John buried his fingers in Sherlock's hair, entangling them in his curls. He none-too-gently tugged causing Sherlock to stop and to look up at him.
'Sherlock, don't!' John's face looked pained, 'How can you? I … am so … this is so … revolting.'
'Revolting?' Sherlock frowned in disbelief, 'What are you talking about?'
John dropped his gaze and tried to turn away from Sherlock, but he wouldn't let him.
'What do you mean, John?'
John grabbed Sherlock's wrists to push him away, but he realized that he couldn't exert enough pressure with his left hand so the gesture was a little off-balance. It only added to John's exasperation.
'I mean, Sherlock, that the sc… the skin on my shoulder is revolting, ugly, unbearable. And there's no need to pretend otherwise.'
Sherlock's frown deepened and he dropped his hands, but didn't budge an inch, remaining very close to John.
'What can be revolting … about a scar? What can be ugly or unbearable? John, what makes you think that?'
'Just bloody open your eyes and look! Everybody with eyes can see that it is ugly.'
'John – This scar could never be anything less than precious to me. It is there because the sniper didn't kill you. It is there because they managed to get the bullet out. It means that you were saved and that you are here with me. It means that we still have each other. It will always serve as a reminder of a horrifying experience, yes, but it also serves as a reminder that you have survived!'
'No but. You are beautiful, you have always been beautiful for me. Don't be an idiot, John.'
John snorted, surprised by Sherlock's tone and by his choice of words. He looked up at him, a tiny smile playing around his lips, 'Precious, eh? Beautiful? You really know how to make a grown man blush.'
Sherlock smirked, 'I'd always go out of my way to make you see the error of your ways. And you know I'm right.'
'Are you now?'
Sherlock's face grew serious again, 'John, I mean it. Don't say or think that again, it's just stupid. I love you the way you are and one scar or a limp or a tremor won't change that.'
John looked at him, his face serious again and the pain still visible in his eyes, but he wouldn't look away and he held Sherlock's gaze. And then a smile started spreading across his face, starting with his dark blue eyes, slowly seeping across his features until he smiled his lovely wide smile that Sherlock hadn't seen once since he had come home and his heart skipped a beat. John didn't answer, didn't reciprocate Sherlock's declaration and it wasn't necessary, they both knew what they felt. Instead he took Sherlock's right hand and placed it over the scar on his shoulder, leaving his own hand on top for a moment.
'Thank you,' John simply whispered and Sherlock leaned his forehead against John's locking eyes with him, boring his steely gaze into John's dark blue eyes. Sherlock's fingers moved over the scar tissue, gently caressing the marred skin. 'Do you mind?' he enquired gently and John shook his head, realising that it was true.
And as he had done before Sherlock's lips took over from his fingers and kissed the mottled skin, licked over it, tasting it. His tongue moved slowly over John's shoulder on to his neck where he lingered and licked and bit and sucked, marking John some more, leaving his own marks. John threw his head back and moaned softly, giving in to the sensation of Sherlock's tongue and teeth.
Both of John's hands settled on Sherlock's narrow hips, holding on, enjoying the reality of the warm skin underneath his fingers. Soon this wasn't enough anymore and he softly stroked over his prominent hipbones, his back, up to the bony shoulders, caressing, exerting pressure, leaving goose bumps in the wake of his hands. He wanted to feel him more, so he moved downwards to caress his flat stomach, moving further downwards, brushing against his arousal. Sherlock gasped and smiled against John's neck, intensifying his ministrations in response. But it had been months since he and John had been together and Sherlock knew that he wouldn't last long, so he whispered, 'Bed.'
He grabbed John's hand and led him out of the cold bathroom towards their bedroom. John walked next to him, naked, unfazed and without shame. His limp was less pronounced than last night and Sherlock supported him just a little bit. Once in the bedroom he pressed his body against John's gently pushing him onto the bed. They fell on top of their sheets, groping, kissing - all limbs and hands and mouths. Sherlock struggled to get his briefs off without breaking their kiss, but he couldn't and had to lean down to shrug out of them. When he straightened again he turned John on his back and straddled him, leaning down, claiming his mouth in a deep, demanding kiss. He moved his hips against John's, grinding and their arousals touching made them both moan. 'Sher …' John breathed and Sherlock deepened his kiss, almost bruising John's soft lips, and then he sought John's left hand and wrapped it around them. He placed his own hand over John's and they both moved together, bringing themselves over the edge in sensuous, slow strokes.
They kissed in perfect harmony with the rhythm of their strokes, starting slowly, lazily even, but soon growing more and more passionate and frantic. 'John,' Sherlock moaned into John's mouth when he came, his whole body shuddering with an almost forgotten pleasure. He collapsed onto him, spent and boneless. Sherlock felt lightheaded, happy, almost oblivious to his surroundings, but he didn't want to leave John behind and resumed stroking and kissing him. It didn't take much, three or four more sensuous strokes and deep, passionate kisses, before John followed Sherlock, whimpering into his mouth, shuddering, trembling, spending himself.
Sherlock broke their kiss and smiled down on John. He kissed his nose, his cheeks, his red, plush lips once again and then rolled off him. They lay side by side, panting, their chests heaving. After a while Sherlock turned on his side to face John, to study his beautiful profile, his relaxed features and placed his hand lightly on his belly.
'I wasn't lying, Sherlock,' John said all of a sudden.
'I have an appointment - of sorts - at St Bart's. I'm supposed to meet an old friend there.'
'Who's that? Anybody I know?' Sherlock propped his head on his elbow and looked down on John. Curiosity gleaming in his pale blue eyes.
'Mike. Mike Stamford.'
'Half past eight.'
'Well, you better hurry, John. It's past eight already, and maybe, just maybe you should consider having a shower first ...'
'Right - Yes, right.' John nodded, but made no move to leave the cosiness of their bed.
'Mind if I joined you?'
John turned to Sherlock and lightly kissed him, mischief glinting in his eyes, 'Not at all. You know what, Sherlock? … Forget the appointment! I'll cancel it.'
'Excellent idea!' Sherlock smirked and returned the kiss, deepening it. But they felt that there was no hurry as the prospect of a long, lazy day spent in bed was stretching gloriously ahead of them.
This is bliss, John thought, and Sherlock nodded. Damn it, he still has the ability to read my face! was the last John thought before he finally gave in to the sensation of being home again.
Chapter 15: Light and Shadow
John settles back into civilian life, but then he receives a letter which shakes him to the core ...
29 July 2008 – London
They were walking home, slowly and in companiable silence. John glanced down on their hands, on their intertwined fingers, and he noticed the contrast - his skin was still tanned and Sherlock's pale complexion never varied. The contrast wasn't as pronounced as it had been some months ago, but it was still discernible and beautiful somehow and, he didn't exactly know why, it was comforting.
John gently circled his thumb over Sherlock's hand and smiled up at him. Sherlock mirrored his smile albeit a bit absentmindedly as he was running through data still lingering in his mind, processing, cross-referencing, filing everything neatly away in the respective compartments of his mind palace. John could see it in his eyes that he was focused on the world within him and he didn't mind, he knew that Sherlock always needed time to defragment what he had absorbed during the day out on a case and that he might be lost in his own world for a while.
John's gaze wandered ahead of them, taking in all the other people strolling around town. His chest widened when he breathed in and slowly out only to greedily suck the balmy air of this rather glorious summer evening back into his lungs. A session with one of his therapists had successfully filled one part of John's afternoon with meaning, the other parts had been spent browsing through bookstores and meandering through London's busy streets buzzing with tourists from all over the world.
Sherlock had texted him and they had met at Covent Garden to have dinner in one of the little restaurants in a less frequented and calmer side street. As it was one of those rare wonderful summer evenings they had decided to walk home from there, which in fact meant they would walk as far as John could manage. They didn't talk much and their pace was leisurely, Sherlock adapting his usually forceful and long stride to John's slower gait which was still hindered by his limp.
John felt happiness spreading in his chest like, let's say, strawberry jam on a golden buttered toast. He couldn't help but grin at this image, but it was strangely appropriate to describe what he felt: He was walking next to the man he loved, the therapy sessions and the exercises he diligently went through every day had been successful, the mobility of his fingers almost back to normal, and the hours spent just browsing and blending in today had proven to be very distracting indeed.
But there still was a catch - as well as the improvement of the fine motor skills of his left hand might be - he didn't know if it was enough to secure him a future as a surgeon. He was on sick leave at the moment, honourable discharge still an option - and then what? The conclusive report of the army expert was still pending, no final decision had been reached. How would it feel to have somebody else have the final word about his future in the army? How would he feel should the decision not turn out to be in his favour?
John's features clouded over for a moment and he dipped his chin defiantly in his customary fashion, but strangely enough, this uncertainty didn't flood his entire being with despair as it would have only weeks ago. A future without being an army doctor didn't seem like a dark, bottomless pit any more. It worried him a lot, yes, it hurt, it unsettled him, but there was also the knowledge that he wasn't alone in this and that a solution would surely be found somehow. He was - almost - certain that he could manage whatever life chose to throw at him.
He glanced up at Sherlock again whose face bore a serious expression made complete by the deep characteristic furrow above his nose and his lips silently moving, mulling over some recalcitrant puzzle.
'Haven't found a compartment yet?' John asked.
'I beg your pardon?' Sherlock came back from far away, taking a moment to focus on the real world again.
'You look as if something doesn't quite fit, as if there's no compartment for it in your mind palace.'
Sherlock's lips curled into a lopsided smile and he arched an eyebrow mockingly, 'Sarcasm, John?' John never had a chance to answer because Sherlock stopped and pulled John into an embrace in one fluid movement, cunningly kissing an ironic retort away. John smiled against his lips and Sherlock deepened the kiss in response, entirely oblivious of the people who were forced to duck around them.
They offered quite a sight – Sherlock, very dapper, in his customary dark tight-fitting suit and pristine shirt and John, in his more casual dark denims and brown polo shirt, their height difference just perfect for kissing. Some people smiled when they saw their absorption, others frowned and shook their heads at their shamelessness.
Suddenly someone bumped brutally into them and they were separated, the impact sending John crashing to the floor. He fell hard onto his left side, his hand buried under his weight, his cane slithering away. Sherlock stumbled, but managed to remain standing. His eyes were wide with shock, 'Are you all right, John?'
'Yes… ' John was dazed, shocked by the viciousness of the shove, he glanced around, at his hands, his legs, 'I think so … yes.'
Sherlock quickly looked up and his eyes narrowed when he took in the perpetrator - a young man, and by the look of him one of those bike messengers. He had skidded to a halt a few feet further down the pavement to see whether they were okay.
'Stay right here. I'll be back in a second,' and Sherlock set off in the direction of the young man on a fancy red and blue racer. His steely eyes glared at him and the biker involuntarily grabbed the gleaming bike closer to his body, using it as a barrier against the wild-looking man with the dark curls who was storming towards him.
'Are you completely out of your mind?' Sherlock demanded in his most thunderous baritone. 'Are you an idiot or a criminal or drunk? Why on earth are you thundering along the pavement, endangering people? You have no right to do that!'
A small group of onlookers quickly gathered around them, eager for entertainment of any kind on this warm summer night, and John waved his hand dismissively at a young woman who offered her help. He got up on his own and gingerly tried to put weight on his left, then on his right foot and found that everything was okay, nothing sprained, nothing broken.
He looked up and felt the need to interfere, 'Sherlock, that's enough. I'm fine.' He could have talked to a stone wall for all the good it did because Sherlock went on undeterred.
'Have you never been taught the correct conduct on streets? Isn't that part of your training, for God's sakes?' He took a breath and when he continued he shook an angry finger in the young man's face forcing him to lean back, 'What are you? Mentally incompetent or just ruthless or both? Are you aware that you could have seriously injured my partner?'
'Sorry, mate – I was in a hurry … I … I didn't see you,' the biker stammered, 'I'm really sorry. Is … is he all right?' He peered over Sherlock's shoulder to catch a glimpse of John who stood rooted to the same spot, watching on, first amazed and then amused as Sherlock felt the need to defend his honour.
'I fucking well hope so!'
John raised an eyebrow, Sherlock never cursed, he very rarely reverted to less than outstanding eloquence, but this was apparently one of those occasions when a curse was deemed necessary.
'Now go and apologise!' he growled.
The biker looked at Sherlock and then to John and back to Sherlock who glared at him, his eyes pure steel, and he knew there was no way out of this public humiliation. He wheeled his bike back to John and extended a sweaty and slightly trembling hand, 'I'm really sorry, mate.'
John took the proffered hand and shook it, 'Cheers, mate. It's okay.'
Sherlock had followed the biker and stood directly behind him, looking very much like a dark angel, John noticed.
'Go now!' he hissed and the young man hunched his shoulders and hastily beat his retreat. Sherlock followed him with his eyes for a moment, but then he turned back to John and focused entirely on him, excluding the world around them. He gently examined John's left hand, carefully turning and probing. There were abrasions and a bit of blood was tickling down the palm.
'Does it hurt, John? Is anything broken?' Sherlock's face was dark with concern.
'No. It's only superficial, not to worry, Sherlock.'
John gingerly flexed his fingers, wary of any new damage, but it only seemed a bit bruised from when he had fallen on top of it. He visibly relaxed and let Sherlock wind his white cotton handkerchief around his bleeding hand. Sherlock kissed his fingers and wrapped an arm around his waist to steady him, 'Are you all right? Can you walk?'
'I'm okay – it's just …' John's eyes darted around looking for his cane.
'It's over there, love,' Sherlock motioned his head towards the entrance of a little restaurant where the cane had slithered to because of the impact. Sherlock made sure that John stood securely before he let go of him and went to retrieve the cane. Together they slowly set off to continue their way home, Sherlock's arm wrapped around John's shoulder and John's left arm tied around Sherlock's waist. John found he didn't need the cane when Sherlock held him like that and he leaned his head against Sherlock's shoulder and chuckled.
'What?' Sherlock demanded, peering down on him.
'You know what, Sherlock? You were my knight in shining armour, you really were!'
'You think so?' Sherlock quirked his brow and something like a proud little smile played around his lips.
'Most definitely, love,' John stopped, forcing Sherlock to turn to him, 'You were my avenging angel.'
Sherlock rolled his eyes, 'Now John, really. You are a ridiculously romantic person. Stop it!' But his smile betrayed his words and he leaned down to meet John's lips in a tender kiss.
'I might be guilty of that, yes … but the way you were bearing down on that poor biker like a fire-spitting archangel complete with a halo of black curls?' John chuckled again, 'Jesus! It was so unnecessary! But to tell you the truth…' he leaned even closer to Sherlock and whispered, 'I loved it! It was scintillating, it was amazing and it was quite … arousing.'
'Well ... that's sorted then!' Sherlock said and a smile bordering definitely on smug played around his lips as he leaned down and pecked John lightly on the cheek, 'Shall we?'
John nodded, still smirking, and holding on to each other they continued their slow walk home.
'Come here, love. Come to me,' John was sitting on the floor, his back leaning against the sofa. Sherlock looked up from the book he was reading and quirked an eyebrow enquiringly. When John patted the space on the rug next to him and smiled, Sherlock put the book down on the arm of the chair, walked over to John and lowered himself onto the floor next to him.
'How's your hand?' Careful not to exert pressure on the tender skin Sherlock enveloped John's left hand in his own.
'Fine, it's all fine. It was more the shock of the fall than anything else,' John admitted. They both took in the slight abrasions on John's hand, their fingers lightly touching. 'Actually - um - I wanted to tell you something, Sherlock.'
Sherlock turned to John and waited, fixing his unwavering stare on him.
'This moment, in the street ... it was well worth the shock and all the abrasions – and the frankly disturbed stares of several passers-by.'
Sherlock glanced at him, incomprehension and mischief battling for dominance on his features, 'Is that so? Why exactly was it worth all that?'
'Because of you, Sherlock! – Fighting this battle for me, giving this frightful young delinquent a good telling–off.'
Sherlock frowned, he wasn't entirely sure if John was mocking him or not and because in doubt, chose to remain silent. John pushed his back off the sofa and got on his knees next to Sherlock. He paused a moment to take in his frown and his calm and serious face. Slowly he pushed Sherlock's long legs flat to the floor and straddled him.
'Maybe I should explain a bit. Sherlock, seriously ... when I heard you shouting at this poor young man I was rather perplexed at first - and annoyed. But then it was very exciting …' he cupped Sherlock's face, 'funny and illuminating …' a kiss on the forehead, 'and seriously, dangerously arousing…' a sensuous kiss on those soft, ridiculously kissable lips.
Sherlock's face relaxed, the corners of his lips turning upwards. He sneaked his arms around John's waist and pulled him even closer, settling him firmly on his lap. But his expression quickly grew serious again.
'I know very well you can fight your own battles, John. But I couldn't help it, I was so enraged, so afraid that he might have injured you …' Sherlock fell silent and shrugged, for once he seemed lost for words.
John gently traced his fingers along his pronounced cheekbones and down to his chin, tenderly lifting it, 'I wasn't complaining, Sherlock. No - I mean it. What you did was good. Of course I know how to fight my own battles when it comes to it ... but ... I don't mind when mother hen Sherlock emerges once in a while…'
'What? I wasn't …! I'm most certainly not a mother hen …' Sherlock sputtered indignantly and John grinned.
'Yes, you are!'
'No, I'm not!' Sherlock's lips turned down, 'I was merely concerned with your well-being and I wanted to show this bike messenger that the pavement is in fact not part of the street as they always seem to be …'
'Oh, just shut up and kiss me!' John leaned down and covered Sherlock's still sulking mouth in a deep and lingering kiss which effectively cut off any more unnecessary explanations or superfluous comments.
08 August 2008 – London
The letter in John's hand felt like lead, like something that had the potential to drag him down, down to black spheres, to places without hope, without future. He dropped the offending paper carelessly on the bed and didn't even notice when it slipped between the night table and the bed frame and got stuck there. Neither did John notice that the day slowly died and that it grew darker and darker in the room. He was alone – Sherlock had been out with Lestrade on a case all day, something about a poisoned headmaster of one of London's leading independent schools, he didn't remember exactly, it wasn't important, it wasn't a part of his life. He downed the last few drops of his whisky, had it been his fifth or his sixth? He shook his head - he didn't remember and frankly, he couldn't care less.
We regret to inform you that we are unable to ensure your further attachment as a surgeon with the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers …
John's head was empty, his mind vacant and his heart one tightly twisted knot. He stared ahead, trying hard to fix his stare to a point on the wardrobe.
'… the last conclusive tests have shown that the fine motor skills in the patient's left hand have not sufficiently returned …
Was it bog oak, or walnut? John squinted, no, he was sure it was mahogany. It was Sherlock's, a family heirloom, surely it must be …. He squinted again, but then he lost interest … His thoughts found no anchor in reality any more.
…full recovery is highly unlikely. Additionally, the patient suffers from an intermittent tremor in his left hand and shows symptoms of PTSD …
John started laughing, a laughter coming deep from within his chest, light at first, harsh, dry laughter that hurt in his chest and made him heave with breathlessness, made him retch, causing nausea to wash over him in waves. But he couldn't stop and he laughed louder and louder and suddenly he wasn't laughing anymore and his chest was heaving with something else entirely. Sobs, violent sobs, were breaking free, finally breaking free, finally finding a way out, shaking his body and shaking Dr John Watson, former Captain of the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers, to the core.
… and is therefore deemed unfit for further deployments.' … Honourable Discharge … We wish you all the best for your future … army pension … valiant service … for Queen and Country…
His chest was heaving and he couldn't for the life of him stop the water flowing from his eyes, he just couldn't. His body started rocking back and forth building up a distinctive rhythm – at one point he started humming and he made sure to match his toneless humming to the gentle swaying of his body. Then softly, softly he started singing the first line of a long-forgotten lullaby - Good evening, good night - over and over again, over and over again until he suddenly skipped to the last lines of this first stanza, 'Early tomorrow, if God wills, you will wake once again'. And then it was only the last few words that he repeated in an endless loop, '… if God wills, you will wake once again … if God wills, you will wake once again …'
'John?' Sherlock watched him from the doorframe, he had been standing there for one or two minutes, shattered by what he was being witness to.
'John? What is wrong with you?'
'… if God wills, you will wake once again …'
Sherlock's heart felt like a raw mass of flesh in his chest, it clenched and unclenched painfully at the sight of John. He quickly crossed the room, switched on their small reading lamp and sat down next to him on the bed. He wrapped his arm around John's shoulder, willing him to stop the oddly maniacal rocking motion.
'John, what's wrong?'
John's body stilled and he slowly lifted his head to look at the man next to him, a puzzled expression on his face, his dark blue eyes fathomless. After a few moments recognition dawned in those eyes, 'Sherlock! What are you doing here? Jesus - I'm glad you're here. How are you?' His face lit up with a smile, he was genuinely happy and amazed that Sherlock was here, next to him in that dark, dark place.
'I'm fine, John. How are you?' Sherlock was out of his depth. John seemed completely beside himself, manic and dazed. His hair was dishevelled, his shirt crumpled, he looked, for the lack of a better word - untidy. Sherlock tried to read his face and he saw hurt and confusion and he seemed as if he was drunk or had taken something; quite frankly, he looked spaced-out. But this wasn't a normal drunken John, this was quite different. It was more than obvious to him that something in John must have snapped - but when and why? And what had triggered it? What?
Sherlock's eyes scanned their bedroom, trying to find a clue, anything that might be responsible for John's state. On a quick cursory glance he only observed the empty whisky tumbler in John's right hand and an almost empty bottle of whisky on the floor partially hidden by the night table, but nothing else. He had been drinking, smelled strongly of alcohol, yes, but John knew how to hold his drink, he wasn't completely gone and he doubted that he had taken anything stronger than alcohol.
The question that befuddled Sherlock was: Why on earth was he sitting in their bedroom in the dark, downing whisky and behaving like a man out of his mind?
He glanced at John again who was studying his fingers holding the tumbler, his body calmer now. He wasn't rocking anymore and Sherlock was thankful, it had been shocking to see him helpless like that. But - for God's sakes - what had shocked him into that state? What?
Sherlock noticed that John eyes started drooping, a wave of exhaustion apparently washing over him. He gently eased the tumbler from John's grip and placed it on the night table, 'John, why don't you get some sleep? I'm sure you will feel …'
John's head shot up and he looked at him wild-eyed, 'Don't leave me, Sherlock! Stay with me, please don't leave me alone here. I can't be alone, please!'
John grabbed his arm and clung to him, his voice was desperate. Sherlock saw the fear and desperation in his eyes, and his heart constricted painfully. He realized that he couldn't trust his voice, so he only gave John's hand a reassuring squeeze and nodded. He got up and started to undress John, taking off his shoes, his socks, his trousers, and that done he gently pushed against John's shoulders to manoeuvre him into the bed. He made sure to tuck him snugly under the covers and turned away to undress, but a vice-like grip around his wrist stopped him, 'Don't go!'
'I won't, don't worry. I just have to undress. I do it here, you can watch me.'
Assured, John let go of his wrist. Sherlock shrugged out of his clothes and let jacket, shirt and trousers fall carelessly to the floor, his eyes never leaving John's, never breaking the invisible bond between them. In his briefs he slipped into bed next to John who shifted a bit towards the middle. He gently gathered John into his arms, holding him close, trying to shelter him from all the bad lurking out there and within him. Burying his nose in John's sandy hair he held him, held him until he felt the tension gradually leave and John's body relaxed and finally granted him some relief in the form of sleep.
When Sherlock was sure that John was sleeping, he reached over to the night table to switch off the reading lamp. Because he couldn't quite reach it, he had to lean away from John and doing so he noticed the letter stuck between the table and the bed frame. He slipped his fingers into the gap and retrieved the official-looking paper. His eyes flew over the letterhead bearing the insignia of the army and trailed down along the words and what he saw was enough to make the puzzle pieces fall into place – tremor – PTSD - unfit – discharge – best for the future – army pension -
He let the letter flutter to the floor and screwed his eyes shut for a moment. Grief flooded him with overwhelming intensity and what truly astounded him was that it felt like mourning, it was as if something had died. He felt empathy, profound and raw, like he had never felt it before, and he understood completely what it must mean for John, why he had drunk and why his mind had basically shut off and reverted to derailing.
Sherlock instinctively tightened his grip on the sleeping John. He knew he wouldn't find sleep tonight. It was his turn to offer comfort, to hold onto John all through the night, to watch over his sleep, to be there for him. He would be his anchor, his rescue, his lifeline - tonight, tomorrow and whenever he needed him.
After all, that's what he had learned from John - Sherlock nodded to himself, yes, that's what loving someone meant.
John opened one eye and regretted it immediately. A sharp pain shot through his head, leaving him with a strange tingling sensation at the back of his skull. 'Ah,' he muttered. He moved his head, very, very slowly, avoiding any rash and thoughtless movements. He felt warm and he heard a steady heartbeat - his fingers groped around a bit and found bony shoulders, and when he moved them further up they were touching beloved silky curls.
'Good morning, love,' a low rumble in the chest beneath his ear, lovely, reverberating, soothing.
John smiled faintly, but even this tentative movement sent another shot of pain through his poor head. 'Migraine …' he muttered.
Sherlock didn't answer, but weaved his fingers through John's hair, gently, slowly, scraping his fingernails lightly over John's scalp before he pressed down on his temples and exerted just the right amount of pressure to marginally ease the pain. After a moment he expertly alternated pressure and moving his fingers in little circles over the temples. The constant change of slight pain and subtle caress was oddly soothing and the pain became more bearable after a few minutes. John relaxed his jaw muscles that he had been clenching in an attempt to ward off the splitting headache. Gradually his whole body relaxed under Sherlock's gentle ministrations.
'Better?' Sherlock asked and John nodded. Sherlock continued to massage his temples in silence.
'I got this letter yesterday ...' John said after a minute, his voice was soft and the sadness in it indisputable.
'I know. I'm so sorry.'
'I don't know what to do, Sherlock.'
'We will find something.'
Sherlock's fingers stilled and he kissed the top of John's head. His voice was low when he continued, 'Why don't you look for some locum work? Start with a few hours, and when it's okay, you can always do more. Steven might help, he's doing locum, isn't he?'
'It's not what I want, Sherlock. I am a surgeon, not your common GP. I have no experience in that field … I am a soldier… I don't want to treat deaf old dears ...' John's voice trailed off.
Sherlock tried to read his face, but John was turned away from him, all he could get was a glimpse of his nose. He gently lifted his arm and let John slide back onto the sheets before he lay down next to him, studying his face. John looked sad and frustrated and angry, but his eyes were clear and focused, none of that dazed lostness of last night. He was here, in the present, with him.
'Do you remember what you said to me when you found me here out on drugs?' Sherlock asked and John shook his head because he wanted to hear it from Sherlock.
'You told me that life wasn't always that simple. And that it was no use sitting around, waiting for life to knock on one's door. You made it clear that I had to get up and give my life meaning and if it didn't work out at once, I had to try again. And that's what I did, although it took me a while to find a direction and meaning.'
Sherlock placed a hand at the nape of John's neck and pulled him closer.
'But you, John, you always knew what you wanted to do. You wanted to help people, you wanted to be a doctor and that's what you are! Life hasn't been kind to you. True, it has dealt you a heavy blow, but don't let it get to your head that this is the end of all! It's not! You are still a doctor and you are still able to work. Maybe I can't imagine how hard it is for you to accept that your army surgeon days are over, but I know that you will excel in another field, you will still make an impact.'
John only nodded because he could not answer, he could not think of words to express his feelings. In fact he was angry beyond words and utterly confused - His life as an army surgeon was gone, just like that, had simply vanished into thin air and not because he had done anything wrong, no, because of this bloody sniper and this useless war.
He opened his mouth to say something, but still no words would come and he tightly clenched his jaw. He stubbornly tried again, 'It's not fair!' he finally spat out, 'It's not my fault and it's inacceptable that there is absolutely bloody nothing I can do to change that. I didn't do anything wrong, nothing to deserve that fate and I am the one who has to live with the consequences.' John screwed his eyes shut in frustration and winced when pain shot through his head again, the remnants of the migraine still lingering.
'I understand John, I really do,' Sherlock gently caressed John's neck, soothingly weaving his fingers through his hair which was, in startling contrast to his army days, much longer than usual. Sherlock saw John's internal struggle clearly and he didn't expect John to put his feelings into many words, there was no need, he understood. It was all right, they would find a way to move on. But more than anything it would need time for John to heal.
While Sherlock went on caressing John's neck his thought wandered back to last evening when he had been out on a case with Lestrade. All of a sudden he remembered what he had wanted to tell John so desperately yesterday. It had been pushed to the back of his mind, had become entirely insignificant, but now it might prove to be just the right kind of distraction.
'I met Mrs Hudson at this independent school yesterday. She visited a friend, one of the teachers there.' he said almost triumphantly.
John knitted his brows, the name didn't ring a bell at all, 'Who?'
'Mrs Hudson, John!' There was a hint of exasperation in Sherlock's voice as if he couldn't believe that John couldn't remember her. 'Mrs Hudson, you must remember her. Do keep up, John! That case in Florida? Her husband on death row?'
'Oh, Mrs Hudson. Yes. Right, how could I forget her – and you are excited about having met her – why exactly?'
'What do you think of Baker Street, John?'
'What should I think of it?' John was growing more and more irritated, he had no inkling what Sherlock was on about and what it had to do with anything.
'It's going to be our new address. 221B Baker Street.' Sherlock beamed expectantly at John, his eyes gleaming with joy and anticipation. 'Mrs Hudson firmly believes she owes me a favour and she offered me a special deal on the flat. John, we're going to move!'
John frowned, he really didn't know what to think. He wasn't someone who liked surprises overly much, didn't like to be confronted with irrecovable decisions and most importantly he didn't like to be the one to be told last. But once he had gotten over the initial surprise he found that Sherlock's announcement actually caused some of his irritation and anger to drain away, allowing him a glimmer of hope instead.
He weaved his fingers through Sherlock's curls, playing with the silky strands, buying a bit of time. Various scenarios of his future, of their future, were running through his head. What would he do? Where would the next months take him? What would life be like without being a soldier? Would he ever fully recover?
Honestly, his future was anything but mapped out clearly in front of him and he didn't like that one single bit. But the smile he finally aimed at Sherlock was genuine and heartfelt, one that acknowledged that, despite the intricacies of life, moving on in any form was probably a good and desirable thing for him. He would take one step at a time, and this was to be the first.
'Right, Sherlock. We are going to move!' John said, his voice firm and strong, 'Baker Street, here we come.'
For all the ladies who kindly asked for more John whump ... I tried my best ... ;-D
Chapter 16: 221B Baker Street - Part I
John and Sherlock move to 221B and it's John who finds new meaning in life ...
03 January 2009 – London - 221B Baker Street
'This is a prime spot,' John remarked, marvelling at the reality of Baker Street – grand town houses, Jubilee Line just around the corner, right in the heart of the city - 'Must be expensive.'
'Yes,' Sherlock conceded, 'Thank God, Mrs Hudson's given us that special deal … Here we are!'
Sherlock had stopped in front of the black door of a huge brick house. Two narrow, worn out stone steps led up to the black wooden door which was old and weather-beaten and bearing the golden letters 221B over a golden door knocker, the stereotypical accessories of a London townhouse of a certain era. John glanced up the exterior walls and counted four floors. The picture of a certain faded grandeur was made complete by black iron fences running along the length the house on street level and matching black iron railings and mock balconies adorning the first floor windows.
Next to the main door to the residence the shop window and the entrance of a sandwich bar were topped by a faded red marquee sporting the yellow letters 'Speedy's'. Finding a bar here was somewhat unexpected, but instead of spoiling the overall impression it gave the whole residence a kind of homely feeling.
Sherlock rang the door bell. He glanced at John and reassuringly squeezed his fingers which were warmly enveloped in his gloved hand. John smiled back at him, glad for this little gesture as he couldn't deny a certain feeling of apprehension. The door was yanked open resolutely after what seemed only seconds and a woman in her sixties appeared in the open door.
'Sherlock! Look at you!' she exclaimed, her friendly face lighting up with a warm smile, her eyes twinkling with genuine pleasure.
'Mrs Hudson!' Sherlock mirrored her smile and John was surprised by the warmth in his voice. He was even more surprised when Sherlock, who usually wasn't very tactile with strangers, gathered her in a welcoming embrace. He let go of Mrs Hudson, turned to John with a proud smile playing around his lips and introduced him, 'Dr John Watson.'
'Dr Watson, so nice to finally meet you!' John took to her from the very first moment, she was a fine-looking lady, friendly, open, and she exuded a kind of motherly briskness which appealed very much to him.
'Pleased to meet you, Mrs Hudson!'
'Come in, come in,' Mrs Hudson stepped aside to let them both into the rather dark, but cosy hall.
'Shall we?' Holding the door open for John Sherlock followed Mrs Hudson into the house.
Sherlock of course remembered the ground floor from the time he had been here in an entirely different matter when his services as a consultant detective had been required. And two days ago he had already revisited Baker Street without John to talk about the details of their lease and Mrs Hudson had been so kind to allow him to go upstairs and leave the cardboard boxes he had brought with him in the taxi.
They expectantly followed Mrs Hudson up to the first floor. Sherlock bounded up the stairs ahead of John, but waited on the landing for him and made sure to only open the door to their new home when John was right beside him. He did so with a flourish and smiling broadly. John answered his smile, how could he not? - Sherlock was so much like a little child, impatient to show off a new drawing or a little knickknack made especially for that occasion.
When John stepped through the door he was genuinely surprised by what he saw - 'Oh, this could be very nice!' His gaze wandered around the bright room, taking in the high ceiling, the two grand windows and he had no problem to imagine it as their future home - 'Very nice indeed.'
The room they stood in was clearly meant to serve as the living room, furnished as it was with a few wooden shelves, a battered, but comfy-looking armchair, and an old leather sofa. There was a rather impressive fireplace and the walls were covered with wallpaper in very expressive patterns, strangely old-fashioned, but not disagreeable. John turned on his heels and saw that the living room opened to a kitchen which was a good size, but rather cluttered with science equipment and cardboard boxes.
John briefly wondered if the person living here before had been particularly untidy and ruthless on top of that for leaving this chaos behind. He turned and looked at Sherlock and Mrs Hudson who both beamed at him expectantly. Clearly a verdict of some kind was expected.
'Oh yes,' he nodded his approval, 'This will be really nice. Once we've cleared out all the rubbish…' he vaguely indicated the mess in the kitchen – his last sentence clashing with Sherlock's enthusiastic, 'Yes, I think so - My thoughts precisely. That's why I moved in my science stuff from St. Bart's already.'
They looked at each other and smiled. Mrs Hudson raised a delighted eyebrow – she, who prided herself to be very perceptive - noticed a certain something between them and deemed it more than safe to assume the next questions were purely rhetorical ones, 'What do you think then, Dr Watson? There is another bedroom upstairs if you'll be needing two bedrooms.'
John and Sherlock exchanged a quick glance, 'Of course, we'll be needing another bedroom,' John said, turning to Mrs Hudson again, but barely able to hide a grin.
'Oh don't worry, there's all sorts around here. Mrs Turner next door's got married ones,' Mrs Hudson was quick to assure them, she would have sworn any oath now that Sherlock and this Dr Watson were more than friends.
Sherlock glanced at John again, who nodded, thus leaving it to him to go ahead, so he took the chance to clarify and to be open. He enveloped John's hand in his own, gently circling his thumb over his skin, 'We'll be using the extra room for all the stuff we have in storage, Mrs Hudson. We live in a tiny flat at the moment. A flat this size will be a noticeable and very welcome change.'
Mrs Hudson registered the tenderness in Sherlock's voice and the intimate gesture and smiled - How lovely! - she thought – How delightful! That matter sorted to her liking she fell into her buzzing landlady mode. She walked past them - to be honest just as much to do something, anything, as to hide her feelings because she was near to tears. She couldn't help it, but seeing happy couples always made her sentimental and teary.
She casually picked up a few paper scraps strewn along the mantel of the fireplace and continued into the kitchen where her gaze fell onto the overflowing kitchen table. It was virtually littered with Petri dishes, test tubes, chemicals and other concoctions in bottles, in tubes, in powder form and a huge microscope was perching precariously on the kitchen counter. Seeing all this she couldn't help but say disapprovingly, 'Sherlock, the mess you've made!'
John shot Sherlock a filthy look that spoke volumes and Sherlock pouted in response. He stepped behind John and placed his chin on his head thus establishing an indisputable superiority at least in the height department - he liked to do that once in a while and it annoyed John. Sherlock sensed John's body tensing a bit and placed a soothing kiss on top of his head before he followed Mrs Hudson into the kitchen.
She was still buzzing about and Sherlock noticed that she probably couldn't help herself and simply had to bring some kind of order into his chaos. But when she found herself with a cloth in one hand and a Petri dish in the other she seemed to remember one of her principles and refrained from continuing. Instead she turned to the two of them and firmly said, 'Don't forget. I'm your landlady, not your housekeeper!' She resolutely put down the cloth and the dish on the overflowing table, aimed a friendly smile at Sherlock and then at John and left them to it before she would change her mind.
As soon as Mrs Hudson had left their flat and could be heard descending the stairs to her realm, Sherlock walked over, grabbed John and pressed his lips on John's - clumsily, passionately, greedily. He moved his hands up his back and buried them in his hair to pull him even closer. John responded with much more enthusiasm than those sloppy kisses merited and opened his mouth welcoming Sherlock's tongue. They kissed and groped and moaned like hormone-driven teenagers, the thrill of starting a new phase in their life fuelling their passion and the hope of sharing more time than ever constituting an unbelievable aphrodisiac.
'Let's have a look at that bedroom, shall we?' Sherlock panted between kisses and grabbed John's hand. He led him through the kitchen along a smaller corridor into what would certainly be their bedroom once they had moved everything here. John smirked when he saw that Sherlock had clearly planned ahead. There were several cushions and an old duvet spread on the not too clean floor. The windows were open a crack to let in the fresh winter air and there was even a candle on a saucer to be lit later when the greyness of this wintry afternoon would give way to the dark night.
John turned to Sherlock, 'Oh, you are a bad man, Sherlock.'
He let his cane drop to the floor, grabbed the lapels of his great coat and kissed him, covering his face with soft kisses and tender bites, relishing the excitement of the moment and the sensation of his soft skin, but soon this wasn't enough, he needed more, they needed more. Sherlock broke off and shrugged out of his coat and suit jacket, only to drop them carelessly on the floor. He started undoing the buttons of his shirt, slowly, one by one, and when he was down to the last one he resolutely kicked the bedroom door shut with his foot.
10 January 2009 – London - 221 Baker Street
'Phew… thank God and all bloody hell that it's finished!'
John slumped into the battered armchair that had soon become his favourite. The last days had been filled to the brim with packing and unpacking cardboard box over cardboard box filled with books, files and papers, not to mention the rest of Sherlock's science equipment and their clothes and personal belongings. For the heavier furniture they had used a removal firm and now everything was finally done and dusted and they had time to settle into their new home.
Sherlock had been quite restless throughout the house moving, he had helped with the packing and had done a lot of organising, yes, but all the time his mind had been occupied by a strange string of suicides that were now treated as serial by Scotland Yard. This case and its handling by the inspectors of the Yard had had him ranting against the imbecility of the police for days - no, for weeks, come to think of it - and he had done his utmost to become part of the investigation. But so far to no avail - Inspector Lestrade had not summoned him.
John was glad for the break now, he was exhausted, his shoulder was aching and he felt a tingling restlessness in his fingers. With a grunt he grabbed the newspaper from the chair opposite and contently settled back into his chair. All the carrying and ranging hadn't helped his limp either, it was more pronounced than ever, so his cane was leaning against the armrest of his chair, ready to be used should he find enough energy to get up from this very comfy chair in the near future.
He had to admit that his mind had been pleasantly occupied by all the ranging and sorting, the deafening thoughts of an uncertain future pushed aside by the sheer amount of work. It felt like a fresh start and John was more hopeful than ever that he would eventually find something meaningful to fill his days with.
He glanced at Sherlock who was standing with his back to him at the window, looking down on Baker Street, restlessly swaying to and fro. John's heart skipped a beat when he watched him, when the reality of their new home hit him, when he thought back to all the years they had known each other – it would be unbelievable ten years this summer! Glimpses of all the heartache and pain, but more importantly of the joy and tenderness, of the love they felt for each other danced through his mind. He silently chuckled, he was happy, yes, that's what he was.
Mrs Hudson, against all her principles, was busy in the kitchen, trying to range their dishes and cutlery. She looked up from what she was doing and took a moment to take in her boys, as she had secretly taken to call them, and saw the tiredness in John and the restlessness in Sherlock. 'Sherlock, I'm sure something will come up soon,' she called from the kitchen, it was meant as words of consolation.
John smiled, it really was amazing how quickly Mrs Hudson had got accustomed to Sherlock's quirks and habits - and how she had picked up immediately why he was so restless. 'A nice murder or …' she walked up to John with a stack of plates in her hand and peered over his shoulder at the newspaper. 'What about those three suicides? – I guess that would be right up your street.'
Sherlock didn't answer, but he suddenly stopped swaying and his body tensed. He turned towards the hall, anticipation clearly written all over his features. 'Four – there has been a fourth,' he muttered. John looked up from the article he was reading and turned his gaze towards the hall when he heard heavy footsteps on the stairs.
'Where?' Sherlock asked, obviously addressing the person who had ascended the stairs to their flat.
'Brixton. Lauriston Gardens.' A nice low voice with a hint of estuary English rang out. Surprisingly John could make out such conflicting emotions as tension, tiredness and exasperation in this voice. Because he couldn't see the man who had remained in the hall he had to concentrate entirely on his voice and the effect his words had on Sherlock.
'What's new about this one? You wouldn't have come if there wasn't something different.'
'You know that they never leave notes? Well, this one did,' the man paused for a second as if it wasn't easy for him to go on, 'Will you come?'
There was a distinct pleading note in the voice now and John could see Sherlock's face fairly lighting up. Finally! John couldn't tear his gaze away from his eyes which had become so animated, so very alive.
'Who's on forensics?' Sherlock asked, his calm voice betraying his excitement.
'Anderson won't work with me.'
'He won't be your assistant.'
'But I need an assistant.'
'Will you come?' the voice demanded again, slightly more desperate now.
'Not in the police car. I'll be right behind,' Sherlock turned to the window again, barely able to contain the joy bubbling up in him any longer.
'Thank you!' palpable relief and then nothing more than the sound of footsteps rapidly descending down the stairs.
'Brilliant! Yes!' Sherlock punched his fists into the air and did a little dance grabbing his coat and scarf. 'Four suicides and now a note. Ah - It's Christmas!' He smacked a heartfelt kiss on John's cheek, 'Don't wait up for me, love!' and bounded down the stairs.
Mrs Hudson followed him with her eyes and shook her head, 'Look at him, dashing about and all happy … it's not decent! - My husband was just the same.' She turned to John, 'But you are more the sitting-down-type, I can tell. Why don't I get you a cuppa and you rest your leg, dear.' She patted John's shoulder in a very friendly manner.
'Damn my leg,' John exploded and immediately regretted his outbreak when he saw Mrs Hudson's startled face. 'Sorry, I'm so sorry. It's just this bloody thing sometimes …'
She wasn't fazed, though, 'I understand, dear. I've got a hip.' She patted her hip and set off into the hall, 'I'll get you that cuppa.'
'Couple of biscuits would be lovely, too,' John called after her as a rather crude peace offering when Mrs Hudson was almost out of the door, but only a cheery, 'I'm your landlady, not your housekeeper!' floated back to him.
John picked up his newspaper again and tried to concentrate. He couldn't believe how much it hurt to have been demonstrated so openly that there was no use for him at the moment. He was tired, his leg and shoulder hurt and he was only fit enough to be brought a cuppa and a digestive. It made him feel like an old man, adventures and excitement a thing of the past. The flat and his life felt oddly silent and empty all of a sudden. John sighed and dipped his chin, but it was more a gesture out of habit than an indicator of defiance.
'John, why don't you come with me?' Sherlock's voice called him back from his miserable thoughts, made him look up, startled and surprised, he'd thought him long gone. Sherlock was standing in the open living room door and when he spoke John noticed that his voice was low, set out to be seductive and persuasive.
'You are a doctor, John. You've seen a lot of injuries before, horrible things, violent deaths.'
'Yes ... true,' John nodded tiredly, 'I've seen enough, more than enough for a lifetime. Far too much ...'
He got up with some difficulty, grabbed his cane to steady himself and hobbled over to Sherlock. Sherlock's eyes flickered over his face, reading the desperation and sadness. He leaned down to him and tenderly cupped his face, 'I'm sure you wouldn't be fazed by what we'll see, John ... Come with me and help me. Be my assistant.'
Conflicting emotions shot through John's mind - Despite all those feeling of being useless, old and spent which were still permeating his being, John wasn't sure if he should go with him - wasn't sure at all if that was what he really wanted. Wasn't he glad to have left behind all those horrible things he had seen in the war? – Those mutilated bodies, horrendous injuries, all this pain and loss. Things he saw in his nightmares, things he wanted to forget.
But he wasn't squeamish, that much was true, and he missed the adventure and excitement that had also been part of his time as a soldier and army doctor and he truly, wholeheartedly loved his profession. The promise that he would be together with Sherlock was another very enticing factor and watching Sherlock actually at work was something he had never had the opportunity to do before.
He was wavering – Maybe ... just maybe he could indeed be helpful again, useful, needed? - He was a doctor, after all and a very good one.
'Will you help me, love?'Sherlock asked again, his voice was soft, he was not pushing him, just asking, leaving him a choice, offering him an opportunity. When John realized what it might mean for them, for him, he didn't hesitate any longer.
'Oh God, yes!' he answered and John couldn't remember when he had last seen a smile so elated and beautiful than the one Sherlock gave him in that moment. He leaned down and claimed John's lips in a soft kiss. John grabbed his jacket and cane and together they set off down the stairs, exhilarated, smiling and much happier than the sad and gruesome occasion warranted.
Brixton – Lauriston Gardens
They walked up to the police cordon, manned by two uniformed constables. A young woman in plain clothes, but recognizably police because of her two-way radio and a demeanour speaking of a certain belief in her own importance, was standing next to them.
'Hello freak,' she greeted Sherlock, ignoring John pointedly.
He frowned, what a way to treat somebody. Having known Sherlock for so many years John was of course aware that he elicited strong reactions from people once in a while or rather more often than not, but this young police woman was downright hostile. Certainly something must have happened between them – There were old scores, he was sure. John made a mental note to ask Sherlock later.
'Sergeant Sally Donovan, old friend,' Sherlock mumbled by way of explanation to John. 'I'm here to see Detective Inspector Lestrade,' Sherlock continued calmly, but John could clearly hear the underlying steel and annoyance.
'I was invited.'
'Think he wants me to take a look,' Sherlock's annoyance was more pronounced now, the expression on his face a clear indicator of how little he thought of her.
'Well, you know what I think, do you?'
'Always, Sally. And I also know that you didn't make it home last night.'
The casual remark was clearly meant to unsettle her and it succeeded. In a futile attempt to regain the upper hand and reestablish her alleged superiority she asked, 'Who's this?'
'Dr John Watson, my partner.'
'Partner... As in partner in crime? Or partner in business? Or ... ?' She halted, apparently in need to draw a breath, 'How do you get a partner? ... Did he follow you home?'
The last part of her sneering remark was aimed at John who was getting more and more upset by the way she treated Sherlock.
'Actually, he did!' John snapped and Sally arched a rather smug eyebrow, 'But then he would have as we are living together. And it's partner as in partner in life – or if that's too alien a concept for you, I'll make it easier to understand – Sherlock's my boyfriend!'
Sherlock grinned and Sally looked as if she had seen a ghost, the ghost of a happy Sherlock, the ghost of a happy couple, the ghost of a happy life. It left her quite speechless and only the crackle of her two-way radio shook her back into her normal, brisk police mode. She answered whoever had been contacting her.
'Yes, yes ... Freak's here, bringing him in.'
They followed Sally, who glanced back at them once in a while as if to ascertain herself of the reality of what she had just been told, and walked up to the terraced house which was eerily illuminated by the blueish light of the police cars. A man in a scene of crime suit came out of the building and by way of greeting he said in a rather whiny and jarring voice, 'This is a crime scene. I don't want it contaminated.'
'Ah, Anderson!' Sherlock said, clearly enjoying himself.
'Are we clear on that?'
For a moment John thought Sherlock was going to exercise his legendary deducing skills on this sad excuse of a man, but he left it at that and simply brushed past him. He briskly entered the building, only turning around to make sure that John followed him.
John was astounded by the amount of hostility those people displayed towards Sherlock. First sergeant Donovan, then this Anderson. He had assumed they would be glad to get his help - for God's sakes, they had been the ones to summon him!
The house they found themselves in seemed uninhabited, but undergoing massive reconstruction judging by the scaffolding and various tools and buckets full of rubble lying around. Police floodlights did their best to dip everything into a blinding white making the bleakness of the house even more real.
John followed Sherlock into a ground floor room which seemed to be used as a provisional incident room by the investigating police. A man in his forties with a full head of grey-blond hair and a friendly open face was in the process of putting on one of those ill-fitting scene of crime suits. Sherlock walked up to the table and the policeman standing next to it as if he owned the place. Without greeting the other man he snatched something from a heap on the table.
'Wear one of these,' he handed John one of the suits.
The man eyed John, 'Who's this?'
John recognized the voice from half an hour ago, it was the policeman who had asked Sherlock for help.
'He's with me, Lestrade.'
'Yeah, but who is he?'
'Dr John Watson, my partner.'
'Oh for God's sakes, why can't people understand? Partner, yes! – You can also call him my boyfriend … or my lover if that makes it clearer!'
'Oh – Yes, of course!' Lestrade smirked when everything fell into place. Of course! - Dr John Watson, army doctor, invalided home from Afghanistan. He remembered that Sherlock had told him about an incident quite a while ago, he remembered how shaken he had been. What he hadn't mentioned, though, was that this Dr John Watson was his life partner. What a surprise! Who would have thought that Sherlock Holmes of all people …?
He extended a hand for John to shake, 'DI Lestrade, pleased to meet you, Dr Watson.'
John shook the proffered hand, 'Pleased to meet you.'
So this was Lestrade, John thought. On a first glance he seemed to be a decent bloke. It was funny because John had heard so much about him, Sherlock had worked with him for so long, two or three years, and now was the first time they were actually face to face.
John continued the struggle to get into the suit and he noticed that Sherlock was growing restless again. Impatiently Sherlock asked, 'Where are we?'
'Upstairs,' Lestrade answered and led the way, leaving it to Sherlock and John to follow him up three flights of stairs.
It was a revelation – Sherlock rattled off his deductions, taking them from the string of lovers the victim apparently had - judging by the state of her wedding ring - to the fact that she was from out of town - Cardiff, to be precise. It's obvious, isn't it? – to the clue that she had scratched RACHE into the wooden floor, which according to Sherlock could only mean RACHEL.
He was impressive, he was brilliant, he was quick, he made Lestrade and his fellow officers look like beginners and mere amateurs next to him. John couldn't help himself and voiced his amazement and admiration aloud which earned him lopsided smiles and the assurance that it was 'fine'.
John was amazed to watch him entirely in his element and he just about glimpsed the tender, caring Sherlock that he loved so much beneath his brisk and arrogant consulting detective persona. It was exciting, fascinating and amazing to see him in that role and John felt a strong desire to be with him when he was like that, he wanted to be near him, to be part of what he did, to help him in this quest for clues and hints.
'John, what do you think?' Sherlock looked at him expectantly.
'Of ... the weather?' Oh, God, he hadn't been listening, he had been so absorbed in Sherlock that the last few minutes had washed over him.
'Of the body of course. You're a medical man. Tell me what you think!' Sherlock was intent on showing John that he indeed needed him here.
John knelt down next to the body, it was a bit awkward because of his leg, but he managed and he examined her, trying to deduce what he could from the poor woman lying dead on the floor. Sherlock smiled at him the whole time, with a warmth and tenderness in his eyes that was only ever there for John. Lestrade noticed it and turned away, he didn't know why, but looking on felt like shamelessly intruding, like being witness to a very intimate and decisive moment.
And in fact that's what it was - It was the moment when both Sherlock and John realised that they were not only meant for each other as lovers and friends, but that there was more to it. They realized they would be working together, hunting criminals together, they were meant to be a team.
There were not only Sherlock and John, no they were also meant to be Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson.
Chapter 17: 221B Baker Street - Part II
10 January 2009 – London
John was running through the black and cold London night. He was running fast, following Sherlock effortlessly. He was climbing up and down fire ladders, jumping from one rooftop to another with only the slightest hesitation. He was skipping along narrow ledges without a second thought. John's heart was beating a frantic tattoo, his legs stomping a steady rhythm and his arms were balancing him finely. His whole body was working like a wonderfully tuned instrument.
'Come on, John. We're losing him!' Sherlock was running ahead of him, like a graceful panther, he knew his way and John followed him like a magnet drawn inevitably towards metal. Not to follow Sherlock would never have occurred to him.
They were chasing the black cab and its passenger which had stopped in front of 'Angelo's' where they had been waiting as part of a scheme concocted by Sherlock. The vital part of this scheme being the murder victim's phone which had neither been found on the victim nor anywhere else and which Sherlock believed to be in the killer's possession. Earlier this evening they had got in contact, sent a text to that very phone to roust him. Sherlock's ideas to lure the alleged murderer of four people out of his hiding place seemed to prove successful indeed – If they could catch up with him that was.
When Sherlock had set off in pursuit of the cab John hadn't thought twice and had followed him and now they were dashing through London's narrow alleys, taking an alternative route to intersect the path of the cab. 'This way, John,' Sherlock called from ahead, he had rounded a corner and John had not seen which one and on instinct had turned left. 'No, this way!' Sherlock shouted from afar and John turned around obediently, trying to gather speed again.
John almost caught up with Sherlock as he was thundering down a narrow pathway, the street lights glinting in the darkness ahead. The mouth of the pathway spat Sherlock out onto the street and he landed right in front of the taxi which was coming to a screeching halt. Sherlock fairly crashed against the bumper of the cab, but he was unharmed, and quickly walked around to the passenger door.
'Open her up!' he demanded in a commanding voice and snatched the door open. John only reached him, panting heavily, when Sherlock was shaking his head, 'No! Tan, teeth – What? California?'
John frowned, he didn't understand, and peered into the taxi. There was a man in there, maybe in his thirties, well-groomed, but apparently rattled and he looked at them as if he had seen a ghost. He let his bewildered gaze wander between Sherlock and John and didn't say a word.
'How do you know, Sherlock?' John demanded breathlessly.
'The luggage, John,' and he pointed to the very distinctive airline label giving all the relevant information to those who cared to look.
'Ah –' John let out a breath which expressed just as much disappointment as it was useful to calm down his pulse. He grimaced at the passenger who seemed to grow more confused by the second. Sherlock saw the man's discomfort too and tried to save the situation by saying, 'Your first time in England? Everything all right?'
'Yeah,' the man nodded, attempting a faint smile.
'Welcome to London!' Sherlock added and quickly flashed a false smile at the man who was clearly befuddled by those strange Englishmen, who had practically waylaid him. Sherlock swiftly closed the door before the stranger could think of a reply.
Huddled closely together Sherlock and John walked a bit further down the street, panting from the exertion, the disappointment doubling the strain.
'Not the murderer,' John said.
'Not the murderer, no,' Sherlock admitted, sounding a bit tired, 'I suppose it had been a long shot anyway.'
John looked at him and despite the disappointment evident in Sherlock's features, he couldn't help giggling, 'Welcome to London! Really Sherlock, you gave that man a terrible fright!'
Sherlock huffed, but answered John's smile. They glanced back at the cab and saw that the American had flagged down a policeman and was pointing in their direction.
'Ready?' Sherlock asked, mischief glinting in his eyes.
'Ready when you are, ' John answered and together they set off again, running down the streets, running away from the cab and towards their home.
'I have never done anything so stupid in my life,' John panted, trying hard not to break into another giggling fit. 'This was ridiculous!'
They were leaning against the walls of the hall in 221B, trying to get their breath back, fairly glowing in the memory of their adventure and mischief. But Sherlock knew it had been more than that and he pushed himself off the wall and turned to John. Smiling he planted both hands either side of his head, so close that he was effectively pinning him to the wall, and leaned down to whisper in his ear.
'You're absolutely right. It was ridiculous and stupid. I dare even say ludicrous - But well worth it, love.'
His breath tickled the sensitive skin below John's ear and he involuntarily twitched and hunched his shoulder, leaning in closer nevertheless.
'Worth it? Well worth what, Sherlock?'
'Proving a point,' Sherlock was still whispering, his breath ghosting over the over-sensitive skin of John's neck now, slowly - up and down - causing John to involuntarily close his eyes, relishing the sensation.
'What point, Sherlock?' John eventually whispered back, slightly adjusting his stance, moving closer ever so slowly. Sherlock noticed and moved forward himself so that he was pressing John against the wall, their bodies flush against each other, their body heat mingling, their excitement mounting.
'You!' a shallow breath against John's collarbone.
John started moving his hips against Sherlock's, 'Me? Right – um – why?'
'We were running around London, John. You and me.'
'You were running around London. Running, John.'
'Yes … I was, wasn't I?' John stopped moving when realization dawned on him and a slow, wonderful smile spread over his face, lighting up his eyes, 'I was, Sherlock!'
Sherlock nodded and kissed him, slowly and tenderly, their hips never breaking contact, their bodies slowly swaying together. After some wonderful moments John broke their kiss and pressed his forehead against Sherlock's, quieting the movement of their bodies. They just stood there smiling into each other's eyes – taking in the changed dynamic, taking in the past of John's handicap, taking in the present, the future. Equilibrium at last.
A sudden cry startled them, 'Sherlock, what have you done?' Mrs Hudson stormed out of her flat, she was teary-eyed, barely holding together.
Sherlock quickly turned around to face her, 'Mrs Hudson, what happened?'
'Upstairs, they are all upstairs,' was all Mrs Hudson muttered, pressing her hand against her mouth, she appeared to be quite shaken.
John and Sherlock exchanged a glance and quickly moved up the stairs to their flat, John for the first time in months without a limp that was hindering him, without a cane that was holding him back. Sherlock burst through the door into their flat which appeared to be brightly illuminated and swarming with police. Sally Donovan was rifling through their books and Detective Inspector Lestrade was sitting in Sherlock's favourite chair like he owned the place.
'What are you doing here? You can't just break into our flat,' Sherlock snapped at Lestrade, he was furious.
'And you can't just go off on your own, Sherlock. I'm not stupid, you know!'
'So you break in here and go through our things? What do you call this, then?'
'It's a drugs bust,' Lestrade said, sounding triumphant.
John was astonished to notice this tone and a cold hand gripped his heart – A drugs bust? Why? What had happened? He felt faint and leaned against the doorframe to steady himself. How could Lestrade possibly know anything about Sherlock's past as a drug addict? It was inconceivable for John that Sherlock would have told him – And Sherlock had been clean since they had come together, hadn't he?
'I am clean!' Sherlock said as if he had read John's thoughts, sounding indignant, outraged even, and John glanced at him, 'I don't even smoke!'
'Well, then let's work together,' Lestrade said.
John still couldn't follow, why was he acting so strangely, why was he threatening Sherlock with his past, why?
'Sherlock, you can't just withhold evidence,' Lestrade said, opening his arms wide and raising his brows to underline the outlandishness of his action.
Evidence? - John closed his eyes and sighed with relief when everything fell into place. Evidence! Of course, he was talking about the suitcase, the victim's suitcase, complete with name tag containing address and telephone number. Sherlock had been the one to find this vital clue and they had taken it home instead of alarming Lestrade and handing it over to the police. John had not realized that this would have been the appropriate thing to do, but of course Lestrade as the inspector in charge of this investigation had every right to it – and now they were here claiming the evidence, and it was fair to say that they were blackmailing Sherlock into handing it over, into working with them, into sharing what he had deduced from just looking at it and from going through its contents.
Sherlock let out a heartfelt sigh and turned to the inspector. John felt his reluctance, of course he wanted to do it his own way, but now it was about time to concede that there was no way around working with Lestrade and his men. John slumped down in his favourite chair and watched Sherlock who seemed to fight his internal battle for a few moments longer. He was pacing the room like a caged animal, wringing his hands, but after a minute the fight seemed to leave him, and he relented. He faced Lestrade, concentrating on him, and quickly, brilliantly and meticulously began to lay down what he and John had found so far.
'Why did he have to go off like that, John?' Lestrade sounded irritated and slightly miffed. John shrugged, he didn't have the energy to explain Sherlock's motives to Lestrade when he didn't understand them himself. Sherlock had left the flat muttering about going out for some air and now he was gone. John didn't have an inkling where he had disappeared to and he couldn't reach him on his phone which made him increasingly uneasy.
'He is always like that. He's wasting our time – all our time,' Sally Donovan couldn't let the opportunity go to slag Sherlock off, but Lestrade only shrugged, indifferent to her hostility, he knew Sherlock better after all.
'Let's pack it up, then. We're finished here. John, do tell Sherlock to be in touch, will you?' and with these parting words they all set off down the stairs and back to the Yard.
John stayed behind and his uneasiness grew by the minute when Sherlock didn't come back after five, ten, fifteen minutes and no message whatsoever from him. John needed to move and nervously started pacing the living room, his limp completely forgotten, when suddenly an insistent beep of the tracking system they had used earlier to find the phone of the last murder victim alarmed him. GPS had managed to track it down again and therefore could possibly, hopefully tell John where Sherlock was. John went to the desk and after a quick glance on the screen he grabbed the laptop. He was almost down the stairs when on second thought he quickly climbed upstairs to their spare bedroom to retrieve his gun from its hiding place in the old wardrobe before hastily leaving the flat.
The black cab was standing abandoned on the open, cobbled square in front of the dark and deserted building. The back door was open, driver and passenger nowhere in sight. It was a strangely stark and terrifying picture and John's heart sank. He peered inside the dark interior hoping to find a clue, but he couldn't read a place like Sherlock could and he had to bite back the panic that was mounting in his throat. He doubted that he had ever felt so much fear in his entire life. Of course he had experienced fear before, gut-wrenching, raw, bloody useless fear, he knew what panic felt like, he had seen it all, he had lived through a horrendous injury and its aftermath. But John had never feared so much for another person and what surprised him was that this fear was counterbalanced by an immense and unspeakable fury.
Where are you? Goddamn it! Where?
John's eyes darted into the twilight in front of him and searched the outer walls of the building, taking in the size and magnitude of the stony edifice. He made out two identical wings and on instinct John entered the one on the left. He tugged at the doorknobs in the shape of shells which adorned the large wooden doors and a moment of surprise and relief washed over him when they offered no resistance - He would have believed a building like this locked securely at night. Once inside John passed another set of doors, completely unsure what to do now, where to look for him, where to go.
'Sherlock?' John called, but no answer, only the deafening noise of his own voice. He cursed under his breath - there really wasn't much left to him, but to search the entire building. And he had to do it alone – he had alarmed Lestrade on the ride here, but it would surely take them some time to arrive – time John didn't have. He peered up to the ceiling and turned on his heels to take in the totality of the huge and dimly-lit lobby. The movement made him dizzy and the questions which were racing through his mind only added to this feeling.
Why did you go off? Why? And with whom? - They had come here with the cab, that much was clear - but where was the cabbie and where had Sherlock gone? Was there somebody else with him? Who? Had he been forced? How? At gunpoint? John shook himself to clear his head, clear of all paralysing thoughts. He would be no use to Sherlock if he lost his head now. Calm down, Watson!
The weight of the gun felt comforting in his hand and he ventured further into the building. He checked every room on the ground floor, every laboratory, every office, but nobody was there. The feeling that he was quite alone in the building and that he was running out of time began to manifest itself, growing stronger and more distinct by the second and John's fear mounted to an almost impossible height.
He must be here, he must be! But where? Where? - Bloody hell, where is he?
John climbed the stairs to the second floor and meticulously checked what seemed to be even more labs and lecture rooms. When he opened the fourth door on the right he glimpsed light coming in from the outside and quickly entered the huge and dark room. The swing door fell shut behind him with a loud bang, momentarily startling him. He slowly exhaled to steady his wildly pounding heart.
Stay focused, Watson! Stay calm!
Crossing the room he cautiously advanced the grand windows which opened to what John believed to be the courtyard. He peered through them and his heart stopped - 'Sherlock!' he screamed. There he was – alive - maybe twenty or thirty feet away from him, but in the other wing of the building in what seemed to be a mirror image of this lecture room. Bloody hell, John silently cursed and tried to make out what Sherlock was doing.
John saw that he was standing quite still with his back to the window, close to it, and another man - elderly, inconspicuous, bespectacled, with an old-man's-cap on his greying hair – faced him, standing maybe two or three feet away from Sherlock. He was clearly visible for John as he was standing slightly to the side. This man was holding something between his index finger and thumb and he was slowly raising it to his mouth. What was he doing? Was he going to swallow something? John squinted, but then a movement caught his eyes and his gaze shifted to Sherlock again. When he realised what Sherlock was doing, his eyes widened and his heartbeat increased - He seemed to be mirroring the man's movement, slowly lifting his arm, guiding his fingers towards his mouth. John glimpsed something between his index finger and thumb too, a small, oval and white object - and then he stopped thinking and his instincts kicked in. Only one thought was dominating John's mind - Sherlock was in danger and very willing to do something outrageously stupid. He had to be stopped.
John lifted his hand holding the gun, held his breath to steady himself, aimed and shot. He only stayed long enough to see the other man jerking backwards with the impact of the shot. He had aimed for the heart and he hadn't missed. That wasn't important though, all John wanted now was to get out of here and find Sherlock.
And so John didn't see Sherlock reel backwards and turn around, shock written all over his face. He didn't see him storm to the window, desperate to see where the shot had come from. He didn't see Sherlock turn back and walk over to the cabbie who was lying on the floor, bleeding profusely. He didn't see the coldness and calculation with which Sherlock interrogated a dying man.
Lestrade, who had been there within ten minutes after the incident, told John about the cabbie and the pills, the two different pills - one lethal, one harmless. He also told him that the cabbie was dead, apparently shot from a distance. Lestrade was visibly puzzled by that fact as it hadn't been one of his men, he assumed someone like that killer must have had enemies - in short, they had no idea who had fired the shot. He told him where to find Sherlock and left John standing outside the building which was now brightly illuminated by police floodlights. John remained aside and waited patiently for Sherlock to be released from the hands of the paramedics attending to him.
One of them repeatedly tried to put an orange shock blanket over Sherlock's shoulders, but Sherlock was clearly getting irritated and from the look of him tried to argue with him. When he finally looked up and saw John standing there his face lit up with a bright smile which was fuelled mostly by the genuine surprise of seeing him there. He got up immediately, carelessly letting the blanket fall to the floor and walked over to John. He stopped in front of him, very close, but not touching because unexpected fury emanating from John in waves held him back and he thought it best to keep a distance. It hurt, much more than Sherlock thought possible, because at that very moment he wanted nothing more than to bury his nose in the soft skin of John's neck and flee into the safety of his arms like a frightened child trying to find unconditioned comfort there. John looked up into Sherlock's face and saw his hesitation, but he also realized at once that he, in contrast to Lestrade, knew. '
Good shot,' Sherlock said quietly, his face impassive.
'Yes -' John nodded, he didn't trust himself to say more - he was seething inside.
'Best clean your fingers and get rid of those powder burns. I don't want you to serve time for this …' Sherlock softly added.
John just shook his head, he wasn't going to be sidetracked, 'You were going to take that damn pill, weren't you?' he said quietly, his voice controlled, but the anger wouldn't budge, it sat like an angry growth in his heart. 'You were playing with your life – just to prove you're clever, just to be distracted, to keep that bloody restlessness at bay for a while …' he halted, dipping his chin, bracing himself against the fury that wanted out, 'Did you think of me at all, Sherlock? Did you?'
'I wasn't going to take that pill…'
'That's not what I asked you, Sherlock,' John enunciated every word carefully in a conscious effort to calm himself, 'I want to know if you ever thought about me – us – at all?'
'I …' Sherlock cleared his throat, 'I knew you'd come.'
'No, you didn't!' John huffed, he was incredulous. 'Sherlock, you can't go off on your own like that. You can't risk your life for nothing. It's not only you, it's us – we are together in this,' he weighed his words for a moment, 'At least that's how I see it … Don't be such a selfish bastard, Sherlock. Don't shut me out! It pains me, no it frightens me that you risk your life just like that! For nothing!'
Sherlock knitted his brows and in an attempt to gain some time he buried his hands deep inside his coat pockets. He bit his lips and fixed a point slightly above John's right shoulder. Of course he knew that letting himself be drawn into this outstandingly stupid game of minds with this serial killer had been playing with fire, had been egotistical and self-centred and weak and that John wouldn't put up with it. He had made that very clear before. He knew all that and still it hadn't stopped him. Sherlock's features clouded over when he realized what a deeply disconcerting revelation this was.
John was surprised by Sherlock's silence and took the opportunity to study his face - living with Sherlock had taught him a few things and there probably wasn't anybody else in his life who knew him better than John or who had seen all of his facets – And now John could clearly read what was going on behind those piercing eyes. He saw the confusion, the fear, but also the stubbornness, recklessness and understanding flickering in them. Studying his face, the beautiful paleness underneath the black curls, the pronounced Cupid's bow over his soft lips and the stubborn set of his mouth, John suddenly saw the astonishing and fascinating young man he had met almost ten years ago. John's anger softened and his heart when out to him and he impulsively snatched Sherlock into an embrace and hugged him fiercely.
John buried his nose in his curls, finding assurance in his scent, his warmth, his being alive. Sherlock responded to these rather raw emotions instinctively. And now that he had finally been granted the permission to let go and to wrap his arms around John, he anchored his fleeting and unsteady being to John's calming and steady presence like a lost soul looking for redemption.
Holding Sherlock in his arms John felt his tension, fear and anger slowly seep away and it left him drained and tired. 'Let's go home, love,' John whispered against Sherlock's neck, 'Let's go home.'
14 January 2009 – Baker Street
'I don't know what I would do without you,' Sherlock muttered. He was bending over the microscope on the kitchen table, some slides ostensibly taking all his attention. John looked up from slicing some mushrooms and carrots for their dinner, he thought he'd misheard.
He glanced over his shoulder at Sherlock who was busy smearing a tiny sample of some sticky substance onto a slide as if nothing had been said. 'Oh, aye – What makes you say that?'
'It's just something I realized, John. Something that needed to be said,' Sherlock clarified without looking up.
'Why thank you, I guess.'
John was confused, he didn't know what to make of this declaration, it wasn't as poetic as I love you and not as prosaic as Let's have sex, but it felt like an important sentiment that Sherlock had just voiced.
'I wouldn't want to be without you, too,' John finally settled on saying.
'That's not what I meant, John,' Sherlock looked up from his microscope and half-turned to John, irritated because he hadn't caught on the finer distinctions of what he had wanted to express.
'I could be without you …' John opened his mouth to protest, but Sherlock dismissed it with a wave of his right hand and a tiny smile. 'No, no … I could – but I would never ever want to. No, what I meant is something else entirely. I said I didn't know what to do without you. And it's true. I wouldn't know how to be nice to people. I'm prone to offend others all the time and you point that out and make me apologise. I wouldn't know that feelings and sentiment are good and desirable things and that it doesn't hurt to be open and friendly to others. I wouldn't know that caring for other people is actually rewarding…' He paused as if he had run out of explanations, but was searching for more.
John put down the sharp kitchen knife that he had been holding all the time and walked over to Sherlock who had spoken with his face turned to the microscope. When John came face to face with him he saw the earnestness and determination in his eyes. Sherlock held his gaze, but then he cast his eyes down and enveloped John's hands in his own. He gently caressed them with the pads of his thumbs, 'John, I am sorry that I went off like that. I am truly sorry to have frightened you and I can't even begin to tell you how much I regret to have brought you into that situation.'
He cleared his throat as if the next sentence needed help to make its way out, 'John, you killed a man to save my life. My life which is only worth something when you are there to share it.' He lifted John's right hand to his mouth and lightly kissed his knuckles, 'John, please forgive me – I … I don't want to lose you.'
John frowned, he knew that Sherlock had used the past days to mull over this horrendous evening and its implications – For God's sakes, they had had one hell of a row after they had come back that night! Yelling had followed accusations, there had been slamming of doors, flaring tempers and relentless fights for dominance. As a consequence Sherlock had been sulking and John had ignored him; in short the tension had been palpable and standing between them like the proverbial wall.
John recognized and appreciated the effort Sherlock put into his apology and squeezed his hands reassuringly, 'You are not going to lose me – what makes you think that?'
Sherlock closed his eyes for a moment to calm down, but to no avail and he became more and more agitated. He let go off John's hands and straightened his back, 'Why should you put up with me when I constantly go against your wishes and run off behind your back? When I endanger you and force you to do horrendous things?' His slender hands were flying through the air to underline his thoughts, but that apparently wasn't movement enough so he got up from the chair and started pacing the kitchen.
John followed him with his eyes, but his pacing rendered him nervous, he couldn't stand the constant flurry of movement. He intercepted Sherlock's path and forced him to stand still again.
'Yes, you do, Sherlock. It's true and I bloody hate it. You don't seem to realise how much I resent being left in the lurch because you decide to take the loner's way.'
Sherlock was quite still now, his face serious and thoughtful – he was attentively following John's every word, stowing his reaction, his reasoning away - learning. He nodded solemnly from time to time which only underlined his childlike eagerness.
'I can't tell you how much I feared for you. I thought I'd lost you …' John's voice grew low, hoarse, thick with emotions. 'Jesus – when I couldn't find you … I … I was paralysed with fear. I thought this was it. And when I had to shoot and kill this man? I didn't hesitate a second and I don't regret it. I saw friends die in the war, good men, honourable men. And it still troubles me, a lot – This man's death won't trouble me, Sherlock.'
John grabbed Sherlock's arms and locked eyes with him, 'I don't regret having done this for you. How could I? I love you, Sherlock and I would do everything for you. Never ever think differently, love. I'll always be there for you.'
Sherlock smiled and nodded, once, twice – and then he said tenderly, 'I love you too, John – You know that.' He leaned closer and his voice grew very low and insistent, 'I want to thank you for what you did, John … I'm willing to do the same for you.'
He kissed John, gently first, but then he was overcome by his emotions, everything that had been running through his mind for the past minutes, hours, days, and his kisses grew urgent and desperate. When he broke off he was panting and pressed his forehead against John's, cupping his face with both hands. 'I can't promise you not to go off on my own again, but I promise to try my best. I will, love,' he whispered.
'I know, Sherlock … and I think I can trust you … I bloody well have to, don't I?' John said softly and only half-jokingly. He straightened his back, breaking contact, he needed to look into Sherlock's eyes, 'Why should you do this again, going off on your own? We're working together now – And it's not as if there is your great big arch enemy out there, lurking somewhere in the dark, luring you into the open, is it? No need to keep anything from me, no need for secrets. Right?'
Sherlock thrust his chin slightly forward and held John's gaze. He didn't answer immediately, but when he couldn't stand the enquiring stare of John's dark blue eyes any longer he cast his eyes down and shook his head, 'No, love. Of course, there isn't.'
Chapter 18: Epilogue
John's fingers deftly unfolded the letter and smoothed out the creases. The ordinary white sheet of paper looked used and there were stains in the bottom left corner. Tea had sloshed over the rim of his mug a few days ago, and John had, not for the first time, cursed the bloody intermittent tremor in his left hand. Staining the unblemished white had felt like a desecration and it hurt every time his gaze fell upon those brownish smudges.
John tried to wipe away the already dried stains ineffectually, but his fingers remained hovering in midair when he suddenly felt a scrutinizing gaze on him. He bit his lip and looked up to meet Sherlock's piercing and unwavering stare. Sherlock was sitting in his favourite chair in his customary fashion, his long legs crossed elegantly at the ankles, his fingers steepled beneath his chin, and a little sarcastic smile playing around the corners of his mouth. No need for him to say anything, John knew very well what his chosen words would be - No need to be so fastidious, love. It's only a piece of paper -
'You're wrong, Sherlock. It's not only a piece of paper, it's much more that that!' John replied to Sherlock's unspoken words.
'Oh, well – Be upset, then!' a little wave of his slender fingers, allowing John the feeling.
John smiled and concentrated on the white, plain paper again, ignoring the smudges as best as he could. It was the letter Sherlock had written to John the night he had learned of John's injury. But it didn't only contain his thoughts concerning that crucial incident, over the years he had added more observations on their life together, more important or decisive moments. Sherlock had handed it to him one night soon after they had solved their first case together – The famous Study in Pink – as John had named it on his blog.
Sherlock had tried to downplay the significance of this letter, had even been a bit embarrassed as it was admittedly rather sentimental, but John held the letter very dear and had taken to read it from time to time, no, quite frequently to be honest. It had almost turned into a guilty pleasure and every time he read the lines Sherlock had written he heard his low, smooth and velvety baritone.
I am here in London - frightened, alone, waiting for news. All I know is that you have been shot and that you are alive, but my whole world is revolving around one thought only - I want to undo what happened to you. You are in pain, they told me, you are not stable enough to be transported yet, they said – but you are alive and nothing else matters. They will do the utmost for you, I'm sure.
I want you to know that I will be there for you and that I am prepared to do whatever it takes to make you better. Most of all I want you to heal and to come home as soon as possible. It pains me and it's excruciating for me to accept that you have to go through this alone, that I can't be with you right now – that I can't help.
As a doctor you know as well as I do that all the medical equipment and medicine and therapies are all necessary and welcome. But they can do only do so much and all relevant studies show that it actually favours the healing process when the patient is surrounded by his family, supported by a loved one. I know that I wouldn't have made it through my darkest times if you had not been there and offered your hand and heart to me. And ...
John looked up from the letter and smiled at Sherlock. They never talked about Sherlock's past, about his addiction. Yes, there had been dark times when Sherlock had been on the brink of fucking up his life completely. He had been smoking like a fiend, drinking heavily and he had been taking drugs. Together they had overcome his difficulties, and if anything at all, cigarettes had become a temptation again, but never more than that. Solving crimes, exercising his brilliant mind, chasing criminals around London with John had become his drug of choice and his addiction. And when he became too restless between cases John would find ways to keep him occupied.
... you are my life, John. I would never want to be without you – I cannot be without you. I hope and I pray (don't smirk, John! I am very well able to recognise the calming power of such superstitious customs) that you are not in pain right now and that you will heal and that you will come back to me. I won't lie, I curse that stupid and senseless war and I curse that sniper and for God's sakes I never ever want you to go back to Afghanistan. I always hated the thought of you in the midst of live action and I don't ...
It had come true, hadn't it? He had never been back to Afghanistan. Had never even gone back to Alnwick, his former army base. Honourably discharged because of his injuries, that's what he was. All the pain and anguish caused by his injury and the traumatic circumstances surrounding this incident, the following inevitable feelings of being useless, the sadness and desperation because he had lost his goal in life had been very hard to accept and to overcome. But Sherlock had been true to his words, had indeed proven to be a rock, had been the one to give him love unconditionally.
... want you to risk your life again. I don't want to lose you.
John's eyes hurriedly skipped along the lines and settled on the paragraphs further down.
... you are so hurt, John. You won't let me touch you. You won't let me look at you. You won't bare your soul, you won't even bare your skin – Self-consciousness because of your injury and the resulting scar, I presume. Typical symptoms of PTSD, John. But knowing the scientific term for it offers no help when you have to live through nightmares and wake up screaming and sweating every night. You let me soothe you as long as you are not fully awake, but you push me away once your consciousness regains the upper hand ... there is no intimacy, you won't allow it, we haven't kissed, haven't made love since you came home - You don't seem to want any form of closeness ...
John's eyes welled up with tears as they did every time when he read those lines and realized how hard the aftermath of this incident and those first days back home had been for both of them. Unconceivable for him then that Sherlock could still love him, could still find him attractive - a nobody, an ex-soldier, an ex-army surgeon, maimed, troubled. But Sherlock had shown him his value, he had been tender and loving, had managed to chase away all those self-destructive thoughts.
... I don't give up on you and when you sleep I dare claiming the closeness you deny me when you are awake. I gather you in my arms and watch over you. I can feel your heartbeat calming down when I am near you and you gradually slip into deeper and sounder realms of sleep. I am careful not to move and mostly don't get any sleep myself, but holding you in my arms is comforting and relaxing and I crave the moment when your slumber is so deep that you let me finally approach you ...
John reached out for Sherlock then, but he couldn't quite reach him and had to be content with just patting the armrest of his chair.
'Why do you read this, love? It only makes you relive all the pain. It makes you sad,' Sherlock knitted his brows and the characteristic furrow above his nose became visible.
'No, it doesn't. It makes me relive my life with you and it brings me nearer to you.'
'But I am here, I am near you,' Sherlock said gently, his face softening.
'Sentiment!' John declared with a note of finality and as if it was code word. And that's what it really was.
It denoted something which was very important to John and understandable for Sherlock, but not necessarily as crucial. For Sherlock sentiment was something he would allow, especially with John, but he wasn't usually sentimental or soft with other people, it didn't come naturally to him. At first John had thought this annoying and limiting, but after a while he had realized that this kind of behaviour had a kind of honest quality as Sherlock was never one for dissembling. If he didn't like a person, they would feel it and he would never pretend otherwise.
The downside of course being that it was indeed difficult for Sherlock to fulfill the social niceties expected from someone in his position or to show affection openly to people outside his very limited inner circle. He was very affectionate with John, of course, and could show his affection to Mrs Hudson and sometimes to Mycroft in a very roundabout way and to their mother to a certain extent, come to think of it ... But that was it.
Oh, let's not forget Lestrade, of course, he was important for Sherlock and he valued him and his opinion. But did he show him affection? How? Maybe in his typical Sherlockian way ... And there was Steven, John's old army friend, whom Sherlock liked and trusted ... Who else ...?
John blinked, he was prone to get lost in thoughts and digress lately. He had no idea what had started this particular line of thought and why he had ended up thinking about Lestrade and Steven. He dipped his chin to collect his thoughts, the customary gesture anchoring him to the here and now. His fingers curled around the mug on the armrest and he realised that the tea had gone cold and become undrinkable. He shuddered, there was nothing more disgusting than cold tea. John sighed, a sigh that came from deep within his chest, as there really was no way around it, he had to get up and brew a fresh cuppa. He carefully placed the letter on the armrest and because it was so cumbersome for him he had to use all his force to hoist himself out of the saggy chair.
His eyes darted around the room until they finally settled on what he was looking for, it was leaning against the doorframe of the living room. Eight bloody feet away from him. Oh for God's sakes, he cursed and hobbled over to the door. Slightly panting from this minimal exertion he grabbed the cane and heavily leaned on it. John made his way into the kitchen which was relatively clean and orderly. The microscope on the kitchen table had been pushed to the side and all the Petri dishes and test tubes and slides were ranged neatly on either side of it.
'Cleaned up, didn't you?' John called back over his shoulder, but he didn't get an answer. Not that he expected one, he knew nobody who could ignore the issues of household chores better than Sherlock Holmes. He filled water into the kettle, fished a new teabag out of the tea caddy and fetched milk from the fridge. He leaned back against the kitchen counter and while he was waiting for the kettle to boil his thoughts wandered back to their first time here at 221B.
He smiled and his heart beat faster when he remembered the passionate kisses on their first visit to their new home together, their love-making on the empty and dirty bedroom floor. And after their move here their first case together, the closeness they had felt working as a team, all the following cases, among them the encounter with the Chinese mafia, the pool incident, the hound – Moriarty…
John's face clouded over when his thoughts touched upon this madman and his fists involuntarily clenched. His breath hitched in his throat and he had to lower his head and close his eyes to enable his breathing to calm down again. Don't, John. Don't! He admonished himself - Stay here, don't go back!
The shrill whistling of the kettle called him back to the present and he shook his head to clear it of the thoughts of past pain and anguish. He forced himself to focus entirely on filling his mug with boiling water and adding a dollop of milk. Holding the steaming mug in his now steady left hand and leaning on the cane in his right he slowly made his way back to his chair.
'All right, love?'
'Yes!' John nodded and sat down with a grunt. He smiled at Sherlock, who looked at him quizzically, and picked up the letter again.
... it was a revelation seeing you work as a doctor beside me, you were analytical, calm, professional. When I observed you I knew we would be working together perfectly. In you I had found my complementing half – not only for my life, but for my work as well. You know how much work matters to me once I had found my vocation, my fulfillment, and now you were able to share it with me and it would also help you to focus, to find a goal in life, to make an impact, to change things - you see I haven't forgotten, John! This moment made me love you even more than before ...
John let the letter sink to his lap and took a sip of his scalding tea. He winced when the hot liquid slowly ran down his throat leaving behind a burning sensation. Sherlock scoffed and steepled his fingers beneath his chin again, slightly lowering his face to peer up at him from underneath his eyelashes. The expression on his face was one of infinitive sadness now.
... and when you saved my life that night I knew I could entirely rely on you. Not that I hadn't done so before, but this sacrifice you made showed your unconditional love – You were willing to give up your fragile peace of mind by killing this man! For me! - I consider this a gift from you that I value more than my life. John, believe me I would do the same for you, any time. Nobody will ever hurt you – Trust me, I would do anything for you ...
John slowly looked up at Sherlock again. The sadness was still lingering on his face, a seemingly constant companion now. John's heart clenched at the sight of his love's obvious distress and he lost himself in the light blue of his piercing eyes. They were fixed on him, casting a spell over him, claiming his attention and this spell was only broken when John couldn't suppress a blink any longer. Sherlock on the other hand never blinked, never cast his eyes down, never looked away, his stare never wavered. He neither said a word nor did he breathe.
John tore his eyes away from Sherlock's face and let his gaze slowly wander over his slender frame - He was wearing one of his tight-fitting black suits and his purple shirt, he looked dapper and immaculate as always, cool and composed – and then his eyes were drawn back to his pale face, framed by his black unruly curls, to the slanted feline eyes, the sharp cheekbones and the elegant nose. Sherlock looked boyish and beautiful and exactly like he remembered him.
When John tried to concentrate on his face again he noticed that the expression on his extraordinary, angular features was different than before, less defined and growing blurry around the edges …
John gulped and then cleared his throat because it felt constricted and suddenly his lungs seemed to release all air at once, breath butally wanting to leave him, fairly gushing out. He was gasping and fear started to flutter in his chest, tender at first, but soon filling him completely and he was certain it would be over any moment now, he would be gone any second. John knew he wouldn't have the power to hold him back, but he couldn't let him leave ... not yet.
He leaned forward and tried to get closer to him, to draw him towards him, to hold him, to stop him. 'Stay, love! Stay with me today ... just a little bit longer,' John pleaded, he knew it was hopeless, but he tried just the same. 'Please, love ... Please,' his voice broke and he closed his eyes to keep back the tears that were inevitable now. He managed to pull himself together for a moment, but then he covered his head with his hands and a sob escaped his mouth. And another one followed and then he was whimpering like a child, his whole body convulsing with the pain and grief that wanted out. He let the tears course freely down his cheeks and fall on his jumper and hands, wiping them only carelessly away.
Suddenly the urge to be somewhere else, anywhere else but here in this room, in this chair, so close to him and yet so far away became overpowering and he got up, accidently and clumsily knocking over the full mug of tea. For fuck's sake! John cursed, but he left the brown liquid seep into the carpet – one more stain, it didn't matter. He carefully avoided looking at Sherlock's chair knowing full well that only emptiness would stare back at him.
John remembered to grab the letter before he started his painful journey away from the emptiness and towards some other place, any other place. He made it as far as the kitchen when he had to stop and lean against the wall to wait out the onslaught of grief, to let it wash over him until it would become less burning, less cutting and more bearable. He let his head hang down and hunched his shoulders thus trying to make himself as small as possible as if offering this bloody grief less surface to attack would make the onslaught less devastating.
After what seemed like an eternity to him, the pain gradually subsided, leaving him drained, exhausted, but able to continue his way away from this mess. He lifted his head and looked straight at the door which led into their bedroom. With gritted teeth he made his way towards it, slowly and burdened. Once inside their room he painfully got down on his knees next to their bed and fished out a rectangular wooden box from underneath it. Sitting back on his heels made him wince, but he ignored it, and opened the box.
He carefully pushed Sherlock's scarf and his purple shirt aside to make place for the letter. Before he placed it inside the box he neatly folded it along its original creases and reverently placed it in its envelope which was marked John in Sherlock's curvaceous handwriting. When he placed the envelope next to his shirt his fingers brushed over a hard object and impatiently he pushed aside the shirt's soft fabric to reveal a small wooden frame. It was the picture Sherlock had framed all those years ago, the one showing a happily smiling John squinting into the sun, the one they had taken on New Year's Day 2006 in Lyndhurst, their first day as a couple, the first day of their life together.
John's lips formed the ghost of a smile at the memory and he tenderly put the frame back into the box. His fingers ghosted over the scarf and this tactile sensation brought the urge to take it out and inhale the faint scent that still clung to it. His heart clenched painfully and he almost panicked when he realized that Sherlock's scent was almost gone. This panic added a new flavour to the already existing menu of feelings he went through every bloody, fucking day since Sherlock had jumped off that rooftop. Since Sherlock had left him behind, had left him distraught, confused and angry and alone – and sometimes he hated him for it. Every day he desperately racked his brain for explanations, but he wouldn't find any. Why had he not talked to him? Why had he been so desperate to kill himself? Why couldn't he help him? Why?
Some days he believed to surely go crazy because he wouldn't find satisfying answers, some days he would just drown in grief, other days he would just sit in his chair and stare ahead into the void. There were even days which were just about bearable, but then he would come across a handwritten note or a forgotten experiment in an unexpected place somewhere in the flat and his barely upheld resolve would crumble.
Mrs Hudson had taken to tiptoe around him, trying her best to care for him, to make him eat, but she feared for him, very much so. Mycroft had made it his habit to check on him at least once a week, Steven called every other day. They all saw that John had changed, that he wasn't the same anymore – But how could he?
A part of Dr John Watson, ex-soldier, former army surgeon, assistant and partner to the only consulting detective in the world, brother, son, friend and lover had died that day Sherlock had left him alone. The John Watson who had been happy and free was no more – instead there was a broken version of his former self – less assured, less confident, less willing to live. That day he had been forced to look at Sherlock lying smashed on the cold stone pavement had profoundly changed him. He had seen the blood pooling underneath his body, the blood covering his face and matting his dark hair. It was an image that would never leave him.
Whenever this image haunted him he tried to conjure up other images and memories to counterbalance the horror of that day and of that particular moment. So Sherlock's broken face would gradually morph into the face John had seen on that first night in a pub in Cambridge, a serious, slightly haughty look to it, strangely attractive and alien at the same time, a dark angel, ethereal and beautiful. This image would then be chased away by a laughing Sherlock, giggling like a schoolboy when they had solved a case together, years later, letting go completely. And then he would see him in those tender moments when his mind surrendered completely to the rule of his body, the moment when he came, abandoning himself, moaning into John's mouth. Sherlock in his coat and scarf would follow on the heels of that one and he would remember the moment he had first seen him at work as a consulting detective, rattling off deductions, his brilliant mind working like a finely tuned clockwork.
But no matter how hard he tried, there was the one memory he could never get rid of and he would always and inevitably return to the moment when he had seen his face for the last time. It was an ambivalent memory because Sherlock had been strangely beautiful then, even in death, even with all the blood running down his face, the deep red colour building a startling contrast to his pale skin. But what would forever haunt John were Sherlock's ice blue eyes which had been open and boring straight into his own and even then those eyes had possessed the capability to look right into his heart and soul.
This last look would stay with John Watson until he would breathe his very last breath.
It was Sherlock's legacy.
And it was John's curse.
It had always been my intention to follow Sherlock and John through their twenties and up to 'A Study in Pink' in this fic, to show their development as individual characters and as a couple and to finally show them working together as Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson.
It then seemed a logical albeit very sad conclusion to end their story with Reichenbach …
I want to thank all of you so much for your generous support, all your comments and kudos! You don't know how highly I regard your feedback!
I hope you will all enjoy reading and rereading this story and I very much hope to see you all again!
UPDATE: 07-31-2012: I am currently working on the SEQUEL because I simply couldn't leave the boys in all that misery - First chapter should be up soon!