In a twisted-round sort of way, it’s like a revelation sped by a hot shower, except this one burns a bit more.
He’s standing before Sherlock’s grave. The stone stares back, the inscriptions and the impersonality of them.
And that’s when he feels it. Apparently, the black hole (can’t escape the solar system still) torn in him isn’t enough. There’s a burst of prickles up and down and under his skin, like holes he isn’t aware of are there too.
Like he’s a stuffed doll and has strings hanging limp and unattached.
He sways, nearly flops down on the grass before him with the force of it. He truly isn’t whole and he truly isn’t real.
John knows why, too. He knows who holds the needle. Who the bearer of his missing pieces is. At least Sherlock can’t feel John’s presence like a cut-out puzzle piece in his chest or something ripped from his sides and center.
Now he’ll have to patch these up too. It’s okay, or it’s not but he can say so. Everyone sees the set of the shoulders and the old scar. No one sees him bleed.
He will never be full again. Was never good at putting stitches in, anyhow. So he should practice smiling like the corners won’t forever be cut off.
Sherlock has thrown himself down in tickling, trimmed grasses. Even these close-cut strands that carpet the sweep of the mansion’s lawn hold mysteries in their blades.
Or sometimes, he thinks with a jab of glee, between them. He spreads the grass with a muddy child’s palm and angles his magnifying glass over his treasure. Actually, it almost resembles a pearl; the stalk and cap of the tiny mushroom are snow-pale and the flaws flow in such a way they can’t be seen.
He sets about shoving his hands into the breathing dark heat of the soil, trying to pinch round the base and pull the little fungus up perfect.
His mother is behind him. He doesn’t turn, predicting the hand she curls and rubs over the wing-point of his shoulder. “Myresmius. You can’t have a nibble of this one, sweet. Inedible. Fascinating, though, isn’t it.”
“I don’t want to eat it. Just have it.” Sherlock scowls at it. It glimmers, innocent with dew, back. “What if it breaks?”
“You’ll be breaking it no matter how careful you are.” She kneels down beside him and he grins crookedly at the incongruity of the neat spread of her skirt over the disturbed soil. “The cap, you see, is only one tiny piece of the whole mushroom. The rest of it…” She runs a manicured hand along the grass. “The rest of it is right here, in tiny strand-like structures called hyphae.”
“So they form the full fungus. Think I snapped some of them already?” He cringes.
“Likely, but don’t feel too bad. This phylum works this way. It survives. The cap is only one mycelium of many—one gathered structure.”
Sherlock is absorbed completely, and resolves to hang on to this a little longer, erase it from his brain later. He’s walking with worlds beneath his bare feet in the lawn, then, seeing as the gardener is terrible with removing the mushrooms. He tells his mother so.
She laughs, rich and verdant like the lawn round her, the first and last time he’s heard it in weeks. “Dinner, I think, my little mycologist.”
“Mycelium,” he sighs to himself as he clambers to his feet.
John is kneeling on the floor between Sherlock’s knees as he sprawls in his chair, and this isn’t at all what it looks like.
With quick, caring fingers, John winds linen tight round his calf. Sherlock flexes the muscles, almost feeling another kind of thin thread drawing around them and satisfied by it (hyphae here). John frowns up at him a bit.
“You’ll set it off bleeding again,” he says with a warning tap to his kneecap.
Sherlock studies the strange exasperated affection softening his features. “Will I?” He huffs a breath then, and shakes his head, petulant. “You can’t keep fixing me forever,” he informs him.
“And why not?” John sets his jaw and trails his fingers down the geometry of his shin. “I’m a doctor. I’ve made it my job.
He nearly growls. “I’m not your patient.” Sherlock’s gaze narrows now to strip apart this flimsy logic.
But John’s gaze is heated hard at his leg (oh, mycelium), and he understands.
It isn’t science. It’s sentiment.
The blossom of the ache in Sherlock’s chest is worse than the gash. John’s fingers can’t fix wounds that his very eyes flay it into him, nor would Sherlock want them to.
He picks these fingers one-by-one off the bandage and cups his cheek so he can feel the sigh rustle through him.
John checks the bandage so determinedly that his crow’s feet crease further. “I’m not your patient, either, but you’ve cured me anyway.”
His fingernails skate his stubborn jaw. “You think so? Perhaps we’re just both the same kind of sick.”
John nods and smiles his sad smile into Sherlock’s palm (mycelium work this way). He has to add, though, pointedly, “At least I didn’t get a rock in my bloody leg, though. Your turn to limp about London.”
“So then Donovan and Anderson begin to tire of each other as much as we tire of them.” Sherlock sounds lazily satisfied, like he can’t even muster up glee.
About appropriate, considering they’ve just come off a five-hour trot around London. They’ve only had enough time to settle in. John put the kettle on right away, of course. It’s tradition to his bones, in spite of the gap years.
Now Sherlock’s blunted razor of a hip presses into John’s side as they lean up against the kitchen counter, slouching at the edge of exhaustion. It’s plenty companionable, warm. Odd, considering whom his companion is.
Each is sipping tea out of rhythm, soft noises of mouths and breaths but silence besides. John keeps an idle eye on the splay of their legs out in front of them. Like laughing in hallways, only quiet in the way that suits the both of them most some days.
John realizes he’s forgotten to agree. “Yeah, pretty much. They’ve been on-again off-again, with their work moving around and all…” He pauses. “Hang on. How do you know they’re on again?”
“Hair,” replies Sherlock, distant. He purses his lips at the rim of the cup as John raises his eyebrows over at him. John determines ‘hair’ isn’t something he needs elaboration on. “And I shouldn’t think they’ll be ‘on’ for long, regardless.”
“No?” John slumps down against the counter and sighs. Settling in for a bit of bashing, s’what it is. Bit not good but bit what-he-wants-right-now.
The two of them been particularly intolerable today, and he’d very nicely had to remind his fingers that they didn’t have to remain fists forever, especially when a few deja-vu-evoking things were said about Sherlock…he could cut more crescents into his palms at just the thought.
John starts again, sigh still part of his tone. “I can’t see why they’d break up—seems they’re the only two that’ll put up with each other’s’ obnoxiousness.”
“Similar to us, perhaps.” Two long beats after Sherlock speaks, in which John can only sucks in a breath. Do not extend the analogy.
After shattering the conversation and reforming it completely, Sherlock politely puts his cup in the sink.
“Nice,” John manages, nodding at the clean-up. He gulps a bit of his own tea. For once, he wants to finish a cup without murderers and arsons and consulting detectives conspiring to interrupt.
“Still can’t fix all your manners, though. I am not obnoxious, in fact.” In fact, Sherlock probably doesn’t give a half-fuck. He moves back topics. “What’ll make them do it? Their motive in your eyes.”
Sherlock returns to push back against John’s curiously clammy side, cozying everything up instantly again. He tips his head back with an arch of the spine.
John follows its curve to his face and has to smile a little. He’s all frazzled, thrilled beyond belief from earlier, yet drawling still. “Sex must be unsatisfactory.”
He really doesn’t want to know about the hair. Shrugging, John suggests, “Too many dinosaurs in Anderson’s dirty talk, maybe.”
Sherlock chuckles low and fond and it’s nearly worth the nausea. Nearly. “Sex me like a stegosaurus, baby.”
It’s so unlike him, the sick-sweet purr so incongruous, that John giggles. He gives up on his tea before he can spew any more out of his mouth.
(Poking him in the ribs, something pricks at John’s skin, pleasant.)
(This thread too yanks them close.)
Many times ago, reaching out for John, Sherlock had done it because he knew he couldn’t catch him or be caught in turn.
Now, though, he tries to make their hands meet (and the hyphae extend out beyond).
John, as always, indulges.
Sometimes it’s at crime scenes, when after the big answers have punctuated the air, Sherlock puts his hand back. John places his palm forward and their fingertips together as he murmurs a muted “Brilliant” or “Fantastic.” Just for Sherlock. Indulging, maybe, but certainly sincere.
Occasionally it’s right when John returns home. Sherlock will see the rectangle of light fall onto the flat’s floor in his peripheral vision. He’ll drop a hand over the arm of his chair, like it’s the side of the boat. John’s hand will rise for a salt-sweet brush across the knuckles and it’s better than Penelope’s white arms.
And then there are the times John does it and Sherlock marvels at his own self-control at being able to let him go after (the hyphae stay and do not hurt).
Between paragraphs of tip-tapping at his blog, he’ll extend a hand to tap their fingers together instead.
He’ll plant a dinner plate in front of Sherlock and lace their free hands until he takes a bite, sometimes even strokes his knuckles while he swallows.
He’ll replicate a rhythm from Sherlock’s violin in his palm like they need a concerto to drink their tea to, too.
And even before the answers, before Sherlock can deserve “brilliant” or “fantastic” and is only still figuring things out, John thinks he’s worthy yet of a feverish clutching of hands to pull him forth to solution.
Perhaps John indulges them both, but Sherlock more thinks this (connection of parts) is necessary. Because, of course, after all this and before all this, John is necessary. The absence has proved him essential.
“She was a prostitute with six years of schooling, thinking she was penning her suicide note. And you’re expecting poetry,” John bursts suddenly without turning from the stove. Another case down and another kettle of tea on. And apparently, another argument.
“Not poetry,” Sherlock objects with sluggish indignity from his chair.
“Right, stuff’s frivolous anyway.” The straightness of John’s spine indicates itching to be contradicted.
Sherlock doesn’t quite scratch. “That, and most love poetry is terribly inaccurate.”
What would you know, he thinks he hears John want to ask, about inaccuracies as they related to love? “Excellent question, and one that merits a response.”
John carries the cups over, sets the tea things and himself down, and leans in. He folds his hands, smiles. “Love is…?”
“One sugar, no cream,” Sherlock confirms with a sip and a satisfied sigh. Love is that, too. But. His gaze intensifies on John, aiming to project into his mind. He fails at subliminal communication. So, eyes melting iron to John’s burning bark, he says, “Love is madness, of course. That part is fairly accurate.”
“But the bits they’ve got wrong?” John prompts. He’s as enthralled by love as by murder, evidently, but Sherlock doesn’t snort at John’s sensationalism.
“Love isn’t gentle or soothing, or warm waves—“ He adds in a derisive hand gesture here. “--or anything like that. It doesn’t wash over you.” He sips his tea and implores with his eyes to stop there. To no avail. John is curious. Sherlock understands curiosity and decided he needs to know.
So he spits like scalpels, “Love is being eviscerated and enjoying it.”
His final proclamation leaves the kitchen in silence for a long time. It leaves the air loaded and their stares locked with heat, demanding as many questions as answers.
Like they’re cutting each other open right then and there.
They are meant to be practicing hand-to-hand combat.
However, because of one particular juvenile moment from one particular juvenile man-child, there was a lovely little meltdown.
For the record, John had thought he might as well be crowned King of Tickle Fights at the start. But, well. That was then. Sherlock just has to make everything revolutionary.
“Off, you leggy lump,” John bites out between sounds-that-shouldn’t-be-called-shrieks.
Sherlock is pinning him down with said lankiness, hands skittering manically down his sides. Demented spiders with too much experience on the violin. “Hm. How about I don’t. I’m overpowering you,” he points out. Only when he tries to sneak crawling thumbs under John’s jumper can John summon up a warning look and flip them over on the rug again. (Fingertips like needles and their bodies juxtaposed with strings.)
John swallows and counters, “How about you don’t.” He makes a grab for Sherlock’s fingers and brings them up knotted tight between his own (strings and strings.)
In the mix of lemon-bright lamplight and dusk through the curtains, the flush of victory on Sherlock’s face is hyperbolized. It’s rather endearing, though equally unsettling to see him so pink-cheeked, almost youthful.
He smiles slowly and smugly as John tries to catch his breath. Again John tries for irritation, again he fails when he grins back. “You learn fast,” he says, less grudging than he should be. “I can’t imagine Mycroft was much for this sort of thing.”
“Lack of experience didn’t impair me though, did it?” Even as he prods John’s sternum, something slips in his smile. Of course they didn’t. Probably hardly saw each other in their pajamas, let alone played around like so. Fun is an indignity. “Ah, to be a child again.”
“If you ever were one.” His eyes are still old as stones but his laughter is yet green, like it’s only sprouting new now. Feelings fierce in him, somehow, John pulls back a curl and touches a kiss to Sherlock’s sweaty forehead.
The light in Sherlock’s eyes has shifted as well when he looks back, less easy exhilaration and more amusement-park-fear.
“Sorry,” John says quietly. He looks back up and, well. Has to smile, spreading sweet. “I think I’m getting that, you know. Whole… evisceration thing now.”
Sherlock exhales. He’s fighting feelings himself, John understands with relief as his eyes dart and his mouth compresses. At last, Sherlock knocks their foreheads against each other and beams back.
After another moment, he tips his chin up with defiance of a kind familiar to John. “Or it might only be the after-effects of the tickling.” Sherlock butterflies his fingers on his ribs (embroidery spreading) and then. One brush of breath-dry lips.
“That is so wrong on so many levels,” John had protested at first, light.
Then soft, sorrowful. “It’ll be hard, you know it will. The hurt can’t be worth it, and you know it hurts.”
And then angry like rocks thrown up before him. “No! We are not going through this in any way, shape, or form. That is final.”
It’s exactly midnight. The moon is precisely overhead, shedding silvery light. And that’s where neatness ends. It feels final, too.
“Happy Reichenbach Anniversary,” Sherlock says at the sky, and laughs around what sounds like a knife in his throat.
John could about put a knife in his throat for him right there, or maybe take one to his own for him. “Believe it or not, this is an atrocious time for you to develop a sense of irony. We’re on the roof already, what more do you want?”
For a place that’s practically seen two deaths, Bart’s roof has so many, too many stars overhead. Scattered sands. The stone is cold but not terribly uneven under the spread of the blankets and their jackets. He won't call it pleasant.
Sherlock turns to him with shooting-star eyes. John smiles sweet and sloppy and sick and sad, like he has to stuff all that beats through his blood into one spread of lips.
John nudges Sherlock’s foot when he mutters, “Hyphae” but gets no response.
“I’ve given up,” Sherlock says, a sudden surrender.
“On your sanity? Yes,” agrees John. “And you took mine with you, rotter.”
His breath catches pleasantly as John presses the chilled tip of his nose into his temple. “On the taxonomy of caring.”
John stares up at the corner of his eyes. “Dunno what the hell that means,” he mumbles, pulling back to take the sight of him in. “But, yeah.”
It’s Sherlock’s turn to stare. “You agree that we defenestrate definition.” He lifts his eyebrows wonkily and John’s huff turns into a laugh until the gold of it spills between them and leaves them breathless and near enough to merge.
John lifts Sherlock’s eyebrows again with a close-mouthed, open-eyed kiss. He stitches their hands together, after, presses a finger into his pulse point. It flutters for him and they count together into the silence.
Their eyes don’t leave each other and linger on, stars to match. Script curls at the corners of their mouths, ready if they are to speak, but they’ve learned all there is to say.
Still, one of them, both of them (it’s almost the same tonight) exhales.
Says, “Me too.”