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Bedtime Stories

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Sleep is overrated.

That, my friends, is a pile of crap spoken only by those who have never been forcibly sleep-deprived. Those fortunate souls who have never done a thirty-eight hour rotation in A&E during a medical intern to cover for a mate whose girlfriend happened to be visiting from Kent. Those lucky fools who have never spent two days and one horrific night pinned down by Taliban fighters in some arse end of a town north of Nawzad, whose only purpose, as far as I could tell, was to farm dirt to soak up blood faster than I could keep it from flowing out of my men.

Or one arrogant bastard of a flatmate who happens to be standing in my door staring at me until I wake with the feel of eyes on me.

"Sherlock?" I manage to croak out in a voice hoarse from slumber.

The faint light that leaks upstairs from the front room has me squinting, as it seems much brighter to my sleep addled brain than I know it to be. Still, there is no question it’s Sherlock’s silhouette I see framed in my doorway; the long, slim figure wrapped in a blue dressing gown over pajamas is one I am more than familiar with… just not standing with crossed arms in the doorway to my bedroom apparently watching me sleep.

It begs the question how long has he been there, and more disturbingly, how often? I soon have the answer to first question.

"Five point four seconds," the deep voice informs me, not, I might add, the least bit sleep addled, "we’ll need to improve on that, John."

As is often the case with conversations I have with Sherlock, I get the distinct impression that I’ve stumbled into the middle of this one. (Pardon, didn't mean to interrupt...oh, what's that you say, you've been expecting me?) This time, however, I can hardly be held responsible for that fact since up until, apparently, five point four seconds ago, I had been sound asleep.

I blink in a futile attempt to bring him further into focus. "I’m sorry? Improve on what, exactly?"

"Your reaction time to a threatening figure in your room."

"Ah, I see." It’s obvious this conversation he is intent on having isn’t going to end anytime soon, so I prop myself up on an elbow as I ask around a yawn, "And when did you become a threat to my well being?"

My eyes have finally started to adjust to the low lighting, enough at least to see the frown that crosses Sherlock’s face.

"Sherlock?" and this time there is a bit of concern in my voice at my flatmate’s silence.

"Might I…join you?" he finally asks.

Now it’s my turn to frown, only in confusion. Since when does Sherlock ask permission for anything he does? And hadn’t Sherlock already joined me? He’s standing in my room at some ungodly hour of what has to be nearly dawn, since we hadn’t finished up with Lestrade and the Yard at the pool until almost two o’clock—

Oh, bollocks, I think bitterly, how could I be so daft?

I’d seen the look on Sherlock’s face earlier that evening when he’d realized that I was Moriarty’s last pip. Looking back on it now, I have to admit that look had frightened me almost as much as being wrapped in explosives.

"Sherlock," I start rather lamely, "there’s no need…that is, Moriarty…it’s not your fault..."

"Of course it’s not my fault," Sherlock bristles. "Moriarty is a madman. Brilliant, yes, but completely cracked all the same. If covering you in explosives isn't enough to prove that, then his choice of ringtone surely must. How on earth could his insanity be my fault?"

"It’s not," I assure, trying to recover, or keep up, or at least catch up with where he’s going with all this.

"Then why are you suggesting such a thing when all I asked was if I could join you?"

Because it’s four in the morning, I yell internally. Because you’ve always shut me out as soon as the action is over and there is only thinking to do. Because you’re acting a little more mental than even you usually do. But I’ve spent enough time with Sherlock over the past several months to know his responses to those reasons would be that they are completely irrelevant to the question at hand. So, in an effort to preserve what little sanity I have left, and in hopes of eventually being allowed to go to sleep, I simply give up and pat the bed as I scoot over to make some room.

Sherlock crosses the floor in two long strides, then stretches out on my bed the same way he typically does on the sofa—eyes on the ceiling with his fingers templed together at his lips. I’m always amazed at how he can look so deathly quiet yet so mentally alert at the same time. He’s like some bizarre cross between Albert Einstein and Sleeping Beauty. No, that’s not quite right. Snow White is more accurate—a strangely beautiful combination of dark hair and pale skin in a stately repose awaiting loves first kiss.

And exactly what dwarf does that make me? Doc? No, he’d claim that was too obvious. Dopey? No, for the same reason. Grumpy? Only after spending too much time with Sherlock. I snort to myself at the meandering trail my thoughts have started to follow.

"Sleepy?" he asks

I jump at his question, afraid that perhaps I was speaking out loud and he was suggesting a name. "What?" Or worse yet, he’s deduced what I’ve been thinking and he knows I’ve mentally compared him to a fairy tale princess.

"Your attention seems to be wandering even more than usual," he explains. "I can only assume it is because you’re exhausted by…" he pauses, as if he can’t find the right words to describe what happened at the pool. I have several to choose from—the ridiculous pear-shaped end to a ridiculous pear-shaped case, the horrifying machinations of a madman, the royal cluster fuck where I came much closer to explosives than I ever planned to again since leaving the military. None of these, however, seem to cross his mind, or if they do, he chooses to go with the more pragmatic, "the events that transpired tonight."

"Yeah," I chuckle self-consciously. It’s that or continue to contemplate how I managed to nod my head when he silently asked my approval to blow us all the kingdom come. "I’m a bit tired. Some shut eye would be good right about now."

"You needn’t worry; I don’t expect you to have sex with me," Sherlock announces to the empty space above the bed.

Okay, not exactly the response I was expecting for hinting I would really like to go back to sleep. I blink, swallowing down my shock as I have learned to do with a great deal of what Sherlock says.

"Right," I respond simply, trying to keep the questioning tone from my voice. "Thank you for clearing that up." I don’t think I succeed, nor am I completely sure that was the correct response to his statement.

I’m just thankful Sherlock isn’t looking at me to see I actually pinked at the suggestion, especially since I’d just been thinking about kissing… not Sherlock, but Snow White…who Sherlock reminds me of… on occassion.

Christ, maybe I should be the lesser-known Horny dwarf as the only person in my bed is Sherlock, and while he’s yet to tell me why he’s here, he’s at least made it clear he has no intention of getting a leg over me tonight. And to think, the night had started out with much higher hopes of me actually doing just that with Sarah.

Sarah! I groan as I remember I never called her to let her know what happened and why I never showed.

"Disappointed?" Now Sherlock is looking at me with raised eyebrows.

With a roll of my eyes, I tell him, "No, it’s Sarah. I was on my way to meet her when…" It’s my turn to bypass all those more appropriate terms. "…when Moriarty changed my plans for the evening. I never called her or texted…"

I reach across Sherlock for my phone on the bedside table, quickly scrolling through the half dozen texts she had sent me going from confusion, to worry, to angry. I don’t even bother listening to the three voice messages she left. I groan again and drop the phone back on the table before flopping back on my pillow to stare up at the ceiling along with Sherlock.

"I’m sure she will understand." When I shake my head silently, Sherlock tries again. "Perhaps a note from Lestrade explaining the situation."

"Oh, that’s rich." I actually laugh at that. "Dear, Sarah, please excuse John from missing your date as he was in the middle of a hostage crisis in a public pool being undressed by his flatmate."

Sherlock actually laughs lightly along with me. "You might consider leaving out that last part."

"Well, I most decidedly did leave it out of the police report," I profess. "Could you just imagine what Donovan would do with that tidbit of information?"

"I’m not sure even my imagination could come up with the dastardly way her tawdry mind could twist those facts into pornographic fiction."

I snicker once more. "Then again, perhaps we should let her have a bit of fun with the fantasy. She seems rather miserable what with her only romantic conquest being Anderson."

"Throw the dog a bone, as they say?" he inquires in continued amusement.

"That is one nasty dog."

"Rottweilers have nothing on Sargent Sally Donovan."

We both laugh even harder, and I’m fairly certain it has less to do with the jokes than it does with the stress of the night edging away.

When the laughter subsides, Sherlock rolls his head to look at me. "Seriously, John, if you would like me to speak to Sarah…"

"No!" I stop him from going any further. "Oh, God, no. That…that would be…unhelpful. Remarkably so."

"Perhaps you’re right," he concedes.

"Besides, it was really just a matter of time with Sarah. There are only so many times a woman will stand to have a date ruined by seedy underworld criminals. This makes twice in as many weeks, and since I don’t see any reason why life will change all that much for us in the future from what is has been in the past…"

Sherlock remains silent, and it dawns on me that I’ve hit a nerve. "Since you aren’t in my bed for the sex, perhaps you wouldn’t mind telling me why you are here?"

Pale blue eyes flick toward me. "You really don’t pay very close attention to what I say to you, do you John? We need to work on that, as well."

Well, so much for figuring out what goes on in Sherlock Holmes’ head. It really is quite pathetic how much I want to stay on top of what Sherlock says. More than that, I want to prove that I am worthy of Sherlock saying things to me at all. I have no delusions that I’ll be able to follow Sherlock’s thought pattern from point A to point Z double prime while joyfully skipping all the letters between, I just want to eventually catch up in what is a reasonable amount of time.

"Right," I prevaricate as my admittedly still sleepy mind scrambles to follow the sparsely scattered breadcrumbs of logic Sherlock inevitably leaves in his mental wake. "We’ll work on that after we’ve worked on my responding to threats in my bedroom as I sleep…from Moriarty?"

Sherlock doesn’t smile, not exactly, but the eyes still staring at me lighten slightly, indicating I had been right in at least this supposition. "For starters."

I frown. "Do you honestly think he’ll try something? Here?"

One dark eyebrow rises in inquiry. "You don’t?"

I shrug. "It seems like he’s already played that card. If he did it again, I’d think he would find it, well… boring."

This time Sherlock’s lips do curl just the tiniest amount in what I thought, maybe, looked to be approval. "You’re right." My pride is short lived given what he says next. "If what happened tonight had been his actual ploy."

"And you don’t think it was." That much is obvious by the fact that he is here discussing it.

"I think he was testing a hypothesis. Or at least that's what he started out doing before he decided to kill us both...until someone changed his mind." Sherlock scowls in irritation and grumbles. "I need to know who made that call."

I scoff as I shift to lie back on my pillow and close my eyes. "Well, he can bloody well stuff the scientific method up his arse if he plans to use me as a lab rat again."

"You weren’t the rat, John. You were the cheese."

I have no response to that other than to open my eyes again to see Sherlock watching me with an unreadable expression. If I had seen the look on Sherlock’s face at the pool, then I was damn sure Moriarty had, too.

Sherlock turns his gaze back to the ceiling. "If you want to burn the heart out of someone, it’s best to prove they have one to burn, not to mention something to use as kindling for the flames."

And how far he’s willing to go to protect it, I think silently.

The tented fingers fold and rub violently into Sherlock’s eyes as he growls in frustration, "I’ve never felt this before."

"Afraid?" I prompt.

"You’re being even more dense than usual, John. Fear is nothing more than the body’s chemical reaction to a perceived threat…hypothalamus, hippocampus, adrenal medulla…" his hands flutter absently. "This is all first year university academics, John. It’s a natural rush. It’s like tapping a vein and pushing the plunger, only we get it for free. You know that better than anyone. What’s the point in doing any of this if there’s no adrenaline coursing through your system? If there’s nothing to be afraid of, you might as well have a desk job and write a blog."

I frown at the obvious snipe at me. "Then what? Regret? Frustration? Sorrow?"

"I suspect is must be affection. Although I’m not entirely sure, as it’s all rather new."

Once again, I blink in surprise. No, not surprise; I’d seen the look on Sherlock’s face, seen the desperation, the absolute need Sherlock had to get me out of that coat, and it had had my heart pounding even harder than the vest of semtex already was. I am, however, surprised to hear Sherlock say it out loud, and have no coherent response to the admission, so I decide to cover it with a snort.

"Affection for whom? Moriarty?"

"Don’t play stupid, John," Sherlock snaps irritably, obviously not in the mood for the joke.

I’m trying to figure out exactly how I should respond to the foul mood, and the confession, and the fact that Sherlock feels I am something more than someone to run headlong into trouble with.

"Sherlock, I’m…I don’t quite know what to say…I’m flattered, obviously—"

Flattered? Bloody hell, what am I saying? A man I accused of being a heartless only days before has just confessed he has feelings for me and I say I’m flattered? Like a school girl trying to let down the chubby boy with bad skin who has a crush on her without dashing his ego?

Sherlock, however, simply ignores me (as if I had anything to worry about with his ego) and growls again, this time slamming his fists into the mattress on either side of him.

"Why would anyone choose to feel this way? All it does is distract you. Keep you from being able to concentrate on what is really important. Have you absolutely convinced that if you let the person out of your sight for more than a few moments time that someone is going to snatch them away again simply to prove they can."

"That’s why you’re here," I state in dawning realization. "You can’t think clearly because you’re too worried about what’s happening to me when I’m out of your sight."

"It is completely unacceptable," Sherlock accuses, as if this is all my doing. "These…feelings…" he sneers the word contemptuously, "…are in absolute conflict with everything I am trying to accomplish to keep you safe!"

I find myself staring at him in wonder. "Dear, God, you actually are a real boy after all."

"You are not helping explain my reaction to the night’s events, John." His words are clipped and threatening.

I can’t help but laugh. "There’s nothing to explain, Sherlock. Any normal person would—"

His head tilts knowingly and I process what I just said. Any normal person. This is the man who had me text a serial killer from my mobile without so much as a how do you do. Not exactly the definition of normal. "Right. Scratch that." I ponder for a few seconds then ask the only thing I can, "Why are you acting this way?"

He goes back to staring at the ceiling, speaking between the tent of fingers over his lips. "There is only one explanation I can come up with."

Well, at least he does have an explanation, which means, hopefully this conversation will be over soon and I can get back to sleep. I’m already yawning, preparing to agree with him whatever he says, so I can shoo him out of my room to go scan forty websites simultaneously on my laptop, his laptop, and both our mobiles for his next case.

"I must be in love with you," he says quietly.

I speak dismissively around my yawn. "I knew you’d figure it… What? Sherlock, you are not in love with me." If my laugh is a little frayed, well, it’s been one of those nights.

He sighs in disappointment. "I suppose you’re right," he admits with absolutely no argument. "But it would have been a fairly simple problem to fix considering how easily women don’t seem to fall in love with you, or if they do, they quickly fall out of love with you. I just assumed it would be the same with me."

My eyes narrow and I open my mouth to argue, but I quickly decide it’s not worth it, especially since my track record has proven him correct. Instead, I roll over on my side with my back to him. "Time to go, Sherlock. Unlike some people, I rate sleep very highly, and I would like to get at least a little before the sun comes up. We can examine your feelings in the morning over a nice cup of tea if you still feel the need, but right now we’re going to suppress them down like the good little Queen’s subjects we are and get some sleep."

I tug the blankets up over my shoulder, at least as far as I can with Sherlock still lying on top of them beside me. I pull harder with a frustrated, "Sherlock…"

"Obviously, you’re right, John, I’m not in love with you."

"Cheers. Well done, you. Now off to bed." I yank once more, but he doesn’t budge.

"But if I ever could fall in love with someone, I believe it would be you."

I lie very still, considering what he just said. So many damn variables in that statement, and way too many to consider given my mental state. I hated seeing Sherlock at that pool. I hated Moriarty for using me on Sherlock like that, more even than threatening my life with a vest full of explosives. But, if I’m honest with myself, really honest, honest in a way I haven’t allowed myself to be since before I was shot, I’d admit I had never been more relieved to see anyone as I was when Sherlock walked into the pool. Because I knew if anyone could get me out of there alive, it would be him. It is bloody well terrifying how much I trust the man when it is obvious to anyone he cannot be trusted to do anything to remotely qualify as safe or rational. Sherlock Holmes is the antithesis of everything my therapist told me I should have in my life, but he is the very essence of everything I need to feel alive.

So, who am I to deprive him of the same thing?

I clear my throat and speak over my shoulder. "If you’re going to stay, at least get under the duvet so I don’t feel like I’m in a straightjacket." I mutter under my breath, "Although I bloody well may deserve one for agreeing to this." Raising my voice as he stands just long enough to scramble back into the bed under the covers, I tell him, "And just a warning; I snore. Loudly."

"Don’t worry; I’ll wake you if you do."

"Wake me again, for any reason other than the flat is on fire, and I will shoot you," I threaten.

When I wake in the morning, all ten bullets are still safely ensconced in my sidearm; just as Sherlock still is in my bed. Blue eyes regard me intently for a few seconds, telling me he’s been awake for some time. For all I know, he never went to sleep. I have a moment of panic as to why he’s even there. Then, remembering the previous night, I have a moment of panic as to what I should say now.

However, as soon as he ascertains I’m awake, he bursts into motion. "I feel like eggs," he informs me.

"Eggs?" I had no idea what waking up with Sherlock would be like. In all honesty, I thought the novelty would have worn off for him within half an hour of lying down in my bed. But I assumed if he had still been here, it would have been rather awkward for both of us. Never in a million years did I expect him to immediately launch into breakfast plans with me, especially considering I could practically count on one hand the number of times I had seen him actually eat breakfast.

Springing from the bed, he inquires, "Do we have any eggs? Last I saw any was three weeks ago when I was developing that test inoculation, and those were fertilized."

"Inoculation?" I demand in alarm. "Inoculation for what?" I suddenly remember an odd, swollen pinprick on my neck from about that same time period. "Sherlock, did you inject me with something?"

"Nothing to concern yourself with now, John," he dismisses before continuing, "Perhaps Mrs. Hudson has some—" I have just opened my mouth to protest that it very well is something to concern myself with when he stops his progress toward the door, turning on his heels to declare, "Croissants! Forget the eggs; the French bakery around the corner should have a fresh batch coming out of the oven by the time we dress." He’s already halfway down the stairs when he calls, "Get a move on, John, there are pastries to be eaten!"

I’ve only made it as far as sitting up and slinging my legs over the side of the bed, deciding that if whatever he dosed me with hasn’t killed me in three weeks, chances are it won’t now. Still, I make a mental note to run a full blood workup at the clinic on my next shift.

"Sherlock, we’re not done talking about using me as your human lab rat."

Somehow, the awkward morning I’d been worried about is nothing compared to the reality of waking up beside Sherlock Holmes.

* * * * *

Surprisingly, Sherlock is back in my bed the following night. Not surprisingly, he brings his laptop. I find I don’t mind; in fact, the soft glow and the clicking of keys are rather soothing. He is, however, already downstairs again by the time I wake in the morning. And no offer of eggs or pastries this morning, I might add. Apparently the honeymoon period is over. I’m shocked it lasted as long as it did. Neither of us comments on either his presence during the night or his absence in the morning and the pattern continues for the next four days. Sometimes he is already propped up on a pillow with his laptop open when I finish cleaning my teeth before bed, other times I feel the mattress dip hours after I have retired.

Then comes the two nights he stays away all together, and I figure his whim has passed, and that is the last I’ll see of Sherlock in my bed. Considering how Sherlock’s mind zips from one idea to another so quickly, I was amazed it had taken him as long as it had to find something else to obsess about besides Moriarty snatching me away in the night.

Exactly one week after the pool incident, I climb into bed with the strains of Brahms floating up the stairs. I’ve learned to gauge Sherlock’s mood by what he’s playing on his violin. While this piece is a bit melancholy tonight, it’s not the manic Tchaikovsky he played endlessly weeks ago when he first began obsessing about Moriarty in earnest, so there is that at least. But the playing is soft and muffled further by my bedroom door, and it’s not long before I find myself drifting off into sleep.

Then the desert sun is beating down on me, searing as blindingly as the fire in my shoulder. Gunfire echoes in my ear and my pack is eating into my back where I lie on the ground. It’s funny how that memory always stands out, how bloody uncomfortable it was to lie on my gear like that. I’m reaching for my sidearm, just out of reach from where I’d dropped it when I was shot. Never mind my wound; at the moment bullets in a gun are more important than blood in my body if I plan on staying alive. I stretch a little further, my mind making a mental count of the three bodies lying around me. They had been standing only a few seconds before. It happens like that, so bloody fast that if you blink you can miss the bloke beside you being killed. Sometimes you get lucky and blink; sometimes your eyes are wide fucking open.

Simpson is still gurgling. He’d taken a bullet to his throat, and I’d been trying to stem the bleeding when I’d taken one myself in my shoulder. Over all the chaos of men yelling and grenades exploding, I can hear him rasping, choking on the blood bubbling up with each labored breath and flowing down to fill his lungs and drown him as surely as if he were being held underwater. Drowning in the desert; it happens a lot more than anyone could ever imagine.

Voices are closer now, anxious words in Pashto I can’t understand, and I will my arm to stretch a little further as Simpson starts to rasp and cough, a thick burbling sound like a pot of marinara on the flame. There’s a part of me that wishes he’d just get on with it and die already, because I can’t do a damn thing to help him and his suffering is about to drive me around the bend.

My fingers are just about to close around the grip of my Browning when the world tilts, and a hand presses into my shoulder. I gasp at the sharp pain that races all the way to my toes at the touch, and my eyes fly open to see familiar blue ones staring down at me. Sherlock’s lips are pressed into a hard, fine line to match the furrow between his brows.

"John." It’s not a question asking if I’m okay, but a statement of fact, that I am here, back in London, on Baker Street, in my bed, with him.

I lie perfectly still, sucking in one ragged breath after another through my nose and willing myself not to moan or whimper or acknowledge the phantom fire still pulsing under his palm on my shoulder. I close my eyes when he shifts to lie beside me, not removing his hand, and please, God, please no tears. No fucking tears. The shaking is betrayal enough.

The long fingers squeeze gently, when a small noise does manage to escape that sounds as pathetic and deviously miserable to my ears as the ones Simpson had made dying in Afghanistan, but Sherlock says nothing. And when I finally work up the courage to open my eyes again, he’s watching me, not with pity or even sympathy…thank God for that…but a muted curiosity.

The slight tilt to his mouth is almost contrite. "You’ll forgive me if my playing has kept you awake. I think it’s time to retire."

With that pronouncement, he closes his eyes without another word. But his hand stays firmly and steadily where it has been this entire time. I imagine this is how he holds his violin, with a gentle strength that coaxes beauty and grace from an instrument that would be a screeching nightmare in less talented hands.

A part of me wants to bolt from the room in utter mortification that he’s seen me this way, or at the very least shove his hand away and yell at him that I’m a grown man and can take care of myself. But the burning in my shoulder has melted into a point of warmth that spreads through my chest, evening my breathing, calming my racing heart, soothing the taut shuddering string of my emotions until I’m humming the way his violin strings do. It’s all I can do to keep from rolling on my side and pulling Sherlock’s hand with me until he’s curled snuggly up behind him. Why being wrapped up in the chaos of this man is any less traumatizing than that of battle I may never understand, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t seem one hell of a lot more appealing.

I restrain myself to reaching up and squeezing his wrist briefly once I feel I can do it without trembling. His grip loosens but his hand doesn’t move from the spot where it seems content to spend the rest of the night. I find I have no complaints about it being there, either.

* * * * *

We fall into a pattern after that-- two or three nights in my bed then just as many or more out of it. When I dream, he makes a point of staying at least three nights afterwards. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that it helps keep the nightmares at bay. After a particularly grueling case where I end up with a couple of busted rib thanks to a carpark attendant’s boot, he stays an entire week. I don’t mind, seeing as he’s taken a blow from a large chunk of a wooden crate to the back of his head, and it lets me keep a closer eye on his concussion.

It’s about six months since the whole Moriarty pool incident, and we’ve had no word from the man. Neither pip nor peep, at least as far as I know, anyway. What Sherlock may have discovered and not shared with me remains a mystery, but the new cases keep coming in with each new blog I post. Sherlock doesn’t seem to know what to make of the success of my blog anymore than I do, but for very different reasons. I can’t believe so many people would want to read a blog I wrote, period. He can’t believe they would want to read mine over his. I will admit, to know without a doubt that I am better at something than Sherlock, even if it’s only at selling his public image, is a ridiculous amount of fun, especially when it annoys him so much. The only downside to the whole rush of business has been the hours.

I pay the cabbie outside 221B Baker Street and contemplate the stairs in a half stupor. It’s almost two in the morning, but I had missed my first train from Dublin thanks to Sherlock texting and requesting one more bit of information from the Vicar I was sent to question-- the very old and very senile and very hard of hearing Vicar who thought I was the former altar boys I was questioning him about, and who kept calling me Neville and pushing butterscotches on me as a result. By the time I finished, my head was throbbing, I’d missed tea, and the last train out was delayed. Now that I’m finally home, I want nothing more than to climb these stairs and climb straight into bed; I just have to work up the energy to take that first step.

Mrs. Hudson peeks out her door at the foot of the stairs. Seeing that it’s me, she opens the door further, pulling her housecoat closer around her. "Oh, John, you look wretched." Catching what she’s just said, she crinkles her face and pats my arm apologetically. "You know what I mean."

"Yes, unfortunately, I do know what you mean," I tell her. "It’s been a long day. How have things been here? Anything I should be aware of before heading up?"

"He’s been quiet…almost too quiet." She leans closer and whispers loudly, "It’s days like today I expect my ceiling to drop out and Sherlock to land on my sofa in the middle of Alan Carr with a bowl of bloody arm and leg stumps in one hand and a stick of dynamite in the other."

I give her a small smile, unfortunately more than familiar with that expectation. "I’ll check for both before I head off to bed," I promise. "Good night."

"Good night, dear," she answers before shuffling back inside.

I stop to poke my head into the main floor of our flat. Not finding Sherlock there, or any sign of explosives or severed limbs, I make my way up the second flight of stairs to my bedroom. Sherlock’s room had been dark, but the side table lamp is on in my room, so I’m not surprised to find him sitting in my bed. I am surprised, however, that he is completely nude.

"Sherlock!" I sputter, actually taking a step backward into the hall. "What the hell are you doing?"

"Ah, John!" He looks up from where he is stretched out on top of the duvet wearing not a stitch of clothing, with only his laptop, thankfully, currently living up to its name. "That information about Neville’s love of butterscotch has led to the most fascinating…"

I cut him off before he can go any further on the case. "Sherlock, where are your pajamas?"

"Soiled," he dismisses and returns to typing. "There was a bit of a mishap with the hands I obtained from Molly last week. Suffice to say, they are now no more than a bag of thumbs."

My mind quickly processes a dozen questions regarding why and how and a mental note to buy more bleach, but it settles on the one that has me feeling overly warm at the moment. "And it never occurred to you to possibly put on new pajamas after those you were wearing became unwearable?"

"They are all soiled," he tells me, not even bothering to look up from his screen.

"Dear God, what did you do to those hands?"

"They weren’t all soiled tonight," he sighs with impatience. "It’s been a few weeks since I’ve had time to do laundry."

"You send your laundry out," I remind him.

Blue eyes roll. "It’s been a few weeks since I remembered to call the service. If you haven’t noticed, we’ve been rather busy with cases."

"I’ve managed to find time to do my laundry," I point out.

"And yet none of the cases have suffered in the least from your absence during that time." He tilts his head in the damned conceited way he has that makes me want to punch him sometimes…an awful lot of the time, really. "What can we deduce from that, John?"

I rub at my forehead, willing the throbbing to go away. More than that, I’m willing my thoughts to stop drifting to what is beneath his computer and the pad it sits on. I’m tired, that’s all. It’s been one hell of a long day, I’m tired, I just need some sleep.

"Fine." I exhale heavily, waving a hand. "You can borrow some of my pajama bottoms."

Sherlock scoffs. "Don’t be ridiculous; they wouldn’t cover past my knees."

I jab an outraged finger in his direction. "Neither does your laptop!"

"Precisely," he argues. "So I don’t see why you are making such a fuss over this."

"Sherlock, you are in my bed." I say it slowly, enunciating each word hoping it might sink in. "Nude." Then repeat a little more frantically when he simply raises an eyebrow at me. "You are nude in my bed. You! Nude. My bed. Nude!" That last really did bear repeating.

As if what I’m saying finally sinks in, he smiles and shakes his head. "Honestly, John, we’ve been over this before. I have no expectations of sex with you. If you’d like me to prove—" He begins to lift the laptop from where it is serving as an electronic fig leaf.

"NO!" I avert my eyes just in case he refuses to listen to me.

"Suit yourself," he mumbles.

I can hear the click, click, click of the keyboard and risk opening my eyes again. Taking a deep breath, I try again. "Sherlock…"

He shakes his head. "John, let me try to explain this to you as simply as I can so that even you might understand. I am unclothed for no other reason than I have no clean clothing to wear, other than one of my suits, which seems rather ridiculous as I’d prefer to save those for going out in public where walking around without pants is frowned upon."

"Look at my face, Sherlock. It’s frowned upon in my bed, as well."

Ignoring my glower, he continues. "You, however, do have clean pajamas and will be fully dressed. The last I checked, sexual intercourse typically requires both parties to be in a state of undress, unless it is undertaken hurriedly and quite sloppily with little attention to detail. I believe you are familiar enough with my habits by now to know I do not do anything without applying the appropriate level of scrutiny and detail the situation requires. Sex with you, if it should ever come to pass, would require a great deal of both. You deserve that much as least. Therefore, it stands to reason, as long as you remain clothed, there should be no concern for either of our virtues."

My mind barely registers the self-satisfied grin on Sherlock’s face at his logic and instead flashes to exactly how detail oriented Sherlock is and what that would entail in bed, and when might it come to pass, and why, why, why, am I thinking on this?

"Sherlock," I sigh in exasperation, scrubbing at my face, "why are you doing this?"

"I have told you, my pajamas are soiled," he repeats in growing frustration.

"No; in my bed," I demand. "If you aren’t here to seduce me, why are you in my bed at all when you can be happily nude, for all I care, in your own bed?"

"Oh," he says casually, although he doesn’t look at me. "You’ve been up for almost twenty hours. Whenever you go that long without sleep, you tend to…sleep poorly."

My nightmares. Dear God, he’s been tracking when I have dreams and developed hypotheses for why I have them. My retort to tell him that is none of his concern dies on my lips, because if I am going to have a dream, he’s right where I want him to be, clothed or not. Not that I would ever, in a million years and under extreme duress, ever admit that out loud.

My shoulders slump, whether out of exhaustion or relief, even I don’t know for sure. "Could you at least wrap up in a sheet or something? It’s a bit…distracting." My hand waves to encompass the whole nudeness of him… in my bed.

Sherlock Holmes nude in my bed.

Christ almighty.

"Shall I retrieve it myself?"

"No!" I stop him as he once again begins to lift the laptop out of the way. "I’ll get it for you."

I toss him a sheet from the cupboard before dressing for bed in the relative privacy of the loo. By the time I return, Sherlock is wrapped like a Roman senator… if Roman senators frequented my bed and used laptops.

Climbing into my side of the bed, (When had I started thinking of my bed as having a side designated as mine versus one for Sherlock?) I roll so my back is to him and pull the duvet up over my shoulders with a yawn. Sherlock clicks off the bedside lamp, and I don’t know if I should laugh or cry at how familiar that has become for him to do that without even asking if he should. As much as I try, I can’t stop thinking about the fact that he is wrapped only in a sheet and lying next to me. And what exactly did he mean, I deserve that much, at least?

I will never be able to fall asleep if I keep running through those thoughts, so I try to think of something else instead.

"Do I want to know what happened with the hands?" I ask into the soft glow from the laptop that surrounds the space of my bed.

"Based on your reaction the last three times something similar happened in the kitchen, I’m going to say, no, you don’t," he answers without stopping his typing.

Chances are, he’s right and I don’t want to know.

"You are completely mental," I mumble sleepily. "You do realize that, don’t you?"

The tapping on the keyboard doesn’t slow. "Says the man who shares his bed with me."

I can’t help but laugh lightly at the complete lack of argument I have at that observation, and I hear him snicker in return.

"Good night, John."

My eyes roll behind my closed eyelids at the absurdity of that simple salutation. But what can I say? Other than, "Good night, Sherlock."

A hand squeezes my shoulder as soon as the first bullets start flying in Afghanistan. I reach out absently, more asleep than awake to pat Sherlock’s hand, feel his fingers slide against my own, tangle there for a moment, then vanish into the blessedly dreamless sleep I quickly tumble into once more.

It’s not until Mrs. Hudson’s voice yells, "Boys, you have another one!" that I jerk awake.

Sherlock is lifting one eyelid to stare at the clock reading nine a.m. before pulling his makeshift toga up over his head. "Go see if it’s worth getting out of bed for," he grumbles.

"Sherlock, when did I become your personal valet?"

The only answer I receive is a low rumbling growl, so I climb out of bed, put on my dressing gown and head downstairs.

The case is enough to get out of bed for, but apparently isn’t enough to waste a clean suit on since Sherlock conducts the entire interview still wrapped in a sheet, wears nothing else the entire time I spend romping about a field with a laptop, and is still wearing only that when we are delivered to Buckingham Palace.

Buckingham Palace! Never saw that one coming, I can assure you. And if anyone had told me one day I would be sitting next to a nude man being offered tea in Buckingham Palace, I would have called them a loon. Yet here I am watching Mycroft and Sherlock play out their archnemesis, sibling rivalry game and seeing almost more of Sherlock than I had in my bed last night.

There is not a single word in that sentence that could be uttered by anyone and have any expectation of being considered sane, and yet it is my current reality.

Maybe that’s why, when presented with the opportunity, I have Sherlock in a choke hold in an alley a few blocks from Irene Adler’s lair. My only regret is that I can’t keep a hold on him and operate the video camera on my mobile phone at the same time so I can share it with Greg and a few of the blokes at the Yard later on. Maybe even post it on my blog and see what sort of business that drums up.

God, that would have been brilliant.

Unfortunately, all I have at the end of the day is one drugged out of his mind consulting detective, a promise from Lestrade of a copy of the video he took as we poured Sherlock into a car for the ride back to Baker Street, and the image of way too many naked people for one day seared into my mind. Irene Adler had been… well, spectacular is what she is. Her website photos do not do her justice compared to seeing her live and in the flesh, quite literally. While as fair skinned and dark haired as Sherlock, her body is all soft curves and rounded mounds compared to the hard lines and angles of Sherlock’s.

And I really shouldn’t be making mental comparisons like that while sitting at the breakfast table, but it’s a tad difficult not to when an erotic sigh floats out of Sherlock’s mobile every few minutes. As he has done with all the others, he reads the text and pointedly ignores it.

Still, Irene had drugged Sherlock…and beaten him with a riding crop…and apparently done something to his phone given the obscene sound it is making regularly, so I feel no problem when I find myself grinding my teeth every time Sherlock receives a text from…her.

Sherlock had stayed in his own bed the previous night. Drugged as he was, and with no clean bedclothes, and no clue why he should need me to be right next door when I made the offer, I felt it was for the best. Mrs. Hudson had taken care of ringing the laundry service for him the day before, so when he shows up in my bed again, he’s at least thankfully dressed.

He also has his phone.

"Turn it off," I order after the fifth prerecorded sigh of the evening.

"Hmmm?" he asks distractedly.

I sit up and narrow my eyes. "Turn it off, put it on vibrate, whatever, but if I hear that bloody ringtone one more time, I will throw that mobile out the window."

"John— " he starts to protest.

"My bed, my rules, Sherlock." A breathless gasp sounds again, and he actually puts the mobile behind his back out of my reach. "Turn it off," I grind out, "or leave."

He studies me for a few seconds, as if weighing my reserve. The bruise is still bright on his cheekbone from the punch I delivered. I’m more than willing to give him a matching pair if I hear that bloody phone again tonight.

Throwing back the covers abruptly, he gathers up all his things and leaves. I watch him go, feeling a momentary twinge that he chose that alternative to just turning the damnable phone off. And while I have to listen to him stomping his way back downstairs, at least I won’t have to listen to that blasted sound anymore tonight. Plumping my pillow a little violently, I turn to my side and drop heavily onto it, growling under my breath when I hear the muted, but still audible, tone through the vents from Sherlock’s bedroom below mine.

What Sherlock finds so intriguing about this woman is beyond me. Sure she’s gorgeous, seductive, mysterious, clever enough to outsmart Sherlock, and devious enough to hold the Royal family under her perfectly manicured thumb… yes, okay, I’m not stupid. It’s quite clear what Sherlock finds so intriguing about her; intriguing enough to determine her precise measurements with little more than a glance; intriguing enough to return to his own bed so he can read her seemingly endless stream of texts. The next sigh has me covering my head with my pillow, and since the tone is still muffled by the distance between his room and mine, I’m surprised when his side of the bed dips with his weight.

I freeze when I feel his chest pressed warmly against my back momentarily, then it vanishes just as quickly. He does, however, remain in the bed. Lifting the pillow, I look to the bedside table to see the crystal ashtray he’d pilfered from Buckingham Palace the previous day sitting where he had just reached across to place it.

"You forgot your souvenir," he says quietly, very close to my ear. And I can’t miss the apologetic tone in his voice.

"Great," I sigh a bit dramatically. "Now you’re planting evidence of your crimes in my room. Not for the first time since meeting you, I see a jail cell in my future."

"You were the mastermind behind the theft," he reminds.

"I suppose that makes us partners in crime, then."

I don’t take my eyes from the fine crystal glistening in the knife edge of light cutting around the frame of my bedroom door. It throws a multitude of rainbows on the far wall, making me think of fairy lights and tinsel and Christmas presents. I never realized how much of a magpie I am to be so enchanted by something a bit sparkly, at discovering a forbidden treasure hidden away in my nest.

"Partners," he echoes.

Below us, I hear his phone once more, but as Sherlock settles down beside me in bed, it doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it had before.

* * * * *

Fifty-seven texts later, however, (and yes, I had been counting them) it had started bothering me again. I’d been tempted to steal his phone and change the tone from a slutty sigh to a lowing cow. That seemed appropriate enough for me seeing as she was more than ready to give away the milk for free. I just couldn’t figure out if Sherlock had taken her up on the offer. No, was my guess, which was good. Not that I cared so much with whom Sherlock slept (strike that…with whom Sherlock had sex, because he still slept with me half the time), but if Mycroft’s suggestion that Sherlock is still a virgin is correct, God help him if Irene Adler, professional dominatrix to the stars, were to be his first.

That, however, does not look to be much of a concern any more considering Mycroft’s call from the morgue. Irene is dead, the texts will cease, and Sherlock is at risk of falling back into some very bad habits. Happy bloody Christmas. In the past, the danger nights have been driven more out of sheer boredom than anything else. This is the first time that I can remember Sherlock showing any emotion about a person, other than maybe me or Mrs. Hudson on very rare occasions. But give him a day to be snippy about his slightly askew sock index, and I figure he will be back to his normal prattish self. Then my biggest concern will be how to get Jeanette to call me back, or if I really want to bother with trying at all.

I’m wrong.

For the first two days, Sherlock shuts his door in my face whenever I try to talk to him. I leave my door open, an invitation of sorts that if he wants to come in, if he needs it, he is welcome. He doesn’t take me up on the offer. I wake the second night to see his outline in my doorway, but he disappears as soon as I call his name and question if he is okay.

Then the violin playing starts, and the polite smiles when Mrs. Hudson says something to cheer him, and the monosyllable responses to my questions, and the even less eating, and the continued absence from my bed. It shouldn’t bother me, that last bit, but it does, if for no other reason than he doesn’t find as much comfort from me as I had thought he did. He’s mourning, and doing it all alone no matter how much either I or Mrs. Hudson tries to help him. I know we can’t keep him under watch indefinitely, and at this rate, I’m honestly scared what he might do when we happen to look away.

That very real fear is probably what has me insisting Irene tell Sherlock she is alive when she pulls her own version of a Mycroft appointment. I really don’t like this woman, and I can’t think of a worse person to have playing with Sherlock. Because, that is exactly what she is doing. She is playing, toying with his feelings in the most hateful way possible. But if knowing she is alive will pull Sherlock out of his current state, then I will tell him if she won’t. And as much as I know she is only playing with my emotions when she accuses me of being in love with Sherlock, I can’t seem to come up with any response beyond my mantra of not being gay. Funny thing is, it’s hard to argue that point too vehemently when I’ve missed the hell out of Sherlock being in my bed for the past week. Then that accursed sigh sounds, and I realize Sherlock has heard all of it.

"John?"

I look up from where I’m reading in bed to see Sherlock has given up playing his violin and is now standing in my door. "Hi." When he simply stands there, I ask, "Is everything alright? Mrs. Hudson?"

"No, no, she’s fine," he assures.

She’d had a dreadful fright from the man looking for Irene’s phone, but the injuries had, thankfully, only been superficial. In true Baker Street form, she had proved more resilient both physically and emotionally than any mere mortal should be in that sort of situation. And Sherlock, after throwing the man out a window more times than was legal to count as self defense, seemed to be back to his old self…until now.

"You?" I ask when he simply stands there.

At my raised eyebrows, he straightens his shoulders, like a prisoner marching to stand before the firing squad, and strides the short distance to my bed to lie down in his normal spot staring at the ceiling. I’m suddenly struck with the feeling that he feels obligated to be here, and it makes my stomach roll.

"Sherlock, you don’t… that is… I don’t expect…" I sigh, a hell of a lot less erotically than Irene does. "Look, isn’t there someplace else, maybe someone else’s bed you’d rather be in right now?"

He rolls his head to look at me. "Do you want me to go back to my room?"

Of course, he isn’t going to make this easy on me. "I wasn’t talking about your bed." His face remains blank, and I sigh again. "Irene, Sherlock. I’m talking about Irene’s bed."

"Why would I want to go to her bed?" He seems genuinely surprised I would suggest such a thing.

"Because she’s alive, because she would welcome you, eagerly, because you seemed heartbroken when you thought she was dead. I assumed…" He just stares at me. "I assumed maybe you’d found someone to fall in love with after all."

And it wasn’t me, I add silently. Damn that woman to hell, she was right. We are a bloody couple, in our own bizarre sort of way that involves bickering, and private jokes no one else finds funny, and sharing a bed even if there is no sex involved but lots of guns and madmen and general mayhem. It’s like we skipped the juicy bits of marriage and went straight to being eighty years old. Or at least we were a couple until she showed up, and the absolute worst part is I never even knew it.

Sherlock rolls to his side to face me, sliding one hand under his cheek. The strain of the week is showing on his face in ways I’ve never seen before. Even with as little as he sleeps normally, I can tell he’s exhausted. "I’ve never met anyone like her before in my life," he confesses. "She is a very fascinating puzzle."

I swallow down my disappointment and nod in understanding. "Then why aren’t you with her right now studying her?" Just because being an eighty-year-old couple together is comfortable, it doesn’t mean Sherlock doesn’t deserve the juicy bits if he can get them.

His eyes narrow. "You really don’t like her, do you?"

It’s a rhetorical question. If he didn’t already know the answer to that, he would have after overhearing the conversation at our meeting today.

I shake my head. "It doesn’t matter what I think. I’m not going to sleep with her."

"Neither am I," he informs me in the same calm tone he has maintained this entire time.

"And why not, Sherlock? People pay ridiculous amounts of money to have sex with her because she’s that good at it, and she’s offering those services to you free of charge. More than that, she finds you just as fascinating as you do her. The two of you could go off and puzzle each other out for hours at a time. You’d be crazy not to take her up on the offer."

"Name one person who considers me sane," he challenges. "Not even you would accuse me of that, and you care for me more than anyone ever has." My breath stops at that declaration, but Sherlock just keeps talking. "People question your sanity over that, mind you, so you might try to be a little less obvious about it. For example, when someone you hate suddenly returns from the dead, you might not want to put what you believe are my best interests before your own, at least not so glaringly. Not only does it make you predictable, it gives her the upper hand to know where I rank in your life."

"Sherlock…" I cough to clear the roughness from my throat, knowing I’m probably glowing bright red at this point.

"Puzzles are fascinating, John, until they aren’t, then they just become tedious. I’ve never had a puzzle that hasn’t bored me in the end. But there’s one thing about predictability; I always know where I stand. Just like I know your bed will always smell like the fabric softener your grandmother used, the one you make the special trip to the market in Castelnau to buy it because you can’t find it anywhere else. And you wash the sheets as soon as the smell starts to fade. You start to snore exactly eighteen minutes after your breathing evens out, and you wake up every time I climb into bed, but you pretend like you don’t because you don’t want me to think I’m bothering you because you worry I might not come back."

"Sherlock…" I try again, and this time there’s no clearing the roughness.

"That’s not something you need to worry about, John."

I snort softly. "Brilliant. I can cross one item off my list of hundreds."

"There’s no need to worry about any of it," he dismisses.

"Yes," I stress, "there is. You can’t… you can’t do it all by yourself, Sherlock. More importantly, you don’t have to do it all by yourself."

"I don’t do it all by myself. Why just last week you went to track down that lead—"

"I’m not talking about tracking down leads, running errands, doing the shopping, picking up the take away. I’m willing to be more than just your errand boy. This week, you were obviously upset about Irene, and no matter what I tried… Sherlock, I want to be more…" Sherlock just keeps staring at me in that way he has when he just lets me say my peace then promptly ignores it, so I shake my head and pick up my book again. "Never mind. You need some rest; go to sleep."

He remains silent long enough that I think he may be taking my advice, but then he says hesitantly, "I don’t want to be here, with you, in your bed."

"Then go back to yours," I tell him, fighting to keep the frustration and, yes, hurt out of my voice.

"I can’t." He has his eyes closed, but his mouth is downturned in the hint of an annoyed frown. He snaps, "I try to stay away, but I can’t. I was fully intent on staying in my own room tonight, but I’ve just come off a very trying week, and then here you were, and here it was, and I’m somehow just supposed to ignore you and your bed and stay in my room? After thinking someone as clever and brilliant as her was dead? If she can be gone, how much longer would it be until you were? Or Mrs. Hudson for that matter?"

"Me dead? Mrs. Hudson? Sherlock, you aren’t making any sense."

He ignores me and keeps talking. "As much as I don’t want to be here, I can’t seem to stop myself from coming here, and smelling your grandmother’s fabric softener, and hearing you snore, and just being with you and knowing you’re safe, when I’m not sure someone like me deserves to have a place like this."

"Sherlock, everyone deserves a place to feel safe," I tell him, simultaneously flattered and surprised he’s chosen my bed to be that place for him.

He ignores me and grumbles instead, "This infernal bed is just as addictive as any illegal substance I’ve ever used."

My mouth opens then closes when I can’t for the life of me think how to respond to that. Finally, I simply shake my head in awe. "Then be an addict."

"I think the fact that I am has already been established. I don’t require your permission for it."

I’m about to point out that it is, in fact, my bed, so my permission is required if he wishes to remain. But when he scoots closer, the top of his head so close his hair brushing against my ribs where I’m propped against the headboard, I realize there is no way on God’s green Earth I could kick him out now.

Instead I snort. "You are such a prat sometimes; I don’t know what she sees in you."

"Neither do I," he admits, "but it’s not the same thing you see in me. I’m somewhat grateful for the distinction."

"Why? Because you wouldn’t have a way to know she currently has a pulse?"

"Among other reasons," he says vaguely, then repeats, "Happy New Year, John."

Putting my book on my bedside table, careful of the crystal ashtray there, I turn out my light and slide down to lay on my pillow, thinking I may have become just as addicted to having him here as he is being here. "Happy New Year, Sherlock."

* * * *

Six months pass without any word from Irene Adler, not a single sigh sounds from Sherlock’s mobile in all that time, and I’m foolish enough to think maybe we are free from her….until she turns up in Sherlock’s bed. The irony of a beautiful woman awaiting his arrival by sleeping in his bed when he almost never does isn’t lost on me. If he hadn’t smelled her perfume, she might have died of old age waiting for him to show up.

At least this time when she vanishes again, Sherlock isn’t heartbroken. If anything he’s angry at having been played by her to help, of all people, Moriarty. Not that there is much difference between a heartbroken Sherlock and an angry one. Both are prone to fits and brooding, late night violin playing, and seclusion. About a month after she leaves, he even vanishes himself for almost a week with little more of an explanation than he’ll back in a few days as he has a lead he needs to follow up on. My offer to go with him is dismissed without even a look back over his shoulder as he heads down the stairs. His mood, however, has improved greatly when he returns, so I don’t question it too much.

Then, two months later, on a rainy London day, Mycroft shows up with Irene Adler’s file and a request for me to lie about her death to Sherlock. Every time I think we’re done with the damnable woman, she creeps back in. Most of the past year has been tied to her in way or another, and while there is a part of me that is relieved she can’t show up again, I would have never wished her beheaded by Pakistani terrorists, and I sure as hell don’t want to see Sherlock the way he was the last time he thought she was dead.

So, I lie. As much as I hate lying to Sherlock of all people, I do it, because it is Sherlock of all people. Or at least I lie as best I can, although I’m not sure he believes a word of it, and that just makes me want to tell him the truth even more. Which is why, when I hear him on the stairs to my bedroom, I wait for him to climb into bed before speaking.

"Sherlock, about Irene—"

"There’s nothing to say," he tells me.

I take a deep breath, then roll to my side. "Right. Then, good night."

A few seconds pass, then he says, "You must be happy she’s out of our lives for good now."

"No," I confess softly. "Not like this. I never…" All I can do is sigh.

Why is this so damnably hard? Because Sherlock is happier knowing she’s alive and that…that drives me mad for some reason. Even knowing what she is capable of, who she was working with, he’s happier with her in the world in a way I don’t think I could ever make him. At that sounds way too close to jealousy for my comfort.

"John, I know she’s not in America in a witness protection scheme," he tells me simply.

I don’t even ask how he knows. I don’t really need to. Why Mycroft thought I could pull off a lie better than him when he tells lies for a living, is beyond me. But I’ve completely buggered this whole thing up, which means the moping and violin playing is right around the corner. Which begs the questions, why is he here and not downstairs doing just that?

"It was Mycroft’s idea." Way to go, John. Blame the twat of a brother he already despises when you know you were grateful for the suggestion. Time to be the bigger man. "But I should have never gone along with it."

I wait for him to leave, to at least say something biting about how he expected more from me than following Mycroft’s lead, or that he doesn’t need to be coddled like a child. Instead, Sherlock inches closer up behind me, not close enough to actually touch me, but close enough I feel his breath when he says, "Thank you for trying."

We lay there for a long while in silence, until Sherlock’s breath evens out in sleep to blow in warm huffs against the back of my neck. I realize how relieved I am that he has stayed here in bed with me.

He’d said he was addicted to my bed; I could become addicted to the feel of him this close very easily. I close my eyes, my mind drifting as sleep approaches, thinking that if his breath feels this good on the back of my neck, where else might it feel just as pleasant. The warmth spreads from my neck to my shoulders, down my arms, my back, to my stomach and down to my… bloody fucking hell!

My eyes fly open at what is apparently every drop of blood in my body rushing to my groin. I sit up abruptly and bolt from the bed.

"John, what is it? What’s wrong?" Sherlock, as usual, is instantly alert, sitting up and looking around the room.

"Nothing!" I insist, and please, please, please let the lighting be dim enough that he can’t see my hard on through my pajamas. "Just… too much tea." I quick step it toward the door. "Nothing to worry about," I call over my shoulder. "I’ll be right back."

Shutting and throwing the lock on the door to the loo as soon as I’m inside, I brace myself against the sink and look myself in the eyes in the mirror.

"No. No, John. No," I tell myself sternly. "No, you are not going to be aroused by the thought of Sherlock breathing on…" I look down at the betraying bulge in my pajama bottoms, not that I need to as I can feel myself grown so hard it almost hurts. I close my eyes and mutter a few curses at myself, and my damnable body for reacting like this over…him.

Steeling my willpower, I open my eyes again. "You will not do this. You are better than this. You have more self-control than this. You are not gay, and you are damned well not gay for Sherlock."

It’s not working. Son of a bitch, it is not working. Fine. This calls for drastic measures I haven’t implemented since my teenage days.

Margaret Thatcher. The Queen Mum. The Queen Mum with Margaret Thatcher. Parents having sex. Parents having sex. Parents having sex while the Queen Mum and Margaret Thatcher watch.

God damn it!

I can’t go back. I can’t go back to that bed with Sherlock there, like this, with this. And it’s only a matter of time before Sherlock comes to find out what’s wrong. So that leaves only one thing to do.

Turning off the light, I wrap my hand around myself and lean back against the door. If I have to look at myself in the mirror while I do this, I’ll go looking for my Browning instead. I picture Jeanette, then Sarah, then that Russian model whose name I can never remember, and I even try to imagine Irene Fucking Adler in all her naked glory. But in the end, the image shifts to dark hair with soft curls and pale skin in sharp angles…

"John?" accompanies the rap of knuckles at the door.

"Sherlock…" I gasp into the dark, biting my lip not to cry out even more as a shudder passes through me at the sound of his voice, because he is right there outside the door, close enough to touch me, and that thought is enough to tip me over the edge.

I slide down to sit on the tile floor, as sated as I am mortified, and manage to steady my voice enough to lie, "The curry I had tonight isn’t sitting well."

There is a pause, as if he is weighing what I said, and please, please, don’t question it. Although my track record for lying to him today is not promising.

"I told you that place doesn’t look very sanitary," he scolds. "Next time call Masala House."

"I think you’re right." I close my eyes and shake my head. Great. Not only am I apparently attracted to my flatmate, I just lost my favorite take away spot. But more importantly, I am apparently attracted to my flatmate!

Christ, I am unbelievably screwed.

* * * * *

Sherlock is screwed in his own way; he’s bored, which in the end, means I am even more screwed than I thought. In fact, he’s bored enough to demand his cigarettes, and this after a morning he spent terrorizing innocent Londoners by riding the tube covered in blood and carrying a harpoon during the early commute. I would pummel him with the skull where I’ve hidden the pack if I thought I could get away with it in front of the poor bloke who has come to seek our services in finding proof of a giant hound. Although, deep down I know my irritability with Sherlock is only partially the result of his attitude. It’s primarily due to the fact that for the past week I have found myself aroused several more times by Sherlock’s presence in my bed. In my bed, at the kitchen table, next to me in a cab-- it’s really starting to piss me the hell off because I should not be feeling this way about any man, Sherlock in particular. Exactly how am I supposed to go on like this? Especially when Sherlock seems perfectly fine…or as fine as a man can seem doused in blood and carrying a whaling implement.

So, I’m actually rather relieved when a potential client shows up on our doorstep. Here’s a chance to take my mind off of how thrilling Sherlock looked standing there this morning blood soaked and breathless, and concentrate instead on our latest troubled victim who needs our full attention and sympathy. Although, it’s hard to be too sympathetic with Henry Knight when Sherlock is playing passive aggressive with the case just to prove he can get me to turn the cigarettes over to him. At this moment, I would gladly take a giant killer hound over my flatmate. Better yet, I would gladly sic the vicious animal on him if I could given the way he’s completely manipulated me into turning over the cigarettes for no reason other than to prove that he can. Then, when I realize I’ve just carried both our bags down to the cab, I find myself contemplating how to slip raw chops into his coat pockets without him noticing.

Of course that might be a bit difficult seeing as the Cross Keys where we are staying specializes in vegan fare. Still, when the owner apologizes for not having a double room, I stop myself from correcting his assumption that we are a couple. Because apparently we are a couple, as Irene Adler had pointed out, and if there had been only one bed in the room, chances are we would have been sharing it. So when I’m asked "is yours a snorer?" my only response is to buy a bag of crisps.

If meat isn’t an option, I wonder if demon hell hounds would be attracted to crisps crumbled over a long black coat with collars to turn up enigmatically. Because, yes, mine is a snorer, but only when he lies flat on his back. The fact I know that about him is infuriating for no other reason than it makes my stomach flutter happily to think of him as mine.

Honestly, why doesn’t Sherlock ever have to field these questions? The answer to that is fairly simple-- just like now, he’s never around to handle the menial tasks such as paying for rooms, or carrying luggage, or buying groceries, or standing in a cue for take away. Yes, he’s mine, all right…my pain in the arse.

As cases go, this one turns out to be rather miserable. First there is the unnerving experience of seeing Sherlock terrified, followed promptly by the even more unnerving experience of being told my advice is not warranted because he apparently has no friends. He has no friends. I have spent a year and a half of my life putting up with his arrogance and petty bullshit to be told I’m not his friend. If that’s the case, why is he sleeping in my bed? More importantly, why do I want him to sleep in my bed? Why do I want him to do more than just sleep? And why do I hope that someday he might want the same when he is he texting me to set me up with attractive women?

Because it serves his purpose. Just like his so called apology the next morning serves his purpose to attempt to drug me with overly sugared coffee. Just like locking me in a lab while he experiments on me with recorded dog sounds and scares the shit out of me serve his purpose.

It’s no wonder that by the time I’ve shot a dog, and a man has been blown up on a landmine, and the case is finally over, I walk out of our room with only my bag in hand. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Sherlock look from me, to his bag on the bed, then back to me, before picking it up and following me out. We drive to the train station in near silence.

Sherlock doesn’t sleep in public—too much to observe, too much of a chance another archnemesis could be lurking around the corner, too much everything-- which is why I find the quietest car on the train and seat us as far away from anyone else as I can. Sherlock might not sleep, but in these situations, my military training kicks in and I can sleep almost anywhere. Eat when you can, sleep when you can; two rules so ingrained in me I usually follow them without thinking about it. Although that is only half the reason I promptly tilt my seat back and close my eyes.

"Tired?" Sherlock asks.

"Yes," I answer shortly without opening my eyes.

"You didn’t seem to sleep well last night," he notes.

Eyes still closed, I confirm, "No, I did not."

"Tossed and turned a great deal."

"Yes, I did."

Not hard to understand when your dreams are filled with red-eyed demon dogs tearing your men apart instead Taliban bullets. And that was the absolute shittiest part of the entire case, that I had somehow found a way to make my nightmares even worse.

When it’s obvious I’m not going to expand on my answer, Sherlock finally offers, "Would you like some coffee? Or a cup of tea, perhaps?"

I snort derisively at the offer. "No, I most certainly do not want you to get me a cup of tea, or coffee, or to ingest anything, really, that I have not personally seen prepared if it comes from you."

"John, if this is about the sugar—"

I finally open my eyes and glare at him. Another handy thing about taking secluded seats is I can have it out with him without drawing too many askance looks from the other passengers. "Sherlock, we are not discussing this. We are not discussing how heartless it was that you knew what those drugs would do because you experienced it yourself, and yet you still tried to dose me with them. We are not discussing how wrong it was to use another human being as your own private lab rat. Nor are we discussing how dangerous it was to try to dose me, a combat veteran with a diagnosis of PTSD on official record, with a drug that is known to cause hallucinations and violent outbursts."

"Is that what you’re having now?" he asks, and he’s genuinely curious if that’s the cause.

I take a deep breath to keep from punching him as I continue in a low dangerous tone. "We are not discussing it, because there is nothing to discuss. You were wrong about the sugar and you were very wrong to try to dose me with it. End of story." Then I close my eyes again and cross my arms across my chest with no intention of opening them again until we pull into Paddington Station.

"But in the end, I didn’t dose you with it," he counters petulantly.

"Only because you were wrong about the drug being in the sugar. So not only were you wrong intellectually, you were wrong morally, as well."

"I don’t think that’s quite—"

"Wrong, Sherlock."

"It’s hardly fair—"

"Wrong."

He remains silent for several minutes; long enough for me to think he’s going to remain that way for the rest of the trip, and I might, possibly, catch a few winks.

"Perhaps you would like a sealed bottle of water," he offers.

It’s then that I realize I have him in check. I didn’t think it was possible to punish Sherlock with anything worse than admitting he was wrong about a deduction. But now he’s settled on the notion I don’t trust him, and surprisingly that seems to be even more upsetting for him than owning up to a mistake.

I turn slowly and glare at him silently under half-lidded eyes.

He swallows and clears his throat. "A little later then." Quickly pulling out his phone, he suddenly finds something with which to busy himself.

Sherlock remains silent, and I drift off into a light doze soon enough, only to wake with a start when I feel Sherlock jump beside me.

"What’s wrong?" I demand, scanning the train car around us for any sign of danger.

"It’s…" Sherlock is looking oddly frazzled, the same strange gleam in his eyes I’d seen the first night we’d gone out on the moors and he’d seen the hound, but he quickly regains his composure. "…nothing. Sorry to have disturbed you. Although, if you would like that tea now—"

"Sherlock," I cut him off before he can change the subject anymore than he already has, "did you see something?"

"I thought for a moment…" He shakes his head. "Really, John, it was nothing. I simply mistook a man passing through the car for someone else."

I frown, because whomever he’d mistaken the man for had scared him and Sherlock was never scared…unless he was under the residual influence of a secret, mild-altering drug. Bollocks, how did I not see this before? The night Sherlock had said he had no friends, he’d been drugged. I written it off to experiencing a fright, but there was more. The drug had made him paranoid, and the one thing Sherlock feared more than anything else was being alone. He’d never admit it, but it was true. The texts when I was out to draw me back to the flat, the way he bitched about my blog yet read every one, the way he continued talking to me even when I wasn’t there. The idea I wouldn’t be there seemed to be completely unacceptable to him. So, as infuriating, and yes, hurtful as his comment about not having friends had been, it all suddenly made sense when I considered his altered mental state at the time. It also gave a great deal more weight to his apology the next day. And made me wonder about how clearly he was thinking when he tried to drug me and locked me in a lab to nearly piss my pants in fear.

Although, unfortunately, that didn’t seem too far out of character for Sherlock. Maybe he would have thought the implications through a little more if he hadn’t been drugged; then again, Sherlock stopping to consider the consequences of his actions would have been even more out of character for him.

"Who did you think you saw?" I push. When he remains silent, I try again. "Sherlock, if you are seeing things because of the residual drugs in your system… demons, monsters—"

"Moriarty," he says quietly. "I saw Moriarty."

I find myself sitting forward scouring the faces around us for one I’d only seen once, but once was more than enough.

"It wasn’t him; neither time was it him." My questioning glance has him admitting, "I saw him last night on the moors, and I saw him just now on the train. But you’re right; it’s simply the lingering effects of the drugs. It wasn’t him either time."

"He’s disappeared," I say to try to make him feel better. "Gone to ground. We haven’t seen hide nor hair of him since…" I stop, knowing I’m going into sensitive territory here.

Sherlock’s mouth twists. "Since he was working with her?" I know of course he’s speaking of Irene Adler. "Using me to get what he wanted."

"The flight information for Bond Air?" I prompt.

With a shake of his head, he steeples his fingers in front of his lips. "He could have figured that out easily on his own. No, he wanted me to solve that puzzle to show he could manipulate me without my even realizing it."

"Look, you weren’t the only one he fooled. No one knew Irene was working for Moriarty," I start, but Sherlock glares at me.

"Of course no one else knew she was working for him. I wouldn’t expect anyone else to realize something like that."

But of course, he believes he should have been smart enough to pick up on it. I sigh, at a loss for how to respond to that. I don’t get a chance to say anything since a porter walks by and Sherlock flinches away, closing his eyes tightly. I imagine he’s seeing Moriarty’s face once again.

"He’s not here," I reassure as gently as I can.

I should have known that wasn’t the right way to approach this, as Sherlock’s eyes open and he snaps, "But he will be. He is simply biding his time, waiting for the right moment. He isn’t done with me, with us, with…you." That last is spoken so quietly I almost don’t hear it. "Moriarty did have one misstep trying to burn the heart out of me; she didn’t capture my heart like he planned."

Being bested by Moriarty, even if momentarily, didn’t sit well with Sherlock. That I knew. And I could only imagine what it would have been like to not only be betrayed by Irene but for Sherlock to have been in love with her when she did. Jim Moriarty might have very well destroyed him with that move alone. It had hit him hard enough with her being whatever the hell she did mean to him.

His eyes narrow as he tells me intently, "I doubt he’ll make that mistake twice."

"Then we’ll be ready." I try to sound confident, but I’m sure he sees easily through it. He sees through practically everything.

"Right," he says dismissively, confirming my supposition. "How about that tea now?"

"How about I go with you?" I offer, already standing. It was nothing more than a friendly gesture. He’d been rattled enough by his hallucinations, I thought moving through the train alone could almost make it worse. "I could use a stretch of my legs."

He pauses, studying me with a look of… was that disappointment? It flashes across his face so quickly I can’t be sure, to be replaced by his standard look of boredom at the prospect of another tedious task.

"Very well," he concedes, remaining in his seat and pulling out his wallet. "Why don’t you fetch us both a cup?"

I wave away the offer. "No, no, I’ve got it."

I watch him put it away, then he turns to stare out the window at the passing countryside.

"Are you going to be okay?" I ask. "Here? Alone?"

He rolls his eyes at my unease. "I won’t shoot any innocent bystanders confusing them for Moriarty, if that’s your concern."

I laugh lightly, turn toward the dining car, then stop and lean down to ask at his ear. "Sherlock, my Browning, it’s…?"

"Still locked in your luggage," he confirms shortly. "Do go get your tea, John. I fear you may succumb to dehydration otherwise."

It’s not until I’m on my way back to our seats with the paper cups that I realize why Sherlock had gone into a funk when I offered to buy the tea. He still thinks I don’t trust him with beverages. I hadn’t even thought about it after our conversation about Moriarty. But if he has taken my actions as further punishment, then I’m not going to correct him. I am still angry with him about the attempted drugging and the lab stunt, and I don’t plan to let him off the hook just yet. In fact, I turn down three more offers once we’re back at the flat.

But, as usual, Sherlock will not pass up any chance at exploiting a vulnerability. In this case, it happens to be Mrs. Hudson.

The china rattles just the slightest bit when Mrs. Hudson sets it down next to my chair. "I just brewed a fresh pot…from my own tin, mind you." That last is stressed with a glance back over to where Sherlock sits at the kitchen table looking through his microscope at some soil samples he collected from the soles of our shoes as soon as we stepped in the flat. "No sugar, with a spot of milk, just the way you like it."

"Thank you, Mrs. H. That’s very considerate of you." But I turn back to my paper without taking a sip.

Mrs. Hudson looks nervously between me and the untouched tea cup and where Sherlock sits. "Aren’t you going to drink it?"

The smile I give her is a pleasant one. "In a moment."

"But it will get cold," she argues.

"Yes, in all likelihood, it will," I agree amiably as I continue to scour the paper.

"Oh, for God’s sake, John," Sherlock finally explodes, "what is it going to take for you to drink a beverage with which I am remotely associated?"

"For you to admit you were wrong," I snap back, standing from my seat to see he is also standing in the kitchen.

"Boys," Mrs. Hudson tries to intervene, but to no avail.

"Fine." Long arms fly out in frustration so that his dressing gown flutters about him. "I was wrong about the drugs being in the sugar."

"Wrong about trying to drug me, Sherlock," I correct. "Wrong about locking me in a lab and convincing me I was being stalked by a ravenous beast."

"Oh, Sherlock," Mrs. Hudson clucks disapprovingly. "Did you really?"

"Mrs. Hudson, do stay out of this," Sherlock orders in his typical snide manner.

Mrs. Hudson’s mouth opens in outrage of her own to be spoken to that way, but she looks to me for support.

"And wrong to pull poor Mrs. Hudson into this mess and then treat her this way." I give her a gentle nudge toward the door. "Mrs. H, thank you so much for the tea. That was very kind of you, even though you were nothing more than a pawn in one of Sherlock’s many power plays. Now have a lovely evening, and we’ll see you in the morning." Once I see her stammering to the stairway and bid her watch her step, I head up the stairs to my bedroom. "I’m calling it a night myself," I say loud enough to be heard over my stomping.

"Very well," Sherlock proclaims loudly as he pokes his head out into the stairwell. "I’ll drink the tea Mrs. Hudson was so kind as to make us by myself."

"Enjoy it!" I yell back.

"I shall! Very much! I shall very much enjoy it myself!"

My only answer is to slam my door and drop unceremoniously onto my bed.

It’s over an hour later before Sherlock finally knocks tentatively at my door. "John?"

I huff out a frustrated sigh. I’m tired from the trip, from the case, and from fighting. "What is it, Sherlock?"

Taking that as permission to come in, he opens the door and steps inside. "I would like to attempt to make things right…between us… if that is possible."

I sigh again, not looking away from the ceiling above my bed. "Normal people do not do this, Sherlock."

"They don’t apologize?" he asks in confusion.

"No, they don’t drug their flatmates into a paranoid rage."

"Technically, I didn’t actually drug you…" When I glare, he backtracks. "Although that was my intent."

"Not normal, Sherlock. Normal people do not do things like that. You see that, don’t you?"

"Normal," he sniffs in disdain. "I never understood why people felt the need to be normal. It means you’ve embraced the petty routine of a mundane existence. It’s so…dull. You’re not exactly normal, yourself."

I snort. "Next to you, I’m the most normal person around."

"You’re welcome," he says, and I finally do look at him, because there’s not a hint of cynicism in his voice.

"I know the value of a long coat and a short friend." He moves closer to the bed, finally sitting on the edge. "You’ve discovered the value of a sociopathic one."

With a shake of my head, I tell him sincerely, "You’re not a sociopath, Sherlock; not really."

The eye roll he gives me tells me how much he believes what I said. "Shall I go through the roll of people who would disagree with you alphabetically or chronologically?"

"You don’t care about them." The look he gives says that proves his point. "Look, there are a ton of people out there that I don’t give a damn about either, you are just a little more…open with what you really think of people. And more judgmental…and condescending… and flat out rude on most occasions."

"You’re not exactly helping your argument, John."

"But you care about me. And Mrs. Hudson and even Greg, although I doubt you’d be willing to readily admit to that."

"Greg." He states the name as if tasting something that isn’t exactly repulsive, but isn’t exactly an appealing flavor. I seriously doubt he’ll ever use it with the DI in the future. "Are you sure that’s really his name?"

"Quite sure," I confirm. "Just as I’m quite sure you’d do almost anything to keep all of us safe. The problem is that you are so sure you can protect us, that you are blind to the fact that sometimes you are the one endangering us in the first place. Just like in the lab with me."

He frowns hard at my statement. "But you were perfectly safe in the lab. It was a completely controlled environment."

"And that just proves my point," I stress.

The furrow in his brow deepens as he swings his legs up on my bed and leans back against the headboard. It’s not irritation so much as thought etched deep on his face. After a few moments, he asks, "And if I told you that I would have used Lestrade in the lab instead of you if I could have found a way to smuggle him onto the base?"

Lying back down on my pillow, I yawn. "That’s really not any better."

"How is that not better?" he asks genuine curiosity. "It shows you mean more to me in a sentimental sense than he does. Don’t you find that to be a positive emotional response on my part?"

"As much as I appreciate the sentiment that I rank higher than Lestrade in your life, would you have sent Mrs. Hudson in the lab if that had been an alternative to me?"

"Don’t be absurd, John, with her hip she could have seriously injured herself. She’s a frail old lady; how could you even suggest I drug her and convince her that a monster dog was stalking her?"

"I wasn’t suggesting you actually do it," I defend.

"And people think I’m the deranged one." He actually leans away from me in disgust. "Really, John, you should be ashamed of yourself."

Propping up again, I demand, "Oh, but it’s perfectly fine that you do the same to me?"

"Of course it is. I’ll admit that there were some risks involved, but I knew you would be able to handle them. You handle every risk that comes our way. You thrive on them. You are by far the strongest, most resilient person I have ever met. You can bounce back from anything."

I find myself struck dumb by what he is saying.

"Not to mention a better shot than any member of Scotland Yard that I have ever come across." His eyes narrow suspiciously. "Much better than a doctor should be, even one in the military."

"I’m a bit of a prodigy with guns," I tell him dazedly, still reeling from the praise he’s given me. "At least that’s what the small arms instructor I trained under said."

"Well, thank God you are because it’s become increasingly clear we can’t depend on Greg…" He enhances the name with air quotes, "…with the legal gun…" More quotes. "…to protect us with his crack marksmanship, or severe lack thereof."

"You really think that about me?" I ask over his rant that has grown to encompass the lackluster performance of the Yard in general.

"That you’re a better shot than Lestrade? Of course. It’s rather obvious isn’t it? Not only was there the hound, but there was the cabbie, which was a distance of at least—"

With a shake of my head, I correct him. "Not the shooting, about being strong."

"Well…yes." He holds my gaze for a few seconds before grimacing slightly. "You’re not going to make me go on about how amazing you are, are you? Or how I don’t know how I was so fortunate as to have you stumble into my life?" His eye roll is dramatic to the extreme. "Because, honestly, John, I don’t do that sort of thing very well."

I, however, can’t stop the way my lips twitch happily. "No, that won’t be necessary."

"Are you…blushing?"

My smile vanishes instantly. "Absolutely not." I busy myself beating my pillow rather aggressively.

"You are!"

"Sherlock, I assure you I am not blushing."

"The stoic soldier, Dr. John Watson, is blushing…"

"No I’m not." I turn over on my side with my back to him.

"…all because of a compliment from me. And not even a real compliment, as everyone knows I don’t give those, because a sociopath would never do such as thing."

With a glance back over my shoulder, I correct him. "But you aren’t a sociopath. Not really."

Now it’s time for his lips to quirk. "Perhaps, this once, in this particular situation, and pertaining to a specific, sharp-shooting, army doctor, you are correct."

I turn away from the teasing twinkle in his eyes to hide my own smile. "I’m right? Would you mind repeating that so I can record it for posterity, maybe use it as my away message on my phone?"

"Never in a million years," he swears.

My grin just grows. "Good night, Sherlock."

He reaches over me to turn off the light on my bedside table, pausing long enough to say, "Good night, John," at my ear. Then he settles in beside me like he does so very often that it seems more natural to have him here than not.

I’m just about asleep when I he asks into the darkness, "Are you still angry with me?"

I sigh, think about it, then admit, "Yes, but I’ll get over it…eventually."

"But you don’t trust me."

"It’s not that I don’t trust you." I pause, trying to figure out how to put this in words. "I just want you to understand that your actions have consequences, and I want you to stop and think about that from now on. Think about what you do could hurt me or Mrs. Hudson or Lestrade or anyone else for that matter."

"What if my actions could save you or Mrs. Hudson or even Lestrade?"

"Then you have my permission to do it," I tell him around a yawn I can’t seem to stop. There’s a little niggling feeling in the back of mind that I should stop and think that through a little better myself, but the days on the case have finally caught up with me, and I’m just too exhausted to at the moment.

"And if promise to think about these things, you’ll trust me again?"

"Yes, Sherlock, I’ll trust you. Now go to sleep."

That night, I dream of red-eyed monster tearing into my shoulder instead of a bullet, and as much as I scream, I can’t seem to claw my way out of the nightmare. Then a familiar voice whispers, "I’m so very sorry, John," as long arms wrap around me, hold me close, until the dream shifts into the even rhythm of a heartbeat under my ear.

I wake alone in my bed, with the scent of Sherlock surrounding me, his pillow still warm, and a hard on that isn’t going to go away on its own. I don’t even know if I dreamt being held by him last night, or if it was real, but as I move my hand to touch myself, I can’t deny that I wish he was here with me now.

* * * * *

So, things change after that.

If Sherlock had snuggled up with me that night, he doesn’t the next, or any subsequent to that. He still sleeps in my bed regularly, and unfortunately, I find myself more and more aroused at the thought of him showing up. Knowing the curry excuse won’t work every time, else I’ll likely starve or resort to learning how to cook for myself every meal, I start taking care of business before turning in for the night. It becomes increasingly easier to do so when I finally give in and start thinking of him exclusively. For some reason, I find that more annoying than a relief. Just as I find his attempt to force tea down me so annoying that I eventually give in and drink some just so he’ll go back to ignoring the fact that I drink the bloody stuff at all. In fact, everything Sherlock does seems to start annoying me more than usual, because somehow this is entirely his fault. If he hadn’t started sleeping in my bed, if he hadn’t admitted that he could possibly fall in love with me, if he hadn’t hinted at the exquisite detail he would spend on a sexual experience I so richly deserved…

Dear God, I need a date.

But I realize I haven’t been on a date in over two months, nor do I really want to go on one, which just pisses me off even more. Anger can be a very good sexual suppressant; that is when it isn’t a ridiculous turn on. It’s those days that are the hardest, and I spend the next few weeks battling my desire to simply tell Sherlock I fancy a shag, and if he’d just cooperate, I’d work this out of my system, and things would go back to the way they were before. The alternative is I force those feelings down deep and spend a great deal of my time being pissed as hell with him. The latter wins out every time, but it becomes harder and harder every day.

Then my sexual desires take a back burner when Moriarty commits three simultaneous robberies in London and is arrested.

Or, as Sherlock points out, allows himself to be arrested and held to stand trial. Of course, it’s true; Moriarty is as quicksilver slick as mercury and just as deadly. He proves it when he is found not guilty by a jury of what are, no doubt, his extorted peers. He proves it when he plants the seed of doubt in Scotland Yard that leads to Sherlock’s arrest and our wild escape through the backstreets of London. He proves it when he convinces a reporter he is nothing more than a pawn in an elaborate scheme Sherlock has been orchestrating for years to fool everyone around him. He even proved it when he convinced Mycroft to give him the ammunition he would need to turn everyone against Sherlock.

I consider not telling Sherlock what I managed to figure out about Mycroft’s role in all this; it’s just one more betrayal he doesn’t deserve. Given the comment he’d made about me doubting him when it was the absolute furthest from the truth, Sherlock’s stainless steel ego was showing the beating it was taking. But if I knew about what Mycroft had told Moriarty about Sherlock, he surely did, probably long before me.

The lights in the lab are dimmed to just the lamp on the desk where I’m sitting, and I yawn broadly.

"You could turn yourself in," Sherlock says from the chair he sits in a few feet away. It’s the first time he’s spoken in over an hour.

"Sorry? What?"

"Turn yourself in," he repeats. "Call Lestrade and tell him I finally released you. You’re no longer my hostage."

"I’m fairly certain Lestrade saw through our charade." I grin to mirror the one he wears. "That really was very foolish…and dramatic…and—"

"Don’t say brilliant," he warns.

So I change my response to, "—dangerous."

His eyebrows rise. "All the more reason to turn yourself in; it’s what any normal person would do when they escape a madman brandishing a gun."

"Probably," I agree around another yawn. "But I have it on good authority that I’m not a normal person."

With a quirk of his lips, he swivels in his chair. "It’s only taken you a year and a half to come to that conclusion. My God, John, you’ll be deducing your way to internet stardom in no time."

"Thanks, but no thanks," I snort. "I’ve seen what happens with fifteen minutes of fame. You end up handcuffed, holding hands with your flatmate, while pursued by the police."

"You say that like it’s a bad thing."

I chuckle even as I shrug with the arm my chin is propped on. "I’m sure Irene Adler would have known people who would have paid handsomely for the privilege."

"If nothing else, she would appreciate the notoriety we’ve obtained."

"As much as I hate to admit it," I observe ruefully, "she may have even known a way out of this mess."

"She would never understand why we would want out of it." His smile turns melancholy, and I surmise he must be thinking about her. It twists in my heart a little to see it, but she’s gone now, and I should just let her rest in peace. "No, there’s only one way out of this," he says. "She definitely understood that."

We both go quiet for a moment. Her way out was death, not an option I really fancy, thank you, very much. I find myself thinking of that day Mycroft told me Irene had been killed and asked me to lie to Sherlock about it. I always thought, at the core of him, Mycroft had Sherlock’s best interest at heart. That as much as they bickered and quarreled, Mycroft still remembered the younger brother who wanted to be a pirate as a child. After today, I’m not so sure. But I do have Sherlock’s best interest at heart, and I want him to know that, to understand that. I don’t want to lie to him anymore, even for his own good.

"Sherlock, earlier, I went to see Mycroft."

As I suspected, he doesn’t even seem surprised. "And I suppose now you’ll tell me my dear brother has a way out for us, since he is at least partially responsible for getting us into this situation."

"No, he doesn’t." I take a breath. "He said he’s sorry. He wanted you to know that."

If my visit to Mycroft doesn’t surprise him, that statement does. Or maybe it’s that Mycroft didn’t offer a way out because there isn’t one.

"Mycroft has been personally responsible for three civil wars on two continents and at least one rather bloody coup on another, and he didn’t even stop sipping his tea during any of them. He is never sorry for anything."

"I don’t know how he felt about those countries, but you are his brother. Deep down he knows what that means, what you mean." Sherlock scoffs at that, but I continue. "Enough to at least feel somewhat guilty for giving Moriarty an unfair advantage."

"Perhaps Moriarty is at an unfair advantage since I grew up in the same house as Mycroft Holmes," Sherlock grumbles.

"Well, as big brothers go, Mycroft isn’t exactly the best moral compass to follow, I’ll give you that."

"But you are," Sherlock says.

My half-closed eyes open wide to hear him say that. "What does that mean?"

"Are you familiar with Polaris?" he asks.

"The North Star, yes, I’m familiar. I’m a bit surprised you are, though."

"Honestly, John, how many times does the fact that the Sun revolves around the Earth—"

"Other way round," I remind.

"Regardless, it has no relevance on why people do what they do or how they do it."

"But Polaris does?"

"Polaris has a fixed location. It never waivers, never changes. It’s a constant that no matter where you are, you can find it. Because of that singular, unique quality, it has been guiding people home for ages. That is very relevant."

I furrow my brow, because this is sounding almost like a… compliment? "And I’m your Polaris? Your guide?"

"Let’s just say, I always know where you are."

We stare at each other for few seconds, me with a slightly awed expression and him with a slightly pleased one. Then he sits forward, and slaps his knees.

"Like now, you’re trying not to fall asleep in a laboratory at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital when there is absolutely no reason you shouldn’t be getting some rest, as nothing is going to happen anytime soon."

"What about you?"

"Oh, you know me, there’s always something happening." He taps his head as he stands. "I’m going to find some crisps; want anything?"

"No, no, I’m good. Maybe I will try to get a little shut eye."

"Good idea," he agrees as he stops at the door. "Although you’ll have to make due without your bed, I’m afraid."

"I was in the Army," I remind him as I pillow my head on my crossed arms on the desk. "I’ve had worse."

He says something that sounds like, "I’ve rarely had better," as he disappears out the door.

I try to stay awake until he gets back, but it’s been one hell of a long day. I don’t remember falling asleep, but I remember the phone call waking me saying Mrs. Hudson had been shot. I remember being bloody well pissed at Sherlock for refusing to come with me to see her. And no matter how hard I try to forget, I will always, always remember stepping out of that cab and seeing Sherlock standing on the ledge.

* * * * *

It takes Sherlock approximately three seconds to fall to the sidewalk from the roof of St. Bart’s. Three short seconds that years, decades even, will never erase from my memory. Three seconds that muffle the next twenty-four hours into a blur of medics checking me over, reports filed by the police, and microphones shoved in my face as Donovan leads me through a crowd into a waiting car to deliver me to Harry’s doorstep. Donovan because I’d made sure Lestrade personally went round to gather Mrs. Hudson and escort her to her sister’s house to avoid the press that was sure to descend on Baker Street. The last thing I wanted was for her to hear about it from a reporter on the stoop. I should have been the one to tell her, but the doctors insisted on checking me over, and honestly, I’m not sure a coherent sentence would have come out of my mouth in those first few hours beyond a dazed, "He jumped."

It takes nearly two days before I finally sleep, and only because I’m fairly certain Harry slips something in my tea. Even then, I wake on her sofa screaming Sherlock’s name after watching him fall again. I lay breathing hard as I stare at the ceiling, play through that last conversation I had with Sherlock in the lab, that last argument where I called him a machine for not wanting to go see to Mrs. Hudson. Of course, the shooting at Baker Street was a lie, and he knew it when I left. And that brings up a whole other set of questions beyond why he would jump like that? Why would he want me to see it? Why would he fucking leave me if I was his Northern Star? Because I sure as hell didn’t lead him off that roof…did I? Wiping at the dampness on my face, I resolve to make my own tea after that.

It takes four days before it stops being news. There are no headlines about the fake internet detective, no news stories with a sharply dressed reporter standing with St. Bart’s looming tall behind her, the camera angle making it seem to tower higher than it really is. But it was high enough, wasn’t it? Still, with the fervour in a lull, I risk a trip to the flat for some necessities. It’s all I can do to force myself upstairs long enough to gather a few changes of clothes, my shaving kit, and a suit for the funeral. It’s a small service with just a handful of people that passes in a scotch-fogged cloud of grief, ends with Greg dragging me away just as I take a swing at Mycroft for his betrayal , and will hopefully be lost forever in the remainder of the bottle of Glenfiddich once I’m back at Harry’s flat.

It takes nine days before I work up the courage to finally go back to Baker Street and help Mrs. Hudson pack up Sherlock’s things. I had planned to return to Harry’s sofa, my chest still aching every time I opened the door to our flat. Then I collapse on my bed, and the soft soaping scent of shaving cream, the acidic bite of formaldehyde, the waxy aroma of bow rosin all fills my senses…the smells of Sherlock… and I find I can’t leave. In fact, it’s almost twenty-four hours before I manage to force myself out of the bed and back into the hollowness of what is the real world.

Mrs. Hudson is relieved I’m staying, and even gives me a break in the rent until I can get things sorted out. I think of putting an ad out for a flatmate, but put it off until a tomorrow that I know will never come anytime soon. I’m able to get on again at the clinic. Sarah gives me a sad smile when she welcomes me back with my first week’s shift schedule. I’ve no doubt she knows why I’m here, but at least there isn’t that shadowed hint of ‘I told you’ so in her eyes that I see in so many others.

It’s not in Lestrade’s eyes either when he texts me to meet him for a pint, although I can’t help but wonder why it’s taken him two weeks to do it… or why I hadn’t worked up the nerve to contact him yet at all. We talk about the game on telly, discuss his upcoming holiday, my shifts at clinic. In fact, we talk about everything except what, who, we both want to talk about most. Finally, the game ends and I’ve got early shift in the morning and we don’t have any reason to stay lingering in the pub.

We step out into the warm summer night air and Greg sighs. "I’ve seen a man jump before. Off the roof of the Willis Building."

He’s looking up at the sky so he doesn’t see me flinch, close my eyes against the memory of a black coat fluttering in the sky, swallow down bile and emotions.

But he does look at me in empathy when he says with brutal honesty. "He was a right bastard for doing that to you, the way he did."

"Yes," I agree with a sharp nod of my head, clearing my throat to cover the crack in my voice, "he was."

As much as it hurts, it’s almost a relief to hear someone else say what I’ve been thinking. It reminds me why I like Greg in the first place. If anyone, other than Mrs. Hudson or I, knew the highs as well as the lows of being privy to the limited inner sanctum of Sherlock Holmes, it is Detective Inspector Greg Lestrade. He’d known him longer than either of us and still didn’t punch him in the face as much as he might have liked to.

Then I shrug and my lips quirk, a remembered motion more than a genuine smile. "But then again he wouldn’t have been Sherlock otherwise."

Lestrade returns my phantom grin in agreement before studying his shoes. "Do you really believe it? What he told you about it all being a sham?"

"No," I say instantly with an adamant shake of my head. "It was Moriarty’s doing. Somehow…someway… I don’t know how, but… no, it wasn’t true." When he remains silent, I ask hesitantly, "Do you believe it?"

Greg hitches his shoulders. "I honestly don’t know what I believe. One minute I tell myself, nobody could be that clever to fool so many of us. Then I think, well, hell, it was Sherlock after all. If anyone could do it, it would be him."

It hurts, to hear him say it, but maybe because, in the worst moments after his death, the same thoughts had crossed my mind.

A sharp elbow jabs into my arm and Greg says, "But in the end, it doesn’t really matter what I think. It doesn’t even matter what’s truth and what’s bollocks, because I still miss the hell out of the arrogant fuck."

A laugh escapes me then, and maybe a few tears I can’t seem to stop and brush away quickly. Greg doesn’t mention them if he even noticed them, just proving he really is a good friend. We say goodbye, promise to get together the following week, and I go home wishing I had drank more so I could simply pass out instead of struggling to fall asleep in my bed by myself.

It takes five weeks for me to be thoroughly convinced Sherlock’s scent has finally faded from my sheets, but it’s another two before I break down and wash them, forcing them into the washing machine with sharp jabbing motions that feel like they are skewering straight through my chest.

That same day I dig out a box from the very back of my closet that is full of odd and ends I’d saved when Mrs. Hudson and I packed up his things. It sits in the floor in my room, unopened, while I go to therapy and I tell Ella about my laundry. She smiles in that clinically sympathetically way she has, and I wonder if she practices that smile the same way Sherlock would practice his scam smiles and false tears in the mirror. Having seen Sherlock’s real smiles enough, I wonder how anyone could have fallen for any of his cons.

Obviously my mind has wandered, and Ella prompts, "That must have been difficult for you, John," but there’s a glimmer of satisfaction in her eyes that makes my stomach clench guiltily. I can’t shake the feeling of betrayal on the cab ride home.

That night, the crystal ashtray from Buckingham Palace is out of the box and back on my bedside table. There are fingerprints on it, and I imagine that at least one of them is Sherlock’s, but I have no idea if it really is or not. He would know. If he were here, he would be able to tell in an instant. Then again, if he were here to tell me for sure, I wouldn’t be holding on desperately to the hope that it is his. I leave my door open so that the light from the hallway can shine in the room enough to hit the crystal and cast a cascade of rainbows on the wall. How many times had I fallen asleep that way in the past only to wake with Sherlock’s weight dipping the mattress as he climbed in beside me?

The familiar dip never comes, even though I wait all night for it, and I finally pull myself out of a bed with too-clean sheets when the sunlight dulls the brilliance of the prism’s kaleidoscope of colors. I decide to bring home a few samples of sleeping pills from the clinic after my shift today. This isn’t the first sleepless night I’ve had since that day, and I don’t think it will be the last.

With gritty eyes, I shuffle towards the loo, nearly tripping over the box still sitting in the middle of the floor. I’d intended to put it back after I found the ash tray, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. As I stand taking a piss, I glance over at the door, at the empty hook where one of Sherlock’s dressing gowns often hung. I’d donated it along with the rest of his clothes to Clothes Aid the month before. But then I’m struck by a thought—I never cleaned out the loo off of Sherlock’s room downstairs.

I trip my way down the stairs, hoping that Mrs. Hudson hadn’t finished the job I had neglected. She hadn’t. I ignore the shaving kit, the glass, the toothbrush on the sink, the flannel on the rack, and throw the door closed to find Sherlock’s favorite blue dressing gown hanging there. A huff of absolute relief pushes up from my chest and past my lips to see that it’s still here.

This is not good, John, I tell myself as my arms slip into the sleeves of their own volition. Ella would not approve. But as the warmth of the fabric cocoons me, my only thought is, Fuck, Ella. My next is that I need to bring the box in my room down to the front room.

I unwrap the skull from its packaging and place it back on its regular spot on the mantel. Just the skull. The skull and the ash tray and the dressing gown are all I need. An hour later, I slip the pack of cigarettes underneath the skull. By the time Mrs. Hudson brings up tea, I’m standing in a dressing gown a few inches too long for more, ankle deep in a pile of crumbled pages from The Guardian next to an empty cardboard box, and surrounded by a collection of treasures that make me want to weep as much as they make me feel completely at home.

Mrs. Hudson sets down the tea tray, then links her arm through mine, running her fingers over the soft fabric. She surveys the room with an expression much more sympathetic than my abashed and melancholy one.

"I understand completely, dear," she tells me with a gentle pat to my shoulder.

I nod, exhale, relieved, glad to have an ally in this protest against what my therapist calls the stages of grief, a compatriot in my war against this so called closure I supposedly need.

Her nose crinkles. "But did you have to pull that ruddy skull out again?"

The answer is, obviously, yes, I did have to pull out the skull, just as I find I do have to cancel my next series of therapy sessions after Ella voices her concern over my apparent step backwards in my recovery. I don’t consider it a great loss, or find it that difficult really—Sherlock had said she was a shit therapist anyway.

I start to think he was right about her, after all; she was the reason I started keeping a blog in the first place. I spend a great deal of time thinking about my blog, how Sherlock had pretend to loath it yet read it religiously, how when I read it now it brings back so many brilliant memories. I think about how if I hadn’t kept one, maybe Moriarty wouldn’t have notice what Sherlock was up to, or at the very least, how he wouldn’t have been able to use the press and Sherlock’s fame against him. Because I’d been right when I told Sherlock my blog was what brought in our cases, I just had no idea it would also bring an end to them so abruptly.

It takes nearly four months before I start writing in it again. Moriarty may have used it to destroy Sherlock; I planned to use it to restore him, at least his reputation, his memory. He deserves that much, at least, because no matter what Sherlock had told me on that horrid, horrid day he stood on the rooftop at St. Bart’s, I’ll never believe everything we did, everything we went through, everything we shared, was a lie.

I start with a few smaller cases, how he solved some in the sitting room at Baker Street just listening to the client, and by the crumbs on their jacket, or the way someone clutched at a hanky. Then I recount how Sherlock had pissed people off in restaurants, or at the Tesco, or simply hailing a cab by revealing her spouse was having an affair, or that he was fooling himself if he thought he could hide the fact he was stealing from his mother’s checking account.

At first I’m reluctant to allow comments, fearing a barrage of trolls declaring Sherlock a hack. When I finally do allow them, a woman from Sussex comments, recounting how Sherlock found her landlord had stolen her father’s gold watch, and how none of that had been staged. Then a man in Durham recounted how Sherlock had solved a case involving a property deed. There was a sweet old lady from Melton with the horrific murder of her grandson, and another woman from Rutland with the tale of a decapitated body that was found in a rental property she owned. They kept coming in, all the stories of how Sherlock had helped them in one way or another, and all of them swearing he had nothing whatsoever to do with staging the crime. As much as each story makes me ache with missing him, they also help to know I’m not the only one who believes he was the most brilliant man I’d ever met.

It’s six months to the day that I reluctantly agree to take out Mike Stamford’s cousin who is visiting from Cardiff. At first I refuse, but Christmas in only a few weeks away, and the flat feels even more empty and desolate than it usually does. Mrs. Hudson, God love her, had offered to help decorate, to maybe have another little get together this year in the flat. But I just…can’t. The thought of tinsel and fairy lights seems too trite, too falsely jolly when most nights I simply want to put on Sherlock’s dressing gown and crawl into bed and never get out. Christmas seems more of a sham than the papers ever accused Sherlock of being.

So when Mike calls, my first reaction is to say no. Then I look around the mostly dark flat, Christmas music wafting up from Mrs. Hudson’s telly, and decide what the hell? It can’t be worst than this.

Ends up I’m wrong.

She’s a chemist, with mousy brown hair and glasses, but she has a bosom that enters the room a few seconds before she does, and a bright and easy smile that has vanished by the end of the evening. I try to have a pleasant time, for her sake at the very least, and I’m doing a halfway decent job of it… until I see him. He’s older than Sherlock, hair cut shorter and a few shades lighter, and I only catch a glimpse of him across the crowded pub before he’s out the door. The nose is wrong, he wears glasses and a tweed suit Sherlock would have scoffed at the thought of donning. Still, there is something-- the set of his shoulders, the curve of his neck, the way he raises a hand to hail a cab and climbs inside before I can push my way out the door—something that makes my heart beat hard in my chest. The rest of the night, as you might imagine, was shit.

As I see her into her cab, I wish her happy Christmas as I simultaneously make a mental note to apologize to Mike the next time I see him for the unmitigated disaster the date truly was. I’ll take the blame for being the most boring, sullen bloke a poor girl could put up with, but I can’t seem to be too upset about the way it ends either. Maybe if it were any other night, I think, if I hadn’t seen the man…then give up on that thought, as well. Confirmed bachelor John Watson starts to sound much less objectionable than it had in the past.

The next day when I come home from the clinic, I find a pup whimpering on our front stoop. It’s a mutt, his brown and black mottled fur wiry where it isn’t matted down with muck, ears drooping almost down to his feet that seem too large for his body. He’s barely weaned by the look of him, whimpering and shivering against the cold December wind, wretched and miserable in sharp contrast to the twinkling fairy lights in the storefront window next door. Looking around, I spy the retreating form of a woman… at least I think it’s a woman as she’s bundled up in a mismatched collection of a too small red velvet coat and too large trousers, a scarf wrapped around her head multiple times, smothering any discernable features except a shock of hair that is dyed a shade almost identical to the coat.

"Hey!" I call. She doesn’t stop. "Is he yours? Hello? Did you leave… a…dog?" I finish lamely as she actually walks faster and ducks down the next street.

I look down at the pup, and he tilts his head up at me in the most ridiculously, manipulatively adorable way possible.

"Oh, for God’s sake. You have got to be joking with me," I sigh, rubbing a hand across my face and looking hopefully down the street to see if the homeless woman might be coming back. I find myself wondering if she’s one of Sherlock’s network. Maybe she found the puppy and dropped it off knowing Sherlock would be able to help… only Sherlock isn’t here to help anymore, so that leaves only me. "I am not a dog person," I tell it. "I do not do well with… well, with any of this, really."

His answer is to whimper, and if possible, shiver harder. Turning in a small circle, he huddles even closer to warm air eking out through the door jamb.

With a final exhalation in a frosty cloud of breath, I roll my eyes and pick him up, holding him at arm’s length in an attempt not to soil my coat. "Fine. You can come in, but just for tonight."

He promptly pisses on my shoes.

Shaking off the worst of it with a curse, I step through the front door to meet Mrs. Hudson coming down the stairs from my flat. "Just dropped the post," she tells me before taking in the puppy disapprovingly. "John, you know your lease doesn’t allow for pets."

"I know, Mrs. H. It’s just someone left him on the step and it’s so cold outside, I couldn’t leave him out there. I swear, tomorrow, I’ll find a shelter or something."

"Well," she says, rubbing the pup behind his ear, "if it’s just for tonight, I don’t suppose there’s any harm from it."

By the time I’ve washed the mud and mire off of him, the kitchen sink is in need of a good scrubbing and Mrs. Hudson has brought up some scraps from her supper. "No use just tossing these out when there’s a hungry mouth to feed."

I smile thanks at her and set the fluff ball he’s become now that he’s been towel dried down on the floor to scamper eagerly to the dish she places by the table. He gobbles the food eagerly.

"He’s kind of cute little bugger, isn’t he?"I ask, as he is more in the bowl than out.

"He really is," she agrees in a conspiratorial whisper before repeating, "Too bad I don’t allow pets." Only this time she winks as she walks toward the door. "I’ll bring up some more in the morning until you can get some kibble at the store."

"No, Mrs. Hudson, really, I meant what I said. I don’t mean to keep him."

"Of course, you don’t, dear," is all she says as she vanishes down the stairs.

I plan to call around to a few shelters the next day, but the clinic is swamped. The next day I have Christmas shopping to finish up for Mrs. Hudson and Harry. The next thing I know, it’s two days before Christmas and Lestrade has stopped by with a pack of beers and an invite to Christmas supper at his house.

The mutt hides behind my legs, almost tripping me as he growls and barks as deep and menacingly as his little puppy voice will let him.

"That’s quite the hell hound you’ve got there, John," Greg jokes, getting a nipped finger when he tries to pet him. "A bit protective, too."

"He is, isn’t he?" I note in surprise, which could be a nice thing to have around, especially when Mrs. Hudson is home alone most of the day. It’s only practical considering how many criminal types still know this is where Sherlock lived.

That’s when I realize Baskerville isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

His oversized feet he trips over those early weeks he lives in Baker Street should have been the clue that Bask wasn’t going to stay cute and tiny forever. In fact, by the time he’s been here for three months, he’s closing in on five stones and up to my knees. I’ve posted a few photos on the blog, and the consensus is that he’s part wolfhound and maybe a part lab…with some terrier, mastiff, and by one ridiculous account, chihuahua.

Whatever he is, he’s a handful, as Mrs. Hudson attests when I come home. Bask darts out of her flat, tail wagging happily, as soon as I walk in the door.

"What are you doing down here pestering Mrs. Hudson, you mongrel mutt?" I ask, rubbing his neck just the way he likes.

Mrs. Hudson sighs dramatically. "You have never heard such a racket in your life, John. Running from one end of the flat to the other, bumping the furniture, slamming through the doors—it was almost like having Sherlock back."

My smile is as melancholy as hers at the reminder. "I know what you mean."

"I finally brought him down here and fed him a few biscuits. That usually worked with Sherlock, too."

"I’ll try to keep him quiet for the rest of the night," I promise. "Sorry he was so much trouble."

She frowns sternly at Bask then leans in and whispers, "I really don’t mind; the company is rather nice." She gives us both a pat then disappears back into her flat.

I decide I’ll take her out for brunch this weekend to make up for the fuss and give her a little human companionship, then I follow Bask up the stairs. By the time I reach the top and enter the front room, Bask is sprawled on the sofa, his body stretched as long as it will go as he burrows under the cushions. It’s his absolute favorite place in the flat.

"He was rather fond of that spot, too," I tell him. "Although he never chewed up the cushions that I’m aware of…shot them on occasion, but never chewed."

I spend the rest of the evening watching bad telly with a fuzzy head in my lap. I scratch behind Bask’s ears absently, not paying attention to the show, not even bothering to make anything to eat. It sucks, really, to realize that while there are days when it’s easier, I still find myself thinking about Sherlock every single one of them. Sometimes it’s something as simple as passing a building where we worked a case. Others, like tonight, his memory is filling the flat. I swear, if I closed my eyes and listened extra hard, I could hear him playing his violin, or the low pitch of his voice from his makeshift lab in the kitchen asking what drivel I was watching and why don’t I make myself useful and fetch his phone to send a text to Lestrade telling the inspector he has proven himself an idiot once again. He feels so close it’s suffocating, the ache of missing him thick in my chest. Eventually I turn off the telly to go in search of one of the sleeping pills I’d brought home from the clinic months ago.

Bask whimpers anxiously at my heels and I look down at him. "Just one, I promise, just to make it through the night. It’ll be better tomorrow. Right?" God, please, please, let me be right.

Bask jumps on the bed behind me, circles near my feet before settling. I watch the rainbows on my wall until my eyes feel as heavy as my chest and finally fall into sleep… and into a dream.

I no longer dream of Afghanistan. Sherlock accomplished with one step off a building what months of therapy couldn’t do. Cheers, mate. Thanks a million. Instead I now dream of him. There are the dreams where I race toward the building, knowing it doesn’t matter how fast I get there because he is already dead. Several stories up in the air and he is already dead, because there is no way, no fucking way, he can survive a fall like that. But he takes an eternity to reach the ground just as I take even longer to make it to his side.

There are the dreams where he jumps, and by the time I reach the sidewalk, he’s gone. There is no blood, no trace of an accident, and no matter where I search, no one has seen him. No one has heard of him, like he’s simply a figment of my imagination.

And then there are the ones like tonight. The ones where the mattress dips and he’s in bed with me again. Long fingers trace my jaw, his voice is soft and so very very close I can feel the warmth of his words on my face.

"John, wake up."

These are the worst, the nice ones; they’re the absolute worst, because with the others, as soon as I wake up, the nightmare ends. But with these, it’s when I wake up and he’s not there, that the nightmare truly begins.

"Don’t wanna," I mumble back, move closer, feel his arms slide around me.

"But I want you to."

"Just be gone." And I don’t want him to be gone, not when he’s here like this.

"Not this time."

There’s a note of promise in his voice that tugs me to the edge of wakefulness, beckons me to open my eyes, but I leave them firmly shut. It’s too soon for something this nice to end.

Sherlock, however, is insistent. "Please, John, for me, wake up."

I sigh sleepily, will the pills to do their job and let me sink deeper into the dream. "Nice like this."

"It is nice," he agrees. "It’s better than nice. So very much better than nice." His voice sounds weary, frayed around the edges, and I feel his hair soft against my forehead as he moves in a little closer.

Christ, this is bad, the worst dream yet because if feels so damn real. He smells like the remnants of rain, of stale air and smoke and a few days since a shower. It’s the smell of train stations and airports, late night cab rides; it’s the scent of leaving.

"You left."

"I had to," he justifies.

"You left me." My hands fist in his shirt so tightly I can feel the buttons leaving imprints on my palm.

"I did," he admits, "but I’ve come back."

"Why?" Because he’s just going to leave again as soon as the sun rises and I wake up.

"So I can do this." This is to kiss me, warm and gentle and lingering and so achingly sweet.

I can’t stop the huff of surprise to feel his mouth on mine, the prickle of his stubble against my chin, but I recover quickly and kiss him back. His hand presses between my shoulder blades to hold me close, the heat of his body so near to mine I could melt. It’s amazing, the best and worst dream I’ve ever had in my life.

His heart is racing beneath my fingertips when he pulls away much too soon, or maybe it’s my heart. We’re so close it’s hard to tell us apart. Lips brush over my eyelids and I murmur a breathless, "Sherlock…" hopeful that he’ll kiss me again.

Instead, he says firmly, "John, look at me."

As much as I want to, my mind can’t refuse the tone, and my eyes slide open. I blink against the faint light from downstairs, and a face with a soft smile and gray eyes comes into focus.

"There you are." Sherlock’s words are thick, like they’re sticking in his chest, but his long fingers are rubbing circles at the nape of my neck.

Sherlock’s fingers. Sherlock’s smile. Sherlock’s eyes. Sherlock!

"Sherlock!" I exclaim, pushing away to try to sit up. "You’re…Sherlock!" The sleeping pill I took has my reactions sluggish, and the bed seems to roll like a boat in choppy waves, but I’m definitely awake and I definitely still see him.

I’m vaguely aware of Bask barking and Sherlock reaching for me, "John, it’s fine. Just calm down. You’re perfectly safe."

Safe? How the fuck can I be safe? I’ve gone from dreaming to full on hallucinations.

"You’re dead," I tell him…it…whatever he is. "I saw you. I buried you." I manage to fall halfway out of the bed before I stagger to my feet, bracing myself on the footboard.

Sherlock crawls toward me at the end of the bed. "John, I’ll explain everything, just, please sit back down--"

Bask is circling my legs, leaning behind my knees, whimpering in worry. "You’re dead!" I yell again, although I don’t know how because I can’t seem to breathe.

"I’m not," he insists in an irrationally calm voice for a fucking dead man.

"I took your pulse. Your brains were on the pavement. I’m a bloody doctor, Sherlock; I know dead when I see it!"

My knuckles are turning a bloodless white as I try to stay on my feet by gripping the wooden frame. I’m shaking so hard the bed is rattling, but Bask is warm against my bare legs and I try my best to focus on that.

"John, listen to me, you need to calm down—" Sherlock’s hands land on mine, just as warm, feeling just as real as Bask, and fuck, fuck, fuck, I’m experiencing a mental break right here in my bloody bedroom.

"Your pulse…you had no pulse," I repeat weakly, and I swear to God, it would be just like Sherlock to return from the dead simply to prove me wrong.

Bask is running between the door and the bed now, barking and barking and barking, and I think I hear a voice from downstairs.

"There’s nothing to concern yourself about, Mrs. Hudson," Sherlock yells over the dog, then barks his own sharp order of, "Baskerville, quiet!"

Bask whimpers a protest, but settles down, moving back beside me, the same time I hear Mrs. Hudson exclaim, "Sherlock? Is that you?"

Oh God, oh God, oh God. They can hear him, Bask and Mrs. Hudson can hear him, which means he’s here. He’s really here. But he was dead, I saw him, I watched him jump, I checked him on the ground, all limp and bleeding and no pulse. No fucking pulse.

"Sherlock?" Footsteps on the stairs. "Sherlock?"

"Yes, Mrs. Hudson, it’s really me."

Her voice is closer. "But you’re—"

"Yes, yes, dead," he snaps curtly over his shoulder. "But I’m obviously not. I’ll be down to explain shortly."

I find I’m staring at his hands on mine, with no blood in sight, they’re strong instead of lifeless. I’m shaking even harder, and sucking in short, rapid breathes, because he’s alive. Alive, alive, alive, alive.

"Just… I need a moment with John first. Please," he adds that last as an afterthought before turning back to look me in the eyes. "Come back to bed," he urges calmly.

He’s thin. Well, he was always thin, but now he’s thinner than even before. His jaw is shadowed almost as much as the hollows around his eyes, but there is more there than just exhaustion. So very much more-- relief, happiness, life.

Alive. After nine months he’s alive. Alive! Where the hell has he been? Why wouldn’t he let me know? How could he let me think that…? Why would he let me think he was…?

I pull away from his touch, and there’s pain in his expression now. Good. After nine damn months of making me suffer it’s what he deserves. "You…bastard."

"John, please, let me explain."

His hand moves toward me again, and I stumble backwards out of his reach, and over the back of the dog. Bask yelps in surprise, the same time Sherlock cries a warning of, "John!"

Then I’m on my back, staring at the ceiling, struggling to suck in a breath. Alive. He’s alive and he let me think he was dead. He let me think… he made me watch when he… Oh, God, what kind of person does that to someone else?

Bask is licking at my face and I can’t even seem to raise my arms to push him away. Sherlock, however, pulls the dog out of the way and looks down on me, brow creased with worry, but even his face is fading, his words thin and tinny.

"John, you need to slow your breathing. You’re going to hyperventilate."

As if I didn’t know that. I’m a doctor for Christ’s sake. And he was dead, Sherlock was dead, but all this time he was really alive and I was the one who was dead. I should hate him, I should hate him with everything in me, only his hand wrapped around mine is warms and strong and definitely not dead, not like the one I checked for a pulse all those months ago. He was dead and now he’s not.

"Fuck…you," I manage to grunt out before Sherlock’s worried voice, Bask’s anxious barking, Mrs. Hudson’s exclamation of surprise, and the entire room are fading into darkness.

It’s not until everything is a tiny pinpoint of awareness about to pop out of existence that I remember he kissed me.

* * * * *

When I wake again, I’m back in my bed, and Lestrade is sitting on the edge.

He winces in sympathy. "How’re you feeling?"

I ignore his question, sitting bolt upright, looking around the room. "Sherlock! He’s—"

"Alive," Greg tells me with a hand to my chest to keep me where I am.

"You knew." I can’t keep the accusation out of my tone, not that I even want to.

"Maybe an hour before you, if that." He shakes his head in wonder. "The bastard strolled into the Yard, pretty as you please, with the number four off Interpol’s most wanted list in tow. Gregor Vance. Nobody even knew he was in London. Hell, for all I know, he wasn’t here and Sherlock dragged him here from Poland or Kazakhstan or wherever he’s been for the last nine months."

"He didn’t say where…why?"

Greg shakes his head. "Not a word. Was demanding a car to bring him here to see you before the paperwork was finished on Vance. I threatened to arrest him just to keep him there long enough to answer a few questions and he pointed out that seeing as he was legally dead, I couldn’t hold him on anything. I decided to skip the headache that would have come out of the fraud charges and drove him here myself."

I force myself to remain calm when I ask, "Where is he now?" Because, if he’s disappeared again…

"Front room with Mrs. Hudson and that hell hound of yours." He snorts as he tells me, "It’s the damnedest thing; that dog is sprawled across him like he’s known him all his life. When Sherlock called me to come up after you sparked out, Bask was barking at me like he usually does. One word from Sherlock and that beast was at his heel with his head resting on Sherlock’s knee."

"Must be the flat, the sofa, Sherlock’s scent would be all over them. He smells like home to Bask."

"I suppose that’s good, because I think he is home, to stay."

"How do you know?" I challenge. "He left once for some unknown reason. What’s to keep him from doing it again?"

"You," he says simply then hands over a laptop. "He asked me to give this to you. Said you marked the course home and would know what to do with this once you opened it."

My heart is pounding so hard I can hear blood pulsing in my ears as I take the computer. "And just where the fuck has he been?"

"You’re going to have to ask him that," Lestrade shrugs. "I think you may be the only person he’ll tell."

"I swear to God, Greg, if he were to walk through that door right now I would punch him in the face. Repeatedly."

And then I’d probably gather him in my arms and never ever let go. How is it possible to feel so hurt, so betrayed, and so utterly happy and relieved at the same time?

With a pat to my leg under the duvet he grins, "I’d hold him down for you, mate."

Throwing up my arms in frustration, I demand, "Why would he do this to us? To all of us? I can honestly say it’s been the shittiest nine months of my life, and that after I was invalided out of a bloody war."

"Only one way to find out." He taps meaningfully at the computer.

Yeah, I’m aware of that, I’m also terrified I’ll find the truth and it will hurt just as much as not knowing had. No, I know that really isn’t true, so I flip the lid and see one icon on the screen labeled FOR JOHN. Well, that it pretty damn self-explanatory. When I click it, however, it’s locked.

"It’s password protected," I tell Lestrade.

Greg stands to leave, "He said you’d know the code." Pausing at the door, he tells me, "I’ll be downstairs if you need anything."

I do know the password; it’s from that last conversation we had in the lab the night before everything went to Hell, the star to mark his course home.

POLARIS

The file opens to reveal a journal. The fist heading is dated 18 June, a little over a week after he died.

No, died isn’t the right term, not any longer. I guess I’ll have to start saying ‘disappeared,’ which sounds less hurtful than ‘left me to wallow in my misery for nine months’. Pushing that thought away, I turn my attention back to the entry.

18 June.

How do you do this, John? I’ve been staring at this computer screen for nearly twenty minutes now and I cannot come up with a single thing to write, therapeutic or not. This is just one more piece of evidence that your therapist has no clue what she is talking about. I suppose we should just be grateful she recommended writing therapy as opposed to say dance as an expressive outlet for your pent up emotions. I think your psychosomatic limp may have saved us all from that humiliation. Bullet dodged all around. Although if you had been forced into interpretive dance, I want you to know, I would have suffered through every recital you held.

Actually, that is a lie. I wouldn’t be caught dead sitting through such a travesty, and now that I am officially dead, I should know. If that alleged therapist of yours does suggest some such nonsense now that you are seeing her again, I recommend your psychosomatic tendencies return, else you should run, as fast and as far as your non-dancer legs will carry you and never look back. Although that’s not as easy as it sounds, running away, never looking back. I thought it would be simple, because it meant you would be safe, you and Mrs. Hudson and Lestrade. Moriarty may be dead, his assassins saw me jump just like he ordered, but his network is far reaching, the spider’s web can still close in on you all, and I can’t let that happen. I won’t let that happen. What better way to watch over you than as a dead man?

Look at me, John, putting everyone’s wellbeing before my own interests. I’m a glowing role model to budding altruist around the globe, all the more so because you don’t even know I’m doing it. But that’s not entirely true, what I’m doing isn’t entirely selfless, because I want you alive, more than anything that’s what I want.

That alone should have made leaving you easy instead of the single hardest task I have ever undertaken in my life.

 

19 June.

I saw you at the graveyard today with Mrs. Hudson; you look a mess. You need to sleep more and cry less. I needed you to believe I was dead so others would believe it too. If they knew I was alive, you and Mrs. Hudson and Lestrade would be in the cross-hairs once more, and that cannot happen. Still, you could be believable without being so…believable! You’re supposed to hate me; after all, I lied to you for over a year and a half. Duped you and hundreds of others into believing I was truly as brilliant as you thought I was. It was a very credible performance I gave on that roof, one of my best. Why can’t you simply hate me like everyone else? I have it on good authority that despising me is second nature to most human beings on the planet. This would be so much easier on both of us if you were as normal as you always claim you want to be.

He had been there; right there somewhere and I didn’t see him. I can’t help but think what would have happened if I had found him. Would he have come home and given up the farce? Would he have taken me with him to help him hunt down Moriarty’s henchmen? Because that’s what he was doing all this time as I learn by reading more of the blog.

28 June.

Someone had the nerve, the audacity, to follow you home from work today and try to break into the flat after you went to bed. There is no way anyone can know I’m still alive, I have covered my tracks too carefully. I sacrificed everything to keep you safe and now there is a new threat, but why? My original plan had been to lie low for a few months before making contact, but now, with even more danger lurking at your doorstep, literally, that may not be possible. At least I was able to extract a name from your would-be assailant before removing him from the equation. Now it’s just a matter of time until I track down Amador Urbina and finish this once and for all.

7 July.

My lead has brought me to Alicante, Spain, in search of Urbina. I’ve learned he controls a small but brutal crime ring that specializes in human trafficking, extortion, and murder…or anything else Moriarty asked of him. Rumor has it, he was fiercely devoted to Moriarty’s payouts if not the man himself, and he is less than pleased that those will stop now that Moriarty is dead. Since he can’t exact his revenge on me, you are his easiest target to send a message to anyone who tries to hurt one of his own. I can’t allow that to happen, John. I won’t allow that to happen. And I fear that when I find Urbina, he won’t be the last.

9 July.

John, it was brilliant. Brilliant! A high speed chase along the autovia in a Pagani I "acquired" from the local drug cartel. God, I wish you had been here as you would have loved it, John. Loved it! Especially the driving against the flow of traffic bit. I had no idea how large a fireball could be obtained from a damaged fuel line. Well, I had some idea but was pleasantly surprised that it exceeded even my expectations. (Which is why I no longer have the Pagani, although we should consider acquiring one in London, at least for an afternoon. We don’t even have to blow it up in the end if you prefer.) More importantly, Urbina will never threaten you again, or anyone else for that matter. Better yet, I have the name of Moriarty’s second in command, Sebastian Moran, and a potential sighting of him in Budapest. If anyone is still pulling the strings after Moriarty’s death, it is him.

This plan is working out splendidly. At this rate I’ll be home before Christmas. When this is all over, we should come back to the Costa del Sol. A holiday. Just the two of us. I’ll even carry the bags. Apparently death brings out the romantic in me.

Unfortunately, his plan didn’t work out as splendidly as he thought it would. Budapest was a bust for Moran, as were Amsterdam and a small village in the Ukraine. There were weeks of dead ends, leads that turned out to be wild goose chases, others that led to even more names of others in Moriarty’s criminal ring, endless days of monotony interspersed with deadly encounters that he documented every single day. But mingled within the daily log of tracking killers were the entries that made my breath catch quicker than any of the myriad car chases or shoot outs. They were the ones where he talked about me.

4 September.

I hate Paris. For one, it is filled to the gills with Parisians. For another, it is not filled with Sebastian Moran or any sign of him. I hate this hotel. I hate this bed that smells like fabric softener but not you. There should be a law against that. There should also be a law that decrees you should never be more than three feet away from me at any time. Not that I would necessarily abide by it, as obviously, I’m not abiding by it now, but in principle you should be required to be within my sight at all times. I’d very much like to know that requirement exists in the world so that when I’m done here and you’re safe once more, I can came home and sleep in a bed with you in it and know you would be there when I woke. I should also very much like to kiss you, which with the three foot rule enforced, should be easily accommodated.

The kissing wouldn’t be a requirement, but it seems a waste to not take advantage of the close proximity. Besides, I’m quite certain you want to kiss me, too… no one becomes that ill, that frequently, off curry and continues to eat it.

19 September.

There is one less murderer in the world today, John, but it seems every time I remove a name from the list, another is added. One more obstacle to returning home to you. Whenever possible, I try to apprehend them, turn them over to the proper authorities…anonymously of course…because I think that is what you would prefer me to do. It doesn’t always work out that way, and I wonder if you will disapprove of this mission I’ve undertaken, and more importantly, how I’ve gone about accomplishing it. But you have killed to save me in the past. I am simply returning the favor.

25 September.

It has been nothing but rain for four days. American’s are so critical of our climes, and yet I have been thoroughly unimpressed with the weather here in New York. Today is the sort of day where you would make a cup of tea, pull out one of those dreadful spy novels you so enjoy, and simply sit on the sofa and read. I'd give anything to be able to sit at the end opposite you and do nothing but watch as you turn the pages and ignore your tea until it turns cold, then watch as you get up to brew another pot. I think that might be what one would call a perfect day, especially if Lestrade were to ring us up with a murder at about half past 3.

I find myself thinking more and more about that kiss I should like, so much so that curry has been making me ill rather frequently, and I haven’t eaten any in weeks.

9 October.

Thre is the possibility I may have misc;aculated today, John. Zona Ganis is dead, but she din’t go down easily. She also had a hidden blade I didn’t see until it was a bit toooo late. Feeling light headeedded, but don’t worry as bleeddding hads almost stopped. Confident nothing vital hit. Wish you were here so youijk could shot her. You’re incredibly good at shooting people trying to kiillili me. God I missyou.

26 October.

Delhi is a dead-end. Moran was here a week ago, I’m certain, but has once again managed to slip away. I’m still confident he doesn’t know I’m alive, but the amount of time I can spend in London keeping a closer watch over you is growing less and less as I follow one lead after another. My homeless network is keeping tabs, but what can I do half a continent away should they see anything other than instruct them to contact Lestrade? I’ve also hacked into the traffic camera near Baker Street so I can keep an eye on things. You were wearing a new jumper today, not a Harry color, too dark, so you must have bought it for yourself. A date tonight, perhaps? No, wrong shoes. What are you doing with yourself, John? Dark jumper, no dates, hair a little long. You can’t possibly still be mourning, could you? No? Yes. As impossible as that seems, you are. I’ve made your life hell just like mine, haven’t I? It hardly seems fair that we’re both trapped here and still can’t be together.

27 October.

I’ve concluded the camera may have been a mistake. Seeing you but not being able to be with you is possibly worse than simply being away from you. Perhaps I deserve the punishment.

20 November.

I believe I may have broken my right wrist, which makes typing difficult, so I will keep this brief. Suffice to say, Interpol will be quite pleased to find Markus Aachen has been turned over to the Swiss authorities. For a moment, I considered ending our encounter in a less civilized way, but then I heard your voice telling me to stop, reconsider. It seemed so real that I actually turned to speak to you after I had apprehended him. All this time, and I still feel you hovering behind my shoulder precisely where you should be, like Polaris. I have yet to decide if I find that ghostly sensation soothing or disturbing.

I search the names he mentions as I read the blog, and come across dozens of headlines with dates corresponding to the entries… Suspected Terrorist Found Dead…International Crime Boss Arrested… Drug Cartel Kingpin Dies in Fiery Car Crash….Suspect in Multiple High Profile Murders Dead. My stomach clenches with every one, knowing Sherlock could have just as easily been killed instead of coming home to me.

Then it’s December in his journal, and my heart skips a beat. London. He was back in London.

14 December.

You had a date tonight, John. A bit on the plain side for you, obviously a relation of Mike Stamford-- no hiding that genetic predisposition for weight around the hips-- so perhaps it was simply a favor for a friend. But you rested your hand on her lower back, let it linger as you walked through the restaurant, so perhaps it started out as a favor but it has the potential for more. I should have stayed away, but I couldn’t, just as I couldn’t stop myself from letting you catch a glimpse of me. Not that you would recognize me, not entirely given the superficial alterations to my appearance, but maybe enough. Enough that when I do come home (and I will, John, I promise you that) you will not have someone else in your bed where I am meant to be.

Love is a dangerous disadvantage—I told that to someone once, but I don’t think I realized how true that is until tonight. I also finally realized why deductions on Irene Adler were so difficult. She wasn’t real; everything about her was carefully crafted to be what others wanted her to be. But you, John, you are real. You are the most real, alive thing that has ever existing in the world. You are flesh and blood and everything that is brilliant and deadly and vulnerable about that. So I deduced everything about you tonight…your initial reluctance to go on the date (you chose a jumper you’ve had for years instead of a new one), the desire to make the best of it (ordering a bottle of wine instead of a single glass), the idea that maybe the date wasn’t such a bad idea after all (that smile, John, it wasn’t the one you have for me but it was close). I could have touched you tonight; I could have had that kiss from you tonight (because you would have kissed me if I had let you catch up with me, if I had revealed myself fully to you). You were so close I could have done good things or bad things to you. Perhaps what I did do to you tonight was a little of both, and maybe you wouldn’t want to kiss me after all (you can be so infuriatingly principled sometimes, John).

But if Moriarty’s men were to touch you, they would do nothing but the bad. I realize now, I risked exposing you tonight. That was a miscalculation on my part and it won’t happen again, not until I’m sure you’re as safe as I can make you.

15 December.

I hope my gift will make up for any hard feelings from last night. You need a companion, John, and since I can’t be here for you, perhaps he will keep the flat from seeming so empty. I also have it on good authority he should grow large enough to make a decent watch dog, at least until I can return and resume that duty.

That miserable bastard. He had been the one to leave Bask on my doorstep. If nothing else, I knew who to send the bill for the new pair of shoes I had to buy after my others were chewed into oblivion. As if he could read my mind, Bask noses the cracked door to my room open and bounds onto the bed.

I push him away gently when he starts sniffing at my head in residual worry, as if making certain I’m okay. "You miserable mutt," I say affectionately as I pat his back to get him to lie down, "did you know you were an apology gift from a sorry son of a bitch?"

"Sorry, yes. Very much so."

I look up to see Sherlock standing in the doorway, wrapped in apprehension and uncertainty as much as his dressing gown I’d saved, which he’s apparently found after his recent shower and reclaimed as his own. He looks so much like he had that first night he’d shown up in my room after the pool incident that it makes me ache to look at him. For a few seconds I can just pretend the last nine months never happened.

"Although, he seems to have been a good one…gift that is."

"Yes, he has been." I look down at the dog curled up beside me. "But he wasn’t you."

"If there had been any other way—" he starts, but I’m in no mood to hear his excuses.

"What you did to me was horrible." I look up in time to see him flinch minutely. "Making me watch you jump, letting me think you were dead. It’s the worst thing anyone has ever done to me."

"I did it to protect you," he justifies.

Having read his blog, I know that’s the truth, but there are other truths to this story that he needs to hear. "It devastated me. Nearly destroyed me."

"Nearly," he stresses.

My eyes narrow as I enunciate "Close enough."

"I knew you’d be fine."

"Do I look fine to you, Sherlock? You’ve been watching me on and off for the past nine months, have I looked fine during all that time?"

"I knew you’d eventually pull through." His confidence falters under my seething glower and he lowers his voice. "You’re the strongest person I know, John."

My volume only rises. "And you’re the most arrogant."

"My first priority is to keep you safe."

"Not anymore it’s not," I tell him with a definitive shake of my head. "From now on, your first priority will always be my happiness."

"Your happiness?" My statement seems to take him by surprise, something that rarely happens with Sherlock, and promptly puts an end to our argument over the justification for why he left.

"Yes, my happiness. It’s a foreign concept to you, I know, Sherlock, but I can fetch a dictionary for you if it will help."

"A dictionary won’t be necessary," he snorts. "I know the meaning of happiness."

"Do you now?" I snap at the conceit in his tone. "And exactly what does it mean?"

"You," he says simply. "You are my definition of happiness. Seeing you, being here with you in our flat, knowing you’re alive, knowing you’re safe. That makes me happy."

"And what about making me happy?"

He raises an eyebrow. "I should think being alive and safe would make you happy, too."

"You kissed me." It’s more accusation than statement.

"I did," he admits.

"Why?"

He frowns that I would ask such a thing. "You know why."

"No, I really don’t," I tell him honestly. "Because the reasons normal people have for doing things is not why you do them, Sherlock."

"Didn’t you want me to kiss you?"

"I did. I very much wanted you to. But is that why you did it? Because you thought that’s what I wanted? Because you were lonely for nine months and this is how you thought you could get back into my good books?"

He pauses, thinking about how to answer, and with an expression on his face I’ve never seen before. Worry? Fear? Insecurity?

When he speaks, he does so very carefully. "I told you once that if I ever could fall in love, it would be with you. I wasn’t lying, and it would appear I am capable of falling in love, as I most definitely have."

I have a feeling that is closest Sherlock will ever come to saying the words, I love you. So I cling to it, savor it, store it away never to be deleted. I hope he’s doing the same. And yet, as much as I feel the same way, I’m still pissed as hell at him for what he did.

"For future reference, jumping off a building while I watch is not how you show me that you love me."

"And yet, that’s exactly why I did it." His sigh is heavy with exhaustion and frustration and even a bit of accusation. "I’ve never felt…this before, John. I don’t know what it is exactly or how I’m supposed to respond or why I feel compelled to do the things that I do. I’ve seen it effects on the common populace, observed it closely, studied it for future inference, but I’ve never understood it, and now that I’m experiencing it, I still don’t."

"Sherlock, are you blaming me for this?"

"Yes…no…yes!" Scrubbing a hand through his still damp hair, he throws his arms wide and starts pacing. "He was going to kill you, right there in front of me, and you wouldn’t have come back, not in nine months, not ever. Perhaps I am as self-centered as you say, but I couldn’t let that happen. So, yes, it is your doing… I mean other than the part that involved Moriarty and his assassins." His hand waves to dismiss that notion, as if it is the least of the drivers for his entire disappearance. "Therefore, if you can tell me what I should do different in the future that will ensure this ‘happiness’ you are insisting on even in a life or death situation, I will be more than willing to entertain the notion."

Only Sherlock could be so infuriating while declaring his love for me. The air quotes around ‘hapiness’ definitely weren’t helping him, but I genuinely think he is asking for my help.

Taking a breath to calm myself, I tell him, "Well, for one thing, you don’t die."

"Technically, I wasn’t really—"

I stop that justification before he can state it; else I might have to climb out of bed and actually punch him this time. "Or pretend to be dead without telling me, preferably before you plan to fake said death."

He pauses and I warn, "This is a nonnegotiable point, Sherlock."

After a few more seconds, he gives one nod of his head. "Very well, I can do that. Anything else?"

"You don’t leave me, ever again, for any reason." My voice shakes as I repeat, "Never again, Sherlock." If he hears the unspoken threat in my words, then all the better.

I almost expect him to get defensive, but instead he takes a deep breath and exhales as his entire body seems to sag briefly in relief. "Never again. You have my word."

I feel my own relief wash over me in a wave, but I only nod in acknowledgement before telling him, "I also want details for each day you were gone."

"You’ve read my blog," he points out. "What more is there to know?"

"You have a scar at your hairline that wasn’t there before. That’s not in your blog."

His hand moves to rub at the silver trace on his forehead. "It’s nothing, minor altercation, wasn’t even related to—"

"I want to know, Sherlock. Everything."

"Very well." He crosses his arms to mimic my own stance and rolls his eyes. "Shall we schedule a time now to go over them all?"

A thought hits me. "No, I want one detail each day until I’ve heard them all."

"That could take a while," he says tentatively. "Years."

"That’s what I’m counting on; years and years of telling."

He smiles, seemingly pleased with the length of time that implies I’ll be listening. "Anything else?"

"Yes." I suddenly become very interested in rubbing a spot behind Bask’s ear. "You stay in bed eight hours, minimum, each night, with me, preferably here in this bed."

When I finally work up the nerve to look back up, there is a glimmer in his eyes. "Should I, perhaps, start now on that one?"

With a pat to Bask to coax him to move to the end of the bed, I turn back the blankets. "Now would seem to be an appropriate time to start."

"Although eight hours seems a bit excessive," he fumes even as he walks toward the bed. "Four is more than sufficient."

I roll my eyes at his bartering. "Now, see, why do you always have to do that?"

"Do what?"

"Have the last word in any discussion. Argue every point. Why can’t you simply agree with me?"

"What?" he demands. "You said the whole death thing wasn’t negotiable. That inferred other items might be up for consideration."

"Fine, we can consider it, although four hours doesn’t leave time for anything but sleep." I set aside the laptop and scoot to make more room for him. There’s plenty more to read in the blog, but for now, I’ve read enough. Enough to know he’s not going to turn down the proposition I just posed.

His lips quirk as he stands beside the bed. "And just what do you have in mind for us?"

"You’re the consulting detective, you deduce it for yourself."

"I have several theories." Resting one knee on the bed, he tilts his head studiously. "But I may need more data to come to a definitive conclusion."

"Very well." I reach out and grab one end of the tie on his dressing gown. "Are you wearing pants under there?"

"As a matter of fact, I am not."

"That is becoming a very disturbing habit of yours," I grin as I tug the loop free and the robe falls open to reveal he is just as ready and willing as I am. It also shows the still jaggedly pink scar above his hipbone. My smile falters. "Jesus, Sherlock…" It must be the proof of his run in with the Greek assassin he’d mentioned.

Before I can reach out to touch it, he tips my chin up, forcing me to meet his eyes. "John, what would make you happy right now?"

To turn back time. To erase that bloody scar, and the one on his forehead, all the other ones I’m sure to find. For the last nine months to have never happened. But I know that can’t happen, and if I’m going to be happy…if we’re going to be happy… we have start right here, right now, and the past be damned.

"For you to kiss me again," I tell him honestly.

"Oh, well then," he agrees cheerfully, "you’ll have no argument from me on that requirement."

He leans down and captures my mouth with his. There is nothing hesitant or timid about it, but it isn’t demanding either, just a firm press of lips and soft brush of tongue against mine. If possible, it’s even better than the first one when I’d been more asleep than awake, and I find I want more, a hell of a lot more.

Leaning forward, I deepen the kiss. Sherlock makes a pleased sound in his throat that sends a tingle down my spine and has me sliding my hands inside his dressing gown to wrap around the warmth of his body so I can pull him down beside me. My hands move over the lean strength of the muscles of his back, and I’m rewarded with another guttural sound that has me biting his bottom lip in appreciation. Then his fingers are in my hair, tugging slightly even as the kiss finally does become demanding. I am more than eager to comply, pulling him tight against me, and dear God, how have I never been attracted to men before him, because the feel of him against me, hard and obviously aroused, is making me want him even more.

"John," he practically moans and pushes away from me.

My mind is spinning, trying to reconcile his eager reactions seconds before and now this. "Right…sorry?…I, that is, I didn’t mean to… too fast? It’s just I’ve wanted this for so long…"

"Dear God, you can be an idiot sometimes."

Before I can protest, I realize his fingers are scrabbling clumsily at my pajamas.

"You need to take these off," he insists, then kisses me again when his hand slips past the waistband of my pants to brush fingers against me. When I jerk in a combination of surprise and ‘yes! Oh God, yes!’ euphoria, he pulls away once more. "Take them off immediately or things are going to happen without you."

"The hell they are," I insist as I wiggle free of the pants, thinking back all those months ago to when he had promised a highly detail sexual experience if it ever came to pass and now that it is, he’s threatening to leave me out all together if I don’t undress quickly enough.

Bask yelps in protest when I accidently kick him, and wisely decides he should vacate the bed, and the room. I wouldn’t blame him if he bolted from the flat entirely given the way Sherlock is yanking full force to pull the shirt over my head and tossing it blindly over his shoulder.

Then there is nothing but a seemingly endless supply of flesh alongside mine to kiss and caress and rub against, all of which we are both trying to do simultaneously. The result is a tangle of arms and legs as we each try to wrestle for control to touch and kiss where we want. When he accidently bashes his chin into my nose, I have a flash in my mind, that given how frenetic and kiss-drunk clumsy Sherlock and I are, this could possibly be the worst sex of my life if it wasn’t the absolute best.

"John." The way he says my name is one I’ve heard from him numerous times before on a case. It’s an insistence for data, evidence, a need for something, anything, to prove him right…that he is doing this right.

"New territory for me too, Sherlock," I manage to pant out between nips on his collarbone. "But, my God, you’re brilliant." My hands move appreciatively over as much of him as I can reach at the moment. "Everything about you is bloody well brilliant."

I’m about to ask his opinion of the situation, but first I feel compelled to suck on the same spot I’d just been nibbling. He arches up into my touch, blunt nails digging into my shoulders, and when he says my name this time, there is a completely different need in his voice.

It seems I have my answer for how he thinks things are going.

Then he’s chanting, "Now. Now. Nownownownow."

Apparently that means foreplay is over, because he’s hooking his leg over my hip, hands clenching into my backside to bring me closer and thrusting against me. I have no choice but thrust back in return and kiss him like he’s my only means of survival, which at the moment I honestly believe he is.

Because I’m fairly certain my head is exploding in the most incredible way possible.

"John… look at me."

"What? Now?" Because there is no stopping this now.

"I want to see you," he pushes out in a rushed breath. "Please, John."

And Jesus Christ, of course he wants to see the moment, the look on my face, my reaction. Only Sherlock would want to collect evidence, even during sex. It feels too exposed, too vulnerable, and I want to say no. But I learned long ago I couldn’t deny Sherlock anything. So I open my eyes and look into his to see pupils shot wide, the blue of them crystalline, dazzling as sunlight on water. Dark curls cling to his damp forehead and his face is so open and adoring I could weep when his lips curl to know I’m looking at him, seeing him, really, honest to God seeing him. Then his body tenses, shoulder muscles rippling under my palms as he spasms, exhaling a stuttered groan against my lips, eyes opening even wider as his expression becomes amazed and glorious and so fucking beautiful that the world falls away into the rolling white heat of my own orgasm.

Why does he have to be so goddamn incredible, so right, about everything he does?

"Holy…Christ…" I gasp when I can catch my breath again, my hands moving of their own volition over his hair, his jaw, his shoulders, as if to prove he’s really here, that we really just did…that. Because that… that may have made up for the past nine months. It definitely made up for at least three of them. "That was—"

"Shut up," he commands, even as he kisses me tenderly, taking his time in a way that eases me off the high into a soft afterglow haze.

Then I remember what he just told me.

"Shut u…?" He kisses me again and I’m obliged to kiss him back before continuing. "Sherlock, you do not order someone with whom you just have mind-boggling sex to shut up."

Another kiss, then he presses his forehead to mine, with his eyes closed and hands on my jaws so his thumbs can run lazily across my cheek. "Shut up, please, or you will ruin the quiet."

"Quiet?" I whisper the question half dazed by the feather soft way he’s repetitively brushing his lips against mine, the tip of his nose running along my own.

"It hasn’t been this quiet since, well, since I can remember, really. At least not without the help of a few illicit substances."

"Oh." Not exactly the most eloquent of responses, but being told sex with you is the key to inner peace for someone can catch a person off guard. "Well…glad to be of service."

His laughter echoes in the close space between our bodies, and I follow suit. Happy--both of us deliriously so. How long has it been since I’d genuinely felt that?

"Maybe we can settle on six hours in bed each night?" he suggests, nuzzling at my jaw.

"Six hours?" I smile, relishing the feel of him. After all that time in my bed followed by all that time he was gone, he’s finally, finally in my arms. "That seems like a fair compromise."

Neither of us mentions the fact that it’s almost ten hours before anyone climbs out of bed the next morning. And if this is the way it’s going to be from here on out, you won’t hear me complaining.

* * * * *

The building where Lestrade’s car brings us is an old shoe factory down by the river that hasn’t been operational for what looks to be decades. Zipping my coat a little higher against the night air, I glance up at the brick walls with the chipped and faded boot logo on the side.

"I think I met Mycroft here once," I note, then glance across the top of the car to where Sherlock has climbed out the other side. "One of our clandestine meetings to discuss the color choice of your socks for the week."

"Are you sure?" Even in the dim lighting I can see Sherlock’s eyes brighten at the possibility he could goad his older brother about one of his secret lairs being a crime scene.

"Maybe not." I shrug. "He’s summoned me to so many abandoned buildings they all start to blend together after a while."

I grin when Sherlock flips his coat collar up in that unconscious way he has when he’s weighing evidence. I’m pretty sure he’s already mentally called my bullshit, but I won’t pass up the chance to see those gorgeous cheekbones of his accentuated the way only he can do when he’s trying to look mysterious. Vanity, they name is Sherlock Holmes. The purple silk shirt doesn’t hurt matters, although it is a tad more wrinkled than he normally wears it thanks to being discarded rather carelessly on our way up the stairs tonight. Bask, always willing to help, had retrieved the shirt and dragged it the rest of the way up into the bedroom and promptly proceeded to roll around on it until he fell asleep. Not that I blamed him, as I had done roughly the same thing with Sherlock after I tumbled him into the bed.

When my lips quirk at the memory, Sherlock raises an inquiring eyebrow in my direction. My answer is to walk close enough that our shoulders brush as we are led into the building. The wicked flicker in his eyes at the touch silently promises, later. It doesn’t take a consulting detective to deduce that, and I feel my pulse quicken in giddy anticipation. Our first time may have been a bit rushed and rough around the edges, but it hadn’t taken long for Sherlock to apply that brilliant mind and his attention to detail to every single inch of my body.

He applies a similar, if much less erotic, attention to detail to the dead body when we’re shown to it. Not that it requires much, as even I can tell it looks to be your standard execution style killing with two bullets to the back of the head. Sherlock notes as much, then notes that it was hardly worth pulling us out of our bed to see it. I drop my eyes to my shoes with the way he stresses the singular nature of our sleeping arrangements, not that I’m ashamed of the fact that for the past few weeks he’s been back we’ve been doing much more than just sleeping in the bed now. Still, the slightly pained expression on Greg’s face at the sharing of that much information is just a bit embarrassing. I suppose he’s fortunate Sherlock stopped there; Mycroft wasn’t so lucky.

"His name is Yuri Polivanov," Lestrade informs us. "His last known association was with one Gregor Vance. I think you are familiar with him, Sherlock."

Even my eyes widen at the name of the man Sherlock had dropped off at the Yard as a sort of returning from the dead present. The last of the many associates of Moriarty’s he’d spent nine months tracking down.

Sherlock goes stone still, except for his eyes that scan the area around us. "Polivanov was killed four months ago in Helsinki."

I step closer and ask quietly, "Are you sure?" It’s rare Sherlock is ever wrong about anything and I know from experience it’s best not to point that out publically.

"I’m quite sure," he stresses in a low voice meant only for me, "as I was the one who killed him."

I give him one sharp nod. I know what he was up to while he was gone, more than that, I know why he was up to it. The private blog he’d kept just for me spelled it all out, and if he occasionally skipped a specific name in the journal, it didn’t mean he didn’t know them all intimately. "Right. So who is this man?"

He tilts his head in a way I’ve come to recognize as he’s ticking through theories. "A calling card, perhaps."

I’m just about to ask what that means, exactly, when Sherlock’s eyes narrow dangerously to a spot on my chest. I look down and barely have time to register the red dot there before Sherlock is tackling me to the ground.

The crack of the rifle is lost in my grunt of surprise when I hit the floor. Between the fall and Sherlock’s weight on top of me, all the air rushes from my lungs.

"John?" Sherlock is calling desperately as he pushes up enough to get a look at me. "John, answer me."

I can’t even suck in air, my ears are ringing, and my arm hurts. All around us is chaos as those police with guns are returning fire and the crime scene investigators are scrambling for cover. I’m trying my best to tell Sherlock to do the same, but he’s huddled over me like a bloody human shield.

"John!"

Sherlock has taken hold of both my shoulders, and I screw my face in pain at his touch on my right arm. He pulls his hand away and it’s red with blood. Son of a bitch, I’ve been shot. Again.

Sherlock unzips my coat to get a better look, and when he does, his face goes pale, cold, his eyes dead, like a marble statue… a very angry marble statue.

I manage to pull in enough of a breath to choke out, "Sherlock…don’t…" Because I know what he’s planning as soon as he calls Lestrade, brushes his knuckles along my jaw, then takes my gun from my belt.

"John’s been shot," he tells the DI when he arrives, my Browning already tucked away under his coat. "He needs medical attention."

Then he’s standing in a flurry of dark coat and dark hair and even darker mood as he strides off in the direction the shot had come from.

"Oi! Sherlock! Where the hell do you think you’re going?" Greg calls after him, to no avail.

"Stop him," I manage to gasp out as I push myself up as best I can and try to look at my wound.

Lestrade calls to a few of his men to chase after Sherlock and another to call an ambulance, but I’ve manage to rip my shirtsleeve open to see it’s little more than a graze on my upper arm.

"Just sit still, John. The medics will be here in a few."

"Not serious," I assure him, working my handkerchief out of my pocket to slap on the wound and use the remnants of my sleeve to tie it into place.

"Well, there’s that at least," Greg says with a bit of his own relief. "Sherlock will be pleased to hear it. I’d hate to think what he might do to that bloke if it had been serious."

When I simply raise my eyebrows to indicate Sherlock is after the man now and doesn’t know how minor the injury is, Lestrade groans. "Oh, hell."

"I have to go after him," I state simply. Now that I can breathe again, I intend to do just that, no matter what a certain D.I. might have to say about it.

With a heavy sigh, he helps me to my feet. "Come on, then."

We hear Sherlock even before we see him.

"Do you have any idea how long nine months can be?" he is saying. "Any idea what it is like to spend nine long months tracking down the filth, the absolute dregs of civilization, instead of sleeping in a bed that smells of fabric softener and army doctor? No, you don’t. I know you don’t, because if you did, you would have never, ever pointed your gun at the reason, the person, I gave up for nine, miserable months of hell so that vermin like you would never threaten to take him away from me again."

"Sherlock?" I call when he finally comes into sight. The calm I force into my tone is not an easy feat.

Sherlock is standing on a gangtry two stories above the old factory floor. The shooter is next to him with a piece of cabling from some abandoned machinery wrapped around his neck, and turning an alarming shade of purple thanks to the way Sherlock is pulling it tight.

"John," he says in a hard-edged voice, "you are supposed to be with the medics."

"It’s nothing," I promise. "A graze. I’m fine. Really. So why don’t you just come away from him?"

"I don’t think so, John."

"Sherlock," Lestrade tries to reason, "he can’t breathe."

"That’s precisely the point, Inspector."

"Sherlock, I am fine. No harm done, right?"

Sherlock’s lips curl viciously. "He hurt you. He wanted to kill you. For that, he dies."

The shooter’s eyes go even wider, if possible, as Sherlock leans him over the edge of the platform.

"John," Greg hisses tensely beside me. There are a lot of things he can let Sherlock get away with, but killing a restrained man while he watches isn’t one of them.

"We set up rules," I remind Sherlock. "Remember? No more leaving without me. I think going to prison might fall into that category."

"They allow conjugal visits, don’t they?"

I can’t help but quirk my mouth at that. "No, I don’t think so. And even if they did, that’s not good enough for me. Home every night, that’s one, too. So, I can always help you push him over if you like, but I think our chances of getting a cell together are pretty slim."

He considers his options for a few seconds. Really considers them, but finally pulls the man back to his feet and loosens the cable just enough for the would-be assassin to suck in a breath.

"Sherlock, he can still barely breathe," Greg points out as he pushes in front of him to loosen it further and secure the man.

"He’s breathing," Sherlock snaps. "I’m not concerned with how easy it is for him."

Lestrade yanks the shooter to his feet and starts walking him back toward his men. "I’d hate to think what he would have done if this bastard had killed you," he mumbles as he passes me.

"So would anyone who managed to do it," Sherlock growls between clenched teeth. "It wouldn’t be anywhere near as quick and painless as I was offering that one."

He shifts restlessly as Lestrade and the gunman fade into the darkness of the stairs leading down from the platform. When I am sure they are out of earshot, I decide it might be a good idea to talk about what just happened.

"Sherlock—"

"Are you all right?" he demands, lifting my chin so he can look directly into my eyes. "Really, all right?"

"Yes," I promise, turning to show him the wound. Blood has soaked through my makeshift bandage and he tosses it away to examine me more closely. "But are you?"

"Am I what?" he asks absently as he pulls his own handkerchief to press against the still bleeding groove the bullet has cut in my arm. There are burn marks from the slug, and I’ll need antibiotics just to be on the safe side, but otherwise it’s nothing some heavy gauze and tape won’t handle. It honestly did more damage to my coat and shirt than to me, although it does hurt like a son of a bitch.

"Are you all right?" I repeat. When he still doesn’t seem to be paying attention to what I’m saying, I stress, "Sherlock, you were going to kill that man."

"He was going to kill you," he counters simply. "Would have killed you if I hadn’t acted as quickly as I did. It seemed only fair that he should meet the same fate."

"Sherlock…" I sigh, at a loss for how to respond to that. Because if the tables had been turned, I don’t think I would have reacted any differently.

"John, I disappeared for you. I came back for you. And I will stand by my promise not to leave you again, and abide by any other rules you see fit to set to ensure yourself I won’t. But do not ask me to watch a man try to kill you and do nothing."

"No," I start again when he begins pacing, "of course not, but—"

"I should have stayed away," he mumbles to himself.

"No!" I insist instantly. That is the absolute last thing he should have done. I could still bludgeon him daily for the fact that he stayed away as long as he did.

He ignores me, doesn’t even seem to hear me. "I should have stayed away but I couldn’t anymore. I felt like if I went one more day without you I’d go mad. I felt that way every day for nine months that I woke up in a bed that wasn’t yours. Then I caught Vance and was foolish enough to think it might be safe to come back. But you were safe; as long as I wasn’t here you were safe."

"It doesn’t matter." I manage to grab his hand, shaking my head vehemently. "Do you hear me? It doesn’t matter. I didn’t feel safe after you disappeared. I felt…lost, adrift, teetering on the edge…the opposite of safe. The world righted itself when you came home, Sherlock. I may have been alive while you were gone, but I sure as hell wasn’t safe." Linking my fingers with his, I pull our joined hands to my chest so he can feel my heart beating. "Now I’m safe. Even at a crime scene with a gunshot wound to my arm, I feel safer than I ever have in my life, all because you decided to bloody well come back from the dead."

Stepping in closer, Sherlock shakes his head. "I’ve never had a weakness before you. It’s a bit unnerving, and at times vexing, not to mention utterly inconvenient."

"But worth it," I stress. "This is where you tell me I’m worth it."

"Don’t be ridiculous, John, I rose from the dead for you and you alone. I could technically be sainted for that by several major religions. I think your worthiness is rather self evident."

"Saint Sherlock." I snort. "For some reason I can’t picture it."

His eyebrows lift. "Are you now suggesting I’m not worthy?"

"No, I’m saying celibacy doesn’t suit you."

"Turns out you’re right on that account." He murmurs with a roll of his eyes and shrug. He grins in his way that is reserved for me and only me; the way that makes my heart race a little faster to know a part of him is mine alone. Then he turns more serious as his thumb rubs just below my ear. "You do understand we are in for a great deal of trouble in the future because of your worthiness?"

"When have we not been?" I counter with a small grin of my own.

A chime from the phone in his coat pockets indicates he has a new text message. I could say that chime is where it all starts, the next chapter, the new adventure we’re embarking on. But it really all started nearly two years ago in a lab at Bart’s when he read me like a book and this is simply one more dog-eared page in that book.

I close the short distance between us to kiss him once before asking, "It’s from him, isn’t it?"

I can just picture the text message waiting on Sherlock’s mobile now… Welcome back! Hope you enjoyed the homecoming present. ~JM

"The calling card you mentioned earlier," I continue, "the assassin, the text you just received; it’s Moriarty."

The bastard was supposed to be dead, but then again, we’d all thought the same about Sherlock for nine months. This whole set-up tonight, with the second death of a dead man, and the red dot on my chest, reeks of the machinations of Jim Moriarty. I’ve learned to accept a lot since Sherlock died and returned. For one thing, what felt like an ending for me turned into the beginning of something even more wonderful than it had been before. If that can happen, it makes it hard to worry too much about what the future might bring.

Sherlock’s mouth quirks in approval that I’ve figured it out on my own, and maybe that I’m not showing any fear at the prospect. After what I’ve been through for the past nine months, a psychotic madman is a walk in the park. If Sherlock faced him on his own before and came out alive (in the end), just imagine what the two of us together can do this time around.

He leans down and whispers in my ear, "I believe we still have two hours left on your requisite six that we spend in bed together each night."

"I believe you’re right," I agree as my grin grows, not even caring that he’s not answered my question directly. I know I’m right, and I know neither of us plans to let Moriarty take away what we have now, not one second of it.

I’m not expecting to get much sleep tonight, or many more to come. The idea doesn’t seem to bother me though, especially when Sherlock wraps bandages around my arm with exquisite care then wraps himself around me a little more aggressively when we do make it back into our bed. The sheets are cool but Sherlock’s body is warm against my own as he slides his leg between mine and his hands along my back, lips tracing across my jaw and my neck with a sharp nip of teeth at my collar bone. His purple shirt has been rendered even more ridiculously sexy than normal, seeing as it is crumpled in a heap of discarded clothing, mine and his, all tangled together as sloppily as the two of us. No, there won’t be much sleep tonight, but I can’t seem to mind when I hear Sherlock repeat my name, softly at first but growing louder and more desperate as we continue to move. I find my own voice answering in kind.

Who could ever think of sleep or Moriarty or… anything really, other than Sherlock when you have that to occupy you instead?

Sleep, it seems, really is overrated.

The End