Chapter 1: Prologue
This story has been sitting on my laptop in various forms since the end of S1 but it made more sense to rework it following the S2 finale. Endless thanks as always to my marvellous beta Lyrium Flower who inspires, encourages, reduces me diet coke spraying hysteria and banishes my adverbitis.
First chapter second person POV, subsequent chapters vary between first and third so if you're not a fan of the style you're not stuck with it
Rated M for eventual M-ness. Slash, Sherlock x John.
The German translation by the wonderful innenlebenaussenwelt can now be found here
AND! the Polish translation by the fabulous Toootie can be found here. Thanks, you fantastic, talented EU writers xx
If you ask John Watson any question he'll answer you honestly and to the best of his abilities, anyone will tell you that. He's pragmatic, insightful, one of those unique men who knows himself inside out and is quite happy with what he sees. An understated quality certainly, but very attractive to some. A self contained man, you think. Even more so these days, in fact the oyster epithet fits him almost perfectly. He's more serious, occasionally bordering on the earnest, but easygoing with a healthy dash of that gallows humour, a trait shared by doctors as a learned coping mechanism and army doctors most especially so, still in evidence. He'll insist that a recent pointless research paper backs this observation up. All the best doctors, the most empathic ones, find solace in the darkest of jokes, the jokes that are two shades away from pitch black. He still finds enjoyment in the surreal and faintly ridiculous albeit much less frequently than before. Both of these things, he might remark with a smile, come in very handy if you have to spend any time with-
The awkward silence stretches and eventually you enquire how he is and wait. He purses his lips and looks away whilst you consider your conversational options in turn. Question, response, predictable, deducible. Perhaps his physical wellbeing..?
If you had asked him two years ago whether he thought he would ever fall victim to some weird thrill-starved psychosomatic disability he'd have probably snorted in disbelief and dismissed the question as ridiculous. Now he'll tell you, with a vaguely resigned expression, that doctors are worst at their own diagnoses. That he never labelled himself as any kind of adrenaline junkie and assumed that the injury, the brief foray into the shadow of death and the nightmares that followed, were the cause. If you're astute you may see his left hand tremble slightly as he answers or that his right shoe is wearing down unevenly. Your eyes may track his movements as he shuffles his feet self consciously, grinding small clumps of dark soil into the already grubby lino before he clears his throat and forces himself to relax.
He finds it hard to believe that all the symptoms were caused by missing something so much that his brain simply refused to function properly. Your eyes flick briefly to his hand again, the nails ragged and earth-caked.
He shoves it into his jacket pocket when he sees you looking and you reach for the stained teapot to cover a wince, dismissing that line of questioning as perhaps too intrusive and rifling once again through your mental armoury.
If you were to wonder aloud if he thought his blog, a task initially settled on him under some duress, would become an internet sensation, his face unexpectedly and quite charmingly may assume the look of a naughty schoolboy caught mid prank. His lips might twitch and his eyes twinkle with amusement, immediately scouring the grim lines of his face into a deceptive youthfulness. All those trendy younger generation things, he'd reply. Not me at all. Surfing, blogging, posting, texting, an ASBO for God's sake. No. Just...no. A grin tugs at the corner of his mouth so fast that if you were unobservant you might have missed it. No, he'd continue. Never expected that. Not with my life as it was. Quiet. Grey. Desperate. But then what I wrote about afterwards...well it wasn't my life, was it? Not really. It was someone else's. I was just a passenger, a hanger-on.
That's why people liked it. He rubs his face, suddenly rumpled again. Mysteries, death, derring-do and clever solutions. A Boy's Own adventure. Stories that were sometimes too good to be true.
You know they were, he insists quietly, straightening in his chair to fix you with a gaze both intent and pleading.
If you were that sort of person, if you had that sort of relationship, you could break the lengthening silence by asking him who he'd 'go gay' for; a jocular, oddly macho game played between bored, tense squad-mates which is never, ever referred to again on the parade ground. He would have answered you honestly, obviously he's used to questions coming from the left-field although he might not have been able to hide his surprise completely. Feminine qualities are frowned upon, no matter what the governmental non-discrimination policies may tell you, he'd smirk. Men aren't really his thing but if it had to be anyone…Daniel Craig, maybe. Or Al Pacino. Someone effortlessly cool and iconically masculine. Not some arch, anaemic looking attention whore who steals the middle out of the custard creams when he's run out of growth medium. There are few things more disappointing than a butchered biscuit, you'd observe and you both might manage a weak smile at this.
Sherlock always, always put them back in the packet afterwards.
But what you really want to ask him about are those terrible, confused final hours. You were intrigued he agreed to see you again after The Incident and still wonder what he hopes to gain from these infrequent, awkward meetings of yours. He mostly sits and nurses his cup of tea and when he does occasionally look at you he seems absent, an expression far more disconcerting than the grief or anger you would have expected from him.
Ask the question and John Watson will answer, anyone who knows him will tell you that. But you are not just anyone and the weight of all the unasked, unanswered questions hangs in the air between you, shrouding you both in heavy silence after the initial routine pleasantries every time. On several occasions a question is on the tip of your tongue but you always refrain at the last moment and this uncertainty, a state of mind you never permit yourself, is new and raw.
The weeks pass and whereas before you found you were mired in banal, one-sided small talk, trying to elicit a reaction, however unfavourable, you settle into simply observing him both face to face and by…other methods. Many of your questions are answered except perhaps the most important one of all and when he stops your little meetings you feel oddly bereft, although you tell yourself it's one less accusatory gaze to deflect.
You never can quite escape the harshest one of all, though, the one that mocks you for the way your suit jacket creases across your stomach and scores deeper furrows into your forehead when you try to stare it down. The man in the mirror does not forgive so easily.
He appears suddenly, collar turned up against the rain. His hair is soaking wet and he pushes past as your eyes flick over him, the hint of concern in your expression quickly hidden behind the necessity of folding and shaking out your umbrella before you follow him into the cafe.
"Thought about leaving you out here," he mutters eventually, hands cradling a stained mug. "But I know how bloody persistent you are. To what do I owe the pleasure then?" He sips, deliberately fixing his eyes on the tea rings decorating the table between you, expression guarded.
"How have you been, Doctor? It's been some time since we last met-"
"A year. Yes. Let's just avoid the pointless pleasantries, shall we? What do you want, Mycroft?"
You hesitate. This requires delicacy and tact and appearing to consider both of these things is important whether he is observing you or not. "There has been some...concern over your recent behaviour."
"My recent behaviour," he repeats evenly, one finger tracing the rim of the mug. "Go on."
"You haven't worked in three months."
"Needed a break."
"You have been ignoring Detective Inspector Lestrade's attempts to contact you."
"Oh yeah, to 'help them out on a difficult case' again." His mouth twists. "I don't need to be coddled and they don't bloody need me, I'm not him."
He raises his chin and the expression on his face all but hisses I don't need their sodding pity! but the belligerence is half hearted, at odds with his bowed shoulders, and he still doesn't meet your eyes.
"You've stopped posting on your 'blog'. You roll the word around in your mouth gingerly.
"Blog, Jesus." He snorts. "What's the point? No-one's reading it any more and I've got absolutely nothing of interest to write about," he flicks you a glance finally. "Don't tell me you were a follower."
"I have read it on occasion. Some of the entries were rather diverting. Of course after...what happened..." his eyes become opaque and he turns to stone in front of you, gaze again on the be-ringed table but mind so evidently elsewhere, "...your previous documentation of his cases was really quite useful to our cause. I believe we are on the cusp of clearing his name once and for all. The review comes up in two weeks, as you know."
He doesn't answer, his focus still inward, shadows dark beneath lowered lashes. He's hunched forward, small and very far away, and you resist the sudden, unsettling urge to place a hand on his arm. To your consternation you realise you're halfway there before he flinches and looks askance, lips twisting in a terrible approximation of a smile. "Careful, Mycroft, someone might accuse you of being sentimental." He moves his arm out of reach, drawing in on himself.
"I have never been averse to sentiment. Where appropriate."
"Didn't stop you from selling your brother out though, did it?"
The whip crack of his voice surprises you both and there is a heavy silence - time and pain have quickened his feet. The slow, circling dance around the subject of your involvement, no, your culpability from your previous meetings has gone and you find you almost welcome the confrontation as he takes figurative steps towards you. This time the hesitation before you answer is not measured and the slip niggles at you but then again the subject of your brother always was a chink in your carefully layered armour and his jibe about sentiment stings more than it should.
"If you have something you'd like to say to me, Doctor, I suggest you save us both the trouble and simply say it."
"How can you sit there...how can you just sit there and ask me, no, tell me-"
"I thought we had already had this conversation, I myself have nothing further to add because my views on the matter have not changed even though the outcome was-"
"If you say regrettable, if you turn around to me and say something like regrettable, so help me I'll-"
He inhales sharply, effectively silenced, but there is no triumph in your expression when he finally drags his eyes up to meet yours because the loss belongs to you both, as keen a sword as the day it happened. His face, though. In his face you see long, empty days, the desolation of a blasted battleground, the last desperate struggles of a man forever falling. Something coils unpleasantly in your gut and for once you are the first to look away.
I hardly recognise this man.
Objectivity is the key. Objectivity is a necessity. Only then do observations remain unsullied and the patterns clear.
You hardly recognise this man.
"Key players in Moriarty's web continue to fall."
"Evidence is circumstantial but my agents are pursuing-"
"No." John shakes his head fiercely, eyes shut. "He would've contacted me. Afterwards. He would've told me. He wouldn't...just..." He lays both hands down flat as if trying to anchor himself. "Why are you telling me this? You think he's still alive, out there somewhere, saving the world?" There's a plaintive edge to the hoarseness and the sudden flicker of hope in his expression is somehow harder to process than the most brutal torture you've ever made yourself watch. But you will not lie to him.
"My brother is dead, Doctor Watson, but his victory over Moriarty is nearly complete. Thanks in no small part to yourself." You refrain from mentioning the long, hollow nights poring over reports, CCTV footage, documents looking for anything, even the smallest clue, that will tie the collapse of the overseas criminal cells with your brother but no matter how you try to fit the puzzle pieces of evidence together, the shape they eventually take does not resemble his. What little colour the flash of anguish has elicited in John's face drains away leaving his lips bone white and tense.
"So that's what this is all about? Everything tied off with a neat little bow? Pat on the head, is it?" He pulls at his hair angrily, a gesture so familiar it sends a pang through your chest. "Sod off you patronising bastard. You're not here because you're concerned, you get off on feeling guilty and you miss having someone to order around. Just like everyone else you're trying to squeeze me into the space he left behind and I'm sick of it. I can't- "
You do him the courtesy of looking away as he recovers himself, pulling his sodden jacket more tightly around him.
"On the contrary, Doctor Watson, I am keeping in touch simply because I believe Sherlock would have wanted me to. No other reason, I promise you."
Even the mention of his name, a collection of syllables you have both been treading carefully around for almost a year, seems to dim the ambient lighting and you watch him sink lower into his chair, damp, unruly hair falling into his eyes. He's still, so very still and when he finally speaks you are forced to lean forward to catch all of what he is saying.
"You know, when I first agreed to meet up with you I figured you contacting me was all part of his plan. He always had a plan, didn't he? Was always two steps ahead of everyone. Except you, of course," he smiles bitterly. "So I thought maybe you'd worked it out and you'd tell me once the coast was clear that everything was alright. The big reveal." His fingers come up to frame the words. "Pathetic. Good thing I realised eventually, eh? Took me a while."
"I'm sorry, John."
He looks up suddenly. "Are you?"
Something must show in your face, your tone, something you let slip without intending to because surprise flits through his expression; his eyes widen before he catches himself and stands abruptly.
"I need to go."
"Doctor Watson." He pauses, halfway to the exit. "Were you in love with my brother?"
Traffic splashes past outside, the rain gusts against the glass beside you, tinny sound from the mounted television set, the question, the only question you have ever wanted the answer to paints the air between you in shades of loss.
Eventually he shrugs wearily. "Doesn't really matter now, does it? Didn't make any difference in the end." His hand is pushing at the door as you call after him, face carefully neutral.
"Next week, then. If convenient?"
"Yeah," he says without turning around. "Why not?"
You watch him as he trudges away from the cafe, mindless of the sheets of rain flattening his hair, the black car which pulls up alongside as he passes, the low ominous sky. You can't quite shake the feeling that despite his parting words this will be the last you see of John Watson for some time.
On we go. A gaggle of frisky wives for my beta Lyrium Flower for her, as always, keen eye and wicked tongue. Huge thanks if you've followed or bookmarked and most especially if you've taken the time to comment - there's a Special Room in my mind shack that houses them all. It has slightly sticky floors. Slash, John x Sherlock.
It's fully dark when the tall figure finally approaches the formidable building after prowling the grounds for nearly three hours. He sweeps through the echoing corridors and eyes the few people he encounters with a grim satisfaction - pale men shrouded in black tend to cause rather a kerfuffle in a hospital nearing midnight - before heading for the wards. Ducking into a storage cupboard he stows his coat and, with a slight grimace, slips the stethoscope still acrid with lingering smells of antiseptic around his neck.
The ward is lit mostly from the nurses' station, the patients are indeterminate shapes huddled under cheap bedding. Hospitals all smell the same, he thinks, sterility and rot and sweaty despair. He nods at the nurse engrossed in a magazine at the ward desk and she spares him an uninterested glance before doing a slight double take. Perhaps expensive looking purple shirts aren't the norm for on-call doctors but he'll be damned if John sees him for the first time in almost a year and a half wearing one of those shapeless white coats.
"What's your name?" A flash of teeth underscores a coy glance. "I'm Claire."
"Locum doctor," he replies flatly, scanning the board behind her head before turning on his heel and leaving her mid-sentence.
Halfway down the darkened ward he pauses, eyeing the sleeping man before drawing the cubicle curtains and pulling over a nearby chair. The plastic is cold but it's a different kind of discomfort that propels him up again to circle the tiny space, tugging at his cuffs distractedly. Eventually he settles himself again with a quiet exhale, angling the chair away and ending up an awkward parallel to the man in the bed. Sherlock watches his restless movements from the corner of his eye for a long time, oddly reluctant to wake him. Eventually he flicks on the dim light set into the bed panel and leans forward, fingers pressed to his mouth thoughtfully
Eighteen months has changed John Watson. His hair is longer and a little greyer than before, in the wash of artificial light deeper furrows have been etched into the corners of his mouth and he looks thin. Sherlock's eyes move over the wrist resting at the edge of the bed. No watch mark. Either John's not been getting out much or has foregone his previously militant timekeeping. Both of these observations elicit a faint stab of anxiety and, head tilted, he turns towards him, resting elbows on bony knees to get a better look.
The soft scrape of metal on lino wakes John abruptly from confused dreams of bedlam and blood and he startles on meeting the intense silvery gaze of the man hovering inches from his face.
"It's me." He leans forward a little as the other man's eyes move over his face in confusion. Sterile. He smells of hospitals and not-John. I'll get him home and make him smell like himself again. "It's me, John. I'm alive." Be angry, be disappointed, be relieved, but don't send me away-
"It's me. I'll tell you everything. Wanted to avoid the others, too complicated, too dull. Bought you grapes - isn't that what people do?- ate them while I was waiting. Why is it so cold in here? Are they saving time by preparing their patients for the mortuary? The man opposite you. Next few days I'd say." There's a distant concerned noise from outside the cubicle.
Babbling, stupid, concentrate. John is staring at him in astonishment and Sherlock curses his inexplicable lack of composure with a shake of his head and snaps his treacherous mouth shut. "All right?" He manages finally, unnerved by the silence, by the lack of shouting, swearing or indeed any variant on surprise from his former flatmate at his miraculous return from the dead.
Sherlock frowns in confusion. Of all the reactions he's prepared for, this polite blankness had definitely not been on the mental list. He's sleepy but not confused, perhaps assumes he's dreaming or hallucinating. Outside chance he thinks I'm an imposter. Attentive expression, posture relaxed. I could be anyone. He's not concealing surprise, anger or fear. John's a terrible actor, I'd know. There is silence for a few moments while a vague foreboding coils in his lower gut.
"How are you?" Ventures John awkwardly.
"I hate hospitals. Full of sick people." He replies carefully, brain whirring and senses alert. "All that tedious human tragedy."
"That's unfortunate." John pushes himself more upright against his pillows. "Considering."
Sherlock narrows his eyes at him. "Considering what?"
"What you do for a living. I've got that stethoscope." John grins, pointing, and Sherlock notes distantly that the sudden childish delight scours years off his face.
"Of course you have, it's yours," he snaps. "I took it from your room." John's expression falters slightly.
"Do keep up, you're not - well, I've no idea what's wrong with you because I haven't read your medical notes yet, but I'm fairly certain it's not Alzheimer's and your brain doesn't appear to be falling out of your ears."
"You haven't read my notes but you've come to see me. Bit negligent, don't you think?" John folds his arms and fixes him with a piercing look that Sherlock feels physically as a cold hand pressed gently against his chest. He's seen this expression before many times of course but never directed against himself. He's been the target of admonishment, disappointment, stubborn refusal and a litany of other disapproving glares from John but never outright hostility. It's oddly unsettling.
"No." He springs to his feet making John flinch slightly at the sudden movement, brows lowering as he paces from one side of the cubicle to the other. "Something's not right, something's missing. What am I missing? Think."
"I am still here you know, you could always ask me. Or read my notes. Just a thought."
Sherlock turns to face him with a growl of frustration, moving quickly to place long pale hands either side of John's head, eyes raking him with a fierce concentration.
"Um. You're quite close…beginning to feel...uncomfortable." John presses himself back into the pillows, trying to retake a few centimetres of personal space. "Hello?"
Sherlock ignores him. The polite solemnity, the paucity of expression, the cane propped against the cabinet, the pad with scribbled notes in John's hand. The fact that he hasn't yet been shouted at or punched by the man he'd convinced of his suicide by making him watch. John's eyes skim over his chest and trousers. Looking for ID thinks Sherlock with a hitched breath. He closes his eyes briefly as the room tilts with the realisation.
"You don't remember me."
He straightens, icy fingers settling against his throat as John glares at him with deep suspicion. That's what's missing. My John.
"Why." He pivots away, pacing agitated circles before turning back. "You need to trust me, John."
"No I don't and frankly I should be calling security. You're not a doctor and you've managed to sneak in here after visiting hours. You've also broken into my flat and stolen my stethoscope-"
"I'm not, I didn't and it was necessary."
"I'll say it again who are you? If you don't tell me right now I'm pressing that buzzer."
"Your...flatmate," Sherlock stumbles slightly over the word.
"No-one's mentioned you." The hand pushes harder, a chilly claw sinking through his ribs as he drops into the nearby chair with none of his usual grace. "In fact no-one's told me much of anything," adds John, frustration hardening his already steely tone.
"I've been away. Heard you were in hospital." His jaw aches suddenly and he realises his teeth are clenched tightly together. He relaxes by degrees although the spectral hand remains fisted in his chest; his eyes prickle uncomfortably in the dry air of the ward.
"God help you if you're lying to me," says John fiercely. "What with tests and questions and people avoiding any sort of helpful answer I've had it up to here with all of this."
"I've no reason to lie. We share a flat in Baker Street. I couldn't get here until now, had to get in somehow so I appropriated your stethoscope."
John stares at him for a moment longer, visibly wavering, and then relaxes. "That keen to catch up, eh? Well, sorry to disappoint you." He heaves a sigh and scrubs at his hair. "Ok, fine. Baker Street?"
He rubs the back of his neck thoughtfully. "Nice. Last thing I remember I was living in some god-awful bedsit in the East End."
Sherlock says nothing, gaze in the middle distance and fingers steepled beneath his chin. Needs to eat more, thinks John, doctor instincts marching to the fore, taking in the shadowed eyes, the hollowed cheeks and the prominent bones of the other man's wrists.
"We live together, so..." John flails visibly over the correct phrasing, "...we're...?"
The description sits oddly on his tongue. Friends make you weak he'd said to John in the darkened lab, watching his face go slack with pain before tightening in anger as he'd steeled his own expression against showing anything other than cold dismissal. The term, thrown at the man who had become so much more, his warm regard permeating the chill of his self imposed barriers, had been used as an insult to keep him safe. Friend sat in the banal bracket of words including nice and small talk and to apply it to John, John whose steadying spectre had quietly taken up residence in his brain when he hadn't been looking, to apply the word friend to John was bordering on the repugnant.
This wasn't John, though, not his John, and until the mystery of the disappeared man had been solved, a focused, objective approach was key. Necessary.
Sherlock re-gathers himself, aware of the other man's curious appraisal, watching dust motes settle on the bedside cabinet in the weak slant of the cubicle lamp. Dust in human environments contains small amounts of plant pollen, human and animal hairs, textile fibres, paper fibres, minerals from outdoor soil and human skin cells. Skin turnover rate means this is John from a month ago. He traces an idle sigil through the thin layer on the nearby notepad cover. Perhaps by some miracle the month old John can be summoned from the fragments. This skin, this version of John would know him.
His lips twist. Stupid. Sentimentality makes you stupid. Focus.
"I'm sorry," says John finally. "It's been a long, really frustrating couple of days. Some of the people who've come to visit I recognise my mum, sister. They won't tell me anything either. This is ridiculous, he shakes his head in exasperation. "We live together for God's sake, why can't I remember you?"
Sherlock breathes slowly around the strangest sensation of weightlessness, dragging his eyes up to fix on the other man's face. He feels suddenly untethered and disorientated, like he's falling in reverse with nothing to anchor him. All that time away fighting, planning, hiding underground and passing unnoticed has hollowed him out, at times taken him so far away from himself he's almost a ghost in his own body. John. John was supposed to bring me back. Even at his lowest - exhausted, hurting, blood staining every inch of skin and drenching his clothes he'd managed to summon the memory of wide darkened eyes intense on his, gentle fingers stroking down his neck and belly to encircle him finally, the feel of John's mouth against his own-
"Are you all right? "
"I'm fine." He averts his eyes, focuses on the cane, curses himself for needing the comfort even as he reaches for the image again. "You said no-one's told you anything. Do you remember what happened?"
"Sometimes I think I-" John takes a deep breath and twists the sheets gently between his hands. "Flashes of...something. I don't know. That lady - our landlady? - found me unconscious in the - our- flat, called an ambulance. Woke up here. I remember everything up to moving back to London then nothing at all. Great big blank." He frowns. "I suppose it's a kind of-"
"Amnesia. Yes." Selective. Cane, remembers time as an army doctor and visiting family members, long term memory intact. Memories wiped from first few weeks of returning to London onwards. He's the John I moved in with.
"You didn't recognise me. Anyone else?"
"Er. That policeman, the landlady? She was quite upset, keep crying, I felt awful. Didn't stay long."
"Lestrade was here? What did he say to you?"
"You mean Greg? Not much. I asked him what happened just like I asked bloody everybody and he avoided the question as well, said it was best to leave it until I was feeling better. I thought he'd come to question me but it turns out he's also a friend which was a bit embarrassing as you can imagine." He falters at the blank stare directed at him. "Or not. Look, can you tell me anything?" John asks hopefully. He's getting the feeling that he and this tense, odd man have a friendship unfettered by social niceties. "I'm sure we've known each other...a while. No need to spare my feelings."
"I wasn't here. No idea what happened." He pauses at John's soft, vexed sigh. "Sorry I can't be of more help," he adds grudgingly but John notices his tone is tinged with frustration and a hint of...something else. If he remembered him he'd know what it was, surely.
"It's okay, not as if it's your fault." The other man thins his lips, expression darkening and John looks up at him curiously. "So...how did we meet?"
Sherlock sighs and runs flexing hands through his hair, ruffling the dark curls. "Mike Stamford introduced us. We were both looking for a flatmate."
"Stamford? From med school? Haven't seen him in years, last I heard he was teaching forensics at Bart's. Wait. You're not a policeman, are you?"
"Consulting detective. I work with the police." Sherlock rubs his arm absently. Definitely a two patch problem. "You don't remember running into Stamford. Recognise the names Molly, Anderson? Twat. Moriarty? Ring any bells? What about your blog?"
"Sorry, my what? No, I don't recognise any of those names."
Complete. Targeted. Not just me but everything associated with the time he spent with me. Brain damage? Possibly. Post-concussion syndrome also an option but memory loss too specific for retrograde amnesia. Deletion? He freezes suddenly in horror before forcing his limbs lax again. No. John neither has the concentration, technique nor access to the precise psychotropic compounds required.
Would he really delete me? Sherlock bites the inside of his lip gently. After everything-
You let him think you were dead, you made sure he saw you jump. The internal voice is angry, accusatory. John is sensitive, a fixer, high levels of innate compassion, regarded you as a close friend until the night before- he is aware of his stomach clenching at the memory of their first-last night together as Not Friends and breathes deeply, refocusing. He would have obsessed over the fact he could have done something to help you, maybe talk you down. A million 'what if's. Perhaps he decided he'd rather have not known you at all than have to live with the guilt afterwards. A spasm of hurt pierces him at the thought and, faintly surprised at the intensity, he files it away for later perusal. The unbidden image of the tense lonely figure hunched and shuddering in front of a fake grave takes longer to banish.
Deletion unlikely. Psychosomatic? Perhaps. First rule out physical damage, need more information on circumstances prior to admission.
"Back in a minute."
"Jesus," breathes John to no-one in particular, letting his head thump back against the headboard. He rubs his face briskly. "God knows what Stamford was on when he introduced us." Through the gap in the curtains he watches as the tall, lean figure pads across the ward and arrives at the nurse's station with a flourish, bending gracefully to lean on the desk.
"Claire," murmurs Sherlock, rolling the name around in his mouth as if tasting it. "So nice to see a friendly face in an unfamiliar hospital." He smiles, sudden, knife-bright, and adjusts his shirt collar, watching her flush, eyes on his throat. "I'll need John Watson's notes, please."
"No problem, Dr..?" She tears her eyes away and turns to pull the notes trolley closer, flicking through the files with practiced ease.
"Thank you." His smile vanishes as quickly as it had appeared as she turns away.
"I- oh. Sorry Doctor, I think the neurologists still have the notes. They'll bring them back with the scans when they do the morning round."
Sherlock presses his lips together in irritation. "Not to worry," he snaps and is off again down the ward.
"I'm going back to the flat," he pronounces, dropping the stethoscope into John's lap with a theatrical shudder. The patient in the bed opposite grunts in annoyance.
"Wait," John shoots upright. "You're not...I mean, you're staying for a while, aren't you? Not going away again?"
"I'll see you tomorrow, John."
"Visiting hours, I hope." He attempts a smile which is laced with something that, if Sherlock isn't over-analysing - an impossibility, he's decided - looks a lot like fear.
"No." Sherlock holds his gaze for a moment, expression unreadable. "Tomorrow you're coming home."
"Hang on. I hate to ask but you haven't told me your-" the curtains snap shut behind the departing figure, "-name."
John sighs and shakes his head in bewilderment, blinking spots out of his vision rapidly as if he'd been caught staring at the sun too long. His heart rate slows by degrees and he frowns at the sudden rush of anxiety that the other man's abrupt departure has engendered. I must remember him on some level if I'm worried he's suddenly going to up and bugger off. His throat tightens at the thought and the cubicle seems so much darker than when it was filled with pale skin and frenetic purple tailoring. Enough. Think about it tomorrow. He pushes the worry firmly to the back of his mind; a sweeping fatigue has leadened his bones, intent on pressing him back into the lumpy mattress.
Tomorrow you're coming home.
"Looking forward to seeing how you manage that one," he mutters and falls asleep to the unsettling image of ice blue eyes searching his own desperately for any hint of recognition.
Again huge thanks and a shimmy of Sherlocks for my beta Lyrium Flower. Slash, Sherlock x John
Sherlock exits the hospital at speed. St. Mary's is just a few miles from the flat and he elects to walk rather than hail a cab, trying to work the quivering out of his limbs, a combination of exhaustion and slowly ebbing adrenaline. He strides purposefully, wrapping his coat around himself, the slap of his shoes against the pavement in counterpoint to the dull, bone-deep throb in his chest beating a steady rhythm of doesn't remember me doesn't remember me with every few steps. Rounding a corner near Baker Street he stops under the neon wash of a streetlamp and peers up at a nearby CCTV camera which seems to swivel in confusion over his still figure for a few moments. He mouths a single word, darting a belligerent glare at his distorted reflection before walking onwards.
John's face, usually so reassuringly easy to read, flits through his mind, smooth, blank and suspicious. Curious organ, the human brain. Capable of storing and processing huge amounts of information yet so easily unbalanced by injury or, worse still – John opens his eyes, looks at me, a jolt of sensation unexpected and thrilling and I fumble my opening line - clouded by sentiment.
He eyes a passing pedestrian. Security guard, underworld dabblings, unsure about his sexuality, Owns a Bengal cat, male. Deductive capabilities perfectly intact except where this John is concerned -he's scrubbed clean, reset, a virtual stranger - which is both frustrating and unnerving, a puzzle to be unravelled and picked at. A distraction is what it is, a snide voice whispers at the periphery of his awareness. Distracting yourself from the pain and disappointment- he shakes his head angrily and refocuses. Too many voices, too much time alone. More data needed - John's preceding state of mind, clues from the flat. Need context. Too early to contact associates. At least some information was inbound after his little display in front of the camera, hopefully enough to start running hypotheses as to what might have occurred to cause such a catastrophic death of personality, what might reverse it. What is required to bring him back. Any other outcome is unacceptable, inconceivable.
"I'll bore holes in his head if necessary," a passerby shoots him a look equal parts surprise and consternation at his sudden outburst and he glares at them until they look away.
First, postulate. Formal testing would begin when John arrived home.
The hallway is dark and silent as he eases the door open, stowing his picks carefully. No screen flicker from under Mrs Hudson's door either out or in bed early, probably the latter - John's condition will have upset her.
Not so easy, this caring lark.
Scuffs from heeled shoes (size 4) outside the door, carpet worn thin, marks on the wood, metallic scrape, faint scent of hairspray. He pictures Mrs Hudson climbing the stairs awkwardly, tray in hand, and knocking on 221B. Putting her ear to the door, hair gently brushing the wood, waiting five, ten minutes to no answer before heading downstairs again with a fretful shake of her head.
The door is still unlocked from earlier when he'd slipped in unseen to grab the stethoscope before hurrying off to the hospital. Then he'd had tunnel vision, intent on getting in and out as quickly as possible. Now he stands in the living room and looks around, a long, slow appraisal.
Most of his things are gone. The papers, journals, reference books all likely packed or thrown away. The skull remains, however, although it is turned inwards, away from the room - interesting - he files this away for later, and his violin case is on the bureau. His chair still faces John's.
Scratches on the floorboards. My chair dragged out into the hallway then dragged back in again. Leather clean, unused. He flicks a glance at the squashy seat opposite. Dusty, also unused. Both chairs angled just so. Ah. Moving to the window he can see the boards there are worn to a shine. John standing here in socks or slippers, red wine splashes on the floor, smears on the lace where he twitched the curtain to peer down onto the street. Long, quiet evenings. Turning every now and again to look at the two chairs. Perhaps trying to invoke the image of two men comfortably ensconced, talking easily. Oh, John.
A phone handset lies abandoned on the desk. Broken fingernail lodged between keys, slick of blood. Mrs Hudson dialling frantically. The violin case lies proximate and he flips it open, runs the pad of one finger over the strings. The wood is clean and polished. Mrs Hudson wouldn't have touched it. Must've been John. An image of him running a cloth, gently, reverently over unyielding curves threatens to undo him and he snaps it shut again, moves towards the kitchen.
Clean, tidy. He opens the fridge then a cupboard. Nothing remotely edible. No mugs. Two in the sink. A careful finger along the skirting board reveals shards of pottery. The table is askew, smear of blood on one corner, empty tumbler resting up against the oven and he tilts his head before crouching thoughtfully. Sat at the table with a drink, lost his balance or passed out and struck his head on the corner. A trace of blood on the lino, shards of glass prick his questing finger. Thin vial perhaps? If so removed by paramedics. What did he take? What was he given?
The low growl of a car pulling up outside catches his attention and he moves quickly to peer out of the window without revealing too much of himself. The click of heels on the pavement and the thump of a package hitting the hallway floor follow but he waits until the dark estate has pulled away before retrieving it. He shoulders his coat off to pool on the floor, flicks on the desk lamp and throws himself onto the sofa, blinking against the sudden cloud of dust which surrounds him, tearing into the parcel impatiently.
A sleek, shiny handset slides into his lap - he switches it on, fully charged; it bleeps immediately. A file, notes, reports within a manila folder. He reluctantly flicks a glance at the glowing screen.
I trust you will find some of this illuminating. You received my message about Doctor Watson's misadventure, then. Curious only took you a few hours to get to him, you must have been local. -M
Clever to put it on his blog. Shot in the dark that I'd read it though. Don't tell me you weren't convinced, I was very thorough. Chasing down Moriarty's final agent, last known whereabouts London. Now piss off. -SH
There is a brief pause, Mycroft likely barking orders down his phone.
I will circulate the details if you're inclined to share. John will be released to your care tomorrow. Be cautious. -M
Despite himself Sherlock gives an exasperated huff tinged with reluctant amusement which quickly dissipates as the screen flashes.
My condolences -M
He is about to toss the handset aside when it buzzes again.
It is good to have you back in the land of the living, little brother.
The file is disappointingly slim. A photo of John in formal dress, medical reports from Afghanistan, borderline indecipherable handwritten notes from his recent admission.
Emergency admission: Seen by Dr Kuriyan A+E Consultant.
22:57 Unwitnessed collapse ?cause. Found by landlady, also accompanying patient. Thought to be depressed, post traumatic stress disorder, multiple contributing factors. Superficial head injury on admission GCS 10/14.
23:37 GCS 13/14 drowsy but alert. Full external exam normal. No recollection of events prior to admission, retrograde amnesia dating back approximately five years ?traumatic ?psychological. Screen for toxins, MRI head, refer neurology and psychiatry for assessment.
The MRI is normal, no physical damage seen. He frowns at the toxicology report. Negative for everything bar alcohol and...Midazolam? He accesses his memory. Often used as a pre-med, induces drowsiness, anterograde amnesia, mild short acting memory suppressant, insomnia in excess. A plethora of predisposing factors, no one cause. He hurls the file irritably in the general direction of the desk and springs to his feet, pacing the room in short, frenzied bursts. Nothing. Psychological, then. Not as if it hasn't happened before. His friend's brain, usually so placid and predictable, has betrayed him again. Not content with hobbling the man it has now decided to scrub itself clean of all matters Sherlockian. But how? And why?
More information. Mycroft? Last resort. Lestrade? Too soon. No. Need to talk to John again. Only John would do. Perhaps if he-
"Oo-oo John, dear?" He freezes as a vision in lurid floral housecoat and pink rollers appears in his periphery but it's far too late to hide and in his agitation he has missed the shuffle of slippers on the stairs. "You should have told me they were letting you go, I would have oh-"
A faint whimper and there is a sudden puddle of Mrs Hudson in the doorway. Sherlock throws his head back and sighs noisily, briefly contemplating leaving his erstwhile housekeeper where she lies whilst he heads back to hospital to interrogate John before deciding that this is probably in the region of Not Good. Instead he picks her up and props her upright on one corner of the sofa before sitting awkwardly beside her and retreating into his former deductive state. He is halfway through compiling a list of short-acting, potentially mind-altering agents to which John could have been exposed when she stirs, mutters and falls across his lap with a squeak. He levers her up with one steadying hand, holding her at first terrified, disbelieving and then utterly ecstatic gaze until eventually her face crumples and she burrows into his shoulder.
"It's all right, Mrs Hudson."
She recovers enough to make them both tea and he darts downstairs to fetch milk, an odd guilt twisting in his chest every time she reaches out wrinkled fingers to check if he is still real and not simply a sherry-induced hallucination. They sip in silence for a while whilst she settles herself enough to finally stop shivering.
"I thought you were John."
"Don't you obviously me, young man! You swan off God-knows-where and let the poor man think you're dead, let all of us think you're - eighteen months! - not that I'm not pleased you're back, dear," she pats his arm absently, "but he's had a terrible time of it. Terrible. We all have."
"Tell me about John."
"The poor love. You'd think he'd get himself up and going after so long but lately he just seemed to get worse. Not eating, in and out all hours of the night and all that pacing and I thought you were bad no offence, dear, but I'd take violin playing over crockery smashing at three in the morning any day of the week, I tell you. I blame myself, though." She grimaces slightly and then takes another sip. "And your bloody brother."
"Oh yes," she nods, eyes darting guiltily. "He visited one day after, you know, and asked if I would help persuade John to stay here. Less rent but he said he'd make up the rest. Our little arrangement, he said." She quails under Sherlock's suddenly tight expression. "It was me too. I couldn't bear it if both of you had Her eyes fill with tears again and he resists the urge to shake her for forcing John to stay, for colluding with his oh-so-reasonable snake of a brother. "So I told him I couldn't cope with him moving out," she whispers. "I made a mistake. I didn't really think it was healthy for him to stay here with all your things and I thought he'd say no but he just...shrugged and agreed. Like it didn't really matter to him either way. Oh dear."
Mycroft. He forces down a snarl. Oh yes, under the guise of keeping an eye on poor, grieving John he'd subtly circulate the fact that Doctor Watson still resided in 221B just in case any of Moriarty's cartel decided trying their hand at revenge killing to toady up to the next in command as a way up the career ladder. As elegant and calculating a way of mopping up the UK stragglers as he could come up with without being too overt. Bastard.
"What happened, Mrs Hudson?"
"I don't know, Sherlock, I really don't. He was better for a while and then it all started again."
"'In and out all hours'. Drinking. Pacing. Obvious. Did he eat any of the food you left for him?"
"No, he- how did you know-?"
"I don't know, Mrs Hudson, I see. He'd given up work, didn't he tell you?"
"Shirts un-ironed, doctor's bag not touched for months. Wouldn't let you in to see the state of the flat. Dusty, uncared for." Like John. He grits his teeth against a flare of anger. "John was displaying signs of a clinical depression but why now? After all this time? He got better and then worse, you said. Why?"
"Rhetorical. You've already said you don't know," He's furious and wants nothing more than for her to leave to get out so he can think clearly and smothers a sigh as she wrings her hands. "Go away. I need to think."
He forces a vaguely apologetic expression onto his face despite his impatience and pats her arm awkwardly. "Please, Mrs Hudson. For John."
She blows her nose noisily and nods, swiping at her eyes. "Will you be able to make him better?"
"Naturally. Given time." He eyes her sidelong. "And privacy."
"Well, alright then. I'm sure I'll hear the whole story eventually," she says reprovingly. "You know I don't like to ask too many questions." Wobbling to her feet she moves slowly to the hallway and he forces down the sudden, graceless urge to push her out.
"Please, no gossiping about my miraculous return, Mrs Hudson, I have unfinished business which depends on discretion."
"But you'll-?" he closes the door firmly on her worried face before she can finish.
John's room provides no further clues, neat, ordered. Bed made, no lingering scent - not slept in recently - clothes hung un-ironed. The room is as empty and sterile as his hospital cubicle. Bathroom. Toothpaste, toothbrush, vitamins (new), he still uses the same soap and shampoo. Sherlock closes his eyes briefly and lets the familiar surround him. Clean in here, John never could stand a dirty bathroom.
One room remains. He's been avoiding this room, the one where they came together finally as something other than friends all those months ago.
He's trying to hide, John's disappointed in him, doesn't understand the hurt the surfeit of emotion too much too much it has to be broken down, analysed and stored before it overwhelms completely. He escapes but he's not quick enough, he can't hide from John - was he really trying that hard? John pushes him to the bed, won't let him run won't let him hide and makes him talk makes him expose his soul and then kisses him. Kisses away the shame and the hurt so easily, navy blue eyes on his, warm, confident hands on his body. Safe, he says. Safe here. Sensation, new and old and waves of pleasure and he's surrendering, riding the waves until with a cry he's beached, shuddering and overwhelmed, yes, and naked and newborn and cradled and he's unable to remember why was this something to be feared. He's holding him as Sherlock comes down as he whispers into his damp skin a supplication John, John, John-
The intensity of the memory is unexpected and he shivers, suddenly hard and hollow, standing in the doorway of his old room. It's dim, empty although the bed is made, and an echo of sadness permeates the space. There's a depression in the quilt and he drops to his knees, lays his head close, dark curls against white cotton smelling shampoo and fabric conditioner and a faint waft of red wine. He presses a firm hand against his groin, willing his mind clear even as his body rebels, resisting the urge to curl around the imprint a small huddled man has left behind. Pushing himself away with a sharp inhale he stands, straightens his jacket and then leaves, closing the door firmly behind him. Get it done.
He circles the living room.
Psychological cause fits. Depression, insomnia, alcohol. Drug use uncharacteristic but easy enough to factor in. Desperate, not sleeping, takes hypnotic to help him drop off. Can't rule out suicide attempt gone wrong- he sits, knees buckling as a rush of nausea hits and breathes deeply, eyes closed. Will find out for certain once we regain his memory. This is good. Psychological blocks can be circumvented, smashed if need be. Just a question of finding the weak spot, running a finger over to find the cracks. He arranges himself comfortably on the sofa, regretting the lack of nicotine patches and begins accessing the requisite data, only half aware of the grey tendrils of dawn which begin to shade the hollows of his face over the passing hours.
He is finally roused by the scraping of wheel hubs against the kerb outside and rolls to his feet, straightening his jacket self-consciously. Uneven footsteps climb the stairs as he moves to stand in the centre of the room, hands jammed into trouser pockets. Despite himself he flinches as the key rattles in the lock but determinedly focuses on the shiny toes of his shoes, it won't do for John to see him so nervous, he needs John to trust him, to-
There's a sharp intake of breath and his head flies up. John is standing in the doorway and looks curiously around the room no change in expression no recognition he's still a stranger before he offers Sherlock an awkward smile. The source of the sound loiters in the hall behind him.
Staring in utter shock whilst simultaneously scrabbling at the holster under his raincoat, white-lipped, eyes as wide as saucers, is Lestrade.
A great rousing cheer for my heroic beta Lyrium Flower who as always performs above and beyond the call of duty - may she one day have the chance to properly over-clock Sherlock's processor. Slash, slow build Sherlock x John.
On cue there is a sudden gust of wind which rattles the windowpanes as they stare at each other, the smaller man a momentarily forgotten figure between them. After a few frozen seconds Sherlock manages an impressive eye roll which somehow seems to involve his entire body and at this Lestrade simultaneously relaxes and remembers to breathe, drawing an amused look from John.
"Need a bit more exercise if you're this bad after one flight of stairs, mate. Thought policemen had to be fit."
Lestrade grunts and opens his mouth to address Sherlock who purses his lips and shakes his head minutely, glancing at John who has pottered over to the bookcase.
Later. Privately. Lestrade snaps it shut again, suddenly grey faced and unsteady on his feet. He scrubs a hand viciously over his eyes and mutters to himself. Sherlock ducks his head to try and make out the words but the hand is suddenly removed and replaced by a watery glare.
"Right then," says Greg, out loud and over-brightly. "Glad to see you've popped in to look after Doctor Watson. Staying long?"
"I live here, Detective Inspector," snaps Sherlock, "and I'm not deaf. Thank you for dropping him off. Mycroft's work, I presume?"
Lestrade grunts again, eyes still moving over him disbelievingly and after another short stand-off involving a lot of meaningful staring, shifts his attention to John who is now looking from one to the other in faint bemusement. "See you later then," he says, raising a hand.
"Oh. Right. You're not staying...?" John shoots an anxious glance at Sherlock who turns away, jaw clenching at his obvious discomfort. "Tea?"
"Lovely," replies Sherlock, leaping forward to steer Lestrade towards the door. "Kitchen that way. Well I'm sure you're very busy, Inspector."
"Sherlock, it's Sunday-"
"Is it? Well, lots to do, I expect." He frogmarches Lestrade into the hall and towards the front door, scowling at him when he resists halfway down the stairs and turns to face the taller man stubbornly. "Look-"
"Later," he hisses before scurrying back into the flat and slamming the door behind him.
Lestrade stands by his car, breathing deeply and resisting the urge to look up at the window, feeling eyes on the back of his neck. Eventually he yanks the door open and leans on it. "Bloody hell."
Sherlock lets the curtain fall back into place and turns away from the window, thumbing through the address book on his phone. Thorough as always, Mycroft. A list of numbers has been pre-programmed into the device with no less than three contacts for the man himself. Twat.
"Wasn't sure how you took it," calls John, hovering in the kitchen. "Haven't got many mugs, have you?" Sherlock suppresses a wince at the 'you' in place of the expected 'we' and forbears to mention that John himself probably worked his way through their albeit small collection of crockery if the splinters in the skirting board are anything to go by.
"Right." John places a mug carefully on the small coffee table and after a brief hesitation, lowers himself into the squashy chair cradling his own and looking up at him. "So. Sherlock, is it? I, uh, it got a bit too embarrassing to ask after a while."
Sherlock attempts an answer but it seems his brain has been rendered temporarily offline by the sight of John, John, in his chair in their flat and the previously oppressive room is brighter and warmer and even the rain on the windows is comforting because he's finally home and everything's-
"Interesting name. Where's it come from?"
Stupid, inane small talk he thinks feverishly, eyes still on the honey glints in John's hair. It's not important. He shakes his head, a sharp left to right.
But John is. Conversation is an essential precursor to intimacy where shared experiences are lacking. I need him to trust me.
"Old English term for 'bright hair'," he manages, detesting himself.
"Oh." John returns to his tea.
Sherlock rifles through his tiny reserve of conversational topics, seats himself carefully opposite, and takes a breath, steeling himself for the little deaths that banal conversation typically engender.
"Bit of a misnomer then," adds John.
Sherlock exhales noisily and hurls himself back out of the chair, nearly upsetting the coffee table which now wears a fragrant layer of brown liquid.
"Watch it- !"
"You're John Watson. We lived together for 18 months and we solved numerous crimes which you then blogged about. We came up against a criminal mastermind who forced me to fake my own death in order to save you from being shot in the head and I've spent the last year or so trying to wipe out his web of associates to prevent the same. Now I come back to find you've been wandering around in a depressive torpor, possibly tried to kill yourself, not sure yet, but you've certainly been indulging in a frankly infantile way and have subsequently idiotically managed to wipe your own memory. No-one else wants to share this with you because they're probably afraid you'll go all out psychotic - unlikely, given your history - or dissolve into rampant self-pity - much more likely - if they by some happy accident manage to jog you into remembering how and why it happened. It's boring psychology, John. Pedestrian. Your brain has thrown up a protective block, we just have to find a way through it. Cause, effect. Elementary. What's the last thing you remember?"
There is silence whilst John's mug tilts dangerously, punctuated only by the repetitive strike of dress shoe on floorboard.
"Come on, think."
The air seems to congeal around them as his face hardens. "Piss off."
Brows knitting in confusion Sherlock pivots mid pace and stares at his flatmate as John slams his mug down on the beleaguered table, folding his arms, raising his chin in a way that's achingly familiar. Not thinks Sherlock dazedly, how this was supposed to go. He has a sudden unnerving memory of the refectory at university, a small knot of jeering students laughing as he stalks away, face tight with rage.
"Kill myself? Ridiculous - and I was so depressed – at what? – your absence? So my psyche protected itself by getting rid of you altogether?" He breaks off to chuckle humourlessly. "I'm beginning to get a sense of the size of your ego, mate. I smacked my head. Ever heard of post-concussion syndrome?" He pauses, frowning. "Hang on, this isn't your idea of a joke, is it? Masterminds? Fake deaths? Because I tell you it's not particularly funny."
"I'm not mental!"
"I cured your limp!" Snaps Sherlock.
"You use a cane, there's very little damage to your leg. It's psychosomatic. The reason you got sent to that useless therapist in the first place. I cured it for you. So yes, in a way you could say you are a bit-" he breaks off and goes back to his pacing, worrying at his lower lip with a finger.
"How did you sort my leg out then?"
"I made you run around a bit," A dismissive flap of the hand before he stills, the other rummaging in his trouser pocket. I'm a tailored teapot mutters a voice in John's head and he shoves down a rising tide of anger at the offhand response to his shameful disability.
"What?" He repeats irritably. "You cured my limp by making me run around a bit – are you even listening to yourself?" There's another wave of the long, pale hand whilst the other is busy texting and John gives up, sinking back into the chair, scalding his tongue with furious swallows, concentrating on the burn until the anger has ebbed away a little. Mad flatmate or not, it's the only accommodation he has and clearly he's managed to cope before - best to try and ride it out, at least until he's found an alternative.
Need a case – SH
Don't be bloody ridiculous. I'm still trying to get my head around you not being dead.
It's important, Lestrade. I need John to trust me before I can attempt to fix him – SH
You mean you need John to LIKE you, Mr Fix-it, before he'll let you mess with his head. Impress him some other way. Show him your website or something.
"That didn't work first time around," he mutters, shoving the phone back into his pocket with one final, baleful glare at the screen before throwing himself theatrically onto the sofa and fixing his gaze on a point on the ceiling. Connection. Need to forge a connection. Can't intrigue him with observations about himself, he knows I probably know everything there is to know about him. He respected my intellect, yes, but no showcase currently. People always say first impressions linger. Impossible to recreate lab environment, conversational repetition worth a try.
Not knowing what else to do John sips his tea more slowly and wonders if he still keeps his old gun around, just in case. He's beginning to think that his odd flatmate has the capability to fall asleep with his eyes open when said flatmate's head swivels suddenly, bright gaze skewering John with its intensity.
"How do you feel about the violin?"
Sherlock rolls off the sofa and takes a careful step forwards. "I play the violin when I'm thinking." He inches closer, expectant eyes still on John's, voice soft and oddly singsong. "Sometimes I don't talk for days on end-"
John stands abruptly. "Look. Stop. Whatever it is you're doing, stop it."
"I'm trying to help you. Now shut up and concentrate." Sherlock is still creeping towards him, face set. "When I met you for the first time and said 'Afghanistan or Iraq' you looked surprised-"
"Please." John rubs his eyes tiredly. "Please. I'm tired and extremely weirded out by yo- by all of this. I appreciate what you're trying to do but could you just bloody back off for a while?"
There's a sharp flurry of movement, a flash of bared teeth and a laptop arcs towards him, landing on his chair with a muffled thump.
John flinches violently and finally succeeds in upending the coffee table, sending hot tea and pieces of broken crockery flying in all directions. Sherlock rolls his eyes and scoops his coat from the floor, tugging on his gloves with a scowl which encompasses both John and the blast radius of one of their few remaining mugs.
"Wait," John's eyes are wide. "Where are you-? Are you going out?"
"Business to attend to."
"Back later," he gestures at the laptop peremptorily. "Look me up. Look yourself up. By the time I return we might have something to talk about." A swift curl of black and he's gone, leaving a wash of cold air in his wake.
John stays frozen in place for a good few minutes after the front door bangs shut, heart leaping crazily in his chest. The flat suddenly feels huge and overbearing, like he's caught in a fish eye lens and the scenery is unfurling oppressively around him. Breathe. Breathe. You've run headlong into fire fights, stitched up squaddies under mortar fire. You can cope with a few hours alone in a strange flat, for God's sake. Your strange flat, he amends. Without your strange flatmate.
"My flat," he tries. Unfortunately saying it aloud doesn't make it any more familiar and he slumps back into the armchair as an unexpected wave of fatigue hits him. Just being around Sherlock is exhausting – the nervous energy, the expectation - God knows how he coped with it for 18 months. But there is something arresting about those sharp eyes and all that fluid movement, the velvet timbred baritone. Something that pulls at him, keeps him off balance, makes him wonder what's coming next. Wonder if he has a girlfriend? If he does she must have the patience of a bloody saint. Later, when things have calmed down a bit, he''ll attempt a proper conversation - if that's even possible with someone like Sherlock who seems to fire on all cylinders with a dizzying intensity.Should clear up that mess is the last coherent thing he thinks before his head lolls and he's almost instantly asleep.
Beer, sofa, football, crap weather. It should be the perfect Sunday afternoon bar a roast dinner magically appearing but somehow Greg Lestrade can't bring himself to enjoy it properly, not with a tall, dark pain in the arse sprawled over half his couch looking almost as dead as he was previously believed to be. Incongruously Sherlock is rolling a beer between two long fingered hands although he grimaces preciously with each small sip, letting his head loll against the back of the sofa in between pecks at the bottle.
"Tell me again why you're here?"
Sherlock flicks him a sidelong look and doesn't bother to reply.
"At least tell me how you're not dead or why I shouldn't be breaking your nose. We all saw the...body. Afterwards."
"Don't be dull. Besides I'm sure my brother's contacted you by now," He mutters darkly. "He's nothing if not thorough."
"Sherlock-" Lestrade turns towards him, prepared to shout or shake some sort of response out of the man but the words die in his throat when he sees the bruised looking shadows under his eyes, eyelashes fluttering against too prominent cheekbones as one hand comes up to rub at them. He's never seen Sherlock look so weary or pale, never seen him so unguarded before. If he's honest with himself he didn't think the detective capable of showing much outside of focused excitement or his habitual disdain - perhaps it's for little moments like these that John stayed with him all that time. The glimpses of the man underneath the layers of cold logic. It doesn't last long though as the other man tenses under his regard and swivels his head to stare at him.
"What happened to John whilst I was away?"
Lestrade shrugs, disconcerted by the heat in the usually icy gaze. "Dunno. We met up a few times in the beginning. Poor bloke was devastated, could barely hold it together. I seriously thought he might just-" Sherlock rolls his head away, fixing his gaze on the ceiling again as Greg takes a large steadying swallow of his beer.
"We all tried to keep an eye on him, your brother included," he continues - at this there's a rude snort, "and he looked like he was coping better after a while. Socialised more although he still refused to come to the Yard. Went back to work-"
"Was he seeing anyone?"
"Nah, said his therapist was useless." There's a twitch of Sherlock's mouth and he visibly forces the next question past gritted teeth.
"Was he sleeping with anyone, Lestrade." Important. Need to know if John had attempted a return to normality. Necessary information. The thought of John with someone else tightens the ever-present knot in his chest, the one that coiled itself around his heart when he first realised he'd have to leave him all those months ago. Concentrate on the answer.
"No-one that we knew about," Greg replies carefully, watching Sherlock's set, still profile, his whitening lips. "Didn't mention anyone." He watches the other man's eyes drift closed and wonders at the sudden drop in tension. "What I don't understand is that he was doing okay but then he just disappeared. Stopped returning our calls-"
"How long ago was this?"
"Six months, give or take."
Sherlock rubs at his arm, considering, and after a brief pause Greg reaches into his pocket and throws a battered packet of patches at him. He catches his eye as Sherlock inclines his head. "Thank you," he says slowly before working two out and onto his forearm with practised ease.
"A year. A year of grieving, long enough to re-adjust and re-enter 'normal' life. Then six months ago he relapses and begins cutting people off, isolating himself again. Something must have changed," he murmurs, feeling the tingle of nicotine working its way through his heavy limbs, lifting and reordering his scattered thoughts.
"Yeah, but what?"
"You must have some theories."
"Come on, Sherlock, you always have a theory. What are you thinking?"
"I'm thinking if I had anything viable to explore I wouldn't be sitting on this fetid sofa drinking this cat's piss," snaps Sherlock, pushing himself upright.
"Feel free to fuck off at any time. I don't know what changed, can't help you. Although," his brow creases, "your review was approved round about then..." He shrugs. "But that was a good thing, right? What with your recording of Moriarty, the evidence from your cases and all that. Shouldn't have sent him off the rails."
"It's next week by the way."
"Well you should, you prat. If you're cleared you can get back to being normal. Well, what passes for normal where you're concerned."
"Not 'til I find that last agent."
"Wasting time," mutters Sherlock, peeling what's left of the label off the bottle in impatient strips, nails scraping against the glass.
"Yes you bloody are!" Snaps Lestrade, suddenly furious at him, delayed shock and frustration snapping his last strand of patience. "You've left John all on his own – he's not well. The only reason you're hiding out here is because you're pissed off that your favourite toy is broken and you can't be arsed with the hassle 'til he's fixed!"
"Don't be absurd."
"You know you could actually help him out for a change, you selfish bastard, after buggering off and leaving him all on his tod. He thought you'd topped yourself, he thought he could have helped you - the man was a wreck!"
"I had to bugger off as you so eloquently put it, for his own protection." And yours he thinks bitterly, rising to his feet and wrapping his coat around him, directing a murderous look at the tense policeman.
"Oh, and that helps you sleep at night, does it? He's your best friend – your only friend as it happens - and you owe it to him to-" Lestrade sputters into outraged silence and looks up at him, lips pressed tightly together, shaking his head.
"He was my friend," Sherlock says eventually, voice so low it's almost a vibration in his chest. His eyes glitter strangely as he watches rain track down the windows. "- but he doesn't know me. He's excised me from his life, Detective Inspector, along with everything associated with our time together. The only person who knows what happened is John and there's no guarantee I can help him to remember. Especially now."
Lestrade's throat tightens at the flash of vulnerability on the detective's face, the exhausted droop of his shoulders and his mind calls up a flickering montage of the two men together, always side by side, heads bent close, sharing private jokes, exchanging whole sentences in single glances, looking to the other for reassurance and approval. Sherlock, pale and still as marble, arms tightly folded around his coat, cuts a lonely figure in his sitting room and suddenly he understands he is seeing one half of a whole, the cut edges ragged and bleeding. He's afraid. And exposed.
"I came here for information, not sympathy," states Sherlock stiffly, eyes hooded.
"Knew I should have invested in a tinfoil hat."
"Popular culture isn't your forte, is it? Ask Jo-," He breaks off on seeing the detective's mouth twitch in displeasure again. "Sorry."
Spurs score, an eruption of joyous susurration from the television. Greg barely notices.
"Make him remember," he says finally. "Sherlock, if anyone can do it, you can." For your own sake if nothing else.
Sherlock regards him silently for a few moments then gives a short nod. "I'll see myself out."
"Wait," Greg darts into the kitchen and reappears with a box, thrusting it at the other man who handles it as gingerly as he might an unexploded bomb. "Pizza. Doubt you've got anything in. Feed the poor man, will you? Looks like you could do with eating something as well." He hesitates, dragging a hand through his hair. "And for what's worth, I'm sorry about what happened. For listening to Donovan and Anderson."
"Well it is to me, just bloody let me say it. I'm sorry. About everything."
Sherlock nods again and moves towards the door, ignoring the prickle of Lestrade's concerned gaze following him out. He stops in the act of pulling it to and pops his head back in; Lestrade braces himself for Sherlock's patented Parting Comment. God help me but I've missed the smart-arsed wanker.
"Don't suppose you've got any spare mugs, have you?"
The flat is in darkness when he returns and his first thought is that John has gone out - not gone, don't let him have gone - but there is still a faint warmth in the sitting room and the institutional hospital smell lingers. He tosses the now soggy box on the table and is rewarded with a sharp inhale and the scrape of wood from near the mantel. Flicking on the desk lamp he sees that John is coiled in his chair, blinking in the sudden light and breathing heavily through his nose as if to steady himself.
"Sorry," mutters John, rubbing at his eyes, as if Sherlock frightening him awake were somehow his fault. "Fell asleep."
"I brought you dinner."
"Oh. Right. Thanks. Nice of you." He reaches for the box and makes his way into the kitchen, tottering slightly. Sherlock pads in behind him whilst he fiddles with oven knobs and plastic wrapping, extracting a variety of mugs from about his person and lining them carefully up on the counter. John huffs in amusement and directs a smile at him which Sherlock returns with a quirk of his mouth before un-looping his scarf and disappearing back into the other room, noting nothing has been moved since his departure. John must have fallen asleep almost instantly.
Food smells drift in from the kitchen, the rain and the splash of traffic outside is lulling and almost without being aware of it he has shouldered off his jacket and coat and picked up the violin from its case. Standing at the window he plucks at it, tuning, fingering the strings absently and tightening the bow, strands of horsehair releasing clouds of rosin at his swift pulls. He registers soft footsteps at the first arpeggio and the reflection of a small figure poised in the kitchen doorway appears in the window whilst he warms up, relishing the cool sting of the metal. The calluses are long gone from his fingers but his body remembers how to coax the music from the half forgotten instrument. What to play. He smiles faintly and starts with a jaunty, melodic tune, adding his own flourishes here and there, watching John relax and lean against the frame separating the two rooms. As he finishes he sees him duck into the kitchen, emerging with two steaming mugs before plonking himself down into his usual chair.
"I like that one. What was it?"
He shrugs, a vague movement of one shoulder, still watching his friend's image in the blurry pane of glass.
"No idea. It was playing in a bar we went into for a case. You were humming it for three days afterwards." Annoying. Distracting. Watched you fondly, you were only half aware you were doing it.
"And you remember the tune?" Sherlock turns at the tinge of admiration in his voice. John is looking up at him with an expression so familiar he nearly sighs in relief. "That's amazing. Have you always been able to do that?"
Sherlock inclines his head and swipes his bow across the strings, a classical piece, complex and melancholy. He turns again towards the window, losing himself in the music and memory and when he finally wheels back John has bustled in with food. He declines when offered, noting the way the practiced eyes sweep his thin figure with a worried frown but John refrains from commenting even though it's clearly on the tip of his tongue.
"This is nice," he says eventually around a mouthful of pizza. "Like having my own private recital. Did you play for me?"
"Played to shut you up more often than not," he replies and John laughs, bright and spontaneous, loosening the knot in his chest a fraction.
"You know, you should probably eat something," the plate is set on the table, a few slices of cheap supermarket food arranged less than enticingly.
"Later." He knows he shouldn't, knows he will regret it, this subtle baring of a fragment of his soul but all of a sudden everything feels so normal. There is warmth and music and John's concern - albeit lacking in the fondness that used to lace his gentle chiding - and he allows his guard down a little, lets his eyes fall shut, begins to play again. Plays a melody that was conceived in darkness, in silence and isolation, his hands picking out notes on a phantom instrument to distract himself from the wet and the cold and the pain. The music was a poem he never wrote down, existing only in his head until now in snatches of colour and hitching breaths. An ode to honey blond hair, comfort and regret, stark longing, bitter ashes and the tearing ache of separation. He wrings the notes from the violin with his eyes squeezed shut, swaying, insensible to everything, even the distraction of John's mug hitting the table, the squeak of his chair as he sits forward, the noisier breathing when his mouth drops open in wonder. He plays for the John that was, the things they have lost or forgotten and the words that never were.
When he comes to himself again, the last sonorous note has finally died away and he realises he is gasping as if he's just run a marathon; his throat aches with grief and his eyes are burning. John is still seated, hands tight on the armrests of his chair, eyes shining and mouth lax. "That was…incredible," he breathes. "What was that?"
"Doesn't have a name," Sherlock drops the violin back in its case and starts for the door, heart thundering in his chest, forcing down all the messy, sprawling emotions and hyper-aware of John hurriedly pushing himself to his feet behind him.
"You off out?"
"Going to bed."
He turns his head slightly, hand on his bedroom door. "Yes?"
"We can start tomorrow. If you like. You know, trying to jog my memory. If we haven't started already."
"Not yet." The music was the farewell that I never gave you, all the things I wasn't able to say. Too late.
He nods stiffly to John over his shoulder, feeling the almost palpable relief from the smaller man at this tiny acknowledgement. Maybe not too late.
"Tomorrow it is," he replies softly before closing the door behind him.
As always thanks, cool compresses and plentiful stalking opportunities to my beta Lyrium Flower who is as vital to this story as calibri font. An additional thank you to TSylvestrisA for dragging me away from dairy based divvil fingers and inspiring the concept of Reverse Acupuncture.
Slash, Sherlock x John
-insert title here-
Can't think of a title. Blog mark 2? Diary of a mentalist?
John Watson, veteran and ex-army medic. Trying very hard not to sound like a wanker or a teenaged girl. Okay. Sherlock's told me I used to do this all the time and he's suggested that if I start writing stuff down the familiar (tuned him out here as he started going on about synapses and neurotransmitters and breadcrumbs of all things, all the stuff I also used to tune out at medical school) blah blah might jog my memory so I agreed mostly so he'd leave me alone for five minutes. He looked very pleased with himself when I did. I get the feeling that's how he gets his way a lot of the time- by talking at you until you give in just to bloody shut him up.
Day one then. Not sure where to start, been very odd so far, started way too early. Also even though Sherlock's crashed out on the couch reading some arduous journal it's like he's still observing me, I swear the man's got eyes in the back of his head. Side of his head. Whatever. He's been doing that most of the day and it's unsettling and...I don't really know how to describe it...flattering's not quite the word but very nearly. Intense. Maybe it's what a lab rat feels just before it gets a shock or a treat and it's not sure which is coming next. Whatever it is it's giving me a strange performance anxiety and I'm watching everything I do, right down to how I rub my forehead God, I'm still knackered but that's hardly surprising.
I glared at him when he complained that I type at the speed of your average blind octogenarian- second sentence in for fuck's sake!- and he flounced off to the sofa. Now he's sighing loudly every time I hit the delete button, the annoying bastard, but this was his idea in the first place so I think I'm going to carry on doing it purely to piss him off. Mean's that this'll probably take twice as long but that's ok, my diary's pretty free today.
Feels like he's still staring but maybe that's a bit of paranoia left over from earlier on- more on that in a bit. I wonder if he can work out what I'm typing from the tone of the keys or the pauses between key strikes- frankly I wouldn't be surprised having looked at his old website this morning- more on that later too. Perhaps if I type we need milk we need milk we need milk we need milk...oh God he just snorted...
...no, must be something in the article he's reading. I'd better come up with a good password, just in case - I have no intention of anyone else seeing this, least of all him, so it's either that or a tinfoil hat!
Went to bed shortly after he did last night. Nervous about today, couldn't settle so poked around my room a bit. No gun as a far as I could see. Feels odd not having it at hand - not that I thought I'd ever end up using it but I liked having it around. A reminder of who I was. What I was trained to do. What I have done. Damn this hand, I keep missing the keys. Shit, he noticed that. Only a quick tilt of his head but I saw his eyes flick towards me. Weird eyes, pale and glittery, there's a sharpness to them I can almost feel especially when they linger, like pins and needles under my skin. Maybe that's a memory of sorts, don't know whether it's a good one or not yet.
Anyway, last night. Passed out eventually, could hear him pacing downstairs and almost yelled at him to take his bloody shoes off if he was going to keep on at it but fell asleep halfway through the thought. Had one of my nightmares, bad one. Fragments as usual- running, shouting, bodies one after another all bleeding out or dismembered. I don't have enough equipment, can't keep up, shots and explosions, terror. My shoulder on fire and blood everywhere then someone holding me down, a hand at my neck, in my hair, cool fingers on my pulse point and then I woke up, sweating, shaking, sheets everywhere God when will this bloody stop? Shoved my face into the pillow to muffle noises, shameful noises. Bad enough I have a psychosomatic limp, yes, we both know it's true but bollocks to admitting that to him let alone him hearing me crying into my pillow like a fucking girl. Got the strangest feeling someone was in the room though, rolled over and flicked on the light. Empty. Turned it off again and was just managing to drift when I remembered I'd shut the door before getting into bed and when I'd had a quick look around it had definitely been left open. Did I not close it? Had Sherlock been in my room, worse, had he seen me thrashing around like a complete twat? Had he been watching me sleep? Sudden intense paranoia. Was about to get up when music from downstairs - should have expected it, he did say he sometimes plays at 3am. Beautiful, though. Tune from earlier, the one he said had no name. Strangely warm, like being wrapped in a blanket of sound. Almost a lullaby. Think I fell asleep pretty instantly.
Came downstairs this morning to find him curled on the sofa, violin held tight against his chest like a child with a teddy bear. Wanted to ask him about last night but in the end decided not to wake him and went to make tea then sat in chair, leafed through old newspaper. He twitches a lot in his sleep, mutters, couldn't make out what he was saying but it didn't look like a pleasant dream. Least he wasn't sobbing into the couch or wetting himself. He flipped onto his back and for one surreal moment I thought he'd painted his nails red before I realised the fingers of his left hand were covered in blood. Strings of the violin too- couldn't help myself, got up quietly to have a closer look but he woke with a jerk as I approached, must have ears like a bat. Didn't say anything, just stared at me, contrary bastard, so I stared back. Eventually held my hand out but he made me move in order to grab his for a proper examination. Looked painful, fingertips macerated and bleeding. I asked him what had happened and he just said he'd lost his calluses. He must have been playing for hours, the daft git. Aware he was watching me intently, not a flinch although I must have hurt him. Plasters? In the medical kit he said, so off I trotted and fetched it from under the kitchen sink. Cleaned and dressed his fingers. Didn't occur to me until afterwards that I knew where it was without being told.
John looks up from the screen to see Sherlock quirk a brow at him. "Did I have to patch you up a lot then?"
Sherlock smiles faintly and returns his attention to the journal. "Well done."
Looks like I got the medical kit out a reasonable amount then! Sherlock seems pleased with this small victory, I can see his lips twitching. He's less impressed that each of the fingers of his left hand is now sporting a picture of Mr. Bump and every now and again he glares at them as if they're a personal affront to his dignity. As I said, small victories.
Hero (or in this case heroine) of the day award goes to Mrs Hudson who appeared with a massive fry-up just as I'd finished patching his fingers, don't think he'll be playing the violin for a while. He sat up straight as soon as she walked in and hid his hand behind his back like a naughty schoolboy. Seems he doesn't want to upset her- she keeps shaking her head at him so it looks like he's in the doghouse for a while longer although his disappearance clearly didn't send her Memento-style bonkers like it did me. Still brought him breakfast which he didn't touch. Haven't seen him eat a thing since I've been here unless he grabbed something whilst he was out so fetched some cutlery after she'd gone and pointed at his plate but he took himself off to his chair muttering that he never ate during a case. I'm a case, apparently. Should I be flattered?
I ate my breakfast at the kitchen table and eventually he came and loitered against the counter top watching me eat. Asked him what the plan was for today and I swear on my life, word for word, he said-
"We should start with the visual since we've already had a bit of aural which may have a more satisfactory outcome next time if we can get you going a bit first."
Obviously I sniggered but when I looked up he was watching me with a very peculiar expression on his face. Granted I had half a sausage en route to my mouth but still it was a mixture of confusion, surprise and a weird intensity. After that I didn't really fancy the rest of my breakfast.
Straight away he asked me if I was finished and then manhandled me to the desk without waiting for an answer, the bossy git. He then opened a laptop (my laptop) tapped in a password (must remember to change it) and directed me to two websites, his and mine.
I have a website! With followers!
He hovered as I was reading through his, loads of mad stuff on it, and at one point leaned over and jabbed at the screen when a bit he thought might particularly interest me came up - something about a pilot I think. Anyway, something that had been bothering me since I arrived was made blatantly clear right about then and I asked when the last time was he changed his clothes. Immediately felt bad because he looked stricken and backed away muttering something about not having had any opportunity but was quite insistent that he'd washed. He didn't smell terrible just a bit stale and I told him that. Turns out that rather than having a wardrobe full of identical clothes in a creepy 9 ½ weeks way he came back from wherever without any and hadn't got round to buying more. Ridiculous man. So I went upstairs and picked out a few things that might fit including a dodgy looking shiny dressing gown shoved down the side of the bed that must have been a present from someone and shooed him off to the shower. He picked up the hideous blue thing and looked at me very strangely again but didn't say anything. Like it or lump it, I said. It's that or walk around naked.
"You've gone red," Sherlock notes from his vantage point on the sofa.
"Hot in here."
Saw him throw off a quick text on his way to the shower, ten minutes later the doorbell goes just as I'm starting on my own blog having had my brain exploded by Sherlock's. Two of the most enormous men I've ever seen were on the doorstep you know, the kind dressed as though they've just stepped out of a Hollywood film about the CIA or are bouncers at a West End nightclub flanking a pretty brown haired woman carrying some suit bags. She handed me the bags with a wink whilst the gorillas set down a heavy box each and then they all headed off to an official looking car. As they moved away I saw a tall, smartly dressed man standing there under an umbrella. He nodded at me then looked up at the window making an unmistakeable 'call me' gesture. Sherlock's standing there and I see him make an unmistakeable 'fuck off' gesture in return so I assumed that they knew each other fairly well.
Lugged everything upstairs to find Sherlock still scowling down at the road so I asked him whether the smartly dressed chap was his boyfriend and he looked as though he might be sick. Not surprising, really, as the other man turned out to be his brother and I get the distinct feeling that these two do not get on at all. After that he stamped up and down in a massive strop muttering 'boyfriend' every five seconds and making retching noises. Not sure whether he objects to my mistaking his brother for his boyfriend or at the idea of having one at all. Perhaps he's a bit of a homophobe although I could have sworn...never mind.
Describe everything that happens in the course of your day, he said. Well that probably includes how ridiculous he looked stalking around the living room in a huff with dripping wet hair, wearing a girly dressing gown and a set of clothes about a foot too short for him, God the man is skinny. He asked rather tartly whether he now smelt satisfactory when I started laughing at his hissy fit so I made a grand show of sniffing him and proclaimed him adequate which got a small smile and an imperious toss of the head which covered me in water. Bastard! I'll get him for that later. Ceasefire achieved though.
"You won't," remarks Sherlock, peeking over his journal. "Get any sort of revenge for the soaking. Besides, it was deserved."
"Your expression. Mixture of thoughtful, anticipatory and devious. Obvious," he shakes out the page. "And you won't."
How the bloody hell does he do that?
Good thing is I feel more settled today, not sure whether it's because we've both relaxed a bit or I've discovered underneath all that energy and eccentricity he really can be quite charming, even funny. He's also rude, lazy, and obsessive but I'm beginning to see why I lived with him for eighteen months without going postal.
Looks like big brother has the means to supply him with new clothes, a large amount of oddly shaped glassware and bottles of Stuff, some of which got plonked on the kitchen table and the rest whisked into his room. He emerged looking as though he was off out to the theatre, very nice suit, expensive looking shirt and a waft of something that sparked a…memory, I think. Maybe a feeling, I'm not sure but it definitely made me shiver suddenly. Immediately he was right in my face, trying to pin down what had set me off- again, how does he do that?- it wasn't even a memory, more…déjà vu. Tell me he demanded. Quickly, what was it? A smell, I told him. Shut your eyes, he snapped. Sniff. Then he pulled me right up against him, stuck my bloody nose in his neck. Sniff!
Uncomfortable unsurprisingly, suddenly a bit difficult to breathe. Noticed he stiffened too, probably almost as uncomfortable for him. Come on, John, he said- he's so bloody impatient! Struggled to concentrate.
Shampoo, herbal, soap, camphor, some expensive cologne or other and a vaguely chemical smell…cough syrup or Red Bull or something.
Anything? He pulled me closer and moved his collar out of the way when I shook my head, inclining his head so I could reach. How can anyone have a neck that long and not die when they bend down for more than twelve seconds?
I sniffed a few times and then for lack of anything helpful to report asked if we used to play some sort of sniffing game and frankly if anyone came in and saw what we were up to…
Then he told me- with a sarcastic comment about not having paid attention to his precious website- that once between us we had tried to identify every type of women's perfume on the current market and ended up not being able to taste anything properly for an entire week afterwards. I got the giggles at the image of us surrounded by bottles, nauseous and reeking, making notes on JLo's latest which eventually set him off as well and despite my nose still being buried in the crook of his neck the tension dissipated just like that.
He finally let me go and it was just as well because the combination of his proximity, the nerves and the strangely affecting smells was setting off a different sort of reaction, one I think I'll have to process later, alone. Confusing. **REMEMBER TO CHANGE YOUR PASSWORD**
He then bullied me into writing everything down. Everything he said meaningfully so I have and that's pretty much all of today up until now/
"Finished?" Barks Sherlock making John jump slightly and miss the last full stop.
"Good. Start on your blog."
John gives a long-suffering sigh more for the sake of pride than anything else and calls up the blog, curious to see what the non-mental version of him has documented about the two of them. A few paragraphs in and his mouth drops open.
"Did you start at the beginning? With the pink woman?"
"Yes," replies John distantly, already riveted. "Jesus. So who shot the cabbie?"
"You were hardly going to admit to it in your blog, were you? That would be idiotic."
"Let me get this straight," John cradles his head. "I shot a civilian. A civilian."
"No, of course you didn't. I made you add that in just so you'd get more hits," says Sherlock, rolling his eyes. "He was a serial killer. It was necessary."
"To save your life."
"Obviously." Sherlock huffs and wriggles irritably on the sofa. "All this complaining. I preferred you when you followed me around without comment and just called me amazing every now and again," he grumbles.
"Nothing I was obliged to take any notice of."
John shakes his head and continues to read. What little sun there is pales across the room as they both read in easy silence, the sound of traffic outside marking the passage of time in muted roars. When he gets to the end he sits back, blinks a couple of times and runs nervous fingers through his hair.
"Well?" Sherlock is sitting up, journal face down on the couch beside him and fingers steepled under his chin. His eyes are jewel bright, flicking over John, expectant and unable to settle, and he feels a pang of regret by proxy as if he's failed at some important task.
"Nothing," he sighs. "I'm sorry," he adds as the brightness dims slightly. Even though the suited figure doesn't move, doesn't blink, there's disappointment in the set of his mouth and the angles of his bony shoulders. "I mean I wouldn't even know it was me who wrote it except for the photos of us together."
"Had written it." Sherlock stands up and moves to the window, shoving hands into trouser pockets. "I would. The sheer number of exclamation marks and the poor grammar alone scream 'John Watson excreted this'."
"Brilliant, thanks," sighs John. "The visual part done then or is there a written test next? Maybe an obstacle course?"
"Not quite," murmurs Sherlock, hands still steepled at his chin, backlit by the fading afternoon light and strangely ethereal in his stillness. "Describe me."
"Close your eyes. Describe me to the best of your ability. Don't open them until I say."
John shuts his eyes and immediately curses himself for being such an obedient little soldier to respond to the barked order so readily and against his better judgement. "Bloody hell. Alright, alright. Um, tall-"
"Startling. How tall?"
"Sod off! About six foot. Dark brown hair, curly, short. Pallid," he adds peevishly. "Skinny. I'd say your BMI's about your average bulimic's."
"BMI unimportant and unreliable. Besides, bulimics are often of normal weight. Eye colour?"
Fuck off. "Blue. Grey? Not sure. Pale. Bit feral."
"Carry on," Sherlock blatantly disregards the last jibe, much to his annoyance.
Maybe he thinks it's a compliment. "Suit, shirt, bit public school wanker, expensive. Dress shoes, scuffed." John folds his arms and waits.
"Is that it?"
"Pathetic," there's a pause and a wash of air against his face. "Again." John jumps at the voice now very close to his left ear. God, the man's like a bloody ninja. The complicated smell curls around him again, soap, camphor, clearer, deeper notes of sandalwood and leather.
"Fine. Six foot-"
"Don't just repeat yourself, any moron can do that. Quickly, without thinking."
John takes a steadying breath in through his nose lavender, cloves, mint, dust and earth – and clenches his hands on the armrests of the chair, rolling his neck in an effort to relax.
"Tall, thin, too thin- you don't eat enough- dark brown curly hair, recently washed, auburn highlights. Pale skin, sharp cheekbones, faint scar right eyebrow. Your eyes are," he hesitates, a waft of mown grass drifts past, "pale blue, streaks of grey or green, depending."
"Light, mood, clothes…" breathes John, lost in damp wool and something sharp and metallic smelling; he feels as though he is floating above himself, his other senses muted.
"Good." Puffs of breath on his cheek, John turns his head slightly as if seeking out sunlight, feeling warmth dance across his lips. "Continue."
"Your hair is uneven at the back, I think you've cut it yourself, recently. There's a scrape on your neck."
"I was in a hurry," the deep voice zings a tremor down his spine and John becomes aware he's sweating slightly. A pressure is building at the back of his head, a vast wave building, a clawing tightness climbing in his throat.
"Go on." Hands on his shoulders, familiar hands, long and pale, cool fingers at the pulse in his neck. Wait. Fingers at my neck-
John shoots out of the chair, gasping. "Were you in my room last night?" He points at a startled Sherlock accusingly.
"What does that matter? We were getting somewhere. Sit down."
"Not until you bloody tell me. Were you?"
"It doesn't matter. You were starting to remember something, your pulse was racing, you were becoming anxious. Not at my proximity - not by a rise of thirty beats per minute, flattering as that would be - no, something else, something other than the physical, something emotional. Then you go and ruin it by blathering something completely inconsequential and now we've lost the trail again. Oh, very clever."
"I'm not doing it on purpose! And you haven't answered my question!"
"Of course you aren't," Sherlock flaps a vague hand at him, turning away, "protective fight or flight reaction. Hm. Promising." He stands thoughtfully for a moment then scoops up the laptop and heads towards his room.
"That's it? What about- ?"
"Later. Need to do some more research."
The door bangs shut behind him, shortly followed by the heavy thump of something hitting the floor and John flails around, mouthing in outrage at his abrupt departure, heart hammering in his chest.
"You can't just- just mess with my head and then bugger off as if nothing's happened!" He bangs on Sherlock's door furiously. "Sherlock!"
There's no answer from within and trying the handle he finds it's been locked. For one heated moment he considers kicking it in before a tiny rational part of his mind points out his anger is mostly borne of terror. He stands still for a moment, hands over his face, breathing deeply, trying to rationalise. This is no ordinary anxiety, not the sort you get before an exam or opening an official looking envelope or even the twisting fear when you realise that bad news is going to be the next thing out of someone's mouth. No, this is the cold, bone-deep terror of nightmare when he wakes, sweaty and sobbing in the dark with only his harsh breaths and the screams of the dying ringing in his head. This is not one man's voice too close to his ear or an unexpected touch at his neck, this is darker, primal, a product of his damaged psyche. He nearly calls out to Sherlock, only half conscious of what he wants from him, acknowledgement, company, comfort and for a moment he wonders what it is exactly his mind is trying so hard to keep hidden that it makes him want to run. Run until his lungs are bursting and his stomach is emptying itself and his legs are useless pieces of bone and sinew and his feet are raw and bloodied. He grits his teeth.
I've never run from anything in my life. Bloody well not about to start now.
John Watson squares his shoulders and marches into the kitchen, flicks on the kettle with a hand that does not shake. "Tea," he says to himself. "And telly. Normal, boring, just what the doctor ordered." And later maybe some answers.
He's halfway through a particularly torrid episode of Jeremy Kyle when he hears the door click open. As hard as he listens there is no warning sound until the creak of the leather chair as Sherlock lowers himself into it carefully.
"All right?" Asks the deep voice quietly.
They watch terrible people shout terrible things at each other in companionable silence for a while until John shifts slightly to see Sherlock's gaze already on him.
"Can I ask you something?" He says, trying not to fidget.
There's silence for long moments, faint shouting from the television as Sherlock considers him. Eventually he exhales exasperatedly. "Does it really matter, John?"
"How did you-? Never mind. Bollocks, there's no delicate way of asking this, is there?"
The other man tilts his head, eyes half lidded, lounging in his chair. "I seem to remember you waded right in with all the tact of a rampaging bull first time around. You need parameters. Fine. At this present moment my only concern is to help you regain your memory. Satisfactory?" He turns his attention back to the television, folds his arms and all but pouts, John notes with amusement.
"It's fine by the way, I was just…curious. Thank you." John picks up the remote, feeling strangely deflated. "X-factor repeat? Not sure I ever saw the final. "
"Someone instantly forgettable unless you count those twins with the alarmingly upright hair."
"They didn't win, did they?"
"Don't care." Sherlock drums his fingers on the armrests decisively. "Tomorrow we'll move onto touch."
"Yes, touch. Something wrong with your ears now? Smell requires further preparation."
"Er. I'm not sure I..." falters John, shifting uncomfortably.
"Yes. No. It's just that-"
"You said it was all fine."
"I...no, you're right I did. Sorry."
John goes to bed a few hours later after listening to Sherlock fling insults at the TV with an unholy glee, the progressively more and more outrageous asides causing him to laugh out loud on several occasions. Sherlock appears to shoot him pleased sidelong looks when he does and grins at him when he supplies a few of his own. As the evening progresses the other man's attention moves inwards, however, and he lapses into hunched silence, long legs curled against his chest, screen flickering eerily off his immobile face. John's just about to head to bed when Sherlock rises without warning and disappears into his room, closing the door firmly behind him.
He realises he's none the wiser as to whether Sherlock's been in his room or not and that it's not such a pressing concern now that the crushing anxiety has sheathed its claws for the moment, although he resolves to find out for certain at some point. As to his flatmate's sexuality...he's suddenly unsure as to why he needed to know in the first place, he's never been that bothered about people's preferences either way but for some reason it seemed important.
Touch. He shoves down a vague anticipation. God knows what that's going to involve. Jelly? Cattle prods? Phantom hands settle at his neck again, fingers cool and deft and he smacks his pillow into shape slightly more violently than necessary to banish the sense memory. Confusing is what this is. Confusing and unsettling and God help him a tiny bit exciting. He smacks the pillow again and hits it with his head for good measure, wincing as his neck complains at him. He's not gay, well he's pretty sure he's not unless he'd had an extremely strange eighteen months with Sherlock- after all Stockholm Syndrome can do odd things to a person- but his body seems to react to the man in an entirely unexpected way. Like he's standing on the edge of a high place and looking down at...well, something very far down. Maybe it's the ghost of a memory that's sending him off-balance, maybe it's their friendship, warped by amnesia into something laced with the fear of remembering. Either way, when he looks at Sherlock, when he's in proximity to him, John is afraid...and of what he's not entirely sure.
Well, he gives the unsuspecting pillow one last head-butt. Better gird your loins and try and get some sleep, I think tomorrow's going to be a long day.
Just as he's drifting, afloat on a sea of uncertain currents, he hears the violin's mournful lullaby from downstairs, and, only half aware he is doing so, smiles as a hundred Mr Bumps twirl behind his closed eyelids.
A thousand glittering diamonds of praise fragmenting into a thousand thousand rousing cheers for my beta Lyrium Flower who makes everything better and stands her ground against awkward sentimentality invasions. Also an inappropriate invasion of personal space in the direction of the spectacular Mirith Griffin who wangled me an AO3 invite - everything looks so pretty on here. As always, thank you to everyone who bookmarked and subscribed and most especially to you who have commented. You make me clap spazzily and attempt tragic body-popping moves.
The next morning is vaguely anti-climactic. John enters the living room with no small amount of trepidation to find it empty, no sign of feverish consulting detective anywhere. He prepares himself a rather desultory breakfast of toast and tea, entertaining vague hopes of Mrs Hudson appearing with more artery bothering food and wanders aimlessly around in bare feet, poking at random room decorations and running his finger along musty book spines. The mantel is in severe need of dusting, there's a carpet of grey covering the few items arranged on top of it and he resolves to be productive, fetching some suspiciously greasy kitchen roll and moving bits around to properly scrub at the aging wood. He almost dislocates a shoulder levering the knife out, sending creamy wings of paper flying in all directions. He leaves the skull until last, sliding it off and replacing it with a repressed shudder. Ridiculous, it's just a skull, he's seen them often enough in post-mortems, as frames for skin stretched too tightly on wasted faces, on pale bodies, swathed in black...he squashes the images carefully and glares at the smooth, bleached grin until the phantom overlays melt away. The hollowed spaces where the eyes should be fall on him like a physical weight, a reminder of the inevitable and...something darker. Catching his breath, he turns it away to face the wall, briefly considering throwing it out of the window before shaking his head in confusion at his odd revulsion.
He starts for the kitchen and jerks in surprise at the dark figure in the hall doorway who is watching him with an unreadable expression.
"Christ, Sherlock, you nearly gave me a heart attack!"
"Where be your gibes now?" He murmurs, untying his scarf and throwing it aside. Those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft.
“I forgot culture wasn’t a strong point of yours.” The silvery eyes flick over him and back at the skull before he sweeps into the room, depositing a fistful of small bottles onto the sofa and shrugging off his coat. "Sleep all right?"
"Not bad. I heard you playing again," John adds reproachfully. "Sit down and let me have a look."
Sherlock deposits himself into his chair without comment, his eyes tracking John's progress into the kitchen and back again. He holds out a hand dutifully as John crouches at his feet and removes the blood-caked plasters before patiently reapplying them, eyes intent on the task, fingers precise and gentle.
"There we go."
Sherlock gives his hand a cursory glance and fixes his gaze on John who is packing away the kit and shaking his head even as his eyes move to the violin lying exposed on the bureau, the smears of blood on the fingerboard. "You should really give them time to heal, you know."
"Calluses form more quickly with repeated intense trauma."
"Or you just end up doing more damage in the long run." John raises his hands as the detective opens his mouth to argue and levers himself to his feet with a small pained twist of his mouth. "I'm not having a go." Pottering off he returns with tea and a pointed look, shoving a plate of toast gracelessly onto Sherlock's lap. "Eat."
There's an imperious glare, diluted somewhat by the four Mr Bumps weaving disgustedly through dark curls. "I've already told you-"
"I know what you told me. And I'm telling you if I don't see you physically eat somethingI'm not doing whatever-it-is you've got planned with your little bottles today." He raises his chin in the face of the wintry scowl which follows and goes back into the kitchen, smiling as the sound of grumpy crunching starts up behind him.
Last night was...better. Which is not to say that he didn't have one of those sodding nightmares but he only had one as far as he remembered and he'd gone straight back to sleep afterwards rather than having to sit and wait for dawn to push hot, grey fingers into his temples. Again the sense of being watched was back but oddly comforting. Turning sleepily he had opened an eye, glimpsed a darker patch of shadow by the door but had been unable to tell whether it was drowsy imagination or something else before fatigue dragged him back under. He rubs his face wearily before starting on the washing-up with a clatter. He's still unbelievably tired and everything aches and he's really not looking forward to whatever his lunatic flatmate has in store for him today.
"Have you showered?" Calls Sherlock from the other room. There are faint rustling noises, the scrape of furniture being shifted around.
"More pleasant for all concerned."
"What is?" There's no answer and drying his hands John re-enters the living room curiously. Sherlock has cleared a space in the centre of the room and placed a chair there, cushions scattered carelessly in front. The bottles are lined up neatly to one side and there's a small pile of towels.
"Right." John surveys the arrangement, brows knitting.
"Er, sorry. What is this?"
"Touch," says Sherlock, with the air of someone making a grand pronouncement.
"Yes, but what is this?"
He's met with an irritable sigh and a shrug which is more spasm than gesture. Sherlock stalks to the desk, grabs a stack of papers and shoves them into his chest before folding himself onto the cushions and adopting a pose that screams 'I'm waiting..."
Reflexology and relaxation, Reflexology and Short Term Memory Loss - A Study, Facial Reflexology and Stress Management-
"You're going to..?"
"Not my first choice. Alternative medicine has little concrete supporting data and a lot of it, in terms of having a scientific basis, is complete and utter bol-"
"Complementary medicine is the accepted term these days, I believe-"
"But," John's silenced by the twin attacks of an icy glare and a whipcrack consonant, "there have been some studies supporting benefits of this sort of rubbish with memory loss and I believe the relaxation factor may help. If you remember, last time you panicked and we lost the thread." Sherlock rolls his eyes at John's mutinous expression, tracing a fingernail across a floorboard before looking down.
"It's a bit..."
"A bit what?" Murmurs Sherlock, attention caught by an area of floor with nothing in particular to recommend it as far as John's concerned. He watches the other man tentatively place a palm on the scuffed wood and spread his fingers, eyes narrowing thoughtfully.
It's a bit, well, intimate is what John wants to say but can't without sounding like a bit of a pervert for even thinking that in the first place, but his flatmate seems miles away and suddenly so lost looking that John bites his tongue and relents. After all, it's for his own good, in theory. He takes a breath and squares his shoulders. I'm pretty sure I'm going to regret this. Or enjoy it far too much. He skates past the stray thought without examining it too closely.
"Where do you want me?"
This is quite nice, actually. John lounges in the chair with his eyes closed, feet soaking in a warm mixture of oil and water and eyes pleasantly heavy. The curtains have been drawn and the radio declared strictly off-limits amidst accusations of his being an unrepentant philistine but Sherlock's idea of relaxing music appeared to involve an eighty piece orchestra and lots of strident crashing and John was not having it. Sherlock had then flounced out of the room barking at him to bloody relax whilst he got ready.
He turns his head slightly at the soft slap of bare feet on floorboard and starts a little as his feet are lifted from the bowl and gently dried before being lowered into a pile of warm cotton. A pile of warm cotton that shifts under him slightly. John opens his eyes and gapes in astonishment as his brain simultaneously fizzes with shock and spontaneously combusts at the sight of-
"I'm wearing pants."
"You-" John chokes on his own saliva and tries again, rubbing at watery eyes. "You what?"
"Honestly John, I despise repetition and I suspect you heard me perfectly the first time."
"Please tell me why you're wearing a sheet and nothing else?" Splutters John, noticing at the same time Sherlock seems to have divested himself of his plasters as well.
Sherlock casts a long-suffering glance at the ceiling. "I'm wearing pants," he reiterates in the manner of someone talking to the very stupid or the very foreign. "I don't want to get oil all over my clothes."
"I could have lent you some-"
"Oh, shut up, John, I'm not doing this for my own enjoyment," says Sherlock crossly, picking up the nearest foot without preamble and shoving the other into the crook of his crossed legs. "Now relax."
Easier said than done thinks John, trying not to stare at the smooth, pale expanse of shoulder that has wiggled its way out of Egyptian cotton through pure indignation. He lets his head thump onto the back of the chair and blows out a breath, trying to think of nothing. Sherlock's cool hands are cradling his foot but for several minutes he doesn't move and John eventually cracks an eye open and peers down. All he can see is a mop of shining hair; his flatmate has his head bowed and appears to be simply staring at his foot. His thumb is poised above the arch of his instep, twitching gently but not touching. John watches as he bites an already reddened lower lip. After another minute or so he's on the point of asking if everything's alright when Sherlock's head shoots up, face set and he squeezes his eyes shut again hastily. Strong thumbs press into his heel and he jerks involuntarily hearing Sherlock grunt – unsurprisingly, as his other foot lies perilously close to a groin covered only by thin swathes of cotton and…probably more cotton. Perhaps silk he thinks idly before trying not to think anything at all very hard indeed.
Sherlock tilts his head slightly to observe John, gently rotating his thumbs over the calcaneum of his right foot. Too tense, must relax, concentrating on relaxing, feedback loop, needs distraction.
"Absolu Rochas," he murmurs.
"What?" John cranes his head at him, frowning in confusion.
"Notes of tangerine and fig. Also lily and black pepper." He sweeps a thumb gently up an in-step and John's eyes flutter closed again as he inhales sharply through his nose. "You told me it reminded you of a Terry's Chocolate Orange." He watches as John's lips quirk in amusement.
"Was this our doomed perfume experiment?"
"Lots of valuable data acquired, we made extensive notes. Allowed Mrs Hudson to confront a potentially humiliating situation."
"Do I even want to know?"
"Acqua di Gio," he continues, ignoring John's inquisitive look in favour of pressing gently up and down his plantar fascia and eventually his eyes reluctantly drift shut. "Pineapple, lemon, grapefruit, sandalwood. Almost a fruit salad."
"The pressure point or the perfume?"
John huffs, smiling, eyes still closed. Tension begins to seep out of his limbs and he sinks down into the chair as his flatmate continues to talk, voice low and soothing, eventually the only movement the gentle rise and fall of his chest as he works his way through the As. Watching him sprawl lower in the chair Sherlock is suddenly hyper-aware that John's other foot rests high on his inner thigh, moving is out of the question, of course, the other man would simply seize up again in embarrassment.
"Angel," he says, conscious of the slight waver in his voice, The Foot intrusive and distracting in his peripheral vision. "Jasmine, honey, blackberry, chocolate. That one was quite disgusting and unfortunately extremely popular. Set fire to it on behalf of anyone with a sensitive nose."
"Mm," replies John.
Sherlock looks up at him and catches his breath, heat rushing into his face. John is reclined in the chair, head thrown back and mouth slightly open. Longer tendrils of hair move gently across his forehead, catching the light in streaks of honey and gilt and suddenly Sherlock wants those eyes open, open and vulnerable, fixed on him whilst he continues to elicit low noises of pleasure from that earthy throat.
Never got to see you looking like that. Never got the chance to put my hands on you. That first-last night you wouldn't let me. You took me apart and put me back together and then I slept. Shouldn't have, should have stayed awake with you but you made me, said I needed it - stupid stupid transport - and in the morning you'd already gone.
He looks up at his face, peaceful and untroubled, cheeks lightly dusted with pink.
Where did you go, John?
He draws in a breath, shakes his head and re-focuses, putting one foot down and picking up the other, hands gentle as if it were made of glass rather than flesh and bone. John groans low in his throat when his thumbs sink into his heel again and Sherlock becomes aware that there is a more pressing problem in the vicinity of his groin. A vicinity that John's recently abandoned right foot is gradually slipping towards.
"Arpege," he manages, attempting to edge away as his traitorous body reacts to another low moan, his thumbs circling around metatarsophalangeal joints, pressing and separating. He closes his eyes and immediately an image of John naked and splayed underneath him paints itself in lush strokes across the inside of his eyelids, navy eyes warm, mouth soft and inviting. Stupid, animalistic brain. He zips through the periodic table, both the standard and the cylindrical versions. It helps. A bit.
He should really simply get up and walk out rather than risk being caught in such a shameful state of disarray, but…
"Mmm, that's nice…" breathes John, only half aware he is speaking aloud and floating just below the surface of consciousness.
…watching him is mesmerising, if this reaction he gets from touching his feet then…
John's hand traces an idle pattern on his denimed thigh and he sighs as long fingers pull at each of his toes in turn.
…and he hasn't touched John in so long, hasn't touched anyone…
He shifts as the slippery foot slides a little further.
…and the point of this whole exercise is to relax John enough so when they segue into the recall exercise he doesn't-
"What's Arpege smell like then?"
Sherlock flinches violently at the unexpected noise and drops the foot into his lap, shuddering at the sudden bolt of sensation across his lower belly. He scrambles backwards, clutching the sheet around him and turns away, heading for the safety of his bedroom.
"Sorry," begins John. "Should I-?"
"Not finished," he throws over his shoulder. "Stay in here, I need to…prepare."
"Okay," John says slowly. "That was really nice," he calls after him as the door slams shut behind a rigid back. More than nice. Bloody mind blowing. He rubs two hands over his face and decides, amnesia or not, it must have been a really really long time since he got any if his continued perusal of the marbled lines of Sherlock's form is anything to go by.
Once in, Sherlock locks the door and thrashes his way out of the sheet, throwing his errant member an accusatory glare. As plans go, wearing a sheet in an effort to jog John's memory regarding a long ago…encounter…on a particular patch of floor now seems fraught with problematic variables. Such as oil and warm skin and moaning – he growls in frustration as it twitches slightly and tries to will his erection away with the weight of his disapproval. Unfortunately his penis refuses to co-operate, and, as Sherlock deflates slightly it categorically does not.
Next stage requires closer proximity, if fully dressed would still be blindingly obvious even to John who could make an art form out of being oblivious. Next stage crucial to recall exercise, can't be skipped.
There's nothing for it. The inconvenience must be disposed of if the day is to continue as previously planned. With a martyred sigh he throws himself backwards onto the bed and goes to take himself in hand, fixing his eyes angrily on a point on the ceiling. What he hasn't accounted for, however, is the warmth and residual oiliness of said hand; the unexpected sensation almost sends him jack-knifing onto the floor.
Masturbation is messy and time consuming - not to mention undignified - and if there are resulting overflow problems in the long run, well, the behind-the-scenes processes take care of that quite adequately. It's not an activity he engages in often, having up until he met John not seen the point and even with so much time alone and empty on the mission he- no; he pulls his thoughts away from the recent period of aching darkness, a path he's not willing to re-tread until this current work is finished with. Closing his eyes he realises distantly that the last hand to touch him so intimately was John's blunt, clever one.
The images return with dizzying intensity, smashing through the layers of his self-control. Not just John splayed luridly, the embellishment of his subconscious in reaction to the delicious noises produced by the foot massage but John drenched, his head tipped up towards him, his body against his, navy eyes glowing in the neon wash of an alley, water running down his face, expression rapt and hungry. Sherlock catches his breath and begins to move his hand, the other coming up to cover his mouth, aware of the other man in the sitting room and the very few barriers between them, sinking into a flood of memory which quickly threatens to overwhelm him.
John grabs his arm, eyes hard and wrestles him to the floor, hand carding through his hair, breath on the back of his neck even as his knee shoves him viciously in the spine. John crouched before him in a mildewed basement, expression soft, grasping at his hand lightly. John's face, inches from his, their chests pressed together as he exhorts Sherlock to let go, let go. Lips on his forehead, a surgeon's deft fingers on his nipple, long smooth strokes as John hums in pleasure at his responses, low and breathy, a noise he makes again when his foot is cradled and pressed.
Sherlock stiffens and comes with a shuddering gasp, biting the base of his thumb, eyes tight shut as meteors streak behind his eyelids. He rolls onto his side, drawing his knees up, hitched breaths verging on sobs, and presses the heels of his hands firmly into his eyes. Eventually his heart-rate slows enough for him to be able to sit up without the room tilting crazily around him.
He wipes himself down with the sheet, rises and dresses, neatly, methodically. When he finally exits the room his eyes are dry and his expression carefully schooled to neutrality.
Now for phase two.
In the darkened front room John is sprawled where he left him, arm thrown carelessly over his eyes and fingers tapping out a rhythm on the armrest which exists only in his head. Sherlock watches him for a few moments, absorbing the slow breaths, the slight twitching of his gleaming toes, the movement of his throat as he swallows. He could be a study in relaxation. How marvellous it would be to be able to switch off at the drop of a hat. To be so pedestrian. He moves towards him, purposefully making slight noises to avoid startling the lounging man.
"Heard you that time," murmurs John, sliding his arm down and blinking sleepily at him. "Must be getting better at this."
"Must be," replies Sherlock before scooping up a bottle and tipping his head. "Sofa."
"Okay," says John agreeably, heaving himself to his feet and tottering in the direction of the couch.
"No. On the floor. Back against it."
"If you say so." He flops down and stretches out, letting his head loll back against the seat and closing his eyes again. "If I pay you, can we do this every week?"
"Your army pension might just about cover the water required."
"I could march up and down for your entertainment."
"Just watching you get up out of that chair is entertainment enough."
"Funny. You ever seriously injure yourself I'll point and laugh too."
Sherlock ignores the comment in favour of folding himself behind the man currently sporting a mock glare and arranging his legs either side of him comfortably, dribbling a small amount of massage oil onto his palms.
"Close your eyes, head back. As you were before."
His eyelids twitch at the first touch of fingers at his neck but John's face remains smooth and relaxed, a faint smile on his lips from the recent teasing. His eyelashes flutter as the fingers sweep along the angle of his jaw, pausing and applying gentle pressure to muscle insertions before trailing upwards to his ears.
"Your hands are a bit warmer now, at least."
There's a sudden heat in his face and Sherlock makes a noncommittal noise, willing away the blush tinting his pale cheek. He wonders distantly if he should have washed his hands before he started phase two.
"Where on earth did you learn how to do this? You could make serious money, you know."
John closes his mouth obediently and sighs very slightly as slim fingers swirl up over his chin and exert pressure on tense masseters to an answering wince.
"Physical evidence that you should talk less," murmurs Sherlock and John can hear the smirk in his voice. Time seems to slow, hazy and blurred as he feels fingertips dancing across his face, lingering on areas of discomfort and gently smoothing away lines of tension. After a while there's a shifting above him, a faint crack and a low noise of discomfort.
"This won't work at all," grumbles Sherlock. "Why do you have to be so short?" He moves sideways, pulling John up with him until he's settled with his back against the arm of the sofa with the smaller man sprawled across his chest.
John blinks once, twice. "What- ?"
"My back," states Sherlock by way of an explanation, stretching with a theatrical groan and more soft popping noises. He prods him forward and stuffs a few cushions down between them, pulling John's head down to rest on them as the other man eyes the black clad knees rising chasm-like either side of him with mounting alarm. Sherlock sighs noisily when John tries to sit up and pushes him down firmly.
"No, wait a minute. This is just-"
"I refuse to bugger my lower back simply because of your issues with personal space."
"I don't think I'm the one with issues with personal space!"
"Well, what's the problem then? Must I go over the whole dull 'parameters'," he traces irritable apostrophes inches from John's face, "conversation again or will you just let me get on with this?"
"This is not very relaxing-"
"Well that's hardly my fault, is it? I'm perfectly relaxed."
John gives up, thumping his head back onto the cushions to a satisfying grunt of surprise from Sherlock. After a pause, John feels twin points of pressure settle on his forehead, sweeping into his hair.
"Feel like I'm at a very posh very weird hairdresser's." He can almost feel the eye-roll from behind him and shifts nervously.
"Just concentrate on my voice and the movements of my hands." John dips his chin with a mixture of acquiescence and resignation and exhales, unfisting his hands with an effort. Sherlock watches as the colour creeps slowly back into the fingers.
He starts slowly, alternating strokes with the tips of his fingers with gentle scratches, first the hairline, the longer, softer tendrils so different from the shorter bristles he remembers.
"Quiet. You're alone. A room, a hill, a beach, a desert. No sound inside or out, just your breathing, the beat of your heart. Your limbs are heavy and warm. You're drifting, adrift."
He moves backwards over the saggital suture, circling the long ago closed fontanelle before drawing an invisible line down to the temples and massaging spirals and flares. John's eyelashes flutter against his cheek, vulnerable curls, soft as a whisper; his breathing slows.
"Where are you, John?"
He watches as the faded blond head turns slightly, warm cheek pressing into the palm of his hand.
"I'm...sitting. Outside camp. Shouldn't be here, not safe, they say. I don't care."
"What are you doing?"
"Watching. Waiting. Can see for miles, sun's going down. Parched earth and scrubland. Beautiful. Bleak. Dangerous."
"Can you see me?"
"Do you know who I am?"
"Sherlock. Yes. You're so far away-"
"I'm right here, John. What do you see?"
"You're watching me, not smiling but almost. Pointing at something in the distance, can't tell what it is. Can never keep up with you. Too slow. Too ordinary." John moves restlessly and Sherlock sweeps ever decreasing circles over his parietal bones.
"Tall. Pale. Mesmerising. I can't stop looking. Like something out of a fairy tale. So wrong for this place. Wrong for anywhere. Too vivid. Too alive," he gasps suddenly and Sherlock presses himself forward, feeling a tremor pass through the man sprawled against him even through the cushions between them.
"What do you feel when you look at me?"
"I'm...afraid. I'm ashamed. You're like the earth here, hard, unforgiving. Eyes like a gathering storm. Beautiful. Bleak, oh, dangerous." He can feel John trembling now, concentrates on long, soothing sweeps, thumbs burrowing underneath and stroking up the tense nape of his neck. He tightens his legs around the shuddering man, willing relaxation into his stiffening body. Heat is radiating off him in waves and he can see the jump and patter of John's heart under his thin t-shirt.
"Hush, John. You're in the flat. Our flat. Everything back to normal, everything fine. What do you see?"
"There's no need to be afraid. I'm here."
"Are you?" John's voice is small, uncertain, and it sends a sudden ache through Sherlock's chest. He watches as a square, blunt hand reaches up, fingers quivering and flexing restlessly. "I sometimes think you are. Here. Sometimes I catch you watching me from the mirror. I feel you. Leaning over my shoulder when I can't type can't even touch the keys because they hurt just like the floorboards when I walk over them. Knives in my feet, in my fingers, in my chest. I have to-" he catches his breath, legs jerking slightly and Sherlock moves his hands, one to his cheek and one on his forehead to steady him, surround him in warmth. "-to walk around the place on the floor where-"
"No, John. Try and remember. Listen to my voice and remember. You get better." He replaces his fingers amongst damp tendrils, firm, circling movements, feeling his breathing slow again. "It gets better."
John brings a hand to his mouth, shaking his head, pressing down with trembling fingers as if trying to silence himself. His voice, when he finally speaks, is a hoarse, broken thing, forced up through a tattered throat.
"No it doesn't."
Sherlock doesn't speak after that, doesn't trust himself to, simply continues the gentle movements of his hands until John finally, finally drifts into an unsettled sleep, curled against his chest. He allows his mind to drift aimlessly.
Lestrade, Mrs Hudson, both of them wrong. He wasn't getting better only better at hiding it. Still doesn't explain the sudden deterioration. Slow progress but beginning to access emotional connections. Good. And not good. He pauses, fingers drifting across a curious knot on his scalp. Another. Shifting as gently as he is able he parts the hair and peers down, squinting in the dim light. Scar, pinpoint. Two more, no three. He runs questing fingers through soft hair, regretting the fact that his magnifying glass currently sits in a coat pocket. More here. Along scalp vessels. Are these needle marks?
Needle marks invisible to everyone. Almost everyone, he thinks viciously. What were you doing, John?
He's furious and nauseous and highly aware of the irony of being angry at a man who has potentially been concealing a drug habit. He suppresses the urge to shake him awake and demand answers he would blatantly be unable to give, settling instead for extracting himself from around him and twisting upright. He stands for a long moment, a forbidding figure looming above the sleeping man before he reaches down and tugs a towel over his curled body. Shrugging his coat on, he spares one last glance at the huddled figure before leaving the flat, closing the door quietly behind him.
I need to talk to you – SH
His phone blinks almost immediately.
You know where to find me, brother.
My beta Lyrium Flower continues to be the most wonderful and the filthiest person I know (the two are obviously connected). Lots of love to her please, despite her aversion to the term 'inky'. Again a Hallmark's factory worth of thanks to all of you who have subscribed or commented - there's no better serotonin inducer in the world. Well ok there is one but it's less legal. Depictions of and references to violence in this chapter. Slash, slow burn Sherlock x John.
Despite himself Sherlock is always faintly surprised by Mycroft's house. Unlike the man himself it is unassuming, welcoming even, the decor warm and tasteful and the walled garden unexpectedly lush.
In the low light of Mycroft's sitting room the two brothers eye each other curiously, the ravages of the last year and a half picked over and dissected within seconds. Mycroft sits in his customary chair by a low fire, a faint smile on his face as Sherlock spreads his arms and twirls in front of him slowly. The smile slips gradually at the display, however, and when Sherlock meets his gaze again there is a furrow between his brows and an expression as close to concern as his elder brother ever gets.
"Careless. You should get that seen to. Let me fetch one of mine."
"Leave it, I'm fine. I trust your people as much as I trust you."
A silence, Mycroft is the first to look away, the firelight playing on his face. He looks worn, thinks Sherlock. Heaven forbid his brother succumb to as banal a process as aging but the last eighteen months have darkened the shadows under his eyes and deepened the lines on his face. Six, no seven pounds of extra guilt under that waistcoat.
"I did what was necessary."
"Queen and Country, was it?" Sherlock gives a bitter twist of his mouth. "I'd have expected nothing less."
Mycroft raises his chin, eyes flicking over him again before gesturing to a nearby armchair with a small tilt of the head. Sherlock considers remaining standing just to be awkward but his legs are trembling slightly, the room is warm and frankly he's tired of pretending to be all right. He sits as gracefully as he is able and rests against the back of the ridiculously ornate chair. He watches as his brother directs a slow blink at him before rising, pushing aside a nearby painting and extracting a small packet from the underlying safe, placing it on the nearby occasional table with a small flourish. Sherlock picks it up and tears into it, oddly touched to be allowed access to the Secret Stash even though malted milks aren't necessarily his biscuit of choice. The illusion of concern is a hard one to dismiss and he restrains himself from drawing attention to Mycroft's weight or his erratic eating habits.
"So. Was I thorough?" He asks through shards of biscuit.
"Impressively so, Sherlock. I was convinced of your...final decision. I am also extremely relieved it was not the true outcome. The lack of personal evidence despite the ongoing destruction of Moriarty's web was very accomplished."
"I rather take that as a compliment."
"You should. But...the courier?"
Sherlock pauses, turning a biscuit over and over in his hands. "He recognised me," he says shortly.
"I couldn't take any chances."
"The body- "
"It was imperative for me to leave no trace."
He doesn't add that the man had been compact and sturdy, that he'd begged for his life and later had pleaded silently with wide, terrified blue eyes. That evening, scrubbing the blood from his fingernails over and over, he'd imagined the light hair he'd shaved, the skin he'd scoured until it was a mass of bloody lacerations to belong to another and that night he'd woken screaming. He drags his focus back to the present to find Mycroft watching him carefully.
"John," he says, shoving the biscuit into his mouth and reaching for another.
"Ah yes. Our Doctor Watson. I must admit he's been a bit of a puzzle."
Sherlock is on the verge of hissing that John is not Mycroft's anything but his brother is looking honestly perplexed and if he hasn't managed to put any of the pieces together...
"Calm down, Sherlock, your follicles take punishment enough. I'll tell you what I know. After your, let's call it, disappearance, I put high level surveillance on Doctor Watson." He studies his fingernails, ignoring his brother's murderous glare. "Necessary at the time."
"Obviously." Bastard. Using John as bait.
"He came to no harm. I met with him a few times, he was predictably devastated. More so than the average best friend would be, however," a sly glance. Sherlock keeps his eyes trained on the low fire and ignores his brother's brief, enquiring pause. "He was surprisingly understanding about the circumstances leading up to the incident. Considering." Another inquisitive silence designed to invite intimacy. A politician's trick.
"Piss off, Mycroft. I'm not interested in talking to you about-" -him. Us. In the periphery of his vision he sees a triumphant gleam appear in the older man's eye and restrains himself from hurling the now crumbling biscuit at him. Knowing his luck Mycroft would simply open his mouth and catch it just to be annoying. "- just get on with it, will you?"
To his surprise his brother shoots him a look which is almost sympathetic and takes the chair opposite, settling himself and folding his hands primly on top of crossed legs.
"I continued to meet with...your Doctor Watson for six months. During that period he appeared to improve slowly, in terms of attempting to rejoin the 'real world' anyway," at this both brothers shudder slightly, "after which time I downgraded surveillance back to normal levels. Shortly after that he informed me he no longer wished to see me."
"What reason did he give?"
"None at all. At the time I surmised he was attempting to 'move on.'"
"Must you always talk in apostrophes, Mycroft?" Says Sherlock irritably. "Then what?"
"And then nothing." The older man raises his eyebrows thoughtfully. "Until I initiated our most recent meeting. According to my sources he went about his business fairly normally until six months ago, going to work, socialising. But he stopped meeting friends, stopped his endless discourse on your little cases via his 'blog'," a sharp smile at Sherlock's narrow eyed displeasure, "and three months ago jacked in his job. I looked into it myself. Little movement day to day outside the flat, few visitors, none out of the ordinary. No new...acquaintances although we cannot account for all his movements, of course."
"Mrs Hudson stated she hadn't seen anyone new visiting the flat before John stopped going out."
"You've spoken to Mrs Hudson?"
"Naturally. I became concerned about his behaviour and contacted her and Lestrade for further information. As much as you believe I like to exist in a social vacuum I'm rather fond of our - your - erstwhile companion." He leans forward. "I was worried about him," he adds. "And with good reason, it seems. Have you any more information?"
Sherlock thinks about the shabby flat, the broken crockery, the needle marks and the barely hidden panic and shakes his head, unwilling to sully John's name with suspicions of addiction and self-harm. Bringing the monsters out of the cupboard and into the daylight makes them real and he is not ready to admit his...solution...has had such devastating consequences on the man he-
No. Not without solid proof and certainly not to bloody Mycroft. "Something changed. I haven't found out what yet."
"Almond oil. How very holistic of you, Sherlock."
"Shut up." He draws a tattered notebook from his pocket and hands it over to Mycroft who flips through it curiously. "The Final Problem."
"Ah yes. Moriarty's remaining agent. Hmm. Assassin. Independent, motivated. Unlikely to be targeting Doctor Watson as plenty of opportunity to complete the assignment by now. Perhaps you weren't as thorough as you thought. Either that or someone is refusing to believe that you are dead." He taps his mouth. "Someone else. Trained overseas, likely ex-army. No details other than approximate location?"
"I'll run it through the usual channels, see if any matches have recently returned to us. Be careful, Sherlock. Your review is coming up, this can't be coincidence."
"I'm aware." Sherlock nods decisively and stands, ignoring protesting muscles and a stab of pain from his spine.
"One last thing," murmurs Mycroft. Sherlock is on the cusp of an irritated sigh which evaporates at the older man's troubled expression. "Have you considered that perhaps John Watson recovering his memory may not be the ideal outcome for all concerned?" He watches the muscles tighten under the smooth slope of his brother's jaw.
"If you're suggesting he may well reject me when he realises what I've done, then yes, Mycroft, I have." He angles his face away, dappling it in patches of afternoon shadow. "But it will be John who rejects me, not this - this simulacrum who walks and talks like him but isn't. I can't pretend. I refuse to."
"You used to."
"Some of us still do."
Mycroft smiles faintly and regards the low fire. "And if he doesn't return to you?"
Nothing for a long time and then eventually the soft click of the door closing.
Mycroft props his chin on one hand and stares into space after Sherlock has left, an old reel of images with a laughing, barefoot child in a pirate's hat flickering through his mind until the pictures finally dissolve and scatter into fragments of thought.
The blare of a horn outside wakes John with a start and he wrestles with a brief but terrifying illusion of being smothered before pulling the towel out from where it has wrapped itself tightly around him. It feels like late afternoon and he's both groggy from sleeping at an unaccustomed time and annoyed at Sherlock for buggering off again without an explanation. There's a nagging sense of having missed something, having lost time and, flushing, he realises that the last thing he remembers is being pulled down onto the other man's chest before waking up half-mummified in warm cotton. His face and hair feel sticky and he's strangely on edge in the darkening, silent flat.
He trots along the hallway and into the little bathroom, trying to stretch the sudden tension from his muscles. Despite a hot shower he can't settle, there's an echo of...something. Something oppressive about being on his own tightens bands around his chest and he prowls the flat looking for distractions.
Blog. Should update my blog. Document my thoughts on the all male massage parlour that is now 221b Baker Street.
The laptop is nowhere in sight, and, trying the handle, he finds Sherlock's door is locked again. "It's my bloody laptop," he snarls at the splintering wood before stamping back into the living room.
Telly? No. Tea? Can't be arsed. Some part of his brain dimly recognises that that last thought is bordering on the Worryingly Out Of Character. Not hungry either.
He plonks himself onto the squashy chair but just as quickly is up and pacing again, feet slapping against the cool of the floorboards.
Where the hell is he?
He picks up his phone from the bureau. No texts, nothing. He scrolls through the rest of the numbers thoughtfully. Lots of women's names in here. Three continents Watson still alive and kicking? A small, very masculine preen. Recognise Harry, my Mum and Mrs Hudson. He thumbs through a few more. No-one else. Sighing exaggeratedly he goes back to pacing the small expanse of room wondering vaguely if some of Sherlock's drama queen theatrics are beginning to rub off on him.
"God, I'm- !" He realises he has no idea how that sentence is going to end and flails angrily for a few moments before returning to his phone in case any stray messages have appeared in the last ten seconds. A number catches his eye and he considers it, eyes narrowed, dialling before he can change his mind.
"It's John. John Watson."
"What's happened? Are you all right?"
"What? I - yes. Yes, I'm fine. Look, I need to get out of here for a while, I'm going a bit spare. Drink?"
"No, he's buggered off God-knows-where again."
"He does that. Okay I'll pick you up in twenty. Go for a drink round the corner, yeah?"
"Sounds good. Listen, thanks Greg. Appreciate it."
"No problem, see you in a bit."
The pub is a homely little local tucked a few streets away and by the way punters nod at the both of them as they enter John figures they are – were – fairly regular visitors. It's pretty empty for a weekday so they tuck themselves into a darkly panelled corner with their pints and eye each other, marshalling their reserves of straight male small talk until they can get a bit pissed and relax.
"How's it going then?" Says Greg after a few quick swallows. He looks a lot younger outside of his policeman's mac and suit combination, tonight dressed down in jeans and a rumpled t-shirt. John wonders if he not-so-secretly models himself on Columbo at the Yard and can't suppress a grin, shaking his head when the other man lifts a brow inquisitively at him.
"How's it going..?" he repeats, rubbing his forehead, expression sobering. "I'm not sure how to answer that question. Would you believe me if I told you the last few days have been amongst the weirdest of my life?"
"...and this from someone who's served in Afghanistan."
"Send an army of Sherlocks over there they'd be surrendering in an hour." Both of them chuckle and Greg motions at the barman for two more pints. "There's not enough weird in the world when it comes to him."
"You're not wrong. Cheers," says John, tracing patterns in the condensation of his glass after it's set down in front of him. "Can I ask you something?"
"So me and Sherlock." He makes a face. "Sherlock and I," he attempts in a terrible cut glass accent.
"Lecturing you on poor grammar again, is he?"
"Oh God, yeah. Amongst other things. I get that we were, we are, friends. Work together, live together, all of that. He...left...fake death, whatever...and, well, I ended up like this." Greg nods, watching the bubbles rise through his drink. "You know us both, right?" Another reluctant nod, the brown eyes now moving over his face warily. "He seems, I dunno, so fixated on this memory thing. I get that he's obsessive, bit hyper and full on, but..." John hesitates, brow creasing. "Is there more to it more than that?"
"Not sure what you mean."
A sigh. John runs fingers through his hair. "I'm not sure I know what I mean either. I feel like I'm missing something. I'm on the verge of remembering, I want to remember and then it's all being on a cliff edge in a high wind and I'm too frightened to move in either direction and he just keeps pushing me. He's in my face all the time, always crowding me. I think he forgets or disregards the fact that right now he's a complete stranger and I know next to nothing about him."
"You and me both, mate."
"What? Thought you'd known him for years. Way before I did."
"Yeah, five years give or take, but it's all relative. Rarely saw him outside work and he never gives anything away about himself. Ask him a personal question and he tells you what colour knickers your DS is wearing instead."
"But we," John gestures between the two of them, "we must have talked about him, surely."
"Um," Greg looks evasive again. "Not really. Amount of time you two spent together, when we went out you wanted to talk about anything but him and sooner or later he'd always call you away on some errand." He shoots him a wry smile. "He don't like to share, our Sherlock."
"God, you make it sound like he brainwashed me into running around after him like some sort of minion." John turns slightly and mimes the universal 'more drinks, please' request at the barman who nods in response.
"Nah, you loved it. Assistant, blogger, handler - whatever you want to call it. You were good for him, you know. Made him more..." he casts a glance at the ceiling "...well, less of a twat. I think you were the only one whose approval he cared enough about to try, anyway."
"Can't think why."
"Wondered that myself." Greg eyes him shrewdly for a moment. "I always assumed he fancied you. There's a pool at the Yard on when you two'd get it together." He rubs his mouth and looks away. "Well, there was."
"Really?" John's face is suddenly extremely warm. "He's not really my type." If the number of women in my phone is anything to go by. There's a nagging sense of disquiet, though. A sense of something buried deep stirring whenever he meets that penetrating stare. He drains half his pint in one go in the hope of exorcising the image via physiological poison.
"Me neither," answers Greg. "But you've got to admit there's something about him." He shrugs, unrepentant, as John blushes harder. "Still, he's a selfish bastard. Can't imagine him doing anything he doesn't have a personal stake in. And he loves to play people, run his own little experiments. Pull our strings, make us dance."
John empties his pint in silence, thinking of strains of violin music in the night and shadows in his room, pale shoulders and sea-glass eyes. "He's vulnerable, though. When he's not thundering about being a complete tosser. I think he likes being looked after." He glances up to find the Inspector's eyes on him again. "What?"
"Maybe that's why you were good for him. Don't think he ever let anyone close enough before and I'm not too proud to say I tried. Lad needed a keeper in the early days but push too hard and he was like a cornered wildcat, all claws and teeth and posh boy tantrums."
A sudden image of a pale stretch of skin beneath him, a body warm and pliant as an indolent cat; the feel of his fingers running through soft, dark curls, auburn tipped in a halo of lamplight, pops into John's head from nowhere and he blinks, choking slightly on the dregs of his lager.
"One for the road?" Greg raises his eyebrows, oblivious to his discomfort. "Probably ought to bring you up to speed on the football."
One turns into three and when at last John blearily looks at his non-existent watch he realises he's completely wankered. Pulling out his phone he also realises that it's way past closing time, not that the barman seems to care, and there appear to be around fifteen text messages from his flatmate. He glances at his companion to see him peering at his phone in turn.
"Uh oh," giggles Lestrade. "Think we're in for it. Better get you home."
"Don't you have work in the morning?"
"Doesn't feel like a weekday if I'm not going in with a hangover."
It's a short stagger back to 221b and they swap jokes like overgrown schoolboys, occasionally leaning on each other through fits of laughter until Greg pulls him to a halt just by the steps leading to the front door.
"Listen, I had a great evening."
"Yeah," replies John, wiping his eyes. "Me too. Just what I needed. Let's do this again."
"Definitely. We never really...did this before, you know. You were always haring off somewhere after Himself, so...anyway." Greg pulls him into a slightly unbalanced hug and claps him on the back. "Look after yourself, yeah? See you soon."
"Call me if you need anything."
Lestrade turns his gaze upstairs as John makes his way unsteadily to the door, his smile slipping a bit on spotting the still, watchful figure framed in the window. He raises a hand but there's no response and eventually he starts down the road, hoping for a taxi and already feeling a little concerned about the ear-bashing John is likely to get as a result of ignoring his sulky child of a flatmate all evening. The worst thing is that he has no idea how this John Watson will react to said tirade – the old one would just let it slide off him with a skyward glance butthis John Watson...well, who knows. He makes a mental note to go through the ABH arrest lists tomorrow morning, just in case.
Water thinks John muzzily, hauling himself up the seventeen steps with dogged determination. Any hope he might have had of sneaking in and up to bed is effectively dashed by seemingly all the lights in the front room switched on and blaring. He staggers in, squinting, and is immediately pinned by a glacial stare brighter than all the artificial lights put together.
"Where have you been?"
"Out," says John bullishly. "Where have you been?"
"You've been ignoring my texts."
For his part Sherlock looks furious, eyes sharp and glittering, his tense form all angles and stark lines. His hair appears to defy gravity, forming a tangled halo around his head and giving him the look of an avenging angel intent on smiting sinner John for his disobedience. Ignoring the sudden thrumming in his chest John affects a terrified grimace and then giggles, slumping down onto the sofa and closing his eyes against the tipping of the room around him.
"Didn't notice I had any."
"Oh my God, how did you know?"
"Not particularly hard to dedu-"
"- you should be a detective or something -"
"Sarcasm. I see." Snaps Sherlock, tossing his phone aside. The resulting clatter of plastic on floorboard jerks John upright in shock. "Get up, we've got work to do."
"You're kidding me."
"I don't kid." The hard consonant richochets off the inside of John's skull and he grits his teeth in sudden irritation.
"Sherlock, I'm going to bed. I'm pissed and knackered. We can do this tomorrow."
John heaves himself off the sofa. "Look, I'm sorry, but I'm not going to wait around for you like some bloody princess in a tower until you can be bothered to pay me some attention." With vague annoyance he recognises an angry whine in his voice but he's drunk and pissed off, tired of being bossed around and tossed aside again afterwards. "Tomorrow." He turns towards the hallway only to find his arm seized before he's spun around dizzyingly quickly to face eyes that are a maelstrom of fury and frustration, the face inches from his own. "Get off me!"
"Kitchen. Now." The bloodless lips are tense, drawn into hard lines against impossibly white skin and John struggles with an irrational urge to beat colour into that frozen face with fists. Or lips whispers a darker voice. Teeth.
"Sod off! I'm not your bloody guinea pig. You think I don't know what this is all about?"
Sherlock tilts his head, moving almost imperceptibly closer, pinning him in place with those pale, cold eyes.
"Do enlighten me."
"Greg said, did he?" Sherlock shoves him backwards suddenly, taking quick, agitated strides away towards the window. "Oh, Greg said. What did Greg have to say, pray tell?"
"Said you like to experiment. On people. Said you get off on it." John advances, fists clenched. The tension of the past few days, the sleep deprivation, the anxiety, the strange, unfocused adrenaline rushes and the sharp thrill of the alcohol is dampening all subconscious warnings to tread lightly around this unpredictable man. "I'm not your minion and I'm certainly not your bloody experiment." Belatedly he realises he's crowding him, Sherlock is backed against the desk, watchful, eyes bright and John moves closer still, feeling the heat radiating off the slim body. "You don't get to order me around. If I allow you to mess about with my head it's on my terms and for the record I'll go out with whoever I want whenever I want. Got that?"
Sherlock tries to retreat further and then freezes in shock as a hand shoots out to hold him still.
- grip tight around both arms as the poker moves closer, the glow from the tip both beautiful and sickening-
"Are you listening to me, Sherlock?" His flatmate seems miles away, a sheen of sweat suddenly blooming across his forehead, pulse thrumming rapidly in his neck.
- Who do you work for? Must stay silent must plan escape but -
"Sherlock?" Distantly, John registers that the other man is trembling.
- the smell of burning -
"I understand," Sherlock says hoarsely, dragging his focus back to the present with an effort. There's a long pause during which neither man moves until Sherlock flicks his gaze to where John still has his hand gripped tightly around a slim bicep, hard enough to hurt, giving an odd little gasp as he does so. John lets him go, stumbling backwards, confused and horrified.
"Jesus, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, Sherlock. It's just - I mean the last few days -" He scrubs at his face, blinking rapidly. Sherlock, dishevelled and flushed, has not moved from his position slumped against the bureau. "That's not - I didn't mean to hurt you. I'm not -"
"You're not yourself," Sherlock replies softly.
"No. No. That's not me. I'm not like that. I don't -"
"You didn't hurt me. Not at all."
"But - "
"Go to bed, John," Sherlock turns away, running a shaky hand through his hair. "The next stage can be postponed until tomorrow. Alcohol will likely muddy the process anyway."
John hovers but there's nothing further from the other man who is silently contemplating the street outside, face angled away, and eventually he flees upstairs, cursing his unexpected loss of control. He must have hurt him despite his protestations to the contrary and he makes a mental note to apologise more articulately when he's sobered up a bit, re-living the tension in the body so close to his and the blown, fearful eyes with a throb of self-disgust. You bloody idiot.
No sound from downstairs, no music tonight, he thinks and climbs into bed with a shiver of apprehension. There's no way he can avoid sleep and he's almost certain the nightmares will come after the day he's had. He stares into the darkness for a while, watching inky shadows curl into forbidding shapes, the room moving nauseatingly around him before he flicks on the light again.
Maybe some telly.
Halfway to the door alcohol and fatigue hit him hard; he leans his burning forehead against the cool wood, imagining the touch of fingertips on his brow, stroking and soothing and hoping against hope he leaves the door open although after this evening's performance he knows he doesn't deserve any sort of relief from the horrors which will inevitably follow him down into sleep. Maybe. Maybe he'll come anyway. On a whim he drags a chair next to the doorway before collapsing into bed, balling himself around a pillow.
Oh God, please.
The dreams are terrible, blood and pain and crushing loss and when he jerks awake, sweat-covered and aching, he buries his face in the damp pillow and strains against the sobs that threaten to overwhelm him. He focuses desperately on the ghost of cool fingertips on his scalp, in his hair, warm breath against his neck until slowly, slowly, the tension eases from his body. His breathing slows, deepens, his limbs uncoil and as he exhales in relief there's a soft creak from the direction of the door and he stills. A waft of chemical and cologne drifts over him, something tightly knotted loosening in his chest. Another muffled scrape.
"Don't leave. Please. I'm sorry." He turns his face into the pillow, clutching it tighter to his chest.
No answer but there's an almost imperceptible sigh and a rustle of cloth before everything swirls down and away from him and he's blessedly insensible.
When he wakes in the stagnant grey of the morning he's alone, but running his hand over the seat of the chair there's an echo of warmth, fading with recent absence, tempered with the lingering scent of almond.
Apologies for the Lateness Of Me. I've been on holiday and due to my own incompetence at the fine art of ticket booking ended up having to come back a few days later than predicted. I hope the slightly longer chapter makes up for it. Praise, love and sweeping bows to my indefatigable beta Lyrium Flower who puts up with dodgy gdocs and phrasing with equal aplomb and also to TSylvestrisA for handing me a small epiphany as well as inspiring a co-written porny ficlet which may see the light of day at some future point if we're brave enough. Huge amounts of love to all of you who continue to follow - you will join me in the Special Heaven. Yes, Heaven, you heard me.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The Day After.
Appropriately ominous title. I’m in trouble, there’s no getting away from it. John Watson, pisshead, abuser of flatmates and total twat. Came downstairs this morning massively hungover and properly ashamed of myself, prepared to grovel if necessary, and Sherlock’s gone. Not gone as in gone because he’s still physically here propped on the sofa with his eyes closed but he’s just...vacant. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone so still. I called his name (maybe it’s like sleepwalkers when you shouldn’t wake them) and felt his pulse (present and correct, if a bit fast) but no response, not even his Approaching Defcon One glare. He seems almost catatonic. Panicked a bit, texted Greg who says it’s a Thing he does which really doesn’t reassure me at all. It’s now midday and apart from the breathing you’d think he’d been nicked from Madame Tussaud’s. It’s unnerving.
I don’t like it.
And I’m worried. Not just about what his reaction to last night is going to be - that’s a given - but he doesn’t look well. I don’t think he’s even changed his clothes from yesterday evening because he still smells of almond oil (yes, I sniffed him - make what you want of that) and he looks more pallid than usual which up until now I would’ve thought was a complete impossibility. There’s something else too. I keep going back to that moment when I lost my temper - God, I’m an idiot. His reaction - well, it wasn’t normal. Staggeringly abnormal, in fact. He was angry with me, frustrated, maybe he and Greg don’t get along so well (Greg did say he doesn’t like to share his friends) and okay I muscled him into the desk like the world’s oldest playground bully but he completely froze up when I grabbed his arm. Started shaking. You can’t even imagine how much I hate myself right now, mystery reader who is only going to be me, but yeah, I really hate myself because there he was, quite obviously displaying a fair few signs of PTSD and I completely missed it. You fucking MORON. What sort of Doctor are you anyway? A crap one, that’s what sort.
There were more expletives but I deleted them. He didn’t even stir when I stabbed his most reviled key around three million times so I know he’s not right. Have I caused this retreat? I’ve seen it before. In squadmates, patients, yeah, in myself since we’re being honest here. The shock of the triggered memories, the adrenalized response, the withdrawal. I did this. It’s my fault!
I can’t do much for the moment but hope he comes out of it soon and if he wants to shout at me, that’s fine. If he wants to hit me that’s fine too, I’ll let him, I deserve it. Anything’s better than this horrible absence. The thing is with Sherlock he’s so alive. Always in motion – his eyes, his body, his brain. That dressed up doll on the sofa isn’t him and it makes me feel physically sick, hangover or not.
I hope he wakes up soon.
John stays put until mid-afternoon, caught between pacing anxiously and checking Sherlock’s pulse. Once he even dares to lay a hand along a porcelain cheek, as cold and smooth as the material itself and when he runs his palm over it, just as rigid; no response. Eventually, sick of smelling like a pub floor he heads to the shower, turning the temperature up to near scalding and trying not to think of anything at all. His skin prickles and burns and when he’s had as much as he can stand he turns the water to cold, dimly aware he is bordering on self-harming behaviour, before stepping out. Water pools around his feet as he pauses in front of the cabinet mirror, smearing away the condensation with a hand to peer at his flushed and distorted face.
It’s still a shock nearly a week later, the stranger reflected back at him. The hair is longer and greyer than he remembers, his face pale and thin, deeply scored lines around the mouth, bruised-looking shadows. Even the colour of his eyes seems different; he leans closer to peer at them. An ordinary blue, he thinks. Murky, non-descript. The mucky brown specks are present and correct but something still seems off.
“Think it’s you that’s off, mate,” he mutters at his exhausted looking double. “It’s not your eyes, it’s what’s behind them.” Razor in the cabinet, quick shave. Rinsing away the foam he pauses at the bottle of vitamins on the bottom shelf and palms one into his mouth, drinking from the tap and crossing his fingers in the hope that vitamin C has miraculously acquired rejuvenating properties within the last three years.
The door to the bathroom bangs open suddenly and he jumps, smacking an elbow on the sink and howling in pain. Whoever termed it the ‘funny bone’ should have been taken out and smacked repeatedly on their own humeruses with a hammer for crimes against irony.
“Christ! Ah ah ah bollocks!” He hops around cradling the throbbing joint and blinking through tear-filled eyes as shiny black dress shoes swim into focus, looking ludicrously out of place next to his stricken toes which are curling on the slick tile of the floor. He’s still swearing inaudibly but continuously under his breath when a star of heat blooms on each of his bare shoulders.
“You’re…awake…” he gasps, straightening as Sherlock’s hands gently lever him upright. The pale eyes move over him, narrowing at the reddened skin of his neck and shoulders.
“Marvellous deduction, well done you. There’s no need to boil yourself on my account, your apology was quite sufficient. Tiresome guilt reflex still spasming away then?”
“Oh, here we go again.”
“I’m such a- “
“Seconded.” Sherlock hesitates, his attention suddenly focused downwards; from eye level John watches his adam’s apple bob before one of the hands disappears, leaving behind it a burning imprint which is almost a physical weight. Belatedly he realises his state of complete nudity and follows Sherlock’s gaze downwards, cringing, before his eyes are drawn back up by another convulsive swallow.
“Here.” A towel is pressed to his chest but he’s unable to tear his gaze from the smooth, white throat in front of him. Blinking hard he tries to clear his own unnecessarily loudly, desperate to break the tense silence.
“So what happened? I was-” John stutters to a halt almost immediately, torn between concerned and frightened, not daring either and settling on naked in the privacy of his own head. He turns his attention to the towel in an attempt to appear unconcerned about his state of undress.
Sherlock pauses for a moment, watching him scrabble at the worn material, and then gently wraps it around John’s waist, pushing the frayed ends into his hands. “Needed to collate information, clear the hard drive. Now go away, I want a shower.”
“Wait. Wait a second. I want to talk to you. Last night-“ John stumbles, caught between trying to cover himself and resisting being shoved towards the door. “When I hurt you-“
“You didn’t. Oh do stop it, it’s incredibly boring.” Sherlock steps nimbly behind and prods him in the back. “Out.”
John turns in the hallway, a small, dripping, stubborn looking doorstop. “Something happened to you, didn’t it? Something bad.”
The taller man regards him for a moment, eyes ghostly in the violet-tinged light of the bathroom, the bulb stolen from a hospital toilet for reasons completely unknown to John. “Many things,” he replies, placing a hand on his chest and backing him out. None of them your business flashes between them in spiky subtext. “Shower,” he repeats firmly.
The door closes in his face and John jerks back rather than risk a sudden nosebleed. “Kitchen! One hour,” a muffled voice floats through the wood followed by the sound of running water.
“Right.” Business as usual in the Baker Street Madhouse, then. He nods at the carpet a few times, hitches up his towel for good measure and heads upstairs. But don’t think you’ve put me off. We’re long overdue a conversation, you and me, Mister Holmes.
In the warm, sunlit bedroom he drifts a hand over the chair by the door as he passes, pausing by the tangle of duvet and sheet, struck by its mussed invitation, yawning so widely it sets his jaw aching.
I’d kill for a bit more sleep...
Sixty two minutes later Sherlock clatters up the stairs to John’s room and throws the door open hard enough to send it bouncing off the wall behind, flakes of plaster exploding onto the carpet in magnolia starbursts.
“John, I said one hour. We have a thing, John.” There’s no answer from the figure sprawled face down on the bed and he strides over irritably. “Why aren’t you in the kitchen?” Leaning down he bellows into the ear closest to him. “John!”
No use, the other man is spark out and breathing heavily. A lesser man may have tiptoed out, a more polite one most certainly but irate Holmeses are not so easily deterred and a long way from both those things. How dare he stand me up! Seizing an arm he turns John over roughly, giving him a brisk shake. “Wake up now. Shouldn’t you be jumping through hoops to make up for manhandling me last night!” He says indignantly, giving him another vicious shake.
No response. John is more than asleep. Brow furrowing, Sherlock feels for his pulse - steady, strong - and peels open an eyelid - pupil dilated, sluggishly reactive. - before leaping upright and heading for the bedside cabinet.
“Must be here somewhere-”
He wrestles the duvet out from underneath the prone body, throws the pillow to the floor, smooths a searching hand over the mattress, rolling the dead weight of the unconscious man aside to check underneath him. Drawers, wardrobe, old storage boxes, pockets, shoes.
Glaring around him at the detonation of clothes he snarls in irritation, running fingers through already wild hair. “You’ve taken something. Where is it?” He resists the urge to rattle the teeth out of John’s head for a few charged moments, hands clamping vice-like around his arms, but settles instead for dragging the duvet back over him with an exasperated grunt, dropping the pillow with some force onto his face before smacking it off again.
The room spins around him suddenly and he staggers. Not yet. Takes a breath. Another. At this level of sedation he’ll not wake up for a few hours. He pulls the chair over and settles down to wait, ignoring his aching eyes and the throbbing in his head, considering the options, letting his eyelids droop to half-mast -
He awakens with a start and groans softly at a bolt of pain where the silk of the dressing gown has welded itself uncomfortably to his skin. Sweat prickles at his sternum and neck, the room feels stifling and the unplanned nap has left him overheated and boneless.
Early evening. Shifting with a faint hiss he sits forward to study the sleeping man, ignoring the wave of lightheadedness the movement causes. Breathing more shallow, eye movement, REM sleep, now lightly sedated rather than unconscious. John’s face twitches and then relaxes, smoothing into familiar planes. Carefully, Sherlock inches closer, caught by the play of light on the quiescent features.
It’s not like his nightly vigils. There the light is too dim to see properly but here in fading twilight he can allow himself to feast greedily on the dips and planes of his friend’s face, the gentle curves and hollows of the skull beneath the skin. He traces them with his eyes, a strange wish for pen and paper surfacing from nowhere. He’s always liked ordnance survey maps, the sparse lines, the precision. The temptation to trace the living landscape, to record it for himself, to create something physical that could live in a pocket like a totem is something new, a reminder of the fleeting and of loss. It would be something he could take out and look at before revelling in the unexpected beauty of the real thing, all perfection and imperfection and unpredictability, or a keepsake to remember what once was his. Theirs.
He blots a trembling hand across his forehead and reaches out, fingers dancing over the sleeping man, not touching but close enough to feel heat and breath. At moments like this it doesn’t matter that it isn’t John and he can wrap himself in the fantasy of his triumphant return, both of them unharmed and unchanged. Unchanging. The likeness, the superficial similarity is almost enough to fuel this desperate desire until an unfamiliar quirk of the mouth or a darting glance, once so direct, shatters both the illusion and very nearly his self control. ‘I don’t pretend’ was a lie. The reality is I can’t pretend. Maybe if he didn’t observe everything, see everything, he could fool himself into accepting what from now on might be the reality but he’s no more able to do that than he can scoop the moon from a bucket of water.
John frowns in his sleep, head turning, questing after the warmth that hovers so near his cheek in a primal reflex before shifting with a faint moan. He cracks open a bleary eye which wanders before settling on the man by his bed, fingers now pressed against his chin.
“You slept through the afternoon. I told you one hour. What did you take?”
John rolls onto his side with a weak attempt at sitting upright which fails miserably. “One hour what? Ow, I’m sore,” he blinks a few times and forces himself into a sitting position. “Look, I want to apologise for last night,” he begins, forcing his eyes wide in an attempt to wake up fully.
“We’ve been over all this,” starts Sherlock impatiently. “And now I’d like you to explain to me exactly why you’ve been unconscious for four hours.”
“Hangover? Sherlock, listen to me,” John swings his legs over and peels back the duvet before looking down and hastily covering himself again. “Where the hell are my pants?”
“Shut up for a moment-”
“No. No. Look. Your reaction last night. When I hurt you. Something happened, didn’t it? Something bad.” He shifts, wincing. “Jesus, why is my elbow so sore? Did I fall over or did you kick the shit out of me while I was asleep?”
Sherlock narrows his eyes suspiciously. “Tell me what you took. Don’t bother lying to me, I can always tell.”
“Take? I haven’t taken anything. Although I’d kill for an ibuprofen right now.”
Sherlock leans in close, John recoiling in surprise. His eyes are wide and guileless but even so John has always been a terrible liar. He believes what he’s saying, no dissembling, I’d know.
“What’s the last thing you remember?”
“Oh God, not this again. I remember moving to London-”
“Not then, you idiot, this morning.”
John glares and then looks confused. “That’s weird -” He runs his eyes over Sherlock, taking in the worn t-shirt, comically short pyjama bottoms, the silk dressing gown and bare feet. “Could’ve sworn you were on the sofa fully dressed for some reason...”
“That was approximately eight hours ago,” he presses a hand to his mouth thoughtfully. “Interesting.”
“What does that mean?” The navy eyes are wide with barely suppressed panic. “I’ve lost more time? Jesus, am I getting worse?”
“No,” snaps Sherlock, “has all that alcohol rotted your brain? We’ve already established that this is psychological not physiological.”
“Yes. Yes, of course, sorry-”
“Shut up.” John falls silent at Sherlock’s admonishing glare. “It’s something new, though. Something I haven’t accounted for.” He stands abruptly. “Kitchen. Now.” Pausing by the doorway he turns his head and adds as an afterthought. “Pants optional but highly recommended.”
“So, what have you got for me?” Calls John, rubbing his hands together in a jovial manner as he enters the kitchen.
“Oh, for God’s sake,” mutters Sherlock, not looking up from a complicated series of movements involving glass bottles, pipettes and a worryingly brown tinted vapour. “Your forced enthusiasm is almost as annoying as your constant apologising.”
“Right then,” says John markedly less jovially than before, smile slipping even more as he takes in the kitchen table. “Blimey.”
Almost all of the wooden surface is taken up by racks of stoppered test tubes book-ended by two large flasks of liquid, all of which would have been alarming enough without the bio-hazard signs emblazoned on every square inch of equipment.
“Just in case you needed reminding,’ remarks Sherlock, pinging the glass of the nearest flask with a fingernail and rubbing at his eyes. “Put these on.” He hands John a pair of hopelessly scratched safety goggles. “And I’d sit down if I were you.”
John immediately folds his arms, directing a look of deep suspicion at him. “In case of what?”
“Variables in the mixtures, your dodgy leg, sudden earthquakes, I really don’t care which reason you choose but choose one and stop hovering.”
“Charming.” Sherlock dumps his equipment carelessly on the counter and turns back to see John dragging a chair to face his.
“What are you doing?”
“Have a seat. Enough pressure without you looming over me,” John qualifies in response to a searching look. “Plus I want to talk to you first.”
“What about?” There’s a definite note of hostility; Sherlock is looking everywhere but at him until he pats the chair lightly, his flitting gaze coming to rest on the blunt fingers almost without volition.
“Won’t take long,” John’s voice holds a hint of concern and Sherlock realises he’s swaying slightly, rubbing at his eyes again to try and clear his vision, the myriad reflections of the glassware in front of him doubling and tripling and sending fresh throbs of pain through his skull.
“Sit down before you fall down, Sherlock - you look knackered.”
Giving a non-committal grunt he falls into the chair and tosses his head with an attempt at his usual imperiousness, the movement sending dark splotches skittering across his eyeline.
“I have something to ask. If that’s all right.”
“Depends on what it is.” Sherlock leans back in the chair, watching the black spots dance across his vision with mild interest.
“Firstly, I realised I haven’t thanked you yet.” Sherlock’s expression doesn’t change but the quicksilver eyes fix sidelong onto the other man. “For doing all of this,” John continues, gesturing at the table, “for staying in my room when, you know,” he shifts awkwardly, “it does help. But also -” He meets his gaze intently. “- I haven’t forgotten what you said. What you had to do to protect me. And I’ve been so bloody wrapped up in myself I haven’t even asked what happened to you.”
Sherlock shakes his head minutely but finds himself unable to look away from those gentle, searching eyes.
“I know something has, I’m not stupid and I’ve been there. I’m still there.” John takes a deep breath, steps closer and then crouches down, looking up into his flatmate’s face. “And I may be a bit useless at the moment but I wanted to know if there’s anything I can do to help.”
The room tips again and Sherlock closes his eyes briefly against the sway of it. Yes he wants to say. Yes, now, lean forward now and look up into my face like you used to and say you remember me. Say you’ve missed me and I’m forgiven and then fold me into you and make me forget. Be my John. Pretend, just for a little while. We can both pretend.
“No,” he says, standing so abruptly he jostles the table. John leaps back in alarm as the large canister cants sideways and Sherlock shoots out a hand. He catches the container and rights it again but a wash of liquid escapes, coating his sleeve with an accompanying evil smell.
“It’s fine.” He holds the smoking, rapidly bleaching material away from his skin and starts into the living room.
“Wait,” John grasps his arm and turns him back towards the sink with an exasperated grunt. “Wash it under here.”
“Water won’t help.”
“Fine then let’s get this off you,” John uses his impetus to spin him round fully even as Sherlock tries to wriggle away from him, dragging the robe down his shoulders and off, before turning him back around to inspect his arm. “Keep still you idiot, I can’t-” He stops dead, fingers like granite on his wrist.
“Let go of me.” He tries to twist away again but John’s suddenly an immovable statue who has him held fast in it’s chilly grip. A flash of them watching some interminable ridiculousness on telly comes to him. Don’t blink he thinks dazedly and sways. “John-” he tries again.
“Shut it, Sherlock.” John looks up at him, mouth set into tight, furious lines. “What the fuck is this?”
He shakes his head in response, vision doubling, bracing himself against the pitching of the room and John’s cold fury.
“I’ll tell you what it is,” John’s voice is becoming fainter, his features blurry. “It’s a burn. Someone has held something against your forearm and burnt you - don’t even bother denying it, look at the shape of it. Fuck’s sake, Sherlock! It looks infected, why didn’t you say anything? How could you just leave it?” A hand on his other arm. “Sherlock?”
John peers up at him, grip loosening, noting the gleam of sweat on his forehead, the glassy eyes and the hectic flush of his cheekbones against a suddenly grey face. “Jesus, Sherlock.” A cool hand comes up to rest against his forehead. “You’re burning up. We need to get you to a hospital.”
“The experiment-” manages Sherlock, watching lights glitter and pound with the staccato rhythm of his heartbeat.
“- can wait. Stop it,” he says as the taller man pushes weakly against him. “We’ve got to get you seen to.”
“No...hospitals...” gasps Sherlock. “Was too much of a risk even coming to visit you there. Public place - shouldn’t have. John,” he totters and then rests a feverishly hot forehead on the soft wool of his shoulder, “there’s one left. One I haven’t found yet. Still dangerous.” He moves restlessly against him, only half aware of the words still pouring from his mouth. “Didn’t care though. Needed to see you-”
“It’s all right.” John’s hand comes up slowly to rest against the damp column of neck and Sherlock relaxes into the touch, beginning to shiver. “Ok, no hospitals but if we don’t get your temperature down and some antibiotics into you, that giant idiotic brain of yours is going to melt. Come on,” slinging an arm over his shoulder he turns, aware of curls against his neck as Sherlock’s head lolls against him, the way his t-shirt is dark with sweat and clinging to his torso. “You still with me?”
Not good thinks John. Really bloody not good. How long has the stupid arse been like this? He deposits Sherlock hurriedly into the centre of his unexpectedly meticulous bed and sprints upstairs, grabbing his doctor’s bag, stopping by the kitchen for the emergency kit and, after a brief internal struggle, fires off a quick text.
Sherlock’s where he left him, sprawled on his back and breathing far too fast. He flicks on the bedside lamp, rifles through his kit, finds the ‘oh shit it could be meningitis’ emergency antibiotic. There’s a brief internal struggle where his sudden wish to see almost subverts his professionalism so instead of rolling Sherlock over he pulls down a pyjama leg and with a quick prayer against anaphylaxis, empties the syringe into a slim thigh.
“Antibiotic,” he states in response to a breathy moan. “Hope you’re not allergic to penicillin ‘cos it’s all I’ve got.” Sherlock opens his eyes and tries to struggle to his elbows, shaking his head. “Infection’s now in your blood not just that god-awful burn, probably why your temperature just sky-rocketed. Lie down.” John props a knee onto the bed and hoists the puddle of scorching man up until he’s resting on the pillows. “And stay there,” he orders. “We need to get you cooler. You bloody idiot.” He hurries out again, returning with a bowl and flannel and a glass of water to find Sherlock has dragged the sheets over himself and is curled, shivering, underneath them.
“Sorry, no.” He pulls them off and helps him tilt his neck up to take some paracetamol.
“Don’t be more of a dick than you’ve already been,” he replies gently. “You know we need to get your temperature down. Come on, take your t-shirt off.” He casts a resigned look at the ceiling as Sherlock groans and flops back onto his pillows scrabbling for the bunched sheets again, and moves them out of his reach. “All right, all right, we’ll start with that arm.”
“You ran upstairs,” murmurs Sherlock, burrowing his face into cool cotton. “Just now.”
He smiles faintly before shifting, restless, fingers flexing and relaxing against the mattress. “Got you again.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, Sherlock, and I’m not sure you do either so shush now. Let me see to this.”
John cleans and dresses the wound as best he can, aware of Sherlock’s face tightening with pain, eyes screwed shut, and his bitten lips. It looks bad, swollen and blistering from bicep to forearm with tracks of infection in both directions. When he’s finished, the other man is shaking and as he brushes his forehead again to find it still worrying hot he realises he’s only half conscious.
Making an abrupt decision he fetches the scissors from his bag and carefully cuts the sodden t-shirt off him, throwing it to the floor. Toeing off his shoes he shuffles back onto the bed, soaking the flannel, turning back towards the drowsy man before he freezes and almost bites off his own tongue in shock.
The flushed body stretched out before him is the lean, spare body of his memory, the sudden flash of recall in the dingy pub a few nights before. He sits back on his heels reflexively, flannel soaking into the sheet, heart pounding so hard his chest is vibrating with the force of it. It was a memory, then. He compares the two images, eyes moving slowly over the prone man. It’s not a stray fantasy or a confabulated picture to fill in the blanks - at some point he’s seen the other man half naked and sprawled beneath him, body healthier then, pale and unmarked as ivory, and the image has made enough of an impression to be the one intruding on his robustly heterosexual amnesiac state without so much as a by your leave.
Not sure whether I should be more worried about my first clear memory of Sherlock or what we were doing at the time. If anything, he reminds himself firmly, although in his mind his fingers are gently teasing through a tumble of dark hair and the soft white belly is pressed against his which doesn’t really leave much open to interpretation, however much he might wish it. Or not, he admits finally. Well, whaddaya know. He takes a steadying breath and picks up the flannel again, slipping easily back into the role of cool headed physican. First things first. Make sure he doesn’t cark it before you can ask him whether your brain is just vomiting random pictures at you.
“Sorry, this might be a bit uncomfortable,” he rubs the cloth gently across the damp chest to a moaned protest and a shiver. Sherlock opens bloodshot eyes briefly and musters a glare but they fall shut again almost immediately. John works quietly and efficiently, towelling legs, shoulders and arms. He pushes him onto his side with a whispered direction and his breath catches in his throat at the healing, still livid marks on the other man’s back but he says nothing, applying the flannel carefully and trying to avoid what he can. Ignoring another mewl of protest he settles him again onto the pillow and drapes the tepid cloth across his forehead.
He feels a little cooler; John fishes out his ear thermometer and checks - 38.6 degrees, still far too high but not neuron-meltingly so any more. He separates a single sheet from the tangle and covers him up.
“Right,” he tells Sherlock’s profile. He’s dozing now, breathing unevenly but not as fast and John moves carefully off the bed, trying not to disturb him. He’s just reaching for the bowl to remove it when Sherlock rolls to face him, clammy hand dropping onto his wrist. There’s a sliver of unfocused blue and as he leans over, unmoving, a faint tug from the sweaty fingers.
This is probably as close to entreaty as this proud, stubborn man gets, John realises, and almost chokes at the deep wave of affection which rolls over him and wraps itself around his throat, making him duck his head to hide the sudden brightness in his eyes.
“All right,” he says simply as the hand falls away, dragging a chair over and flicking the light off. “Try and sleep, will you?”
A movement from the bed wakes him hours later. A rustle of sheet and a faint murmur, a harsh indrawn breath. John sits forward painfully and peers at his watch. It’s too dark to see and he doesn’t want to startle the sleeping man by turning on the light so he pads over to a window and draws the curtain slightly, letting a shimmer of moonlight pierce the textured glass.
Sherlock moves under the sheet, all restless angles and tangled hair, lips pulled into a deep grimace. He stills as John approaches, fingers twitching convulsively against his chest
“John.” His eyelids flicker, eyes darting back and forth underneath in counterpoint to the jerky rise-fall of his chest. John puts a hand to his forehead; he’s very warm and he realises his flatmate is still asleep, held fast in the grip of a fever dream.
“John,” another hitched moan followed by a gasp and John finds himself suddenly kneeling on the bed, hands on the hot face, stroking gently.
“You’re okay, Sherlock. Just a dream. Come on.” The other man shudders and turns towards him, curling around his body and leaning his face into the touch, trapping one hand against the mattress as the other comes up to run gently through the dank fall of curls to the nape of his neck and back up again.
“John, I- “
“It’s all right Sherlock, I’m here.” Gently he threads his fingers along his scalp, closing his eyes. Now how did it go? Hesitantly at first but growing in confidence he begins to pick out the notes of a melody heard once and half-heard since, the softly voiced tune permeating the unearthly silence, curling like smoke through the darkened room. He sways, half-hypnotised himself, freeing his hand from under Sherlock’s head and absently thumbing the wetness from the sharp cheekbones, humming the lullaby over and over until the body beneath him quietens.
He continues the gentle sweeps of his hand long after the other man has stopped shaking, sighing at the peace that settles over him at the rhythmic movement. How many times has Sherlock performed this ritual for him over the past few nights, leaving whenever he began to stir? Only when he's deeply asleep, pulled down by fever and fatigue does John unwillingly extricate himself, reluctant to leave him alone but knowing that at least some sleep is necessary if he’s to function adequately in any capacity the next day.
With one last brush to the pale neck he removes himself, wandering into the front room and settling down on the sofa, just in case he tells himself. Just in case he calls for me.
It’s so silent, inside and out, that he wonders for a moment whether the world has simply frozen, trapping them in a little bubble, just the two of them, preserving them here just like this for eternity. Forever the same stretch of time, over and over again. He closes his eyes with a deep sigh and lets his mind tumble into the quiet void, feeling the silk of hair between his fingers and a hand tugging gently at his wrist.
A/N In case you were wondering, violet lights are used in entrance level hospital toilets to prevent drug addicts shooting up in them as veins are a lot harder to see as a result. Get me - entertaining and educating.
Much love, gif warnings and prohibited alcohol to my spectacular beta Lyrium Flower for her amazing ability to slog through piles of prose and jenga them into place. As always, thanks to all of you who continue to comment, bookmark and subscribe, you put alarmingly silly grins on my face to the point I almost have a flip-top head.
John closes his eyes and digs his toes into the sand with a sigh of pleasure.
The breeze is warm on his face, water ebbing and flowing over his ankles hypnotically. Humming with pleasure he glances at Sherlock who gives him a half smile in return, reclining in shirtsleeves further up the beach.
"Knew you'd like it here," John murmurs, seeing the smile widen in response.
He looks up to see the sky darkening. The clouds are moving quickly and he shivers as the wind picks up, watching water rise higher around his ankles, foam now tipping the pull of the waves.
"Perhaps we should head back- " he glances at Sherlock again but he's no longer behind him, his slim form a retreating figure along the fast disappearing stretch of sand.
John surfaces with a gasp, residual fear replaced by agony at a crick in his neck from where his head has been pressed up against the back of the sofa. He swallows around the cry lodged in his throat, feeling his t-shirt and jeans clinging uncomfortably to his body under the thick jumper. Flipping onto his back with a groan he presses the heels of his hands against his eyes and rubs sweat and sleep out of them.
A soft clink of china; John, startled, turns his head with an audible crack to meet a clear-eyed gaze and almost yelps in surprise.
"Doctor Watson," a gleam of metal as the suited man reclined in Sherlock's chair replaces his fob watch and smiles blandly at him.
Sherlock's brother. A) How the hell did he get in without me hearing? B) Make tea in complete silence?
John sits up slowly, trying to stretch as unobtrusively as possible but his treacherous body cracks loudly enough to elicit a poorly hidden wince; the smile twists into a polite grimace.
"Now..." the other man sits forward with another not-quite-a-smile and tilts his head, giving John the strangest feeling that he's reading off some script printed on the inside of his skull. The back of his neck burns at the considering stare - it's a similar feeling to the one he gets when Sherlock's eyes move over him but much more intrusive somehow. Like this Holmes is turning him inside out for the express purposes of playing with him later for his own amusement. It feels very different to the indeterminate (and frankly confusing) thrill elicited by his flatmate's hungry curiosity.
"Ah." A flicker of - regret, is it? - crosses the patrician face and the smile becomes more rueful. "Not yet." Folding his hands over crossed knees he sits back. "My name is Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock's brother as you probably already know - I expect he was quite quick to explain our recent meeting. Mrs Hudson was kind enough to let me in." He follows John's gaze which is fixed on the filigreed cup and saucer perched on the hopelessly stained occasional table. Another smile, this one laced with genuine amusement. "One can always find the good china if one knows where to look."
"Right. Brilliant. Why are you here?" John shuffles forward, planting his feet and stretching again, more for show than anything else, as much discomfited by Mycroft's cool blue stare and utter stillness as his ability to find nice crockery.
"I've looked in on our Sherlock, he's sleeping peacefully. Detective Inspector Lestrade was unable to procure the articles you requested and contacted me. I took the liberty of bringing them myself. I was...concerned." There's a brief flash of teeth then Mycroft twists gracefully, reaching into a briefcase and extracting a paper bag. He offers it up to John, eyes narrowing fractionally as he watches the other man move forward to take it.
"Antibiotics, great," John exclaims, peering inside. "Thanks, I'll go and-"
"Why don't we leave him to sleep a little longer, Doctor Watson?" Interjects Mycroft smoothly. "You could both do with a bit of a break, I think."
"I should really go check on him-"
"He must have given you quite a shock," says Mycroft conversationally.
"Your leg," he continues, studying his nails.
John looks down despite himself. Jeans unmarked - thank God - left leg, right leg -
Wait. He shifts his weight from side to side, lifting one foot then the other.
Mycroft flashes him a beatific smile and he remembers an image of his flatmate, face half buried in a pillow, curls limp and face flushed with fever. Got you again, Sherlock murmurs, smiling faintly.
I ran up the stairs. John chuckles. Mycroft directs an inquisitive look at him which only makes John laugh harder. "He made me run around a bit," he manages between giggles, eventually doubling over and resting his hands on his knees. "Sorry, sorry."
"No need to apologise. I myself am partial to a bit of hilarity," Mycroft remarks, eyeing him neutrally. "On occasion."
John giggles again. "Good one." He sobers a little at the other man's deadpan expression. "Um, that was a joke, wasn't it?"
Mycroft makes a grand show of checking his watch again before turning his attention back to John who is still quivering with suppressed laughter, and his eyes sparkle with mirth.
"Quite possibly. Now, I believe you have some unfinished business..?" A manicured hand wafts in the direction of the kitchen table which is groaning under the weight of all the glassware stacked on top.
"Perhaps we should wait for Sherlock," says John uncertainly.
"It is, of course, entirely up to you," replies Mycroft with another neutral smile. "However you and he have encountered little success thus far and I wondered if you might not benefit from a more objective observer."
"But...er, no massage, right?" John hesitates.
"I don't think that's necessary, do you?" Says Mycroft with a light laugh. "I believe that this little exercise is meant to provoke recall via an olfactory trigger."
"We kind of tried this before-" recalls John and goes crimson at the memory of having his nose buried in Sherlock's neck.
There's a short silence before the elder Holmes remarks kindly, 'I suspect this one was to be rather less 'hands on'...and I think we'd both prefer that, yes?"
John opens his mouth, shuts it again and then about-turns, marching himself into the kitchen, eyes on the lino, wondering if the tips of his ears are actually melting or and hoping Mycroft hasn't noticed. Bugger all chance of that - he can practically feel the other man's amusement following him in. After a brief pause, and John wouldn't be at all surprised if Mycroft had had to pick himself up off the floor first, his entire demeanour radiating hilarity, he settles himself in the chair opposite John who concentrates on not upending the table into his smug face. No wonder those two don't get on.
He finally musters the courage to look up to find Mycroft regarding him with a strange fondness. Odd. Could've sworn he was laughing at me. Have I got him all wrong?
"So," he says carefully. "Us two. We, er, we're..?"
"We're in the unenviable position of being Sherlock's, let's say, caretakers for want of a better word."
"...colleagues, then," replies John, proud of himself for not reacting to Mycroft's near telepathic ability to read his thought processes although a lead lined skull would come in very handy for the more dubious thoughts that seem to be appearing with increasing frequency. "Right." Perhaps they shared confidences too? Maybe I should ask him about-
"Something you would like to ask me, Doctor Watson?"
Oh for fuck's sake. Actually, yes. I keep having visions of your brother mostly naked, care to speculate on that one? Or the fact that some part of my psyche was so terrified he might cark it, my bloody leg stopped being mental and started working again?
He sneaks a glance up at Mycroft and immediately wishes he hadn't; the older man has a distinctly predatory expression on his face.
"Nope," he says hastily and picks up a rack of tubes at random. "Reckon I do these one at a time?"
"Mm. If I know my brother at all he will have created several strands designed to weave together into a complete experience, if you will. He would have made a wonderful chef, I always said so - Mummy would have much preferred that."
"Might have made him eat more as well."
"Doubt it. He's rather too fond of playing the martyr. Sadly food doesn't explode as much nor does it provide sustained levels of danger unless left unattended for a few weeks so detective it is. Now, allow me to assist you."
"All right." John hands him a rack which he inspects briefly before putting it down.
"Numbered. I'm thinking it might be more effective if you were to close your eyes, perhaps. The loss of one sense always sharpens the remaining, I find."
Shuffling his chair forwards so he can comfortably rest his forearms on the table, John obediently shuts his eyes which spring open of their own accord at the first pop of a test tube being uncorked.
"No, no, no," sighs Mycroft. "This won't do at all." Reaching into an inside pocket he withdraws a strip of material and tosses it to John who catches it reflexively, eventually managing to extricate himself from the limpet-like elastic to inspect it with mild alarm.
"An...eye mask." He twangs it experimentally.
"One should always take the opportunity to nap whenever it presents itself."
"Yet still effective. Shall we?"
Hanging round with Sherlock must've inoculated me against high levels of ambient weirdness thinks John, snapping the mask over his head with as much dignity as he can muster. "Is it me or does this thing smell of jam?"
There's a soft popping of corks and no reply.
"A nice, steady inhale, if you would, Doctor Watson. I assure you it's quite safe." The honeyed voice materialises somewhere near his left ear and John flinches, cursing the Holmes brothers and their ninja-like abilities. "Do try to relax. Now, on three-"
He has the sense of something passing under his nose and breathes in gently, drawing it out for as long as he can, the scents at first separate and then mingling.
"Okay...getting camphor, leather, wool, mint..." he says, trying to shake the feeling he's participating in some fetishistic wine-tasting experience. "Oh! I know this one - it's Sherlock." He tilts his head expectantly.
"I'm afraid I can't comment. This exercise is tailored to you and I suspect I would miss many of the nuances." There's a soft clinking and a few more pops follow. "And again?"
"Um." A complicated mixture of scents drifts around him and he's momentarily dizzied by a rush of warmth, his limbs loosening. "That's...wow..."
"Yes. Sorry." He straightens a little, brow furrowing in concentration. "Okay, tea. Toast, I think. Something...paper, maybe? Washing powder. Uh. Gun oil?" He pauses. "Not sure why it's funny."
"I have no idea." Mycroft allows himself a small, private smile. Ever the romantic, Sherlock. "Ready for the next?"
Mycroft watches John's face as he draws the next set of tubes under his nose. For an instant he envies Sherlock his connection to this most expressive, intriguing man but he can't really. Not when John has done so much for his brother with so little gained in return. Will continue to, he hopes, recall or no.
"Sherlock, that's one's easy. Tea again and that washing smell - does he have some sort of weird obsession with tea and laundry?"
"You might say so."
"Ugh! Bleurgh. Formalin. Makes me think of medical school. Disinfectant." Face scrunched up in concentration John looks a little like a shaved garden gnome and Mycroft smirks fondly. "Old perfume, faint but sweet." There's a pause.
John shrugs a desultory no. "Nothing. But from what I've read on my blog it's probably the lab. Or the morgue. Next."
Mycroft reaches for the next rack, brow creasing in concern when the other man stiffens almost immediately, lips tightening, and he suppresses the urge to snatch the rack away, to switch it for another. "Doctor Watson?"
"I-" John sucks in a breath.
"What are you feeling? Quickly, without thinking."
"No. I'm afraid...I need to do something. Need to move."
"The smells, John."
"Yes. Right. Sweat, clean washing again. Chlorine. Something bitter. Dark. Sour and sweet," his head turns restlessly. "And Sherlock."
The pause that follows is loaded and John curses Mycroft his reticence and his own temerity in equal measure. He flinches as the smooth voice pierces the silence.
"Can you see him?"
"No. Yes. Ripples on his face. He's looking at me like-" Like this is the end, his eyes are glowing in the reflected light of the water, he's telling me something - what is it? What is it? Determined, resigned, triumphant-
"No-" The image flies apart like a ripped cobweb and he flails after it desperately, a whine of frustration surprising them both. "Goddammit-"
There's a deliberate scrape of chair and a warmth at his left shoulder. "Please try to slow your breathing, Doctor. I'd rather you didn't pass out - my reflexes are not what they were."
John suspects Mycroft could move like lightning if speed were required despite the languid demeanour but simply nods and concentrates on trying to calm himself.
"Lost it," he mutters.
"Never mind. It may come back to you later, like the others." John scowls at the amusement evident in his voice and pulls off the makeshift blindfold, blinking in the sudden light.
"Okay, all right, fine. Yes, I remembered something, you can stop with all the hint dropping now. Why didn't he say?"
"That we were..." John flounders for a moment, "...intimate. What?" He demands as Mycroft's eyebrows come close to sliding off the top of his head.
"I was not aware of any such thing," he replies thoughtfully. "And believe me I would know. You and Sherlock have always had a very...complicated relationship but as to romantic endeavours..."he taps his chin thoughtfully. "Perhaps a false memory?"
"No. No, it matched what I saw last night when I was-" John flushes again, a brilliant carmine, "- sponging him down," he tells the ceiling in what he hopes is a professional manner, praying that his ears aren't actually catching fire. "Small marks, scars that I wouldn't have known about if I hadn't seen them before."
"Perhaps you have. I find it hard to believe that two friends who lived and worked together for as long as you two did never saw the other shirtless. Maybe that's the image you're recalling."
Impossibly, John blushes harder. "Yeah, maybe." He replaces the eye mask, considering sticking his head in the fridge and having done with it, a strange image of his own face peering in at himself rising from nowhere.
Ah. So the memory is a rather compromising one. Mycroft tilts his head with interest. Then the change in the relationship must have been very new. Maybe even directly before- he catches himself and looks at John who appears to be studying the refrigerator door, the spasm of pity crossing his face unseen by the other man. Would explain a few things. Oh my poor Sherlock. No wonder you were so desperate as to seek out my help.
John stiffens in his seat and Mycroft visibly drags himself back into the present, attention re-sharpening.
"The tea, washing, all that. Is that me?"
"You sounded just like him then."
"Actually, in terms of precedence he sounds like me."
"Well, whatever. Do I really smell like that?" Asks John, wrinkling his nose.
"Clearly, to him you do. There are worse smells."
"So he's mixed our, er, smells in with these other things. Clever."
"Very," replies Mycroft and he sounds if not proud then certainly proprietary. John bristles, catches himself doing it and hunkers down further in the chair as the other man's amusement drapes itself over him once again.
"Stop that," he mutters, gritting his teeth. "I can feel you smirking, Mycroft."
"Ah, and there is our fierce, loyal Doctor Watson." The reply is low and pleased sounding. "You were so very good for Sherlock."
With a growl John rips off the blindfold again. "Yeah, but not good enough to be told that he was faking his own death though, was I?"
Mycroft shifts slightly, underlining a close of discussion with a blank little smile. He gestures to the eye mask which John promptly throws onto the table in front of him, narrowly missing toppling a nearby rack of tubes.
"What happened? I want to know."
The elder Holmes folds his hands on his knees and purses his lips, so much the epitome of a disapproving headmaster that John wants to shuffle his feet and scowl like a teenager.
"Not for me to say, I'm afraid. The last moments you two shared were private and I suspect Sherlock would rather you remember them yourself or not at all."
"Wait," John's frame radiates surprise. "I was there?"
"'Nominally'. What the hell does that mean?"
"Please, Doctor Watson. I can't say any more and I believe Sherlock would be very upset I've said anything at all. I think he's been through enough recently, don't you?"
John shakes his head mutinously, already turning an image over in his head of Sherlock calling his name in the grip of a fever dream, the long body curled against him, moisture dampening his restless lashes. "All right," he replaces the eye mask again and folds his arms, waiting. "Fine. Let's bloody get this over with."
Tubes are uncorked without preamble and he inhales as defiantly as he can but almost immediately stills, a flush slowly creeping up his neck. Mycroft, watching him closely, ponders whether he ought to check his feet for the onset of gangrene what with the amount of blood being diverted from his lower limbs on such a frequent basis.
"Do remember that any reaction provoked by this exercise is important. And of course confidential."
"I don't understand," John replies, confusion and fear evident in his strangled voice and shifting posture. "All of this...it's too much. Give me a minute." He cradles his head, briefly, breathing ragged and knuckles corded white.
"Take your time," says Mycroft softly. "What can you smell?"
"Cordite, rain, sweat, wet concrete, S-sherlock but he's...I'm..."
"Yes. He smells...different. Warmer - I know that makes no sense but it's the only way I can describe it." A frown. "I'm so angry with him."
"I don't know, I don't know. He's looking down at me, he's soaked through, he's...just watching me. Waiting for something."
An image of Sherlock, backlit by a security light, rain plastering his curls flat, eyes wide and sodden lashes clumped starfish-like. Hands, my hands fisted in his coat, the wall of an alley at his back. We're staring at each other. I'm so angry I can hardly breathe, I can feel his heart thrumming through the thick cloth and I push up against him, feeling it vibrate through my chest. I'm furious.
I'm not furious. Well some of me is. Other bits...aren't. I'm...relieved and I...I want him. I want him so badly the lust feels like rage, making my blood burn like lava and lighting up all my nerve endings like touch paper and-
Oh buggering hell.
Mycroft's eyebrows rise again as John surreptitiously crosses his legs and angles his body away from him. He feigns a delicate cough.
"Goodness, these chemicals do dry out one's throat, don't they?" Rising, he scrapes the kettle along the countertop, watching the other man fold in on himself slightly. "Tea, Doctor? Do excuse me for a moment, I'll fetch my cup and make use of your facilities."
Gliding into the front room Mycroft idly browses the bookshelves for five minutes, smearing away the dust from the spines with mild distaste. The only noise from the kitchen is that of the kettle preparing for take-off, and, craning his neck, he can see the eye mask dangling from hands which have come back up to cradle John's face. He waits a little longer until the compact figure starts to uncurl by degrees and then makes a performance of clinking china, pausing again to let him adjust his posture to one of seeming unconcern when he re-enters the kitchen. Silence from behind him as he goes through the performance of making tea, reflecting that it's been several years since he had to do the job himself. It's quite restful, however. The ritual movements of pouring and spooning are probably more soothing than the drink itself, especially when it involves Tesco's own brand tea bags.
"It's like trying to remember a dream," says John softly from behind him. "I mean, I get a sense of things but when I try to look at them directly they fade again."
"It's a block." Mycroft keeps his back turned, swirls darkening liquid with a flourish. "An ephemeral creation of your own mind's devising. We'll whittle through it eventually, I'm certain."
"No. But Sherlock is nothing if not tenacious. The brain is a powerful tool, as you know, but there's no point in being defeatist when we still have options open to us."
"Tool is about right. My brain is a massive tool," John sighs, rubbing at his face with both hands before looking up. "Thanks for the tea."
They drink in companionable silence for a few minutes, John alternating between friendly nods at Mycroft and frustrated grimaces into the middle distance before he drains his tea, smacking his mug down decisively onto the table top.
"Right. Last one then I'll go check on Sherlock."
"As you wish. Eye mask?"
"No," John hesitates for a moment and then shakes his head. "No. Without. I'd prefer it."
Mycroft studies him a moment, taking in the clenched jaw and steady hands. "Perhaps you're right. Less intense this way."
John shuts his eyes without replying, knots his hands in front of him, twisting his fingers into the scrap of dark material, and raises his chin as Mycroft reaches over for the last rack.
Tarmac, exhaust fumes, rubbish. Head aches, can't focus. Legs are heavy, feels like I'm wading through water, sounds distort and wash over me in tangy waves. Puddle of darkness on the pavement, indistinct shapes ebb and flow around it. Ozone, stale perfume, Sherlock, burnt rubber, Sherlock, unwashed bodies press against me, Sherlock, bleach. Someone jostles me and I stagger, falling to my knees, Sherlock, a thick, metallic smell fills my nostrils and I fight against gagging.
John comes back to himself, face buried in warm, damp cloth, the imprint of hands at his neck and shoulder, blood roaring so loudly in his ears it almost muffles the smothered whines he belatedly realises are coming from him.
"Easy now." Mycroft kneels beside him his brow creased with worry and a hint of avid curiosity but he doesn't press, watching tears squeeze from under eyelids that remain tight shut and absently regretting the grubby lino against one of his most expensive suits.
"I'm sorry-" gasps John. "I don't-"
"What the hell is going on in here?"
Mycroft raises a lazy eyebrow and John jerks in surprise, sending his mug flying with a crash. "Oh dear," he remarks. "I did hope you might go another day without assaulting your crockery collection, such as it is, any further."
Sherlock grasps the doorframe for dear life, a grey, wild looking spectre clad only in rumpled briefs and abject fury, teeth bared and chest heaving.
The elder Holmes sighs theatrically and rises, stepping towards the quivering man with a conciliatory smirk. "Now, now, Sherlock, calm yourself - you're unwell - "
Sherlock tosses his head and heaves himself upright but staggers almost immediately and falls onto his side with a snarl of frustration. John is up and out of his chair before he even realises he's moved, rolling the younger man and hefting him into a sitting position, careful to avoid the livid marks marring the skin of his back.
"What the bloody hell are you doing out of bed, Sherlock?" He grunts as a sharp elbow is thrust into his solar plexus, breath whooshing out of him.
"What are you doing with my experiment? And Mycroft," Sherlock hisses back, eyes fixed on his brother.
"I thought perhaps we might have more success with an objective observer present. And of course you needed your rest," says Mycroft smoothly, eyeing him down the length of his nose. "Problem?"
"Yes there's a problem, you insufferable ponce. You've ruined everything!"
"I don't believe so."
"John," Sherlock tilts his head close to the other man's, still not re-targeting the icy laser of his glare from his brother's face. "John, did you remember anything?" The tone is as peremptory as ever but the body propped on John's arm trembles and there's a urgent rasp to the deep voice. "Anything at all?"
"I'm afraid my facilitation proved just as fruitless as yours," replies Mycroft carefully. "Isn't that right, John?"
"Of course it did," snaps Sherlock as John opens his mouth and shuts it again, feeling some of the tension drain out of the rigid shoulders, the fever hot body against his slumping by degrees. "You have neither the knowledge nor the skills required for such a delicate experi- procedure." He darts a sidelong glance at John who can't miss a gleam of triumph in his flatmate's gaze which is both thrilling and extraordinarily punchable. "I'd quite like to know why you were on your knees touching him though. Fan of cable knit, are you?"
"Shut up, John. Mycroft is able to flap his lips as pointlessly as you are and I want to hear it from him."
"Honestly, Sherlock, there's no need to get quite so upset. I know you don't like it when I touch your things but in this case there were mitigating circumstances-"
"Please tell me you're not referring to me when you say 'things'-" starts John, a comment which goes completely ignored by either man. He grinds his teeth irritably and restrains a childish impulse to simply drop his flatmate and storm out of the room to see if anyone notices.
"Upset? I'm not upset. Why would I be upset? Oh yes, because you're standing within a three mile radius of me. Now tell me what you were doing."
"Doctor Watson was feeling a little faint from all those noxious fumes you produced, Sherlock. I was merely making sure he avoided a nasty fall." Quirking his mouth, Mycroft makes a show of checking his watch. "A real one," he adds airily, studying his nails in the sudden, tense silence.
"Bored," snaps Sherlock, baring his teeth at his brother. "You look hungry, Mycroft, you ought to go and devastate a cake shop or two. Get me up will you, Jo-"
The order ends in a surprised squeak as John pulls him upright none too gently, slings Sherlock's good arm over his good shoulder and marches him towards his bedroom. Once in he backs the by now breathless man onto the bed ignoring the indignant glare directed at him, pushes him flat and drags the covers over him.
"Not a word," he barks as Sherlock's mouth forms around a protest. "I've had enough of you two and your sodding word games and secrets and me stuck in the middle of it all like some fucking dumb-arse mug. You're still sick so shut up and lie down. I'm going away and then I'm coming back with water and antibiotics which you are going to take and then you're going to stay in here until I tell you otherwise, got that?"
"I don't see why-" Sherlock levers himself up again, a windblown, half naked jack-in-the-box.
"You could've died, Sherlock," grates John, jabbing a finger close to the too-thin chest. "In fact you scared the absolute shitout of me because I thought you were bloody going to so if I have to tie you to this bed to keep you here I will because at some point in the not too distant future you owe me an bloody explanation." He stalks to the door, shaking his head, missing the sudden rush of pink which comes up to colour the sharp cheekbones. "You idiot," he tosses over his shoulder. Stomping into the hallway he runs smack into Mycroft who circles his chin disdainfully as if his collar is slightly too tight.
"I require a few moments alone with my brother."
"Be my guest. If he tries to get up punch him back down for me, will you? I'm going to go and clean up that mess in the kitchen. I'll be back later with drugs." John wheels and stalks into the living room, riding a wave of aggression which definitely does not mask any sort of underlying attraction to the massively annoying wanker in the bed. Mycroft winces at the sudden crash of glassware from around the corner and, tugging at his waistcoat, slides into Sherlock's bedroom.
Sherlock has the sheet pulled up to his chin and he eyes his brother mutinously as he enters, the stubborn expression fading as he takes in Mycroft's sober expression, the slight crease in the forehead the only sign of the anger bubbling underneath the serene surface.
"That was reckless, Sherlock."
"No choice. No case, no danger, had to manufacture some. You saw the results, I proved the hypothesis. Again. His memories are as accessible as his mind ever was, I just need the right trigger."
"He's not a lab rat, Sherlock. Your time would be better spent trying to track down the last agent, not making yourself perilously ill."
"I need to know what happened."
"At the expense of your own life? As the good doctor said you could have died, Sherlock. To prove a point." Mycroft sighs, brushing fingers along his jaw. "I should have sent my people in to attend you. You were looking unwell days ago."
"I'm fine now, John's looking after me. I'd be better than fine if you kindly buggered off and left us alone." He thrashes crossly under the sheet, turning onto his side and away from Mycroft's prying gaze. A shadow falls across the bed and Sherlock watches the utterly still patch of darkness on the carpet for long moments to the background of distant clinking noises, oddly reminiscent of wind-chimes.
"You should have told me, Sherlock," Mycroft murmurs. "I didn't know that things had...changed between the two of you. I think on some level John realises that too. Perhaps it's something you can use."
Sherlock closes his eyes and then opens them again. The shadow has not moved.
"This is all your fault, Mycroft. All of it. Is this why you're here?"
"Believe me when I say I'm so sorry," replies Mycroft quietly.
More silence until the tousled curls shift slightly, a porcelain fragment of jaw slowly revealing itself as if unearthed after millennia by questing fingers.
"Bathroom cabinet," says Sherlock finally and then pulls the sheets up and over his head.
As always massive adoration and riding crops to my beta Lyrium Flower for both her attention to detail and practised eye, you complete me - I wish I could quit you but I'd be rubbish if I did. Also smootches to TsylvestrisA for late night convos and cyber foot rubs. To all those who have bookmarked, kudosed and subscribed, thank you so much
Dozing. Heavy and warm in a cotton cocoon. Heat at my back from the window. Peaceful now without intrusive presence of Mycroft, nagging, observing, too insightful, hate how he's always right. And knows it. Everything aches. Chiming from the kitchen (summer's day, conservatory, watching clouds scud across the skyline, muddy knees). Warmth along my spine, can almost pretend it's John from that morning, the morning after (cliché), firm body curved around me, hand on my stomach (not mine now, it's his) pressing me against him. Woke early (iron grey dawn), surprised at the presence in my bed. Strange feeling, spent, exulting, fearful until he noses closer into my neck and sighs (John, John, so placid, so content just to be). Can feel his erection against my thigh, debate whether to wake him to explore, experiment, want to reciprocate but mind quiet, body languid, so much time for all that later.
When I wake again he's gone.
The hand (not his now, it's mine but pretend, pretend) drawing lazy circles on my abdomen, lower, lower, ribbons of desire fluttering up my spine, tightening around my chest, pooling in my belly. Hungry, know now what it is to be hungry but not want to eat. Sudden image of his face, familiar kind eyes, brow creased in concentration, gentle hands soothing, stroking the fever dreams away, a melody, his melody vibrating through his chest. Press close - he smells different, no washing powder - he still smells of hospitals, sterile, but now tea, antiseptic, all those things John and I want I want I want. Hand around me now gripping gently, I thrust into it, sheets still smell of him footsteps in the hallway it's him it's not him, I don't-
When John peeks into Sherlock's bedroom fifteen minutes later there is a huddled shape under a tangle of sheets and a definite absence of smug bureaucrat.
"Mycroft gone then?"
An eloquent grunt emerges from the pile of cloth accompanied by a cotton covered shrug.
"Must have a trapdoor somewhere, didn't hear him go. Sure he's not hiding under the bed?"
Sherlock groans theatrically. "Ugh. I feel nauseous enough as it is, must you torture me with that image?"
"Sorry," says John, sounding anything but. "Sit up. Got your pills and some water. And you really ought to eat something."
"Considering what these antibiotics will do to my digestive system it's probably better that I don't."
"Stop being an arse, you need to eat to heal. Come on."
A long, slim arm snakes out from under the sheet, palm up, and flaps at him impatiently when he doesn't immediately move. With a sigh, John goes to drop the tablets into his hand before his attention is caught. A wary eye appears above sheet level at the lack of movement and follows his gaze along the proffered arm, briefly stopping to roll itself at the ceiling.
"Yes, they're exactly what you think they are and no, not recently," says Sherlock crossly. "And considering what you've been up to in my absence you are in no position to disapprove."
"Seriously? You used to inject- ? Wait, what?" John reaches over and tugs the sheet down to chest level to reveal a fearsome scowl. "What do you mean by that?"
"Nothing," replies Sherlock after a long pause. "Doesn't matter."
"No, it's not 'nothing' otherwise you wouldn't have said. Don't you 'nothing' me - there are loads of things you're keeping quiet about and I'm sick of being kept in the bloody dark!"
Sherlock gives an exasperated sigh and wrangles the pillow behind his back, pushing himself upright against the headboard and extending his hand again impatiently. "I've no solid proof, no explanation, nothing makes sense and there's no point in telling you what I suspect because the only way I'll know for sure is if you remember."
"Tell me anyway," says John tersely, dropping the pills into his hand. "I deserve to know." He plonks himself stubbornly on the edge of the bed when Sherlock turns his head away, thrusting the tablets into his mouth and dry swallowing with a grimace.
"Please?" He adds hopefully to the wintry profile.
"Why not? I'm a big boy you know, despite what you and Mycroft think. I can cope-"
"Yes, clearly you coped brilliantly."
"Thanks for that. Put it this way - I can't get any worse, can I?"
"Who knows? If I tell you the Premiership results from last year your head might fall off."
"I said no." John flinches as a glare cold enough to flay the skin from his face hits him squarely in the adrenal cortex. "I don't want to-" Sherlock swallows around a suddenly dry throat, cursing all pharmaceutical companies roundly in his head, "-make assumptions without any solid proof."
"All right," John's face softens. "All right, I'm sorry." He lays a hand briefly on an area of cloth close to but not touching the curve of a hip as if afraid the other man may flinch away at the contact. Sherlock belatedly realises he is trembling, the sheet crinkled under his fisted hands. After a pause John turns and then hands him the water. "I understand."
"Do you?" The retort is as icy as the glare, the shoulders hunched, hands tight around the glass as if drawing comfort from its solidity.
"I think so." John's direct blue gaze catches and holds him steady, sending a tendril of warmth through his chest, the remnants of the dream tightening knots of desire low in his belly.
"Is that right?" Sherlock murmurs, eyes narrowing, still caught by the constellation of speckles in a well of black ringed with navy, shifts in the configuration since he last had the opportunity to observe this closely swimming up at him. "And what exactly is it you think you understand?"
John shifts uncomfortably and takes a deep breath. "Okay. Right. Well. I get that you want me to remember. I also get that you think it will upset me if you tell me what happened or what you suspect happened afterwards. Mycroft-"
"Mycroft said what?" Snaps Sherlock, rearing up, eyes glittering. "Why do you keep bringing him up?"
"- he said nothing! Wouldn't tell me anything either. Look, calm down and let me finish."
Sherlock slumps back onto the headboard, eyes not leaving his flatmate's face, and folds his arms petulantly, wincing at the sting of the wood on his back
"You think I might have done this on purpose," says John slowly. "And you don't want to believe it. That I might have...erased you. Because of what..." he falters under the diamond hard gaze but squares his shoulders, chin lifting, "...because of our relationship."
The silence in the room is absolute. Even the intermittent growl of traffic seems dulled. Shadows gather in the corners of the room as Sherlock fixes his eyes on the wall opposite and John waits, chest vibrating with the force of his own frantic heartbeat.
"You're not denying it," he says cautiously, "so-"
"I'm not denying it because there's nothing to deny. We lived together, we worked together, we were often mistaken for a couple." A muscle twitches in the long line of his neck. "It used to upset you."
"Well, yeah. I'm not gay."
"So you kept bleating to anyone who suggested it. Happily," continues Sherlock, bitterness sharpening the bitten off consonants, "it never seemed to get in the way of all the female attention you were intent on attracting."
"You should have told me it upset you."
"Don't be idiotic. I couldn't have cared less." Full lips thin and whiten and the ache in John's chest which is both new and familiar grows sharper at the hastily smoothed expression.
"There's more to it than that."
"Don't flatter yourself."
"Don't lie to me," John snaps, voice rising. "All of this...this stuff you're doing! Nobody does this for a flatmate, or a best friend! The touching and the violin playing and...and the nightmare thing. And the way you look at me sometimes-"
"And how," says Sherlock coldly, "exactly do I look at you?"
"Like you hate me."
"Oh, I see. We're trotting out the truly venerable cliches, the old 'fine line between-"
"You hate me because I'm not the person you knew. It's him you want."
Silence again, deafening in its abrupt descent. Sherlock turns his head away but not before John sees a spasm of pain cross the set face.
"And we're running out of options, aren't we?" Presses John. "If nothing works, then what? What happens if I don't remember? I can't stay here, it'd be miserable for both of us." He sighs when there is no response after a minute or so and worries at the sheets, shaking his head. "I'll move out."
"There's no need."
"I'm not having you give me that look day after day, I'd rather-"
"I've organised an outing, there's one further experiment and after that if you're in such a hurry to leave you can."
"That's not what I meant."
"Isn't it? There was a time when the idea of a relationship between you and me horrified you. Right from the start, in fact - came for the flat, stayed for the thrills." Sherlock smiles without humour. "Currently I can't provide much in the way of a spectacle so I don't expect you to stay if nothing works."
"But I stayed, Sherlock. For eighteen months I lived with you and I can't believe that it was because you fed my inner adrenaline junkie. I won't believe that." John tilts his head in thought, the corner of his mouth quirking in realisation. "Huh. So there was a time when the thought of a relationship didn't horrify me."
"No. No, Sherlock. Because otherwise I'm going mad...more mad-"
"Shut up! Because I look at you and suddenly it's like there's a clamp around my chest and a charge in my head and there are all these feelings that only get worse with the smells and the...the..." John flails, shaking his head helplessly. "So I'm going to ask you again. For the last time. And before you say it, yes, it does matter, because I can't make sense of any of this, so please. Please. Were we-?"
"But-" John's breath explodes in a rush, panic clouding the edges of his vision.
"Not like you mean. We were friends, but," Sherlock grits his teeth, "we had...there was one night. Just one. When we...weren't."
"One night, John. One." Burned into memory, impossible to delete even if I wanted to, filigreed into every subsequent experience, sentiment clouding and distracting. "Let me enlighten you about your so-called feelings. You're attracted to me on a base level, don't even bother to deny it. You were when we first met in spite of your claims otherwise until I put you off and the infatuation was easily enough reinterpreted as serotonin high from the thrill of immediate danger. Your current attraction is based on chemical memory. Fallible. Unreliable. False. We weren't together long enough to predict how the relationship would have progressed or to form any sort of habitual attachment. Ridiculous to assume we could have done."
"So we..." repeats John wonderingly. "Why didn't you say anything?"
"But it's me."
"No. It isn't. Right now you're the John I met three years ago. You're traumatised, struggling to re-adjust to civilian life. You're not gay. These 'feelings' of yours aren't real. You're not attracted to me, you're attracted to a remembered high. All that tedious angsting, the sexual identity crisis and subsequent glacially slow re-tailoring of your world view came later," He slides down and folds himself on his side, away from John, "when we were friends. It's irrelevant and distracting so just let it go."
His phone bleeps and he turns his attention to it, hunching his shoulders in obvious dismissal until John sighs and stands up to leave. Sherlock waits until the tell-tale swing of his bedroom door, eyes unfocused on the bright screen, before he turns his head.
"I don't hate you," he says softly, pulling the sheets more tightly around him as the door clicks shut. But after everything I've accomplished I deserve more than this.
Preliminary report confirms your suspicions. Vitamins laced with buccal midazolam - M
Not readily available. Bespoke? - SH
Quite possibly. Investigating. He could have requested it himself, he has the contacts - M
I'm aware of that. Go suck up to your Equerry and stop polluting my phone with mindless chatter.
Temperance, Sherlock. We'll find out where they came from - M
"Are you sure you're up to this?"
"There's a very good chance that if I don't leave this flat I'll drop dead of boredom."
"Your temperature's only just gone back to normal, you know. We could wait a bit."
Sherlock snorts ungraciously, shouldering on his coat and retrieving his gloves from the pockets. "I'm fine. I've been nagged and nannied for three days straight, He shoots John an imperious look but his eyes are bright and amused, completely at odds with his peremptory tone.
"You're welcome," replies John with a grin and a nod. "Take your scarf, it's freezing."
"Nagged and nannied," repeats Sherlock without rancour, looping cashmere around his neck and starting down the stairs.
"You loved all the attention, you great martyr. Tea on demand, 'John, fetch me the laptop', 'John, my head hurts, can you adjust my pillow?', 'John, I'll have that toast now'."
"You kept on at me to eat," retorts Sherlock indignantly. "You can't possibly complain when I ask for food."
"I can when it's bloody 5am, I'm fast asleep and you're texting me repeatedly," says John mildly, closing the front door behind them and climbing into the waiting estate car. "This is nice. Mycroft?"
"Of course. Extra wide seats," he directs a sly smirk at John who gives him an old fashioned look in return before Sherlock leans forwards and taps at the glass partition between them and the driver. The car pulls away and they sit in silence for a little while, watching the lights of the passing cityscape and the evening crowds filling the streets.
"Okay, so we're out after dark in a bulletproof car to avoid any nasty henchman having a go," remarks John. "Care to tell me where we're going?" He turns to look at Sherlock who is watching people grouped together outside a busy pub, the blank canvas of his face illuminated by flashing neon and the gleam of headlights.
"Brilliant," says John, turning up the aircon and wrapping himself more snugly in his coat. "But just so you know, I hate ornamental gardens and the opera is right out."
"Jesus, it's freezing out here," John complains half an hour later, looking longingly at the idling estate waiting on the embankment.
"What am I looking at?"
"You're not looking at anything, you're talking," snaps Sherlock, flipping his collar up and jamming his chin further down into his scarf.
"All right, all right, don't get your knickers in a twist," John mutters, watching the other man stalk off to lean against the side of the bridge, face upturned to the night sky. "Nice view," he adds. "Of London," he supplies quickly, turning his back on Sherlock to peer down at the darkened embankment. He takes a deep breath, trying not to shiver and gazes down the river's broad, dim expanse. "We find that museum guard down there somewhere?" He feels rather than sees Sherlock's attention sharpen and shrugs without looking round. "Blog." Tipping his head backwards he eyes the spray of stars above him reflected in the cold, still water below and feels momentarily dizzy, the feeling of falling into a starlit void momentarily robbing him of breath. "Used to hate looking at the stars when I was young," he says eventually. "Terrified me." He jumps slightly as Sherlock settles next to him, arms resting comfortably on the balustrade. "Don't suppose you see them much in London. Out in Afghanistan the skies were incredible at night. Made me feel eight years old all over again. Small and insignificant."
"We are small and insignificant." The smoky voice, contemplative and soft, drifts over the sharp spring breeze. "Brief lives, we flare and die like matches. Contemplating stars puts it into perspective." Sherlock turns his head, a small smile on his face. "And they are beautiful, sometimes it's good to be reminded."
They stand in silence, wind lifting dark curls and grey-blond hair alike, sending ripples of reflected light across their remote faces until John shakes his head and stands up straighter.
"You know, I've got a story about a man on a bridge and how he ended up in A&E after an incident involving a padlock and no underwear."
"More like eye-crossingly painful." John eyes the trickle of pedestrians crossing the footbridge. "Best if I tell you in the car."
Both men are giggling like schoolboys by the time the estate pulls up outside the main entrance of Bart's Hospital.
"You can't," manages Sherlock, "seriously expect me to believe that a middle-aged man persuaded his mother that inserting a device into that particular orifice was good for his back?"
"I swear on my life," gasps John, swiping at his eyes. "Can't believe I haven't told you these stories already."
"No," says Sherlock, still shaking with residual laughter. "You never really talked about your hospital days." He sobers a little and shoots him a sideways glance.
"Too many other things going on, I expect." John meets his eyes and smiles faintly before turning his attention to the red brick building outside the car. "Haven't been here in years-" he catches himself and sighs. "You know what I mean."
"You go on in," says Sherlock. "Lab and morgue will be open. I'll wait outside. The fewer people that see me, the better."
John wanders the bleached corridors, half-remembered directions eventually leading him to a dimly lit lab. Entering, he closes his eyes and inhales deeply, taking in the formalin, antiseptic and chemical scents before walking slowly around the central table, running a hand gently over the white counter. It's clear except for one microscope and, incongruously, a riding crop sitting beside it companionably. John seats himself on the chair, picking it up and swishing it absently, idle thoughts of Sherlock, eyes curiously luminous under reflected starlight drawing him away from the stark emptiness of the laboratory.
Eventually he frowns, and, with one last look around, hoping against hope for an epiphany that doesn't come, ambles out and down towards the morgue. He peeks in the window before opening the door and sees a small, white-coated figure bending over a corpse. Hesitating, he turns to leave but hears his name called from within.
"John?" Eager eyes beckon him in and against his better judgement he enters, smiling awkwardly as the mousy woman with a sweet, familiar perfume gathers him into a hug. "It's been ages! Are you better? I mean, how have you been? Any...better? I thought about coming round to see you but Mike said it was probably better not to, because of...your..." She falters and then recovers with a bright smile. "Are you here for this one?"
"No. Er, no," replies John. "Not here for a case. Just thought I'd...pop in briefly. How's things?"
"Oh, good. Great! Not great," she says hastily. "But okay. So..." she goes to punch him amiably on the shoulder and then changes her mind at the last moment, hand fluttering briefly in mid-air before being thrust into a lab coat pocket. "What's new with you?" Her eyes are bright and curious. "Anything?"
"Not much," John replies carefully. "Nothing ever happens to me." There's an awkward silence whilst they both cast around for things to say. "So I, er, probably ought to go. I'll catch you later-"
"Alligator!" She closes her eyes for a moment and visibly re-gathers herself. "Nice to see you again, John. You'd...tell me if anything was, you know...wouldn't you?"
"Yeah. Yeah, of course," he says over his shoulder, pushing out into the corridor, conscious of her eyes on his back.
"Bye!" She calls after him, uncertain voice cut off by the closing door.
When he exits the hospital he notices to his dismay that the dark car has gone, the lateness of the hour thinning traffic on the street down to an intermittent dribble. He's reaching for his phone when it buzzes in his pocket, making him jump.
Meet me at the side entrance - S
He almost misses the dark figure, coat wrapped tightly around his body, standing in the shadows of the darkened building. Sherlock looks up as he approaches, scanning his face and then looking away, expression hardening.
"Ran into a very friendly girl who appeared to know me."
"Small, mousy hair? Cross between Piglet and a socially inept teenager?"
"Don't be cruel. She was very sweet."
"Molly." Sherlock glances upwards and John follows his gaze, the spatter of stars now obscured by the glare of the streetlights. "What did she want?"
"A chat, I think. Asked if I was all right. I...didn't mention you if that's what you're worried about."
John flinches at a sudden movement overhead, the shape of a bird outlined against the lean of the wall before it's swallowed by the dark. He swallows, suddenly nauseous, dropping his eyes at the swivel of his flatmate's head, inhaling slowly, aware of Sherlock's intent appraisal.
"All right?" Sherlock moves closer, places a hand on his shoulder as John reaches towards the wall to steady himself.
"Yeah," John swallows again. "Feel a bit sick. Probably just hungry." He takes another deep breath, a strange high-pitched whine starting in his ears. "Need to sit down, be okay in a minute." Strong hands turn him and gently press his back against the wall, slim fingers drifting down to rest on his wrist. Closing his eyes makes the nausea worse so John forces them open, fixing his gaze on a nearby stretch of pavement. The darkness claws at him, the ringing in his ears intensifying as he studies the puddled shadows on the concrete and then he retches suddenly, knees buckling. An arm snakes around his shoulders, guiding him forwards as he gasps and heaves, eventually winding underneath to hold him up on rubbery legs.
"Sorry, I'm sorry," he manages, wiping his lips with the back of his hand.
"It's fine," murmurs Sherlock, arm tightening momentarily before he begins to move them away from the mess on the pavement. As if on cue the black estate glides into view and they start towards it. "Let's get you some water."
Sherlock refrains from tapping on the glass partition until John finally regains some colour, his head lolling against the leather seat, glass held limply in one hand. Eventually he rolls his head to the side and sighs.
"Something happened there, didn't it? Outside the hospital?" John frowns as Sherlock angles his head away, giving one sharp dip of the chin. "So I have a bloody panic attack and still don't remember anything."
"Nothing?" A flash of pale blue before the other man turns away again.
"No. I'll say it again," John sighs. "My brain is a massive tool."
They sit in silence for a moment, Sherlock studying the soiled concrete and John keeping his gaze firmly inside the car.
"One more stop then we'll get something to eat."
"Seriously? You're actually volunteering to eat something?"
"By 'we' I mean 'you'. You appear to have decorated the pavement with your lunch."
"Knew it was too good to be true."
"Well this is creepy," states John as they stand in the deserted cemetery, eyeing the gravestone in front of them with great reluctance. "At least I'm not puking on your fake grave though. Every cloud, right?"
"And other fatuous idioms," murmurs Sherlock. He glances around the sprawling mass of stone and grass, trees shivering ominously on the edges of the small area of visible landscape. His name, carved into the speckled marble seems too vivid, the letters leaving shifting imprints on his vision whenever he looks away. He feels John shudder at his side, watches the blunt hand extend to run tentatively over the smooth contours of the headstone.
"I would have been furious at you for dying. I would have twatted you for turning up out of the blue again afterwards," breathes John. "You made me bury my best friend. Made me believe you were down here." He turns towards him. "Maybe I did hate you. For leaving me alone. Maybe that's what all this is about."
Sherlock is ghostly against the dark background, eyes closed and hands balled in his pockets. "Needless postulations aside?" He asks quietly.
"I feel hollow. Empty. Like I've been cleaned out." John drops his head, hunching his shoulders. "Is that real? Or one of those false memories?"
"I don't know," says Sherlock hoarsely. He opens his eyes, scans the horizons again. "We're being watched."
John tenses immediately, dropping into a defensive stance and checking the peripheries. "Can't see anything," he whispers.
"Neither can I," Sherlock answers. "But there's someone here." He reaches into a pocket and presses a button on his phone. Instantly headlights flare, illuminating the area around them, gravestones looming in sharp relief against the full beam. "Let's get back to the car."
They walk quickly, alert for movement, searching the moving darkness, their capering shadows lengthening behind them until they finally reach the estate, falling in and blowing out twin breaths of relief as the locks click home. Sherlock leans forward and peers at the rear view mirror, meeting the eyes of the driver who shakes his head fractionally.
"Let's go," he says tersely, eyes on the stone building nearby. Neither man relaxes until the windswept cemetery is far behind them.
Sherlock holds the door of the cozily lit restaurant open, ushering John in with one hand.
"Closing," growls a sturdy looking man near the back of the room, throwing a tea towel over one shoulder and moving towards them. His eyes widen as he takes in first John and then the figure behind him. "Cazzo!" Dropping an enormous hand on John's shoulder he clasps it fondly, just avoiding grinding it into a fine paste before pushing him aside. "Not dead then?" He says to Sherlock calmly, tucking the tea towel into his belt.
Angelo nods sagely before bringing up a meaty fist so fast he might as well have not moved at all. Sherlock is suddenly sprawled over a nearby table, eyes widening as the same hand grasps him by the lapels and drags him upright. "That's for 'im," says Angelo, nodding at John who is frozen in shock, mouth hanging open. He pats Sherlock down, straightening his coat.
"You'll need some ice for that. Now, what can I get you both?"
Sherlock gives John a death glare as they settle themselves at a table near the back, John managing to close his mouth in time to comment, "friend of ours, then?"
"Mm," Sherlock answers, touching the vivid mark on his cheek gingerly and rotating his jaw. "Little bit less forgiving than Lestrade and Mrs Hudson."
"Italians are very passionate," says John, trying hard not to smirk and earning himself another murderous stare.
Angelo reappears with a bag of frozen peas and a menu which John holds a hand out for, rolling his eyes when Sherlock grabs it and hands it back.
"His usual," he orders, taking the peas and holding them against his face with a wince. "and a bottle of red."
"You got it," replies Angelo, setting a glass on the table. "Be back with your wine in a sec."
"No candle?" Says John absently, adjusting the peas to lie flatter over Sherlock's face. "Sorry," he adds when the other man flinches, giving him a complicated look. "What?"
"Another glass please, Angelo," says Sherlock slowly, watching John struggle out of his coat.
"All right, Mr Holmes."
John eats, Sherlock watches him. He refills their glasses frequently and John shoots him the odd concerned look, drinking one to Sherlock's two every time and he feels less than sober despite the fettucine he's just worked through.
"Shouldn't you slow down a bit? You've barely eaten anything today."
"On a case," Sherlock says shortly, taking a pointed mouthful and staring at the candle between them.
"Please stop referring to me as a case."
"Who said I was referring to you at all?" He pours the last of the second bottle messily into his glass and gestures to the candle. "What's this for?"
"This what? The candle?" John shrugs, rolling the stem of the glass between his fingers. "Dunno. Just...I dunno. Why?"
"You dunno," mimics Sherlock, face animating with contempt. "How enlightening."
John's eyebrows rise as the detective pushes himself to his feet, swaying very slightly. "Where are you going?"
He raises a hand to Angelo, pivots on one heel with less grace than usual and leaves without another word. John drains his glass and approaches the owner hurriedly, wallet at the ready, only to be shooed off with a shake of the head and a mildly menacing look when he tries to protest. Sherlock's nowhere in sight when he hurries out onto the street and John realises he has no idea where he is in relation to the flat, flagging down a taxi only to be dropped off ten minutes away from where he got in. He suppresses a sigh of relief on seeing his flatmate in his usual chair, tumbler of what looks like whisky in one hand, posture tense, hand hand curled tight around the glass and the other gripping the armrest so hard the knuckles are white.
"What's wrong?" Asks John cautiously, lowering himself into the chair opposite.
"What's wrong?" Sherlock parrots, taking a huge gulp and choking slightly, eyes watering. "Do I have to spell it out for you?"
"Here's a mad idea, why don't you just tell me and then we can talk about it."
"Oh yes, talking makes it all better, doesn't it? All right, let's sit here and have a lovely conversation about the fact you're still stuck in 2009 and I that I have completely run out of ideas. How's that?" Sherlock tips the rest of the drink down his throat and reaches down the side of the chair, withdrawing a bottle. "So why don't you just go ahead and pack your bags? This is pointless, a waste of time." He drops his head, jaw clenched tight. "I should be concentrating on this agent not chasing after-" Shaking his head in jerky movements he snaps his mouth shut and falls silent, slumped forwards, forearms on knees and curls obscuring his face. "Stupid," he says flatly.
"Come on, Sherlock-"
"Don't you 'come on Sherlock', me!" He shouts, startling John into silence. Leaping to his feet he hurls the tumbler at the wall in one swift movement before unscrewing the bottle and taking a long pull. "Nothing's worked," he grates, turning towards the window. "I've tried everything I can think of and-" he breaks off and clutches at his hair in frustration. "Nothing." He lets out a short bark of laughter, eyes wild and red-rimmed. "I should congratulate you. You managed what I never could. You've erased a complete relationship, wiped your drive clean."
"That's not- look, there's something- " says John, standing abruptly and moving towards him. "I do remember. It's why I asked you about us. Earlier."
Sherlock, frozen mid retort, swivels his head, the intensity of his gaze pinning John in place. John swallows, his resolve shrivelling like butterfly wings in a blast furnace but forces himself closer.
"What?" Says Sherlock tightly. "What do you remember? Why didn't you say anything?" He steps towards him until they are inches away from each other, capping the bottle and throwing it carelessly onto the nearby desk. "No, shut up, I don't care," he snaps as John opens his mouth to reply. "Just tell me what you remember."
"I..." starts John and clenches his jaw, hands fisting nervously. "We're in bed. Your bed I think. You're...underneath me, looking up while I-" he forces his voice to remain steady, "-put my hands on you. Kiss you." He rubs his forehead. "Came back to me when I was in the pub with Greg and he was talking about us. Again when I had to undress you to get your temperature down. Same body, same marks." He looks up to see Sherlock eyeing him warily as if ready to bolt. "It's a memory. A real one. I know it is." John takes a deep breath. "It is, isn't it?"
"Yes," breathes Sherlock.
"I can't get it out of my head."
"That's the only thing you remember?"
They stare at each other, dark blue holding mercurial silver until Sherlock moves suddenly, long hands grasping John's shoulders and pulling. It's messy, inexpert, lips sliding along John's to catch the corner of his mouth, ending up somewhere over his cheek. For a moment both men are frozen in place until Sherlock starts to withdraw, but John's hands come up to hold him still, one sliding behind his neck and the other tangling gently into curls to pull him down again. This time lips meet and open; John licks into the warm, slack mouth, slanting his head to explore deeper, feeling the other man's body tremble against his. Sherlock's hands scrabble at his waist and John hears him groan low in his throat, the lean, heated body sagging against his with small, desperate noises which tug at his chest.
Abruptly Sherlock pulls back with a gasp, hands clamped around John's face. John looks up at him, dazed and shiny mouthed, breathing heavily.
"Did it work?" Asks Sherlock unsteadily.
John stares at him in confusion, brow furrowing at the sudden flare of hope in moonstone eyes and its equally rapid demise. "What?"
"You-" starts Sherlock, curling forward, head drooping onto his shoulder before he yanks it upright again, looking wild and completely absorbed in his own head. "No," he mutters half to himself. "Not some fairy tale...stupid, stupid. Infantile."
"But you remember me," hisses Sherlock, hands tight on his shoulders again, intense eyes scorching him. "Yes." He nods once and takes a step back. "Yes," he says again and John feels slender fingers close on his wrist and tug gently. "More sensory input. Not a total failure. Come with me, John."
"I...want you. Please, John. Come to bed with me. Will you?" His wide, darkened eyes are fixed on John's mouth, the words tumbling over one other, voice low and urgent,
"But I'm not-"
"I don't care, John. I don't care. Please. Like we were before. I'll be how you remember me. Will you do this for me, John?"
The hand tugs again.
"Yes," gasps John, his chest clenching, body tight as a bowstring. "All right. Yes."
Sherlock turns and leads him slowly towards the stairs, towards John's bedroom and John, dizzy with arousal and his own thundering heartbeat, allows himself be led.
This chapter is thoroughly deserving of the M rating so if men doing sex things with other men fairly graphically is not your thing then look away now. Okay NOW. You have been warned. Rib creaking hugs to my beta and BFF Lyrium Flower who held my hand and patted me firmly when needlessly spazzing about the writing of this and also to TSylvestrisA who offered other, equally soothing services. One day I shall create a religion just for them which requires smutty fiction as tithes. Continuing thanks to all of you who comment and follow and also to you lurkers because even the hit counter gives me a sly, sitting on the spin-cycle thrill.
Slash, Sherlock x John.
John watches Sherlock ascend the stairs ahead of him, a feeling of unreality dulling his senses, only the feel of slim fingers around his wrist anchoring him enough to allow him to move his suddenly leaden feet. Sherlock hesitates on the threshold and then peels his hand away, leaving John hovering just inside the door. After a pause, John turns and closes it, catching a slight flinch at the noise out of the corner of his eye before Sherlock straightens his jacket and marches purposefully towards the bed, flicking on the lamp and turning to face him.
"When you're ready," he says peremptorily, holding John's gaze. His hands come up to fumble at the buttons of his suit and he staggers, toeing off one shoe and stepping on it accidentally.
"Wait. Wait a minute," says John, shaking his head, striding forward and stilling the clumsy fingers with his own. "I know what this is about- " The rest of the sentence is muffled as Sherlock wrenches his hands free, wraps one around his neck and the other under an arm and mashes lips against his, pressing his body against him so fiercely that they both nearly go over.
"Stop it! Bloody hell, Sherlock," manages John in between messy, bruising swipes of Sherlock's mouth. "Will you- " he finally gets his hands up and holds the other man away from him, "-stop it! You can't just- "
"Oh, you know what this is about, do you?" pants Sherlock, dishevelled and wild-eyed, hands coming up to grasp his forearms. "Do you care?" He dives forwards again, twisting through flailing limbs to frame John's face with hot, dry hands. "I don't," he breathes, lips inches away, swollen and shiny. "I don't care, John."
"Sherlock, you're drunk- "
"I am," Sherlock answers, eyes drifting shut as he ghosts his mouth over John's cheek and John has to steel himself to not turn his head, to sink his hands into the soft tangle of curls and attack those ridiculous lips until they swell and redden even more.
"But only enough so I can't tell the difference." His pupils are so wide John can see himself ringed in pools of moonlight, his reflected expression wavering between hunger and uncertainty. "Because it doesn't matter." Sherlock exhales shakily, pressing his face into the warm junction at his shoulder, his breath raising hairs on the back of John's neck.
"That's not what you said the other day," he says softly, unable to prevent himself bringing a hand up to pet the soft, exposed skin at his nape. "Sherlock, I'm still not who you want and if this is just another experiment to you- "
"No." Sherlock turns his face further into his neck, nuzzling against his jaw as if seeking comfort. "You are." He pushes away with a sudden movement and seats himself on the edge of the bed, hands tousling through curls restlessly, eyes on the thinning carpet. "I was a stranger," he continues, "you looked after me, fussed over me, tolerated me. You've...shown me affection. Just like before." He averts his face. "Things I didn't think I wanted...needed...until I didn't have them any more. "
"I need this, John." The words are forced out from somewhere deep in his chest and John shivers involuntarily, the baritone rumble pooling further warmth into his groin. Incandescent eyes track up to rest on his face. "I want this. Does it really matter why? We can be how we were before. Like you remember." The last is said so softly John has to strain to hear it. "If you want that too."
The vulnerability in the pale, shadowed face pulls at John and he finds himself kneeling in front of the hunched figure, hands grasping bony knees. He takes a steadying breath and then nods. "Yes," he says. "Yes I want that."
Sherlock dives forward as if his strings have been suddenly cut but John is quicker, one hand pressing at his shoulder and the other at his jaw, tilting his head to slant his mouth over lips which part in surprise. Without waiting for him to adjust he licks his way in, touching his tongue to the other man's and feeling him gasp and stiffen. He explores gently, not delving too deep, conscious of the tense shoulders and fluttering lashes until Sherlock relaxes with a soft groan, fingers tightening on his ribs.
Still got it, thinks John with a small flush of pride, shifting minutely to ease the pressure on his knees and bringing up a hand to work at the buttons on the front of the now rumpled suit jacket. I knew Three Continents Watson wasn't-
Sherlock pulls away suddenly, looping his arms under John's and heaving him onto the bed with surprising strength, pulling the smaller man up his long body and forcing him to balance on his hands to avoid resting his full weight on him. A distant part of John's brain objects at Sherlock's eyes remaining tightly shut until he arches up into him, pushing a firming length into his stomach and John ignores the voice in his head which is telling him to go slow and take his time and instead straddles the other man's groin, pulling open his jacket and starting on the form fitting shirt underneath. He dips his head to mouth at the stretch of exposed throat and Sherlock jerks as if electrocuted, pushing against him and grabbing his hips.
John rears up, running a proprietary hand from pale sternum to navel and reaches for his own buttons, stilling as determined hands close over his own.
"No," says Sherlock hoarsely. "Undress me first." He removes his hands and lets them fall to either side of him in silent submission. John swallows and nods, picking one of them up and dropping a quick kiss on the palm before undoing a cuff, watching goose-pimples mar the smooth skin of his chest. He repeats the motion on the other side, watching the pale eyes flicker before Sherlock draws his hand back, and, shoving him sideways, sits up to shoulder off his jacket and shirt, undoing his trousers and kicking them off with quick, impatient movements.
"I wanted to do that," begins John as he's seized around the chest and pulled back on top of the now mostly naked man. He opens his mouth but the protest dies in his throat as he takes in the sight of Sherlock splayed underneath him, head thrown back, mouth slack and wet, a flush across his high cheekbones and chest.
"God, you're lovely," he breathes, licking a broad, slow stripe over one nipple and smiling as the other man shudders hard against him. "You taste just like I imagined you would."
"Is this- ?" Gasps Sherlock, fisting the sheets. "Do you- ?"
John pauses, suspended above him, momentarily confused and caught by the swirl of emotion in the wide eyes.
"In your memory," he persists, stiffening again as John dances his fingers over the sensitive nubs. "Was I...like this?"
It doesn't matter thinks John fiercely, looking down at the soft, smooth expanse of skin below him, chest rising and falling with shallow breaths, the gleam of sweat begging to be sucked at. Even if I never get to do this again it doesn't matter because I'll have this image. I'll remember him like this, just like this.
"Yes," he says finally. "You were." Sherlock's eyes widen and he pushes himself up slightly to peer at him, narrowing them again at the soft sigh the movement causes.
"You weren't looking at me like that though," he remarks and then wishes he hadn't because saying it out loud makes it true. And I wish you wouldn't look at me like that now...all hopeful and avid and expectant. Like you're waiting for that other John to come take my place.
Sherlock flops back onto the bed, hands absently rubbing along still denimed thighs. "Well, how was I looking at you then?" He says with a twinge of his usual impatience and John laughs despite the tightness in his throat as a variety of expressions flit across the mobile face, settling eventually into one of exasperation.
"Pretty much like that, actually."
Sherlock eyes him for a moment and then his lips twitch upwards. "Sounds about right." He pauses and then pulls his arms away to rest either side of his head, the contrast of the white skin and dark hair almost shocking in its disparity. "Do to me what you were doing in your memory."
"It's an image, Sherlock, not a YouTube video," mutters John, but his fingers are already drifting up the curve of his waist, thumbs tracing the undersides of the prominent ribcage which rises sharply with an irritated intake of breath and then stills as John leans forwards to press his lips against the sweetly shaped sternal notch.
"What are you doing?"
"Exploring. It may all be old hat to you but I've never done anything like this before. That I remember," he amends as ice blue eyes flash fire and then ice at him, moving over his face accusingly. "I'm still adjusting a bit. Besides," he flashes him a roguish grin, "you're not the only one who likes to experiment."
"You've never been with a man before."
"No I haven't."
"It's overwhelming," states Sherlock, watching the fingers drift across his nipples, his mouth falling open at the ripple of pleasure.
"I wouldn't say that."
"Perhaps it needs to be."
He hisses in frustration, turning his face to one side, even as John's mouth moving over his clavicle makes him press involuntarily against the other man's groin, mind working furiously.
Play-acting the memory isn't working. He's concentrating on pleasing me, he thinks, trying to hold onto his rapidly dissolving mental processes. John's experienced, methodical, partner focused. His train of thought abruptly derails as John's mouth closes around a nipple and sucks and he moans softly, feeling the soft lips carve a smile across his chest. Intuitive. Focus. Yes. Again. Oh. Don't waste this opportunity. He sucks in a breath, trying to ignore the warm waves of pleasure washing over him as John moves over his neck with clever fingers and laving tongue, unable to stop his hand coming up to rest on the back of his neck. Psychological barrier all about restraint. Need to - ah - need to flood him with sensation -
John shifts his weight and Sherlock bucks at the sudden friction against his length and for the briefest moment it's all he can do to breathe, his free hand coming up to flex uselessly in the air before it's caught and pressed back against the bed.
"Like that, do you?" Breathes John, rolling his hips again and he smiles again at the strangled noise which falls without volition from Sherlock's treacherous throat.
He turns his head to see John gazing down at him, the crow's feet at the corners of his eyes deepening in amusement and pleasure at his responses and without quite meaning to he traces one with a fingertip, smoothing the pad down his cheek and jaw.
Remember the purpose of this.
"No," he manages, snatching his hand away and tightening his jaw against the sudden look of confusion and hurt on the other man's face. "Yes. What I mean to say is that it's...not enough."
"What do you mean by that?" Asks John quietly, but Sherlock can see his pupils dilate by a degree and his breathing speeds up. "Tell me what you want."
Yes. John responds to orders, direction. Likes (liked) my voice, small smile on his face when deducing, sometimes closed his eyes when I was thinking aloud (although at times out of irritation).
"I want to see you naked again. I want you to press your body against mine," he answers, watching as John's mouth falls open and his face floods with colour, a spike of arousal tightening his belly at the expression of naked desire, so vivid still in his memory and now displayed again on the face of the almost-John in front of him. "I want your hands on me," he continues and the words are tumbling from his mouth because John is now pulling at his own shirt and wrestling himself free, kicking off his jeans and straddling him again, only two layers of thin cotton separating them. "I want you in me," he grates and John's mouth comes down on his, kissing him urgently, deeply and igniting all the nerve endings in his body like lit magnesium and it's good, it's good because it's John and when he's on him and in him and around him he can lose himself and find him again, because this time he knows it will work.
He gasps as the other man grinds his cock against his, rides the soldier's aggression and possessiveness as John bites along his milk-white shoulder and gasps, "you like it a bit rough, do you?", manages a nod as John shudders and fists a hand into his hair and whispers "okay, then," and pinches a nipple firmly between his fingers.
Sherlock twists and whines, pleasure sparking through the rills of pain and reaches down between them, wriggling out of his underwear and shoving at John's. He spreads his legs, bucking up into him.
"Come on. Come on, John." His stomach clenches again at the unguarded lust on the weathered, familiar face and he snakes a hand between them to wrap a hand around and then press the other man's cock against his entrance.
"No, wait," gasps John, even as he rubs himself along his cleft. "Wait, I shouldn't - I don't want to hurt you."
"I've endured worse."
John pushes himself up, expression suddenly hard despite his flaring pupils. "That is absolutely not what I need to hear right now."
Sherlock says nothing, angling his head away only to have his chin grasped gently and his face turned to meet an intent gaze.
"You won't tell me what happened to you, that's fine, you will in your own time." There's concern in John's voice as well as a profound certainty. "And I don't care how many times you've done this before I want to make sure it doesn't hurt this time. I want you, more than anyone I've ever had in my bed. The first time I saw you, and I don't know whether it's echoes or memory or simply because you're brilliant and stroppy and gorgeous and an unbelievably huge pain in the arse, but I wanted you. I want this to be good for you," the other man hesitates and his next words are forced out in a rushed exhale, "whatever happens afterwards."
There's a weight on Sherlock's chest which momentarily steals the breath from him and he doesn't dare meet John's eyes in case he sees through his flimsy subterfuge, instead hardening his expression into one of long-suffering impatience.
"All right," he says, attempting unconcern but unable to completely keep the hitch from his voice, covering it with another strong shove of his hips, but John's expression softens nonetheless.
"Thank you. Don't go anywhere." Sherlock turns his head to follow him as he scrambles off the bed and roots around in his doctor's bag, extracting a tube and turning back to him, only to halt with a frown. "Er- "
"You're clean," he says. "Discharge notes," he clarifies in response to a crease between John's eyebrows. "And I haven't..." he lets the rest of the sentence trail off, feeling himself flush more under John's considering gaze.
"Nothing since we..?"
Sherlock ignores the question, sliding further onto the bed and settling himself onto the pillows with exaggerated care, watching sidelong as John wages a brief internal struggle before climbing on and gently parting his thighs with a nuzzle of his face, jaw slightly scratchy, settling on his belly in between them. There's a pause and then he feels slick fingers trail over his perineum before applying an unexpectedly delicious pressure which makes him throw back his head. Another finger massages his entrance and he forces himself to relax, eyes on the shifting patterns of the ceiling above him. A warm mouth descends, kissing his inner thigh and moving upwards towards his heavy cock and he bites at his lower lip to stop himself thrusting his hips forward.
"No," he gasps, "quickly, now. I want you in me." John is staring up at him, an expression of mild chagrin and blossoming lust on his face. "John, please. Do what you have to do but don't make me wait."
"All right," says John breathlessly and inserts a finger without preamble and it's alien and unexpected and shockingly intrusive but long ignored desire coils hot in his belly and he instinctively spreads his legs further at John's sudden groan of arousal.
"God, if you could see yourself," John says quietly, adding another finger and gently stroking into him, twisting and scissoring until he swirls over a sensitive kiss of flesh and Sherlock's mind fragments for a few seconds. When's he's able to focus again John is smiling up at him, he presses his lips to his aching shaft and adds a third finger and, oh Christ, if he keeps doing that he's going to -
He sits up quickly, pulling himself off John's hand and attacking his mouth, the kiss feverish in its intensity, pulling at the other man, thumbs sweeping over John's nipples, one dropping to move tentatively and then at the resulting expletive, more confidently over his cock, smearing transferred lube over the swollen head and shaft.
"Come on," he orders, tugging the other man on top of him. "I need you in me." I need you to make me forget. For a little while at least. I need you to remember. "Give it to me." He tenses at a blunt pressure against the sensitive pucker of his entrance, gasping as teeth graze his shoulder, but seizes John's hips and presses himself down, squeezing his eyes shut when pressure becomes a burning pain and then a deep, aching fullness as John seats himself in one slow movement.
For a moment neither man moves, Sherlock fighting against clenching around the bright, hot agony of the length inside him and John dropping his head with a gasp onto a corded, quivering shoulder. He gathers himself enough to brace his weight on one arm, free hand coming up to stroke his cheek.
"Are you- ?"
"Move, John," says Sherlock without opening his eyes and he feels John withdraw slowly and press back in, dragging across already raw nerve endings, sending dizzy flashes of pain spiralling through him.
"Again." This time it's easier and he hears John groan as he thrusts into him more confidently, the superficial burn easing into a deeper, more complicated ache.
"Harder." He opens his eyes to see John watching him, feels a hand snake between them and shakes his head with an effort, grasping his wrist and lacing their fingers together, arching as John thrusts in hard.
"Harder." John goes to speak and he raises himself to fix his mouth to his before he can even shape the question, falling back to bring the other man with him and bucking his hips. John grunts into the kiss and slams himself back in again and then again, falling into a steady rhythm that teeters on the edge of being too much, too much, overwhelming him with its unfamiliar intensity. He thrashes his head away and John buries his face against the curve of his throat, sinking into him repeatedly, belly gliding slick and hot against his cock.
His world begins to shrink and narrow until all there is is the smell of John, the gasps in his ears, the silk of his skin sliding against him and the fullness inside him and he bends his knees, pulling at his buttocks, mouth falling open at the burst of sensation and he arches his back further, desperate to have it again. John lets out a low cry and pushes himself up, scrabbling at the bed to shove - something soft, a pillow, leverage - under his hips, sitting back on his heels and driving up into him impossibly hard, the deep ache suddenly solidifying into blinding pleasure with every roll of his pelvis.
Harder, faster, oh God, John, John, John -
He's not aware he's whimpering until John presses his fingers to his mouth, thumb sliding across his lower lip, wraps his other arm around his lower back to pull him down with every stroke, hips blurring, movements becoming jerkier as he swells inside him, the pleasure intensifying to a scorching plateau where every atom of his body is screaming for release. His skin feels charged and supernova hot, the cool of the sheets at his back leeching and feeding the current running over him.
"Sherlock," whispers John, the hard syllable dissolving into a long groan and Sherlock moans then for the first time, the timbre startling them both, writhing against him, hands coming down to grip and knead at John's thighs, head twisting on the pillow, tendrils of hair falling damp across his forehead.
"Come, Sherlock," rasps John, wrapping warm fingers around his length and stroking quickly. "You're so close, I can feel it. God, you're beautiful. I want to see you come. Come on." He shifts his hips, driving upwards, the blunt pressure forcing another strangled moan from him. His focus shrinks to two points - John's hand on his cock and the drag on his prostate and he'd cry out but he can't get enough air and every nerve in his body is on overload. A tight knot of pleasure coalesces deep in his belly and groin and he stiffens, his back a curve of quivering bone and sinew, his mouth falling open in a silent scream, a sudden wetness on his belly and chest and he can't stop shaking as wave after wave of sensation lifts him up and throws him down, leaving him as limp and tattered as a rag doll.
John stills with a cry, pressed hard into him, body curled taut over his, flooding him with warmth, a low stream of unintelligible words falling from his lips, dissipating like smoke into the heavy air of the room.
When Sherlock comes back to himself John's eyes are closed, head thrown back, and he's breathing in harsh pants, the quick beat of his heart visible in his chest. He shivers once, twice and then tenses, starting to withdraw from Sherlock's body. He clenches around him, unwilling to let him go and John gasps, shaking his head urgently and falls forwards onto his chest, hands coming up to grip his upper arms tightly.
"Sherlock," he whispers, his voice ruined and small, muffled against his skin and despite the haze clouding his overheated brain, despite the aftershocks still pulling at his belly Sherlock manages to roll them both over with the strength of will alone, long hands framing John's face.
Time coagulates, thick and viscous as John opens those deep, shifting eyes and blinks at him as if waking from a dream and he smiles and Sherlock smiles back, diamond bright and pure because it's John, it's John, his John, held fast in that brilliant ephemeral moment and John strokes his hand up the side of his neck and says,
"That was amazing. I can't imagine how I managed to forget something like that, someone like you. It was incredible, Sherlock. Thank you."
And Sherlock feels himself slowly, slowly become frozen, crystalline in that terrible beat of realisation; fragile and hard and so cold he's numb from the inside out. He pulls his solidifying hands away from John's face which creases in bewilderment, eyes widening.
All I had left to offer. Didn't work.
John's mouth is moving but he can't hear past the ringing in his head. Inside he feels chipped, tiny spidery cracks dividing and dividing again, the fissures widening as he slowly begins to splinter.
"No," he says, pushing himself away from entreating hands and off the bed, oblivious to the wetness on his thighs and belly, too dazed to notice anything but the million, million reflective shards pricking and tearing at his skin, shedding glittering fragments around him like rain, the pieces falling to expose dark, gaping wounds. He flees the room quietly, John's gaze scoring lines down his spine, and shuts the door behind him without a backwards glance.
John remains on the bed as if pinned in place, his eyes fixed stupidly on the closed door. For minutes on end there is profound silence, eventually followed by measured footfalls on the stairs, and only then does he shift to sit on the edge of the mattress, dropping his head into his hands.
By the time he hears the bathroom door shut downstairs and the sound of the shower starting up he has managed to re-gather himself enough to wipe his face and strip the bed, waiting until he hears footsteps on the hallway landing before he can bring himself to pull on a scratchy dressing gown and creep downstairs to shove the bedding in the laundry. He takes a deep breath as he passes Sherlock's room, noticing as he does so that the door is ajar, dim light from the living room filtering weakly in.
Only a corner of the bed is visible. Sherlock appears to be lying face down and all John can see from this angle are his upturned soles and bony ankles, partially covered by pyjama bottoms
"For what it's worth," he says quietly as one long toe flexes in response, "I'm glad. I understand now, Sherlock. You're in love with him. The John you want me so desperately to be." It's ridiculous, really it is, because despite their recent activities, talking to the naked toes feels more intimate than anything they've done previously.
"I'm sorry I can't be him," He tells the pale feet before starting towards the bathroom, fists clenched tightly against a wave of sadness, cursing the waver in his voice. "I tried to be. For you."
How did this happen? He thinks helplessly. He'd been caught in a storm, a mad, exhilarating whirlwind and deposited somewhere so far from normality he can't even begin to imagine how he'd find his way back. Sherlock is a dick, not to mention has a dick although it's a bit late to dwell on that now, he thinks, administering a mental slap. A rude, impulsive, arrogant, demanding, self-destructive dick.
Who dragged you into bed on the slim chance it might jog your memory.
John sighs, slicking back his hair, unable to muster any real anger towards him. Brilliant, magnetic, mesmerising, vulnerable and now so very, very lost-
So am I realises John, leaning forward to look at himself in the bathroom mirror. God help me, after just two weeks, so am I.
He steps into the bath, turns his face up to the blast of the shower and sluices everything away, mind falling blank and silent under the deafening torrent. He wonders if this is what happened before, to that other him, to the John who was desperately in love too. If he didn't just simply wash away his memories to deaden this awful, tearing ache in his chest.
No point in mourning what you never had he thinks, dropping his head so the torrent flows around his face, blind and deaf to everything but the rush of the water and his own circling thoughts.
Anyone else vaguely depressed about the three words for S3? Rat, Wedding, Bow. Ah well, there is always fanfic. Huge amounts of respect and trouser-less vampires to my beta and non redheaded BFF Lyrium Flower for her Herculean efforts towards making this chapter palatable. Much love to all of you - named and guest - who have commented (I have a special review wiggle) and followed. Slash, Sherlock x John. Vague allusions to torture in this chapter.
Despite everything, or perhaps because of it, John is asleep as soon as his head hits the pillow, and if he dreams at all he doesn't remember. An echo of sound wakes him to an anaemic dawn, the light crawling weakly in through the curtains and expiring halfway across the carpet, leaving the room even more leeched of colour than usual. Turning on his side he grimaces at the scratchiness of the mattress and listens, heavy and listless, eyes still shut, but the flat is quiet inside and out. It's warm and he's tired but he knows he's not going to go back to sleep, a thin tendril of anxiety worming its way through his chest and pushing back the drowsiness.
The tendril becomes a crushing band as the events of the previous night pile into his head like some horrible multi-car accident, each vivid memory driving dents into his already fragile mind state.
You slept with Sherlock. Shit. You had sex with Sherlock. Your flatmate. On the flimsiest, most transparent pretext ever. You had sex with the man (the man) you now have to share a living space with.
"Oh God," mumbles John, mashing his face into the pillow.
But that isn't the problem, if he's honest with himself. Not really. Not the fact that Sherlock's his flatmate or that he'd been manipulated into participating in some twisted psychological experiment and not even that the other participant had been a bloke. The problem is is that after one of the most intense sexual experiences of his life (with a man, his subconscious supplies helpfully) Sherlock had given him the once over to see if anything had changed and then had promptly buggered off when he'd realised that it hadn't.
He bloody twisted you round his little finger and you were lizard brained enough to let him.
Although...for a split second there, John had thought he seemed - what? - Disappointed? Angry? Probably both but difficult to tell as he'd still been reeling from the unexpected onslaught of emotion and sensation, not to mention the after-effects of an acute lack of oxygen, and was having enough trouble forming coherent thought let alone muster the ability to decipher complicated facial cues. Then the moment had passed and his flatmate's briefly transformed face had smoothed itself into its normal dispassionate mask. Shaking off his hands - and, Jesus, hadn't that sent a sharp spike of hurt through him - Sherlock had left, not even bothering to take his clothes with him.
One night stands had never really been an issue for him before and, regrettably, it looked as if this little interlude was heading that way. On the one hand, Mature John with the stable ego and three continents' worth of sexual endeavour was willing to try and brush this off as a mistake to learn from and move on. On the other hand, the John who had suddenly developed the emotional faculties of a sixteen year old girl had entertained the thought that bordering-on-operatic sex - pretty bloody impressive sex for someone new to the gender, thanks very much - would lead to grand declarations of love. This John hadn't wanted to let it go. This John had agonised in his room, been one CD away from listening to country music and had then been martyrish enough to go to Sherlock to poke at the open wound just a little bit more by making a frankly embarrassingly dramatic confession.
Much good it did me.
John curls into himself, a tiny dry orgasm of shame at the memory making him shudder. Bottom line is Sherlock doesn't reciprocate any feelings for him, as nascent and unformed as they are. He scrubs at his face. Fuck it, even he's not sure whether they're real or imagined.
Enough of the soap opera pining, he tells himself. If he can't be Sherlock's...whatever...he can certainly attempt to be his friend, God knows the man could do with one. If he can stick around without being driven insane, that is. He nods decisively. Emotional crisis over, tea required. Normal is what's needed from here on out. Sparing a glance at his stripped bed and the blast radius of clothes on the floor he hesitates and then shakes his head. Tea first, then perhaps more sleep now his mind's a bit clearer.
In the wavering half-light John pauses curiously by the sofa en route to the kitchen. Sherlock's violin lies face down in a nest of cushions as if sprawled mid fit of pique, the bow lying sulkily on the floor halfway across the room. John lifts the instrument gently, knuckles brushing the Union Jack pillow which still holds a whisper of warmth, suggesting a recent departure. Exploring the worn cloth with his fingertips he turns away with a shiver before replacing the violin and bow back in the case. After a last lingering look he closes the lid with a determined click.
Sherlock's door is resolutely shut. John drags his thoughts from the man inside with an effort, quietly makes himself tea and returns to bed.
He wakes a few hours later feeling weak and fuzzy-headed, surveying his room once again with a brief spasm of disappointment before heaving himself out of bed. Pulling on his dressing gown and forcing a briskness which is almost entirely beyond him he replaces the sheets and covers and gathers up Sherlock's discarded items of clothing, holding them as far away from his body as possible. He'll dump them outside Sherlock's door like any normal flatmate would and leave him to sort them out. Considering the mess Sherlock's already made of the rest of the flat that likely that means said clothes will be completely ignored and left to moulder away over a period of years until a team in Hazmat suits comes to remove them in the interest of public safety, but he'll be damned if he's going to pick up after him like some bloody doormat.
John enters the living room with an armful of clothes he is stubbornly not sniffing and stops dead on seeing the two figures facing each other down over the occasional table.
Definitely bloody abnormal.
Two Holmeses appear to be involved in a bizarre stand-off, each trying to glare holes through the other over a violin and an umbrella handle respectively. If John were a betting man he'd have put money on some sort of who-can-hold-their-breath-longest competition, or maybe the first one to blink getting pointed and sneered at, but either way both men are utterly silent and intent on curdling the air between them. He watches with reluctant interest for a moment and then starts sidling towards the kitchen.
"Ah, Doctor Watson," says Mycroft and two heads swivel to fix on him as smoothly and creepily as dummies on a ventriloquist's knee. John clears his throat and drops his bundle onto the nearby sofa as the pair rake their searchlight gazes over him. Sherlock looks away almost instantly but Mycroft continues his slow appraisal, eyebrows rising sharply.
"I see," he says finally, turning his attention back to his brother who flushes, hunching down in his chair and clutching his violin closer to his chest. John, automatically following Mycroft's gaze, seeing expressions of mingled defiance and shame chasing each other across the sculpted features before Sherlock's face closes off completely, starts to form an angry retort. It's none of Mycroft's business after all, no matter how much he thinks it is, and he opens his mouth to tell him just that but the older man swivels again to fix him with a vicious, sub-zero glare and he has to steel himself against it, taking a step back and closing his mouth with a snap.
"Sherlock has been rather reticent this morning regarding today's review of his case and I believe I now understand why. I require a few moments alone with him, Doctor, if it's not too much trouble."
"It's today? The case?"
John wilts under the twin eye rolls which are pointed enough to scour lines in the ceiling.
"Are you going along?" He asks weakly.
"Now, if you don't mind."
John retreats to his room.
"Oh shut up, Mycroft."
"I haven't said anything."
"I can hear you thinking and you can sod off because it's none of your business."
Mycroft sighs as Sherlock turns his face away, fingers worrying at the violin, and rubs the bridge of his nose.
"As usual you tried to force the issue and now you have nothing left to fall back on."
"I'll think of something," snaps Sherlock, misery evident in the lines of his mouth and the droop of his shoulders.
"I'm fine," he says tersely. "It's nothing. Nothing but nerves and sinew and redundant physiology. Pointless waste of time. Don't know why people set such store by it."
Mycroft suppresses another sigh, watching a stray memory blow heat across his brother's set face, but refrains from commenting further, drawing a file from his briefcase instead.
"Not much to go on, I'm afraid. Preliminary reports confirmed buccal midazolam. Highly concentrated. Any longer than few seconds in the mouth would have been potentially fatal. Only a handful of chemists have the skill to prepare this." Sherlock takes a long, careful breath in through his nose, his face draining of colour. "Whosoever supplied this was rather careless of our Doctor Watson. All it would take would be a delay in fetching a glass of water-"
"No reason to assume he might not have come by this himself."
"I don't think-"
"John's always been a risk taker," retorts Sherlock acidly. "Likes the thrill of the unknown. Classic adrenaline junkie. Guns not dangerous enough has to go and play Benzo roulette for that extra kick.""
"He throws himself headlong into potentially disastrous situations, that is true." Mycroft offers, earning himself a sharp look. "But usually with laudable intentions and more often than not at your instigation."
Sherlock says nothing, focus turned inwards. He flicks Mycroft a sidelong glance, fingers steepling beneath his chin.
"There's something else."
"In the file, if you'd care to read it."
"Just tell me, Mycroft. I'm giving you the chance to do what you enjoy doing most - revel in the sound of your own voice."
Mycroft tuts reprovingly. "Dear me. I was under the impression people were supposed to be much more relaxed after se-"
A thin smile. "My team took the liberty of analysing the vial that was found at the scene."
"Wasn't paramedics who picked him up then. Part of your surveillance."
"Medically trained, of course. The emergency call was re-routed, naturally." Mycroft waves the file lazily. "Interesting. Cocaine analogue, short acting, again bespoke and very difficult to pick up through normal testing methods."
Sherlock keeps his face carefully neutral, the feel of small scars amidst soft hair ghosting across his fingertips. When he looks up Mycroft is watching him, brow furrowed.
"Leave the file," he says shortly and then falls silent, attention caught by the figure in the doorway.
John is standing there, parade ground stiff and neatly dressed in suit and tie.
"I'd like to come along to the review, if I may," he says, and it's not really a question, more of a statement of intent. He raises his chin in the face of Sherlock's obvious confusion and Mycroft's mild surprise. "I know I won't be of any help particularly but I thought it'd be good. You know, to show support."
Sherlock's brows come down even further and his mouth works but he says nothing and after a pause Mycroft rises to his feet smoothly.
"Your support is much appreciated and certainly your presence there will help our cause," he inclines his head towards the stairs. "Shall we? I have a car waiting." He moves past John with a nod. "Sherlock," he adds by way of a farewell.
"Right," says John, hesitating in the doorway. "See you later, then."
"I very much like your suit, John," calls Mycroft from halfway down the stairs and John starts slightly, realising he's been hovering while Sherlock stares in space. At the sound of his brother's voice his head snaps back furiously and his face contorts.
"Bugger off, Mycroft!" He roars and with that he twists away from John, curling around his violin, his spine a bow of tension so tight John fancies he can almost hear it creak.
"O-kay," John remarks half to himself and when it's obvious he's not going to get any sort of reply he leaves reluctantly.
The case is fascinating. Fascinating. John sits squashed between two enormous minions he's previously met on the doorstep of the flat, peering at the proceedings from the gallery. Mycroft, of course, is rather grandly positioned in the front row, foot idly moving to some internal rhythm as various pieces of evidence are exhibited and the most trivial minutiae of Sherlock's cases are picked over by suited vultures. Greg's there along with a scowling, dark haired woman and a weaselly looking man; he's called upon to talk through some of the cases and John smiles at his enthusiasm, catching his eye on several occasions to an answering grin.
He looks around the courtroom idly. There seem to be a lot of press attending together with a considerable amount of attractive women. Some of them make obvious eye contact with him and smile.
Hanging round with Sherlock must've done wonders for my sex life he thinks. Definitely a pro on a long list of cons.
A tiny shiver runs through him as a flash of wide blue eyes on fixed on his, a long white neck stretching and hot hands grasping at his thighs surfaces and he shakes his head to clear it, concentrating instead on Greg's clasped hands and earnest tone.
"I think that went well," says Greg jovially, as they mill around outside the courtroom, awaiting the final decision. "Was half expecting him to come barrelling in demanding justice and calling us all idiots," he adds to John in an undertone. "You all right, mate?"
John visibly pulls himself back from wherever his thoughts had wandered. "Oh. Yes, fine. Everything's fine. You were great in there."
"Cheers. Anything come back to you yet?"
"Nothing useful." He sighs and looks around, hiding a sudden flush, catching several interested looks from the clusters of people in the hallway.
"Oh no," mutters Greg in an undertone as the couple he was sitting with in court approach them. "John, that's Donovan and Anderson. Haven't told them anything about what's been going on recently."
John nods and smiles affably as they draw closer, noting Anderson hanging back uncomfortably even after Donovan tugs at his arm, earning himself a sneer.
"Still pining after the freak, then?"
"Must be nice for you now, not having to run around after him. Did you a favour topping himself like that, the bloody psycho. This is all bureaucratic bollocks. Can't believe they're taking these 'cases' seriously." She smiles nastily, raising her fingers to frame the words.
"That's enough, Donovan-"
"Yeah, whatever." She steps into John's personal space and smirks at him. "Some of us aren't so easily fooled."
Greg's face is splashed an ugly red, hands stuffed deep into his trouser pockets. John meets his eyes quickly, a silent understanding passing between the two men before he turns back to the grinning woman, whose eyes widen slightly, smirk slipping at his expression. In the periphery of his vision he sees Anderson take a step back and smiles pleasantly.
"Donovan, was it?"
Congratulations mate. Although John's made my work environment a lot less of a pleasant place to be
Explain. Your grammar is awful, Lestrade. Is my brother handing out my number on street corners now? - SH
Found it in a phone box. You look good in a bikini. I'll let John explain himself but it was fucking funny. Let me know when you want to get back to work.
Sherlock thumbs through the numbers on his phone and selects John's, hovering over the keypad before throwing the handset aside. It's late and he's sore and tired and restless but John's not back yet and he's not concerned, he's not but he should have been home hours ago. Not letting Sherlock in on his plans for the evening is not flatmate-y behaviour, especially after-
Not that what they did was behaviour commonly accepted amongst flatmates...was it?
Sherlock makes a noise of frustration at the sheer amount of 'nots' eroding away at his temper and now sounding utterly nonsensical through repetition and picks up his phone again. He drops it almost immediately and reaches for his violin instead, hurling himself in amongst the pile of clothes on the sofa, letting out a pained grunt as his backside hits the seat.
Indignity not worth the effort, should have taken variables into account.
Except said variables had also not taken into account the unbelievable swathes of sensation. He closes his eyes, tattered edges of warmth licking at him at the remembered feel of John's hands, his mouth, his silken skin, the way his face lit up with pleasure.
Sex. Nerves and stimulation. Friction.
He tosses his violin to one side irritably, hands scrubbing at his hair. The memory of John's body on his sends heat shooting through him, a low throb of desire igniting in his groin, bringing with it an almost pathological need to press himself against the solid form of his flatmate again.
Connections must be severed. Objectivity the key.
A failed experiment and not to be repeated, whatever his treacherous body demanded with all its puerile, romanticised imaginings. Kicking furiously at the heap of clothes he shoves them towards the far end of the couch and stretches restlessly.
Too much to do. The last thing you need is him hanging round you like a lovesick teenager getting in the way of everything.
"Stay out as long as you like," he mutters crossly. "Don't need you, got along perfectly fine before you barged your way in here."
Needed him though whispers a cool voice at the back of his head.
The front door bangs open and Sherlock flinches, grabbing his violin and arranging himself into a pose of unconcern, pulling his dressing gown around him more tightly. John stomps into the living room and Sherlock notices his eyes go first to his door and then find him sprawled on the sofa, widening slightly in surprise.
"Congratulations," he says evenly, plonking a bottle of wine and a carrier bag onto the table. "Got you some dinner on the off chance you felt like eating."
Sherlock says nothing, fingers locked over wood and metal string, and after a pause John shrugs off his jacket and wanders into the kitchen. He leans forwards and sniffs at the bag. Curry. Average and over spiced.
"Dinner with the Inspector," he remarks. "Conversation must have been scintillating."
There's a brief silence from the kitchen and then the sounds of tea-making resume, slightly more aggressively than before. John re-enters with a mug and eyes him.
"You're welcome," he says eventually.
"You're late," snaps Sherlock, sighting down the bow at him. "You took Lestrade out for dinner to apologise to him and possibly to avoid me. What did you do?"
"Avoid -? I'm not fifteen, Sherlock." John shifts uncomfortably. "Shut up and eat your dinner."
Sherlock sweeps the pile of clothes onto the floor with his foot and re-targets the bow onto the space left behind. John closes his eyes briefly and then sighs in defeat, placing his mug down on the coffee table and throwing himself gracelessly next to Sherlock.
"Look, before we get into this, about last night-"
"Forget about last night, it's irrelevant. What happened at the courthouse?"
"Irrelevant," repeats John softly, biting the inside of his cheek. "Fine. Short version: Donovan had a go, I lost my temper, told her to sod off."
"What did she say?" Sherlock goes very still, brows lowered and John shoots him a sidelong glance.
"Does it matter?"
"Yes," answers Sherlock in a low voice, the only movement the flutter of his eyelashes and the rise fall of his chest.
"She was calling you names," says John quietly. "Freak, psycho. You're supposed to be dead and she was calling you names. After all you've done for them. I couldn't-" he presses his lips together and knots his hands, shrugging helplessly. "I couldn't let it go. I lost my temper, shouted at her. Said they didn't deserve you, none of them did. Said it was their fault for doubting. For not believing in you. She was saying all these horrible things to my face, Sherlock."
He takes a deep breath, lets it out. "I shouldn't have let it get to me but it did. I was so angry at her." Stealing another look, he sees Sherlock watching him with an unreadable expression. "I'm an idiot. You got your name cleared, you can go back to work and I've just made things ten times more difficult for you. I'm sorry."
"You're sorry." repeats Sherlock slowly and falls silent again, gaze in the middle distance.
John waits but nothing else is forthcoming, the other man seems to have retreated into himself and he's not sure whether that's a good thing or not but guilty memories of a catatonic statue on the sofa send a twinge of anxiety through him.
"I'll, er, put the food in the fridge, then," he ventures, almost gasping with relief when Sherlock gives a brief incline of his head in response. He swipes the bag off the table and mutters "long as there's room amongst all the heads," and looks confused for a moment, aware of a sudden, narrow stab of attention. When he returns from the kitchen Sherlock is again absent, albeit gently plucking at his violin. "Going to shower and then go to bed, I think. Long day."
There's no response this time and John grimaces, rubbing the back of his neck. "I am sorry, Sherlock. I'll apologise tomorrow." As he turns towards the bathroom he fancies he hears a soft sigh behind him but he doesn't stop to look back.
The water is tepid - Sherlock must've used it all earlier - but he stays under the spray regardless, feeling aching muscles gradually relaxing. After an indeterminate amount of time he hears the bathroom door open and turns as the shower curtain is pulled back to reveal Sherlock, arms wrapped tightly around himself, blue dressing gown fluttering in time with his shallow breaths.
Without taking his eyes off his crossed arms Sherlock steps into the tub, forcing John backwards, rushing water flattening his hair and welding immediately sodden cloth to the lines of his body. John doesn't move and Sherlock doesn't look up, taking one more tentative step towards him and then dropping his head to rest on the smaller man's shoulder, finally laying his face along the curve of his neck.
"Don't apologise," he murmurs into his skin, the words almost lost in the sound of the water.
The shower beats down on them, growing colder by degrees and still neither man shifts, the only warmth, the only point of contact between them leaving their faces proximate, turned away from the other. Then just as abruptly, Sherlock straightens and whirls, spray arcing off him as he steps out of the bath and pads from the bathroom without a word, the door closing behind him with a soft click.
John remains where he is, heedless of the water beginning to puddle on the lino, eyes on the trail of damp footprints from the bathmat to the door. The puddles widen and merge as he continues to stand there, the sting of the now freezing shower raising goose-pimples on his wrinkled skin until the lingering warmth of Sherlock's touch is washed away.
Sherlock's slim figure retreats along the sand bank as the sky turns the churning sea an ugly bruised grey. The water climbs higher up his legs, tugging him sideways, holding him back and he reaches a hand out towards the retreating form as the first drops of rain spatter his face.
John jerks awake, choking around a cry, dragging air into a chest which feels banded with iron. He struggles against a restraining pressure on his arm until cool fingers tighten and he stills, gasping burning lungfuls.
Sherlock is an indistinct shape perched on the edge of his bed, one hand on his arm, the other on the headboard. John turns his head slightly, aware the other man is peering down at him, and then pushes his face into the pillow, blotting away moisture.
"What were you dreaming about?"
"Nothing," mumbles John, rubbing his chest and trying to slow his breathing. "The usual. What are you doing here?"
"You were calling me."
"I- what? No I wasn't."
"Why else would I be here?"
"Yeah. Why else. Just...give me a minute, will you?" John turns onto his front, burying his head in his arms, aware of the other man shifting further onto the bed. Minutes pass and he eventually turns his head to the side, facing Sherlock who sits patient and cross-legged, elbows resting easily on his knees. His arms are bare, no dressing gown, clad in a loose t-shirt and pyjama bottoms and John reaches out to run a finger over the bandage on his forearm.
"How did you get this?" Sherlock starts to withdraw but stops when John rests gentle fingers on his wrist. "I'm tired of being the one who talks all the time. I'll tell you about the dream but you go first."
Sherlock turns his head, his profile a tousled cameo silhouetted by the streetlights outside the window.
"Warsaw," he says flatly. "I managed to infiltrate a drugs cartel, the remaining cell. Needed information on an agent of Moriarty's which they kindly provided." His face moves in the half-darkness but John can't tell whether it's a smile or a grimace. "I alerted the police but I was tired, sloppy." And too eager to get back home, he thinks ruefully. "One of them followed me back to my bolthole."
John shifts onto his side. "What happened?"
"Police raided their hideout but a few of them escaped, tracked me down, tried to extract information," he smirks without humour. "Who I was, who I was working for. Thing about working alone is that there's no information to give but they were determined to get something."
"I saw your back. God, I'm sorry."
"They were fairly thorough. Didn't flog anything out of me, though. Or burn it." he eyes John from under a tumble of hair, a glint of triumph swirling in the stormy blue. "Told you I'd endured worse."
"That's not funny," replies John, feeling nauseous.
"Sorry," says Sherlock without inflection, the sudden light in his eyes dimming. "Neighbour alerted the police, I managed to escape along with another of the group, the courier."
"What happened to him?"
"He tried to run, I tracked him down." He lowers his head, fringe hiding his expression. "Couldn't risk him warning anyone, not even those who would have potentially helped me. Too dangerous. Had to stay anonymous."
"What are you saying?"
"What do you think I'm saying?" grates Sherlock, gripping his knees, shoulders tense.
"You killed him."
There's a long, weighty silence broken only by soft breaths and the worn springs of the mattress beneath them until John rolls onto his back, carefully not looking at Sherlock who raises his head warily.
"Seems we're even now," murmurs John. Sherlock's head tilts curiously in the periphery of his vision but he keeps his eyes on the ceiling. "I killed a man to save you within a day of us meeting, isn't that right? We're even." He watches the line of the other man's shoulders relax by inches and closes his eyes, grasping at the remnants of the nightmare.
"We're by the sea, I'm paddling, you're on the beach just sitting. Have we ever been to the seaside? No, doesn't matter. It's nice, you're smiling at me like you're quite content to be where you are and I smile back. Then," John covers his closed eyes with a forearm, frowning, "it gets dark, water's choppy, starts rising. I turn back to look at you and you're walking away from me. I can't move fast enough, it's up round my waist and I'm calling to you and you don't look back, you just keep walking. I can't catch up to you and it's so dark I can't see you." He draws in a shaky breath. "I'm trying to run but you've gone and there's all this water."
A long pause. John rubs his face back and forth under his arm. "That's it."
"All of it?"
The bed dips slightly and then Sherlock's weight is gone. Turning onto his side John sighs and curls into himself, pulling the duvet up and over his head so he won't have to hear the finality of the bedroom door closing. He concentrates on the rise and fall of his chest, the patter of his heartbeat, and drifts, watching storm clouds scud across a low horizon.
Morning comes too soon and he prises apart crusted eyes, unfolding stiff limbs with a faint moan. One of his feet touches warmth behind him and he starts in surprise, rolling to meet Sherlock's wary gaze. For a moment they stare at each other until John smiles hesitantly.
"You came back."
Sherlock lifts a corner of his mouth, blinking owlishly at him in the half light.
"I never left."
And in that one brief moment, John Watson's universe collapses.
Abject apologies for taking longer than usual - illness and a touch of apathy got the better of me but I'm all better now. Send love and Stoli to Lyrium Flower who kicked my arse and coddled me until I bloody finished the chapter, as usual she's amazing and I do not deserve such encouragement and support - which is not to say I won't greedily grab at it. Same goes for reviews - thank you to all you fantastic people who take the time to leave your thoughts. My abject gratitude also applies to the kudos and follows, I still get a tingle when my inbox pings (there may be a euphemism in there somewhere). Only a couple of chapters left I think, thanks for continuing to read x
Slews of them coming into focus, rotating, overlaying each other like some hyper-real game of Tetris, filling gaps in his memory he hadn't even known were present. Faster and faster they stream down like someone's jammed the cursor key, the blocks piling up on top of each other horrifyingly quickly.
Game over. John swallows helplessly as the mundane, the surreal, the terrifying, stark and bleak unfurl around him and he might have cried out but he can't hear his own voice in the thousand that fill his head with confused chatter. It's too much too much and not enough and suddenly he's grasping at them, pulling them closer, terrified they'll drift out of reach before he understands what they all mean.
The onslaught of information nearly blacks him out and dimly he wonders if this is what Sherlock feels all the time, constant shocks of sensory information yanking his mind in every direction.
Sherlock. Oh God, Sherlock.
"John." Slim fingers prise his hands gently away from his ears and the floor is hard under his back where he's sprawled against the bedside cabinet. He opens his eyes gingerly, blinks through the film of moisture and focuses on shockingly familiar eyes.
Eyes, wide and lifeless, are fixed on the shuddering sky as a halo of blood corrals damp curls and the pain and shock spasm his limbs into movement, propelling him forwards. There are hands plucking, pulling at him, everything is spinning, his throat is tight and aching-
"John?" The image fades, opaque slate replaced by the cold steel of the gaze fixed on him. It's like being doused in freezing petrol and then set on fire as wave upon wave of alien sensation crashes around him and he scrabbles at the carpet, trying to find purchase in a crazily tilting reality.
His body is leaden, bones crumbling under the crushing ache of Sherlock's absence. Long grey days slide glacier slow through his awareness, interlaced with the subtle, insidious, hollowing grief and the lonely desperation of a man who felt insubstantial for so long afterwards.
"Snap, crackle, pop," he manages, head spinning. He might have been giggling, he might have been screaming, it's difficult to tell, but his throat is raw from some primal noise that he's made and he's dimly aware that Sherlock has moved to kneel between his spread knees. His face is inches from his and involuntarily John reaches for him, snatching his hands back at the last moment as if burnt.
"It's you. Welcome back, John," The ghost says breathlessly.
John presses the heels of his hands into his eyes and draws a shuddering breath in.
"I'm here. Focus on the familiar." Sherlock hesitates, a thousand questions hovering on the tip of his tongue. "Even if it is a puff of air masquerading as a breakfast cereal. Let me guess, childhood memory? Your Mum gave it to you when you were ill? Or was that what passed for dinner in the suburbs?"
"Last thing I remember having for breakfast. Helps with panic attacks," manages John. "You twat." That at least is familiar, the mirage solidifying, the epithet comforting on his tongue as is the surge of irritation tangled with affection. Closing his eyes worsens the vertigo and ignites a low throb of pain at the base of his skull so he focuses instead on the hollow at the base of Sherlock's throat, his hands clamped on John's knees, the low murmur of his voice.
"Of course,I should have seen it. Obvious. Stupid, oh stupid," he mutters fiercely, dark curls bouncing in agitation. "The trigger wasn't remembering me, it was dealing with your fear of my leaving again. Trust issues, I should have known - anyway, it's not important now. John, John," his hands tighten. "Tell me what happened. I found-"
"Sherlock, just...just give me some space. Please." John's brow is creased with a mixture of pain and concentration and he feels the other man draw back slightly. "I thought I was going mad. I saw you watching me, kept seeing you everywhere I went, following me. I thought-" his breath hitches, "- you bastard." He rubs hands over his head and winces. "Why couldn't you just talk to me, tell me you were alive? Not sure whether to punch you or pass out."
"I'd rather you didn't do either," says Sherlock and something in the tone of his voice makes John look up warily.
"What is it?"
"You couldn't have seen me," he replies slowly. "I didn't return to London until the day after you were admitted to hospital. Would have been too dangerous to try and make contact. For both of us."
"I don't know."
"My head's killing me." John presses fingers to his temples and groans softly.
"Up you come."
There's a sudden absence of heat until strong arms loop under his and gently lever him to his feet, settling him onto his side, and he sighs at the feel of cool linen under his burning head. Through a haze of pain John registers footsteps on the stairs and tries to call Sherlock back but his mouth feels full of cotton wool and for a while everything goes black.
A hand drifts up his arm, fingers lingering over a sudden profusion of goosebumps.
John peels open his eyes to blurrily register pills and water in front of his face.
Swallowing with an effort he lets his head flop back onto the pillows as the bed dips and Sherlock's shadowy form stretches out in front of him, gaze bright and wary.
"Do you remember everything?" he asks, a barely hidden waver in his voice.
John closes his eyes again. "Don't know. The older memories are the clearest. Living together. The cases. You and me." He opens his eyes at the soft exhale. "What happened with Moriarty." There's a scrape of cloth as Sherlock half turns his face into the pillow, lips thinning. "The ones after that are fuzzy. Things keep coming back in fits and starts, it's weird. Like a dream, all disjointed and monochrome. Nearly everyone's dreams are set at night or in the evening, you know. It's like that, sort of grainy. Things get clearer again after I woke up in hospital."
Sherlock grunts. "I dream in colour."
John massages his temples, eyes over-bright and creased with pain. "It...really happened though, didn't it? All of it."
John opens his mouth and shuts it again at the wave of nausea, grief and sudden intense anger. He knows why Sherlock did what he did, he told him after all in his usual matter-of-fact and highly punchable manner, but a spike of betrayal still tears at him, robbing him of breath momentarily.
"I'm sorry, John." The reply is muffled by cheap hollowfibre and in the silence that follows John lets his gaze drift over the tense line of Sherlock's shoulders. He says nothing in response and lets the quiet noises of London in the small hours drift into the space between them. It's not until rain begins a plaintive tattoo against the window that Sherlock turns back towards him.
John allows his gaze to move over the contours of his face, the shadows beneath his eyes and the prominence of the skull beneath the skin. The Sherlock before the fall was all fire and restlessness, passion and arrogance, a spiky, wilful child drenched in self belief. That Sherlock had left him behind. But this man, the man that had returned to him was paler, somehow. More fragile. Wounded. And looking at him now John recognises the loneliness that had come to saturate his own life during their enforced separation. He remembers how obsessively Sherlock had tried to reach him under the guise of returning his memories and his heart aches at the hurt and desperation in amongst the rare flashes of hope and tenderness he'd seen, poorly hidden under the almost clinical precision of experimentation, the impatience and despair at repeated failure. The anger ebbs away to be replaced by a profound relief which is quickly followed by a complicated undercurrent of anxiety and anticipation.
"You should sleep."
"I said I'm fine, Sherlock." John's voice falters and he curses the sudden wetness at the corners of his eyes. Feigning a stretch he tries to turn away casually but a hand drops, warm and soothing at the dip of his waist, holding him in place.
"You're afraid that when you wake up they'll be gone again. Your memories."
"You're a git," breathes John, shifting onto his back, a warm forearm heavy on his stomach, and he can't imagine why he ever used to be irritated at Sherlock's near telepathic observations. Fingers tighten almost imperceptibly, the meaning behind the gesture implicit, before Sherlock shuffles closer, pressing his long body against John's side.
"You're being absurd. There was a complicated series of events that led up to this. A few hours of unconsciousness is unlikely to accomplish the same. Go to sleep now or else I'll be forced to knock you out."
John snorts softly, but the insistent throb in his skull, the warmth of Sherlock's body and the silence blanketing the room all conspire against him and he sinks down through layers of filmy grey into unconsciousness.
There's an insistent thudding at the periphery of his awareness not unlike the sound of his neighbours' telly when it used to permeate through the thin walls of his East London bedsit. It's not loud enough to bring him to full consciousness but annoying enough that he can't drift back off to sleep again. Unwilling to move yet, he cracks one eye open to see Sherlock pacing the length of his bedroom, ridiculous feet slapping against the threadbare carpet, the fingers of one hand worrying at his lip whilst the other periodically tugs his worn t-shirt back up over a bony shoulder.
John spares a moment to look him over unobserved, the bandage on his forearm, the new-formed calluses on his fingers, the slenderness of his body. It's a far cry from the polished, put together man he was before the fall but his presence still sends a deep throb of warmth through John's body, the one consistent reaction he recognises in all the confusion of the previous week.
"Going to have to feed you up all over again," he says eventually, voice roughened by sleep.
Sherlock pauses and shoots him an annoyed glare before resuming his determined effort to wear a hole through to the first floor.
"Come here a minute," John tries again, watching the other man run a distracted hand through his hair.
"You wanted space, I'm giving you space," he says curtly. "Make up your mind, will you?"
John sighs and sits up, scrubbing at his face.
"Don't be an arse, I fell asleep on you so that request is a bit redundant now," John replies as Sherlock tosses his head in irritation. "You're thinking about that agent, aren't you?" he ventures as Sherlock comes to an abrupt halt at the foot of the bed.
"You said you saw me. Repeatedly. Even Mycroft's pathetic excuse for a low level surveillance team should have picked up on it. So why didn't they?"
"I don't know." John concentrates, reaching for memories that are still new and raw. "Kept seeing you around the flat, sometimes when I went to the shops. Once I saw you at work. You were..." he hesitates, "...you were covered in blood. I stopped going after a while, figured I was hallucinating. Didn't think my patients would have benefited from a GP going out of his mind."
"Is that why you resorted to chemicals?" Sherlock moves around the side of the bed, watching him carefully.
"Chemicals? Drugs, you mean?" John shakes his head in confusion. "No, I - "
"What were you trying to do, John?" asks Sherlock sharply, and John flinches at the bitten off words, feeling each over-enunciated syllable as a physical slap. "Sleep? Kill yourself? Were you bored?" He looms over him, flushed and shaking, a torrent of emotions distorting his features. "Were you trying to forget me?"
"No," repeats John, scrabbling through evenings punctuated by static and blurred images, a knot of anxiety tightening in his belly as the slippery memories twist away from him.
"Tox screens don't lie, John," Sherlock continues, his voicel cold and anvil hard. "Traces of benzodiazepines and cocaine were in your bloodstream. Likely contributed to memory loss which was then compounded by the head injury. Not to mention you could have died. Wheredid you get them from?"
"Look, this is ridiculous," John snaps, fury overriding the sudden fear. "The only chemical I took in any quantity was alcohol. I don't give a fuck what the tox screen said, I wasn't taking anything else. I would never," he swallows past a sudden lump in his throat, "I would never do that. You know that's not me." He looks up at Sherlock who holds his gaze for a moment before whirling to sit on the bed, not bothering to straighten his errant t-shirt. "Don't you?"
"I have no idea how you'd react to the loss of someone...close to you."
"Don't you?" John says quietly. "I was devastated when you died. You don't know how much I-" He pauses, takes a steadying breath. "But even so I could never just..delete you. I couldn't. Even if I knew how." John leans back against the headboard and closes his eyes. "It was a terrible time. Worse than anything that's ever happened to me. But after a while it got easier. Not better, just easier - I could function again and I didn't feel so...so lost."
There's a whisper of movement and John fixes his eyes on the hunched figure, arms now tight around drawn up knees, an expression of furious concentration on the aquiline face.
"But the last few months are so confusing. Things were going okay then you appeared out of the blue. Saw you out the window, in my room, in the shower once. But always only for a second. Enough to know it was you but not enough to know if it was real." He sighs. "'Course by then I was drinking too much, only way to sleep. Started having nightmares again." A rueful smile. "What a head case."
"You used alcohol to sleep," muses Sherlock, throwing him a thoughtful look. "Yet Mrs Hudson says she heard you pacing all night. Chucking things around, talking to someone. You weren't sleeping. In fact you were still displaying florid signs of chronic sleep deprivation when you came back to the flat."
"No," says John uncertainly. "I was sleeping fine." He blinks at a sudden flash of a darkened front room, his head aching and spinning, Sherlock's figure in the corner and a low murmur at his ear. Cool fingers at his back guiding him up the stairs, his limbs heavy and mind leaden with fatigue. Shaking his head he passes a hand over his face. "Just drinking too much. Believe me, Sherlock, I wasn't taking anything else." He shivers at a sudden wash of cold and slides down onto the pillows, noting the flash of concern on his flatmate's face. "I'm all right. There are still a lot of holes in the last few months and what I do remember isn't particularly pleasant."
"It doesn't make sense." Sherlock frowns at him with his entire body.
"I know, I'm sorry. I'm not lying." John reaches towards him again when Sherlock turns away. "Come here?"
The other man eyes him sidelong for a moment then uncoils to lie beside him again, tensing and relaxing as John pulls him closer, bringing up his hand to run a calloused thumb along the smooth cheekbone and lightly roughened jawline, dropping to rest on the smooth, exposed shoulder.
"I missed you," he says softly, as wide dark pupils gilded with gauzy blue fix on him. "So much. Do you believe me?"
"Yes," whispers Sherlock as John moves close and presses his mouth to his in a soft, chaste kiss. "You aren't lying. I would know." He quirks his lips as John does a quick check of his available pulse points with a mock frown, the thrum of the smaller man's heart slow against his chest. He closes his eyes as John's lips find his again, bringing up a hand to thread through soft hair, tiny scars under his fingertips.
"Not now, Sherlock."
"John, there are things- "
The other man pulls back slightly, fond exasperation in his expression. "Plenty of time for all that later."
Sherlock pauses and John sees something flare in his eyes. "'All the time in the world'? The last time you said that to me-"
"Don't." John surges against him then, a flurry of lips and tongue and grasping hands and Sherlock parts his mouth with a soft moan, feeling the roll of his body against him. There's a pressure in his chest and his eyes prickle dangerously.
"I need to-" he begins, cutting through murmured kisses to his mouth and jaw.
"Shut up. For once in your life, shut up Sherlock."
"I thought I'd killed you," whispers Sherlock's , burying his face into John's neck with a gasp, feeling the other man still immediately. "The courier. The man I-" he shudders, John's hand curls around his neck.
"It's all right."
"He looked like you. In my dreams he was you. Then I came back and you were gone and I thought-"
John gently raises his head, warm, steady hands cupping his jaw. "It doesn't matter now. I'm here, see? Not going anywhere, I promise."
"Impossible to promise something like that. Too many variables."
"Shut it, Spock," John waggles his face gently in his grip, making Sherlock huff in indignation. "Downgrade impossible to improbable and focus on the probable, will you?"
The sudden fall of Sherlock's lips onto his makes him groan with relief and he wraps his arms around him carefully, trailing his fingers under the worn cloth to splay across his silken skin. His breath leaves him in a whoosh of surprise as Sherlock rolls suddenly to lie on top, pushing their hips together gracelessly, creating a delicious friction between them.
"Your track record with relationships is less than stellar," he mutters, breaking off with a low moan.
"Living with you made me a crap boyfriend, what can I say? You should be grateful. In fact you pretty much directly contributed to my getting dumped on a regular basis, you git," replies John unsteadily, giving a sharp shove of his hips.
"In fact, you could say you've been my longest...oh."
It's a few seconds before Sherlock registers John has stopped moving and he raises his head impatiently, sitting up at the expression of mingled shock and consternation on the other man's face.
"What is it?"
"Shit." John's eyes reluctantly slide to meet his and then dart away again.
"And who," hisses Sherlock, rising over him like some apocalyptic avenging angel, eyes blazing and hair standing on end, "the hell is Mary?"
"Uh," replies John eloquently. He pushes himself upright and runs nervous fingers through his hair. "Girl I've been seeing."
"I see." Sherlock hurls himself off the bed and begins furiously pacing again, ignoring the bounce of the erection tenting his thin pyjama bottoms. John follows his movements for a moment then covers his mouth to hide a totally inappropriate grin. "And you waited how long to tell me? Is this the sort of behaviour I can expect from you now?" he says accusingly, voice rising.
"Calm down, I only just remembered," John sighs. "I'm not keeping anything secret unlike you."
Sherlock looks away with a frown.
"Look, we've only been seeing each other a couple of months and not even very often I don't think. She's got a busy job, works long hours. I sort of remembered last night but it was all fuzzy and confusing-"
"Let me think for a minute-" John covers his face with both hands, trying to cement the crazy paving of his recent memories.
"Spectacular! We're going to be treated to another tedious heterosexual crisis, are we?"
"Don't be ridiculous-"
Sherlock wheels to face him, pointing an accusatory finger. "I'll have you know I was here first!"
John giggles, unable to help himself, uncovering his face to see Sherlock's expression darkening. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. And for the record I had two heterosexual crises and I'm not likely to have any more, stop being such a drama queen."
"Fine." Sherlock vaults back onto the bed in a flurry of limbs and John suddenly has to fend off a very determined, uncomfortably angular limpet. "Call her. Tell her it's all off."
"It's seven o'clock in the-" John grunts as a hard object is resolutely slapped against his forehead and blinks in the sudden illumination from the screen.
"Call her now."
John has a girlfriend -SH
I'll look into it - M
Tell me about John's girlfriend. You said he didn't have one -SH
Didn't think he did. Whoops! Handbags at dawn? Tell him text me for a pint
Sod off, Lestrade
Sherlock eyes John belligerently as he stutters his way through a clearly excruciating conversation on the phone. Tiny snippets keep floating over from where John stands hunched against the windowsill, forehead smearing the textured glass.
"...no, no...it's not you, it's...no, I can't, I'm sorry...flatmate's come back...alive, yes. Well, he...sorry, sorry I've been ill...well you haven't phoned either...oh, right, yeah forgot about the trip. How was it? Okay, okay. Look, so...no that's not really...wait, but...shit!"
John stares at his phone as if it's just gifted him with this week's lottery numbers. "She's coming over," he says dully.
"Don't know. To punch me in the bollocks, probably."
"Not a problem. We won't let her in," says Sherlock decidedly.
"Yes we will, Sherlock. I'll let her in, I'll sort this out and then we'll talk."
"Oh, good, more talking." Sherlock pivots on his heel and heads for the door. "Can't wait to see what you come up with next. Fathered any children whilst I was away?"
"Don't be- where are you going?"
"I'm going to get ready."
"No...what? Why? For what?" John flinches as the slam causes more plaster to shower down from the beleaguered wall.
"Well," he says to no-one in particular, feeling the low throb of an interrupted orgasm start deep in his balls. "That didn't take long." Sighing, he rifles through the cupboard for some clean clothes.
"Bit of an anti-climax, really."
When John appears downstairs he notes with dismay that Sherlock's idea of getting ready involves him relocating to the sofa and adopting an expression so thunderous he's surprised the light fittings haven't melted. If anything he looks even more dishevelled than earlier, curls sticking up every which way and his t-shirt is in danger of exposing more man nipple than John is comfortable with in polite company.
Sherlock sits ramrod straight against the cushions, following John's progress into the room and plucking at his violin vaguely threateningly in counterpoint to his footsteps.
"Glad to see you made an effort," remarks John drily. "Thought you'd flounced off to get dressed."
"I did not flounce."
"Funny, I got the distinct impression I was being flounced at." John gives a puzzled shake of his head.
"You look like you've been dragged through a hedge backwards."
"Just...not what I expected."
Not at all what he expected. Sherlock in full battle armour was resplendent and immaculate in suit and shirt, shoes polished to within an inch of their designer lives and buttons barely holding in an explosion of smooth chest. The man in front of him looked like he'd lost a tussle with a comb and had just managed to struggle out of bed after a particularly intense bout of...oh.
John rolls his eyes.
"What?" says Sherlock crossly.
"You're having an almighty strop about this when there's an assassin running round who could potentially blow our heads off at any moment?"
Sherlock ignores him in favour of a particularly discordant twang on his violin. The doorbell rings and they both flinch, Sherlock examining the frays on his plastered fingers in a transparent attempt at unconcern.
"Don't you have anything detective-y you could be getting on with?"
Throwing his hands in the air, John gives up, his footsteps thundering down the stairs. Sherlock waits until he hears the sound of the front door opening before he runs his hands through his hair a few more times and tugs his t-shirt even further out of place, biting at his bottom lip for good measure, crossing his legs imperiously and then uncrossing them again as John peeks nervously around the doorframe.
"Er...right. Still here then," he says as Sherlock glares down the length of his nose at him, eyes narrowing at the click of heels on the landing. Behind him appears an average looking woman of average height, wearing middle range clothes and an expression sullen enough to rival Donovan on a good day.
Sherlock looks her up and down as she stares at him disbelievingly.
Dressed smartly, worn in shoes - comfort not show - minimal make-up, regular gym goer, keen photographer-
The observations are incinerated in the sudden blast of fury which blazes through his entire body when she kisses John on the cheek, one eye on him, hand moving to cup his face. It doesn't matter that John flinches in discomfort and steps away because images are flooding Sherlock's mind of the two of them together, entwined and naked, faces contorted in pleasure and she's touching him she's touching his John and-
He starts at a burning on his cheek.
"Bloody hell, Sherlock!"
There's a wetness on his face and he looks down to see the broken ends of a violin string dancing in front of him. John snatches the instrument out of his hands hurriedly as the Mary woman eyes them both suspiciously.
"Something you want to tell me?" Her eyes glint with anger and a touch of something darker as she folds her arms and glares at John. Sherlock smirks through the stinging pain and stretches, smile widening at the dilation of John's pupils in response to the movement.
"Look, I'm sorry," John hesitates and then takes her hand. "And...thank you. For everything."
"'Thank you?'" A faint smile curls the corner of her mouth and she snorts, wrenching her arm away.
"So he comes waltzing back after destroying his life and it's back to normal, is it?" She says furiously. "You told me he was your flatmate, your friend and I bloody believed you. Neglected to mention he was also your fuck buddy!" She grimaces and swipes at her lips. "Expect you've been shagging like rabbits to make up for lost time. Jesus."
"He's not my fu-" John faces her crossly, torn between fetching the med kit and defending Sherlock's honour, Sherlock notes with amusement. "We never even, you know, did anything, well, not really, until-"
John falters into silence as his brain catches up with the rest of him and he visibly blanches, the colour draining from his face. He turns to look at Sherlock who looks away quickly, shock written in every line of his body.
Sherlock steeples his fingers at his mouth, expression carefully neutral.
"So how'd you do it then?"
Sherlock narrows his eyes at her as she takes a step closer and John recovers enough to look intrigued.
"Sleight of hand and attention to detail," he snaps, smoothing away a splatter of blood on his bow.
"Bet you haven't told him either. Bet he hasn't even asked." She steps into his eyeline and he exhales loudly in irritation.
Hair dye, contacts, carefully modulated RP accent, nails neat, so very ordinary, so very John's type-
"He'd have been better off if you'd stayed away," she says flatly. "He was fine when I met him, getting on with things-"
"Yes, I heard he was doing splendidly well," says Sherlock acidly.
"He had his bad days but he was better with me. Last few months were rough but then he had to deal with your little review thing. Congratulations on that, by the way."
"A genuine sentiment, thank you so much."
"You were a mess running up to it," she says, turning to John and his face softens at the sheen of her eyes. "And I supported you. I was here for you. Then he appears out of nowhere and you drop me like I'm nothing-"
"- aaaaand here comes the emotional manipulation-"
"Shut up, Sherlock!"
"Oh, don't fall for that one, John, she clearly likes damaged men. Just look at her jewell-"
"You're one to talk," hisses Mary. "Came back, didn't you? But only when you heard he was ill. Prefer your toys broken, do you?"
She scowls at John, the lines in her face deepening when she sees his gaze still fixed on Sherlock. "From the way he talked you up I expected some sort of dashing hero, some larger than life figure, a worthy opponent at least. Not some pissy little princess who bends for a washed up soldier."
"Right," says John firmly. "Time for you to leave, I think."
"Yeah, well, fuck you very much," snaps Mary. "Goodbye, John. So nice to meet you, Sherlock. Heard a lot about you. You know, sometimes it was almost like you were in the room with us." With a last flick of her eyes she smirks at John's stricken expression, turns on her heel and leaves, announcing her departure with a pane-rattling slam of the front door.
"That went well," John says evenly. His face darkens as he regards Sherlock, a cotton draped effigy on the sofa. "You bloody idiot."
Sherlock manages the enviable feat of rolling his eyes without moving any other part of his body.
"Will you at least look at me?"
The eyes relocate to fix on John who catches sight of the bloodless lips under the cage of fingers and sighs.
"I'm not angry with you."
"Oh, don't tell me, you're disappointed."
"I'm, no, if I'm honest I'm a bit sad. That was your first time and it involved a shitload of alcohol and some half-witted scheme to shag me into remembering you. You lied to me."
"I didn't lie."
"You led me to believe we'd slept together already."
Sherlock tuts in irritation and abruptly removes his fingers from his face. "So? Yes, guilty as charged, I thought it would stimulate your moribund memory centres. I enjoyed it, you obviously enjoyed it. At the end of the day it was me sleeping with almost you, stop turning it into some soapy melodrama."
"Almost me was actual me!"
"What does it matter?"
"It matters, Sherlock."
"Look," says Sherlock impatiently. "I said I wanted you, remember?"
"I wasn't lying. I wanted you then," Sherlock looks away again, "and I do now."
John lets out a breath, warmth spreading through his chest. "Okay," he murmurs. "Okay. But at the risk of sounding like a complete girl I wanted it to be better for you."
"First time is always disappointing, isn't that what they say?" Sherlock looks up, seeing John's face fall before he schools his expression into that of polite concern. "Not that I was. Disappointed, that is," he adds quickly. "Oh for God's sake, come with me and stop looking like I've just punched an orphan." He springs to his feet and turns towards his bedroom door. "Come on, practice makes perfect and I want to make sure you properly forget that deplorable hag. You can pretend I'm still virgin if it makes you feel better-"
"Hang on, there's stuff we need to discuss," starts John.
"In theory you could say you haven't slept with me yet, experience builds character after all and you just had the psychological equivalent of an extension in the last couple of hours."
"What about the drugs, Sherlock. The assassin?"
Pausing, Sherlock turns his head slightly, voice low. "I want one day with you, John. One day where nothing matters. Everything else can wait for now." He extends a hand behind him. "Will you come with me?"
John stares a moment, watching the slight quiver in the spine, the bowed column of his neck and the smooth bare arms as he waits for his reply.
"Yes," he breathes, grasping his wrist, sliding the fingers of his other hand into the short curls at the nape of Sherlock's neck. “Always.”
I have a million reasons why this chapter is so unforgivably late but you'd die of old age before you got to the end of the list. Instead, please accept my abject apologies and chapter 14. Huge great piles of thank yous to my beta Lyrium Flower as always - she who kicks my arse and enjoys it far too much. She also cleans up after me and makes my story a better thing to read. Thanks again to all of you for continuing to read, kudos and comment.
John nips upstairs for a moment, pretty sure trying to untangle himself from a focused Sherlock to 'fetch supplies' later will only end in minor injuries, major tantrums or very likely both. When he re-enters the downstairs bedroom he takes a moment to laugh softly at the nude figure perched imperiously on the edge of the bed, momentarily illuminated by the glow of his phone before it winks out beside him. Sherlock sits arms folded and chin up and John is struck, as he always is, by the sleek lines of his body, topped (and tailed, he thinks with a mental throat clear), by varyingly sized explosions of glossy hair.
"Bit keen, aren't we?"
He immediately kicks himself for the quip when the bright, expectant stare is shadowed briefly by uncertainty and moves to sit beside him on the bed.
"You keep undressing before I get a chance to do it for you," he remarks softly. "That's always been my favourite bit."
"You might as well get used to the fact that I'm nothing like any of your previous partners so there's no point in making comparisons," snaps Sherlock.
Desperate to allay a hissy fit of epic proportions, John maintains as straight a face as he can reasonably manage whilst being loomed at by a naked strop specialist.
"Figured that out on day one."
"Well then," Sherlock replies haughtily, dipping his chin to eye him sidelong and then falling silent, some of the tension seeping from his posture. "I could undress you," he concedes, unfolding his arms to examine his nails, lips pursed.
"Could do. Won't take long, I don't have very many layers."
"You don't," says Sherlock, a smile starting to play at the corners of his mouth as John drops his hand to stroke along a smooth inner thigh.
"Yeah, I'm shallow like that."
"Not shallow, pellucid."
"I hope that's a compliment, because I'm looking it up later. Say it again."
"Pellucid." repeats Sherlock, drawing out the word exaggeratedly before leaning in to mouth it against the soft skin under John's ear.
"Definitely liking that term," breathes John, his eyes falling shut. "The things that come out of your mouth sometimes. You could make the Bible sound filthy."
"Nothing compared to the things that might go into my mouth-"
"Oh my God!" John's eyes spring open in mock horror. "Did you, Sherlock Holmes, just make an innuendo-ous remark?"
"That's not even a word," mutters Sherlock indistinctly, his lips tracing collarbone, fingers trailing down the planes of John's chest. He presses lightly, once, and John obediently sprawls himself across the bed, leaving Sherlock leaning into space, hands flexing uncertainly.
"I'm down here."
Not even a sarky comment for stating the obvious. Not good. John grasps his hands gently and pulls them towards his shirt. "Here's a good place to start," he says, drawing Sherlock back from whatever feedback loop has stalled that giant brain. "Buttons," he adds unnecessarily, testing the water.
"Thank you for clearing that up," replies Sherlock archly, "I'm sure I would have had no idea what they were otherwise."
Aaaaand he's back in the room. Letting a fond smile spread across his face, John doesn't bother to respond, stretching his arms above his head and watching deft fingers slowly undo him, stroking over each revealed patch of skin. When there are no more buttons, Sherlock pushes the fabric aside and merely stares at the smooth exposed stripe, head tilted. John opens his mouth after a minute or two, convinced that Sherlock's thought processes have snarled themselves up again but two cool fingers are suddenly against his mouth and warm lips are painting a broad swathe of heat down his belly, stopping briefly at his navel and then continuing. They pause at the waistband of his jeans and all at once John is impatiently flicking open the fly and kicking them off, eager to feel as much smooth skin against him as possible.
"Now do you see?" says Sherlock, propping himself onto his elbows with a smirk and nodding at the discarded jeans.
"See what?" John rolls his eyes in sudden realisation. "All right, all right, undressing is dull for the undressee. Come here, you bloody tease." Grabbing an unrepentantly grinning Sherlock he rolls on top and kisses him deeply, searchingly, until the body underneath his is lax and pliant. "What do you want?" he asks softly, dropping a final kiss onto the tip of his nose.
Sherlock looks up at him, gaze unfocused and hair askew. "Hmm?"
John lets his hand wander south, tugging gently at springy curls. "I said what do you want? Tell me what you want me to do to you. You were bloody bossy before," he adds, watching colour rise in the other man's cheeks. "Might as well carry on in bed the way you are out of it. You'll confuse me otherwise."
"Hardly difficult," retorts Sherlock, but his body is stiff and tense again. "All right. I'd like you to..." he gives a vague waggle of his hand.
"What? Stir your coffee? Direct traffic? Use words, Sherlock, I don't speak random limb twitch. Tell me."
Sherlock reddens even more and John stops to admire the splashes of colour on his face against all that pale skin and dark hair.
"Get on with it, Snow White," he encourages, undulating his body against the other man's groin. "You were doing well earlier despite the brain freeze, even if it was just to prove a point."
"I don't-" Sherlock attempts and falls silent again. "You're doing this on purpose. You're trying to make me talk."
"Oh now you find talking difficult." Propping his chin on Sherlock's chest, he frowns, trying to negotiate his way through the sudden layers of tension surrounding the other man. "Was this easier when it wasn't me?" he ventures. "You could just...I don't know, slip into the role? Act the resplendently toppy mofo because it didn't mean anything?"
"Don't be ridiculous. Resplendently-? I've warned you about the effect of too much internet on an inferior mind."
"Research is very important." John waves a hand in the universal 'I'm going to patronise you until you contribute something to this discussion' gesture. "So, you were saying?"
"Fine!" Sherlock fixes his gaze on John's left ear with a huff of irritation. "I'd like you to put...your...on me." he finishes lamely.
John shakes his head, face carefully blank and eyebrows raised. "My...what, Sherlock? Signature? Jumper? Dinner?"
The word comes out sandpaper rough, tumbling from Sherlock's mouth on an inhale and John has to close his eyes to steady himself against the sudden rush of arousal at the sight of scarlet cheeks. He waits for a reaction, mouthing the pulse which thrums like a captured moth and he can feel Sherlock swell against him at the fantasy; there's no hesitation at all as he slithers down the long body, tugs off the already damp underwear and takes the heavy, warm length in one hand, pressing a kiss against the tip.
"God, yes," he rasps. "There you are. It's me, Sherlock. You can tell me anything, ask me for anything. Remember what you promised me before?" Before you died, before I lost myself.
"I promised not to hide."
"I'm trying." Sherlock scowls at John's sky-rocketing eyebrow. "I am."
"Good enough," John fastens his lips around him without further preamble, giving a few experimental swirls of his tongue.
Sherlock makes a strangled noise and grasps the headboard tightly with both hands. Slim hips tremble with the effort of not thrusting into the warmth of John's mouth and he rewards him with a long, slow suck, fingers rubbing soothing circles into the spurs of his pelvis before establishing a steady rhythm, immersing himself in the soft gasps and hitched breaths that fall on him like snow, muting the everyday noises of the rest of the world.
"John-" Sherlock's raises his head, expression open and fragile.
"It's all right," says John softly, pulling away. "I wanted to do this for you before but you wouldn't let me. I get it, though. Bit too personal, yeah?" He nods to himself in affirmation as Sherlock looks away, giving a gentle squeeze which makes his eyes fall shut and his entire body shudder.
"What you said before," Sherlock tries again, voice muffled, "It wasn't pretend. It did mean something."
John pauses, dropping a soft kiss onto his belly, watching the smooth muscles twitch involuntarily.
"Thank you," he says simply.
"It was still you."
"Yes it was. And it appears that despite a head injury and a major psychological breakdown it's impossible to purge you completely from my brain. You're like Creutzfeldt-Jakob, only more annoying." He grins at the resulting baleful glare from above. "Now shut up and let me start things off properly this time." Licking a finger he swipes it gently along the seam of Sherlock's perineum until he reaches the delicate pucker, watching it flex under his touch as he mumbles something incomprehensible, face buried in the crook of one rigid arm. He pauses and gets another glare before there's an impatient nod, curls trailing damply along flushed skin.
"I'll say this now," John remarks, popping open the cap on the tube dropped next to him, "you try and bully me along like you did last time and I'll bite you."
"I might enjoy that," replies Sherlock, the last consonant segueing into a gasp as John presses a finger in and ghosts it over his prostate, laving him with the flat of his tongue to ease the uncomfortable stretch.
"I didn't say where."
He adds another finger and thrusts gently, making sure to smooth it over the little pleasure gland, even as he twists and scissors. When he takes him into his mouth again Sherlock moans softly, his thighs beginning to tremble.
"John, if you want to-"
"Hmm?" says John, grabbing the base with one hand and swirling his tongue over the sensitive glans. "What was that?"
"You should stop."
"But I'm enjoying this, aren't you?" breathes John, face innocently blank and eyebrows slightly raised. Under Sherlock's fevered gaze he slowly extends his tongue to lap at the glisten of his slit, watching his knuckles whiten even more on the headboard.
"John-" he gasps, "John-" he bites down hard on his already swollen lower lip, struggling for control. "If you keep doing that I'm going to-"
Not much of a deterrent thinks John, especially as the noise Sherlock makes as he swallows him down again, fingers pressing up simultaneously is almost inhuman, his head flying back to connect with the headboard with a resounding thump that, had John not been so busy coordinating two hands, a mouth and his own raging erection, might have had him worried about potential concussion. Instead he watches as a flush creeps up from Sherlock's chest, up, up the endless line of his throat to cradle his jaw as the taut line of his body begins to bow, his legs shaking in earnest now. John's body throbs with reflected pleasure, quickening the movements of his fingers, short jabs that have the other man pressing his lips together in an effort to contain his increasingly urgent whimpers.
God, he's gorgeous. Stretched out and laid bare and all his now, eyes screwed shut and hips pushing up into his touch, desperate and wanton. John hums around him in delight and those perfect lips part in surprise and he's suddenly impossibly tight around him, warm and swelling in his mouth and-
Sherlock cries out, expression a mixture of ecstasy and torment, clenching around his fingers as the first hot surge hits the back of his throat and John thinks he's never seen anything quite so moving in his life as that beautiful face twisting in pleasure, hands finally releasing their death grip on the hardwood bed to scrabble at the sheets as the aftershocks hit.
John licks him very lightly as he comes down, withdrawing his fingers slowly when Sherlock quakes at the friction against his over-sensitised body. He lays his head against one fever-hot, still trembling thigh and sighs happily, turning his head to peer up at him as a hand plucks at his shoulder.
"Least...I can do...is...return the favour..." gasps Sherlock, eyes still closed.
John lifts himself slightly and looks down. "Um," he says, feeling the tips of his ears burn, "actually not necessary, if you know what I mean."
There's a brief moment of silence and then Sherlock breaks into breathless laughter, his legs tightening around John's chest as he starts giggling too. "I should be flattered, I suppose."
"That's one word for it."
"Ah well," Sherlock sighs dramatically, "I shall remain a reconstituted virgin for a bit longer then."
"Not that much longer," returns John with a grin. "Give me a shower and a bit and I'll be ready to go again."
When John returns from his shower, Sherlock is illuminated by the glow from his phone, the light lending a cadaverous tint to his skin that sends a pang of faint anxiety through him.
"Lestrade wants us," he says shortly, without looking up. "It's a four on the interest scale, you'll have to go. He's already threatened death by paperwork if we - and by we I mean you - don't show up."
"What? Tell him to bugger off. I thought you said we were going to have one day-"
"Yes, well, that was before some idiotic antiques dealer got himself garroted with a one hundred year old lute string. Besides," Sherlock smiles faintly at him. "I'm a bit tired now - don't give me that look, you're always on at me to sleep more. It won't take long, phone me when you get there."
"Right," says John resignedly, ignoring the deep throb of disappointment that runs through him. "Back to normal then." He bends and begins to gather his clothes, not registering that Sherlock has shifted over until there are strong fingers on his wrist.
"Not quite," he murmurs, pulling him down to press a soft kiss under his jaw. "I'm not sure you could apply the term 'normal' to us anyway."
"Good point." John grabs a fistful of curls and sweeps his lips over Sherlock's. "All right then, you lazy git. See you later."
"Send him my regards."
"Greg or the antiques dealer?"
"Whichever you feel is the biggest idiot."
"At this precise moment you've no reason to be such a grumpy twat. I'm the one booted out of this bed."
John snorts, ruffles his hair affectionately and heads out.
Sherlock stares at the bedroom door for a few minutes after it has closed on John's departing grin, absently running a thumb over his lip before he rises and dresses quickly. Pausing by the living room window he checks the street then settles in his chair, his only reaction to the soft but very definite click of the front door closing a small turn of his head.
Light tread, measured, even steps. Short heels, good balance, martial training.
He raises his chin in greeting at the figure in the doorway.
Comfortable clothing, room for movement, military neatness, pressed and cleaned. No obvious weapons. Skin darker without make-up, sun damage more obvious. Estimated age early 40s.
"Colonel. And I prefer Moran, if you don't mind."
"Of course. Assumed name very close to the original, easy to react to if someone were to call it out unexpectedly - people so often fail at that simple gambit when wearing assumed identities. I'm guessing your first name isn't Mary."
"Well, aren't you clever? You can call me Mary if you want. Or Colonel Moran, I hear you rather like the military types. Your phone, please."
With only the briefest hesitation Sherlock draws it out from behind himself and throws it to her. Keeping him in her peripheral vision she scrolls through the recent messages and then switches it off, folding her arms.
"I overestimated you, thought you'd have called in the cavalry by now. Sex scrambling those synapses?"
"Didn't want to scare you off," answers Sherlock slowly. "I think you'll find me a worthy opponent."
"Ah," Mary leans against the doorframe easily and gives him a smile just shy of rueful. "Lost my temper. He said you were good at riling people into giving themselves away." She shrugs, face darkening. "Sent your pet away?"
Sherlock bristles, eyes hardening. "I'd prefer as little collateral damage as possible. We've a while before he figures out I've altered all the relevant numbers in his phone. All this trouble to flush me out, anyone else would have gone to ground, but no..." Sherlock eyes her, a ghost of a smirk on his face, before standing to move in front of the window. "This is personal."
"You killed my boss and destroyed everything we built."
"Strictly speaking he killed himself." He corrects automatically. Mary's face twists and then smooths again. "Boss isn't personal enough. Lover? No, unlikely, too much respect in your voice when you refer to him. Unrequited crush?" He quirks an eyebrow at her. "Dear me, I was right on the money about you and damaged men, wasn't I?"
"Shut up," Mary says tightly, unfolding and refolding her arms. She looks away, composing herself, and when she looks back at him the steel glint in her eye settles ice into his gut. "You're a vain bastard, Sherlock Holmes. You're not dealing with one of your little crime syndicates, you're dealing with me. I'm his right hand for several excellent reasons. I'm going to kill you. Quickly, painfully and without any helpful tips as to where I'm concealing my weapons."
Sherlock forces his expression to remain neutral and brushes imaginary lint off his lapel instead. "Ex-Israeli military, I'm assuming."
"Amongst others. He recruited me due to my wide range of skills and...amenable morality."
"If you like. Don't." she barks as Sherlock shifts his weight slightly. "Sit down. Last words? Maybe I'll smear them on the wall for when little John gets back, I'm sure I can find some appropriate paint."
"What did you do to John?"
"Ah," a slow, triumphant smile slides across her face and if Sherlock had to power to flay with thought alone she'd have been a dissection display model by now. Her eyes flick down to her watch. "What do you think I did?"
"You drugged him," Sherlock says, his own voice faint through a sudden roaring in his ears. "Doctored midazolam in the vitamins, then an amphetamine, injected when his pain receptors were dulled and where no-one could see. He'd never remember not being able to sleep."
The ice in his gut reaches up into his chest, spreading chill fingers across his ribs and into his throat. Weeks, months of sleep deprivation and John had had no idea. No clue as to why he was exhausted and low. And she would have been there to support him, worming her way in as someone indispensable. She'd not visit in the day, no, too much of a risk, using long hours and business trips as an excuse, but in the evenings, arriving late at night so Mrs Hudson would never see her, hearing only footsteps up above and John, John too restless to settle, seemingly talking to himself and increasingly confused.
"Not bad. You look a little agitated, Mr Holmes. Don't worry it'll only hurt for a moment." Mary tosses her hair back casually and takes a step into the room.
"You could have killed him."
"Which would have flushed you out anyway," she shrugs gracefully. "Same result. Now the head injury was just a little bit of luck. For me, obviously, I was prepared to wait until he was sectioned," she clarifies with a sly tip of the head. "Too much alcohol, too little sleep, bang."
Despite everything, Sherlock feels a spark of elation. Memory loss accidental, a quirk of fate, a culmination of random factors. John never knowingly tried to erase me.
"And what about your accomplice?"
"What makes you think I had one?"
Sherlock tilts his head. "I'm sure you're certainly stealthy enough to follow us around without being recognised but I hardly think dressing up as me would have fooled John, not even in that state."
He flinches as she laughs, loudly and without humour. "Oh, that. Well, our John is so very suggestible, don't you find? A few words in his ear and he was seeing the ghost of Sherlock Holmes everywhere. Sweet, really, his devotion to you." Taking a step forward she leans towards him, lowering her voice to mimic a false confidentiality. "He takes direction well, so obedient. The things he'd do after a few suggestions," she smirks as the colour drains from Sherlock's face, leaving him dizzy and nauseous. "I'm getting warm just thinking about them."
"Yes well," he manages. "I doubt his Irish accent is up to much. And Westwood? Not really his thing."
The smirk vanishes from her face, replaced in an instant by an expression so cold and brittle she might as well have been sculpted from ice.
"Enough talking," she grates and takes another step forward, baring her teeth at Sherlock who forces himself to remain still.
There's a soft noise from downstairs, an almost imperceptible change in the air, and Sherlock tilts his head up at her, interlacing his fingers. Need to keep her attention on me he thinks, even as his heart sinks. I was supposed to win. You weren't supposed to be here, John.
"Well, I think that just about covers everything, doesn't it?" he remarks as a shadow falls silently over part of the doorframe.
"I think so," she agrees and steps back and all at once the future unspools before him in a punch of clarity. He opens his mouth, throat closing in horror.
The room shrinks and darkens, time slows as she moves, fast and fluid, drawing a gun and firing without taking her eyes off him. There's an explosion of cheap plaster and a grunt, the sound of a body hitting the floor heavily and Sherlock closes his eyes as an arc of crimson spatters the corridor, reaching outwards as if in supplication. Mary backs up, throws a disinterested look into the hallway and moves to stand by the window.
"So loyal," she breathes. "Shame, really. I had plans for him after I'd taken care of you. Help him through the mourning period and all that," she grins, shark-like and eerily reminiscent of her ex-boss.
"I'm sure you did," says Sherlock, watching the play of light on the window disinterestedly whilst a voice in the back of his head shrieks, high and thin and unrelenting. His body is a thing of concrete, the pounding in his chest the fist of an angry god and everything seems to be retreating from him.
"Goodbye, Mr Holmes." She raises the gun, John's Sig, he notes absently, gaze wandering.
The tip of a shoe is just visible through the doorway and as the first red dot appears on the side of Mary's neck, others joining it like angry fireflies, he focuses on that, vision narrowing and thoughts scattering.
Sherlock sits quietly, hands cold as ice as feet thunder up the stairs and the flat is suddenly filled with a thousand strangers, all shouting at once. He doesn't move, keeps his eyes focused on the shiny leather shoe tip until it's gone, lifted away in a clamour of voices. He barely registers the body by the window, the stains on the bureau, John's gun which has skittered to rest against one of his feet.
There's a shadow crouched by his chair. He blinks, blurry features swimming into focus, hard cool eyes, deep grooves either side of a mouth turned down in disapproval.
"Mycroft." he says evenly.
"This seems a poor time to lecture you for confronting an assassin of that caliber alone," starts Mycroft and then pauses as if waiting for a retort. When none comes his brow furrows with concern. "If John hadn't realised why you'd sent him away - again..."
"He didn't. It was me who tipped him off." An unexpected voice from beside them and the elder Holmes looks up in surprise, eyes narrowing. Lestrade sounds wrecked and his hands are shaking. "I phoned him, just...you know, to see how he was getting on. He said my number came up wrong, said he was going back, that something wasn't right. So I got hold of your brother."
Chance, then. Pure chance that Lestrade had contacted John and shattered the charade. Ended the dance prematurely in a shower of red.
It's not your fault Sherlock thinks, steepling fingers against his mouth. I failed, didn't take all the variables into account. She was right - I was vain, overconfident, overplayed my hand.
Two pairs of eyes are suddenly on him and he wonders if he's spoken aloud.
"Let's get you to the hospital."
Greg's voice seems far away and oddly soft, as if Sherlock's standing at the bottom of a well, ambient noises from above faint and echoing. The blood on the wall is vivid, alive, he can almost hear the fading heartbeat. Is this how John felt when he saw him splayed on wet concrete? His brain feels sluggish, senses numbed. He heaves a breath in and attempts coherence.
"I don't think-"
"You need to go, Sherlock." Mycroft reaches out hesitantly and then lays a hand on his forearm, fingers painfully tight. "I have a car outside. Come with me now."
Sherlock rises mechanically and looks down in confusion at the hand splayed across his wrist like a pale starfish as Greg puts a hand on his shoulder and ushers him to his feet. Giving Moran's prone body one last glance, he allows himself to be led away. Her face is still, but he fancies he sees a small smile of triumph curling her lips and closes his eyes as he passes, breathing in a last lingering smell of tea and blood.
"Again, Sherlock. You did this to me again. I could understand it when we weren't...you know, together - no, shut your mouth, I mean't together together but now? After everything that's happened?"
He's glaring at me, his arms are folded and his face is crimson; he's shouting like the tiny, furious dictator that he is and I want to kiss all that rage out of him.
"Are you even listening to me, Sherlock?"
I am. I'll do whatever you want. You say jump-
"Because this is your final chance. In case you haven't noticed, the last two times you've decided to play the amazing fucking lone wolf hero one or other of us has ended up fake dead or almost dead. What does that tell you? Hm? Don't be so fucking fatuous, of course we're not going to live forever but I'd like to see my 45th birthday, if you don't mind. With you if possible."
Sherlock blinks and the vision dissipates, bringing with it a hollow chill. Molly stands in the doorway wringing her hands, eyes red, her white coat dishevelled. He shoves down an irrational burst of fury at the coffee stains on her lapel, her scuffed shoes, most of all at her eagerness.
"Not yet. Go away."
He turns his back on her, ignoring the stifled sob and the sound of hurriedly retreating footsteps and leans forward, hands gripping the end of the bed.
It's strange what perspective does to a body. On the surface John is as he was - the same size, the same shape - but in this tall, sterile room, swathed in white, he looks doll sized and fragile without all that bluster and energy. It occurs to him that this is a similar situation to the one before, when he was still a fugitive. When he couldn't resist breaking into that stale ward only to find a stranger waiting for him. Similar in all respects except one.
It's to be expected really. In their line of work, with their combined impulsive, impetuous, competitive natures neither of them were looking forward to reaching retirement age. Not when they were running headlong into danger at every opportunity, grinning at each other as brightly and fiercely as igniting flares as they did so. Sherlock smiles faintly at the memory. They were never destined to fade away quietly.
He looks down in surprise at the first splash of warmth on his hand.
There's a time and a place for sentimentality, Sherlock. Mycroft's voice cool and disapproving in the silence of his head. Is this one of them? (You look sad when you think he can't see you). He can loosen the collar of reserve in the quiet places where he can't see. In the white rooms, the hospital labs, a freezing rooftop. He recalls the grieving family in the morgue, asking his brother whether he thought there was something wrong with the both of them.
The fact you even have to ask the question makes you all sorts of wrong. John's voice, exasperated and fond.
His hand is cold, pale, even against the white of the sheet. Sherlock traces his fingers, curls his own into the palm of John's hand and decides that he hates hospitals, the starkness, the sterility, but most of all the impersonality. Ironic that he used to admire such detachment. But here death is commonplace; a natural process you can sluice off your hands before moving on to the next fading life, nothing at all like the apocalypse unfolding inside him. Sherlock removes his coat and covers John's body, tucking the chilly limb underneath thick wool, smoothing it over him carefully. There's nothing natural about this, this absence of John. His fingers twist at a button.
Anger. One of the seven stages of grief. A children's book on how to feel. Denial, pain, bargaining, depression. Finally acceptance and hope - a reward for following the plan, for good bereavement behaviour.
Grief is such a small word, utterly inadequate. There's a monster inside him, dark feathers brushing the underside of his skin, quills pricking at his eyelids, and no amount of stages or labels or empty platitudes will placate it. Small wonder that the human mind finds it difficult to comprehend any death toll above twenty when one is so-
Not yet. Not ready yet.
John's absence tears a hole in the world into which all the warmth and light flow after. Easter egg he thinks, turning the metaphor over in his mind. John liked his metaphors, a secret language of their own. (So how's the engine running today, Sherlock?) He fingers his jacket, plucks at his shirt restlessly. Just a painted veneer with the centre sucked away. Nothing left but the shell. Brittle and hollow and lifeless. And laughably unaware of it until now, filling those empty spaces with puzzles and drugs and ego.
The door eases open with a warm rush of air from the corridor outside and Sherlock stiffens, a dismissal bitter on his tongue until the single tap of an umbrella stills it. Mycroft makes a soft noise of reproval, moving soundlessly on the tile of the floor to stand next to him and the dart of irritation the familiar sound elicits is as soothing as ever. The pinstripes and the patrician face, the faint air of disapproval and the stupid fob watch drain some of the stiffness from Sherlock's spine. Mycroft inclines his head at him, a brisk dip of his chin, and it's the shadow of a hand on his shoulder.
"What are you doing here?"
"What do you think I'm doing here, Sherlock?" sighs Mycroft with the air of the perpetually misunderstood. Several responses flit through Sherlock's mind before he decides he's simply too tired to bother and settles on an answering scowl instead.
"I'm sorry it came to this."
"It was always going to come to this," snaps Sherlock. "You were right."
"Oh yes? About what?" replies Mycroft mildly.
"'Caring is not an advantage', you said. So congratulations, you can now say 'I told you so' with incontrovertible proof behind you."
"I sent him away for his own good and the idiot came back-"
"Working alone doesn't suit you, Sherlock. It makes you reckless. I would have thought recent events would have taught you that by now."
"It's essential for the process. When people are around me they muddy the facts. I would have picked up on Moran's influence earlier if I hadn't-" he shakes his head abruptly.
"If you hadn't been intent on 'finding' John?" Mycroft raises one shoulder incrementally. "You shouldn't doubt your observations, Moran was very thorough."
"Not the point."
"No, it isn't. So what is?"
"If I remove myself from John completely, isolate myself, it'd be safer for him. In the long run."
"You're talking about cutting yourself off again because you believe friends make you vulnerable when really it's because matters were beyond your control. Because you've had a bit of a scare." replies Mycroft, an unsaid you idiot in the quick draw of his breath.
"Lack of personal relationships works well enough for you though, doesn't it? Iceman."
"You are not me, Sherlock," says Mycroft flatly, in a tone that brooks no argument, "and if I were you I'd stop aspiring to be."
"You will destroy everything."
Sherlock angles his head to look at him, caught by the unexpectedly vehement note in the cool voice. Mycroft's expression is unchanged, all poise and expensive tailoring, hands folded neatly over his umbrella. If he squints he can almost see beyond the bureaucrat, the manipulator, past the layers of condescension, cold logic and objectivity to the brother he grew up with. A flash of...something brittle in Mycroft's eyes when he meets his - fatigue, perhaps. Regret. Then he blinks slowly, smiles the bland little smile Sherlock always wants to claw off his face, and checks his watch, dropping it back into his waistcoat pocket with an exaggerated pat.
"He won't always come back, Sherlock." Out of the corner of his eye Mycroft watches his brother open his mouth and then shut it again, knuckles white against the chrome of the bed. "Not if you keep pushing him away."
"A moot point, don't you think?"
"He's in a coma, Sherlock, he's not dead-"
"Might as well be."
They contemplate John for a little while, twin studies in silence, until Mycroft inclines his head and rubs thoughtfully at the handle of his umbrella.
"Do you really think you should have turned the machine off?"
"The noise was irritating."
"You mean the noise reassuring us all that John is still possessed of a heartbeat?"
"Irritating," repeats Sherlock, mulishly, not bothering to add that every time the electronic blip slowed even fractionally he'd felt his stomach trying to crawl out of his throat.
"I'd say go and get some rest but I'm aware of the futility of that particular suggestion. At the very least sit down - I'll have some appropriate furniture brought in," Mycroft's umbrella taps once, decisively, on the floor as he turns to leave, sparing John one last proprietary glance.
"Comas are a funny thing," he muses. "I'm afraid for now there's nothing to do but wait, hm?"
Nothing to do but wait.
Once a torture of the cruelest kind, the waiting, tinged as it is with dread and a dull resignation is almost pleasurable in that he and John are alone left together for long periods of time.
Talk to him they say. Hearing is the last thing to go.
Talking aloud used to come so easily, talking at John even more so. Doing it now would be to give in to that fear that this may be his last chance to say all the things he should have said long before now.
Instead Sherlock curls into the ridiculously overstuffed armchair and withdraws. It's not exactly a retreat into his mind palace, more a stroll in the grounds, barefoot and chilled. He's dimly aware of the ebb and flow of people around him, the powder-perfume smell of Mrs Hudson as she presses a kiss to his cheek, the sun picking out the silver in Lestrade's hair when he pushes a coffee into his hand but mostly he's aware of the play of the light on John's face, the way it brightens and dims and absents itself finally over and over.
For once there's enough to occupy his mind, everyday mysteries yielding small victories - the complicated smell on his clothes which tells him they have been laundered by Mrs Hudson, for example, the shallow indents in the shower wall from four, no, five separate direct blows from a fist when Lestrade finally manages to force him into the relatives' bathroom; he wonders about the others until a soft tap on the door has him stumbling out, shivering, from underneath the now freezing spray.
He hurries back, hair dampening his collar but John is as he left him; his chest rises and falls, the machine, often manhandled into silence, for the moment bleeps in staggered counterpoint. The bandages are gone leaving John an even smaller figure without their bracing bulk. The right side of his head was shaved close, hair now beginning to grow out, the grey even more prominent than before. As head injuries go it was glancing; a great gouge of a wound and a depressed fracture. Then cerebral oedema too rapid to settle medically - the phrase 'brain like a sieve' horribly apt after all the burr holes needed to stabilise him - descending like an angry fist, squeezing John into unconsciousness.
He might wake up tomorrow, he might wake up next month. Next year. Never. Sherlock bends over him, watches his breath ruffle the grey blond hair and waits for John to swat him away. Maybe having found respite from the irritation that Sherlock so casually causes him he has decided to stay asleep, cradled quietly within warm flesh.
"Wake up, John," he murmurs, and closes his eyes.
Three days later, John opens his. They wander the room briefly, eventually settling on Sherlock, and then drift closed again. Sherlock is on his feet and hitting the emergency button before he's even completed his next breath but by the time a team of medical staff arrive John's back under again and showing no sign of having stirred. Sherlock grits his teeth and ignores the sympathetic glances, turns his back on all of them.
The next time Sherlock registers that something in the room is different, he's sprawled awkwardly in the armchair tuning out the low buzz of conversation behind him as Mycroft and Lestrade, the latter having provided some terrible canteen sandwiches, discuss some obscure policing need in a county consisting mostly of farmyard animals. Sherlock raises a hand and they fall silent as John follows the movement, head shifting on the pillow.
"John?" says Sherlock carefully, approaching the bed as if any sudden movement will spook him back into a comatose state. John hums in discomfort, squeezing his eyes shut before forcing them open again. "How are you feeling?"
"I-" An expression of confusion crosses his face and he licks his lips. He peers up at Sherlock, gaze becoming flinty with suspicion. "Fine, thank you," he says eventually. "How are you?"
Sherlock takes a step back, feeling the blood drain from his face and the room tilt around him as his heart gives a great lurch in his chest. He fights the crazy urge to laugh at it all, the terrible irony of fate pressing the reset button on him once more.
Can't. Not again. Not this stranger again.
He draws his coat around him, mindful of the two figures straightening in alarm across the room and schools his expression. Easier to leave now, leave John here to rebuild an uncomplicated life, a life free from risk and revelation and him-
His gaze snaps to John's face, now creased in familiar concern.
"Oh, Sherlock," he breathes, face clearing. "You thought-"
Sherlock eyes him, barely daring to breathe.
"No, it's me, Sherlock. Please, I'm sorry. I'm unbelievably angry at you, I was gearing up for a good yell - Jesus, you look awful. Ow. Fuck. I can't move - Sherlock, come here. Please?"
He takes a step on wobbly legs. Another. John's face finally comes into focus before he falls to his knees by the bed and takes a great shuddering breath in.
"Sherlock, don't you ever-"
"I mean it."
"Never. Never, John. Never, never, never-" He buries his face in John's warm stomach and murmurs into the rumpled sheets. Dimly behind him there's the sound of frantic coughing coupled with sympathetic back patting.
"Please tell me Lestrade ruined that awful shirt," he mutters eventually, rubbing his cheek against skin to meet red rimmed eyes.
"Every cloud." Johns laughs shakily. "Although I think Mycroft's just handed over enough cash for him to buy ten more," he smiles, plucking gently at the soft dark hair at his nape. His expression turns into one of mild alarm as Sherlock surges up the bed in response, draping his long body half on top of him and burying his face into the space between neck and shoulder. After shooting a warning glance to the gleeful audience at the back of the room, John loops an arm around him, dropping a kiss onto his forehead.
"You should sleep," he murmurs, lips warm against his hairline. "I'm not going anywhere."
Sherlock knows better than to ask him to promise. For men like them uncertainty is the only certainty, so he simply tips his head back, the fading slant of the afternoon sun warm on his face, and catches John's mouth with his own.
"Good," he says quietly and smiles up at him. "That's good."
So we reach the end. A thousand splendid thanks to my beta Lyrium Flower who is simply the finest ever - talented, witty, articulate and most of all filthy as all get out. She deserves worship and hyperbole and lots of it.
Also warm, sticky waves of love in the direction of TSylvestrisA, my partner in smut, and Mirith Griffin whose support has been both squeeworthy and invaluable.
In no particular order much thanks to Hamstermoon, Toby Wiggins, Ruth0007, Sharky, Jessie, hytgbnu, Tallis, ds862, thegingerintheback, Zan, Sioux, Jen, Amy, Jessica, Fleurr, jbs_teeth, R., rana, evilteddybear, spastasmagoria, Mythographer_General(fiorinda_chancellor), Tialangela, thebookworm214, pennswoods, Sarah Branch, Noisyimpatientspider, Cody_Thomas, mangofurutani, Neyah444, Keebler, MojoFlower, Kestrel337, Japonicastar, Mightypog, snogandagrope, Rayna, ohsweetcrepes, Eolyn, RosiePaw, dm, jillothewisp(abbykate), CherryBlossomTide, thehollowhorn, md for your lovely comments as well as the kudosy types for those little mouse clicks of love.
And art. Art! Someone did ART FOR ME!! I've never had Art before! *sobs pathetically* Go look at this lovely cover. The colours are gorgeous. Thank you jillandsarah x
Thank you so much for reading - SG x