John Watson is a soldier and a surgeon, but that was before he got shot. Before the incredible, i-think-I'm-going-to-die, please-let-me-live pain. Before his psychosomatic limp and intermittent tremor. Before he was 36 years, 21 weeks, 2 days, 17 hours, 5 minutes and 11 seconds old – the exact moment the bullet penetrated his skin and changed his life. Now he is not a soldier and he is not a surgeon. John is nothing. But that's not quite true. John Watson has never been nothing. He has a unique gift. With a single touch, he can give life; with another, he takes it away… forever. He can only bring a life back for a minute; a second more and another life must take its place. John knows this and always keeps track.
John doesn't know what to do with himself. He is damaged goods, rejected, thrown aside, absolutely worthless. He feels hollow and alone. Sometimes he ventures out and he limps his way through the city, but he sees nothing. Everything is dull and colourless. A light has gone out inside him and John feels like a ghost. John wonders if this is what being dead feels like. Sometimes, he touches his wrist, his cheek, his damn leg, with the very intention of bringing himself back to life. It doesn't work, never does. John isn't dead, he is simply not living. And John thinks that's even worse.
Sherlock Holmes is 34 years, 2 weeks, 3 days, 12 hours and 28 minutes old when he first meets John. Like John, Sherlock has his own unique skill. He notices John's haircut and the way he carries himself and immediately he knows, deduces – military. He hears just a sliver of conversation, "Bit different from my day," and he knows, deduces – doctor. Army doctor, obvious. "Afghanistan or Iraq?" he inquires. Sherlock sees the momentary confusion on John's face, "I'm sorry?" and to which he replies, "Which was it? Afghanistan or Iraq?" John looks down, suddenly uncomfortable, before answering, "Afghanistan." He wonders how on earth this stranger could know this detail about him. He feels exposed and a bit confused. For a soldier, it is one of the worst feelings in the world. He takes a moment to gather himself; he straightens his shoulders and tilts his head up. The stance is a challenge, a dare and a warning all in one.
Sherlock prattles on about potential flatmates and John thinks he can't actually be serious.
"I've got my eye on a nice little place in central London. Together we ought to be able to afford it. We'll meet there tomorrow evening, 7 o'clock. Sorry, got to dash. I think I left my riding crop in the mortuary."
"Is that it?" He asks, finally tired of waiting for the punch line.
"Is that what?" Sherlock turns and is suddenly towering over him. John curses his height but isn't the least bit intimidated, the soldier in him egging him on.
"We've only just met and we're going to look at a flat," he says, hoping the construction of his sentence would be able to convey the sheer absurdity of this whole scene.
But Sherlock just looks at him and asks, "Problem?" as if it was nothing. Ordinary. Commonplace. Not at all weird.
John looks away and smiles because the whole thing is ridiculous, just so ridiculous. Problem? Yes, there bloody well is a problem. Problems, in fact. And John proceeds to enumerate them, "We don't know a thing about each other. I don't know where we're meeting. I don't even know your name," faint traces of the smile still on his lips.
Sherlock opens his mouth and fires off his own set of enumeration – things he knows about John. Sherlock surprises him and John feels like he is being dissected, undressed. The smile has gone from his face and he feels so vulnerable and so small. But at the same time, he doesn't. It is as if a shock of electricity is coursing through his veins and John can feel his heart hammering, his muscles and his bones humming and John knows, remembers, this is what living feels like. There is nothing quite like it – the rush, the thrill, the fire– and John knows he can't let it go.
"The name's Sherlock Holmes and the address is 221B Baker Street."
Sherlock is aware that John Watson is no ordinary man. There is something else about him he hasn't been able to deduce. Something different. Something extraordinary. Sherlock doesn't want to ask, because asking would be cheating. No. He has to figure it out somehow. He checks John's laptop, analyses strands of his hair, even epithelial cells when he can manage it. For a week, their refrigerator is filled with petri dishes and test tubes, agar plates and slants. After testing a hypothesis which proved to be a frustrating failure, Sherlock retreats to his room, slamming the door behind him, and doesn't come out until morning.
He wakes up to the sound of sizzling and the fragrant smell of bananas. He comes into the kitchen just as John sets down two plates of pancakes.
"Eat," he says in a commanding voice.
Sherlock sits down obstinately, hating being told what to do. And with the added frustration from last night, Sherlock is in a particularly bad mood. He tries the pancakes out of spite, wanting to find something bad about them, something he can work with to fire an insult. It tastes phenomenal and Sherlock can't help but swallow the bitter feelings down with it. He feels infinitely better.
John sits across from him, eyeing Sherlock's diminishing stack and smiles. Sherlock can't be bothered to look indignant. He knows the fact that he was eating them so fast was already a testament to John's cooking skills and anything he says otherwise would just land flat. When he finishes, John pushes his own plate towards him. Sherlock is suddenly suspicious and he raises an eyebrow in a silent question.
John glances at his watch and stands up abruptly. "I've got to dash. I'm meeting Mike for brunch. Go on then, have some more. God knows you haven't eaten in two days." He grabs his coat and Sherlock hears the sound of the door closing and the dull thuds of feet on stairs. He eyes the pancakes greedily, torn between wanting to rub the smug smile off of John's face and wanting to taste the delicious goodness. He stabs one with his fork and curses himself for being weak.
There has to be a trick of some sort, he thinks to himself. He remembers a tiny little breakfast place somewhere nearby and John could easily have gone over there, bough the pancakes and gotten rid of the take-out containers. His eyes scan the entire length of the kitchen, trying to find any shred of evidence to prove his suspicions, but all he sees is the Tesco shopping bag on the counter. He goes over to the bag and peers inside. He finds the receipt, as well as the empty box of pancake batter. Sherlock chucks the latter into the empty bin when he found that there was nothing particularly useful written on it about a recipe. He goes over the receipt quickly and is about to throw it away when he suddenly stops, his brain having caught up with the flood of visual data. Sherlock realises there was something missing on the list. Bananas.
The taste of it in the pancakes is unmistakable, yet John had not bought any. He retrieves the box of pancake batter from the bin to double check what he already knew. No bananas.
Then he remembers. 'Don't put the bacterial cultures next to the bananas!' His echoic memory reproduces John's voice and Sherlock remembers. "But they've been there for ages", he realises. He remembers seeing them last night, before his failed experiment, behind stacks of agar plates. Completely hidden. Completely rotten and brown. He doesn't take them out and throw them. He remembers thinking that John would do it when he finally sees.
Sherlock opens the refrigerator and tries to see behind the stacks of petri dishes. He gives up and decides to pull them out for a better field of vision. He removes them four at a time, until he can finally see up to the back. There was no sign of the fruit. Sherlock is more confused as he puts everything back, but he finds himself smiling. He has a new exciting lead and new theories to test and new experiments to conduct.
He starts out small. Other rotten fruits. Apples. Oranges. Grapes. Peaches. John doesn't go anywhere near them when Sherlock can see. It makes him even more suspicious. He has to be on the right track.
Mrs. Hudson comes by with pies, fritters and other fruit related concoctions. Sherlock notices the pattern, especially the fact that John never tries any of it. An aversion to sweet things, he claims. Sherlock thinks the lie is plausible, considering John doesn't put sugar in his coffee. But maybe it's because he actually knows they're rotten to begin with.
But how can they taste so good and so not rotten?
Sherlock thinks it's a form of reanimation – dead tissues given new life, reversing decay. But then he wonders about the limitations and parameters of John's ability.
Thus begins phase two of Sherlock's experiment – body parts.
Sherlock is sitting in his chair, reading a book, when John comes back carrying shopping bags.
"Oh, don't get up. I'll put them away myself. I pretty much do everything else." John says, a bit too viciously. Must have had another row with the chip and pin machine, Sherlock deduces. He realises now may not have been the right time to put the severed head in the refrigerator.
Sherlock hears John's "Oh God," and the subsequent slamming of the fridge door. John stomps his way into the living room, his face red up to the tips of his ears. Sherlock turns his attention back to his book, any excuse to not look at John right now.
"What's it going to take to make you stop?" John asks, finally. Each word is punctuated with a pause and Sherlock knows John is very, very angry.
"Mhmm?" He tries to sound completely innocent, but he knows even before he looks at John again that the act is no good.
"Those fucking severed body parts that you keep putting in the fridge, Sherlock!"
"They're for an experiment, John. Surely as a medical man, you would understand. It's for science," he says calmly.
"Science can get its own bloody refrigerator."
Sherlock opens his mouth to retort, but suddenly John's hands are on the arms of his chair and his face is inches away from his. His words are lost somewhere in his throat. Sherlock gulps under John's murderous glare. He takes note of the blue-rimmed dilated pupils and at the moment, they are all he can look at.
"So," John says, his voice surprisingly low, "what's it going to take to make you stop?"
Sherlock has somehow lost his voice. He is looking at John and seeing something entirely new. It's like they have crossed a line, or they are about to, and Sherlock's mind is utterly chaotic with half-formed thoughts and incoherent rambling. He wonders if this is something he wants, if this is something he's always wanted.
John's face is impossibly close, unbelievably close. Sherlock can feel his hot breath on his cheek and his own breathing comes out in shallow gasps as the need and the want seem to swell inside him. He tries to lean back but there is nowhere to go. John smiles predatorily and leans further in until his lips are right beside Sherlock's ear.
"You did this, Sherlock. Driving me insane with your fucking experiments, explosions, body parts in the fridge, with the kitchenware. Taunting me with your cheekbones and turning your coat collar up and your shirts that are too fucking tight. I mean, really, what is that even about?"
"J-john…" The name is a stuttered whisper on Sherlock's lips. John's face is in front of him again, insufferably close, unprecedentedly close. Sherlock tries to get more air in his lungs but he can't. He feels like he's drowning in the blue of John's eyes, bearing down on him. And he doesn't want it to stop.
"I'll stop if you stop."
The words don't make sense to Sherlock and his equally dilated eyes narrow for a fraction until he finds the meaning behind John's statement. He chuckles and now it's John's turn to be confused. In that moment of doubt, Sherlock tries to regain control. "John, you seem to be at a misapprehension. Two, to be precise. You are under the false and very wrong impression that you are making me uncomfortable." Sherlock makes a move to stand, forcing John back. He makes use of his height advantage, places both hands on John's shoulders and pushes him towards the couch. He leans in, one hand on the arm, and the other on the back, trapping John in between. "And there's also your ridiculous assumption that I would want this to stop."
John looks back at him, unfazed and smug. "Silly Sherlock," he says, shaking his head. He meets Sherlock's eyes and somehow Sherlock knows he has lost. "I was only baiting you to see if you'd respond to this sort of thing. I guess you're not immune, after all. Now all I have to say is… I'll stop if you don'tstop."
John closes the gap between their faces and playfully nips Sherlock's bottom lip which takes Sherlock completely by surprise. He then ducks under one of Sherlock's arms and escapes, but not before he whispers in Sherlock's ear. "So what's it going to be, detective?"
Sherlock grits his teeth in an attempt to regain control of his body, but his mind is slowly succumbing to the greedy want of it and the hormones surging in his veins. He licks his lower lip, feeling the marks John's teeth had left and oh God he wants so much more. But my experiments – Screw science! – but I was so close to figuring out John's – Fuck John!
With the imperative made abundantly clear in his mind, Sherlock whips his head in the direction John had taken – towards his room. He hates being ruled by his emotions, hates the mixture of chemicals inside him that seemed to be more potent and intoxicating than his own seven percent concoction, but this new wondrous possibility has quickly found a place in his mind and taken root. Sherlock is not about to give it up. He walks purposefully towards his own room, hands already working on unbuttoning his shirt.
John wakes up to the sunlight streaming in from the window. He feels a weight on his chest and smiles to find Sherlock laying his head there with his left hand just below the ridge of his collarbone. John's eyes follow the curve of Sherlock's spine along his pale back until it disappears under the white sheet and John finds himself admiring the mere silhouette and shape of Sherlock's ass under the cloth. He laughs at himself before looking back at Sherlock's face. He pushes the curls back from Sherlock's forehead and runs his hand through Sherlock's hair up to the base of his neck. He ghosts his fingertips slowly along Sherlock's spine until he reaches the tiny dip in his lower back. Then he starts again at the base of his neck, just the faintest sensation and the slightest pressure.
"Mhmm. Feels good," Sherlock mutters.
"For me, too," John says, his voice all breathy and low. Can't touch without being touched, he thinks to himself as he relishes the feel of Sherlock on the pads of his fingers. Sherlock lets out a throaty moan and his left hand curls reflexively, digging his nails into John's chest that sends waves of desire through John. He shudders involuntarily.
John is amazed and completely floored by this whole scenario. He doesn't quite understand how they could have come to this. Then again, he understands completely. It is, after all, his idea. It still surprises him that Sherlock responded the way that he did.
John is glad to finally be rid of all the damn body parts. Glad and extremely relieved. He isn't sure how long he could have kept his secret with the kitchen the way it is. John remembers considering wearing a skin suit. Even now, the idea sounds bloody ridiculous in his head. Not for the first time, John wonders if Sherlock's experiment had been deliberate and designed especially for him. He wonders if Sherlock has figured him out. But he couldn't possibly, John thinks. There is no way someone so rational… There is no way Sherlock Holmes would even entertain the fantasy that John has the ability to touch dead things and bring them back to life. Would he?
He looks at Sherlock and suddenly finds himself wishing he could know what goes on in his mind, what it must be like to be so maddeningly brilliant. He finds himself creating scenarios in his head of how Sherlock would react if John tells him about what he can do. Sherlock digs his nails into John's chest again and John is suddenly thinking of scalpels and dissections. Best not tell. Best not let him find out. It's a good thing he's stopping. "Sherlock," he whispers. "Sherlock," he says again, a little more urgently. "I'll make us some tea. And then I need to go to work." John says that and he knows that is what he should do but damn it he still hasn't stopped tracing the smooth dip and curve of Sherlock's back with his fingers.
Sherlock is thinking along the same line as John. He stirs and props himself up, hands on either side of him. He lowers himself to kiss him, slowly, painfully, deliciously slow. He presses himself to John, skin to bare skin and John groans. Sherlock moves his lips to John's ear, biting his lobe and John gasps. Sherlock catalogues all of John's reactions and savours each and every one. Sherlock kisses John again before speaking, each word punctuated with a kiss – "I-" – on his eyelid – "think-" – below his ear – "you-" – on his neck – "should-" – the edge of his jaw – "-stay." – the corner of his mouth.
John grabs Sherlock's face and kisses him full on the lips, needing no further persuasion. Worries about his secret completely relegated to the back of his mind.
Sherlock knows the dangers of making conclusions without sufficient data. He knows the perils of bending facts to suit theories. It is the nature of his profession, after all. But he relents and he concedes, removing everything from the head in the refrigerator, the haphazardly scattered fingers and toes in between, to the eyeballs in the microwave. The kitchen starts looking like a kitchen again and John is incredibly pleased. Sherlock undoes and removes every little trap and he puts his experiment to rest.
He doesn't have any proof. He doesn't have any answers. But for once in his life, it doesn't bother Sherlock that much. He looks at John, being John and doing John things, and he thinks maybe nothing will bother him ever again. John is, in the entirety of himself, the perfect distraction, Sherlock thinks. But that is before Jim Moriarty comes to call.
It is the beginning of a deadly game. Jim gives him puzzles and watches him dance. He plays with human lives, with bombs and guns, real danger and death. Sherlock doesn't have a problem with that. Sherlock knows what it means to be bored. He knows what it means to crave distraction, the want of it deep in the marrow of his bones. Sherlock knows and understands. He is enthralled and completely taken in by the excitement, the pursuit and the mental stimulation. Yes, it's about the work. It's always been all about the work.
Until it is not. Until it is John strapped to a bomb with a sniper aimed at his heart.
The game stops being a game and Sherlock forgets the score. All he remembers, all he thinks about is John and the scent of his skin, the sound of his footsteps, the shape of his smile, the feel of his lips and the taste of banana pancakes. Anything that threatens John's wonderful, extraordinary existence is definitely more than a bit not good and Sherlock knows and he finally understands. Jim Moriarty has to be stopped.
John doesn't know what to do. He has never seen Sherlock so still and so quiet. He has locked himself away in the recesses of his mind and John almost thinks he has lost his way back. He doesn't know what to do.
Sherlock doesn't say anything, hasn't said anything about that night. Sometimes, John still feels the weight of the parka and semtex on his body. Sometimes, he can still feel the heat of that sniper burning a hole in his chest. But it is worse when he remembers it, pictures that red dot right in the middle of Sherlock's forehead. His medical mind fills in the details of things that could have happened – the blood and velocity spatter, the bullet hole, brain matter, pieces of bone. John has seen injuries like that and he hates how he can picture it, imagine it so bloody well – Sherlock… dead.
John thinks about fate and destiny, wonders if he's been placed strategically in Sherlock's life. Sherlock seems to be the only man in London who is stalked by death on a case to case basis. John can remember, can count all the ways Sherlock could have died just this last month. Well, it won't ever come to that,John thinks determinedly. He looks at his hands, palm side up, and knows that there is a high possibility he may have to use his gift to bring Sherlock back at some point. John knows he has to save Sherlock's life; he knows someone else will have to die in his place. The thought doesn't sit well with him. He is a doctor as much as he is a soldier. Many have died by his hands and many have lived.
John looks at Sherlock right then. He notices the vacant eyes, the statuesque rigidity and he doesn't know what to do for him now. And he doesn't know what will be asked of him in the future. John looks at Sherlock and he fists his hands. He knows he has to be prepared for anything.
John goes to make tea and to check if there's food for when Sherlock snaps out of his trance. Then he waits. And he waits.
John doesn't check the time, but the light has left the room and the shadows have replaced it. Sherlock comes out of his nearly catatonic state without any incident or indication. John is just suddenly surprised to hear him speak.
"John, what would you do to protect the people you care about?"
John doesn't skip a beat. He doesn't pause. He doesn't ask why Sherlock is asking him this. He simply says, "Everything."
And Sherlock takes it to heart.
Sherlock's ears are ringing with the echo of a single gunshot, a look of surprise on his face.
Jim Moriarty is on the ground, eyes wide and blank. Sherlock sees the blood and somehow, somehow, he sees it as his own. He sees himself lying there, can feel the rough concrete on his knuckles, can feel his own blood leaving his veins. Sherlock feels his heart stop but he knows it to be impossible. He is alive, he is breathing, he is whole. But for how long? How long?
He hears Jim's voice – 'Your friends will die if you don't' – and he tries to shake it off. But it is inside him, possessing him, consuming him until there is nothing besides that thought and Sherlock's resolve. He looks over his shoulder and sees the ledge. He moves towards it with resigned acceptance. He watches the people below, walking, running, living. They do not see him, not yet.
Sherlock approximates the height of the building and he calculates how long it takes for him to hit the pavement. Then he solves for his final velocity before impact and the force of it. The numbers comfort him somehow.
He steps on the ledge, calmly, resolutely. He knows what he must do.
Sherlock's phone starts ringing and he fishes it out of his pocket. John.
Sherlock remembers these past few months with John and he smiles. They've been very good, he thinks. But then the thought of what he's about to do to John leaves the smile tasting bitter on his lips. It is only the thought of what he's about to do forJohn that soothes him.
He answers John's call and he hears the worry in his voice when he says, "Sherlock, where are you? Are you okay?"
Sherlock sees a cab stop in front of Bart's and watches as John jumps out. Sherlock wishes he could have had more time with him.
"Look up. I'm on the rooftop."
Sherlock doesn't want to die. He doesn't want to leave him.
"I can't go down so we'll have to do it like this."
He doesn't want John to die either.
"What's going on?"
He hates how their lives have become mutually exclusive events.
He doesn't like lying to John, but if it would help, if the lies can bring him any amount of comfort at all with what's to come, Sherlock would gladly tell them.
"It's all true. Everything they said about me. I invented Moriarty."
"Why are you saying this?"
Sherlock is willing to sacrifice anything for John. His life. John's faith in him. Everything.
"I'm a fake."
"Okay. Shut up, Sherlock. Shut up. The first time we met. The first time we met. You knew about my sister, right?"
Then Sherlock does remember. The first time we met. He wonders how on earth he could have misplaced that specific information. John is different. John is extraordinary. A laugh escapes from Sherlock's mouth. He remembers his abandoned experiment, knows he doesn't have any proof to support his hypothesis. He can't help thinking that this is the perfect way to test it. Sherlock chooses his next words carefully.
"I researched you. Before we met, I discovered everything that I could to impress you. It's a trick. Just a magic trick."
John hears the words and he suddenly feels sick. He tries telling himself that his mind was just playing tricks on him, tries to convince himself that it was just a coincidental choice of words. But his body is reacting to the content of Sherlock's words before his mind could rationalise it. It can't be, John thinks to himself. It just can't. But he knows it isn't just Sherlock's use of the word 'magic' that throws him off. 'I researched you. I discovered everything that I could.' A chill settles within him as he replayed those words in his head. John remembers the experiments, the dead body parts in the flat. He remembers all the times he wasn't careful, all the times he had been sure that Sherlock wasn't watching. God, I'm an idiot. John mentally kicks himself for not taking extra precaution, for thinking he can hide something from Sherlock Holmes. How naïve of him, he thinks.
But there is more to what Sherlock is saying and John realises about a second too late.
"No, don't- Sherlock!"
Sherlock jumps and John's heart leaps into his throat. John thinks Sherlock couldn't possibly expect him to... not if he knew the stipulations, the exchange. He can't possibly have known. And it's too late to tell him now, as John watches Sherlock meet the pavement. He hears the sickening crunch of breaking bones even though he is too far, much too far. He tells himself that it is all in his head, that this can't possibly be happening. But reality is cruel and doesn't encourage this fantasy. A man on a bicycle rams into John from behind and he hits the rough gravel hard, pain shooting into his brain from his peripheral nerves. The pain is real. This is real. And John knows he isn't ready for any of it. Even with the months of preparing himself for this likely possibility, John doesn't think he's ready. He's about to kill someone. He has no control over it, over proximity, over chance and fate. He's about to murder someone, someone who wasn't a serial killer or an assassin, someone good and nice, even someone with a family. John has no control and for a soldier, it is one of the worst things. And John is not ready.
He slips into the hospital, his heart sinking and his footsteps heavy. He runs into Molly outside the morgue and she is crying, her face buried in her hands. John places a comforting hand on her shoulder and she jumps.
"John, I've just seen him. I couldn't believe it. I'm so sorry," she manages to say between sobs. She wipes away her tears, probably so she can see a bit clearer, and she looks at John more closely. John doesn't know what she sees on his face, in his eyes, his expression. The cold, hollow feeling inside him seem to have escaped and materialized in the air around them and John feels like he's suffocating. He wonders if Molly feels it too. He asks her for a favour and Molly agrees even before he's told her what it is.
"Could you please run to Baker Street to tell Mrs. Hudson? I don't think a call is appropriate. I'd tell her myself but I just want... to stay with him for a bit." His grief is convincing, and John vaguely knows that it is not all an act. Molly agrees, hangs up her white lab coat and leaves. The sick feeling in the pit of his stomach still hasn't gone, but at least, at least it isn't going to be someone he knows. John thinks he can maybe live with the alternative.
He walks in through the double doors and he sees Sherlock's body on the middle slab. John pulls his jacket tighter around himself. The air in the morgue is too cold.
As he gets closer, he notices the blood's been cleaned. Sherlock looks like he's asleep. He runs his hand through his clean, black curls fondly, careful not to touch his scalp.
"You're an idiot," he says, tears pricking the back of his eyes. He pulls his hand back and then he looks up, willing his tears to recede. One steadying breath later, John is ready. He touches the back of his hand to Sherlock's cheek.
And just like that, Sherlock opens his eyes with a start. John backs away from his "magic trick" to give Sherlock room to breathe, but mostly to give himself space to grieve. 60 seconds.
"Brilliant" is the first thing Sherlock says with his second life. He moves his fingers and his toes, feels his skin and tastes the air.
"Extraordinary" is his second word.
He looks over to John, his face smiling and happy, expecting John to share in the joy of his not being dead. But John is leaning against the other slab, hands over his eyes, and Sherlock notices the tear tracks on his cheeks.
"John, what's wrong?"
He doesn't get an answer. 37 seconds
"I'm sorry," Sherlock adds. "I had to do it. Moriarty was going to kill the people I cared about. Mrs. Hudson, Lestrade and you, John. I couldn't let him. It was the only way to stop the gunmen."
This doesn't help and Sherlock notices it only made John cry harder. 23 seconds.
"I was going to die. I actually did die, didn't I? But then I remembered the first time we met. I knew there was something different about you, John. I had a theory but I never got to test it properly, until today."
John laughs out loud, bitterly, and Sherlock is even more confused. "What's wrong, John? Tell me what's wrong."
John doesn't look at him and Sherlock wants desperately for John to look at him. 15 seconds.
He grabs the sheet on top of him and adjusts it on his waist as he jumps off the slab. John hears his movement and backs away until he's standing near the door. "Don't touch me," is all he says. 4 seconds.
"John?" Sherlock hears the hurt in his own voice and then he hears something else – a dull thud.
John sinks to the floor and Sherlock moves instinctively towards him. He manages five steps before John holds his hand out, telling him to stop. Sherlock doesn't push it, even though he desperately wants John to look at him, to speak to him, to be happy he's alive. He just stands there and he waits.
John finally looks at him 12 minutes and 48 seconds later.
"I don't know how you figured it out, but I reckon you don't know about the limitations. That's why you put the head in the fridge and the all the other bloody parts. And I should have known. I did know. I did wonder about that. But I thought-" He sighs and he looks away from Sherlock, shaking his head.
It takes John 3 minutes and 17 seconds to look at Sherlock again.
"There is a time limit. Sixty seconds, that's all you're supposed to get. One second longer, someone dies in your place, and someone just did."
Sherlock nods to acknowledge that he had heard the sound. He wonders who it was and he wonders how it works, the choosing who gets to die for whom. But he doesn't ask. He feels bad for John, for asking John to do this when he didn't have all the data. Sherlock thinks if he had known... he is not sure that he would have wanted John to live with something like this. But then he is sure that he would have done anything, everything to have more time with John.
"And there's something else. You can't touch me ever again or else you'll die. And I won't be able to bring you back a second time."
It is this piece of news that brings Sherlock to his knees. He looks at his hands, flips them over, examining them. They don't look any different. Yet Sherlock suddenly finds them very lacking. How is it possible for them to be unable to touch John? Sherlock doesn't want them. He doesn't want this, doesn't want any part of it.
Sherlock and John surprisingly do not have a difficult time explaining to Molly and Mrs. Hudson how Sherlock didn't really die. Mrs. Hudson doesn't ask too much questions and just hugs him, tears staining Sherlock's coat. Molly requires a little bit more convincing and Sherlock has prepared a plausible lie for her. John doesn't pay much attention but he hears something about a plant and the Homeless Network.
John finds out the man's name – Timothy Martin, an unsuspecting janitor. He discovers that he'd left behind a wife and an 8-year old son. He researches him and, to John, he seems to have been a nice man. He finds himself thinking about him all the time. He wonders what Timothy Martin had been thinking before John came and snatched his life from him. He wonders if he had been excited about something, looking forward to something, maybe dinner and a nice evening with the family. There are no words to describe what John is feeling. All he knows is that he can't look at Sherlock without feeling sick. But he pretends everything is fine and he prays his acting is good enough.
Sherlock knows. He notices everything. And every day he thinks it would have been better if he had stayed in the morgue.
Sherlock is busy typing away at his laptop when John comes to hand him his tea. He moves to set it on the desk, but before he can manage to place it, Sherlock absent-mindedly reaches for it.
John draws his hand back abruptly and Sherlock's cup of tea falls to the floor, a mess of ceramic shards and warm liquid. John rounds on him.
"Jesus fucking Christ. Do you have a death wish, Sherlock? You. Can't. Touch. Me. EVER."
Sherlock turns sideways in his chair, but doesn't look at him. He is staring at his hands and John notices they are shaking. The anger seems to have vaporized from his skin. He wishes he could do something - place a hand on his shoulder, hug him, or anything to comfort him. John hates feeling useless.
He stands there and stares. The room smells of jasmine.
Sherlock suddenly fists his hands and stands up to face John. There are tears on his face and that sight alone shocks John into blankness. He realises a fraction of a second later that Sherlock is yelling at him.
"... so sorry he died because of me and I didn't know what I was getting into. AND YES I DO HAVE A DEATH WISH."
"Stop it, Sherlock. Just stop. Don't say stuff like that."
"Why not, John? It's the truth. If I had known what would happen if you had brought me back, I wouldn't have-"
"That sucks for you, does it? YOU SHOULDN'T HAVE FUCKING JUMPED THEN. Gambling away your life on some theory you haven't even tested. What if you'd been wrong?"
"I wasn't. If I had just known all the details-"
"You should have asked!" John shouted before Sherlock could finish.
"You should have told me!" Sherlock yelled with equal strength.
"I didn't know what you were planning!"
"Well, let's just add that to the list of things you don't fucking know!"
"And what's that supposed to mean?"
"Will I age, John? Or is my body stuck like this? Am I supposed to watch you grow old and die? How are we going to explain any of it when you're old and wrinkly and I still look like I'm 35? Can I still die from a car accident or a bullet? If I die a second time and not by your hand, will you still be able to bring me back? Tell me, John. Answer me. How does this whole fucking thing work?
"I don't know," John says, head bent low, fists shaking.
"This was a terrible idea. We shouldn't have done it." Sherlock sits back down on his chair and sighs.
"What?" John whips his head back up, a look of incredulous rage on his face.
"Don't pretend you're not thinking the same thing," Sherlock says, waving him off.
"What are you talking about?" John asks, his eyebrows meeting..
"Oh, John, don't pretend to be an idiot. You know perfectly well. You haven't been able to look at me this entire week! And oh God, the expression on your face when you do manage it. It's like hitting the pavement all over again."
"Shut the fuck up, Sherlock. You don't get to say that. You don't know what it's like – seeing you jump, standing over your crumpled body, limbs bent at awkward angles, the blood, the haunting expression on your face, your blank stare. You don't get to say anything about that, Sherlock. You. Don't. Know." John turns to walk away, but Sherlock yells after him.
"You just went back there for a moment, didn't you?" Sherlock asks softly, his voice losing the hot anger it had had moments ago. "You see it all vividly," he continues. "And I recognized that expression, John. You've looked at me like that this whole time." Sherlock's voice breaks.
John stops but he doesn't face Sherlock. He can't bring himself to look into his face. If it looks anything like his voice sounds right now, John doesn't know if he can take it.
"It's pure torture, John. It's heart-breaking. For me, too, John. You look at me like I'm not even alive and it's killing me. Maybe you shouldn't have brought me back permanently. At least it would have saved you the guilt."
Sherlock watches John walk towards his room and hears the door click shut. He speculates about how long it will take for both of them to recover from this. Going over it in his head, there are a couple of harsh words Sherlock would gladly take back.
He looks at the floor at the spilled tea and broken glass, and he decided to clean it up. He picks up the shards delicately, trying to position them a certain way so as to not cut himself. He carries them to the kitchen and throws them in the bin. He rests his hand on the edges of the sink and he takes a deep breath. Fighting with John always takes a lot of him, and he hates it.
He hears the door to his room open, but he doesn't turn to look. John may want to step out for a bit, to get some fresh air. He doesn't want to see him leave in case he doesn't come back.
But suddenly, Sherlock's vision goes dark and he is aware of the thick wool that surrounds him, recognises it as one of the blankets in the cupboard, the thick, distastefully coloured one that neither of them use. Sherlock is also aware of the two arms wrapping themselves around his abdomen, can detect John's warmth from the other side of the fabric.
"Sherlock Holmes, I am so so sorry that I've been putting you through hell. I didn't mean to, really. I'm so fucking chuffed that you're not dead. And I don't regret bringing you back. Even if you hadn't asked, I would have done. I don't think I could have lived with myself if I knew there was something I could have done, something only I could do and then didn't do it. So I'm glad you're alive. I really am."
"John," Sherlock whispers, whishing he could hold John's arms and pull them closer. The wool was too thick and confining and Sherlock was already sweating, but he doesn't care. There is nowhere else he'd rather be.
"Timothy Martin. I'm going to need some time to wrap my head around that, to accept the fact that I've ruined three lives so thoroughly. I'll live with this guilt, Sherlock, but you don't have to carry it too. This is my burden. This is the consequence of my actions and I would not have you thinking in any way that I blame you for this. I don't. I really don't."
"John, I'm sorry," Sherlock says. John's arms hug him tighter in response.
"About the other things you said, the things I couldn't answer. We'll figure them out together, okay? Just like we've always done on all our cases. Although I admit, you were pretty much doing all the solving and thinking. I'll keep up and we'll figure this out together, okay?"
"I'm letting you go now. Wouldn't want you to suffocate. We don't really want to find out that answer to that so soon."
"No, wait," Sherlock says, trying to grab John's arm on the other side of the blanket. John stops.
"Just a few seconds more. Please."
And once again, Sherlock is cocooned in John's warmth. It grounds him, steadies him. And for the first time in a week, Sherlock finally feels like he's stopped falling.
Just as John says, the two of them try to figure out the parameters of John's abilities. And with much groaning and utter dread, John allows the dead body parts back in the kitchen.
They have bad days, of course, especially when Sherlock thinks he's particularly close to an answer, only to have the experiment blow up in his face quite literally. There have been a few more near-misses, Sherlock forgetting the rules, succumbing to the sudden urge to grab John's hand or run his hands through his hair or kiss him. John is always one step ahead and it is an entirely exhausting endeavour.
But they have good days too, better day, like the day they discovered another use for cling film and spent the entire day kissing. There is also the day Sherlock found a white strand of hair and John remembers how happy Sherlock had been, more so when there were two, then four, then eight.
John thinks about fate and destiny more and more often. He wonders if he'd been placed strategically in Sherlock's life for this one purpose, to give him life, to save his life or maybe it was the other way around. John remembers how he was before meeting Sherlock and the contrast still surprises him until now. When he's here, when he's watching Sherlock tend to his bees in their retirement, the past seems like a distant nightmare.
When he's here, when he's laughing with Sherlock about the bees and how they sting John sometimes and die, but come back to life right after, John thinks he can't possibly have been this lucky and he thinks it can't possibly be this perfect; and that's when he starts thinking about fate and destiny and how maybe they both brought each other back to life.