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With Your Crooked Heart

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            Two weeks after John was born, the words appeared on his wrist.

            They weren’t really words yet at this point, just a smudge of black on the chubby underside of his left arm, but they were visible enough for Mrs. Watson to notice one day as she gave her newborn son a bath.

            She’d called her husband in and they’d started down at the cloud of black that seemed to wriggle and writhe with a life of its own, and wondered if there was some other infant out there whose own smudge tied him or her to their son.

            In the tub beneath them, the young John Watson kicked at the water with a pudgy foot, oblivious to the expressions on his parents’ faces.

 

            Everyone had words on their wrist.

            They usually showed up sometime in the weeks after birth, although they could come later- after the second or third birthday, sometimes not until adolescence or adulthood or old age, sometimes never. They were usually permanent, staying constant for the whole of one’s life save for an occasional change in color or size, but sometimes they’d change entirely, usually after a traumatic event of some sort, though it was practically unheard of.

            No one knew where they came from or how they appeared. Thousands of years ago, people had believed that they were proof that a person was truly a person, showing that there was someone else in their life that they were anchored to. If someone didn’t have words, then they were marked in an entirely different way, as damaged goods, someone condemned to a life alone. Obviously no one believed that in this day and age, but if your wrists were blank, the skin smooth and unsullied by words, then you were definitely somewhat of an outcast, cut off from the thing that mattered most in life.

            Because your words were important. Your words led you to your soulmate.

 

 

            At age eight, John didn’t really think too much of his words.

            It was really more of a girl thing to begin with; they’d hide behind the swings in the yard after lunch and roll up the sleeves of their sweaters to show each other their wrists, ignoring the fact that they’d been told by parents and teachers that words were something intensely private, giggling and casting nervous glances around the schoolyard, searching for boys whose wrists might match up. John and his friends all scorned this in favor of playing made-up games that were a combination of football, rugby with players who had no grasp on what the rules were, and outright fistfights.

            Besides, his words made him slightly uncomfortable. He’d seen glimpses of his friends’ words when they were swimming or when their sleeves were rolled up- Sam’s were “Alice” written in round, neat handwriting that was a deep turquoise, Will’s was a bit more strange, the words “apple tree” written in a man’s handwriting, block lettering in a spiral that was practically next to his elbow. Not everyone’s words were as simple as Sam’s or as vague as Will’s; they could be an address, a time, a song lyric, anything.

            But John’s were a bit embarrassing, especially for a boy. Where his friends had girls’ names (or in Will’s case, a tree) written on their wrists, his was a phrase, almost purposely obtuse and vaguely reminiscent of a phrase from the romance novel he’d stolen from Harry’s room. He always kept his sleeves stubbornly pulled down, even when it was swelteringly hot, and had gotten into the habit of rubbing at his wrist when he concentrated, as if he could wipe the words away if only he tried hard enough.

            (It could’ve been worse, he told himself at night as he wondered whose handwriting it was, what they were doing right now, if their words made them a little unsettled too. Some people’s words were humiliating or disturbing. Harry had told him once about a boy in her class whose words had been a long string of profanities written in jagged, fluorescent orange letters up and down his forearm, though seeing as he’d heard the same story from Will starring his cousin, he was fairly sure this was untrue.)

            But despite all this, he paid little mind to his words until one day in class when he heard them spoken aloud.

            He had been trying to get the attention of Natalie Shaw (whom he did not fancy, as he’d told Will and Sam numerous times) while their teacher stood in the front of the classroom trying in vain to hold their attention for longer than a minute. They were currently studying poetry, which to eight year olds was on the same level of fascination as taxes and the news, and lessons mostly consisted of Mrs. Macready reading a poem aloud while praying that the class wouldn’t devolve into mutiny. She cleared her throat several times, trying to gain some modicum of control back, and kept reading.

            “Oh stand, stand at the window, as the tears scald and start. You shall love your crooked neighbor with your crooked heart.”

            John froze in the middle of chucking wads of paper at Natalie’s back. He felt cold and prickly with panic, as if every cell of his body had just been submerged in an ice bath. He balled his hands into a fist, digging his nails into his palm hard enough to break skin.

            (Calm down, he told himself, legs quivering in his seat. You’re making an idiot of yourself.)

            He forced himself to take a shuddery breath and put his arm palm side up in his lap, glancing around surreptitiously to make sure that no one was watching him. There it was, clear as day, two neat lines of black written in strong, looping handwriting.

            You shall love your crooked neighbor

            With your crooked heart.

            There was no way that she could’ve known that those lines belonged to John, were as much a part of him as his veins or his lungs or his heart, but there was still something deeply invasive and unsettling about hearing his words (his words) repeated like that in front of his entire class.

            That day, after school let out, John lingered in the classroom for a while longer, ignoring the fact that Harry would be angry at having to wait for him. Mrs. Macready didn’t notice him at first, and when she turned around and saw him, she gave a little jump, hand flying to her mouth.

            “Oh! I’m sorry, Johnny dear, I didn’t see you there. What is it?”

            He shuffled in place, suddenly feeling as if his worries were scrawled across his face. He pushed the sleeve of his sweater down as far as it could go, until he could scrunch the hem up in his palm.

            “I was wondering if-if I could borrow the poetry book? There’s a poem that I liked. From today. Could I take it home for the night?”

            Mrs. Macready looked surprised for a moment, and then she smiled, turning back towards her desk to rummage through the drawers.

            “Of course, John. I didn’t think you were the type for poetry. Something strike you in particular?”

            “No. No, I mean yes. Yes. There was a poem.”

            Face now hot and flushed, he practically snatched the book out of her hands and sprinted out of the room.

            That night, he flipped through the pages of the book until he found the one with his words in it. He read it over once, twice, a third time and found himself thoroughly confused. He’d always thought that finding out where his words came from would help them figure out what they meant and who they were intended for, but instead, it just gave him a headache from staring at the small print for an hour.

            Nevertheless, John copied the whole poem down in his neatest handwriting on a sheet of notebook paper. He folded the paper until it was as tiny as possible and hid it in the very bottom of his sock drawer

            Finding the poem had just made him even more confused. He’d long ago come to realize that his words had nothing to do with his literal neighbors (and thank goodness for that, because they were all retirees who smelled like damp sheets and stale licorice) and he was fairly sure that a crooked heart wasn’t quite anatomically possible.

            He groaned and flopped down on his bed, wondering if somewhere halfway across the globe, his soulmate was having the same problem.

 

 

 

            Some people had it easy. Some people had the names of their soulmates as their words (John’s roommate in uni had even had her bloody address, the lucky bastard).

            Harry was one of these people. Her words had shown up later in life, on the day of her twelfth birthday.

            Harry, never one to show restraint, had immediately flung her wrist into John’s face, positively beaming with delight.

            “Look, Johnny!” she had said, feet doing an impromptu little dance of joy, “It’s her! I’ve found her!”

            There, written so high up on Harry’s wrist that it was practically her hand, was the name Clara Banks in tidy yellow script.

            Years and years later, when Harry and Clara were off and she was so far gone that John had to come take care of her, she would confess to John in her inebriated state that Clara’s wrist didn’t quite meet her expectations.

            “It’s not like-it’s not like it’s one of those unrequited deals, you see,” she slurred as John made up a bed for her on his sofa. “It’s obvious that it’s meant for me. But it says- it says-“ Her voice broke off there, threatening to spill over into tears. Harry staggered and wobbled in place.

            “It says what, Harry?” John asked absentmindedly as he tucked a blanket underneath the sofa cushion. (He didn’t really want to know, felt that it was an invasion of Clara’s privacy and that the poor woman had already put up with enough from Harry to be sainted, but Harry looked like she was about to be sick all over John’s carpet and he was quite keen to prevent that.)

            “Stormy seas. It’s a bloody warning, Johnny. Stormy fucking seas.” Harry gave a vague gesture that he supposed was meant to be a punch.

            He couldn’t quite blame Clara for the words though. God only knew that life with Harry was rarely calm or easy.

            (Then again, he was one to talk. He was the one with the supposedly crooked heart.)

            He was about to respond to this when, without warning, Harry stumbled forward into the bed, landing face first the wrong way around. He took a moment to turn her onto her side and then shut out the light, making his way back towards his own bed.

            Luck (and soulmates) was wasted on people like Harry.

 

 

 

            It was supposed to be a significant event when you first revealed your words to someone else. Entire plotlines of soap operas and romance novels were based around it One particularly dramatic program was even called Words. (John had once had a girlfriend who watched every episode and had cried for two hours when Bentley and Cassandra’s words were obviously meant for two different people. He had sat awkwardly patting her back, wondering who Bentley and Cassandra were and why he should care about them.) It was sort of a make or break moment for a relationship; if you didn’t see yourself in the other person’s words, then you knew it was doomed to failure, because you were both meant for another.

            John’s relationships had been a string of failures, one after another, one by one slowly withering away until he realized that she hadn’t called him for a week, two weeks, a month. Yet he couldn’t quite bring himself to care; there were other things more important than a relationship- surviving med school, his friends. He preferred quick flings that hardly ever made it to the point that he’d even think about showing her his wrist, relationships in name only. Other friends were settling down, finding their soulmates, but he told himself that he could care less.

            Coming home from Afghanistan only reinforced that. (After all, he told himself. Soulmate or not, who’d want some broken crippled soldier?)

            He’d all but resigned himself to a life of solitude, of waiting for the moment when it all became too much and he stuck his gun in his mouth, when from nowhere Sherlock Holmes swept into his life, a storm of dark coat and explosive color. The man was extraordinary in a million different ways: his intelligence, the way he spoke, his height.

            But the things that stood out the most to John were his wrists.

            He hadn’t noticed it at first, but now, about six months after they’d met, Sherlock’s cuffs rolled up to his elbows as he bent over a microscope in St. Bart’s, it had become suddenly, glaringly obvious.

            “Sherlock,” he said, hoping it wouldn’t seem overly prying. (But who was he kidding- this was Sherlock Holmes. The man wouldn’t know privacy if it had committed several serial murders to get his attention.) “Sherlock, your wrists.”

            “What about them?” Sherlock muttered, not once looking up from the eyepiece. When he moved to change the slides, John’s suspicions were confirmed.

            The wrists were nothing but pale skin, nearly white. There were no words, not even one single letter. Nothing.

            “They’re…they’re blank.” John had heard of late bloomers of course, but Sherlock was over thirty. It was practically unheard of.

            “So they are,” Sherlock said, still not looking up from the microscope. He turned to hurriedly scribble a few notes and John could see his bare wrists once again. There was something so wrong about seeing a wrist devoid of words, something so strangely sad and unsettling. “Your point, John?”

            “Nothing. Just surprised, is all. It’s not every day you see someone without a soul- without words.”

            Sherlock turned around, fixing him with that unnervingly cold stare.

            “Why should I care about my lack of some freak biological phenomenon? I’ve lasted thirty-four years without a soulmate, and somehow I think I can manage the rest of my life without one. God, I’d forgotten that you put such childish importance on things like these.”

            With that, he had swept out of the room in an angry swirl of dark curls and coat, leaving John standing slightly confused in his wake.

            The door swung open again, and he rounded on it, ready to tell Sherlock off, but he was instead faced with Molly.

            “Sorry,” she said, putting the foot that Sherlock had taken out back in its refrigerated drawer. “He’s in a bit of a strop, isn’t he?”

            John gave a noncommittal huff, gathering up his things. Molly stripped off her nitrile gloves, and he saw a quick, accidental flash of bare skin, of deep red words that he didn’t have the time to read, but whose handwriting looked vaguely familiar. (The police reports at Scotland Yard, he remembered. Lestrade’s signature. Oh, God. Lestrade?) He wondered if Molly knew whose handwriting that was, if he should find some subtle way of telling her, but before he could do anything, she was gone, off to meet her new boyfriend who she hadn’t shut up about once in the past few days (What was his name? Josh? Jim? Did it matter, really?).

            Sherlock had left his notes behind, scattered haphazardly across the worktable, and with a resigned sigh, he began to pick them up (Good deed for the day, he told himself, but if living with someone like Sherlock didn’t count as a good deed, he didn’t know what did.) He glanced down at one of the sheets and without warning, he got the same sensation that he’d had in school all those years ago, cold and prickly and slightly nauseous. He felt his knees wobble and he gripped the edge of the table to steady himself.

            (I know that handwriting. Jesus Christ, I know that handwriting.)

            He’d never really seen Sherlock’s real handwriting before, only the sloppy curlicues of his signature or the block lettering he used on labels (these labels usually were along the lines of POISON- DO NOT EAT, JOHN and appeared everywhere, normally on tins of tea or boxes of his favorite kinds of crackers). This was a different sort of writing, the kind used when you assumed that you’d be the only one reading it- a bit messy, quick with his own personal shorthand.

            He had never seen it before, and yet to John, it was so very, very familiar.

            Strong and looping, in black ink.

            His hands shaking, his forehead beading with sweat, he pushed down his sleeve, laying his arm flat on the table next to the paper. Side by side, there was no denying it- the writing on his wrist was Sherlock’s.

            (Which of course, would only mean that…)

            “Oh fuck,” he whispered to the empty lab.

            This was rather unexpected.

 

 

 

            Thankfully, he didn’t have much time to think about too much, because as soon as he’d gotten back to Baker Street, they’d gotten another set of pips and they were off again, running through the streets trying to stop a madman from blowing up half of London.

            (This is glorious, John had thought after they’d escaped the Golem. They were sitting slumped over in the plush chairs of the little theatre, laughing breathlessly about how narrowly they’d escaped death, Sherlock wheezing slightly from where the Golem had wrapped his hands around his neck. I want this for the rest of my life. And he’d gone quiet for a bit too long and Sherlock had given him that look and he knew that he’d have to do his very best to hide this.)

            It was just his rotten luck though, to have fallen for a man who prided himself on his lack of a soulmate. He’d have happily offered up his crooked heart to Sherlock, if only he’d accept it. But John knew he wouldn’t.

            (He nearly had to offer up his heart, and his whole life along with it at the pool. It had frightened John, just a little, how easy it was for him to sacrifice his life in exchange for Sherlock’s, how little thought he put into it. He’d follow Sherlock anywhere- towards danger, towards death- without a second thought, without the slightest hint of regret.)

            And John knew that somehow, in spite of everything he’d once thought, with Sherlock it would still somehow be enough. It would be painful and awful at times, he knew. (And he wondered if this was some sort of divine retribution for scoffing at the idea of soulmates in his twenties, if this was his punishment- to be both inches and oceans away from the one who his words were meant for.)

            But it was Sherlock.

            It would be enough.

 

 

 

            Three weeks to the day after he and Sherlock had met Irene Adler for the first time, John had his first nightmare in nearly a year.

            (The pool- he was drowning oh god he was drowning with the sharp caustic scent of chlorine burning his nostrils, being dragged down to where the water was black black black, the same black as Sherlock’s coat wrapped around Irene’s body, the same black of Jim’s suit as he directed some unseen sniper to fix his red laser sight on Sherlock’s temple and John was calling out to Sherlock for help but there was no response, his lungs choked with water, his hands scratching at his arms, at his face, oh god oh god oh god-)

            “John! John, wake up, please, wake up.” The voice was sudden and frantic and he swung out wildly, fist connecting with the hard line of Sherlock’s jaw. There was a sudden oof and he could see Sherlock twisting away from him, hand clasped to his face.

            “Sherlock! Jesus, Sherlock. Sorry. Sorry.” John sat up in bed and rubbed at his face with his hand, trying to get his breathing under control.

            “It’s fine,” Sherlock said through gritted teeth, hand still held tight to his face. He stood by the side of the bed, wearing his pyjamas, dressing gown hanging open around them, his eyes showing the manic tinge of nearly forty-eight hours without sleep. “Are you alright? I could hear you from downstairs.”

            “Fine,” said John, his voice terse and clipped. “Just a dream, is all.” He wasn’t sure if he was saying this more for Sherlock or for himself.

            There was suddenly a hand wrapped around his wrist, and he jerked back a bit at the unexpected electric crackle of Sherlock’s touch.

            “You’re shaking,” Sherlock said, his eyes staring at the wall beyond John’s head. His voice was unusually soft, tender even, if Sherlock had once been tender about anything in the whole of his life.

            “So it would seem,” John answered, his world narrowing down to the feeling of Sherlock’s hand around his wrist. “I’m fine though, Sherlock, really.”

            There was no reply. Where John’s fingers were pressed up against Sherlock’s own wrist, he could feel something, a raised, uneven patch of skin. He squinted, trying to make out what it was in the dim light of his bedroom.

            It was a thin, whitish line, raised slightly, like a scar. Unlike a scar, it shifted and moved with a life of its own.

            “Sherlock,” he began, his voice hushed and careful. “What’s that on your wrist?”

            Sherlock released his hand (and there was the mournful cold rush that came with the loss of contact) and held his own wrist up close to his face, peering down at the white line.

            “This? This appeared a few days after that rather disastrous visit to Ms. Adler’s flat. I expect that even you could figure out what it is.”

            (Which would mean that- oh. Oh. Well, that explained the texts.)

            His voice had dropped the soft gentleness of before in favor of steel and ice and he slipped out John’s room. A few minutes later, the sounds of violin drifted up from the living room, a song that alternated between somber pensiveness and screeching random notes that were punctuated by occasional shouted curses.

            John shoved his pillow over his head, attempting to ignore both the music and the sudden sharp feeling in his chest.

 

 

            Despite the white words on Sherlock’s wrist (which had darkened into gray the color of storm clouds and which he refused to let anyone, including John, see), despite The Woman, despite everything, it was all still enough. Because he was John Watson and his best friend was Sherlock Holmes, and that was all he needed for his world to spin properly on its axis.

            (But then again, he’d always had rotten luck.)

 

 

 

 

            John found out in the days afterwards that he cannot remember much of that day, but what he does remember is always startlingly clear, as if he was reliving it (and isn’t he always reliving it?). He remembered, for instance, the entirety of their last phone call, Sherlock’s coat billowing out behind him in the wind, John’s eyes squinting against the midday sun as he stared up at the roof and prayed this was another nightmare. He remembered the look on Sherlock’s face after John stormed out of St. Bart’s that morning- cold, blank (a mask, he realizes now), the very image of the machine that he had claimed him to be.

            He doesn’t remember anything of what happens after (though this may be due to the concussion), doesn’t remember where he went or who he spoke to after seeing Sherlock lying bloody and broken on the pavement. The next thing he remembers is sitting in an uncomfortable chair made of molded blue plastic in a hospital waiting room, staring dead ahead, unable to hear anything beyond the roaring in his ears.

            The nightmares came back, becoming a nightly occurrence. They change every night, but there’s one recurring one that he has at least once a fortnight.

            They’re on the roof, both of them together, sitting on John’s bed the way they had all those months ago when Sherlock’s words had first appeared. John is staring down at his hands, which are shaking again; Sherlock is staring down at the streets below.

            “I loved you, you know,” John says, and instantly he knows it’s the wrong thing to say, because Sherlock whips around and fixes his eyes on him.

            “Are you sure about that?” Sherlock asks, and rolls his sleeve up to his shoulder to reveal his words. Written up and down the pale skin of his arms as newspaper headlines is “I’m a fake”. It covers every inch of Sherlock’s arm, from his bicep to his fingertips to his shoulder. It writhes and squirms with a terrible heartbeat of its own and John swears he can feel a thousand whispering voices coming from it.

            “Goodbye John,” Sherlock says and he takes a running leap off the side of the building, leaving John helpless and alone, with nothing to do but watch as his world spins off its axis.

 

 

 

 

            Time, as it always did, went on. The words on his wrist faded slightly, but stayed visible. For a long time, he hated the fact that they were there at all, a constant reminder of what he’d lost, but after a time, it grew reassuring, a tiny part of Sherlock that lived on with him.

            He met a girl, a primary school art teacher who came into the surgery with a particularly bad case of the flu. Even with a fever and sounding miserably congested, she was lovely, all blond curls and bright smiles, and despite the words on his wrist and the ever present darkness in his chest, he found himself scribbling down his number and slipping it into her hand as she left.

            And Mary really was lovely. She was happy and steady and funny, with an easy laugh and a warm smile. She brought color back into his life, the way that Sherlock had all those years ago (but Mary’s colors were watercolors, pastels, whereas Sherlock’s had been bright, bold shades of blood red and deep blue. Mary’s colors were pretty and simple; Sherlock’s had been vibrant, demanding attention).

            John thought that despite everything, despite the crookedness of his heart and the promise on his wrist, he could be happy with her. They talked about moving into the same flat, about moving out of London altogether. John began to poke into his head into jewelry stores whenever he was out on walks, looking over their selection of rings.

            One night, after they’d been together for nearly eight months, John caught a glimpse of Mary’s wrist as she slept. They had never shown each other their wrists; at the beginning, John had simply been too broken, too lost, and they’d never talked about it since. But now, here was Mary’s wrist right in front of him and John wasn’t able to resist the temptation to look.

            Mary’s wrist had flowing deep purple script with words written in Spanish marching up and down it in neat columns. John swallowed and turned away. He doesn’t know what he’d been expecting; after all, his wrist forever tied him to a man who had jumped off a roof three years ago. He shouldn’t expect hers to match his.

            After that night, John and Mary began to quietly drift apart. When they finally sever it, it was an amicable breakup, filled with promises to stay friends and sincerely expressed hopes that the other party will find what they’re looking for. When Mary had hugged him one last time, John could see the concern for him in the drawn lines of her face, the way her eyes flicked back and forth between his face and his wrist.

            “I worry about you, John,” she had said as she waited for her cab.

            (I know, John had wanted to say. I worry about me too.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

            Six weeks after Mary and John broke up, Sherlock returned.

            There was no grand announcement, no elaborate return (John was surprised that he’s able to spare the dramatics). There was just a very quiet knock on 221B’s door one day and when John opened it, he found Sherlock on the other side, looking very small and very sad and very apologetic.

            And it was a testament to just how apologetic Sherlock was when he allowed John to punch him in the face (three times, the third ending in a nose bleed which John instantly felt bad about it) and then shout at him for over two hours.

            But despite all of that, despite the simmering anger and John’s broken trust, John couldn’t help but be deliriously glad that Sherlock was back, that his world was back on its axis, and when he finally wrapped Sherlock in a painfully tight hug, he found that he was shaking and that (much to his eternal shame) he was crying a little too.

            Sherlock’s face had instantly softened when John had pulled back sniffling a little from their hug and he had reached down to awkwardly pat John on the shoulder, shifting his sleeve a bit in the process. His wrist and forearms were bandaged, but he’d done a shoddy job and bits of skin were visible through the gaps. Between the pinkish red of healing burns (and he made a mental note to ask about that sometime; there had to be an interesting story there), John could see Sherlock’s words.

            Where once they were a cloudy gray, they were now a deep, rich blue, nearly black, startlingly dark against the creamy pallor of his skin. (And there was a nasty little voice in the back of John’s head that reminded him that a color change like that indicates true love, deep love, even for soulmates.)

            “You’ve missed her quite a lot then, I take it?” His voice came out surlier than he meant it to be, and Sherlock’s brow furrowed.

            “Who? Mrs. Hudson? Well, she’s only our landlady, John, but yes, I suppose that-“

            “No, not Mrs. Hudson, you idiot. Irene. I mean, based on how dark your words have gotten-“

            Sherlock’s scowl grew deeper and then suddenly it faded away entirely and he looked as if he were trying his very best not to burst out laughing.

            “Irene! Oh god John, I’ve forgotten how obtuse you can be. Good lord, you thought my words were meant for Irene. I swear, it’s like your brain has atrophied in my absence. Come to think of it, it probably has.”

            (John suddenly remembered how living with Sherlock had been a daily struggle not to punch him in the face.)

            Sherlock had slipped out the door and thundered down the steps towards Mrs. Hudson’s, leaving John standing alone in the living room, slightly dazed and very confused.

            If Sherlock’s words weren’t for Irene, then who on earth could they be for?

 

 

 

 

            That night, he lay in bed, unable to sleep. The sounds of Sherlock moving around the flat hours before had been both strange and familiar in the best possible ways, but they had long since ended, and he had a sneaking suspicion that tonight was one of the rare occasions that Sherlock would go to sleep on his own at a decent hour in his own bed.

            (Sherlock sleeping. Sherlock coming back from the dead. Who said that miracles didn’t happen?)

            John had just started to lull himself to sleep when from Sherlock’s bedroom came a bellow. He only hesitated for a moment before he was out of bed, throwing his dressing gown over his t-shirt and boxers and half-running, half-falling full pelt down the stairs.

            Sherlock sat bolt upright in bed, hair wild and tangled, eyes frantic, his sheets fisted in his hands. His face was pale, even for him and his breathing was quick and shallow.

            “Sherlock?” John tried and failed to keep his worry out of his voice. “Sherlock, are you alright?”

            “Nightmare.” Sherlock’s voice sounded nothing like his own, and John realized that he hadn’t heard him this way since that night all those years ago in front of that fireplace in Dartmoor.

            It made sense that Sherlock was having nightmares. He’d only told John the very beginnings of what the past three years had been like for him, the things he’d done, the people he’d killed, who had tried to kill him. John felt a sudden twinge of sympathy for him; a sad sort of dread for the healing that Sherlock was going to have to go through.

            Sherlock’s hands were shaking and without even thinking about it, John covered them with his own, as if he could make the trembling stop through sheer force of will. Sherlock shifted without warning, and suddenly John found himself on Sherlock’s bed, head leaning on Sherlock’s shoulder, legs pressed together, hands still entwined.

            “I’ve missed you, you know.” Sherlock’s voice was barely above a whisper and that strange gentleness from all those years ago had crept back in.

            “I’ve missed you too.”

            “John listen, about before, when you thought my words were for Irene-“

            “No. It’s fine. I’m sorry, it was wrong of me to pry. I shouldn’t have assumed that-“

            Sherlock squeezed his hand hard.

            “Shut up. My words weren’t for Irene or anyone else you were going to try and claim I was in love with. I know that part of the experience of even having words is figuring out what they mean, but I’m afraid I was rather cheated of that.”

            “How d’you mean?”

            Sherlock slipped his hand out of John’s grasp and began to gingerly unwind the bandage around his wrist, wincing as he went over particularly burnt sections of skin. When he had finished, he laid his wrist down carefully in John’s hand.

            “I promised you no more secrets. I assume that this would be a good place to start.” His voice was a mumble, his eyes staring hard at the ceiling.

            Everything came easily to Sherlock, whether it was solving crimes or playing violin or making John fall for him. So it made sense that his words would be so straightforward, so simple for him to figure out. (Knowing him, he was probably disappointed, the bastard. He’d probably wanted a bloody puzzle.)

            In that rich blue, surrounded by the pink lines of burns, was handwriting that John knew well, very well seeing as he’d been using it for nearly forty years. And written in John’s handwriting (and here was the really infuriating part, because Sherlock’s was so bloody simple whereas John’s had been some vague line of poetry that he’d puzzled over since he was eight) was a name.

            John Watson.

            “Sherlock, I- I don’t even know where- I mean, surely you’ve got to know that I’m-“ He was both dazed and awake, happy in a way that he’d never been before. He had the vaguely uncomfortable sensation that his chest was filled with bees.

            (So this was it. This was why everyone cared so much about their words.)

            “It’s fine,” Sherlock said, shifting a few inches away from John. His voice was cold, but John could hear the undercurrent of hurt in it. “I didn’t think that…ahem. I do not expect you to reciprocate.”

            Panic bloomed in John’s heart and, unsure of what to do, he rolled his dressing gown sleeve up, shoving his arm in Sherlock’s face.

            “No. No, you lunatic. Look, Sherlock, can’t you see?”

            Sherlock looked at his words, at the neat rows of black, and wrinkled his nose.

            “Really, John, I don’t know what you expect me to glean from a few lines of Auden, but-“

            “No you idiot, not the words. Look at the writing. Seem familiar?”

            (Times when Sherlock was truly surprised were few and far between, so John had learned to enjoy them when they came.)

            “Oh,” Sherlock said, sounding as dazed as John felt. “Oh.”

            “How can you call yourself a consulting detective if you didn’t even know that I love you?”

            Sherlock looked for a moment as though he were about to give a very serious, very long winded answer listing his credentials, but much to John’s delight, he instead regained the few inches between them, taking John’s face very carefully in his hands and kissing him once, twice, three times on the mouth. The first two kisses were no more than pecks, gentle brushes of lips, but the third deepened and they pressed against each other, desperate and deliriously happy.

            Sherlock pulled back for a moment, face flushed, hair even more mussed than before, if that was at all possible.

            “John, I must warn you. I won’t make a good boyfriend or partner or whatever it is we are to each other, soulmate or not. I’ll be cold and forgetful and rude and I’ll never cook and I might accidentally poison you and-“

            John laughed, covering Sherlock’s mouth with his own in an attempt to quiet him.

            “You’re not perfect. I know that. Neither am I. But I love you in spite of all that. That’s what love is, you idiot.”

            “I love you too.”

            (And Jesus Christ, John could get used to hearing that.)

            And Sherlock laughed, and John laughed, together in the early morning darkness, and John’s world spun happily on its axis.