And how they run.
On and on, never stopping. Part of him loves it; the feel of Sherlock’s hand in his, the never looking back, the close calls – oh, there have been plenty of those – and the intensity it gives to his life, and his relationship with Sherlock. It’s like living life at double speed. After a while, he almost doesn’t remember what it’s like to live without feeling constantly on edge, alert, with the pulse of adrenaline beating through his veins. It becomes a part of him, bound with the part that misses the war, that pulls the trigger, that loves the chaos inside of Sherlock.
Still, part of him hates it. It’s intense, but it’s draining. Nothing is constant. They’re always swapping names, swapping hair colours, swapping clothing styles – John could swear that Sherlock even swaps his walking gait and posture. There’s no looking back, but there’s always looking over his shoulder. And there’s a voice in his head, quiet but insistence, that speaks of Baker Street, of home and cups of tea and a singular, warm bed to sleep him with Sherlock at his side, and it itches.
But they can’t go back, so they keep moving forwards.
Molly’s. Irene’s. Stamfords. And beyond. After a while, John no longer recognises the faces that open the door to them, but they recognise Sherlock, and that’s enough. He’s amazed by the number of favours that Sherlock is able to call on to cadge them places to hide. All this time, all this running, and he is confident that they’ve never stayed more than once in a single place. It reaffirms his faith in people, just a little bit.
Not everybody is as lenient, though. While some are bent on helping, others are focused on finding and arresting them – and it’s not just Say No party members on the lookout, but ordinary citizens too. In a world where people are being taken off the streets for a swift hug, a brush of the hand, even a wrongly timed compliment, the very existence of John and Sherlock as a couple is an inexcusable error, and one that many are keen to rectify. And it isn’t like people are unaware of their presence – they’re the ‘gay detectives’, the ones who solved impossible crimes. Fairly well-known even before the explosive takeover of the Say Nos.
A famous duo, still; even when on the run. John knows in his heart of hearts that staying together is only increasing the chance that they’ll get caught. Their renown in this time, after all, comes from being a couple. Despite this, only once do they ever try splitting up.
It’s in the wake of Stephen Fry’s sensational arrest and with the sudden surge of enthusiasm for reports and sightings, it’s become too dangerous for them to call on favours like they usually do. Instead, Sherlock picks an apartment building and jimmies the lock of a flat with the lights out. John thinks it’s a random choice until he sees the photographs that adorn the walls, and realises that they’re standing in what once was Lestrade’s apartment. The place holds a silence that is louder than anything John has ever heard. Sherlock can hear it too, he thinks. That’s why Sherlock doesn’t look him in the eye when he clears his throat nervously and says,
‘John… all things considered, do you think it would be better, if we were to… part ways, for a bit? Just to try.’
John appreciates what it must have cost Sherlock to ask this. After all, staying with John has cost him his job, and his home. He also appreciates the logic in the idea – they would be safer apart for a time, it’s true. But appreciating it doesn’t mean he has to like it one bit, so he confirms Sherlock’s suggestion without looking at the other man either.
‘Yeah. Yeah. Makes sense. Just for a bit.’
He understands why here, why now, the idea has been brought up. On the run, it’s easy to forget that there is anything but the running – easy, even to forget what they’re running from. But it’s impossible, here in Lestrade’s apartment where the dust and silence lies on everything so thick, to deny the very real danger of the Say No party. They haven’t heard from, or even about Lestrade since the newspaper reports of his arrest on the day of the elections. It’s as if being taken means he’s been wiped from the face of the earth. John remembers Moriarty’s slick voice, and his talk of ‘correction clinics’, and he shivers.
That night, he and Sherlock fall asleep tangled more closely together than usual, in Lestrade’s bed. John sleeps fitfully, and he dreams of ghosts.
In the morning, they don’t say goodbye. They agree on when and where to meet – two weeks next Tuesday, in the park a block away – and then John watches Sherlock open the door and walk down the street until his view is obscured by a crowd of tourists. When they clear, Sherlock is gone. John shuts the door and sits on the carpet in the middle of Lestrade’s sitting room and tries hard not to concentrate on just breathing.
At any other time, he’d call it an overreaction, but this isn’t any other time. It isn’t like a case, where a week or so without hearing from Sherlock probably means that the man is having the time of his life with blood-spatter patterns and locked rooms. It’s real life, and there are potential enemies in every single person who Sherlock is passing on the street right now, potential enemies who only have to call Sherlock’s name and that’s it - gone, disappeared, and John will never see him again. And John cannot wade in this time, throwing punches and shooting guns and dragging Sherlock out by the skin on his teeth. He’s powerless, utterly powerless against what is going on, so he excuses himself a moment, a minute, an hour, to lie on Lestrade’s carpet and just try to calm down.
In the end, it takes three days for them to meet up again, although John swears it feels like forever. He spends most of the time holed up in Lestrade’s apartments, clueless about what he’s supposed to be doing, eating tinned food from the cupboards, and trying and failing not to visualise Sherlock in danger. It’s only when he realises that he hasn’t seen a newspaper in three days and subsequently he has no idea of what’s going on in the outside world – they could have caught and killed Sherlock, and he’d be none the wiser – that he ventures out of the flat into the daylight, to find a newsagent’s.
Halfway back from the shop and reassured to a point by the lack of news about Sherlock, he realises he has a shadow. Twenty feet from the apartment building, the shadow is recognisably Sherlock-shaped and John is grinning madly and foolishly. By the time they reach the door, Sherlock’s arm is around his waist. And then the door is open and Sherlock is pushing him through to the safety of the apartment and hugging him so hard that John can feel Sherlock’s heart beating against his own. He buries his head in the curve of Sherlock’s neck and laughs while Sherlock hums with contentment. I missed you too, John thinks.
They spend as little time as possible in Lestrade’s apartment before moving on – this time, out of London and all the way out to Grimpen to stay with Henry Knight, who offers them shelter at his house for a week or so.
So they run, and they don’t look backwards and they don’t look forwards, any further than the next house, the next safe places. But in the rare moments of quiet, in curling up together on an unfamiliar sofa or bed, in Sherlock tracing patterns over his back in the dark of the night, John will let his thoughts wander to the future. This can’t last forever. He knows. The life they live is transient, fleeting, and sooner or later someone is going to catch up with them. There’s an intense desperation to the way they live, and he knows Sherlock can feel it too.
But as long as he can have this, he thinks, as Sherlock’s warm breath trails over the back of his neck, then he’ll do what he can to preserve it. For these snatches of peace, for the silent spaces in between the running. For the moments where the world shrinks, to just Sherlock and he. He’ll do what he can. As he always does. He’ll protect.