Chapter 1: Night
“It was the dog.”
They’re the first words Sherlock has spoken in over five hours. His eyes fly open, bright and wide and almost inhuman, mouth parting slightly in amazement at his own deduction. He tips forward, jumping lightly down off the edge of the armchair he’d been perched on, and paces in light, long-legged strides across the lounge and back again, hands steepled under his chin. He seems afire with the light of discovery – if brain power and adrenaline were visible, Sherlock would be glowing.
“It’s the dog, it must be, it all makes sense- the smudge of mud on the skirting board, the random nature, no noise, no witnesses, nothing else misplaced, of course it’s the dog, those scratch marks around the edge of his basket must mean he’s been hiding them under the cushion, of course she wouldn’t have washed it yet, she’s only had it two weeks and she’s rather absent minded, so he took them, hid them, something to do with the scent and marking his ter-”
He is interrupted by a loud, prolonged and rather waffling snore.
The pacing stops. The hands unsteeple and drop to his side. The eyes narrow slightly, eyebrows lowering in mild irritation. A moment later there is another snore, this one shorter and softer – more of a grunt, really – and John Watson’s head lolls to one side, resting against his shoulder. His mouth is half open, eyes rolling slightly under his eyelids as REM sleep set in. His fingers twitch every so often, the echoing memory of holding a gun running through his muscles.
Sherlock sighs, the annoyance fading from his face and being replaced with something softer. It’s not exactly fondness, not exactly tenderness, but the slight upwards turn of one side of his mouth and the relaxing of the lines around his eyes betray the warmth he feels.
They’ve been working on a case since lunchtime the day before – two days before, thinks Sherlock, glancing at the clock and noting the glowing 2.14 that beams from the kitchen. John had dubbed it The Case of the Vanishing Knickers, which had amused both him and Lestrade greatly and merely made Sherlock raise an eyebrow of incomprehension and vague disgust at their low humour. For over a week, items of the Italian ambassador’s wife’s clothing had been disappearing, and when a pair of new and expensive underwear had disappeared she had called the police, afraid she was being stalked.
Sherlock, being Sherlock, hadn’t slept at all on the case. John, in turn, had suffered from sleeplessness the night before with Sherlock’s mournful violin playing drifting through the floorboards at one in the morning. Another day’s worth of running around London interviewing various friends – and enemies – of the family and swinging in and out of cabs had taken their toll, and when they’d both finally returned back at the flat at nine o’clock that evening, John had been heavy-eyed and yawning.
Watching his friend drooling slightly, still upright on the sofa, Sherlock feels a sudden rush of warmth in his stomach, both light and heavy, entirely alien. He blinks, frowns for a second, and places a hand somewhere under his diaphragm, but the warmth stays there, curled like a sleeping kitten. He stayed up for me, thinks Sherlock, and again, the warmth – it takes him a moment to realise that it is emotion, and the thought makes his nose twitch disapprovingly.
The warmth stays nonetheless.
It doesn’t really matter that he fell asleep, thinks Sherlock, surprised with himself, because he still stayed. The image of John, sat on the sofa and watching, waiting, protecting, as Sherlock delves down into his mind palace and starts connecting threads, flashes through his mind – the soldier on guard.
A moment later he is trying to convince himself that he must be delirious from lack of sleep, because his thoughts are straying dangerously close to ‘it’s the thought that counts’ Hallmark territory.
He throws his violin a longing, vaguely mournful look, and then turns his back on it – he’s well aware John’s already had to sacrifice a night’s worth of sleep for it, so he owes him one – and now the case is solved there’s really no need for him to play anyway. So instead, he paces over to the kitchen table, movements still quick and sharp from the adrenaline, picks up John’s phone, deduces which number is the speed-dial for Lestrade, hovers his thumb over the button-
-and stops, sighing. The last time he called Lestrade in the middle of the night for a case he got a hazy, “Nnnghblrgh wha’?” from an evidently just-woken-up Detective Inspector, and then had to listen to abuse and a lecture about respecting normal people’s sleeping habits when Lestrade realised he’d been woken up so Sherlock could tell him how the colour of the victims’ cars meant the killer had to be an Asian, middle-aged male. He thinks that, if he did it again, even for a solved case, Lestrade might attempt to throw things at him through the phone.
He makes a mental note to test his theory the next time Lestrade annoys him, and replaces the phone on the table. Then he paces the kitchen for a bit, just for a change of scenery, still feeling the restless after-effects of solving a case.
A moment later, another snore buzzes through the flat, accompanied by a small thump and a muffled babble of discomforted sleep-speech. Sherlock wonders briefly if John has fallen off the sofa, feels mildly amused by this idea, feels guilty for feeling amused when he remembers that John is only ordinary and actually needs sleep, then returns to the lounge and decides it’s a moot point anyway because John has merely slid sideways onto the sofa.
It’s not a very comfortable sleeping position, legs dangling off the front of the seat and body twisted sideways on the seat and one arm still sort of hooked over the backrest. Sherlock watches for a moment, and then lets a small smile curl the corner of his lips. He gently moves the arm back down to John’s side, preventing the inevitable moment when it would have fallen and John would have hit himself in the head. Then he shifts John up the sofa, until his head is pillowed on the Union Jack cushion and there is room for Sherlock to lift his legs up and arrange them, slightly bent, into a more comfortable position.
John makes no noise during this other than a small burbling groan when he is being shifted up the sofa. Sherlock instinctively makes a soft shushing noise and the noise stops – much to his surprise. Then he takes off John’s shoes, unlacing them and placing them neatly side-by-side next to the coffee table, and disappears.
He returns a minute later carrying the warm brown blanket John keeps at the end of his bed, and drapes it over the sleeping man. Without really knowing why, he fusses with it, tucking the end under John’s feet and tugging on the edge until it is uncreased over the still form. A moment later John makes another whirring sigh and shifts over onto his back, and there are creases everywhere again, but whatever impulse made him smooth it in the first place seems to be appeased, and Sherlock doesn’t touch it.
He watches for an indeterminate period of time, settling himself in the armchair opposite. He studies the soft lines of John’s face, the way his eyelids twitch, the movement of his lips as he breathes, the little jerky movements his feet make as he dreams of running, the gentle furrowing and unfurrowing of his brow as emotions run across their unconscious canvas.
Sherlock finds himself mesmerised. It’s a bit like solving crimes, trying to work out John Watson’s dreams, except far more difficult, and far more intriguing. Finally he gives up, resigning himself to the fact that he has far too little data to make a conclusion past the vague notion that it’s somehow connected to his war experiences and isn’t a bad dream.
He stands, deciding that tea may well be a good idea at what is now half past three in the morning, and as he does the old armchair lets out a long, loud squeak – more of a screech, thinks Sherlock irritably as John suddenly twitches, muttering blearily under his breath. His eyelids flutter once, twice, and then part into slits. A slurred, “W’s’t S’l’k,” escapes his lips as he teeters on the fine line between dreams and consciousness.
After an infinitesimal hesitation, Sherlock steps forward and crouches down so their heads are level, and murmurs, “Go to sleep, John. You deserve it.” And then, without really knowing why, he smoothes coarse, sandy-brown hair out of the way, leans forward, and presses his lips against John’s forehead.
This seems to work. John lets out a soft, sighing breath, shifts his legs slightly, and his eyes fall closed again.
Sherlock stays there, long after the REM sleep has passed and John has stopped making noises, kneeling on the carpet next to the sofa, eyes wide and silver in the darkness, with one pale finger pressed hesitantly against his mouth.
Chapter 2: Day
“You kissed me,” says John the next morning, absently, as he hunts for something edible for breakfast. He briefly wonders what it says about his life that a half-remembered sensation of his flatmate kissing his forehead doesn’t really seem that unusual next to serial killers and eyeballs in the microwave.
He opens the fridge, sees the tupperware boxes full of entrails, and shuts it again almost instantly, stomach turning ever so slightly. “Oh god, Sherlock, really-”
“No I didn’t.” Sherlock is perched on the edge of a rickety wooden chair in the kitchen – because the verb ‘sit’ just doesn’t seem to cover the way he balances on the very edge of the chair, legs tucked under it and feet hooked around the legs at the back – sipping hot, sweet black coffee from a chipped navy mug. He blinks serenely at John’s disgusted expression and cradles the mug in his hands, steam rising from it and swirling as he inhales.
John decides not to press the point with the entrails too much, as he knows from long experience that arguing just seems to encourage Sherlock. “Look, if you’re going to- to keep revolting stuff in there, at least put a note on the door or something, okay?” Sherlock nods, not looking like he’s even paying attention, and takes another sip of coffee.
“And yes you did,” John continues, pulling open the bread bin and blinking in surprise when he actually finds bread in there. He pulls it out, examines it, and waves it in Sherlock’s direction. Sherlock nods, which he takes to mean it’s safe to eat, so he slips two pieces in the toaster and twists the dial. Then he checks the kettle – boiled bromine does not smell nice – and flick the switch on that too. The kitchen fills with the noise of electrical whirring and the noise of water slowly bubbling.
“No I didn’t.” Sherlock takes another sip of coffee, face still impassive.
Trying to hold a conversation with Sherlock, John reflects, is like trying to argue with a highly intelligent five year old with a complete disregard for logic or reality when it suits them. He rubs a hand over his face, sighs, and leans back against the counter. “Yes, you did, Sherlock, I remember it. You kissed my forehead in the middle of the night when some god-awful screeching noise woke me up.”
John is silent for a minute or so, stunned by the intelligence and eloquence of Sherlock’s response. The toast popping up with a metallic ding overrides his internal groans of despair, and he hunts around for a plate, fails to find one, and instead places his toast on the small plastic chopping board. It’s sort of plate-like, he reasons, spreading butter with a carving knife because the butter knives were all melted down by Sherlock last week when he wanted to find out if acid or fire was more effective at destroying metal. “And that’s all you’ve got to say about that?” he says, finally. “‘Oh’?”
Sherlock makes a non-committal noise in the back of his throat, and John looks around. He finds that, to his surprise, the consulting detective’s eyes are fixed on the floor. Usually they follow him around the room like a lost puppy when he prepares food. Sherlock takes another sip of coffee, realises there’s nothing left, and sets the mug down on the table.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” John turns back to his toast, and begins the long and dangerous quest for something to put on his toast. He finds an empty jar of marmite, a jam jar filled with what looks like blood, another jam jar missing a lid that has a dead wasp lying in the bottom and a bottle of honey that has half crystallised, which he sets to one side as a stand-by unless he can find something better. “It’s a bit… out of character for you, isn’t it? The whole human contact thing. You don’t even like shaking hands.”
There is silence. Sherlock picks up his mug, raises it to his lips, remembers there’s nothing left, and sets it down again. “I…” He takes a slow breath, as if he’s trying to taste the air. “You waited up for me,” he says eventually. Even though it doesn’t exactly answer the question, it sort of does, and John inhales quietly in surprise when Sherlock follows his words with, “Thank you. That was… kind of you. I appreciate it.”
John contemplates this in silence for a moment, opening more cupboards in his valiant quest to find some jam, or at least some marmalade, and Sherlock apparently takes this as meaning he’s done something wrong. “Isn’t that what people do, anyway?” he adds, and there is a vaguely, curiously hopeful tone in his voice that is there when he asks John to confirm that he’s behaving like a normal human being. “Kiss people on their forehead when they’re saying goodnight?”
The sound of shifting boxes and pots and jars fills the kitchen for a moment as John contemplates again, this time wondering how to explain the nuances of intention such an act carries – how a parent kissing their child on the forehead is different to a wife or husband doing the same with their spouse, and how a possibly-asexual and probably-autistic consulting detective kissing his flatmate’s forehead in the middle of a darkened lounge doesn’t really fit into either.
He gives up after a moment, and simply says, “No, no, you’re right. Just a bit odd, coming from you.” He finally finds a jar labelled in fancy font that proclaims itself to be marmalade, pulls it off the shelf with a small cry of triumph, opens the top, and-
“What the- urgh, that’s just- Sherlock, one of yours?” John holds out the marmalade jar as far away from his nose as he can, face turned the other way and twisted into a vaguely revolted expression. Sherlock slips off his chair, pads around the table and takes the proffered jar, face lighting up into a look of delight most people usually reserve for kittens or puppies when he sees the thick coat of green and white mould covering the remaining marmalade and slowly but determinedly climbing the sides of the jar.
“Tolypocladium inflatum, fascinating,” he mutters softly, and then see’s John’s disapproving and slightly nauseated face. “No, no, it’s not one of mine. Rather nice, though, even so.” He snatches up the lid from by the chopping board, screws it on, and the jar is added to the ever-growing clutter on the kitchen table.
John sighs, gives up, and dollops chunks of crystallised honey on his now-cold toast. Walking over to the table and setting the chopping board down on a miraculous piece of space that has only been covered by newspapers and a page of cramped, borderline-illegible notes in Sherlock’s looping handwriting, he moves to pull a chair over, and is stopped by a hand resting on his shoulder.
“You’re upset with me. I’ve done something wrong,” Sherlock says softly, and it’s the lack of any readable emotion in his flatmate’s voice that tells John how anxious he is.
“No, Sherlock, you haven’t, it’s just…” John runs a frustrated hand through his hair and turns around, looking up at Sherlock’s blank face. “Kissing is complicated, okay?”
“What do you mean?” Sherlock frowns. “Is it the same as that ‘date’ thing?” John had never managed to explain to Sherlock’s satisfaction how going to the cinema with a girl was different from going to the pub with some mates, mainly because of his reluctance to start a discussion about sex with someone who seemed to be entirely disinterested and confused by the whole notion.
“Sort of. Look, kissing – it’s something you only do with people you really like, yeah?”
“I didn’t kiss you on the lips.” Sherlock’s frown deepens, and John feels an odd sense of relief that Sherlock at least knows what kissing people on the lips implies. “It was only on your forehead. You looked disturbed, I thought it might comfort you.” He pauses. “It seemed to work.”
And that, that right there is the problem, thinks John, closing his eyes for a second in an attempt to find a reasonable explanation. It worked.
Eventually, he says, “Kissing someone’s fore- kissing someone’s anywhere, really, other than maybe their cheek sometimes, sort of indicates that you’d like to kiss them on the lips at some point in the future. It-”
He’s cut off abruptly when Sherlock’s fingers close around his wrist, tugging him slightly closer, and then one hand’s tentatively touching his cheek, and lips are pressed against his forehead. They’re dry and slightly chapped and surprisingly warm – John’s not sure why that’s surprising, but Sherlock always looks like such a cold person, all pale skin and icy eyes and dark clothes and sharp angles.
They stay there like that for a second, connected hand to wrist, cheek to hand, lips to forehead, and then Sherlock takes a step back, his experiment complete. John watches him, waits for the detective’s eyes to widen in understanding, in comprehension, with the light of some sudden deduction.
They don’t. The bewilderment grows on his face, brows furrowing further, and then he lets go of John’s wrist and is suddenly gone; the door swings shut behind him, his coat is missing from the rack, and that is that.
John stands there a minute more, blinking at the empty kitchen and breathing slowly. Then he sits down and eats his cold, sickeningly sweet toast thoughtfully, mouth chewing on the dry bread and sickly chunks of sugar crystals in an automatic motion. His gaze is fixed somewhere on the cupboard opposite, hovering unseeingly on a small burn mark in the corner.
Long after his toast has been reduced to crumbs and stickiness and the water in the boiled kettle has cooled again, he sits at the table, head in his hands, the tops of his fingers and the blunt edges of his fingernails resting lightly against the place where Sherlock’s lips had touched.