The box was cardboard, unlabelled. It was hidden in the corner of the attic, nestled between dusty beams (dusty? why are they dusty?). Sherlock approached it warily.
It was his monthly ritual; he'd promised himself. He'd packed all of the things inside this box in his palace (why was it dusty?), and on a regular basis he reminded himself why he'd packed it away, what he deserved, and what he owed.
Sherlock was not a masochist, but he enjoyed puzzles, even the ones that were painful to solve. That was what the contents of the box had become (why was it dusty?), a reminder that there was a puzzle in his life living in his very flat, that he was incapable of solving.
Sherlock didn't remember taping the box shut. He wondered why, and when, he'd needed to do that. (Why was it dusty?)
He peeled back the layers of tape, wondering when this task had gotten so difficult for him. John was talking to him, he was sure, but couldn't John see he was in his mind palace? (Where was all the dust coming from?)
It had started with a simple observation.
"A girl gave you her phone number," Sherlock stated as John walked through the door. John smiled at him and shrugged.
Perhaps, Sherlock considered, it wasn't yet time to take part in this.
He was not, after all, a masochist.
He wondered if perhaps it was too late to leave his palace, to leave this task unfinished.
The dust motes danced in front of him, and distantly, John's voice silenced.
"Sherlock! You haven't eaten in days," John yelled. "When was the last time you moved off that sofa?"
Sherlock stared blankly up at him.
"Tuesday," he said eventually.
"Jesus," John said. "Jesus. Why do I put up with this shit?"
Sherlock felt his lips curl up in a sardonic smile. "Because you love me," he said.
John was furious.
Sherlock shook himself. That wasn't what he was here for, that wasn't why he was retrieving the box. (Why was it so dusty?)
John was drunk. John did not get drunk very often, but now he was really, properly drunk. He was giving Sherlock sloppy kisses, leaning on him, apparently incapable of supporting his own weight.
Normally Sherlock would've enjoyed it, really, he would, but John tasted different, smoky and sweet all at once, and Sherlock didn't like it at all.
Why did John taste different?
(Where was all the damn dust coming from?)
There were hands on Sherlock's shoulders. Real hands.
"Sherlock," John said, sounding concerned.
"What?" Sherlock snapped. Apparently that was one way to leave his palace - leave the box behind. He needed that box. He needed to catalogue the dust, to understand why. (Why dust? Since when? Form hypothesis.)
"You looked like you were in pain," John said, a concerned smile on his face.
Sherlock wondered if John knew which memories he was sorting through.
Sherlock wondered if John knew he couldn't hide anything from him, that his secret was more than out in the open, and Sherlock was letting it lie out of kindness. (Kindness to who? Could that be the cause of the dust? No. Reaching conclusions without adequate evidence. Hypothesize.)
John smiled fondly at him, looking bemused.
"John," Sherlock started. "I was busy."
John's smile dropped. "I just thought-" He frowned, and tried again. "You don't have a case."
"It wasn't for a case."
"What was it? You can talk to me."
Sherlock stared at him. (Why had there been dust? Why couldn't he remember what John was supposed to be to him?)
"You should go," Sherlock said, twisting his body away from John's.
(Dust. Dust. John. Dust. Box. Drinking. Kisses. Dust. John. Dust. Dust. Somebody else. Oh.)
(Do you want to remember?)
(I know the facts.)
Sherlock stood up and left the room. John. He couldn't be with John. A moment in his presence was like a needle under his skin (Needle, cocaine, no, Sherlock, Mummy will be so disappointed, Sherlock.) and it itched.
John had followed him.
Sherlock had known about this, about the incident. Why was it affecting him so viscerally now? (It's to do with the dust.)
"John," Sherlock said coldly.
Sherlock rounded on him. How could he pretend to be so docile, so ignorant, filled with such childlike innocence.
John blinked, looking hurt. (No, he doesn't look hurt, Sherlock. You're lying to me.)
"I am," John said quietly. Sherlock nodded.
"I need... ten minutes," Sherlock said.
"Ten minutes," John said slowly. Still confused. (Idiot.)
Sherlock turned away from him and climbed the ladder to his attic once more.
The box contained thoughts and feelings Sherlock had squashed about the incident, but it was covered in dust. (Where had all the dust come from? Was that the problem? Is that what I need to be focusing on?)
(John doesn't know I know.)
(Perhaps, it's to do with emotions...)
(Forgive and forget.)
(Dust. Forgive and forget. John. Love John.)
There was tap on his shoulder. Sherlock's ten minutes were up.
"Why didn't you tell me?" Sherlock said.
"You went to the pub. You got drunk. You had sex with somebody else. Why didn't you tell me?"
John looked at him. "Because you knew anyway. And you let me stay."
"I love you," Sherlock said.
"I'm sorry," John said.
Sherlock shook his head. (John is better than you. John deserves better than you. You owe John forgiveness.)
"You forgot?" John was incredulous. (Expected? Yes. Expected.)
Sherlock amended his words. "I did not want to know."
"You want to know everything."
"I did not want to be right." Sherlock tried again.
(Dust. Wanting to forget. Oh.)
"Now what?" John said. He looked miserable. (Pity? No. He deserves this.)
Sherlock frowned. He did not want John to leave. He did not want the box in his attic to contain a whole John.
"I love you," Sherlock repeated.
John stared at him. "I love you too."
Sherlock shrugged. "I hate you, too." (The box is not big enough to fit a whole John. The attic is not big enough to fit a whole John. Would have to extend.)
"Yes," John said quietly. "Would you - Do you want me to - Oh, Sherlock."
(John is supposed to be good at this. Now what?)
"I can forget," Sherlock offered. "But not forgive." (John had betrayed him. John had done what he had promised he had not and John was supposed to be good, supposed to be better. Might need a second palace for John alone.)
(Must let dust accumulate in future. This is unpleasant.)
(Caring is not an advantage.)
(Piss off, Mycroft.)
"I don't want you to forget," John said when it became apparent Sherlock was back to reality. (When did he get so perceptive?)
"Because what I did wasn't good, Sherlock. It was bad. It was the worst." (He may be my moral compass but I'm not stupid.)
John was staring at him. (Why is he staring? I agreed with him. What does he want?)
"What?" Sherlock snapped.
"Aren't you going to shout at me? Push me around a bit. Or don't you care at all?" John said with a broken sounding laugh.
"You're not allowed to be offended." Sherlock frowned. (I've been wronged, not John, haven't I?)
(This is ridiculous. Sentiment.)
Sherlock could see John gritting his teeth.
"Do you care at all?"
Sherlock stared at him. "Yes. There was - dust." (Dust? Don't tell John about the dust.)
"Irrelevant. I tried to forget, John, but I can't."
"You just said you could."
Sherlock looked unhappy. "I lied. Don't leave."
"You're an idiot," Sherlock said eventually. (That was the only possible solution. John had done it because he was stupid and he made mistakes.)
"Yes," John said sadly. (He agrees. He agrees! John is stupid and makes mistakes.)
(Well. That's fine then, isn't it?)
(Is this what they call forgiveness?)
Sherlock smiled at John. "I can forgive," he said. (Can you keep that promise?)
John looked surprised.
"Okay," he said. "Okay."
"I love you," John said.