“Shh, it’s all right, it’s just a scratch. Nothing serious, nothing to cry about.”
It’s not a reproach of course, just an awkward attempt at comforting. John’s voice is soft and soothing, merely a whisper into Sherlock’s hair. Sherlock wraps his hands tighter around John’s waist and tucks his tear-smeared face into the familiar warmth. He’s curled beside John on the sofa, his long legs drawn up tightly to his stomach as if it would make him appear smaller. He would have gladly shrunk, so that he could sit in John’s lap, wrapped up in his sympathy, breathing in the wooly scent of his jumper. But fairytale-ish transformations are something he’s never believed in, not even when he’d really been a child.
Something had happened. Something bad enough to make him regress to a childlike state, for a considerable period of time, in a sort of protective reaction, just like a computer returning to its basic settings. The vice versa change, so much hoped for by everyone—an effect of nourishment perhaps or just another cruel trick of his mind—had been as sudden and unexplainable. Having evaluated his current situation, very quickly considering his obvious confusion, Sherlock had decided that he didn’t want anyone to know about it. Especially John. Not just yet. It’s good that John is so unobservant.
For some reason, he had become Sherlock’s guardian and babysitter. Was it Mycroft’s doing or John’s own initiative?
There are still gaps in Sherlock’s memories. Why does John prefer coddling with him instead of being with his own child? Has something happened to them, to Mary and the baby? Sherlock isn’t sure he wants to be filled in on the matter. If something has happened, it must be his fault. He’d failed to defend John and his family, despite his melodramatic vow. No, it’s better not to think about it. The present is so much better than the past.
It’s been a few days of pretending, and Sherlock has been cherishing every minute. Why would he want to be a grown-up again? Why would anyone want him to be a grown-up?
He has a microscope and a “young scientist’s” chemistry kit and other toys to play with. He doesn’t need to be ashamed of the fact that he likes to fall asleep hugging an old veteran teddy bear. He doesn’t have to tough it out silently when it hurts or hold back when he’s happy. He still can make deductions, and everyone is much more tolerant when it’s a child who speaks the blunt truth, not a grown-up man who’s supposed to be social and keep some things to himself.
John scolds him sometimes, but it’s only when Sherlock deserves it: when he’s being rude and sulky or has scorched the kitchen table during some unseemly experiment. So it’s all right. Besides, John is generous with praises too, like he’s always been. For some reason, he’d been especially touched when he’d listened to Sherlock sharing what he’d learned about the solar system. Also, John always switches on the bedside lamp when Sherlock has nightmares and sits by his side until Sherlock dozes off again.
John had even promised to buy him a dog if he behaved. Sherlock hasn’t had a dog since…since a very long time. It could be fun. He wants an Irish Setter or a Border Collie.
Will anybody care what he wants if he declares that he’s cured now—not a child anymore but his real self? That’s rather unlikely.
There will be no more strolling through Regents Park with John, to the zoo and back, hand in hand. No more kisses good night and cuddles on the sofa because grown-ups don’t do such things unless they are lovers. No more reading “Winnie-the-Pooh” together and playing pirates…because even lovers don’t do that.
In short, no more John. For why would he stay?
Sherlock sobs into John’s shoulder, unable to control himself.
“It’s just a scratch,” John repeats helplessly.
If only Sherlock could explain that these pathetic, uncontrollable tears are shed not for the stupid scratch he’d obtained during another unsanctioned experiment, but for all the other times when it hurt and John wasn’t around—and for the future times when John will be away again.
Please, please, let him stay some more. If only for a short while.
If Mycroft were around, he would have noticed Sherlock’s deception right away, but Mycroft only comes now and then to play a game of Operation with his mentally sick brother and talk to John in a hushed voice—and thus considers his brotherly duty fulfilled. Until Mycroft appears on the scene again, Sherlock can still have John all to himself. He knows it’s cheating—and John will discover the truth some day, one way or another. But he’ll leave anyway, won’t he, now that Sherlock is able to cope on his own.
It’s such a devastating prospect, coping on his own.
If Sherlock could miraculously turn things back, he would have selfishly preferred to return to what he’d had just a few days ago. An eternal childhood with John by his side.
Sherlock has never thought that he’d want something like this, and so desperately, like his life will be dull and meaningless otherwise. When John leaves, he’ll have to fill his head with puzzles, lots and lots of them, in order to forget what he’d suddenly found and then lost: the feeling of being loved—not because he deserved it, not because he was bright and elegant and enigmatic, and also good at solving crimes, but for no reason at all. He’d felt enveloped in affection and cared for, but it had to come to an end sooner or later. Only children can have that. John must have found temporary oblivion in looking after him so devotedly, but it’s time for him to start his own life anew.
“John,” Sherlock mutters into the soft wool of John’s worn-out jumper.
“It’s me. The real me.” And he adds hastily before the courage leaves him, “Since Friday. I’m sorry. I just… I just wanted you to stay.”
He pauses in horror, waiting for John to push him away, repulsed at the thought that he’s been listening to the wailing of a grown-up man, not a boy. Rationally, Sherlock knows that he should back off, give John some space, but his fingers dig into John’s jumper despite his will. He can’t let go. Just a few seconds more. Just a few seconds until he sees John’s face, angry, indignant.
It feels like an unexpected, undeserved bliss when he realizes that John’s hand continues stroking his tousled hair. “Shh, it’s all right,” John says. His voice is a bit shaky, like he’s fighting tears too. “It’s all right now. I’m here.”