John stands in the living room of 221 B for the first time in nearly three years.
Behind him, Sherlock is silent. He pulls off his gloves and tucks them into the left pocket of his coat. John can hear the rustle of fabric, a soft intake of breath. He closes his eyes. For a minute he allows himself to remember how it was, how it used to be.
Sherlock clears his throat.
“Obviously a few things are missing,” he says. He brushes past John and moves over to the fireplace, where he pretends to inspect the wood. John fights back a smile as he's reminded of the first night they spent together. How Sherlock had moved with frantic, excitable energy. How interesting he was. How interesting and how terrifying all at once.
John starts when he realises Sherlock is staring at him.
“Oh,” he says. “Um. No. That's fine. I mean, a lot of it is probably my stuff, anyway.”
“John, if you'd rather not—”
“I didn't say that,” John says with a sigh. He plunks down in his old chair and rubs his eyes. “Jesus, this is hard.”
“We don't have to rush into it,” Sherlock tells him quietly. John had forgotten how quiet Sherlock could be, when the mood struck. He offers him a small smile, which Sherlock doesn't return. Instead he sits down in the chair opposite John – his old chair. He looks older, and smaller, and frighteningly fragile.
John doesn't like it. John doesn't like it one bit.
Sherlock continues, “If you need time, we can arrange something different. Something less demanding.”
John bites his lip and looks away. It hurts, how hard Sherlock is trying. He's trying to shield how much John's discomfort is upsetting him. He's trying to work around John's schedule instead of trying to manipulate it. John isn't sure which realisation is more painful.
“No,” he says. “No, it's fine. I want to do this. I do.”
Sherlock's breath comes out like a sigh of relief.
John packs his belongings over the weekend.
He tries to squash the nervous butterflies in his stomach. He realises it's silly to hope things will go back to how they were, before. John is not the same man he was three years ago. He's unsure if the same can be said for Sherlock. Normally, he couldn't imagine pretending to be dead for nearly three years not having some sort of effect on a person, but this is Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock Holmes, who always functioned on a different plain than everyone else. Sherlock Holmes, who had his own set of rules, and even then he didn't always follow them.
It's going to take time to adjust, John thinks.
That's okay, John thinks. They'll get there, eventually.
Sherlock leaves John alone for most of the first day. The air in the flat is heavy and awkward. John tries to consider the quiet a blessing as he rearranges his room. Instead, he finds himself wishing that Sherlock will appear in his doorway and offer a distraction.
Eventually he gives up on unpacking and wanders downstairs, back and knees aching. Sherlock is curled up on the sofa in his housecoat, laptop perched on his knees. The television is on in the background. He glances up when John enters.
“Finished?” he asks.
“Just about,” John sits down next to him. “I'll do the rest tomorrow.”
Sherlock nods and goes back to his laptop. He taps a few things out on the keyboard before going quiet again.
John scratches the back of his head. He licks his lips. He clears his throat.
“Right. Well. Fancy getting something to eat?”
Sherlock hums. “I'm kind of in the mood for sushi.”
“I could go for some sushi,” John says.
Sherlock closes his laptop and smiles. “Five minutes.”
John shivers and wishes he brought his coat, despite it being August. Sherlock marches along beside him, hands in his pockets and collar up around his face.
There's an arm's width of space between them, leaving John almost hugging the buildings and Sherlock hugging the kerb. Before, they would be bumping arms and shoulders as they walked. John didn't mind it then. He's almost missing it now.
Sherlock keeps quiet as they make their way to the restaurant. He barely looks at John, and when he does he blinks away. John has no idea what he's feeling, or what he's thinking. He used to be able to tell, sometimes. A mere flick of the eye, or a sharp intake of breath was as obvious to him as words on a page.
Three years is a long time to go without seeing someone, John reminds himself. Three years is long enough for someone to rewrite their entire body language. John can't get a read on Sherlock any more.
“How long were you back before you came to me?” John asks ten minutes later, once they've been seated. Sherlock has been alive for just over a month now. Most of that month, John had been resolutely ignoring every attempt at contact Sherlock made. He cracked eventually, as he knew he would. Sherlock's gravitational pull had always been too strong.
“A week,” Sherlock says. “I was with Mycroft for four days. There was a lot of paperwork that needed to be done. Once my name was cleared I moved back to Baker Street.”
“So your brother and Mrs Hudson knew you were alive before I did,” John says. He tries to not feel too upset about that.
“Mycroft knew well before that,” Sherlock says. He grimaces. John can almost hear him mentally kick himself. Sherlock tries again. “He – he helped me, a bit. Well, he's indebted to me since I wouldn't have had to jump in the first place if it weren't for him. Though he probably could have figured it out on his own.”
The waitress comes by and takes their order. John munches on an ice cube and ignores Sherlock's fidgeting.
“Why are you agreeing to move back in if you're still angry with me?” Sherlock asks after their food arrives.
John has been wondering that himself.
“I don't know,” he says eventually. “I guess... it's hard to explain. If – if there's something that you know is bad for you, but it makes you feel happy, and it makes you sleep better at night and it makes your life worth living, then is it really bad for you? Can something be destructive and productive at the same time?”
Sherlock offers him a small smile. “I'm a self-proclaimed sociopathic recovering drug addict who chases after murderers for a living. I hardly think I'm the best person to answer that.”
John laughs. Then stops himself. The noise sounds weird, foreign. He can't remember the last time he actually laughed. Sherlock's smile falters.
“Don't do that,” he says.
“Do what?” John asks.
“Don't stop laughing because you feel it's inappropriate,” Sherlock says. “You're the one who used to giggle at crime scenes.”
“Well, a lot has changed,” John says.
Sherlock stares at him for a moment before looking away.
“Yes,” he says. “I suppose it has.”
The first evening back at Baker Street is both beautifully nostalgic and painfully uncomfortable. John feels more like a guest at a friend's rather than someone who knows these walls. Someone who has staked claim on the plaid armchair next to the fire. Someone who has scrubbed chemical stains out of the kitchen floor on more than one occasion.
Sherlock flits around in a ball of nervous energy for the first hour. He moves from his science experiments in the kitchen, to his laptop in the living room, to his violin by the window. It's an adjustment for both of them, John realises. Despite Sherlock's pestering for John to move back in, for their work to start again, Sherlock appears to be having trouble rearranging his schedule and routine to accommodate John into his life again.
John goes into the kitchen to make tea. Everything he had packed away after Sherlock's death has since found its nook again. The mugs are lined on the middle shelf in the cupboard above the sink, and below them is an array of tea boxes and tins. John takes his mug down and grabs Sherlock's without thinking, setting it on the counter. It's only once he's poured two spoonfuls of sugar and is digging through his tin of assorted hand-mixed tea that he even realises he's done it.
For the first several months after Sherlock was gone, John had to physically stop himself from making a second cup of tea, or coffee in the morning. It had become so automatic, so ingrained in him as a habit that he would often come back to the kitchen after his shower to find a mug of still-warm, sweetened coffee sitting next to the kettle.
Some days it nearly destroyed him. It took a painful two months for him to finally cut the habit out completely. Some days he ended up dumping his own drink into the sink because it looked too lonely and depressed, sitting there by itself on the counter. Now, though. Now Sherlock sits on the sofa in 221 B, twisting his Sudoku puzzle cube in his hands, and John finds himself making an extra cup of tea without second thought. So quickly habits return, John thinks. He wonders if they're ever really gone at all.
Sherlock smiles up at him when John hands him his steaming mug. Sherlock takes it gently in both hands, bringing it towards his nose. He inhales and closes his eyes.
“You've used raw sugar instead of honey,” he says. “Bit of lemon and a crushed mint leaf. When did you start making your own tea?”
“A year,” John says, sitting down next to him. “An ex-girlfriend of mine got me into it. She was vegan.”
“That sounds dreadful,” Sherlock says. The corner of his eye wrinkles in a smile and he takes a sip from his mug.
“It was all right,” John sets his mug on the table and leans back into the cushions. “It's a bit of a shock to the system, though. All this health food coming out of nowhere when you're used to greasy Chinese and cheesy Italian dishes. But it was nice. I lost about a stone, though as you can see that didn't stay off very long.”
“Trivial,” Sherlock tells him. “You'll still be able to keep up, I imagine?”
“Don't see why not,” John shrugs.
Sherlock takes another drink from his mug before setting it down on the table.
“You should try agave next time.”
John swallows a mouthful of tea and blinks. “Sorry?”
“Agave nectar,” Sherlock explains, gesturing toward the tea. “It will appeal to the vegans because you won't be using anything that comes from an animal. That is, if you ever plan on running your own tea shop.”
John snorts. “Wasn't planning on it, no.”
“Why not? I hear they're very popular with today's youth,” Sherlock says. “You could make a fortune. Home-made teas... Don't think there's a café like that round here.”
“I'll stick to blogging about your crime scenes, I think,” John smiles. “I might not be brilliant at it, but there's less risk of me accidentally poisoning someone. Especially if you're anywhere near the supplies.”
Sherlock shrugs playfully, picking up his mug again.
“Was just a suggestion.”
John manages to fall into an easy sleep that night. The walls and the ceiling of his old room envelope over him. Instead of casting dark, intimidating shadows, they welcome him with open arms. His room is cosy and familiar. The noises of the flat settling lull him to sleep as he snuggles down into the blankets.
Shortly before he falls asleep, he hears the sweeping of Sherlock's violin coming up from the living room.
John smiles as he drifts away.
John wakes up out of breath and slicked with sweat. His throat is raw and his eyes are watering.
Sherlock stares down at him from the foot of the bed.
“Jesus,” John gasps. He presses the heels of his hands into his eyes and tries to control his breathing. He feels panicked and claustrophobic, and his breathing racks his body with sharp, painful shudders. Another nightmare, then. The details are always lost, but the dreams leave him a wreck of a man in their wake.
“Would you like some water?” Sherlock asks. His voice rumbles from the end of the bed, calm and collected. John hates him for it.
“No, I would not like some fucking water,” he snaps. “Why are you in here?”
Sherlock doesn't flinch. “I heard a crash.”
John moves his hands down his face and glances down at the floor. His bedside lamp lies in shards beside his bed. Not the first time it happened, but it has been a while. Damn it, he liked that one, too.
“Just a dream,” John says. His breathing is quieter. His palms are sweaty. He feels his cheeks heat with embarrassment. Sherlock continues to watch him from the end of his bed.
“Are you sure I can't get you a glass of water?” he asks.
“I'm good,” John says. “Erm. Thanks, though. Sorry... for - sorry.”
“It's fine,” Sherlock says. “I'll be downstairs if...”
“Right,” John says. “Okay. Thanks.”
Sherlock gives him a nod and quietly slips out of the room.
John slowly rebuilds his home back in 221 B.
The living room becomes the nest of books and pages and case files that it once was. It's a jumble, a mishmash of John's things and Sherlock's things. He comes home one day to find Sherlock snooping through his new books. One evening he finds a few new documentaries on DVD about various serial killers. There's a sticker for a library in New York on the back of the cases.
“Thought I returned those,” Sherlock says.
“Have you watched all of these?” John asks. Charles Manson stares up at him from his lap. John places the DVDs back on the shelf.
“At least three times each,” Sherlock says. “I was studying their methods.”
“That's... encouraging,” John says. “I guess.”
Sherlock shrugs and goes back to his experiment.
Most nights John sleeps through until the morning. He wakes up warm and light and well-rested. After a week, Sherlock quickly goes back to his habit of lying around on the sofa instead of making coffee for himself. John doesn't mind.
Other nights, he wakes up terrified. The small numbers on his alarm clock glow red against the walls. Two in the morning, three in the morning, four in the morning. No matter the hour, when John wakes up he finds Sherlock waiting for him, either standing next to him or perched at the end of his bed.
“Is this some sort of experiment?” John asks. “Because I'd really rather you didn't.”
“No,” Sherlock says. “I'm just... It's distracting.”
“Sorry,” John says. He's surprised to find he means it.
“I brought you water,” Sherlock says. He gestures to the glass on John's bedside table.
“Oh, um. Ta,” John nods. He takes a sip and lies back down against the pillows. Sherlock rakes a hand through his curls and gets off the end of the bed.
“I think I'll ask Lestrade for a case,” he says. “Might help.”
“Right. Yeah, okay,” John agrees.
“Good night, John,” Sherlock says.
John ignores the warm blush that spreads over his cheeks.
Their first case back together is something simple. Something Sherlock could most likely do with his eyes closed. John isn't sure if Sherlock agreed out of desperation and boredom, or repressed guilt. Somehow John doubts it's the latter. He finds he doesn't really mind either way.
Lestrade has less patience for Sherlock's attitude now. John doesn't blame him. After nearly his entire team struggled with an uphill battle to keep their jobs, Lestrade is less enthusiastic about having Sherlock on his cases than before.
Despite that, on a much more personal level, Lestrade seems almost happy to have Sherlock waltz through his office door. They always had a confusing relationship - at times Sherlock appeared to have great respect for Lestrade, and at others he loathed him. Sometimes, it was both. Still, Lestrade beams at Sherlock as he shakes his hand, and Sherlock just manages to hold back a smile of his own before they sit down across the desk.
“Family-owned antique shop,” Lestrade explains, opening a file on his desk and sending it towards them. “Nearly ten thousand quid-worth stolen over-night. Nothing broken, still locked on the inside. The security tapes are clear.”
“Someone who works at the shop,” Sherlock says.
“That was our guess, too,” Lestrade nods. “Only, we wouldn't be asking you for help if it was that simple. Everyone checks out.”
Sherlock presses his hands together. John twists the file on Lestrade's desk. Inside there are print-outs of goods from the store's website. Necklaces and earrings, old carved mantel-piece statues, photo albums and storybooks. John is far from an expert on antiques, but he can't imagine an old dusty book being worth eight-hundred pounds.
Then again, he thinks, that's nothing compared to a hairpin worth nine million. He smiles fondly at the memory.
“Can I see the security tapes?” Sherlock asks.
Lestrade wheels in a small television set and pushes the disc in the DVD player. The television goes to static for a moment before the DVD switches on. Sherlock watches the screen, pressed so close his nose is nearly touching it. John watches from behind. Nothing happens on the screen for several minutes.
Then Sherlock goes, “Ha!”
“What?” Lestrade asks. “What is it?”
“There's something off about this,” Sherlock explains. He grabs the remote off the DVD player and starts fiddling with buttons. “The time on the bottom of the screen, you see it? It's going forward. The numbers are moving as they should do for any normal security tape.”
“So?” Lestrade asks.
“So, look at the clock on the back of the wall,” Sherlock says. “You can barely notice it, mind, because of how the camera is angled. But if you watch...”
John notices it almost immediately. “The hands jump.”
“Exactly,” Sherlock says, wide-eyed. “Someone's tampered with the security video. Who gave you this?”
“The owner,” Lestrade says. “The one who reported the theft. But why is the time on the bottom still working properly?”
“Oh, it's easy enough to tamper with a time signature if you know what you're doing,” Sherlock waves it away. “Whoever stole from the store knows how to work with video or a computer or both. I'm going to have to go to the shop and take a closer look.”
“Wait,” Lestrade says. “I'm not - I'm still in the red with you, Sherlock. I can't just let you wander in on a crime scene any more. I need permission from the Chief Inspector.”
Sherlock growls. “So get it. John and I can do our own investigating while we wait.”
He slips out of the office. John throws Lestrade an apologetic shrug and follows.
“How are we going to manage that?” he asks.
“How much money have you got?”
“Not enough to afford an eight hundred quid novel,” John says. “Surely they'll let us browse?”
Sherlock snorts. “They've just had ten thousand worth of antiques stolen. Of course they're not going to let us browse. Don't be daft.”
“All right,” John mutters. Sherlock stops mid-step on the way to the lift and sighs.
“Look, we'll just take a look around and buy something small if they ask,” he says, by way of an apology. It's more than John is used to. He blinks at Sherlock, surprised, and Sherlock rolls his eyes. “Don't make this harder than it already is, John.”
“Sorry,” John says. Then he shakes his head. “Right, yes. Okay.”
Sherlock beams at him and presses the button for the lift.
Luckily for them, the owner recognizes Sherlock the second they step into the shop.
“You're the detective fellow!” she says. “The one who was in the papers all those years back.”
“Sherlock Holmes,” Sherlock extends his hand. The woman takes it with a grin. “I'm assisting Detective Inspector Lestrade from Scotland Yard. You've had a break-in, yes?”
“The other day, yes,” she says. “I sent in the security tape but the inspector said there was nothing on it.”
“The inspector is an idiot,” Sherlock says with a tight smile.
“Sherlock,” John warns.
“Someone has tampered with the security footage,” Sherlock explains. Then his eyes go wide.
“You've moved your clock,” he says.
“Sorry?” the woman asks. Sherlock points to a dark spot on the wall.
“You had a clock hanging there before, didn't you? It's been moved. It's over there now. Same wall, slightly higher. Did you move that or did someone else?”
“Oh,” the woman looks behind her. “I didn't even notice. Someone else must have done that. We're always moving things around to make more room for more antiques, you see. We get new stuff in at least once a week and a lot of it needs to be on the walls.”
Sherlock is already walking away, towards the security camera in the corner.
“Whoever moved your clock did so deliberately,” he says. “They needed it out of view of the security camera. Whoever moved it knows the entire layout of your store. Yet everyone who works here checks out? Interesting.”
John frowns and turns to the woman. “You said you get new stuff in at least once a week. Do you go out and find it yourself or is it delivered?”
“A bit of both,” she says. “My son-in-law and my daughter go out antique hunting and he sometimes delivers the heavier things.”
“Does he work here, too?” John asks.
“No, just brings in the heavier antiques with a friend of his,” she shakes her head. Sherlock returns and glances at John, expression unreadable.
“Do you have your son-in-law's address on hand, by any chance?” Sherlock asks.
The case ends with Mark Masters in handcuffs and several boxes of antiques loaded up in the back of Lestrade's car. John flips through the eight-hundred quid book, bemused, noticing his fingers leave behind prints in the dust.
“First edition,” Sherlock says, pointing to the cover. “Dickens. It comes in a set.”
“Still ridiculous,” John says. “Dickens wasn't even that interesting.”
Sherlock laughs, shifting the last box in his arms as Lestrade wanders over.
“Mrs Hardwick should be happy to get her stuff back, at least,” Lestrade says. “Though I doubt she'll be to happy to hear her son-in-law's lover was the one behind it all. In fact, doubt anyone will be happy to hear about him having a male lover, period.”
John blinks. “His lover?”
“Of course he's his lover,” Sherlock says, the same way he says 'obvious'. John doesn't bother commenting as he helps shove another box of antique goodies into Lestrade's back seat.
“I'll need you in tomorrow,” Lestrade says. “Just because you're back from the dead doesn't mean you get to forgo doing the paperwork.”
“Mm,” Sherlock grunts. He tucks his hands into his pockets. “Dinner, John?”
John bids Lestrade farewell and follows Sherlock to the end of the street.
The case doesn't help John's nightmares.
He still wakes up in a panic. He flings the blankets away and scrapes at his hair in frustration. Downstairs is quiet, and he tip-toes through the living room to the kitchen. John puts the kettle on and splashes water on his face as he waits, staring down into the drain.
“It's not the war,” Sherlock says from the living room. John nearly jumps out of his skin.
“Don't do that,” he shouts, and Sherlock turns on the reading lamp next to his chair. “Why were you sitting in the dark?”
“I was waiting,” Sherlock says.
John sighs and shakes his head. “You're not going to study me, Sherlock. I'm not some lab rat you can perform tests on. I've had nightmares before.”
These are different,” Sherlock says. “Your other nightmares didn't end with you waking yourself up screaming.”
The kettle clicks off. John clenches his hands.
“Just leave it, all right?” he asks. Though he doesn't think it will do any good, he adds, “It's none of your business.”
Sherlock is out of his chair and moving toward him, a wall of flesh and bone and a blue satin housecoat.
“If you're going to work with me again, then it is my business,” he says.
“I don't need your pity or your false-concern,” John snaps. “What I need is a cup of tea, some melatonin, and for you to leave me the hell alone.”
He brushes past Sherlock, out of the kitchen.
He contemplates slamming his door, but decides against it.
It takes three more nightmares before Sherlock tries again.
John wakes with a start and finds Sherlock sitting next to him. His bedside lamp – recently replaced – is on, glowing orange and casting shadows on the ceiling.
John rubs his eyes and flops against his pillows.
“Your tea isn't helping,” Sherlock says.
“Thanks for the observation,” John mumbles.
“Neither are the sleeping pills.”
“There's really not much you can do for nightmares, you know,” John says. “Except avoid chocolate before bed, I suppose.”
A small smile curls at the edge of Sherlock's mouth. “Have you been eating chocolate before bed?”
“No,” John says. “Do we even have chocolate?'
“Not that I'm aware of,” Sherlock says. Then, “This isn't something I would normally suggest, but perhaps you should write things down.”
John frowns at him. “What?”
“You know,” Sherlock gestures to him vaguely. “When you wake up from a nightmare. If you wrote down the details you remember upon waking then it would eventually be easier for you to recall your dreams in the long run.”
“Oh, right,” John says. “I could try that.”
Sherlock nods, but doesn't move.
Eventually, John falls back to sleep.
The problem isn't that John doesn't remember his dreams. The problem is what he's dreaming about.
When he first moved in with Sherlock, his dreams were about hot, desert heat and the sun bearing down on his back, unforgiving. They were about bombs, and raids, and approaching soldiers. They were about not having enough time to save his soldiers, his friends. He woke to the sound of gunfire ringing in his ears and sand in his teeth. When he sat up and shook the thoughts from his head, the ringing became a car alarm outside, or a dog barking in the distance. The sand in his mouth was his teeth grinding together.
The dreams faded for awhile. Then they returned when a man named Jim Moriarty strapped bombs to his chest. Nothing happened that evening - no bombs went off, no guns were shot. No one was hurt. Still, John had dreams about bloodied pool water, about the bombs on his chest exploding, about Jim Moriarty's crooked grin and bottomless eyes.
Now he dreams of tall buildings and pavement wet with blood. John dreams about his best friend's head split open at his feet.
Before, when he was alone, he would wake up and dry-heave in the toilet. He would sob and pull at his hair until he managed to cry himself into exhaustion. He would wake up and the nightmare would fade into a reality where Sherlock Holmes was dead. Some nights it was all John could do to stop himself from following.
Now he wakes up to find Sherlock staring down at him, brows furrowed and mouth tight with concern. With confusion. With a whole slew of emotions John had never seen on Sherlock's face before he jumped off the roof of St Bart's.
More than anything, John wishes it would all go away.
Next time, Sherlock says, “Let me try something.”
John says, “I told you, no experimenting.”
“It's not an experiment,” Sherlock tells him. “It's a... proposition based on a hypothesis.”
“Sounds like an experiment to me,” John grumbles. He relents anyway.
Sherlock pulls a pillow from seemingly out of nowhere and tosses it next to John's against the headboard. Before John realises what's happening, Sherlock is climbing into bed next to him and pulling the covers up to his chin.
“Turn off the light,” Sherlock says.
“What are you doing?” John asks.
“I'm sleeping with you,” Sherlock says. “Turn off the light.”
“You absolutely are not,” John squirms so he's sitting up. He glares down at Sherlock. “Since when is it okay for you to sleep in my bed?”
“Since you started screaming in your sleep. Since you have nightmares that keep you up at night and make you impossible to deal with during the day when I need you to be well-rested and on the top of your game so we can work efficiently,” Sherlock tells him. “Problem?”
“Blokes don't just sleep in other blokes' beds,” John says. It's not necessarily the fact that Sherlock is a man that's bothering him. It's more the fact that it's Sherlock. Sherlock, who has no sense of boundaries or social standards or rules. Sherlock who has a wide collection of sharp knives, needles and access to an array of deadly chemical compounds.
And it's not that John doesn't trust him. It's just that, well. It's Sherlock.
Sherlock rolls his eyes. “I would hardly consider myself a bloke.”
“Well you're not a woman,” John says. “You're definitely not a woman. You forget that I've seen you naked. Oh, bloody hell. That's an image I don't need.”
“You do realise you're pretending that bothers you more than it actually does, yes?” Sherlock asks, eyebrows raised. John groans into his fists because he doesn't want to think about it. He doesn't want to have this conversation. And mostly because Sherlock is right.
Sherlock rolls over to face the opposite wall. “It's just for a night. If this doesn't work you can have your bed all to yourself again.”
How reassuring, John thinks. With a sigh, he turns off the light.
It works. That night, there are no nightmares.
John hates him. John absolutely hates Sherlock Holmes.
“You're not going to sleep with me every night, are you?” John asks.
“If that's what it takes,” Sherlock says.
“What?” Sherlock asks. He elbows his pillow into shape.
“You know, I might want some... alone time. Some nights,” John says. He feels his cheeks heat.
Sherlock stares at him.
“Oh,” he says eventually, catching on. “Shall I wait in the hall?”
John is simultaneously disappointed and relieved that death by mortification isn't possible.
For a month John sleeps better than he has done since he can remember. The nightmares start to wane. The few times he does startle himself awake, he finds Sherlock already lying next to him under the sheets. Some nights he's quietly asleep. Others he's just crawling in. On those nights, he freezes when John wakes, their eyes locking.
“Okay,” John says, and Sherlock moves as though someone pressed the unpause button on a remote.
They don't talk about it. Which is all right, John thinks. He can't imagine what either of them would say, anyway. He doesn't even tell his therapist, but she's pleased to hear he's sleeping better.
John is at the top of his game at crime scenes. He and Sherlock have relearned one another's body language. A quick flick of Sherlock's eye and John is leaning over the body, checking for signs of violence. Arched eyebrows means John's forgetting something, and so he looks harder. A small, barely-there curl of Sherlock's lip means John is on to something, or is showing up a member of Lestrade's team – John hasn't quite figured that one out, yet.
He realises then that he doesn't really mind their arrangement. He sleeps better, and Sherlock is easier to deal with when John is quick on his feet. It works out best for everyone, John thinks.
That all goes for shit when John catches himself staring. Staring, and thinking about what sort of mark he'd like to leave on the stretch of skin between Sherlock's open shirt collar.
That night John doesn't have a nightmare, but he wakes up panting and sweating all the same.
One night, John wakes up trapped. Something heavy is pressing down on his stomach and his shoulders. He tries to pull free but the weight doesn't move. He panics.
“Shh, calm down,” Sherlock says quietly. “John, stop!”
The weight squeezes his right shoulder gently. John freezes and allows his eyes to adjust to the dark of his room. He blinks, and a minute later can just make out Sherlock's form hanging over him. He squeezes John's shoulder again, then removes his hands and slips off John's stomach.
“You were flailing about,” Sherlock tells him. “I thought you were having a fit. Do you normally have fits in your sleep?”
“I have no idea,” John snaps. “No. Not – not that I know of.”
Outside there's a flash of lightning. John rolls his shoulder and winces.
“Christ. What did you do to me?” he asks.
“I didn't want you to knock something over again,” Sherlock says.
“Great. So you pin me down while I'm having a nightmare,” John scoffs. “Brilliant technique.”
“It worked, didn't it?” Sherlock asks.
John doesn't comment. Sherlock sighs.
“Roll over,” he says. John hesitates, but does as he's told. He watches the shadows of rain streak down against the wall. The numbers on his clock change from 2:02 to 2:03, and suddenly there's warm pressure on his shoulder.
John hisses. “What are you doing?”
“Shush,” Sherlock whispers. “You must have twisted it when you were battling your sheet.”
“I was not battling my sheet,” John huffs. He can hear Sherlock smile behind him. He closes his eyes and shakes his head. “Well. Did I win, at least?”
“Oh yes,” Sherlock says. “The wild sheet has been slain.”
“You're not funny, you know,” John says. Sherlock's fingers dig into a sore spot and move in a tight circle. John bites his bottom lip.
“No. I'm not really known for my sense of humour,” Sherlock admits.
John agrees with a grunt. Sherlock's fingers trail up his neck and press along the muscles there. John sighs. He knows in the morning he's going to be over-thinking and over-analysing this, and what it's doing to the butterflies in his stomach and the tiny hairs rising on his arms.
Right now, though, he finds he really doesn't really care.
John has never had any hang-ups about his sexuality. He comes from a very open-minded family. Both he and his parents were accepting of Harry's sexuality. Once she came out, the only one who seemed concerned about it was Harry herself.
John's appreciation for men, however, never went beyond that of aesthetics. He had several close male friends in university – one or two he even fantasized about at some point – but ultimately it didn't take him long to realise that he just wasn't attracted to men the way he was attracted to women. After that realization, he never thought about it again.
When Sherlock came along, John was constantly reminded that people would always jump to conclusions when it came to male relationships. It was only made worse when it became apparent that no girl John went after had the energy – perhaps even the capability – to compete with Sherlock Holmes.
John had dated a few times after Sherlock's death, but ultimately he couldn't find any enjoyment in it any more. Everything seemed worthless and mundane and boring. He couldn't help but pick out certain details in his girlfriend's clothing or facial expressions – things he had learned from Sherlock. He would grow disappointed when Sherlock didn't show up to gatecrash his evening in the middle of a date. He realised far too late that it wasn't normal to hope – perhaps even expect – his best friend to make an appearance a year, two years, almost three after his suicide.
The death of John's romantic life was nowhere near as shocking as how quickly he accepted it.
But Sherlock, he had always been an exception to the rules. Most people would eventually give up hope that their friend would come back from the dead. John didn't, and one night he opened the door to his flat to find Sherlock Holmes sitting in his living room, very much alive.
John supposes that if Sherlock can bend the rules of life and death, he can bend the rules of John's sexuality.
Their next case is far more exciting than stolen antiques.
Lestrade thinks the deaths are related. Sherlock thinks they're not – but for a short time, John can see him wondering. In the end it turns out to be one huge coincidence. One murder made to look like a suicide and one suicide made to look like murder. They're both set up by equally clever people and both solved by one person more clever than them both combined.
Sherlock treats John to dinner. If he notices John staring, he doesn't comment.
John takes an extra eleven minutes in the bathroom. Five minutes trying to ignore the feeling of blood rushing down between his legs, wondering if he should do something about it and playing with the soap as a distraction. Five minutes he spends going ahead with it anyway. He bites his lip to stifle the noise as he comes into his fist, and nearly slips when his knees buckle out from under him.
The last minute he spends staring into the steam of the shower, wondering just what he's getting himself into.
If Sherlock notices the extra time, he doesn't comment on that, either.
It doesn't take long for John to get over his initial shock concerning his feelings for Sherlock. He supposes if he were ever going to fall for a man, Sherlock would be it. His brilliance is endlessly fascinating and his unearthly, eccentric beauty is easy enough to get lost in. More to the point, John has a connection with him that is unmatched by anyone else. John knows Sherlock. He knows his habits and his quirks and his body language. In fact, he's rather surprised it took him this long to see it.
The harder part, John soon discovers, is learning what to do with all this new information.
Sherlock doesn't question him when John tells him to get out of his room. It's the third time this week he's had a nightmare and has woken up to find Sherlock creeping in. Each time he has thrown him out again. He needs to be alone.
John shuffles over to his wardrobe to fish out two sleeping pills, and hopes for the best.
In the morning Sherlock watches him over the newspaper as John butters his toast.
“I told you to not to experiment on me,” John reminds him.
“I'm not,” Sherlock says.
“Then stop looking at me like I'm a murder victim.”
Sherlock ruffles the newspaper.
John remembers the first time he met Sherlock. Mike had mentioned a man working in the labs at Bart's and John immediately pictured a student. Someone somewhat quiet and a bit of a wallflower. Someone with spectacles, perhaps kind in their own awkward sort of way.
Nothing could have prepared him for the pale-eyed, statue-faced man that greeted him with a look of bewilderment at John's unprompted kindness. The man thanked him awkwardly and threw him a question that nearly knocked John off his feet.
At first he thought Sherlock was some sort of stalker. When he went home later that evening and found his website online – Consulting Detective – he thought, “Close enough.”
Some quiet voice in his head (and later, the not-so-quiet voices of just about every person he met) told him to stay away from Sherlock Holmes.
The next day he took a cab to Baker Street. He had never been very good at listening to the voice in his head.
Sherlock had stepped out of a cab behind him. He stood blinking at John in the fading sunlight, and John realized that Sherlock was surprised he showed up. Mike had warned John about Sherlock's eccentricities. John had gotten a taste of it in the lab the evening prior when Sherlock proceeded to reveal intimate details about his life – details that he hadn't even told Mike. John was certain that the normal response to such interaction was to run screaming in the opposite direction instead of utter fascination.
Then again, John had never exactly been normal himself, either.
“Mr Holmes,” he had said, extending his hand. Sherlock had taken it immediately with a smile.
Sherlock doesn't wait for John's permission to crawl into his bed any more. He simply does. He fits himself into the groove he's made on the left side of John's mattress, like he is meant to be there. John sometimes wonders if he very well might be.
John doesn't ask questions when Sherlock touches him any more. He simply lets him. Sherlock commands him with barely a word and John does as he's told, rolling onto his stomach or side or back. Sherlock's hands are always surprisingly warm. Gentle. John still has a hard time believing just how gentle they are.
One night, Sherlock does something he's never done before.
“Shortly after I met Lestrade I overdosed for the first time,” he says. “He found me passed out in my own vomit, slapped me around a little and took me to the hospital when I didn't wake up.”
John swallows. Sherlock's fingers tighten their grip on his shoulder, then loosen again.
“For about three months afterwards I kept having nightmares about him. In them I was always trying to hide my drugs and pretend I wasn't about to overdose. He always found out and then I had to run away from him, but I couldn't move. I was unsettled by him for a while.”
John snorts out a giggle and Sherlock huffs a breath into his hair.
“It isn't funny,” he says.
John rolls over to face him, still grinning. “Yeah, it kind of is.”
Sherlock glares at him. “If you ever tell Lestrade—”
“I won't,” John assures him. He closes his eyes again. Sherlock resumes his massage.
“I've never mentioned that to anyone before,” he says.
If John didn't know any better, he would swear the tightening in his chest is his heart breaking.
On their next case, Sherlock nearly dies a second time.
John's entire twenty-some years of medical training flies out the window when he finds Sherlock sprawled out on the pavement, unmoving, with blood in his hair and a gash on the side of his head. If it were anyone else John would remember that wounds always look worse than they actually are, and that there's not enough blood for Sherlock to be in any serious danger. But damn it, John has already lost Sherlock once, and to hell if he's going to lose him again.
Lestrade and another officer have to physically pull John off of him. Sherlock coughs and splutters a minute later, groaning and clutching his head.
“Sherlock,” John gasps. He struggles free and collapses on the pavement between Sherlock's feet. He doesn't care that his voice is slurring with panic, or that he's holding on to Sherlock's legs in a vice-grip.
“Stop,” Sherlock says. His hands peel John's off his soaked trousers and hold them together in his own, warming them against the chilling rain. “John, it's okay. I'm fine.”
“Don't fucking do that to me again!” John shouts at him. Lestrade mutters something into his radio, eyeing him warily. The other officers ignore his outburst. Sherlock squeezes his hands.
“Where did the car go?” Sherlock asks, glancing up. “The one that hit me.”
“We're on it,” Lestrade says. “You go to the hospital.”
Sherlock doesn't protest. John finally regains his composure and helps Sherlock shakily to his feet. He steadies him when Sherlock murmurs and slumps awkwardly against him. Sherlock pulls his coat around the two of them as they walk toward the flashing lights of an oncoming ambulance.
Sherlock's hair tickles his cheek. John blushes. The entirety of Lestrade's team avert their gaze.
Sherlock winds up with a line of stitches and a minor concussion.
He's unusually quiet for the cab ride home. John notices him stealing glances every minute or two. John catches him a few times and Sherlock looks away.
That night it's John creeping into Sherlock's room.
He tiptoes in quietly and slips in under the covers next to him. Sherlock's bed is larger, but he sleeps down the middle. Sherlock moves to give him more room. John is comfortable, and tired, but he doesn't attempt sleep. Instead he watches the numbers on Sherlock's alarm clock change for several minutes. Sherlock shifts behind him, rolling over. John can feel him, the warmth coming off of him. Sherlock murmurs and pulls the blanket up over John's shoulders. Then he sighs and his breathing sinks into a quiet rhythm again.
There's no gentle prodding fingers at John's neck or shoulder that night. There's no forthcoming confessions. There's just Sherlock, pressed against his back and breathing softly into his hair, asleep.
Sherlock Holmes is a rather funny-looking man, John thinks. It's not a bad thing. It's just that Sherlock's looks sort of match his personality: sharp and abrasive. Dark, sleek, and with an odd, misplaced sort of grace. Intense. Dangerous.
Not always, though. Sometimes Sherlock is meek and playful and as harmless as a purring kitten. There have been several times in the privacy of their home that John has seen Sherlock appear so completely, utterly human that it's breathtaking. John has seen him fall off the sofa laughing hysterically. He has seen him exhausted and weak with the flu. John has seen Sherlock have bouts of violent rage and frustration, terrifying moments of self-doubt and fear. He has seen him trip over his own feet, blush scarlet and act as if he did it all on purpose.
His skin remains milky pale no matter the time of year. In summer his hair develops red highlights and a splash of freckles rains across his cheeks and the bridge of his nose – much to Sherlock's annoyance. His eyes change colour depending on the lighting and his clothing, but never stray away from muted blues and greens. He's toned yet thin. John has never seen Sherlock eat a healthy meal in his life and yet he can outrun any person he's put up against and scale walls like a cat. He wears his bloody wool greatcoat all year round and when he smiles – really smiles – John can't help but smile back.
Sherlock Holmes is a complete enigma, and yet John has never met a man so human.
And for some reason, it has taken almost three years and a fake-suicide for John realise that he might be, sort of, possibly, a little bit in love with him.
John wakes up screaming. He buries his face into his pillow and punches the mattress.
Sherlock comes in a minute later. He rubs circles down his back. He trails his fingers up John's neck and into his hair. When John finally looks at him, Sherlock is biting his lip and looking far more concerned than he has any right to be.
John doesn’t really understand why, but the overwhelming urge to throw his arms around Sherlock's neck and hold him overtakes him. So he does.
John half expects Sherlock to tense, to awkwardly clap his back and say, “There there.” Sherlock doesn't. Sherlock immediately melts into his touch, wraps his long arms around John's back and buries his nose into John's shoulder. John can feel his breath. He can feel the bones of Sherlock's face. He can feel his lips against the cotton of his t-shirt. Sherlock's hands move minutely, soothing, and he doesn't pull away until John does.
“I'm a mess,” John says.
“Yes,” Sherlock agrees. John smiles.
In his nightmares he's racing through hallways. He's opening doors that open into brick walls, or empty rooms. He's running as fast as he can and calling out for Sherlock and getting no reply. In his nightmares, John knows Sherlock is about to die, and John knows that if he could just find the bloody staircase he'd be able to stop it all from happening.
Some nights he manages. When he reaches the roof, sweating and out of breath, he finds Sherlock standing on the ledge, waiting. Only instead of Sherlock it's Moriarty in Sherlock's clothes. Moriarty smiling a big, bloody grin – all teeth. In his nightmares, John pushes. He pushes Moriarty, and then it's too late and it's Sherlock falling instead.
Other nightmares he reaches out and grabs Sherlock's hand. Grabs his coat, his scarf, anything. Sherlock still falls, and then John is on the ground with him, and Sherlock is dead at his feet. Often times Mycroft shows up in a limousine and carries Sherlock away and scolds John for not taking better care of him. Like Sherlock is some household plant. Lestrade is often there, as well. And Sally Donovan, and his therapist. All of them stare at him as he walks away with Sherlock's blood on his hands.
Sometimes John dreams he falls after him, and he wakes up with a start. Before Sherlock returned he would curl into a ball and cry himself back to sleep, feeling guilty and ashamed. Now he merely rolls over and finds Sherlock stretched out asleep next to him, a ball of sharp bones and curly hair. Or he pads down the stairs and finds Sherlock reading in the warm orange glow of the table lamp, or flicking through television channels, or typing away on his laptop, mucking about with his science equipment, playing the violin, staring out the window. John lets out a quiet sigh of relief and picks his way back up the stairs. Sleep doesn't always come easily, but it comes.
The first time Sherlock holds him outside the privacy of their flat, John nearly stumbles face-first into the pavement. Sherlock touching him during crime scenes or police chases or even walks to Angelo's is hardly unusual. In fact, near the end John started to expect it at least once during the evening: a hand gently leading him between the shoulder blades, or fingers tugging on his sleeve to get his attention. They were always quick, harmless little touches that John thought nothing about. They weren't out of affection or comfort, they were simply Sherlock being Sherlock.
It's the first time John has been back to Bart's since Sherlock's death. He has somehow managed to avoid it for the last three years – thankfully he never had to go to the hospital for anything in that time. He and Molly got together a few times for drinks after her shifts, but John always met her a block away, or at the pub itself. He couldn't stand to go into the hospital, and Molly never questioned it.
Some evenings Sherlock goes to the labs on his own. The invitation for John to join is always there, hanging on unspoken words. John always turns him down. Even with Sherlock in the lab next to him, he can't imagine walking through those doors again without being assaulted by flashes of memory. On these evenings Sherlock always came back home in the middle of the night, and rarely sleeps. If John has a nightmare when he was gone, Sherlock either doesn't notice or pretends not to.
Unfortunately John knows he can't avoid the hospital forever, so one evening he finally agrees. Sherlock's eyebrows raise into his hair in surprise. Still, he keeps his comments to himself and for that John is grateful.
Winter is fast approaching and the gap between them as they walk has slowly but surely grown tighter. Now Sherlock's shoulders bump his every couple of steps. If John really wanted to, he could reach out and take Sherlock's gloved hand in his own. Perhaps even shove his hand into Sherlock's coat pocket to keep it warm. John considers trying, just to see Sherlock's reaction.
Sherlock is talking excitedly about chemical and biological warfare, his hands moving every which way. John isn't sure how they got onto that particular topic, but he's not complaining. He likes listening to Sherlock speak, no matter what it's about. He continues the one-sided conversation once they've managed to hail a cab and John is warming his hands by pressing them between his knees. Sherlock breaks his train of thought mid-sentence to ask the driver to pull over a few minutes later, and he and John walk the rest of the way. John isn't sure why until they turn the corner and the hospital looms ahead, and John's knees almost give way from under him.
Sherlock grabs him immediately, murmuring quietly into his ear. His hand slides down his arm and squeezes John's hand, holds it firmly in his own until John manages to get a grip on himself. Sherlock is staring at him, pale eyes bright in the light of the street lamp.
“I'm okay,” John says.
“You took that harder than I expected,” Sherlock admits. “Can you walk?”
“Yes, I'm fine,” John tells him. Then, because it seems necessary, “Thank you.”
Sherlock's hand lingers in his. When his fingers finally slide away, they brush over the underside of John's wrist. They leave goosebumps in their wake.
There's a week-long case that leaves Sherlock pacing the living room most nights.
John sleeps roughly, when he manages to sleep at all. Through-out that week he has two nightmares. Both times, Sherlock stays with him until he falls back to sleep, and then he's gone again. Both times John wakes up sometime later, finding his bedroom door open a crack and letting light in. More importantly, letting Sherlock's voice travel in from downstairs, or his violin, or even the quiet, pacing footsteps and the dull murmur of the television.
During the day, while they're working, Sherlock talks to him quietly. He pulls John aside to give him details, or ask for his opinion. He bites his own lip when John speaks, eyes unmoving on John's face. On one particularly cold day, when John can't stop shivering, Sherlock offers him his scarf. John takes it. Sherlock's gloved fingers slide over his palm.
John ignores the looks some of the Yarders toss them.
By the end of the week they're both exhausted. John falls asleep on the sofa and Sherlock half-carries him to his own bed.
“You're amazing,” John yawns. He's not sure if he's talking about Sherlock dragging him down the hallway and lowering him to his bed, or Sherlock in general. Either way, it gets a laugh out of him and that's good enough, John supposes. They sleep, pressed close together with their knees brushing underneath the blanket.
John catches Sherlock staring at him at dinner one evening.
Sherlock doesn't realize it. Then he does.
He starts, blushes a light pink, and goes back to picking at his food.
John swallows and looks away.
It happens again, for a few brief seconds at a crime scene later on in the week.
Then again the next day, at home Each time, Sherlock starts as if he's been shocked. If he was in the middle of talking, he clumsily backtracks and stumbles over his own words. It might be charming, John thinks, if he knew what the hell it meant.
For the first time in four years, John has a flashback.
They're at a golf course, in a large sand dune. The victim had been shot in the chest with a rifle and is wearing khaki trousers, combat boots and a white t-shirt. He has a chain around his neck and a bleach-blonde mohawk, and John has a flashback.
It's the sand, he thinks later. Or the blood in the sand. Or his state of exhaustion from rough nights struggling to sleep, or the boy's clothing, or a mixture of all of the above. John hears himself talking and he knows what he's saying is off, but he can't stop.
“I'm your captain!” he yells at one of the Yarders. “You do as you're ordered!”
Sherlock grabs him and pulls him away from the body. John struggles and kicks up sand. Then they're in the cool grass and Sherlock is holding him tight against his chest, speaking quietly and running his fingers through John's hair, down the back of his neck, over his shoulders.
“You're okay,” Sherlock whispers into his hair. “You're in London at a crime scene. We're at a golf course. You're fine.”
“Oh God,” John whimpers. “Oh. Jesus, I'm going to be sick.”
Sherlock sits him down on a nearby bench afterwards. A few minutes after that, they leave.
“You could stay, if you wanted,” John says.
“There's nothing more I can do until they send samples to the lab,” Sherlock says.
It's an obvious lie. John doesn’t know what to think. Sherlock has never left a crime scene because of him before. Perhaps he's already figured it out, John thinks. They can't possibly be leaving because of John – Sherlock wouldn't allow it. He'd leave John to sit there for hours if need be.
John presses his head against the cool window of the cab and closes his eyes.
The next time John catches Sherlock staring, he's kneeling down on the floor trying to fix the pipes under the sink. His voice is echoing in the small cupboard around him, and he can't reach the bucket to collect the water.
He pulls his head out of the sink, ready to scold Sherlock for not handing him his tools. Sherlock is staring rather intently at his backside.
Oh, John thinks. His stomach flutters and he feels himself blush.
That night Sherlock hesitates before entering John's room. It's the first time in months that he's shown any sign of uncertainty or reluctance. It takes John shifting over under the blankets and patting the mattress next to him before Sherlock gives and crawls in.
John is still panting from his nightmare. Sherlock swallows in the dark. A minute later, John feels Sherlock's hand come to rest on his stomach, unmoving. Then he slides his hand up to John's chest, resting over his heartbeat.
That's new, John thinks. He sighs and closes his eyes, and Sherlock presses closer. It's nearly ten minutes later before his fingers move into their usual routine of massaging the tension from John's muscles, and by then John is nearly asleep again.
John spends the next afternoon drinking tea and thinking that they should probably discuss the giant elephant in the room. Much easier said than done, he reckons. But if he has to spend another week being on the receiving end of Sherlock's staring, he might just snap.
Even worse than the nightmares are the bleary-eyed hallucinations when John's tired. If he's been running on fumes and delaying sleep, sometimes he'll blink and Sherlock's face will be bleeding. His hair will be matted and caked to his skin with blood. For a second John's heart will pound, his breathing will stop. When he blinks it goes away and the tingling sensation in his fingers and toes slowly dissipates.
John has seen people die – friends and strangers alike. When he was a little boy he saw a man jump in front of a train. In school, one of his friends had a fatal allergic reaction to medication. He has treated the sick and the dying. He has patched up soldiers who didn't make it because their wounds were too severe. He has watched his friends get shot in the head and the chest. He has seen men step on land mines.
In the war, the time for mourning was short or delayed. In school the loss was devastating, but the pain eventually melted away and John found he could think of his friend and smile again before too long. The incident with the man who jumped in front of the train was curious and confusing, and it took several years before John was able to grasp the concept of death.
Sometimes John wonders if he would have ever been able to get over Sherlock's death. With Sherlock he was losing far more than just a friend. John had lost his sense of adventure, his adrenaline fix, his motivation and his sense purpose and his usefulness. John had lost his entire life. It was only after Sherlock was gone that he realized how much Sherlock had done for him.
John had so many things he wanted to say that he left unsaid after Sherlock died. Now, he's been given a second chance, and he finds himself tongue-tied all over again. There is still so much that needs to be said.
“Moriarty,” Sherlock says by way of greeting.
“Sorry?” John asks. He rubs sleep from his eyes. His throat is raw. His vision is blurry. It's nearly four in the morning and Sherlock already has two cups of tea ready for them. John sits down next to him at the kitchen table. Sherlock hands him his mug.
“I still have nightmares about him,” he says.
“Oh,” John swallows a gulp of tea. His own mix. Green jasmine, with fresh lemon and Sherlock's agave nectar. The caffeine isn't a good idea. Then again he probably won't be going back to sleep.
“In Dartmoor,” Sherlock says. “When we were with Henry and Lestrade, and Bob Franklin. You remember? I took off Franklin's mask and instead I saw Moriarty. I had nightmares about it for months.”
John remains quiet. Sherlock keeps going.
“After he shot himself it was worse,” he says. “I'd scare myself awake. It's hard. Being in a strange place, waking up in a strange bed after a nightmare. It disorients you, throws you off. Nothing is right for the entire day.”
Sherlock fidgets with the handle on his cup of tea.
“Apparently I screamed in my sleep,” he says. “I was kicked out of a motel in America. Too many noise complaints.”
“How did you stop?” John asks. “The nightmares. How did you stop them?”
“They stopped when the last remaining member of Moriarty's network was killed,” Sherlock says.
John doesn't ask.
The room is quiet. Empty. The door is closed tightly. John wakes up screaming.
It's different, because this time he hears himself. Despite how many nightmares he's had in his life, John has never once managed to catch himself. He always wakes up just knowing he had scared himself awake because his voice was hoarse and his throat raw and deathly silence of the room rang out loud in his ears, as though the echo of whatever noise he had made was still hiding, somewhere.
This time he hears himself scream. Suddenly, he understands.
When Sherlock enters the room, John hugs him. Sherlock hugs back without question.
“Thank you,” John says.
(Sherlock wakes up suddenly with a start. His room is dark. There's a constant trickle of rain running down his window. He sighs and closes his eyes again.
There's a noise from upstairs. Sherlock blinks awake again. He strains to hear it. Gasping. Choked breathing. There's a shout, then a crash, then John's voice echoes down the vents:
“Sherlock! No, sto – don't! Sherlock!”
Sherlock is out of bed and down the hall. He grabs an umbrella on his way past the front door and all but runs up the stairs, taking them two at a time. He bursts into John's room, breath bated and finds... nothing.
John is flailing in his sheets, still asleep. Beside the bed his lamp lies broken. Sherlock sets the umbrella against the doorway and steps into the room, over to the bed. He avoids the shards of glass and watches John slowly calm down. Sherlock has no idea what to do.
John wakes and blinks up at him.
“Jesus,” John breathes. He presses the heels of his hands into his eyes and tries to control his breathing. He's visibly shaking. Another nightmare, then, Sherlock thinks.
“Would you like some water?” Sherlock asks. It seems like the right thing to do. John is always going on about how people should drink more water.
“No, I would not like some fucking water,” John snaps at him. “Why are you in here?”
“I heard a crash,” Sherlock says. He doesn't mention John screaming his name in his sleep. He also doesn't mention how he planned on fending off a potentially dangerous intruder with his brother's old umbrella.
John rubs at his face. Then he looks at the broken lamp on the floor.
“Just a dream,” he says.)
Two nights later, it happens.
John spends a good portion of the evening simply watching Sherlock.
Sherlock has a small glass of whiskey that he's barely touched. The ice rolls around at the bottom. The glow of the fire paints warm light on one side of his face and casts dark shadows on the other. He's lovely, John thinks.
It takes him nearly that long to figure out that Sherlock is watching him back. Not as intensely as usual – not a full-out stare. His pupils are dilated, his eyes are warm. His mouth is relaxed instead of in a hard, tense line. He's not reading John, or gathering information. He's simply watching him back.
John rises from his chair. Sherlock uncrosses his legs and sets his glass down on the table. They move together in unison, Sherlock reaching out for John and John pressing closer. John slides his knees between Sherlock's legs and the chair, while Sherlock's hand slides up his back and pulls him in gently. It's a little awkward and uncomfortable. Sherlock shifts under him to make more room and John holds onto his shoulders. He's not exactly sure what the plan is, or if there even is one. He's sitting in Sherlock's lap and brushing the tip of his nose along Sherlock's.
Then they're kissing, and that seems to be as a good a destination as any.
Every once in a while, John thinks about that night. It was both the best and the worst night of his life. Really, he thinks, he should have known.
Sherlock had been sitting in John's living room as though he owned it. It was a habit of his, that he seemed to stake claim on absolutely anything he laid eyes on or any room he walked into. John's living room was no exception. Sherlock was sitting in John's chair with one leg crossed over the other, face aglow in the light of his phone.
John had dropped whatever it was he was holding. He can't remember now. Might have been his take-away bag. Sherlock had glanced up at him, mouth tight in a frown. His hair was shorter, looped in large curls around his forehead. He was a bit thinner – about as thin as when they first met. Everything else, right down to the blue scarf and the purple shirt underneath, was the exact same.
“John,” Sherlock had said. The smile was obvious in his voice, but he held it in.
John had opened his mouth to speak but had promptly blacked out instead.
When he came to, Sherlock was leaning over him, dabbing his face with a cool cloth and murmuring his name. John blinked back into consciousness, then startled at finding Sherlock looming over him. Sherlock Holmes, back from the dead.
“You're all right,” Sherlock had said. “No concussion. You'll probably have a headache, though.”
“I only bought enough Chinese for one,” John had said. Sherlock had stared at him. Then laughed.
John then punched him in the face.
For nearly a month after that, John ignored Sherlock's existence completely.
I deserved that.
At least let me take you out for dinner.
Proper dinner. Not Chinese.
You're upset. I understand. I'll try again tomorrow.
Still upset then.
How's the head?
How long do you plan to keep this up for?
Your rooms are still available.
I even cleaned the flat.
So whenever you want to move back in it's ready for you.
Come on, John. Don't be tedious.
I am sorry, you know.
Will you talk to me today?
This flat is dreadfully quiet without you.
Please come home.
Small case. Kidnapping. Could really use your assistance.
I will get Lestrade to text you. Don't think I won't.
So you text him and not me? That's rude.
Please just let me tell you why I did it.
All right. I can see this isn't going to work.
I am sorry, John. I do hope you have a good life.
Regent's park tomorrow. 11am.
Bring coffee or I'm leaving.
It's not always perfect. It never was, and realistically, John knows it never will be. But what he and Sherlock have works for them both. They still fight over the shopping or the dishes, as well as each other's habits and quirks that they both know will never change. They eat far too much take-away and spend a fortune on cabs and narrowly escape death at least once every three months. John doesn't know how to be with a man and Sherlock doesn't know how to be with anyone, period, but they learn together. Soon enough, John can't imagine ever wanting anyone else but Sherlock touch him or kiss him or make love to him.
They share a bed every night, except when Sherlock is working. Sometimes John still has nightmares when he's alone. Sherlock helps him back to sleep before leaving again.
John is a mess. Sherlock can't fix him, but he tries. That's good enough, John thinks.