John is lying on a green camouflage-print blanket in the middle of a wide desert with his dark, dark, dark blue eyes closed. Sherlock is next to him on his back, staring up at an unmarked sky, expecting explosions the colour of thick blood and silver sweat to begin at any instant, but nothing is happening. All is quiet. Perhaps they aren't in Afghanistan after all. Perhaps the War is nowhere near them, or they're here at another time, though Sherlock is too cynical to suppose peace ever lasts for long in Afghanistan. If not one War, then Another. Perhaps they're somewhere else, in Egypt or in Kenya, but Sherlock has never seen a desert for himself in his life and so is going to have to find out from John. Hesitant of breaking the vast, enormous silence, Sherlock rolls on his side to see if his friend can provide him any sort of non-verbal clue as to where they have landed themselves.
But John doesn't look right.
John's blood has gone blue.
Sherlock tries to think what that means, where the phrase blueblood actually came from, because he's quite keen at etymology and maybe it would help John, whose skin is going grey from the tiny rivers of blood flowing beneath it. He's much keener at etymology than at formal medicine, anyhow. Blueblood...it meant originally blood uncontaminated by Moorish descent, but the sense has changed from fair-skinned to something different. Blue blood is so delicate as to be thin, he supposes. Thin, pure blood, anemic blood. But how is that medically relevant? He thinks it has something to do with oxygen, whether the blood has or hasn't any, but he can't recall which is best. Surely red would be better, wouldn't it, as that's the hue John's generally is?
John opens his eyes. Even the minuscule veins within the whites are a severe cobalt.
Sherlock, recalling exactly what just happened between them, is suddenly absolutely bloody terrified.
John is talking now.
"I'll leave you," he's saying. "Leave you flat. Alone. I'll do it too, I. I'll rip my own heart out and leave it here, but I'll do it."
"John," Sherlock whispers, "you've got the wrong blood."
In general, John is a wonderful listener, but he isn't listening now. He's just opening his pale, thin lips to continue as if Sherlock hadn't spoken, cold and distant and utterly calculated, a carefully balanced and heartless machine, really, an imitation of a real person, reminding Sherlock dreadfully of Sherlock Holmes. The blue within him makes him look dead. Maybe he is dead, though. That's entirely possible, as Sherlock has been carefully poisoning his blood all his life long and now it's crawling about inside the only entirely good man he'd ever met who could still manage to tolerate him. Maybe the blood--
"You've said I was wired wrong. I can do."
"I can." He's hideously proud of the fact.
"No. No, no, no, no. This isn't you speaking. It's not your words, not your blood, it's mine, this isn't you talking, you're never--"
Cruel, he meant to say. John is never cruel. Not even when he's killing things.
"I'll leave you, and it'll kill me, probably."
"Give it back, give it back!" Scrabbling closer, Sherlock grabs at John's shoulders, looking for an opening, any opening, somewhere to get the bad blood out. John is wearing a dark blue cotton shirt and a pair of old jeans and the detective paws wildly but efficiently at his sleeve until his arm is visible. A puncture mark is there, but already closed. Just a speck of dried blood and no entrance. Sealed-off. Useless.
"But you won't get to see any of it happen," John concludes.
It can't be possible, it certainly shouldn't be, but John is actually smirking Sherlock's smirk right in Sherlock's face. The sight is almost enough to make him gag. It's the worst expression on the least appropriate human being imaginable.
"I'll find you," Sherlock says, meaning only reassurance. "I can find you anywhere."
"Not necessarily," John drawls in a voice much deeper and more clipped, and yes, admittedly, why mince words on the subject, more public-school and ancient-money than his usual.
"Why are you me?" Sherlock begs him. "I never meant to, I swear to Christ I didn't. I'm not a vampire. Stop being cruel. You aren't cruel, I am, and generally by accident. Stop it. You can't leave me like this, speak to me like this. You can't go where I can't find you, it's impossible."
"Not if I call your brother."
"You won't call my brother."
"If you hide away again for a drugs binge, I will, watch me."
Sherlock runs his palm over the doctor's face and finds it deathly cold. Too cold to be dead and too cold to be lying under the white-hot sun in the middle of a bloody desert. When his fingers brush past John's lips, John tilts one side of his smile upward mockingly.
His chest moves. He's laughing.
"You'd never laugh at me, stop this, I need the blood back," Sherlock gasps frantically. "I only wanted a piece of me to go with you day in and day out, when you aren't actually anywhere nearby--oh, god, please stop laughing."
"Why should I? You're being an idiot. Would you stop laughing in my place?"
"I don't know."
"Well, you ought to know. If you can't teach me how to act, help me now I'm you to grow better at it, then who can? It feels marvelous, by the way. Being you. It's like being some kind of deity. I can see everything so much more clearly. It would be perfect, if not for the screaming. All that screaming underneath, it's terribly distracting, isn't it? You should have warned me in more explicit terms, you know, about the screaming. Before your blood went in my veins."
"I don't want you to hear that, ever. Say you can't hear it."
"It's your own fault that I can, isn't it?"
"I'm not a vampire," Sherlock recites raggedly, closing his eyes.
"Wouldn't you like to think so. I wonder, are there any villages nearby?"
"I was only puzzling over who else might want your blood. Everyone, more than likely. You're wonderful. You're absolutely incredible, of course they want some."
"But how else are they to hear the screaming?"
"Stop it. This isn't you, it's--"
Sherlock's eyes open again. John is grinning widely now. Grinning the madcap, moonshine, maniacal grin of the moderately high-functioning sociopath.
"Aren't we amazing?" John asks happily. "I think we're possibly the best and wisest men I've ever known. I'm going to make everyone on earth just exactly like us."
There is a knife in Sherlock's hand now. He didn't pick it up, has no idea how it got there, but it's heavy and curved and Arab-looking, and also--he knows without testing it--very, very sharp.
"I could kill you now, and you'll never get the chance," Sherlock whispers.
"You aren't going to kill me, Sherlock." John laughs delightedly. "You're never going to kill me."
"Because we can't be killed." John's voice goes almost tender, as his frigid, dead fingers drag their way down Sherlock's throat. "We're above all that, you know. Soon everyone in the world will hear the screaming, and we'll never be alone ever again."
The cut Sherlock makes in John's belly slices long and deep, as if he's gutting a fish, and the dark blood gushes out thick as oil on his hands, and he doesn't mean to kill John, never, but if he can only get his own blood out, then maybe everything will be all right again, and John is still laughing as the thick blue blood pulses with his heartbeats, spilling onto the blanket and beyond that, underneath, into the sand, and the whole world is turning blue now, just sluggish liquid seeping slow and rich into the pearly grains--
--but maybe without the bad blood he can get John back, it isn't hopeless, yes, the less blood the better in order to recover the real John, the one who falls asleep in cabs with his head on Sherlock's coat and who doesn't put any sugar in his coffee, and there are John's guts, he's up to his elbows in them now but they're so cold despite the bad blood seeping away into the dunes, it's the texture of eels in an icy river--
--and why is he still so cold but suddenly now so pink and pale and red and terrified, where did all that hurt in his eyes come from, why is John whimpering in fright before he opens his mouth wide to scream, what in the name of holy god has Sherlock done this--
When he snaps awake, his fists are full of sheets and he's panting into the dark as if he'd just run across miles of knee-deep dunes. There's blood on him, his own sapphire blood that won't turn red, blood everywhere, and that's disgusting, blood is crimson and belongs in crime scenes and morgues and test tubes where it's wonderful, but there is wrong-coloured blood all over this bloody t-shirt and this bloody bed and this--
"Sherlock, my god, what's--look, you're awake. Here, look, Sherlock. Look at me. It's all right."
The light next to the bedside flicks on.
There is the coverlet half kicked off, and that is normal. There are the crates and crates of case files and news clippings he isn't sure why he holds on to now that they're all archived online, and that's normal. There is his robe in a heap on the floor. Normal. There are the countless posters of everyone from Jack the Ripper to Jeffrey Dahmer, and that's perfectly normal, although not "normal" per se, he's aware of the fact. There is cold sweat all over him, trickling down the front of his t-shirt between his lean pectorals, and that isn't normal at all, but at least it isn't blood.
There is John. He's wide-eyed and by now entirely awake, his dark blond hair all mussed and his breathing slightly quickened, up on his knees, one hand on Sherlock's thigh and the other gripping the side of his dark head where the curls are scattered helter-skelter. He's alive, and he has a far more weathered face than anyone his age ought, and he looks absolutely beautiful, the way perfectly clean and warm wrinkled laundry all in a pile looks so beautiful it hurts sometimes.
"What on earth," John sighs, slowly pulling his hands away as he turns to glance at the clock. When he looks back, his brow is inquisitive.
Sherlock closes his eyes and swallows, hard. He shakes his head.
"Listen, come here, you needn't--"
Sherlock is now rubbing his fingers back and forth through his hair as fast as he possibly can, as if that will erase what's within the skull. It's worked in the past on occasion, when something is too recent to delete.
It isn't working now.
"Sherlock Holmes. Tearing your hair out won't help."
"How do you know?" he snaps viciously.
"Because punching the wall of my old flat didn't help either."
"Um. Well, sorry to say. No. It only bruised my hand."
"Nothing will help, then."
"Nothing? On the face of the earth?"
"You're...sure about that, are you?"
"You have a point. Nothing legal."
"I see. That's. Okay, fine. Well, if nothing save for illegal things will help, then you might as well waste your time calming down over here with me rather than over there frightening me half to death."
There's logic in that, in the fact that if it doesn't matter either way he might as well be agreeable, and Sherlock is grateful for logic just now. He drops his hands and gradually slides over where John clearly wants him, with his head tucked into his friend's neck. John smells much more John this way, with Sherlock's nose so near his ear and the edge of his collarbone. John smells like the colour orange, pumpkin orange, but never like oranges or like pumpkins. Sherlock realizes this would make little sense to anyone save him, but after all, no one save him will ever hear it. Opening his eyes a crack, he watches John's carotid pulsing a gentle beat.
He watches ravenously. Forcing his brain to do something other than replay John bleeding out blue slick in the middle of a desert, he translates the pulse into an imaginary heart monitor screen simply as an exercise in calm:
And it's red blood, after all. The right blood.
Only tainted the smallest bit by Sherlock's.
He shudders before he can stop himself. It was all meant to be so perfect. It was perfect, before he lost his mind and then lost his way and then spectacularly lost his temper and then possibly his soul, he can't be sure after all if he ever had one, very likely not, but anyhow he feels altogether soulless at the moment. He didn't this morning, but this morning he hadn't seen the dream.
"What happened?" John murmurs into the top of his head.
"Don't ask me," he breathes, reaching out and tracing a rib with his fingertips.
"Are you telling me that you can't tell me?"
"Sherlock." John sounds very grave. "The other night, when--"
John waits, then decides to soldier on. Sherlock can tell when he's doing just exactly that in his head: soldier on. It smells of canvas and metal dog tags.
"You never told me what you were thinking," he continues softly. "I only--it could have been anything, in that head of yours, you were already so drained after all, and just now, when you were dreaming, you said--"
"Just don't. Please, for me."
"But maybe you. Can't remember, or...I don't know. Don't want to."
Sherlock can remember every instant of what was going on in his head when John said he was going to leave him, go somewhere Sherlock could never find, even if under hypothetical future circumstances. Every instant of inner monologue right up to the very real words, "I could kill you now." Sherlock replays it for himself, checking. He deleted a great many things from that day, but not what he was thinking before he did something any fucking slack-jawed moron knows Isn't a Bit Fine and is in fact the Embodied Caricature of All Things Not Good in Relationships. He kept it for a very specific reason: lacking a predictable moral compass is highly uncomfortable depending upon circumstances, granted, and feeling wicked is mildly irritating for howsoever long it lasts before he can quash it. But that's all bearable because it's de rigueur by now.
Feeling stupid, on the other hand, is like being tortured. And he feels stupid. And he could have Ruined Everything.
The point isn't that he thinks about pretty ways to die, it's that he doesn't kill himself. The point isn't that he wants to take every one of Jim Moriarty's senses away from him before he murders the bastard, but that he doesn't mention it. The point isn't that he'd like very much to know what John's exposed heart looks like, aortas and ventricles and hot thumping fleshy muscle. It's that he generally isn't stupid enough to say such a thing out loud.
The thought process took about 2.5 seconds, give or take a tenth, and went exactly in this manner:
John is walking down a road and there are yellow cornfields and I've never set foot there it's entirely new and he's alone tell him John is underwater in a pool but he's broke the surface and is smiling at his wife who has auburn hair just the same as their two children in the distance age eight and age ten and they all three think he's a tiny king you have to tell him John is playing footie in September in Manchester with mates I've never seen before I don't know their names there are dry leaves on the ground I don't know any of their names not a single one make him stop this John is flying on a plane and looking down at white clouds which look solid below and then he turns back and touches the hand grasping his arm and it's attached to a remarkably fit dark-eyed businessman who loves him as best as he's capable but has affairs with vacuous club boys when he's out of town away from John who doesn't know a thing about it say something John is in a field hospital in Brazil making other people well, strangers, people I've never seen, none of them, he's touching them and I'll never know them at all and I can't learn what he's done or who he's saved or how it hurt him SAY SOMETHING John is kissing a tanned rugger in Brighton who writes shyte poetry John smiles at only because he's John and John would smile at a sack of coal if you'd lugged it far enough for him after all he's an idiot and the air smells of salt and weeds and the scent seeps into John's hair and changes it SAY ANYTHING, STOP THIS John is dying of advanced liver cancer in Newcastle at age fifty hooked up to a thousand tubes and no one is there to crawl into his cot with him with a matched pair of quietly deadly white pills and--
And that was when he had opened his mouth, more's the pity.
"I remember." Sherlock's voice is nothing like it should be, he notes, all gravelly and confined.
Then he goes quiet again. John thinks for a moment, moving the hand snaking underneath his friend's torso, freeing its range of motion a bit. He brushes the fingertips lightly up and down the damp patch along Sherlock's spine.
"Where were you, then, just now? You weren't in London."
"Deserts," Sherlock murmurs. "I was dreaming of deserts. I dreamt of deserts and you were there and everything was my fault."
"The War was your fault?"
"Much worse things were my fault."
"I don't suppose I can think of any worse things."
Sherlock looks up, wondering if he's gone somehow astray. Maybe there shouldn't be worse things than the War, at least not out loud. That might be offensive. John doesn't sound angry, however, nor mocking, nor impatient. His eyebrows are creasing and he pulls Sherlock a bit closer, ghosts a thumb over the seam between his lips.
"I know you can, though," John concludes with something like pained admiration. "You've a rare talent for the supremely fucked, you realize. You're like the Stephen Hawking of Fuckery. You ought to have a university chair."
It's tempting to smile back at him and Sherlock as a rule quite likes John's bizarre not-compliments. This is a particularly good one. This one will make the archives, and deserves a thankful expression. But it would look like the Normal People Smile, and John can tell the difference. He bites gently at the thumb instead and settles back down.
"Why should a vampire dream of deserts?" Sherlock wonders as he tries to grapple with the notion of falling asleep again.
"You're not a vampire." John sounds more than concerned now. He sounds alarmed. His arms tighten their grip almost imperceptibly. Almost. But not to Sherlock.
"Irrelevant. The point is, I've never been to one. A desert. Why should my subconscious have done?"
"Maybe my blood is playing with your REM cycles."
It's a joke, that's obvious, but in Sherlock's current state of half-awake non-logical thought, it's also highly plausible. John yawns and reaches up to switch the light off.
"Any new dreamscapes that are actually yours I need worry about?"
Sherlock winces, but at least John can't see him any longer. His night vision is excellent, almost as good as Sherlock's, but it takes at least three minutes to engage fully. It takes Sherlock one minute twenty-six seconds.
"I don't think so. I've deleted those a long time ago."
"Grand. We'll both forever and always dream of deserts, then," John says dryly, "until one of us wakes up."
Sherlock, as a master of forgetting about things, decides to forget about it.
It isn't doing either of them any good, he tells himself. Living in a state of perpetual guilt would be a ridiculous waste of a brilliant life and a soaring career, and anyway he's marvelous enough in most ways that--provided he never does something so stupid, stupid, childishly, laughably, tragically stupid again, they'll be fine. It's lovely that Sherlock has John's blood, it's in him in the shower and in the middle of thoroughfares and when he's telling himself not to bury Anderson somewhere no one will ever find the git. And the lovelier Sherlock can manage to be, in theory, the better his blood will be for John, even if it possibly contained trace amounts of oxy, anti-psych meds, and acid. That was an accident. John's timing is usually perfect, and in a purely selfish short-term sense it was in this case too. In a purely selfish long-term sense, however, Sherlock could do without feeling he's contaminated someone divine, thank you very much.
So he promptly stops. John deserves better. John deserves the best of everything, and he is damn well going to get it. Sherlock, therefore, sets about the task of being amazing. He's very good at it. And it's wonderfully distracting, incidentally.
It works like a minor miracle, this deciding that for John's sake he's going to be a minor miracle again, and within the month, for no reason whatsoever Sherlock can fathom, John lets him taste his eyeballs. As it happens, they taste less salty than the rest of him, and less like tea from Mumbai, sweeter than that, more like--oddly enough--his saliva. John Watson's eyeballs taste like a delicacy invented for Sherlock Holmes.
"No," John says, laughing.
"First off: complete and utter lack of motivation. Try not to be offended."
John isn't wearing a stitch of clothing and neither is Sherlock, who is lying on his stomach with his ankles crossed like an adolescent girl, watching John laugh at him. Literally no one else laughs at him, and it requires acclimatization. Sitting cross-legged on his quilt with sheets draped over his wiry legs, John is giving him plenty of practice. It's probably getting dark outside, and people in London are probably doing all the mad, ordinary, peculiar, boring things they do, and some of it is probably illegal, and Sherlock will probably have to unravel their tangled-up webs for them come morning. Life is beautiful. He doesn't know quite why, but that doesn't mean he can't appreciate it.
"We've had sex already, it was rather brilliant, it's Saturday, you're not hungry, I've nothing on, you're not busy," Sherlock says with the hint of future pouting.
John just laughs again, running his fingers over his eyebrows.
"See, that's not logic. Not a logical argument. Your premise is fallacious. By that logic, every time I've nothing on, I'd be licking your eyes. When in fact I'd prefer...ha. Almost anything else."
"I'll take your word for it, thanks."
"Next you'll tell me you want to get dressed and have a coffee and see a show on the West End."
"Yep, well the day I say that, you can officially declare my self-preservation instincts deceased."
"So you want to do something else, something that isn't boring?"
"You promise it isn't boring?"
"Fine. Your first kiss. Off you go."
Sherlock picks at a thread in the quilt pattern and thinks it over. Provided it's reciprocal, since his every waking leisure moment is now and forever dedicated to memorizing John Watson, it won't be a complete waste of time. And John usually covers up so quickly, but it's warm in his room and he's letting Sherlock stare at the scar for as long as he likes, and Sherlock knows enough about John to comprehend by means of inductive reasoning that his continued nudity is both deliberate and generous.
"Victor, in the chapel of all places. I was sixteen. We were at boarding school together. I made friends with his dog because I wanted him to notice me."
John nods, amused. "He noticed you before that, I guarantee it. But your scheme was sound. And how did that experiment go? The kissing?"
"Perfectly. He didn't run." Sherlock smirks wolfishly.
"It is. You?"
"Jane Whitcomb, both aged thirteen, in her basement, experiment went pretty much identically to yours with the lack of running. In fact, I think in retrospect she lured me down there. We'd no notion of what we were doing, kept confusing snogging with mashing faces together. Dreadful. You'd have been appalled. First time having sex?"
"Victor," Sherlock reports, worrying at the thread. "Two weeks later, his room. Though I'm not sure what sense you mean. Doesn't matter, anyhow. Proper shag also Victor, six months after that, my room after I'd rigged my lock properly."
"Oh." John is surprised. Then he realizes he shouldn't be. "And you were--"
"Please. I was always me except with Charles. I'd wanted to feel normal, and I didn't think he'd like me any other way. A fortnight of feeling normal was enough of a lark. Anyway, everyone already knew me at school, didn't they?"
"Then what went wrong with Victor?"
"Nothing," Sherlock reflects. "He was...he was very nice. It was a successful experiment with repeated positive outcomes. I fancied him, he put up with me, we figured out the sex part soon enough, as he's bright and I'm very bright indeed. He ended up reading theology at Oxford, I think. Odd. I haven't thought about Victor Trevor in years. He smells of expensive dish soap. I liked that. He could read Anglo-Saxon. I liked that too."
"He broke it off when he went to uni?"
"Neither of us broke it off."
"Well, I happen to know you aren't still seeing each other."
"Trevor senior broke it off. Not everyone thinks it's all fine, you know."
John's mouth twists down. Then he nods, suddenly grave. Sherlock starts deducing automatically as John's brows darken further in thought. Fellow soldier--dalliance discovered--private altercation--hazing?--not hazing, superior officer--minor incident--never reported--conflict not physical--some bigoted backwater bloke picking a fight John wouldn't give him.
Sherlock smirks at nothing as John's eyes refocus.
"I'm sorry," John says. "That shouldn't have happened to you."
"Of course it should, don't be ridiculous."
"But. That's. Sherlock, that's a terrible situation to have found yourself in, and as for Victor--"
"Oh, forget about Victor. I certainly had. He's fine. I suppose he's fine, anyway, and I'm glad it happened."
John just blinks, wearing a frustrated smile which demands further explanation.
"If I'd stayed with Victor, I'd probably not have left him, and then I'd not have needed to go halves on the rent with anyone new, already having a guaranteed financial partner with sexual benefits built into the package not to mention knowing each other's foibles intimately, stability and comfort and all that nonsense, which means I'd not have whinged to Stamford about needing a suitable flatmate, and then he'd never have thought about it when you complained of London prices being too dear. So. I'm delighted Trevor senior is a bigoted old cow."
"Sherlock," John attempts, "you can't just. Writing people off that way really isn't on."
"I don't see why."
This is starting to go badly, Sherlock realizes. But the one thing he cannot do is start lying in the middle. It's difficult enough to track where he's gone astray with the truth than to switch directions and overcompensate. John had once told Sherlock that it was a Bit Not Good of Sherlock to mention that at least Moriarty had killed the Old Woman in a fit of panic rather than the Young Boy, it being far less wasteful, and shifting tacks in the middle to admit that the Old Woman probably knew a great deal more and was thus intellectually more valuable to society by virtue of accrued wisdom than the Young Boy had...not solved anything. Had not helped in any way, as a matter of fact.
"You don't see why you could spare him a bit of sympathy?"
"Correct. It isn't a commodity I have in excess."
"That's an understatement."
"Just a moment, whose side are you on?"
"Victor's, I'm beginning to think. We have common interests. Poor bastard probably loved you."
"'Probably' doesn't enter into it, as he claimed he did and I can tell when he's lying. Who cares?"
"He does, even if he's the only one, you complete--" John bites his lip, stopping himself continuing.
Sherlock frowns, achingly frustrated with English. English is workable these days, certainly not dead, but it's like paddling a canoe with a soup spoon at times. It's not on to praise one's exes, that he knows, because he'd once told John that Sebastien has a brain for numbers and complex finance like a perfectly tuned Stradivarius and John was quiet for over two hours because he realized Sherlock had first admired Seb's brain, and John's brain is very bright but also quite ordinary and neither of them bother to pretend otherwise. It's not on to ignore them either, or they wouldn't be having this conversation. It's not on to pretend they were all ghastly, John knows that Sherlock's sex drive outside of the Object of Admiration is both practically nil and theoretically nonexistent, and also that Sherlock is exquisitely particular.
What is on, exactly?
"How did you feel when it happened?" John questions doggedly. "Not now. Not re-contextualized. How did you feel then?"
Sherlock thinks it over.
"I was annoyed."
John rubs his hands up and down his face. It looks like despair, but thankfully Sherlock knows it isn't.
"Annoyed," he repeats.
"I was spectacularly annoyed?" Sherlock cheerily offers instead, liking the sound of it.
"But now you've found someone else, you're keen on daft old bastards who cruelly thwart their sons' love lives. Glad to have encountered them."
"I'm glad you got shot, too, come to that."
"I am," he insists, aware that it's dangerous and also aware that John is still fundamentally not-getting-it and drastic measures must be taken.
But John looks furious now, so the drastic measures clearly require immediate re-drafting.
"That sort of pain and suffering are just a means to an end that you've found suits you, is that it?" he demands. "Christ, Sherlock. Is this some sort of principle? Any sort of pain and suffering is fine so long as it leads to your being better off in the long run?"
"Stop playing stupid."
"Stop acting a heartless prick, then."
"I can easily manufacture sentiment, but I frankly won't be arsed to do so simply for your amusement," Sherlock snaps. "It's useless. If meeting you means losing Victor, goodbye Victor, the prat didn't shrug off the Trevor family fortune for me, did he? Did he? If my brother offered you twenty thousand quid and a future career as a court justice, would you leave me over it? I simply cannot imagine why you want me to make a spectacle over him, as you are generally quite unnerved when I cry on command, don't think I can't see you squinting at me when I do. Is that what you want? Tears?"
"No, I never said--"
"As to your being shot, you're alive. And different now than you were before, of course you are, and yes I'm glad of it, I can't stand to think of you any other way than the way you are, the way you decided to be, picturing you unmarked and ordinary, boring, having chosen a desk job at a sodding insurance company rather than walking open-eyed into a War, thinking about that is awful. Because you're not normal. You can't be predicted. You can only be guessed at. It's beautiful, I swear to god you're being deliberately ignorant, and your leg hurts less and less these days anyhow, and that scar is the most fucking fantastic piece of permanent physical evidence that I've ever seen, it's art, it's a Rembrandt, it's bloody Chopin written in fibrous tissue and inelastic collagen, is what that scar is, you're a fool not to see it but I shouldn't be surprised, and anyway I'd likely be dead if you hadn't ever learned to shoot a man with a handgun through a window at twenty meters."
John's lips fall open. It's extremely gratifying.
"So, fine," Sherlock shrugs. "Act like an idiot. Wish I was dead. See if I care. Go on. You don't regret enlisting, you're glad of it, glad you were brave-and-useful, Queen-and-country and every quaint notion you've ever confessed to, you probably still send the New Yorkers you fought with notes at Christmas, so it's ridiculous to regret being shot. Hypocritical, even. And worse than useless to mind that I'm glad of the fact. I'm over here. Not hurting you a bit. Just being glad of things. Glad and harmless. See? I'm not even touching you. I'm...twenty-six inches distant. If you don't want to be glad of anything, or watch me being glad, then go away."
Sometimes it seems to Sherlock as if enough English will inevitably get his point across. It's a question of volume. But that was a marathon even for him. He stops, studying its effects. John is...John is still over there, being John. He's staggered. Mostly blinking, every so often a twitch of one thin lip. His square face is flushing a fair amount, tending towards rose tones, and Sherlock is determinedly watching and glad of it. John's tongue will appear at literally any moment. Ah, there it is. Brilliant.
"Sherlock, what are you doing?"
"Filing away exactly what you look like when stunned. And glad of the opportunity, still glad, John, and keen to keep at it, the glad, stop trying to spoil everything. It's annoying."
John shuts his mouth with a small click. Sherlock waits. He doesn't have to wait long before John crawls down the bed and lies on his stomach facing him, both propped up on elbows and Sherlock somehow still taller. Well, not somehow. His upper arms are exactly--
"Is this you being optimistic?" John asks very close to Sherlock's lips.
That's more like it, the detective muses. John's breath still smells faintly of the way Sherlock's skin tastes, and that is fantastic. That is goodness of December the 25th proportions. Sherlock tilts his head, bringing their lips still closer and surreptitiously sniffing. He's seen cats purr when they smell open food tins. He doesn't ever have to wonder what that feels like.
"Possibly. I haven't considered."
"You being optimistic is--"
"I won't stop being glad, you can't make me."
"Bloody hell, you've gone full Pollyanna on me. If Pollyanna was a mentally deranged, gore-obsessed three-year-old."
Sherlock grins before he can stop himself. But that's all right. Grinning and glad go together quite well, as he understands the principle. And he likes that his hair is beginning to brush against John's forehead. It's like touching him without the sensation of being touched.
"Sherlock, your moral relativism is highly dangerous and dubiously logical."
"I know," he whispers. "That's what you're here for."
"Am I?" John smiles. "What else am I here for?"
"Primarily for kissing."
"I thought I was for splitting the rent. And making points for you in front of Lestrade."
"No, you're for kissing."
"Not for buying milk?"
"I distinctly recall--"
There's a surge forward, just the smallest of brief magnetic tugs from either one of them, Sherlock honestly can't be sure which, and then soft wide lips are dragging over soft thin lips, and the glad disappears. It's frightening, how bottomless this is, Sherlock acknowledges when John's tongue meets his with a muffled wordless sound meaning yes from one or the other of them, because Sherlock knows himself to be brakeless when he isn't ruthlessly focused, and John isn't cautious where his Sherlock addiction is concerned. He doesn't seem to find high levels of Sherlock Holmes in any way toxic to the system. He's careful with Sherlock, and takes care of Sherlock, and cares for Sherlock, and cares for himself quite carefully as well, but he doesn't take care how much Sherlock he's inhaling at any given moment. The current moment being a fine example, because Sherlock just rolled John decisively onto his back and is kissing him as if kissing and fucking are identical. Which they are, he owns, aesthetically at any rate, if only to him.
John isn't ever going to tell him enough, so Sherlock stops, just to look down and see John, ordinary and preternatural John, not-stopping-him.
"Why is being happy with me different from being happy with Victor Trevor?" John questions at last, breathless and bemused and possibly--finally--a bit flattered.
"I'm not happy with you."
No, not precisely, Sherlock thinks. It's that so many things used to not matter, and now all of them do, and I can't make the mattering stop. Any sort of death used to be a nice thing to think about, for instance. And now you matter, so you'd have to be there too.
"Happiness is irrelevant," he concludes. "You are the sole requirement. It's not the same."
It's also not nearly so comfortable, or safe, or pleasant. But luckily I don't much like comfort or safety or pleasantries.
"Well, then," John says as he pushes his face up towards Sherlock's lips for more, "here's to sharp-eyed terrorists and homophobic patriarchs."
Over an hour later, still in the bed, John looks thoughtful again. John's head is in Sherlock's lap and his knees are pulled up towards his chest, just resting in silence with his cheek against Sherlock's thigh. They do this sometimes when Sherlock's brain is quiet enough, marathon lie-ins to make up for the usual mania. Sometimes sex doesn't even enter into it, though it has twice this time, and if Sherlock wanted to he could sink his fingers into where he's loved John and stay like that until the room goes dark. John lets him. But why does he look so thoughtful? He's very often thoughtful, he's wonderfully thoughtful even if he isn't a genius, and Sherlock can sometimes follow what he's thinking. Not now, though, which is another thing about John that is riveting. So Sherlock settles for considering the fact that the length between John's nose and his very thin, fully horizontally oriented, perfectly curving upper lip (what is that type of ornamented punctuational brackets called? the one like his lips? gullwings?) is identical to the length between the first knuckle of Sherlock's ring finger and the tip. That doesn't mean anything in particular but is very satisfying nonetheless.
"What?" Sherlock asks.
"Nothing. It would be awful, though, I s'pose. It would be horrible."
"I was just wondering what it would be like to love you if you didn't care one way or the other about it."
"John, don't be disgusting," Sherlock requests, shivering as if he's just been told the most harrowing ghost story known to man.
Things fall apart the following week.
It's to do with a case this time, which surprises Sherlock. John is confusing and being in a relationship with him still more so, but Sherlock is very good with cases, understands them like he understands nothing else. They track the ringleader of a narcotics operation to a nasty little flat in Norwood, where his plan is to set his own house afire and be found dead, all to start a new life for himself under the assumed name of Jack Cornelius, to whom he has been wiring staggering amounts of money. This would all be merely an amusing little crime if not for the fact that Oldacre--his actual name is Jack Oldacre--has procured some human remains in order to make his disappearing act effective. They're smelling up the kitchen at present.
Now his wrist has been broken in the scuffle and Sherlock has tied him to a chair, and any minute Lestrade will arrive, he's been texted, but in the meanwhile Sherlock would very much like to know where Oldacre came by a half-decomposed middle-aged male corpse. It's interesting. John is in the other room, rifling through the papers which could tie Oldacre to Cornelius.
"Did you exhume it from a graveyard somehow?" Sherlock wants to know. "It's been subjected to mortuary chemicals."
"Not going to tell you, am I?"
Oldacre has a face like a mean little pug, and something about him makes Sherlock's skin crawl. He's stupid and selfish and cringing and gloating all at once, and the aesthetics of that are appalling.
"Did you pay someone else to get it for you?"
Dear Jim, Sherlock thinks, please fix it so I can vanish with my money. A shivery feeling runs down his spine. He's right about this, he can feel it in his bones. He knows the mark of the artist, the brushstrokes, the same way he would know a piece by Bach for a piece by Bach even if he'd never heard it before, though he's heard Bach's entire canon at one time or another. Dear Jim, I need a corpse, it doesn't have to be fresh and I'll pay anything you like.
A flicker crosses Oldacre's face.
"Tell me," Sherlock whispers.
"Why in hell should I?"
"Because I'll hurt you if you don't."
"You wouldn't dare," he sneers, but his eyes are frightened.
Without really thinking about it, Sherlock reaches for his broken wrist and he bends it backwards. It isn't about the pain, pain is actually rather boring. But he wants an answer and he doesn't like this man who mocks him at the same moment he flinches away, he's a terrible little man, and Jim Moriarty needs to be murdered, that has to happen one of these days, and so Sherlock wrenches the broken wrist as hard as he can. Jack Oldacre screams.
"You paid someone to bring it here, didn't you?"
Oldacre, panting, eyes tearing with hurt and fright, says nothing.
So Sherlock does it again.
Oldacre shrieks once more, and this is getting inelegant and tedious. Then John appears in the doorway.
"Sherlock, what the fuck is going on?"
"Unfortunate circumstances," Sherlock sighs.
John has papers in his hands, and his eyes are oddly bright. He's fast paling, and that's wrong. He shouldn't be, they're both perfectly safe. Suddenly looking absolutely defeated, he drops the papers to the floor.
"What's the matter?" Sherlock asks, startled.
John shakes his head violently, jerkily. "Did you just ask an Afghan War veteran what the matter is when you're busily torturing a suspect?"
And when put like that, it's much more easily understood. A door opens somewhere behind John, and that'll be the Yard, and so John goes off to greet them. The next ten or so minutes are a blur because Lestrade examines the long-dead corpse, and Sherlock speaks with him, and Lestrade hauls Oldacre off to a waiting police car, and before Sherlock quite knows what has happened, John has disappeared. He's nowhere in the flat, nor in the street.
Sherlock pulls out his mobile.
You're angry. Are you
angry? It was about M,
I needed to know about
Walking down the street with his coat open and his scarf hanging loose, the ends of both flapping behind him, Sherlock stares down at the phone in his hand. It's agonizingly silent. Sherlock crosses a road without looking and narrowly misses being run over flat by a Mercedes.
M covered you in semtex
and I will do anything to
get to him. Any. Thing.
But not that thing again if
it makes you angry. Where
Nothing. Sherlock slides the phone into his pocket and then pulls it out again. People are staring at him because he's a very tall man walking very quickly, but none of the people staring are John, they're ordinary Norwood people with shopping bags and dogs on leashes and coffees in their hands. A cab back to Baker Street. Sherlock needs a cab. Sherlock needs to know what John looks like right now, whether the colour has come back into his face, whether he's limping again. He feels underwater in a straightjacket.
What if John isn't at Baker Street when he gets there? What if John is at his sister's? What if John was bashed on the head and wrapped in semtex again? What if John was crossing the street and was angry and didn't see a car coming and was run down by a Mercedes himself? These things happen. What if John never comes--
"Fuck," Sherlock hisses, tapping furiously at the phone again.
You can be alive and
in a strop at me so long
as you're alive and don't
After a cab ride memorable only for the fact it was so horrifying that Sherlock was forced to recite the entire lyrical contents of the White Album to himself in order to stop his brain from rattling out of his head, he pulls out his keys and goes up his seventeen steps two at a time. When he sees the sitting room with its familiar clutter and the table where he reads the newspaper while John eats toast for breakfast and John isn't there, his heart clenches painfully.
Footsteps, though. There are John footsteps on the stairs.
Sherlock races out of the room and meets him halfway, ludicrously taller because he's on the step above. When he pulls John into him, John's head only reaches the level of his stomach.
"That was just about the worst thing you could do to me," Sherlock announces, clutching him hard round the shoulders.
"Well. Likewise." John's voice is muffled and very tired.
"I didn't mean to."
"Didn't mean to wrench a chap's broken wrist twice?"
"No, make you angry. I didn't mean to make you angry."
"You do grasp why I'm livid at you?"
"And why this is a severe problem?"
"Yes. But it didn't occur to me."
John cranes his neck up, looking weary and miserable. Sherlock can't stand that expression, it looks the way John looked just before Sherlock had said, "You're a doctor," and invited him to the pink lady's crime scene. It looks like John before Sherlock and that's awful.
"So what are we going to do about it?" he asks.
The only answer that occurs to Sherlock seems like an admirable one, perfectly suited to the talents of The Good Man and The High-Functioning Sociopath.
"We're going to make me higher functioning," Sherlock concludes. "We'll begin in an hour or two. You're hungry."
They decide to start with the Seven Deadly Sins, because John is good but not religious and Sherlock respects the classics as a general principle. They look them up on Wikipedia and then write them out on a piece of paper. Unbuttoning his cuffs as he does when he's working on a problem, Sherlock rolls up pale blue sleeves.
"Well, two of these are going to have to be chucked out from the start," Sherlock muses.
There's take-away curry on the table and John tears off a little piece of naan, chewing pensively. "Bit not good."
"But it's perfectly clear they aren't workable."
"I'm not going to stop lusting after you, for one."
John in a jumper three sizes too big for him, looking edible. John with a gash on his mouth from a fistfight and I kissed it, kissed it until my lips were red. John reading at the end of the bed like a lovely little cat. John fingering the dog tags he keeps in his dresser drawer. John taking a bath after I've already used the water. John's cock in my mouth, deep down in my mouth, so far I can't breathe properly. John's fist in my hair in the hallway.
John's laptop is sitting next to the biryani, and he scrolls down the Wikipedia entry with an amused expression. "Lust...excessive love of others, love of man before God. Do you love me more than God?"
"If God exists, yes."
"I think that's blasphemy, which isn't a deadly sin and should be, but somehow I don't seem to mind. Which other?"
"Pride. It's logical to be proud of oneself if one has valuable attributes. I don't see the point of false modesty."
"You don't see the point of any modesty."
"That's because I'm so brilliant."
John laughs, explodes really, covering his mouth and nearly choking on a milky sip of chai from a paper cup. Then he looks apologetic, shaking his head. "Only you. Only you would find the sin of hubris essential for everyday life. Right, we're clearly not going to extract the pride from you, that would be like extracting your entire skeletal system. But the rest of these--"
"Come to think of it, depending on the circumstances, wrath is also out."
John puts his head in his hands, mock despair clouding his face. "Sherlock, that's three of seven you're chucking. That's a horrible percentage."
"If I saw Jim Moriarty, I would do terrible things to him, and then he would eventually be dead, and I'd have killed him," Sherlock says clearly. "I wish I had the power to bring people back from the dead, so I could kill him more. When I think about that green coat with the fur, I want to kill him by choking him to death with my hands, but when I think about public pools, I want to stab him in the heart and twist it, and when I think about snipers, I want to give him arsenic and watch him writhe. You don't have to like that, but it's true, and it's seemingly wrath. Wrath in the cause of good."
John reaches out and takes Sherlock's hand, brushing his lips over it before getting up to put the leftovers in the fridge with the dead bat and the three fresh pairs of human ears. "That sort of wrath I can only encourage. I'd like to kill him myself, the twisted fuck."
John goes to the fridge with the containers.
"No, thank you."
"Six of them, Sherlock."
"There's another problem."
"Yes, that's precisely what I'm saying. There is a problem. Ears."
"No, there's a problem with gluttony."
John comes back, looking amused and exasperated. He grips Sherlock by the shoulders, reading the computer screen over the top of his curls. Sherlock's head nuzzles back into his collarbone automatically.
"There is no problem with gluttony."
"Yes, there is. I want to know everything that could be important to crimesolving, and I think it feels like gluttony."
"That's just obsession."
"Fine. I also want to see what you are under your skin and I want to memorize your genetic code and I want to wear you like a coat and I want to live inside your chest."
"That's a bit gluttonous," John owns breathlessly. His mouth descends into Sherlock's hair and his hands start moving, just lightly stroking his shoulders. "You're going to actually find a way to veto every one of these, aren't you? That is amazing. Just. Completely amazing, your morals are amazing. This project is not going well. The Making You Higher Functioning Project. How are you going to veto sloth?"
Last Wednesday, when we didn't get out of bed all the day long, I made you come with only my fingers inside you while we were face to face and kissing, just taking you slowly apart with my hand while your breath was in my mouth, and it was the best Wednesday of all the many Wednesdays, and that part alone took well over an hour, and when you finished my lips were on yours and I've never done anything so wonderful in all my life.
"Last Wednesday," says Sherlock. "It was good."
"Jesus Christ, last Wednesday. I get aroused just thinking about last Wednesday."
"You should think about last Wednesday more often, then."
"Sloth is out. Right. Next?"
John's hands are roaming down Sherlock's chest now, flicking buttons open with dexterous doctor hands, with his entire face buried in the detective's hair. Sherlock decides to make short work of the remaining items.
"Greed makes no sense for us," he says on a hitched breath. "Greed and love are the same, I think. I want every last bit of you, and sometimes when other people shake your hand, I want to hurt them."
"So not good. So very, very not good."
It's getting much more difficult to concentrate now, as John's hand slides into the parted shirt and traces lazy circles on Sherlock's chest. And it isn't as if John is the only one in the room who likes to think about Last Wednesday. Last Wednesday should be celebrated with a yearly anniversary and a parade and floats and possibly colourful balloons.
"I wouldn't hurt them, I promise. I know better than that."
"We're left with envy. If you can make that workable, I'll be so gobsmacked that I will creatively reward you."
"Envy is easy," gasps Sherlock when his friend's nail scrapes over his nipple. "I was playing my violin and you saw me and you said it was mad to be jealous of a violin and you looked so sad and it was envy, I think, but it can't have been wrong because you're good. You're always good."
"And we have a winner," John announces just before pulling Sherlock's head back by the hair and kissing him hard on the mouth. Sherlock rides the wave of feeling kissing always gives him and then closes his hand over the arm still snaking down his chest, pulling John out from behind the chair and straight into his lap. John on Sherlock's lap is very good indeed, as they're nearly the same height that way, and John shoves his shirt open and pushes it down his arms. "I'm still angry, you know," John says, biting Sherlock's fleshy lower lip. "Torture is not on, Sherlock Holmes. Whether it's to do with Moriarty or not, whether you're the William Shakespeare of Atrociously Skewed Morals or not."
"I thought I was the Stephen Hawking of Fuckery."
"You've earned a new title." John is undoing his belt now, his hands on the leather and his mouth on Sherlock's collarbone, and Sherlock wraps his long fingers gently around John's neck.
"We can make me higher functioning. We can try something else. I don't want to hurt you."
"I know we can make you higher functioning. I have another plan. One that falls more in line with your natural interests, and will help me understand your brain."
It's good that John has a plan, very good indeed, but Sherlock loses the thread of the conversation when John's hand slips under the band of his pants. As tempted as he was just now to move them to the bedroom or at least over to the sofa, it's very difficult to think clearly when John is tossing you off with his legs straddling your thighs, dragging his fingers repeatedly through your hair. As a matter of fact, it's twenty minutes later when Sherlock recalls that John had a proposal. John, who is naked now, and still in his lap, because some things are too nice to stop doing.
"How am I learning how to be good without the concept of absolute sins?"
"Case by case basis," John answers matter-of-factly.
"What sort of cases? Mine?"
"In one sense, very much yours. We're going to have a look at those lists."
Sherlock freezes. Alarm bells are clanging loud and sharp in his brain. They are very strident, painfully strident.
"Come off it," John says. "It can't be that bad."
Nothing sensible can be said in response to this, Sherlock concludes with a shudder.
"Hey, listen, if you say no, then I won't force you. Won't insist that you trust me, though I'd like you to. But this is...it's dead serious, Sherlock. I can love you every day just as I have done, I hope for the rest of our lives, but forgetting that torture is expedient in your head is just...it's impossible. I can forgive you that, forgive you what happened after you got lost, but forgetting about it is another matter. I'm sorry, but I can't delete things from my brain. I don't need you to be sinless, starting with the seven deadly sins was obviously a wash, but I need you to try to do better. I can't even think about Norwood without--"
"You ought to have run," Sherlock says brokenly. Meaning months ago, when he was on his sofa thinking about champagne stains on the ceiling and all the terrible things that could happen to John if John let Sherlock love him.
"You ought to have run," John says. Meaning months ago, when he was wreathed in explosives and didn't care so long as Sherlock survived it.
"We're neither of us good at running, I suppose."
"I'm not a safe person. Do you really want to see that in stark detail?"
"I'd do a great deal more than that if it means I get to keep you."
Easy for you to say, Sherlock thinks. I haven't been the death of you just yet.
"I don't think I can show you," Sherlock says. "I'm sorry. I just can't."
That night, John is restless. He tosses and he turns until finally Sherlock falls asleep and can't feel him wriggling about any longer. And the moment he slips into unconsciousness, he is back in the desert, this time with a normal-coloured John.
John is sitting at a tea table in the middle of a valley surrounded by sand dunes, pouring out two cups of what seems to be red blood. The blood flows easily, so it's very fresh. He is smiling a bit shyly, cocking his head as he does when he's flirting. The china pattern is Mrs. Hudson's, though Sherlock has no idea why John has transported her china to Afghanistan. And that's where they are, he's sure of it. Afghanistan.
"One lump or two?" John asks.
In a bowl are little pieces of bone and teeth. John drops one into the blood in his own cup and then looks at Sherlock expectantly.
"Whose blood is that?" Sherlock asks.
"Ours," says John. "It's all the same now, you remember."
"Why are we drinking it?"
"We are washing your sins away with holy communion. It's the only way to save your soul. You lost it, you know. This is how to get it back."
Sherlock approaches the table. As he does, he sees that John is lifting the cup to his lips, and that John is not well. There are gashes on him, deep ones, and it's John's teeth that are sugar lumps, and John's bones that are clicking in the shallow little bowl.
"Don't. Don't, don't, put it all back. I'm not a vampire," Sherlock pleads.
"No, you're a sinner. And so someone has to die for you. Someone perfectly, entirely good."
John slumps out of his chair into the sand. Lifeless, with teeth and blood and bits of bone missing. Sherlock, helpless to do anything else, starts to scream.
This time when Sherlock awakens, John is on top of him, his entire body pressing into his chest and his hands on Sherlock's face in the darkness. One of them is gasping desperately, very likely Sherlock, and either sweat is streaming into his eyes, or his eyes have teared up dreadfully. His heart is racing again, and all of it is smothering and spinning and freefalling and awful.
"It's all right, it's all right. I'm right here. My god. Sherlock, what's got into you? What in hell were you dreaming of?"
"Jesus Christ," Sherlock pants.
"You don't have to tell me, I suppose, but--"
"Fine, you win, I'll show you the lists, both lists. Fine. Just don't die."
A hand smoothes over his brow in the pitch-dark. It's very steady. Very warm. A bit calloused, on the trigger finger.
"I won't," John murmurs. "I won't. And thank you. But don't let me bully you in your sleep like that, Sherlock. It's not a pretty thing to watch."
It's terrifying, this proposal. It's worse than when Sherlock saw the yellow graffiti that meant John had been kidnapped, and worse than the second morphine overdose when Mycroft walked into A&E. But he'd do a great deal more than write out the Fine and Not Fine Lists if it means he gets to keep John.
Sherlock determines several ground rules about this exercise, purely for self-defense, the first and primary of which is that it'll be done on a chalkboard. It's not the potential for denial, exactly, but it allows for...efficiency, perhaps. If John goes white and blinking at an item, Sherlock had damn well better be able to erase it quickly enough for them both to forget about it and move forward.
They need a chalkboard and some chalk, therefore, which means that the next Monday, when they don't have a case and John insists that they set in if they're going to do it at all, Sherlock finds his Bart's keys and gets them in after hours. The two men walk down a darkened corridor towards the morgue, not speaking, watching the fluorescent lights flicker. Both are completely silent. It's difficult for Sherlock to even consider forming a sentence just now. He and English aren't always the best of friends, and this feels like picking a nasty fight with his native language deliberately. When they reach an unmarked door which he knows hides both a chalkboard and nothing in particular else of interest, he pulls a sliver of metal from his pocket and picks the lock. John is about to follow him inside when Sherlock's hand lands flat against John's chest.
"I should finish it first and then you can come in," he observes.
"Yeah, all right," John agrees after a little thought. "Of course. Good lord, Sherlock, stop looking like a guest at your own execution."
"That's the point, really," growls Sherlock just before he shuts the door. "I wouldn't mind being--oh, to hell with it."
Fifteen minutes later, his hands covered in pale yellow silt, Sherlock throws open the door. He's long ago shed his coat and is wearing a very nicely tailored white shirt, wondering absently if he's gotten chalk dust on it. Wondering if chalk powder is on his shirt is much better than wondering whether John's head is about to explode.
"Fair warning," he sighs. "It's all true."
They step into the room and John walks up to the chalkboard as if it's got the meaning of life printed on it. He leans back on a desk. He tucks his hands over his sleeves, crossing his forearms.
"Holy buggerfucking hell," he says.
His eyebrows swoop down towards his perfectly straight nose. Taking a bit more time, John reads all of both lists. There used to be one extra item on each of them, but they've now covered Looking at John's Fingerprints and Leaving Them on Sherlock, as well as--remarkably--Tasting John's Eyes. So currently there are thirty-six and twenty-seven dashes with thoughts scribbled after them.
Sherlock watches John.
Shifting his weight, John clears his throat.
His blue eyes are tracking back and forth. They have flecks of other colours in them and are very dark. They look brown under bad lighting. His dishwater hair is greenish in the glow of the overhead illumination.
John is still reading.
But John has already read that part.
"Jesus Christ," John says.
He goes back to reading.
Sherlock listens to the light fixture drone at them. It's almost unbearable.
"Okay," says John, exactly three and a half minutes later.
Sherlock waits. Something sensible is going to emerge from his boyfriend any minute, it simply must, or Sherlock is in a very great deal of trouble. Or he will be, because he will slap him across the face.
No, I won't, he thinks, that only works in films.
Now John's fingers are heading upwards to brush over his lips. The fingers stay there. Covering the lips.
What does that mean?
There's no other explanation: John is now re-reading. No one takes this long over simple declarative sentences.
And Sherlock has excellent handwriting.
So that isn't the problem.
Lyrics to a song drift dizzily into Sherlock's head:
sailors run aground
in a seachange nothing is safe
"Right," John remarks.
He goes back to reading. He crosses his legs at the ankle, still leaning on the desk.
push us every way
in a stolen boat we'll float away
Yes, this feels exactly like that song, Sherlock decides.
in a turnstile backwards we fly
John emits a low whistle.
"I'm in the same fucking room!" Sherlock bursts out at last.
"Okay, yes, yes, yes, sorry, that was. I'm sorry. Yes. Ha. You're right there, very present, you're next to me in fact. Hello."
"Hello," growls Sherlock.
"Hello. That isn't the proper response to make when two people have already said--"
"Sorry! I am sorry. Good, there you are next to me, here we are, right. Yes. Together. Now."
"Now," John says again.
"Right, I'm off," Sherlock decides.
"Wait! Stop, please. You took me a bit by surprise, is all. A bit. Well, quite a bit. Quite a bit. Don't scrunch your eyebrows like that, calm down. You love me."
"That's not your usual response to--"
"I'm not entirely certain of the premise of my typical reply any--"
"Of course I still--"
"Don't say it! Today is ghastly. Say it and I'll--"
"This is ridiculous. You are ridiculous. And out of your mind."
"Yes, I am, you can see it writ large in chalk just there, so keep your heartfelt endearments to--"
"You're such a child. Stop fucking censoring me, I can't--"
As he's retreating, John grabs Sherlock's arm, brooking no argument, his strong fingers closing around a slender wrist. Once he has it, he unbuttons the French silk cuff and yanks it backwards. White arm is revealed, a good expanse of bared flesh, and Sherlock is one hundred percent certain that this has to do with drugs, and that is not going to help the onset of panicked nausea in any way. He's going to lose all sense of himself in another moment, a white cloud will descend, and the blank will eat him. The John starts writing something on the blue veins of Sherlock's upper wrist. It takes Sherlock a moment to realize that's what he's doing: writing.
He stops, looks at Sherlock pointedly. But it's difficult to form a response under these circumstances. Sherlock's heart has turned into something crystalline in the shape of a geodesic dome, electrically lit and giving off napalm and laser beams. He can't be certain of the device's precise structure or function, but that is exactly what it looks like, at any rate. He can feel it in his chest.
"You. You knew about that," he says stupidly.
John quirks a smile and licks the end of his index finger.
Y-E-S Y-O-U C-R-A-Z-E-D T-W-A-T
John reaches up towards Sherlock's forehead. The middle of his forehead.
Silence reigns for about five seconds.
"You've made your point. I don't think you need to say it now," Sherlock mentions hoarsely. "The...other thing. Because this was. Good."
John sighs. "You say it, then."
"Fine. You love me. Fine."
They look at the lists a while longer, both rather awed by the turn of events.
"I think this is what having a heart attack feels like," Sherlock whispers.
John fusses him into a chair at this, and Sherlock can't be sure it's not a brilliant idea. Perhaps it's the best idea John's ever had. God knows that when he'd just torn that semtex vest off John, he'd have appreciated a moment to reflect at his leisure. And Now feels almost as dangerous as Then. Sherlock looks up at John, who wanted to do this in the first place, because after all he's no brain surgeon, is he, no he isn't, John is a normal surgeon and an idiot. Sherlock is only wanting a little guidance. Something has to happen next or his tongue will melt down his throat. Just because it's against the principles of science doesn't mean it could never--
"I need to understand this, but...not in order. Okay?"
Sherlock nods once, closes his eyes.
"So. Item ten on the Fine List. Explain."
Sherlock glances up.
10. Get divorced from John.
"That one is very simple," he says, pleasantly surprised. "They claim that getting married is a highly intimate spiritual experience, which frankly I think is a lot of outmoded superstition, but then at any rate there's a honeymoon, which is something. But I don't think of you that way. Like a...a person to wash the dishes or to bring in the clinic checks or to qualify for benefits. You're more like...you're like breathing. So we could try it, but then we should go back to the way we were before, as in the way we are now."
John pauses before speaking, cocking his head. "Your notion of marriage is...outmoded."
"Not according to the data I've gathered."
"Your data is bollocksed. So you want a wedding night, but you don't want to wash my socks."
"You could equally say I don't want you to wash my socks."
"Sherlock, you've already done our laundry. To my deep shock. Several times."
"It smelled of you the whole time. I liked it. And I could make infer--"
"Right," John sighs, rubbing his face. "Wonderful, you do my laundry so as to read my personal history in the stains. That is...so very, very typical. Christ have mercy. The Helpful Launderer Ploy."
Sherlock can hear the capital letters but isn't certain why they're necessary.
"I still don't grasp why divorce is Fine," John adds.
"But why shouldn't it be? Of course it's fine, millions of people do it. It's like buying a new car."
"Bloody hell. Move divorce to the Not Fine List."
Sherlock gets the eraser and chalk and does as he's told. It feels rather nice. Domestic, maybe.
"Next," John announces, "would be item five on the Not Fine List."
5. Tell John you love him on the perfect day.
"Why is that not Fine?" John wants to know. "It ought to be splendid."
"Ah. That may in fact have something to do with the exact nature of the perfect day."
John ruminates for a while. Then his eyes widen. Then they narrow. Then he whips his head to look at Sherlock.
"Do we...do we die on the perfect day?"
"Both of us?"
"It's not outside the realm of--"
"Is it graphic? And we're both somehow involved in the actual--strike that, no. Never mind. Sherlock, here's what you're going to do for me. Right. Take the Perfect Day, whatever it is, and put it next to whatever you did to make a corpse in the morgue explode. Don't tell me. Ever. Never even hint at the truth. Take the truth and just. Put it somewhere and blockade it."
On the perfect day, I am dying, and as I am dying, John takes a knife and he finishes what someone else started, and as I am bleeding to death, he turns the blade round and--
"Sherlock, are you on the same page as me here?"
"Did you blow up a corpse in Bart's morgue?"
"I can't tell you that."
"What is the Perfect Day like?"
"I have no idea."
They move on through several more items, arguing but never severely. Sherlock starts to get the feeling that John is saving something up for the end, as he's being very efficient about all of this. They're never going to stand on train tracks and then nearly die before leaping towards the walls, according to John. They're never going to watch Sherlock playing at Russian Roulette. They're never going to make John stop loving Harry simply because he needs to love only Sherlock, and Sherlock finds himself resigned to the notion. He knew it wasn't Fine, after all. John will never put a cigarette burn on his hip bone where only Sherlock can see it, because Sherlock loves John and he also rather adores cigarettes, but that doesn't make it Fine. They're never going to switch non-essential organs, which wouldn't have worked all that well anyway since John doesn't have tonsils, which ruins the symmetry, but they aren't even going to switch appendixes even though they have the same blood type and technically the same blood, because John seems to think it cosmetic surgery and also that cosmetic surgery is frivolous.
John starts giggling.
"What?" says Sherlock.
"Item fifteen on the Not Fine List. I love it. It's not happening, even though I'm sure you could scheme it all out easily, but I love it."
15. Arrange somehow for John to shoot Anderson in his useless, pathetic face. Preferably at the Natural History Museum, because Anderson once had to put a lizard skeleton in an evidence bag and he looked ill, and dinosaur skeletons are like lizards but much bigger, and thus proportionally Anderson probably loathes dinosaurs still more, and I therefore would like a dinosaur to be the last thing the prat ever sees.
"Thank you," says Sherlock. "I like it too."
"Okay. So. I can arrange for you to have a full-body X-ray of me, which takes item eight off the Not Fine List and onto the Fine one. Go ahead and move it."
"You would do that?"
Glowing, Sherlock erases item eight and tacks it onto the Fine List.
"Shockingly, item six on the Fine list is one of the most arousing things I've ever heard. I have no idea why. Why is...nope. Not a clue. But you ought to have proposed that a long time ago, I've been not looking at it purposefully so as to stop myself dragging you off for a shag. It's brilliant and so simple. No notion why I like it so much, maybe because I'm a doctor after all, but still. That is happening. And I have an instant read thermometer, of course, and I'll let you decide where to put it."
Still at the board, Sherlock flashes John a grin and underlines 6. Determine John's exact core temperature when relaxed, when aroused, and when experiencing orgasm.
"Also, I understand your point, but after a great deal of thought, item thirty-two needs to move to Not Fine."
"But I trust you. I told you that."
"Without a safeword, forget about it."
"No safeword, that's the entire point of the enterprise."
"Safeword or nothing."
"No safeword, you're missing the objective here, it's that I would go as far as you would take it. No safeword."
"Then forget about it."
Frowning, Sherlock moves item thirty-two. He returns to his chair and sits down again, next to where John is leaning against the desk.
"Here's my general diagnosis," John says carefully. "You are mental. You're off the tracks, completely wholesale insane, a right nutter."
"No, you're not a freak. You're a head case. You're the Mozart of Lunacy. But this is...very telling, in the sense of morals. It's enormously helpful to me. You seem to understand the concept that the items which might permanently damage yourself or others are socially unacceptable, and thus ones you shouldn't propose. Where it starts to go south is the fact that so many things you think about are either self-harming, other-people-harming, or me-harming. They're entirely amoral, as it happens. But I'm starting to think now that isn't precisely the point."
"What is the point, then?" Sherlock sighs.
"It's that you don't say them. Or do them. I've wanted to die before too, but I didn't go through with it either. That's the point. So...yes. That's good. And seeing what's in your head like this, it's probably all irrelevant anyhow. I don't believe you're...curable, Sherlock. I believe you're the way you are."
John goes quiet. Sherlock watches him staring at the lists and feels an ache in his chest that's more painful than the pain in his head when the colours fade and songs won't go away. If he were another person, John wouldn't worry so. John wouldn't wind up at the bottom of skips or strapped with explosive vests. If he were another person, John could have a little peace, and Sherlock reveres peace because he scarcely ever gets any. Sherlock leans his head against John's hipbone, defeated. It's all too tiring, too impossible, and John is right--becoming someone else isn't an option. How lovely it would be if it were. John has every part of him, and Sherlock is rare and marvelous, but having a pet viper would probably be comparable.
go to sleep
we're so tired now
altogether in a snake pit of souls
"How you love me, though," John says quietly. "Look at that. Christ, how you love me. The way you love me, it should be illegal."
"It probably is illegal."
John turns around and slides his palms down his friend's back. That is good, having a faceful of John's warm jumper, because the room has gone cold and the song is still playing. Everywhere without John is cold now, and it always will be, and so Sherlock will always be trying to warm himself at John's fire. That's one of the saddest things Sherlock can think of. The song drones beautifully onward.
to throw your chains away
to try to hang your hopes on the wind
Sherlock and John embark on a case.
And something goes wrong.
There are stick figure pictures of dancing men being left everywhere. Written on Elsie Cubitt's mailbox, on her front door, on the billboard across from her house. They terrify her, and her new husband wants to know why that is. So he emails Sherlock Holmes at The Science of Deduction, and Sherlock sets to work being amazing.
Sherlock studies every message meticulously. Three are emails of scanned pictures, which the husband found in Elsie's inbox, and he printed. They are long. Two he copied after seeing them on the postal box and the wall. They are short. One he took a picture of with his iphone, because it was done in chalk on the pavement before their condo. The longer they are, the better. It's a simple enough substitution cipher, but Sherlock needs as many words as possible in order to figure out the sense of them.
Biting his lip, Sherlock texts his client.
Any fresh material?
Twenty minutes later, he gets an email.
Found this only this morning, done in spray paint on the garden wall. Attached a photo. Not very long, I fear. Any progress on your end?
Impatient and disinclined to waste time responding when he's so close, Sherlock swiftly clicks open the attachment. He is sitting at the kitchen table with all his chemical apparatus shoved to one side and a notepad and pen before him when he finally cracks the final message.
ELSIE, SEE -OU IN HELL
"Oh," he says.
"What?" says John, from the sofa.
Sherlock is already in his coat, wrapping his scarf, racing for the door, and John is behind him, following, he'll always follow. Downstairs, Sherlock whirls out the door and into the street, arm in the air and his eyes peeled for a cab. With his other hand, his right hand, he's rapidly texting:
Get her somewhere safe.
Go home. Now. And tell
her to ring the police.
"What are we doing?" John asks when the cab pulls away. One of his shoes is untied. He reaches down to lace it.
"Stopping a murder."
"Love it," says John.
Only they don't.
The house is surrounded by policemen and by yellow crime scene tape. There's a zipped body bag and D. I. Dimmock standing next to it. Techs are hastening about, recording things on sheets. Everyone is pinched and grave-looking, the way normal people are when something awful happens. So something awful has happened.
The awful thing, it turns out, is that Hilton Cubitt rushed home in response to Sherlock's text and now has a bullet through his brain. Mrs. Cubitt decided that matching her husband was the best way to respond and put a pistol in her mouth. But she is alive. Alive, brain damaged perhaps, in hospital. Sherlock, absorbing all of this information, goes very white. And John, watching Sherlock, grows worried. But that can't always be helped, can it?
"It's an awful bloody business," Dimmock concludes. "Poor bugger. And the wife--that stunt I cannot understand."
"It's easy to understand if you're not a complete moron," Sherlock says frigidly. "She loved him. She loved him, and he was dead. She loved him, and he was dead, and you can't bring people back. So she went too, or she tried. I'd have done the same."
Dimmock gapes at him. John just looks at the ground in a pained sort of way.
It takes Sherlock an hour to get his hands on the killer, but he doesn't care about the killer. He writes a false note and then hands the big ugly brute over to Dimmock with a minimum of fuss. Then Sherlock wanders into the back area, into the little garden that the Cubitts shared. All the while he is thinking, and the song comes back, and so many things hurt that he can't tell where he stops and the hurting begins. There was a device in the Middle Ages like a barrel full of knives, and that is where Sherlock is right now. Nothing is right and it comes from inside of him, so there's no escape, he will never outrun himself and the hurting will simply continue.
tied together by
black ropes we pulled from a swing
What if that had been John little oneI'd have done the same thing wouldn't I just a little way I'd have said to ring him and to ring the police and I'd have rushed back and he'd still be dead, or I'd be dead, it doesn't matter because they're the same thing, and John is so small little one it isn't fair small things and warm things can be crushed so easily just a little way and I'd have done the same as her, I would have. I'd have died.
"Sherlock, don't do this to yourself," John says quietly.
Sherlock turns. The garden is frosted-over and the plants are all dead and John is probably freezing, as he left the flat without his coat. The fine dishwater hairs on the back of his neck are pricking up, as a matter of fact. Everything here is grey and muted and the colours of dust and straw and mice and winter things, and John fits in here, he blends into the palette.
"You can leave me," Sherlock says.
John's jaw drops.
"I. I can what?"
"If I can't keep Elsie Cubitt or her husband safe, I can't be expected to manage it with anyone else, can I, and you don't care for failures, I certainly don't either, but anyway you look worried now and that's my fault and if you didn't love me, it wouldn't hurt you. You didn't run then, but you can run now."
John walks up to Sherlock. The cold winter sun makes his blue eyes very deep and very dark, the way the ocean is dark and can never be known, only guessed at, the way John is inside. He's going to say goodbye to Sherlock now, and that will hurt like bleach on his skin until he is dead, which will be thankfully soon. But at least he can tell himself that he committed a single act in his life that wasn't based in selfishness. That once, if only once, an act of charity came from Sherlock Holmes. That would make a nice epitaph. John is very close now, and Sherlock starts to think about how much he loves his eyelashes, that pale dusting of delicate hair along the lids. It would make a very nice epitaph, actually. Here lies Sherlock Holmes, who once committed an Act of Charity. John is right in front of him now, practically touching.
"I don't believe it. Say that again."
"You didn't run then, but you can run now."
"The first part."
"You can leave me?"
"Bloody hell," John whispers. He's unbuttoning Sherlock's coat. Why? That makes no sense, and it's cold out here, and John isn't ever cruel. "Amazing. Literally amazing."
"The kindest, most loving thing you've ever said to me is that I can leave you. That is amazing. Better than...I can't. Just better. I don't think we need to worry about your morals any longer. You're sorted. And thank you."
"So," Sherlock says, swallowing. "Goodbye. Be very good to yourself, and keep warm. I'd like to kiss you first, but then I might change my mind. So don't kiss me."
"Oh my god," says John.
Then he is quiet, his lips pursed. He stands looking at Sherlock, feet a little apart on the dead grass. The lines under his eyes are dark today, and they make his small face look still smaller. He's so small, such a little one really, and bigger than the whole wide world. He reaches for Sherlock's hand and turns it palm up in his own. He sets his fingertip right along the creased V of his lifeline.
"There isn't room for the rest of it," he adds.
Sherlock wonders if crying, which is involuntary, is supposed to be triggered by wonderful things happening. Because that makes absolutely no buggering sense, but he can't breathe and his eyes feel glassy. John is smiling at him as if he is very stupid, and that is magical, feeling stupid has never felt so utterly spectacular.
"Why have you unbuttoned my coat?" he questions in a wrecked voice.
"Because I'm freezing my bollocks off," John answers, stepping neatly inside the wool.
John is so small that Sherlock finds he can do up the top button and thus keep the coat shut around the pair of them. John's head rests on his chest and Sherlock puts his arms around him and wonders when he'll next dream of deserts.
He doesn't care, so long as John is there to wake him up.
Three days later, they are walking past a pet store in Westminster when an advert catches Sherlock's eye, taped to the display window where terrier puppies are sleeping and biting each other. It is for a microchip that goes beneath the skin, perfectly painless after insertion, and detectable with the right scanner. The price is reasonable. Any information can be put on the chip: name of pet, address, phone number, name of owner. Any information at all, really. Sherlock feels lightheaded. The world slows down, his hands are weightless, his shoes have disappeared, this is fucking brilliant. He doesn't realize he's stopped in his tracks until an impatient huff from John brings him back to himself.
"Jesus Christ, no," John says, sounding horrified. "No. Just--no."
"Piss off, Sherlock."
"But we both--"
"Unbelievable," John says to the heavens, shaking his head in despair. "Fucking unbelievable. You are a marvel."
"I'm your marvel, though," Sherlock points out mildly. "I'm in your system. I'm under your skin already. Why--"
"You are the Edgar Allan Poe of Love," John sniffs, walking away.
It's one of the nicest things Sherlock Holmes has ever heard. He files away the name of the shop and the address in his head, just in case, turning to follow John. John is unpredictable, and can't ever be known, and so it's not impossible. They have the same blood, after all. John's perfect blood is in Sherlock and Sherlock's mad blood is in John, and so everything is possible under the proper circumstances.
Nothing on earth is impossible save for John Watson's impossible self.