Mary is constantly underfoot.
And yet, as Sherlock settles into the couch at 221B, savors the worn leather and the familiar texture, tries not to get distracted by the way it rubs against his skin, buzzing like ants, he looks around, blinking, brow furrowing.
“Where is Mary?” he asks.
John swims into view. John, trusty loyal handsome John, features so familiar they are etched into Sherlock’s very being, drawn onto his very core.
“She’s gone home, Sherlock, remember?” John asks.
Sherlock looks around warily, taking in the electric lights and the computer and the outlets on the wall. He looks at John and studies him, assures himself his face is real, that there’s no mustache. “But you’re here,” Sherlock says.
“Yes, christ, of course I’m here,” John replies. He sits beside Sherlock on the couch and holds out a glass of water. “Drink this.”
Sherlock reaches for it, ignores the way his hands tremble. He doesn’t want John to see this, doesn’t want John to witness his body shake and tear itself apart and crave for more, but neither does he want to be alone. He presses the glass to his lips and drinks, drinks, drinks, water dribbling down his chin, until John pulls the empty glass away and Sherlock looks everywhere but him, breathing hard, trying to focus his thoughts.
“She’s coming back, though,” Sherlock says, wiping his mouth. He tries to sound definitive, but there is a waver to his voice, a questioning lilt.
“I’d imagine so,” John says. “Don’t worry – just let me take care of you, christ, you could have died.”
His words come out in a rush, bleeding together and sucking the air out of the room, out of Sherlock’s lungs, out of Sherlock’s brain, and he sinks further into the couch, body slouching down as his jacket slides up against the back of the couch, until he feels as if his body is made of liquid and it’s sliding down his clothes, leaving them behind, pooling into the cushions. He lets his head fall back against the couch, closes his eyes, but only a moment later, he feels as if his skin is crawling with ants, and his eyes open abruptly, searching for John.
“John,” he says, breath coming fast. “The case, the case, the case – we have to go, Moriarty –”
“Moriarty’s dead,” John says. “You proved it yourself, remember?”
His voice is reassuring, gentle, but there’s an edge to it that makes Sherlock reach up and weave his fingers into his hair and tug, resting his elbows on his knees, squeezing his eyes closed.
“Yes, John, I know, but just because he’s dead doesn’t mean –”
“I know,” John interrupts. His voice is so firm that Sherlock turns his head to look at him, and his eyes flicker over John’s features, taking in the focused glint in his eyes, the determination in the furrow of his brow, the tension in his jaw. For a moment, Sherlock imagines he sees a mustache there, too, and he blinks, his mouth falling open, his eyes widening, but it’s gone, and he’s left staring at John’s face, hands still woven into his hair but the tension gone.
“We’re in no state to do anything about it now,” John continues. “You’re – you need to rest.”
Sherlock’s hands tremble and he bows his head again, looking away from John, unable to close his eyes but staring blankly at the space between his knees. We, John said. We. We. We.
He looks back at John, a soft smile curling on his lips, an echoing warmth curling around his heart that’s at odds with the panic he felt a moment before. “You’re very smart, John,” he says. His heart is beating fast and his hands are twitching, but he feels calm, sure.
John’s eyebrows raise, and his face is slack in surprise for a moment, before it settles into warmth tinged with something darker, something Sherlock doesn’t like, in the corners of his eyes and mouth. “I’m glad you’ve noticed,” John says, voice rough.
Sherlock’s eyes flicker over John’s face, rapidly taking in all he can. “You’re upset,” he says. His skin is crawling, making him feel as if he’s burning, and the feeling is growing more intense. He shudders, closes his eyes, curls his fingers into his hair again. He knows he has a case to solve, knows there are things he needs to do, but it would be so easy –
“Not at you,” John says, and the words float over Sherlock, float over his ragged breaths, soak into the very core of his being. “Not at you. At – at everything.”
“I’m sorry,” Sherlock breathes. He’s not looking at John, but he knows John is looking at him. He means it, he means it, he means it, and he feels his fingers tighten, feels desperation crawl down his spine, his brain spinning but not stopping, not focusing on what he needs to say.
“Stop it,” John says. “Stop. It’s alright. Just –” He stops, clears his throat. His voice is unexpectedly small when he speaks again. “Were you trying to leave me again?”
Sherlock shakes his head before John even finishes the question, and he stands up and paces, his body shaking, energy flowing through him but draining him all at once, until John stands and grabs him by the arms and forces him to sit down again, then kneels in front of him on the floor, staring at him with his brow soft and furrowed, his eyes warm and concerned, and Sherlock wants to touch, god he wants to – he is shaking, he realizes.
“Sherlock, sorry, I shouldn’t have – not now –”
“I wasn’t,” Sherlock says desperately. “I – if I had gone on the mission, I would have – it was fatal. And it – it helps me think, John, I had to – I had to think, and I was going to die anyway so I thought I might as well make it count, I had to understand –”
His words are cut off by a sudden overwhelming sensation he’s never felt before, by a crushing joy and warmth he’s only recently begun to understand, by a euphoria that eclipses anything he’s ever experienced, by John’s arms encircling him, holding him tight, and as he registers the sensation for what it is, he desperately clings back, his body still trembling, his mind still spinning. He feels as if he can’t breathe, as if the air in his lungs has run out, and he presses as close to John as he can, shaking, breathing him in.
And then it’s over and John pulls away, but he stays where he sits, kneeling before Sherlock, his hands gripping Sherlock’s forearms, his eyes poring over Sherlock’s face.
“And you understand?” John asks. “Whatever it was you needed to figure out?”
Sherlock’s eyes soften and he swallows, heart beating too fast, breath too shallow. “Yes,” he says tenderly, and John nods, clears his throat and looks away, then looks back, brow furrowed, and Sherlock can’t look away as John’s eyes flicker between his own, though it makes his heart beat faster. John presses his fingertips into Sherlock’s arms one final time, a blessed pressure that makes Sherlock’s skin tingle, and then he lets go, nodding once more.
“Good,” John says, and he’s quiet a moment, flexing his fingers, and then he grimaces. “Christ, what am I doing sitting like this? It’s murder on the knees.”
Sherlock’s eyes widen and he feels a strange tingling in his mind, a headache forming as a sense of déjà vu washes over him. He swallows, throat dry, panic worming its way under his skin; he knew this was too good to be true, he knew –
“John,” he says desperately. “John is this –is this real?”
John looks at him in alarm, and then reaches out and grabs hold of Sherlock’s wrist, feeling his pulse. Sherlock is overwhelmed by the feeling of John’s fingers on his skin, by the feeling of John so close, and his headache is getting worse – he hates this, hates coming down, hates the way his mind and body rebel, for once working together, but John’s touch grounds him, makes him feel as if he’s not coming apart at the seams.
“It’s real,” John says. “Your pulse is too high. You need to –”
“You can go,” Sherlock says desperately. He knows what’s coming, knows how miserable he will be, and he wants John there, doesn’t think he’ll survive it if he’s not, but he can’t expect –
“I’m staying,” John says firmly, and Sherlock feels his shoulders sag, his breath leave him in a whoosh, and John’s fingers tighten on his wrist, the touch shifting from clinical to warm, and Sherlock shivers.
“The case,” Sherlock remembers. “The case –”
“It will still be there tomorrow,” John says. The light from the window and the lamps makes his face warm and soft and Sherlock feels like his heart is drifting out of his body despite the way he is shaking and the way his head is pounding.
“It will be – it will be our hardest yet,” Sherlock warns, entranced by the sight of John like this, here in 221B, touching his wrist, kneeling before him.
“Maybe,” John agrees. He smiles, the light shifting on his face, hiding behind his dimple, curling into the wrinkles around his eyes. “But it’s two against one, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Sherlock breathes. He smiles, though his body feels as if it’s tearing itself in two, because he knows he will make it through with John here to look after him, his clever, handsome, beloved John. “The two of us against the world.”
John smiles, his fingers still curled around Sherlock’s wrist. “Just as it should be.”