I. The Detective.
John doesn't take to Irene.
He doesn't take to Irene at all.
Sherlock assumes that's because John is confused. His brain is quite pedestrian, after all, even if the rest of him is a quantum singularity in a questionable jumper. John loves Sherlock almost obscenely, Sherlock hasn't once doubted it since the horrible almost-breakup over the horrible almost-dying, he can feel it in his marrow, and Irene is confusing. She is beautiful, she is dangerous, she is...Sherlock. And John is bisexual. And now there are two of them. Potential objects of affection, possibly. Or so Sherlock assumes is the problem, because Irene sending him dozens of text messages when she's been told he and John are a couple, when she knows the fact and speaks of it freely and easily...nothing else makes sense.
When Sherlock first saw Irene--naked as a jaybird and a hundred times more cocky--he'd felt momentarily frightened.
At her blankness, her nothing, she wasn't wearing perfume no hand soap no shampoo no eye cream no nothing god nothing, just pale English skin and lipstick like fresh blood and she was beautiful the way mathematics and star systems and particle physics are beautiful, hair up like a lady or a goddess, amazing, literally amazing.
When he claws his way back to consciousness and finds himself in his own bed, his coat returned to him, Sherlock wants to stand up and find Irene and clasp her shoulders or possibly her head and twirl her in a circle and say you're amazing. He's never felt so before in his life. John Watson is a miracle. But Irene is an aberration, and one he understands.
When you drugged me, it was quiet. So quiet. Is it ever that quiet for you? Do you ever allow it to be? Isn't that wretched?
I could let you be quiet. If you wanted me to. I'd ask nothing else, would be repulsed by more, this isn't sentiment, it's sameness. I can help you in identical fashion. I could forcibly drug you and//////////NOT GOOD...
You're just like me. I could help. Did you realize?
I hope that now you do.
I. The Doctor.
John doesn't take to Irene.
He doesn't take to Irene at all.
"But then you saw, didn't you, the way she--god, everything," Sherlock gushes after the surprise intravenous sneak attack wears off and he staggers into the light of 221B Baker Street's sitting room. Right before his phone starts making lewd noises two and three times per day.
His friend lifts a single blond eyebrow from where he's seated in his armchair with the paper. His small hands tighten slightly on the newsprint. John isn't intending to broadcast malcontent, but he is aware he's hinting at it, and that to Sherlock Holmes, hints are like large block typeface. He can't help but hint just now, though. For hours, he has been mopping up the mess made of Sherlock Holmes, the great slopping drooling semi-conscious mess which was entirely Irene Adler's doing, and now...this. Whatever in hell this is.
"She can hear it too," Sherlock whispers. He's still swaying a little. Only a little, but he isn't nearly at his usual level of rapid-fire coherence. "I think, I think she can. She's like me, you could see it, couldn't you? Oh, she's worried about them too, I'm sure of it."
"The bees, John. They're dying. It worries me."
Sherlock is much paler than he should be. Even the wide ribbon of his lips seems too pale. There's a bruise on his neck where the horrid naked female struck him. The pained sweat from when the horrid crop-wielding female was beating him has dried into his dark curls, leaving them bed-mussed and disheveled. And John still hasn't managed to determine what the horrid falsely purring female jabbed him with. John isn't okay with any of this. The entire day makes him want to drug Sherlock himself and summarily retire both of them to Australia. He stands and goes to Sherlock, passing a hand over his white temple.
"You're less upset at being shown up than I thought you'd be," he points out.
Sherlock shakes his head a bit frantically. "No, no, no. Winning is predictable. She...wasn't boring."
It's the highest possible compliment Sherlock can offer anyone. Which makes a crap day that much worse. John keeps his peace for the most part, spreads his feet a bit wider in their sitting room, goes at once to the place inside him as little and as hard and as deadly as he is himself and says nothing. Well, almost nothing.
"I'll frame one of those kinky photographs of her, shall I, and you can treasure it always," John remarks dryly.
Sherlock regards John as if John were speaking Pashto, and that's a familiar look by now, one that can lead to trouble, and so John falls silent. They simply stop talking. John flicks on the telly and Sherlock putters about in the kitchen, dividing his time between a book on the history of ciphers and a very dubious-looking petrie dish with an earlobe in it. He is apparently entirely unconcered that the horrid nude female got away with her camera phone and humiliated him en route.
John cannot, cannot understand that.
The silence isn't comfortable exactly, but it's familiar enough not to be frightening. And later, at around eleven, after a cobbled-together dinner of tinned tuna and cheddar and the end of a bread loaf for John, and nothing for Sherlock, John allows himself to be coaxed into bed, allows himself to be half-smothered after they turn off the light. In the meanwhile, he is thinking.
If you could be with someone who understood you entirely...wouldn't you?
The thought brings a lump to his throat.
"Nothing. Go to sleep."
Moving away, huffing a little, Sherlock settles, with his smallest finger tucked neatly into the inner crook of John's elbow. It shouldn't feel like a marriage proposal, but then, the smallest things Sherlock does are often the most important. Sighing, John closes his eyes. Sleep reaches him sooner than he expected it to, pulling him down into a safe black coccoon.
Maybe it's the drugs in Sherlock's system.
Maybe it would have happened inevitably.
Maybe it's actually the drugs, though, and it's all Irene's fault.
Tempting to think so.
John doesn't know why it happens. Or why drugs in Sherlock's veins should affect John's central nervous system. But when he dreams one of Sherlock's dreams for the first time that night, he is very nearly violently ill in their bed.
John is walking along a gravel path adjacent to a sizable estate. It's summer in this world, and all tinged yellowish, and the air hangs heavy and still. There are oak trees, and pleasant dips and curves, and John hears the mild buzzing of honey bees in the clover patches. The house is of red brick, ivy-draped and stately, smaller than a mansion but bigger than a house. It's also immaculately taken care of, but for some reason John doesn't care about the house. He knows where he's going. And he needs to arrive sooner rather than later. He quickens his pace, heading along a path through the thick summer grass. Up ahead, he can just see the sagging, splintering grey roof of his goal.
He reaches an abandoned barn which must long ago have served some essential purpose for the estate and is now a tax loophole. The door is gritty, ashen to the touch, but John presses it open. He's urgently needed. He knows it. He plunges into the fray.
But there isn't any. There is only a barn filled with mildew and dust and rotting wood and creaking timber and pollen motes floating through the air.
Then he turns, and he finds what he's looking for.
A little boy is sitting in the sunlight on a hay bale with his knees pulled up to his chest. He is a skinny, ethereal creature, perhaps seven years old, wearing a blue t-shirt and jeans, his hair a riot of black curls. His grey eyes are far too big for his hollow-cheeked face.
"Hullo," John says gently, sitting down next to the lean little boy on the hay.
Sherlock is cradling a remarkable object in his small hands. It is the skeleton of a mouse, perfectly dry and apparently re-assembled. It's a beautiful, delicate thing. It's a work of art. It could be displayed in a museum of natural history and marveled at by tourists.
"What've you got there, then?"
Luminous, tear-glistening eyes turn up to John. "I made it." His voice is much higher than Sherlock's will become after puberty, but it is already almost uncannily precise.
"It's remarkable. How did you do it?"
"I gave it a lethal dose of the arsenic we use on the weeds and then scraped the flesh off and cured the bones. I read a book about it. Father has glue for his model ships. I used that. I was very careful."
John nods. "You should display it."
The child shakes his head fiercely. "It was a birthday present. For Mycroft. Today is his birthday. He's fourteen."
"He'll love it."
At first, Sherlock doesn't answer. His throat is working. There is a curl hanging in his eyes and John brushes it gently back, waiting.
"He didn't love it," the boy says through his teeth.
"No? What did he say?"
Sherlock is trembling, fine vibrations running the length of his arms into his perfectly clean fingertips. "He asked what was wrong with me. He asked if I hurt it. If I liked hurting it. If I like hurting other things. He told me I had to tell him the truth, if I hurt it first. He kept saying that. Tell me the truth, tell me the truth, over and over. He looked frightened. But I didn't, I didn't, I killed it quickly, why would he say that? Why? I didn't like hurting it, I wouldn't, I told him I only wanted it to last forever because I loved it, and he said the only sort of person who would take his pet mouse and kill it as a present for his brother--"
Sobbing, Sherlock smashes the fragile bones between his palms. They slice a little gash into his left hand, a scar John has seen countless times and assumed was inflicted by some petty criminal or other.
"No, hey, it's all right," John exclaims, reaching for the boy. He has never seen a human being weep like this in his life. Sherlock can hardly breathe for crying, huge gasps catching in his throat and turning to wracking howls. "Hey, hey. Mycroft didn't mean it. You--Sherlock. Please. It was brilliant, what you made for him, he was confused, he--"
"I'm not disturbed," Sherlock moans. He's nearly hyperventilating. "I'm not. Why, and in front of everyone, why, and now I haven't even my mouse to talk to, and--"
"Oh, god. Sherlock, no." John pulls the tiny frame toward his own, wraps his arms around the boy. Sherlock clutches at his shirt for dear life, burying his face in John's neck, crying as if his heart has been broken, because it probably has, hasn't it, and there they sit in the hay and the scattered small bones and the distant whirring of honeybees and the too-sweet clover smell hanging in the--
"John, for god's sake--"
John lurches awake on a choked-back scream, Sherlock's hand tight around his wrist and his head throbbing like a gong. The light is on. Sherlock is staring at him, aghast. John's stomach is roiling, because that was agonizing, he'd felt all of it as if it really were him in that stable, and John is reasonably sure he is going to be sick on the sheets. He kneels up and puts his hands on his thighs, hanging his head and breathing very deep breaths. His consulting detective is standing at the edge of the bed, thirty-six years old now and much taller, looking as if he is trying to determine how to deal with a wild boar.
"That wasn't Afghanistan. It wasn't. John. John."
"Fuck me. Oh, Jesus, Sherlock, what in--how are you in my head?"
Sherlock recoils as if he's been slapped.
"No, not--stop. Oh, god. Christ. Don't look like that. It's not your fault."
"How is that not my fault?" Sherlock demands, and his voice is pitched so high that for a moment he sounds like the little boy in the stable who lost his mouse, his brother, and his trust in his own sanity on the same day. "Our bloods are mixed. How is that not my fault?"
"Come here," John commands. "Over here. Just. I dreamed you, I think, it must have been you. Didn't you say you dream of deserts? Fuck, Sherlock. Let me see your hand."
Sherlock crawls over to John, who is now seventy percent certain he's not going to vomit everywhere. John grabs the sinewy wrist and turns Sherlock's left palm over. There's a tiny white scar there, like a hook. It's the most painful thing John has ever seen. It looks at present like open heart surgery without anesthesia.
"Where did you get this scar?" he asks very quietly.
Glancing down, Sherlock blinks. He seems more frightened by the second. "I don't know."
"Don't know or won't say?"
"I don't know. I deleted it. So I don't know."
"Right. Good. Keep it deleted. Do not...undelete that file. Keep it jolly well deleted. Now, you listen to me." John reaches up and takes Sherlock's face in his hands. Sherlock smells of sleep, and mint, and unwashed hair, and home, and John simply loves him and that is final. "You are amazing. You're a complete arsehole and madder than a March hare, but you are amazing and you are perfect. And you are very particular about language, but I don't give a good goddamn at the moment. I love you so fucking much I can't see straight. I love you. You're so morbid it's ludicrous, you're like the Rembrandt of Gore, but I love every fucking piece of you, do you understand me? I love you."
"I know," Sherlock says, dazed. "I mean, I love you. Are you going to tell me what you dreamt?"
"Nope. Not a chance. No way in hell."
Sherlock considers this, tilting his head to one side, thoughts and calculations and inferences clearly screaming at breakneck pace through his head.
"But you love me."
"Yep. And you love me. Right, that's well sorted."
John collapses back onto the bed and Sherlock follows, curled on his side and regarding John with wide, wounded eyes. Somewhere in the back of his mind, John knows all this to be impossible, dreaming parts of his life Sherlock has erased, but everything about Sherlock is impossible anyhow. If everything is already impossible, does it matter? Slowly, his breathing evens out. Slowly, Sherlock's does too. The room seems smaller now, somehow. Diminished. John closes his eyes. His chest hurts. His eyes ache. And god, Sherlock had been alone when it had actually happened. He had been alone.
"You're being brave," Sherlock whispers. "Queen-and-country. I hurt you."
John shakes his head. "Not on purpose."
"It's never on purpose."
"I don't blame you."
"That doesn't make it better."
The clock ticks onward. After about five minutes, Sherlock switches off the light again. John is too drained for further conversation, so he rests his hand on his belly and allows his mind to drift. It's cozy in Sherlock's bedroom, watched over by the periodic table, listening to the rain beginning to fall and the distant hum of traffic in Baker Street. John thinks about open heart surgery. He thinks about guns. He thinks about his college girlfriend. He thinks about the horrid naked female inside Sherlock's coat. He thinks about anything, anything but the stable and the little boy wailing as if he'd been gutted. His thoughts drift like sea foam. He dozes.
John wakes up.
A slim fingertip touches his flank and begins a gentle S-curve. John knows what's coming, and stays still, his breathing silent and even.
Seconds later, the touch is withdrawn, and Sherlock seems to have tucked his hand under his own pillow.
It was a definite movement. Determined, although not violent. Like his friend was encasing the errant hand under a feather prison.
It's absolutely grotesque.
What the fuck does that mean?
John is so horrified for a moment that he forgets to breathe. Before realizing that Sherlock will observe any such thing, and instantly notice that John is awake. And sure enough...the man behind him gives no clear sign, but Sherlock nuzzles into the pillow his head is cradled upon with a silent movement like a brained bird who has just smashed into a glass pane.
John clears his throat, more obviously awake.
He thinks. God, how hard he thinks.
This is not the sort of thing to be solved with questions. Sherlock loathes questions.
John needs to puzzle it out on his own, and without the aid of a brain as big as the London Eye. And this clearly needs very careful handling.
"There's a better blank space on the back of my arm," John whispers.
Seconds later, he is alone, the sound of Sherlock's departure no more than a whisper of bedsheets.
John dives after the mad genius with whom he is utterly obsessed, nearly tripping over the quilt. Sherlock switches the light on in their kitchen and John stumbles blindly into the glare, cursing when his foot strikes a pile of books in the hallway. He finds Sherlock with his hands on his slender hips, grey t-shirt rucked up and askew on one side, looking as if he had just cured cancer. Sherlock is aglow in a way he is never aglow unless he just solved something. He points an accusing finger at John's head.
"My blood is the problem. It creates echoes of me in your subconscious. But if I change myself, the echoes of me won't hurt you."
"What?" is John's only response to this.
Sherlock presses forward and dips his head. The kiss is soft, undemanding. It is a kiss without expectations. It is very, very un-Sherlock.
"From now on, I'm going to be normal," Sherlock Holmes announces happily.
II. The Detective.
Sherlock's decision to be normal goes brilliantly. At the beginning.
It's maddening not to know what John's dream consisted of, Sherlock thinks, but it can't be helped. When he imagines telling John about his desert nightmares, cold sweat breaks out over his back. So this is fair. Maddening, but fair. More frustrating still, John thought Sherlock's plan to be normal from henceforth laughable. As in, he had actually laughed at Sherlock, laughed bending over and supporting himself on the Experiments Table, before informing him in no uncertain terms that this plan was bollocksed. But Sherlock can do normal, if it's for John. It will be an experiment. Like with Charles the Archaeologist, but less extreme. More like Sherlock actually is, which is what John enjoys, after all.
That way, he can maintain it indefinitely. Forever and ever. Amen.
Sherlock's first effort involves making John breakfast the next morning. It's the sort of thing people do. Before John awakens, he runs down to the market for supplies. Eggs, bread, milk, et cetera. It occurs to Sherlock that, while Sherlock occasionally eats soft-boiled eggs with John at their little sitting room table, he doesn't know if that's due to their being simple for John to prepare, or if John actually prefers them. So he decides to hedge his bets and err on the side of generosity.
Food preparation is very simple science, and Sherlock once read The Joy of Cooking in order to understand the chemistry involved in the culinary arts in case the subject ever came up in a criminal context, and he decided not to delete it after that incident over how far the parsley had sunk into the butter proved the information was useful. So the process doesn't intimidate him. The shopping does, though. The white glare of the lights in the little grocer's is unsettling, and the eight varieties of tinned beans are infuriating, and Sherlock thinks he can feel the gears in his head grinding when he reaches the dairy section and there are forty-one sorts of cheese, and the shelves of jams and jellies are hideously colorful in an amber-purple-crimson-yellow-pink-fuschia-scarlet-STOP way that makes his heart flutter painfully, and there will have to be a decision of some kind about organic versus conventional tomatoes, and his throat closes when he thinks about salted or unsalted butter, and he's getting sick to his stomach already by the time he realizes how many types of sausage there are in the world.
Sherlock bites the bullet and plucks a jar of Hartley's Damson Jam from the shelf, thinking scientific ingredients might be more bearable.
Energy (kJ) 1037kJ 156kJ Energy (kcal) 244kcal 37kcal Protein 0.2g 0.0g Carbohydrate 60.8g 9.1g of which – sugars 55.5g 8.3g of which – starch 5.3g 0.8g Fat of which – saturates of which – mono-unsaturates of which – poly-unsaturates of which – Trans Fatty Acids Fibre 0.06g 0.01g Sodium (g) Equivalent as Salt.
The detective only barely mananges to shut his eyes before an aneurysm forms. Or at least, that's what it feels like.
But it's for John, so he swallows sour-tasting spit and pays for everything. And by everything, Sherlock is fairly sure he's taken one item of everything in the store. A survey of sorts. He has to take a taxi home even though it's only eight blocks away.
Once back at Baker Street, Sherlock makes certain John is still sleeping and sets quietly to work. After half an hour, it's excruciating. The calm, sure little tasks, the banality of it. Breakfast. Hideous. His hands are shaking.
But he's going to be normal.
Then a thought occurs to him, or a theme rather, and Sherlock smirks his smuggest smirk at the pot of beans he's heating and seasoning with garlic and salt and pepper and dried thyme.
John finally emerges from the bedroom at eleven in the morning, just as Sherlock is putting the finishing touches on the baked tomatoes. The doctor stops, staring at the table in blank awe.
"What is. What. What the hell, Sherlock."
Clapping his hands, Sherlock removes the apron he was wearing and tosses it on the Thinking Couch.
"It's breakfast, of course."
"For us and what army?"
John moves toward the table, rubbing his fingers over his lips.
"I didn't like the colours of the preserves, they were making me ill, and there were too many sorts of bacon, and the dry goods hurt my head until I thought I might be forced to abandon the whole project, but I selected a theme and that was easier. It's the requested last meals of my favourite American criminals who've been executed in the past century," Sherlock explains. "This is filet mignon with red wine sauce and sunny-side up eggs and asparagus--that was Abe Slaney the Chicago strangler's final meal. Here we have sausage, bacon, a classic French omelette, beans, and tomatoes--Boss McGinty's. This one is smoked salmon on brioche with poached eggs and bechamel and--"
"I didn't know you could cook," John says from behind his hand. He sounds like he's smiling. Is he smiling?
"Of course I can. It's science."
John says nothing.
That isn't the way this is supposed to happen.
"You...is something wrong?"
Giggling helplessly, John shakes his head.
"I made you breakfast." Sherlock is vaguely hurt. A knot is forming in his stomach, and John hasn't even tasted the mushrooms he sauteed in white wine yet. "It's the normal thing to do."
John laughs and he laughs and he laughs, twirling in a little spinning circle and then sitting down at the table and spreading a napkin over his lap. He lifts his knife and fork in each hand, grinning, looking grateful and boyish, and he regards Sherlock with disbelieving eyes. They're very blue this morning. They're like watching small, concentrated oceans. They're perfect. Sherlock hated seeing them as they were last night--horrified, agonized by something Sherlock couldn't see. But now they're shining. Sherlock has done the right thing. He can see right and good reflected in John's face.
"You make a remarkably beautiful normal person," John says affably. "Now, go fetch Mrs. Hudson and tell her she's breakfasting with us. I know better than to imagine you'll do more than pick at this, and I'm not a competitive eater."
II. The Doctor.
Sherlock's decision to be normal goes brilliantly. At the beginning.
The fact that Sherlock wouldn't recognize normal if it flashed him on the street in the June midday sunshine doesn't fuss John much. In fact, he's more relieved than he will admit to himself. So at first, he allows Sherlock to think he is succeeding. He's really rather charming, this version of Sherlock. John can't imagine he'll last long. But for the moment, John plans to enjoy being wooed by a sociopath.
For instance, John works a shift at the clinic and arrives home to find Sherlock posed like a swooning maiden on the couch, half-asleep and self-satisfied looking. On the kitchen table, a small jungle has appeared. In a vase.
"What is this?" John asks. He hangs his green coat. "Is it for a case?"
Sherlock's expression momentarily shifts to disgust, the face he makes when John is being dense, as if John acts dense simply to annoy him.
"People like being given flowers. So I gave you flowers. I told you already, don't make me repeat myself. I'm going to be different. Normal."
John stares at the floral arrangement in silent awe. It consists entirely of poisonous plants. There are little sprigs of deadly lily-of-the-valley intermingled with gorgeous sprays of violet foxglove and delicate nightshade, oleander mixed in with larkspur and tiny bunches of periwinkle. This bouquet is the maddest thing that John has ever seen, its colors wildly sparring even as the shapes of the blooms do battle for supremacy. It isn't even symmetrical; various segments arc frenetically outward like blood spray from a head wound, and a few spears of delphinium rise triumphantly tall above the rest of the mortally dangerous plant life. Four or five buttercups peek out from the lip of the vase. No one in the world could possibly mistake this bouquet for a gesture even approaching normalcy.
John loves it. He can feel his heart clench and unclench within his chest, as if he'd started gnawing at the blooms. Sherlock pads in bare feet up behind him and kisses the back of his neck.
"They're all poisonous."
"Yes," Sherlock says, deeply pleased. "Deadly, in the proper quantities. You're welcome."
"I didn't say 'thank you.'"
Frowning, Sherlock turns his friend around to study him. "I ought to have waited. But...don't you like it, then?"
"No." John grins, gripping Sherlock round the waist. "I adore it."
III. The Detective.
Things go dreadfully wrong when The Woman--the woman woman--dies.
Sherlock doesn't think much about Irene after the matter with the phone. When she texts him, he reads the messages, and thinks for a moment about how soothing a sound her little sigh is, even though he knows technically it shouldn't be soothing, and then he goes on about his business with crime scenes and violin musings and John. But he can feel her. He can feel her in his epidermal cells. Sherlock once watched a film in a theatre--he wasn't really watching the film, but he was trailing someone who was--and he'd actually been able to appreciate the activity far more than usual due to observing his mark's reactions. Irene can hear the chaos in the world, the entropy and the violence of the details waiting to rip them all to shreds. Irene would know what Sherlock meant if he told her his head was shrieking. Irene cares deeply about clothing that fits, just as he does, because clothing that doesn't fit properly makes both of them want to panic due to the bloody imprecision of it, he is certain of this. Irene is probably worried about the bees. It's like carrying a heavy burden a very long way, and then splitting the load with someone. It has been quieter between his ears ever since she arrived.
When she dies, and he sees her body cold and pale on a slab at the morgue, things go back to normal. And he despises normal.
He eats still less than he usually does and sulks in his blue dressing gown. He flings himself into cases, all the cases he can lay hands on, a matter to do with a queer club for ginger men, and then a stolen carbuncle of an unusual shade, and then a homeless deformed beggar in a wheelchair covered in veterans' stickers who wasn't really deformed or crippled or a war hero, merely an out of work banking clerk. He experiments with oil of vitriol and stops making breakfast. It's too loud in his head at the moment, he can't, he can't, there are far too many sorts of cereal and too many ways to prepare an egg. Which is, after all is said and done, only a fucking egg. He shoots the wall and ignores when John snarls.
John, of course, is in a complete strop over Sherlock's mood. And--as usual--entirely misinterprets it.
Matters come to a head one late night when Sherlock has had enough of the programme John is watching--something to do with animal rescue--and turns the set off after taking the remote control out of John's hand and pitching it down into Baker Street. It makes a very satisfying little smash.
John is up in a moment, bristling, hands on his hips, breathing hard, two inches from Sherlock's nose where he stands by the window. That, too, is somehow satisfying.
"I was watching that."
"I did observe."
"You really think it's a good idea, pining yourself into fits over a lesbian criminal while your boyfriend--"
"Don't be jealous, it's horribly tedious. It's common. You know better."
"I don't know better. What the bloody hell is wrong with you?"
"It was quieter," Sherlock snarls, "she made it quieter because she was listening to the same thing, she made it fractions instead of the whole, just by being there, she shared it with me and so there was less total volume to be borne individually, and you are making it a fucking cacophany."
Turning, John storms out of the room and up the stairs, slamming the door. Sherlock hears the click of the lock. He's already sorry, but that won't help matters, he knows from past experience. Fidgeting, he undoes the button of his suit coat. He smoothes his hand down the placket of his white shirt. He paces left, then right. John's anger is simmering and loud and charcoal-smelling above him. It's terrible. Sherlock takes a very deep breath. Then he climbs the stairs.
Sherlock seats himself with his back against John's door. There isn't another way out of John's room. The window isn't close enough to the plane tree to be a handy escape route.
"I'm apologizing," Sherlock calls.
No answer. The charcoal smell Sherlock knows is only in his head worsens and he winces.
"John, come out. This is boring."
That was never going to work, he realizes, and rests his head sadly against the door.
"I'm not going anywhere until you come out," he says. "Ever. Do you honestly think you are making any sense at the moment? If you were dead, I would be dead too. Not bored, not annoyed like I am now. Dead. It would be over for me. You aren't listening. She made it easier. She was like maths, very very complicated mathematics. She was like the color teal. I wanted her to exist, the way the Tibetan mountain ranges exist."
He doesn't add and I wanted to put her to sleep and fold her in a little box with a key and then let her out again and she'd have been smiling in that way she has because I'd have made it quiet and then she would have known how it felt, how grateful I was, for the quiet. We solved the boomerang case and then nothing. There was nothing at all. And now I can't ever repay her for being who she was.
It's simply not a topic he's comfortable with around John.
Ominous silence. If he didn't know better, Sherlock would swear their flat was on fire. It reeks of resentment in this hallway.
"It's nearly midnight," Sherlock observes, glancing at his wristwatch. "I'll make you tea? Herbal tea, it's late. I'll be normal. I promise."
In the end, Sherlock finds that John isn't saying anything, isn't about to say anything, and that he is himself very tired. He's tired of the noise, yes, but he is also something simpler--sleepy. Pulling his arms out of his suit jacket, he folds it up for a pillow. Sherlock curls up facing the door with his head on his arm and on the folded cotton. Something wet and pathetic is prickling at the back of his throat. He shouldn't be left out here in this dark stairwell, with the noise in his head, and the charnel house aroma, and no John. He wasn't being normal, though, which has been going well for them. So perhaps he deserves it. He doesn't want to deserve it. He's amazing. But perhaps he deserves what he's getting and John will remain in his bedroom for the rest of their lives. The prickling feeling intensifies.
"Please?" he says to the crack between the door and the floor.
The light in John's room switches off.
John still hasn't forgiven him when he falls fretfully to sleep.
III. The Doctor.
Things go dreadfully wrong when The Woman--the woman woman--dies.
After Sherlock makes it completely clear to John that John is useless, and John locks himself in his bedroom, he curls up in his jumper and blue jeans and simply stares at the ceiling.
Irene Adler made things quieter, did she. That's a laugh. Because neither of you pair of geniuses could fucking hear a word I said when you were in the same room together.
John belatedly realizes Sherlock is talking through the door. He cares deeply about how lost Sherlock sounds, and that infuriates him. John is intensely angry that the horrid female with the pricey shoes could waltz in and make things quieter for Sherlock and then die and leave him an overgrown child in a tantrum and then make John feel useless and then make John feel guilty. It's utterly fucked. It's wrong to feel guilty over being angry over being belitted. That's simply ludicrous.
"Please?" he hears through the door.
John leans over and turns off his lamp. For an hour or more, he doesn't sleep.
But then he does. And he falls into a dream.
The wind here is cold, and the stars are out. Thousands of them, starlight like fireworks at New Year's. John is back at the red brick mansion. There is a light scattering of snow on the drive, but the steps have been cleared. Knowing just where to go, and feeling vaguely unsettled by it, John walks up to the carved front door with the elegant holly wreath hanging from it and tries the handle. It's unlocked, and John steps inside.
The corridor smells of Christmas, of cinnamon and pine. The lights are dim. John begins peeking into rooms--library, study, parlour. The parlour is large enough not to be dominated by the massive gold-trimmed tree, but only just. Everything in this house, John realizes, is obscenely expensive--the art, the carpets, the lamps and the vases and the books. The books are rare and the vases are antique and the lamps are designer and the carpets are lush and the art is real.
There's a terrible argument happening in the room at the end of the corridor.
John cautiously approaches a slender boy of ten who stands with his arms clutched around himself. He is dressed in a blue cashmere jumper and a pair of dark trousers. Sherlock's hair is longer, still wild, and his eyes glint manically in a way that's all too familiar. He's listening through the half-open door from the shadows.
"But it's monstrous, I tell you. We can take care of him here." A woman's voice, cultured and insinuating. Similar to Mycroft's, John realizes.
"Monstrous? Don't be dramatic, you know I can't bear it," a deep man's voice drawls. There are centuries of land ownership and government connections and public schooling in that voice. "How many British boys every year are sent away to study? They will be better aware of how to handle him. They will be fully apprised."
Sherlock shudders. John moves closer and slides his arm around his thin shoulders. Sherlock leans into him, but his head is still cocked, listening.
"I will not be accused of dramatics when you are the one proposing to send our son away on a whim."
"A whim!" The sound of two drinks being poured into glasses interrupts the man's speech. "Darling, he is manifestly intelligent, but he requires professionals. They will perform more tests, doubtless, and a therapist is provided at the facility, and surely you can see that it would be better for him to have access to constant care."
"I don't argue that he needs care."
"Well, I should hope not indeed."
"It would be better for him to stay here, with me. He's not--"
"For god's sake!" The glass slams down to the tabletop in the chamber beyond. "Our son was about to pour pure bleach into his own ear canal, and he would have done if our other son hadn't caught him redhanded. He's psychotic. He's beyond our control."
Sherlock is crying again, but this time he is trying to hide it, clutching his hand to his mouth. He looks up at John and slowly takes the hand away.
"I did," he says. "It hurt so inside my head, and bleach is clean. Isn't it? For cleaning things. It makes them white. It would have cleaned out my skull."
"Oh, Sherlock," John says helplessly.
Wiping his eyes on his sleeve, Sherlock tucks himself further under John's arm. "I hate Christmas, until the day arrives. Christmas is always hardest."
John cradles Sherlock's downy head in his hand. He can't breathe, this is too much. It's cruel. Sherlock is shaking like a leaf. And John is remembering a tiny burn scar on Sherlock's left ear lobe. For a moment, his throat closes. John reaches down and softly turns Sherlock's head.
The burn is there, red and angry, and oh. What to do with this beautiful creature?
"He's our little boy," Sherlock's mother insists. "Of course he isn't beyond our control."
A pause. "I've made my decision," Sherlock's father declares.
Sherlock buries his face in John's belly to muffle the sound, and cries. And cries.
John becomes belatedly aware that the love of his life is throwing himself against a locked door and shouting his name. Trembling violently, John turns on the lamp. He pushes to his unsteady feet and unlocks the door just as Sherlock threatens to break it down. When he opens it, a likewise fully dressed Sherlock tumbles in, chalk-faced and frantic.
"I heard you. I didn't mean to," he's gasping. Sherlock falls to his knees rather gracelessly and throws his arms around John. "Whatever it was, I didn't mean to, I didn't."
"I know, Sherlock, god, I know." John is off-balance, and he manages to back himself into the bed and sit down, Sherlock's head in his lap.
Sherlock looks up. His hair is flattened on one side, and his shirt is half unbuttoned, trousers dusty and hopelessly wrinkled. He's been sleeping out there, John realizes, and suddenly John hates himself for that. "Why are you crying?" Sherlock asks.
"I didn't mean to, either. Someone else was crying." John wipes his eyes with his fingertips and then, because he knows it will matter to the madman before him, brushes them against Sherlock's bow-like mouth.
Sherlock's eyes flutter on an exhale. Tentatively, he touches his tongue to his lip.
"Was I really making it a cacophany, earlier?" John inquires. He wants to know this time.
"No, no, no, that was beastly. I'm sorry."
"I'm sorry too. I'm sorry you miss her. I'm sorry she made it quieter and she's gone. I'm sorry I can't do the same."
"I want her back," Sherlock admits hoarsely. "I liked knowing she was there. That isn't normal."
"Yes, it is, you barmy wanker. It's called sentiment."
"I only have that for you."
"No, for the past few weeks I've been wanting you only to have that for me, which is Not One Sodding Bit Fine. Reminds me of you, actually. I've stopped being a complete prat. Talk about her all you want." John brushes Sherlock's hair back from his ear and finds a miniscule burn scar. "What happened to your ear, long ago?"
Sherlock shakes his head. "Deleted. Do you know?"
"Yes," John says, and fresh tears well up, and he gives more of them to Sherlock's lower lip, and then he laughs brokenly, because this is madness. This is certifiable insanity. "Yes, I know. You don't have to. I know. It wasn't important."
"I don't believe you," Sherlock whispers. "I remember it was important. I simply don't remember what it was."
"Hey, come up here," John suggests thickly. "I'm sick of this. Listen, here is what we are going to do. You're going to take your clothes off, and take my clothes off, because you like that for some reason, and then we're going to lay here for a minute and pull ourselves together, and then we're going to do what normal couples do and have normal sex with each other. You can bugger me in the missionary position like a normal boyfriend, and I'll know you're not quite normal, because you'll be too good at it, you're ahead of the curve there, but we will have normal sex in my normal bed and I love your scars and it doesn't matter. Normal sex would start with normal foreplay, presumably, so in a minute I'm going to want my cock in that pretty mouth of yours, and your fingers in my arse for a while after that, and everything will be fine. There will be normal kissing, normal sex, then normal cuddling. Everything will be completely normal."
Sherlock looks thoughtful, his cheeks flushing slightly. "Is that an achieveable goal?" he wonders.
John laughs, a real one this time. It's infectious, and Sherlock smiles cautiously.
"No, it isn't," John admits, swooping down and kissing Sherlock all along his hair line. "But let's see how close we can come to the mark."
IV. The Detective.
Except that Irene Adler isn't actually dead.
Leaving Battersea Power Complex, Sherlock is hurt that she lied to him, that she forced him to endure miserable months without her, but he understands. People have to die sometimes. It's what people do. And it must have been very pleasant for her, he supposes, being dead.
Silent. Restful. Serene.
Sherlock himself has hardly ever been dead. But on each occasion, only one of which he can recall, it has been absolutely smashing.
IV. The Doctor.
Except that Irene Adler isn't actually dead.
John is already fraying, as it happens.
After Sherlock discovers that his muse is alive and well and wants to have dinner, John takes his time returning to Baker Street and then is forced to have another conversation about torture and not good with his clinically disturbed friend after Sherlock decides to throw an American operative out of their first floor window four times. This conversation would have gone better, John is certain, if John hadn't enjoyed the sound of that low sod crashing into Mrs. Hudson's bins quite so much. Sherlock loves Mrs. Hudson with a possessive ferocity bordering on the feral, and John is extremely fond of her, and her wrists are bruised, and that is enough to cause both men considerable rage.
Four times, though, John thinks, putting Mrs. Hudson's kettle on as the CIA man drops past the window for the final time. Not the done thing.
"Oh, dear me, do you think he's through now?" Mrs. Hudson frets. She is seated at her breakfast table, fiddling with a handkerchief, still visibly shaken. "Only bins are expensive, you see, and I had to pay to have the gutters done only last month, and I wouldn't want to take it out of Sherlock's rent, heaven knows, under the circumstances, but the bins--"
"You're finished," John says, opening Mrs. Hudson's door and poking his head out as Sherlock drags the man back inside 221.
"I'm not," Sherlock says icily.
"Torture, Sherlock. Torture. Not. On."
"Not torture, vengeance. I'm restoring balance to the universe. The universe is crooked, John. Crooked. I'm fixing it."
"You've already fixed it, that last time. That was the clincher, there. Time number four."
Sherlock has the barely conscious, moaning American by the shirt collar and the forearm. He looks dubiously at John. Then he looks again at the tiny scratches on the wall halfway up the stairs and his face hardens to stone.
"Yep, I'm certain, Sherlock. Felt it. No more vengeance. Irene Adler is alive. Isn't that marvelous? She hurt this bastard too, remember? At her house? She helped you with the balance, months back. You're all done."
The teakettle whistles. Behind John, Mrs. Hudson goes to switch off the hob. "Sherlock, dear, do phone someone and get that man out of our house," she calls out. "He's putting me off, I can't help it."
"I already called Lestrade, Mrs. Hudson."
"Well, then come and have a sit with me, please, I'm all a-flutter. At my age, you know, a fright like that stays with you for a spell."
Sherlock remains still, pondering. Then he begins to haul the man upstairs once more, a grim look in his eyes.
"You're right," he says over his shoulder to John. "Irene helped to balance it, before. Thank you for reminding me. Isn't she wonderful?"
As wonderful as a goddamn lightning storm on an aeroplane, John thinks, shutting 221A's door emphatically.
V. The Detective.
The woman ends up in Sherlock's bed, in Sherlock's dressing gown, her hair smelling of Sherlock's expensive shampoo, her smooth legs soothed by Sherlock's moisturizer. Sherlock's bedroom has never seemed so quiet as it does when he discovers Irene sleeping there, nestled deep in his sheets.
Breath, heartbeat, breath, heartbeat, breath, heartbeat, flicker of lashes, breath, heartbeat, breath, heartbeat, flutter of eyelids, entering REM cycle, breath, heartbeat, slow, slow, slow, quiet, slow, breath, heartbeat, breath, heartbeat, breath, heartbeat, breath, heartbeat.
Sherlock adores her.
V. The Doctor.
The woman ends up in Sherlock's bed, in Sherlock's dressing gown, her hair smelling of Sherlock's expensive shampoo, her smooth legs soothed by Sherlock's moisturizer.
John has never loathed anyone so much in his life.
Sherlock shows off for her in a flamboyantly obvious fashion that borders on the lewd, though to be fair, he doesn't appear to notice that he's doing it, and after all he is England's foremost braggart, so John allows his preening to pass with a minimum of snark. Sherlock is Sherlock. Sherlock shows off.
It's what he does. So it's fine.
But later, after much talk of phones and planes and a supper of takeaway Chinese, Sherlock falls into a near-catatonic Thinking State in his chair and John decides he has had enough.
"Could you maybe put your clothes back on?" he asks Irene coldly, drying his hands off on a kitchen towel after putting the last plate back in the cupboard. He washed Irene's twice. To get any trace of Irene off of it.
Irene smiles from where she reclines on the sofa. Her smile is toxic. She smells like Sherlock, all of her smells like Sherlock and his dressing gown and his hygiene products and it lights a fire deep in John's belly. He wants to reach out and take the robe back himself, but that would be utterly wrong and indecent and John is a gentleman.
So he asks instead.
"Poor little doctor," Irene says softly. "You don't know what to do with me, do you? With someone who misbehaves."
"I know exactly what to do with you. Look who I'm with, for god's sake. I just don't want to do...well. Anything with you whatsoever."
"That's a shame. You like girls as well as boys, I can tell. I have a sixth sense that way. Knowing what people like. I'd be gentle with you, if you asked. You could ask me for practically anything, you know."
"Fantastic. Will you take off that robe and put your own damn clothes back on, if I ask?"
Irene sidles into the kitchen. Irene doesn't walk anywhere: she glides, just like Sherlock glides, and it makes John crazy. No one else should glide like that. No one. It's unfair that she should be so graceful, as graceful as Sherlock himself. John loves women, or he did when he had the chance, but he hates that he sees her all over him. John is putting the pepper shaker back where it belongs. She reaches for John's wrist, and John pulls it away. So she smiles her cat smile, just as Sherlock would do, and raises her arms in a lazy stretch.
"You don't think royal blue is my colour?" she teases.
It's HIS colour, you horrid, horrid female, John thinks, but that sounds ridiculous even in his head.
"You're angry I flirted with him. But you needn't be, you know," Irene points out. "I like detective stories, but I like medical dramas and war stories too. I could like a man who told me some."
"Are you trying to fuck everyone in the world, or just in this flat?" John snaps.
"Oh, not everyone in the world," she purrs. "Only the interesting ones."
Sherlock's eyes have closed, meanwhile. He clearly isn't hearing a word they're saying.
"That man in there," John hisses, pointing at the place where they live and eat and breathe, "seems to find life more bearable with you in it. So fine, come back from the dead, play with him like he's one of your sex toys, I know what I am to him, I'm in his head constantly. He has conversations with me when I'm not even in the fucking country. I don't have to be in the room for him to direct whole monologues at me. I'm his audience. His entire consciousness is me-oriented. He is bloody John-sexual. I don't care if you want his help, take his help, but don't try his life on as if you're putting on a costume for a fancy dress party and expect me to enjoy the show. This is our house, not his house. The space you are in, that dressing gown, that bed, is mine."
Irene's grin only widens. Her fingers rub luxuriously up and down the blue fabric draped over her shoulders.
"You clearly don't care for my company, so why don't you leave?" she asks softly. "Or are you afraid that if you do leave, and I'm still here, all alone with him, he'll want...dessert? That would be an understandable concern."
John's heart twists painfully. His left hand twitches and clenches and grips and then opens again. He trusts Sherlock with sex, even if he trusts him with nothing whatsoever else. He knows that's an unusual way to run a relationship. Never mind, though. It's the way they are. Sherlock could be in the same room with a hundred naked Irenes and John wouldn't worry half so much as if Sherlock was in a room with one loaded gun with the safety off, or a room with a serial killer and a poison pill meant to be taken voluntarily for fuck's sake.
But if this horrid invading female says one more word, he will slap her, and that is untenable. So John stalks to the door, limping ever so slightly, and puts on his coat.
"I need some air," he announces in a voice that could melt steel. "Try to get a leg over, be my guest. Text me if you manage it. With pictures, you like pictures."
"You needn't hate me so. I can share."
She is very striking, it occurs to him as he leaves. He doesn't find her beautiful. But she is very striking, after all.
"You're not worth hating," John replies, keys in his hand as he flees the scene. "And I can't."
VI. The Detective.
Sherlock beats Irene at her own game, but she escapes nevertheless. And some time afterward, Sherlock flies to Karachi after learning she is in mortal danger.
Karachi doesn't go quite as he expected it to.
The stars here make his head whirl like a carousel. He has dreamed them before, similar ones, whenever he is dreaming John's desert dreams, but seeing them in person makes him gasp. They are very close akin to the ones he has seen in Afghanistan, though not identical--in actual life, they slice across his retinas like well-meaning razors. Sherlock failed to inform John that he was departing for a few days to infiltrate a terror cell, primarily due to the fact that John can't hear Irene's name without scowling, and seeing John's stars suddenly makes him miss the smaller man with a dull, dry ache.
The constellations have never been so close, and--if he concentrates--he can see the way they would look when reflected in John's blue eyes, the way they shone bouncing out of the depths of John's pupils when John was busy surviving and healing people and killing people. The image is dizzying. And the silence here is so profound, once out of the city proper, once in the wilderness. Silence so deep seems too good to be true, after the helicopter he convinced the British government to give him, after forging Mycroft's signature
after after after
The chopper has dropped him and departed. Sherlock can hear his own eyelashes going swish.
"When I say run, run," Sherlock says to the kneeling woman before him, raising the sword high above his head.
Irene smiles an odd little smile. He can see her. This is right, he thinks, this is the way. He needs her existence. Her death now would be haunting and raw, like the death of a twin. Sherlock gives the signal.
Irene stands up and uncovers her head. Her hair is down, and she shakes it. It's curling, waves dancing in the starlight like ripples on the sea.
She isn't running.
"Gentlemen," she says softly.
Three terrorists converge on Sherlock. One knocks the sword from his hand with the butt of a pistol, one kicks him in the back of the knee so he staggers and falls, and one punctuates this development by pressing a gun against the back of his head.
"I thought this might appeal to you," Irene says, waving at their surroundings. "A chance to rescue me. A chance to peek into John Watson's memories. You'll remember that just before you unlocked my phone, I had listed some thoughts about my compensation and protection. It was rather silly of me to use your name, of course, but I am so fond of you. I couldn't resist. You're such a beautiful creature. But I've grown accustomed to a certain lifestyle, you see. These men...you've gathered by now that they're working for me. Their leader is quite a ruthless man, and I know what he likes. So you're going to take that phone of yours and call Big Brother and tell him that if he doesn't take my generous offer of accepting his apology and his original offer of cash and security, then I am going to start chopping off Junior's fingers. One by one."
Sherlock laughs. There is an explosive weapon digging into his skull and he laughs and laughs, and soon Irene has an answering smile for him.
"May I stand up?" Sherlock asks.
She nods her head at the terrorist with the pistol, who smells of musk and sweat and cold desert nights. The gun is still trained on Sherlock, but he doesn't care. They need him alive. He walks up to Irene and lifts her by the waist and twirls her in a circle, the stars above them whirling in a mad waltz.
Irene laughs, staring down at Sherlock.
"You're amazing," Sherlock tells her.
"I know," she answers.
VI. The Doctor.
Sherlock beats Irene at her own game, but she escapes nevertheless. Whether or not Irene has anything to do with Sherlock's brief and sudden disappearance some weeks later is up for debate. John hasn't any direct evidence of such.
But when he asks Sherlock where he was, Sherlock says "Working," and when John asks on what, Sherlock says "A case," and when John asks how it went, Sherlock says "Amazing," and when John asks directly if he won, if he solved it, he says, "No," and so John suspects. Then Mycroft tells him as the rain hammers down outside of Speedy's Cafe that Irene Adler is dead for the second time, in Karachi, and that it would take Sherlock Holmes to have fooled him, and John knows.
"How much did you have to give her, in the end?" John asks. "When she'd got her hands on your brother?"
Mycroft's face curdles in dismay before he can prevent himself. Mycroft doesn't expect deductions from John. He expects acceptance. But John lives with Sherlock, knows Sherlock, and Sherlock was gone for four bloody days, and that is unheard of.
He never leaves John behind. He never wants to.
"It put rather a dent in the wealth of a nation," Mycroft admits sourly.
"And you figured I'd never notice Sherlock's little undercover excursion. Because that makes so much sense. Because I'm fucking blind. I make my way about by echolocation."
Mycroft sighs through his nose.
John can feel his blood rising, a steady thump-thump-thump of anger and hurt and fury over the way the Holmes brothers operate him, manipulate him. "And now you want me to lie to him about her being in witness protection, but not really lie to him, since the lie is for the messenger. Me. I'm the loose end. I'm the one meant to think she's actually dead."
Mycroft looks as if he is watching something that is considerably beneath him take an unexpected turn, as if the pavement had reversed course or a streetside shoe shiner had spat in his eye. He clears his throat ostentatiously. John has never before wanted to punch him as much as Sherlock does, so this is a new sensation. The man who is the British Government ponders how to make John behave himself for exactly five seconds too long.
"Sod this," John says, grabbing the evidence bag. "I'm going upstairs. He'll tell me the truth. He will. You watch him."
Mycroft is silent. He seems different under cafe lighting. Less expensive, more sallow. He seems very alone. John is perversely glad of it.
"You can't see her again," John says to Sherlock upstairs, standing there with the plastic bag and rain on his coat and feeling simply wretchedly small. John may be aware that nothing sexual occurred between Sherlock and Irene, but the thought of her importance is like a spear in his side.
He lies about witness protection in America, and that is easy.
Sherlock pretends to believe him, and that is hard.
Sherlock insists on keeping the phone, and he says please, and that is hardest of all.
VII. The Detective.
After Irene, Sherlock discovers John is still very angry about her.
"I am presently at a loss to know whether you can't understand or simply won't understand," Sherlock snaps when John finds Irene's photo in the drawer of his bedside table along with her phone, and a stony look comes into his beautiful eyes. "Awareness of her helps me to think."
John just strides out of the bedroom on his small feet, angry. So very angry. They were about to begin dressing for bed, but he's still wearing the blue and black striped shirt with jeans and Sherlock is barefoot in black trousers and a new green dress shirt that made John's mouth go soft when he first saw it. Sherlock wants the softness of John's mouth back, but he doesn't know how to go about that project. Everything he touches turns to sand and then sloughs away in waves. It's wretched.
"I had her phone already, how can you be angry I put it in a drawer?" Sherlock cries.
"I'm not angry you put it in a drawer," John snarls, showing his petite white animal teeth. "You fucking moron. I've angry you have a little shrine to her next to your bed. I'm sodding furious that you let her flirt with you and touch you and kiss your cheek and sleep in our bed and then flew to Karachi to rescue her, yes I know about that, I'm not fucking stupid, and I'm angry that she can do things for you I can't, that you admire her for them, and I know for a fact she tried to get into your pants despite the fact you're mine, mine, and yes, that makes me pretty bleeding furious, Sherlock Holmes, she has no boundaries whatsoever, and then you let me lie to you about witness protection, and none of it can be solved, and none of it really even needs to be solved, because I'm being jealous and petty, and that makes me bloody angrier than any of the rest of it, but you have keepsakes of her in your drawer and I want to hit something."
Sherlock sinks down onto the sofa. He shoves his hand through his curls, deeply disturbed.
There was a night sky and a desert and it was you, all I thought of was you, you simply weren't the reason I was there. But there aren't any stars without you.
"You knew about Ka--"
"So when you--"
"And the witness pro--"
"Failed that test with flying colours, didn't you."
Thinking very very hard, Sherlock makes an attempt at English.
"The stars in the Middle East are beautiful, but they don't know it unless you're looking at them," he says. "You. No one Else. I know what that feels like."
John makes a terrible scoffing sound that means poetry is out, even if Sherlock finds it to be literally true. Perhaps that's why his poetry so seldom works, he realizes. For most people, poetry is imaginary. Not a picture of the literal world. He can't tell the difference, all he knows is he's rubbish at it.
"I didn't have sex with her, it would have been impossible," he attempts instead.
"I know you didn't, I'd have murdered you."
Shivering, Sherlock decides not to tell John why that statement was wonderful. Because John will doubtless find his thoughts on the subject deeply inappropriate.
John paces in front of the fireplace, left hand fidgeting in little jerks. "You don't just take off for a potentially deadly combat situation in Karachi without me and then lie about it because you know I'll disapprove after the fact. How old are you, five? You sick son of a bitch."
"Are you going to stop being angry with me?" Sherlock whispers. "Ever?"
"What can I do to help?"
"You can shut up for once and let me calm down. Shit, Sherlock. Shit. You make it so fucking impossible sometimes."
Flinching, Sherlock flops backward on the couch.
He doesn't mean to make it impossible, he doesn't mean to, he means to be normal. But nothing he does is ever enough. He wants to invent a new language with John and never speak English again (fine) and weave a piece of cloth from his lost blond hairs and carry it as a kerchief (fine) and cast his lovely worn face in wax (fine) and make a violin bow from his heartstrings (not fine), and John is still stupid enough to think that Irene makes a difference. The ticking clock on the mantel is too loud, too loud. John's soft steps are better. They're slowing gradually. Sherlock listens to them instead.
"I think I know what to do," John says slowly.
Sherlock looks up. There is a smile lurking behind John's eyes now.
"What, then?" Sherlock sniffs, twisting into what he supposes is a more dramatic shape on the couch. Then he abandons this plan in favour of stalking up to John and looming.
John steps away from him, eyes glinting strangely, and moves a small stack of books off the little window table. His laptop he likewise relocates to the seat of Sherlock's leather chair, leaving the table where Irene kissed Sherlock cleared of objects. He surveys it with satisfaction.
"Your safeword is safeword," John answers, sounding amused. "I know you have a self-destructive streak a mile wide, but that much you can remember for me since you won't pick one yourself. That list you have? Two birds with one stone. Take off your belt and hand it to me."
Sherlock's train of thought stutters, skips, stumbles. He blinks.
Surely he can't have heard that correctly.
Number thirty-two was previously on the Fine list, because it wasn't dangerous to anyone save Sherlock, but John moved it to the Not Fine list, where it is presently number twelve, and reads:
12. As an experiment, arrange for John to beat me, for as long as he likes, to see how far he can take it, and I'll be covered with marks John put there for days even if he doesn't kill me, and that will be lovely.
Yes, that would be lovely.
Swallowing, Sherlock discovers his throat is dry. John is watching him. He isn't acting in any way impatient, and Sherlock comprehends that he can still say no if he likes, even though it was his own slightly twisted idea. Sherlock isn't a masochist, but the concept sprung from wanting every sensation John could possibly deliver to him, and there John is standing, almost-smirking, expectant, clearly thinking about Irene Adler and having Sherlock over a table until he begs for mercy.
Which made John angry, her saying that, he recalls.
Slowly and rather mechanically, Sherlock slides the belt out of its loops and hands it over. John takes it with a businesslike nod as if none of this is at all unusual and holds the buckle end, wrapping it a number of times around his hand.
"Over you pop," John says lightly, nodding at the table.
At first, Sherlock is frozen still. Then something pools in his abdomen, electric and sweet as cocaine. Dazed, Sherlock walks to the table and leans over it until he is resting his elbows on the surface. Time has slowed to a slow, sugary, honey thickness. There are bees in his ears. John moves behind him. They are both underwater. No, bees cannot survive underwater. That's wrong. The air has thickened. Sherlock isn't afraid. He hadn't expected to be. He's curious, however. Deathly curious. John is a very good person. He knows right from wrong. Sherlock can't breathe air this thick. If John doesn't get a move on--
It doesn't hurt like he had thought it would, just a light burn and then a fading sting, and of course John is being careful, starting slow, and over trousers and all it really couldn't possibly hurt as he'd hoped it would, but still--
Thwack. Thwack. Thwack.
After exactly ten more of these, Sherlock shifts his feet carefully, breathing a slow breath through his mouth. That was nothing if not...rather pleasant. Mostly harmless, which is the title of a book John likes. The bees in his ears have quieted. They are listening. John approaches him and palms a hand up the front of his trousers. Sherlock presses into the touch, already hard as granite beneath the thin wool and unwilling to be ashamed of the fact.
"I'm not punishing you for needing her, for the record," John declares with his lips against Sherlock's ear. "Well. That does drive me round the twist, but. You can't help that part. That part is fine. Karachi, though, and without me. A terror cell. What were you thinking?"
"I meant to--"
John steps back. "Strike that, I don't give a shite what you were thinking. But begging for a strapping, that's what you were doing. Trousers down. Pants, too."
Sherlock stands and complies. His fingers are admirably steady when he considers the beehive in his ears and his stomach and the fact he has never done this sort of thing before. When his trousers and pants rest at half-mast, he bends his forearms back down to the table. John rubs his right hand up his back and he shivers at the unexpected gentle sensation.
"Don't tense up. Drop your spine."
He does, hollowing his lumbar curve. For some reason, John laughs. He's staring. But then, John is always staring.
"Gorgeous," he murmurs. "Christ, you are deadly gorgeous. You're so fair-skinned, you're already pink as a grapefruit. It's. Um. Very pretty."
"Thank you," Sherlock says politely, smiling.
"You're welcome," John chuckles, and then swings the belt again, much harder.
Sherlock's mouth drops, but no sound emerges. And John keeps going. Over and over again, the cracking sound ten times louder now, like the snap of a distant gun, the burn blazing into a fire and then into an ache and then into something else entirely that sends its signals back up his spinal column to his brain and then careening back down to his groin. Trying to count grows impossible after fifteen. He's panting slightly, shallowly, and when John aims a blow that lands square on the curve where his arse meets his thigh, he gasps.
"Yeah, meant for you to feel that one." John, inexplicably, drops Sherlock's belt in front of his nose on the table. "Stay put. Keep your hands in front of you. Be right back."
Obeying, Sherlock dances on the balls of his feet for a moment, trying to catch his breath. There was no reason for John to banish this actitvity to the Not Fine list, he thinks. Tentatively, he reaches out and touches his belt. It's warm. That's to be expected, friction is a scientific principle, but it feels as hot and living as human skin. His backside throbs, from top to thigh, but it isn't unbearable. His cock throbs too, but he can ignore it for the moment. Where is John?
Where is John?
John returns with a pleased skip to his step and rests something on Sherlock's back. Apparently now Sherlock is furniture. A shelf of sorts. Sherlock deduces that the object is his own riding crop and feels a first flutter of anxiety. Then John reaches down and cool slick meets his hot cheeks and John is carefully, efficiently insinuating a finger in...
The sound Sherlock makes is not a whimper. It isn't. Because it simply isn't. Whimpering is undignified.
"You've got more punishment coming to you," John says mildly. "All right?"
A second finger breaches him and Sherlock moans breathily. Moaning is acceptable. His nerves are sparking like firecrackers and he's so aroused he wonders if his brain is getting enough oxygen. John should not be able to unravel him this quickly. John's touch should be the same as any of his previous partners. It isn't, though. Because it simply isn't. John is working him open and it's too much, it's not quite enough, it's freefalling, it's terrifying.
"Answer me," John orders, slapping his arse with his free hand.
"All right, I'm all right," Sherlock groans, pushing backward. "John. John. Oh, Christ."
"You're doing a crap job."
"You will be sorry."
"Has anyone ever beat you like this? Spanked you, paddled you for being an unbearable smart arse?"
"Shockingly, no, never."
"Did you want them to?"
"Did you want Irene to, when she was here?"
"Of course not."
John pushes in harder and Sherlock sees stars. "Do you want me to, then, now? I hated her when she marked you, that day at her house in Belgravia. Is this what you want me to do? To mark you?"
"Ask me nicely, in that case."
Sherlock bites his lip to keep from screaming as John pistons slowly in and out, in and out. He forgets he is meant to be talking. He forgets what he is meant to be talking about. Minutes pass, he knows, but not how many. The bees in his ears are silent. They drowned. The bees in his belly have moved to his pelvis. The burn from what feels like thousands of bee stings doesn't seem to be fading, on the contrary.
"Come on, Mister Punch Line, ask me and make it pretty."
The sleuth snaps back to alertness. "Please would you give me a whipping."
"Oh, god, god, Christ," Sherlock gasps. There are three fingers now. Coherence is rapidly becoming impossible.
"And then fuck me."
"Oh, I am definitely going to fuck you," John says, and he's laughing again, and Sherlock can barely stand. He's breathing too fast. He's going to faint.
"Please," he whispers. "Oh, please. I can't anymore. Get on with it, please."
"That's once," John says blithely. But he doesn't stop, placing a steadying hand on Sherlock's hip bone while the other brushes over and over and over against--
Sherlock cries out, loud in the stillness of the room, and then sinks his teeth into his shirt sleeve. And John isn't stopping, he isn't stopping, he--
"Gorgeous," John says, and it sounds like You love me. It sounds wonderful. "You're going to count as you're ready, all right? Take your time. When you think you can, just say the next number. I'll tell you when you're done. Understand me?"
John's fingers draw away slowly, and Sherlock swallows a sob that has nothing whatsoever to do with having his trousers and pants taken down and his backside thrashed. He plants his feet and relaxes his hunched shoulders, distressingly aware he was just on the verge of an orgasm. When he feels safe enough, he speaks.
Thwip goes the crop and lands smack in the middle and Sherlock clenches his teeth and shit, shit, that was different, that was a line of fire and it's swelling and I can't and it feels bloody fucking marvelous and oh god I can't but he grits his teeth and says "Two." Lower this time, but still right on the full, two parallel lines and John put them there and it's far too much. "Three," Sherlock whispers, and that lands lower still. His fists are clenching involuntarily. "Four" earns him a diagonal strike, as does "Five," while "Six" finds the top of his thigh and involuntary tears spring into his eyes. "Seven," said in a strangled tone, matches six but on the other side.
Sherlock makes it to twelve before his knees start buckling and he hears the crop fall to the floor. John has him by the hips an instant later, though, so that's fine, he's fine, everything is--
"Please," Sherlock moans. "Please, I can't. John, please."
"That's twice. You're perfect," John breathes. He presses his nail into a welt and Sherlock hisses. "You are a goddamn angel. So to speak. Did you tense up, or are you ready?"
John's fingers are checking, strong fingers, slow fingers, and Sherlock lets his shoulders fall all the way to the table top and presses his chest there, trying not to die prematurely. It isn't working. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he pants. There is sweat pouring down the back of his neck.
"Why? That was amazing."
"Because--" Sherlock says, and he's about to explain what is likely to happen next, but then John's fingers are gone and there is his cock replacing them, and it is suddenly all the way in and Sherlock is coming, coming so hard it hurts, gasping out John's name and please and I'm sorry and John says, "Oh god, yes, that's it, love, beautiful, you're so fucking beautiful, that's it, come on," and he snaps his hips fiercely over and over and over again until Sherlock is about to shriek safeword at the top of his lungs and then John stills suddenly, gripping Sherlock's waist with steady hands, pulsing.
The next moment Sherlock is aware of, he is on his back on the floor, and his arse is on fire.
John lies next to him, still clothed and with his pants pulled back up. Sherlock's have migrated to the region of his ankles. Staring at Sherlock, head propped on his hand, John smiles. "Medically speaking, you're all right. I checked. Are you okay, though?"
Sherlock honestly has no idea.
After a long silence, John makes a humming sound. "Talk to me."
Normally light tastes like rainstorms, but you shut it off and it was only a color spectrum.
Normally I can remember my name, but I couldn't.
Normally pain is boring, but this wasn't, it wasn't, you're never boring.
Normally I'm not frightened when you take me, but I was the first time, and this time too, and I love being frightened.
Normally I don't feel like a Cubist painting, but I did, pieces of me were rearranged.
Normally loving you only hurts in my heart, but this was better, it made more sense.
Normally I want to be a gift for you but I'm more like a hospital bill and that is slowly killing me but not this time, this time I forgot about it.
None of this is normal.
"I'm just a bit...blank," Sherlock says slowly. "I think you erased me somewhat."
"That will go away," John says soothingly.
"No," Sherlock whispers, turning his head toward John. "No, I like it. Are you still angry?"
"No, not since you called me Captain."
Sherlock giggles, and then John giggles, and then John says, "Come on, shush, we can't giggle, it's a BDSM scene," and then Sherlock howls until his chest aches with laughter.
VII. The Doctor.
After Irene, Sherlock discovers John is still very angry about her.
John sorts this problem with a hard spanking he can't pretend not to enjoy, and afterwards, he cleans them both off, removes everyone's clothing, puts aloe on Sherlock's magnificent scarlet tapestry of a bum, takes him to bed, and wraps his arms around him.
"Why haven't we done that before?" Sherlock wonders quietly when the lights are out.
John yawns, hand deep in Sherlock's hair, rubbing his smooth scalp. "Because I'm not really a dom, and you're not really a sub. You like to fuck me on my knees in strange hotel rooms and choke me while wanking me off, and I like being able to handle it. It's brilliant, I love it, never fear. But you're also a sensation fiend with a dirty streak and a danger addict who compulsively pushes my buttons. So this worked, this time. It wouldn't work all the time. I don't want it to. But Karachi was the last straw."
Sherlock is silent. Thinking, John assumes.
"Why were you so good at it?"
"Oh." John is momentarily rather embarrassed. "Cheers. Er, 'ta, I mean I, I had a pretty venturous girlfriend or two. And I like getting people off if I'm dating them. And I'm a doctor, so...um, dunno. I know when to stop. Most of that will be gone tomorrow, and the rest the day after."
Sherlock makes a displeased sound with his nose that causes John to smile broadly.
"Shall I be normal again in that case, tomorrow?" the lunatic asks at length. He sounds exhausted, but content. "I think I can manage it this time."
John presses his lips to his friend's skull. "I don't want normal."
"What do you want, then?" Sherlock asks hoarsely.
The doctor thinks about late nights running through filthy corridors, the stink of cheap grease in their nostrils and a killer just out of reach. He remembers thinking that he would have to teach medicine anyhow, wouldn't he, after all he'd done, and taking the loaded pistol out of his drawer and then putting it back because there was nothing whatsoever to shoot at. He thinks about the inside of Sherlock's wrist, pale like dove's feathers and nearly as delicate. He thinks about how he'd slipped once on a fire escape and Sherlock had thrown himself backward and caught him with a look in his grey eyes like the eye of a hurricane. The doctor thinks about all the beautiful things in the world he's ever seen, and how none of them are as beautiful as the one in his bed.
John pulls Sherlock's hand up by the wrist. There's a blank space on his throat, so John takes the pliant index finger he's gripping and writes SHERLOCK HOLMES in capitals across his own Adam's apple.
VIII. The Detective.
In the end, Irene Adler matters to Sherlock in a way that matters less to John.
Sherlock doesn't speak of her much. He has her phone, and her photograph, and once in a while he receives a cryptic email about what people like in Naples or in Bucharest, and they make him smile. He doesn't show them to John, but he doesn't hide them from him either.
In every conceivable way, Sherlock fails to be normal, because he is too busy being amazing. But he still makes John breakfast from time to time, because it makes his friend laugh.
It isn't easy. And they aren't happy. But Sherlock still thinks of John as the sole requirement. That is, until the third occasion John dreams one of Sherlock's dreams, and Sherlock begins to wonder whether having starlight and crime scenes will ever be enough glue to hold them together.
Because they have the starlight, on this occasion, and the crime scene as well. There is a bicyclist in Farnham being stalked by a serial rapist and murderer, a vile little monster named Woodley who likes to make himself known to his victims before spiriting them away, and Sherlock and John are running, racing, plummeting through bracken, the tall Surrey trees flashing by straight and proud in the moonlight, and Ms. Smith's self-appointed boyfriend (she appears to disagree with Bob Carruthers on this title) is there too, and he shoots Woodley with a concealed weapon in a clearing, and things get a bit hectic after that.
Soon enough, John has Woodley stable (why bother, thinks Sherlock, but there's John for you), and Violet Smith is finished screaming. Soon enough, the authorities arrive. But the pair aren't about to return to London, not at two-thirty in the morning anyhow, and after all Carruthers is grateful for their help and a man who owns a country house. It makes perfect sense to pass the night at Chiltern Grange half a mile away.
"Well, thank god for that, then," John says when Sherlock informs him of this plan. "It's better than an hour back to London, supposing we could even get a driver."
Chiltern Grange is...nice, Sherlock supposes. It reminds Sherlock of the London digs he found just after he left college. Sherlock doesn't recall much of college save for the fact he didn't like it. But this house is definitely similar to the renovated public one he stayed in afterward. It's squarish, simple grey brick, fairly unadorned, and the door whines in the same way, and there the resemblance ends. Otherwise it's just an Edwardian era house, with ivy and moss and a roof that probably leaks. Very uninteresting, in the same way that Carruthers is very uninteresting. He is in love with Violet Smith, who doesn't care. That makes him merely a man in love, and they are a common breed. John talks to him, thanks him, smiles at him, learns the way to the guest bedroom from him, and then Sherlock is off like a shot.
The bedroom is likewise uninteresting, though Sherlock appreciates that it's at the opposite end of a large house from Carruthers. It's patterned in blue striped paper, with white bedding on the four-poster.
"You still have powder smoke on your face."
There is John, who looks grey in the moonlight. John is never, never dull. He licks his thumb and draws it along Sherlock's sharp cheekbone.
"Crime scene," he says fondly, heading to the en suite bath to wash up.
Sherlock toes his shoes off and strips to his pants before curling up atop the duvet. He means to stay awake for John. But before he realizes his eyes have even shut, Sherlock has fallen fast asleep.
VIII. The Doctor.
In the end, Irene Adler matters to Sherlock in a way that matters less to John.
John stops being in a strop about her, which is easy, because Sherlock makes it easy. She fades out of their lives, and if she remains a brighter presence in Sherlock's head than in John's--bloody brilliant, that's as it should be. Smashing. God knows John doesn't want to think about her.
So he doesn't.
He follows Sherlock to crime scene after crime scene, and one night in Surrey he emerges from the guest bedroom of an industrial-looking country house called Chiltern Grange to find Sherlock curled up asleep on the bed with starlight in his hair. John is exhausted, so he creeps across the carpeting and switches the light off, nestling likewise on top of the covers with a quilt pulled up, because it's warm indoors and Sherlock's metabolism after a case has just concluded resembles a furnace at full blast. He expects to be awakened either by the dawn sunlight or by Sherlock developing post-case grabby hands.
He is mistaken.
John looks up at a grey house wedged between a restaurant and a garage, a lodging house probably built during a similar decade to the house called Chiltern Grange. The exterior is quite plain--it has clearly been converted to communal living. There are many more buildings surrounding it, featureless for the most part, all swallowed by greater London, and night has fallen over a clear spring evening. Lights are on in countless windows, sounds of raucous laughter drfting through the air, stale smells of chips and curry lingering in doorways. It isn't a nice neighbourhood. The girls drifting by aren't wearing much, and the men have cold eyes and hard fists. The grey house is an in-between sort of place. A place for waiting.
A very, very thin young man of about twenty-two emerges, dropping his key in his coat pocket. He looks distinctly unhealthy, in the way only young skin resting over young bones can look unhealthy if treated poorly. He is dressed all in black, with a black leather jacket that was once fine but now isn't and black jeans that fray at the cuffs. His gaunt face is pale, but perfectly shaven. He stops to light a cigarette before striding off into the night.
The instant John realizes he isn't moving, he breaks into a run after Sherlock.
He doesn't get very far. Or rather, Sherlock doesn't get very far. A little knot of people are approaching from the west. Three of them, to be precise.
One is tall, with a familiar swagger. The others are unknown to John.
John sees a start go through Sherlock's entire body when he spies the small band. For a moment John thinks he'll turn around, but he doesn't. He adopts the most neutrally aloof Sherlock Holmes expression John has ever seen and keeps walking. The road is narrow, but at first they don't see him, these interlopers, and he's nearly passed them by when one of the men shoves him roughly in the shoulder.
"Oi!" the fellow says. "Well, bugger if it isn't. Seb, Eric, look what the Thames has washed up--it's Sherlock bloody Holmes."
Sebastian Wilkes is also thinner, and carefully dressed not to look like a target. His friends likewise look tasteful, but not expensive. The three are slumming it, John realizes, out for a nastier variety of fun than they can come by in the West End. Sherlock, meanwhile, lives here. His expression is schooled to conceal the fact, however.
"Seb," he says cautiously. "Eric. Tom."
"Oh, god," laughs Eric. He is smaller than the others, fair haired, and clearly drunk. "I prayed never to see this freak again. I prayed to all the saints on my knees. Sherlock, what in hell are you doing in Rotherhithe? Renting?"
Sherlock smiles frigidly and keeps smoking. He says nothing.
"That's right," the one called Tom agrees smugly. "Of course. This manky little poufter, he always was gagging for it. That's it, eh, Sherlock? Do you charge hourly, or by the hole?"
When the others laugh, Sebastian laughs the softest. But still he laughs, no matter how quietly, and Sherlock's eyes turn dark as iron.
"Why?" he asks, supercilious and lilting. "Are you in the market?"
Tom stops laughing. He seems less drunk than Seb and Eric, but darker. More vicious. Walking up to Sherlock, he makes a sudden strike and yanks him backward by the hair until Sherlock is pressed up against the wall of the alley with Tom's other hand at his throat.
"Tom, don't be a bore," Sebastian suggests, but he seems startled. "We're expected. Come along."
"Listen here, you self-important prick," Tom hisses in Sherlock's wide-eyed face, "Your mouth isn't of the variety that's any good for talking. When it's talking, it does things like tell Meg that I was seeing Johanna on the side just before graduation, and you know something? I don't even think you were fucking listening to yourself. So perhaps you can make it up to me? Hmm? Maybe you can show me what that mouth is actually good for?"
Sherlock thrashes in an ill-advised scramble to get away, but he's too thin, and he's too spent, and now that his jacket has been pushed back John can see punctures at his wrists and up his forearm, and John doesn't want to be in this dream anymore.
John wants out, and fast.
Eric looks frightened. "Stop it, Tom, you'll upset Seb. You know they were together."
Tom doesn't drop Sherlock, but his head whips backward to Seb in disbelief. "They never were. Eric, I ought to wash out your mouth. Sebastian, you fucked the Freak?"
"What?" Sebastian cries. "No!"
Sherlock spends exactly one second looking devastated before he looks...like nothing at all. Empty.
"Jesus, Eric, whatever you put in those pipes was laced," Sebastian protests. "No. I wouldn't touch him for love or money. Just look at the wretch. Like the ghost of a consumption victim out of some ghastly melodrama. Unlike some, I'm not actively soliciting AIDS. Eric, what is wrong with you?"
The lie is simple, but the lie is effective in two ways. First, Tom roars with laughter directed at Eric's stupidity, which breaks some of the tension. And second, Sherlock goes limp. He simply closes his eyes and stops moving. Tom slaps him lightly across the face and his eyes flick open, but otherwise he doesn't react.
"Ah, hell, he's too far gone for any sport," Tom concludes, stepping away. "Let's be off. Wine, women, and song await. Oh, and men. We've wasted enough time on gutter trash. Fuck you, Freak, Meg was the girl of my dreams."
Eric and Tom saunter off.
Sherlock leans back against the wall, his eyes still closed, his expression grim.
Sebastian lingers. He walks up to his former classmate. "Sherlock--"
"That was a lie," Sherlock says in a choked, small voice.
"Oh, of course you don't have AIDS, I had to--"
"You didn't have to," Sherlock hisses, gripping Sebastian by the shirt. "And not that lie. Not that lie, Seb. The other one."
"The--oh," says Sebastian, bewildered. "Why would--you didn't actually expect me to admit we'd been together once, did you?"
Sherlock laughs mirthlessly. He searches his pockets for another cigarette.
"Listen, do you need money? Food? Something stronger? Here's twenty quid if you--"
"Fuck. Off," Sherlock spits, lighting his fag.
"Don't be like this. It's ridiculous. I have a reputation."
Sherlock is fast recovering himself, his silver eyes flashing live sparks. "I hope one day your reputation is at risk," he grinds out. "And I can fix it, and I don't. And I will never need money from you, do you understand me? Thank you for telling my schoolmates I have a deadly virus. Now, go play with your rapist friends."
Sherlock is striding on long legs back to the plain grey house. John is following, half frantic already, because he knows what's next. He knows exactly what is next. His friend's key is already in his slim hand. Then the door is open, and they are in a very dark and narrow hall. Sherlock is bounding up a flight of dusty stairs long before John's eyes adjust to the gloom.
John catches up to him, and Sherlock latches his bedroom door behind them both before turning on the light switch. The place is clean and very bare. A microscope rests on the table and a skull on the mantel. Not much else can be said of it, as a residence. Tears are running down Sherlock's cheeks and he angrily wipes them away.
"Sebastian Wilkes is a brain-damaged cow," John offers, his eyes stinging already.
"Actually, he's brilliant," Sherlock says exhaustedly, dropping his leather jacket on the floor before sitting down on the bed. He reaches for a morocco case beneath the box spring and pulls it out. "Why else would he refuse to admit to fucking me?"
John goes to Sherlock and kneels in front of him. He doesn't know if he can stop this or not. But he has seen Sherlock's medical file. And he is going to try, even if it's insane. Somewhere down the hallway Kurt Cobain is wishing that he was like everyone else, easily amused, and Sherlock grimaces as he rolls up his sleeve.
"You're amazing," John says. He puts both arms on Sherlock's knees and leans in. "You know you are. Look at me."
"I don't care anymore."
"You do," John says fiercely.
Sherlock looks so tired. His skin is like the film that clings to the top of milk left to sit on a counter. He purses his chapped lips and shakes his head. He reaches into the box for a short length of rubber tubing and wraps it around his upper arm.
"Listen to me," John growls, grasping both his emaciated wrists. "You know who I am, don't you? Sherlock? You know who I am?"
He pauses, seeming confused. "I do. But not...I don't know why. And I don't know why I let you in my flat. You must live...here somewhere. I know you've been kind to me, but don't involve yourself with this."
"I have to."
"You can't change anything."
"Because I don't want to live here anymore!" Sherlock screams. He sobs once, and then stops. John still has him by the wrists, but he isn't fighting. "I hate it. Do you know how many types of cigar ash I can identify by sight alone? Do you know how many different brands of toothpaste exist, and that they all have the same active ingredient? Yesterday I went to the park thinking it would be quieter and there was a street fair in the way. I almost set fire to it, I was moments away from pushing over a sausage grill. I don't mean anyone any harm. It's been like this before, but never to this degree. My neighbour Marie down the corridor loves Nirvana. She has been playing that song over and over again, the Apologies one, for three days now, and it's so beautiful, that song is like Chopin, and I can't feel it, I lost it on the fifty-eighth time she played the track, and there isn't any point now. I don't care that everyone hates me--"
"They don't, and you do," John corrects him.
"And you can't know how I hate everything--"
"I don't, but I'll listen, and then I'll guess at it."
"And you seem like a good person, but I don't understand what you have to do with me."
John lets Sherlock go. He at once pulls a clean disposable syringe out of the case from a small supply of them and then palms a small bottle of morphine.
"I love you," John says as calmly as he can. "Not now, later. Well--for me, also now, but. Never mind. Not for you yet. Listen to me. I might be a figment of your imagination, and this might be a nightmare for either you or me. I don't know. But here is what you are going to do. You are going to show me the dosage you're planning, and then listen to my advice. That's all."
Looking lost and grey and puzzled, Sherlock readies the syringe. John studies his own knobby knees, studies the floor, stares at his steady hands. This had better be a goddamn nightmare, he prays. Because he doesn't want to live here either.
No one would.
John looks up.
John shuffles forward until he's between Sherlock's legs, entirely invading his space but not touching him much, and puts one hand on his shoulder. It's all John can handle at the moment, because he wants to put the other hand on the side of that beautiful face and kiss him until he knows what living is actually like, but he can't. He's only going to know what living is like later. Sherlock smells like Sherlock, but also of chemicals and cigarettes and despair. John clears his throat.
"You're going to nearly die twice in your life. Well, several times, actually--no, strike that, a great many, but here are the two closest calls I know about. One is years later, when you experiment with a drug called devil's foot root for a case, because you are a consummate wanker and perversely enjoy scaring me witless. And the other is now, and they save you. And you're angry for a while about that. But oh Christ, please, Sherlock," John begs, and now his voice is wavering, and he's clutching the young man's black shirt, and the young man looks frightened. "That is a lethal dose. That is--that could kill an elephant, Sherlock. And I need you. I'm not going to tell you that you're a hero to millions or that you save the world, but oh god, love, you matter to me. You matter to me like nothing else does and I shout to the rooftops that I'm fucking you, because I will be fucking you, and loving you, and don't take that away from me just because someone else missed his opportunity. Please. I'm nothing like you, I don't even make it quieter when you feel this way, but when you do feel this way, I still think you're the best man, the most--you're the most human person I've ever known, and somehow I won you. Lower the dose. You're worried about other things, later. About the bees. The bees are not doing well, Sherlock. And neither am I, just now. You don't care about me yet. But do it for me. And for the bees."
Narrowing his eyes at John, Sherlock's tense muscles ease a fraction.
He lifts the syringe, and points it back in the bottle, and changes the--
there was a
scarless john waits in afghanistan for
christ have mercy
John awakens on the dewy grass in the middle of a beautiful Surrey night. He cannot imagine why he is out here. His face is wet, and the jeans he was sleeping in are too, and Sherlock is behind him, John's head is in Sherlock's lap, Sherlock is stroking up and down his temple with soft fingers, and all of a sudden the stars make him dizzy. He closes his eyes again.
Passing the time making deductions is generally useful, so John deduces that Sherlock is wearing the impersonal white terrycloth robe that was hanging in the wardrobe for anonymous guests of Bob Carruthers. He then deduces that Sherlock is only calm because John isn't.
"This is nice," John sighs. He rubs at his eyes. "What are we doing out here?"
"You were--" Sherlock swallows. "You were unresponsive. I mean, you were talking to me, but not making sense. You said I'd never see the stars again and I'd miss them. I brought you outside. I don't know...I don't know."
John nods. Reality is returning. He has no notion of whether the events he's been experiencing in his dream cycles are simply elaborately imagined nightmares or not. But he knows where the scar is, the very white little scar on Sherlock's left arm, and he knows that the overdose was ruled accidental, and...and that's enough to hurt. It's enough to ask how it came to be that way. He never did. So perhaps Sherlock, in his own peculiar way, is telling him. The man beneath him shifts slightly. John feels very cradled, and warm despite the damp.
"I didn't get to choose this," Sherlock says carefully. He isn't looking down anymore. His eyes have grown distant, just shreds of far-away fog. "Decide whether or not to...to feel this way about you. I know it hurts you constantly. You don't have to tell me. I saw. If I could change it all, look at you the way I look at Lestrade or any other man on the street, of course I'd wish none of this had happened. Now it's already too late, I can't help being myself along the way. Sometimes I don't even bother trying to temper it at all. Did you know that? I do intend to, always, but the threads get tangled. Anyhow, I...I wasn't meant to have a heart, and we were all of us rather mistaken about that, sadly, but I'd get rid of it if that meant never hurting you so again. I'd throw it out this instant."
Pursing his lips, John filters through layered meaning and tender hoarseness and a baritone so silken that he could curl up in it like a nest. John realizes that it ought to be very painful to listen to the man you'd walk through a napalm firefight for describe at length and in detail how he'd erase your entire relationship if such was possible. Most blokes would find that to be just about the final straw. One too many drops of acid in a jar that's meant to hold strawberry preserves, identical to the jar currently in the door of their refrigerator.
But John also knows Sherlock. And so he knows that the previous admission was akin to purposefully treading on a grenade for the taller man beside him. It might just be the most difficult thing he has ever said.
"You utter prat," John says lightly. "Fine. No, that's perfect. I give you my heart and you hand over yours, and then you talk of binning the one you've currently got stashed in there. Well, that's mine, so you had better keep hold of it." John taps Sherlock's chest, twice. "And I have no intention of giving up custody of the one I'm minding. Think of something else. You're the genius around here."
"I can't think of how to love you without hurting you," Sherlock answers.
"I don't give a flying fuck," John observes.
The detective turns still further away from John, face now entirely sideways and taut with defeated intentions. Then Sherlock's hands pull both of John's up over a warm but eccentrically beating heart beneath the robe, because Sherlock is still Sherlock. He wants this enough to allow it to happen. And John approves. It's better than what used to be enough, and more than most, and beyond what he expected even from a marvel.
So John feels the steady and deceptively normal cardiac vibrations pulse beneath his fingers, doing his level best to listen to whatever story his friend is now telling him.
Whatever the tale, John is listening.