He could already see the tight knot of John’s shoulders, outlined through the thin shirt and the pent up energy that thrummed through his muscles. The tremor in his hand, the slight limp as John shuffled around the kitchen, told Sherlock that John would not be sleeping tonight. Their latest case, finished just hours ago, had disturbed John on some level. Sherlock could see it in his posture, the way he held himself stiffly, his eyes on guard and defensive.
John limped back to the sitting room, his arm hanging at an awkward angle, the muscles tight from a fall taken during the case. He sat rigidly on the sofa and kicked off his shoes, flexing his toes. He picked up the evening paper, with no real intention of reading.
"Oi, Sherlock! No!" John bristled and battled Sherlock's hand away, which had been hovering dangerously close to his head.
“Let me try something,” Sherlock insisted.
Surely, he could appeal to John’s logic. “For science, John.”
After a moment, Sherlock reached out, fingers feather-light against the side of John’s head. “Please, John,” he said quietly.
The openness of the request caught John by surprise. “I’m fine, really. Just a bit stiff,” he said evenly, but leant into Sherlock’s touch regardless. Sherlock rubbed his thumb affectionately across John’s cheek.
“Fine, fine. Just,” he looked up at Sherlock with a slightly apprehensive look, “just no peculiar stuff. Yeah?”
Sherlock nodded, his expression suddenly serious. “Of course not, nothing peculiar. Only what we’ve already discussed.”
John relented after a moment and then went back to his paper, as a matter of distraction from his nervousness. His nightmares seemed to ebb and flow, oftentimes related to the content of their cases, and he could tell tonight would be a long stretch of hours spent without sleep. Sherlock, ever eager to find another experiment, had suggested hypnosis as a method for inducing at least a few hours of restful sleep. John, normally not given to matters of such esoteric thought, had only yielded after Sherlock had presented him, gleefully, with a stack of journal articles touting the medical benefits of the practice.
Presently, John had insisted on maintaining some level of aloofness in the proceedings, and continued to read his paper. Or, at least he appeared to be reading; he was, actually, tracing Sherlock’s movements as he rounded the sofa and gently rested his hands on John’s shoulders.
He tensed slightly at the contact, the muscles twitching under Sherlock’s hands. He had read the same sentence, three times at least, but continued to hold the paper as if it were an anchor to the here and now. He sighed, gratefully however, as Sherlock began prodding at his shoulders.
John smiled to himself, but bit his lip suddenly to keep from making a most undignified noise. Sherlock had apparently found a series of painful pressure points and was insistent on releasing them. John settled on grunting and was mere seconds from twisting out of Sherlock’s grip, when the pressure finally abated.
“Thank Christ,” he murmured, grateful the sensation was finally fading into the background. Much to John’s relief, Sherlock’s prodding became less acutely painful, and more a series of sweeping strokes across John’s back and shoulders, and up into his neck and scalp.
“Ah, that I could get used to.” John stubbornly stared at the paper, not quite ready to abandon his control over the situation. Sherlock continued for quite some time, at a leisurely and unhurried pace, his strong hands urging John into an amiable and agreeable state.
He was becoming pleasantly drowsy when Sherlock spoke again. “Put the paper down, John,” he said quietly, barely more than a breath, and John shivered slightly as Sherlock’s hands slipped through his hair.
He set the paper haphazardly on the couch, not even bothering to fold it, and let his hands drop into his lap. Sherlock could feel the weight of John’s head in his hands a little more than before and he splayed his fingers across John’s scalp, forefingers resting lightly on his temples, thumbs making small circles at the base of his skull.
John made an unintelligible noise, as he rubbed his palms across his thighs.
Sherlock watched, waiting, counting John’s breaths and the rise and fall of his chest. At first John’s breaths were normal, hardly slower than usual, and Sherlock matched perfectly his movements to mirror John. Gradually though, imperceptible to anyone but himself, Sherlock slowed his hands, and John’s breathing followed naturally until it was deep and even.
“That’s right, that’s good.” Sherlock drawled, his voice barely above a whisper. “I want you to take a deep breath for me, in and out, that’s right. And another. Good.” Sherlock’s words were slow, methodical, stretching out in a low rumble that seemed to wash over John like a constant wave of relaxation.
John swallowed, audibly, and sighed deeply. Sherlock turned John’s head slightly, resting his hands lightly against his scalp. He slid his hand down to John’s shoulder and, because John was sat at the far end of the couch, he kept his hand in contact as he came round to the front and perched on the coffee table.
He reached down and lifted John’s left hand from his thigh, noticing the dead weight in his arm, the looseness of the muscles at the shoulder. He was momentarily fascinated by the relaxed curve of the fingers, and so he pressed his thumb against the palm, watching the pull of tendons as he lightly probed against the underlying structures.
“That’s right John,” Sherlock took a moment to compose himself, “only deep breaths.” He had loosely grasped John’s other hand, lightly stroking with both thumbs the insides of the wrists. “I want you to do something for me, John. Do you think you can help me?”
John swallowed, his voice hoarse. “Yes,” came the quiet reply.
“Wonderful. In a moment I’m going to lift your right hand again, the hand right here,” John was distantly aware that Sherlock grasped him by the wrist, “and when I lift your right hand, right here, I want you to leave your left hand, the hand that’s left right over there, I want you to leave it right where I’ve left it.”
John felt confused and disoriented by Sherlock’s words and he struggled to make sense of them. “Don’t try to understand, John. Just listen to the sound of my voice. It feels good to listen, to do as your told, doesn’t it John?” Sherlock continued lightly stroking the inside of John’s wrist, and then slowly lifted the arm, moving it slightly, back and forth, up and down. Each movement was timed to John’s breathing, as Sherlock stared at him intently, watching the slow rise of his ribs, the pull of his shoulders when he exhaled. John’s head had fallen forward slightly, his mouth open, and he looked up at Sherlock with a distant expression. “It will feel even better, John, when I let go of your hand. I want you to let you arm fall, to drop back into your lap, and the moment your hand touches your leg, you’re going to feel ten times more relaxed, going ten times deeper than you are now. Do you think you can do that for me, John?”
John made a small noise of agreement and then he felt his arm drop. It landed with a dull thump and a sudden and intense wave of relaxation and warmth spread through him. It seemed to start at his head and rush downward at lightning speed, pooling in his stomach before tingling down his legs. It felt good to have listened to Sherlock and, in some distant part of his mind, he could vaguely hear his name being called.
“John. You’ve done such a perfect job. I’m going to do the same thing to your left hand, the hand right here, that’s been left here waiting, while your right hand was right over here.” John felt confused again, eager to comply to with whatever Sherlock suggested – anything to return to the intense and dizzying feeling of relaxation.
“That’s right John, just listen to the sound of my voice.” He hadn’t even felt Sherlock lift his left arm and then, without warning, he felt his hand drop into his lap. “Ten times deeper John, ten times more relaxed,” came the voice, soothing but commanding. John instantly returned to the former feeling of extreme relaxation, his body slumping forward this time, no longer able to hold him upright, eyes falling completely closed.
“Deep breaths for me, John, in and out,” he could hear Sherlock mirroring him, could hear the rush of air, “in and out. You’re doing so beautifully, John. Excellent.” Sherlock paused for a while, watching John, watching the flush of his cheeks, the rise and fall of his chest. His jaw was slack, lips parted.
John drifted in his own mind, with only a loose connection to the world outside his internal experience. He had no idea how much time had passed. When he focused on Sherlock’s voice again, it sounded closer than before. “I’m going to touch you again John, help you to be more comfortable,” Sherlock breathed, “ and when I do, each time I touch you, you’re going to be more relaxed, and go even deeper than you are now. Each place I touch, so relaxed, so warm, so deep. It will be too much effort to assist me, too much energy to move on your own. Just loose, limp, and relaxed.”
John felt Sherlock take him around the arms, as he was directed into a more upright position. Then a hand slipped behind his neck, as he was guided backward against the couch. The effort to keep his head up was too much, as relaxation coursed through every muscle of his body, and he allowed Sherlock to maneuver him this way and that. The touches were brief, each place alight with warmth where Sherlock’s hands had been.
After a moment (or was is several minutes?) John felt Sherlock’s hand on the back of his neck, the other snaked up the arm of his t-shirt, where he cupped his palm around John’s injured shoulder. The skin on skin contact was intense and John was falling downward, being pulled backward into a haze of sensation. The deep ache that was normally present in his muscles, especially his shoulder, had oozed out of him and it its wake was nothing but blissful exhaustion.
Sherlock’s voice rumbled close to John’s ear. “You’ve done perfectly, everything I’ve asked of you. And in just a moment, I’m going to have you open your eyes, John. You’ll have just enough energy to open your eyes and I want you to look at me. Do you understand?” John found he was unable to even muster the strength to speak, so he sighed deeply. “Open your eyes, John.”
It was a difficult request, and it took a moment before John was able to comply with the demand. His eyes felt heavy, as if he had been asleep for hours, and he stared up at Sherlock, lids half-closed, barely processing the visuals in front of him.
“I want you to imagine you’re at the top of a hill. Any type of hill, John, it doesn’t matter. And I won’t know what type of hill you’re seeing, whether it has grass, or whether there are leaves on the trees, or what time of day it is. Perhaps there’s a stream nearby, maybe you can hear birds in the distance. And you’re going to find yourself on a path, leading down the hill, and with each step you take down the path, I want you to start counting backwards from one-hundred. Each time you take a step, you’ll be twenty times deeper, twenty times more relaxed than the pervious step. And, if after awhile, you forget which number you’re on or your eyes are too heavy to keep open, that’s okay. Do you understand, John?”
John blinked slowly, and with difficulty, responded. “Yes.”
“You’re doing beautifully, John. Start counting.”
John felt like he was falling as an image of a hill materialized in his mind’s eye. He could smell the cool breeze of the countryside, the low light as it filtered through the trees. He vaguely recalled he was supposed to be completing some task. He took a step forward. “One hundred.”
Sherlock beamed, a rare smile on his lips. He rubbed his thumb against John’s shoulder in a soothing manner. “Just deep breaths.”
After a long moment, John took another step down the path, Sherlock’s voice filtering into the landscape, quiet and commanding against the backdrop of the evening, the low noises of the hillside. “Ninety-nine.” The second number was harder to remember; his vision was cloudy and it was difficult to keep his eyes open.
“Perfect, John. I’ve never seen you so relaxed. You’re doing so well.”
It felt so good to hear Sherlock praising him, the familiar warmth building up in his chest. “Nine…” The words seem to slip from his mind. He struggled to remember what he was supposed to be doing, but his eyes were so tired, his brain so sluggish. It felt better to listen to Sherlock, his voice soft and distant in the background, as the world faded to a dazed blackness. John felt himself sinking into the couch and he made small noise as he tried to recall his task.
“It’s okay John, just let the numbers go. All of the numbers gone. Eyelids so heavy, you couldn’t even open them if you tried. Deeper and deeper, each breath more relaxed.”
John’s eyes slid shut, unseeing as they were, and he eagerly surrendered himself back to the haze of his mind.
“Beautiful,” Sherlock whispered. “I’ve only one more thing for you to help me with John. In a moment, I’m going to touch you again, and each time I touch you, you’re going to go even deeper, even more relaxed than you are now. You’ll be so limp, so relaxed, that you’ve no desire to move, or assist me in any way. You’ve done excellent John, and when I place your hand on your chest, in a moment, you’re going to fall into a deep sleep. So deep that you won’t wake until you’re fully rested.”
Sherlock waited a moment, then slid a hand around the back of John’s head, the other against his shoulders, and he eased him down on the sofa, before lifting his legs up as well.
“Take the deepest breath you can, John, and hold it,” Sherlock murmured, “and when you feel your hand on your chest, breathe out and you’ll fall deeply asleep.” Sherlock lifted John’s hand, lightly stroking his wrist again, before gently letting it drop back down. John sighed loudly and after a moment, there was a slight change in his features, as he gave up the last of his conscious thought.
Sherlock pulled a blanket over John’s midsection, before dragging a spare with him to his chair. He perched on the seat, resting his chin against his knees, and watched John. The view was far too fascinating to be concerned with his own need for sleep.