Irene walks him home that afternoon, and stays for dinner.
Before it, they lie on Sherlock’s bed, in his room. This is the position they’ve always shared: Irene’s head on Sherlock’s pillow, and Sherlock’s feet next to it.
He understands that it’s sometimes easier to tell someone something when you can’t see them, despite the fact that they can’t see you either way. He remembers, from back before the accident.
“Tell me,” he requests.
“Tell you?” They are sharing a block of chocolate, and Sherlock feels it handed to him. He takes it.
“About John,” he clarifies. He probably doesn’t have to; Irene probably knows. She just likes to tease him.
Which is what she’s doing when she says, “John?” as if the use of his name is somehow indicative of Sherlock’s interest in him. Sherlock pushes his foot against her head shortly, in revenge.
“That is his name,” he says.
“’That is his name’,” Irene mocks, but then takes mercy on him. “What do you want to know?”
Sherlock settles into the mattress better. He throws the chocolate back in Irene’s direction, knowing that she’ll find it if she doesn’t catch it first.
“How does he look?” he asks.
“Hm,” Irene says. Her hand comes up to touch the muscle in Sherlock’s lower leg, slack from the way he is holding it. She pushes at it a little, and it morphs under her touch. Sherlock just want her to get on with the speaking part of things. “Attractive.”
He groans, and pushes at her with his foot again. She chuckles.
“Come on,” he demands.
“All right, all right.” She sounds amused. “He’s blonde?”
“Yes? Short or long?”
“Short,” Irene says. “Like, five centimetres or so? Err, his eyes are sort of, like, multi-coloured? I think they were blue and green. Maybe a bit of brown, too?”
Yes. Sherlock remembers that as a thing. Central heterochromia. Multiple colours of the iris.
“Tan,” Irene continues.
“Vacation or natural?”
He’ll never be able to see John, and the image his mind can conjure up will have nothing on the actual image of him. It’s been years now, since Sherlock lost his sight, and there are things that are starting to disappear from his memory. How exactly did purple look? What about the soft, orange lighting of a candlelit room in winter? Doing this as a sort of mental exercise, is a way to keep the visions clear in his memory.
“Vacation, I think,” Irene says. “He was wearing a watch, and he was paler underneath it.”
Sherlock smiles; some of that is Sherlock training her to notice, but he has to be honest: most of it is just her being a clever fuck.
“What about his body?” he asks. He’s glad for Irene’s position at the other end of the bed, meaning she can’t see him, when his cheeks heat with a flush. Irene snorts and presses her finger into Sherlock’s leg, so it twists involuntarily under her touch.
“Why don’t you ask him out on a date?” she asks.
“Shut up.” Sherlock is aware that he’s whining. “Just tell me.”
“I don’t know, short?” she says. She’s losing interest, Sherlock can hear, but she continues a little further anyway: “Shorter than you, anyway. Sort of … sturdy? Calloused hands.”
Sherlock imagines it in his head. They are mere fragments of information compared to the real image, but it’s certainly enough for his brain to go on with. He can easily use this to compose a picture. Hundreds of pictures, in fact, all varying just a little. It could become his new hobby, perhaps.
“Is that enough for now?” Irene asks. “I want to tell you about all of the cakes they had in Paris.”
Sherlock smiles to himself. “Yeah, that’s enough,” he says. “Tell me about the cakes, then.”
John becomes Greg’s friend, it seems. At least Greg, for the following week, brings John with him to lunch every day.
During this time Sherlock learns several things about the new boy in their group: First of all, he goes to the same biology class as Greg and, in addition to this, is a rugby player on the same team.
Secondly, he seems to find all of them very amusing, which is rather a novelty for them all. Sherlock has rarely known a person to laugh so freely before, and especially not around him. It doesn’t seem forced but, Sherlock thinks, it could be a sign of a shortness of laughing matters in his life.
He doesn’t ask if it is. In fact, he doesn’t ask very much, because they are rarely ever alone together. Mostly their encounters happen during lunch, and there Sherlock always has Irene and Greg on either side of him.
So, he imagines instead. He listens to John’s voice speaking, and, just occasionally, lets it lull him into relaxing his muscles in a way they hardly ever are while out in public. It could consume him, that voice.
He imagines what it might feel like to have John’s hand on his arm. He imagines and imagines and imagines. Until, one day, he doesn’t have to imagine anymore.
It’s Irene’s doing, of course it is. She asks Sherlock to meet her in the courtyard after school, so they can hang out, but she never arrives.
John does, instead.
“Sherlock,” he says, already from far off.
Sherlock, who had been leaning against the brick wall behind him, instantly straightens. In the midst of the confusion of students walking home, he can’t pinpoint the direction from which John’s voice came from, but moments later he hears it again, only about two meters away now:
“Hey,” it says. Sherlock adjusts his position, so he is turned towards it.
“Hi,” John says, repeating himself. Sherlock doesn’t think him stupid for it. “Irene got held up. She caught me in the hallway and asked me if I could follow you home.”
Sherlock resists the urge to groan or roll his eyes dramatically. Of course she bloody did. Really, he should have been able to figure her plan out. This is exactly the kind of thing she’d do. She is, possibly too much, invested in Sherlock’s potential romantic life.
“I don’t need to be followed home,” he says. He feels the need to make this clear; the idea that he does grates on his nerves. Not John, though; this isn’t his fault.
“I didn’t think you did,” John says. This is rather surprising. “But I’m not sure I dare to defy her.”
Sherlock smiles a little, and hears John snorting softly with amusement. He’s by Sherlock’s right side now, not very far away. Sherlock can almost feel the heat emanating from his body. John smells like something fresh, this up close. Like the air after rain, Sherlock decides. Like a cleansing.
“She can be deadly,” he concedes.
“That’s what I thought,” John says. “So: Can I walk you home?”
“All right then,” Sherlock says.
Really, he feels a lot more up for it than he might let on, but he’s not about to go showing and telling all up in John’s face yet. He’s unsure whether the appropriate reaction would be to later thank or take revenge on Irene.
He fishes his walking cane of his back pocket, and unfolds it in his hands.
“I’ll use this, though,” he says. Despite his intrigue, he’s not quick to let go of the control and let someone else guide him. He likes to have it, himself. If not anything else, then for practise, too.
“Suit yourself,” John says. Doesn’t sound affronted though. Sherlock takes that as a good sign.
As he starts moving, he feels the warmth that he now knows as John’s body beside him move with him. He stays nearby, John does. Sherlock isn’t sure if it comes naturally to him to walk closely to people, or if it’s for Sherlock’s benefit. Surprisingly, he wouldn’t even really mind if it was the latter.
“So,” John says, after they exit the school gates and are free from the mass of all of the students.
“So,” Sherlock copies.
“I’ve always wondered, right?” John starts. He sounds excited, walking next to Sherlock; full of energy. Sherlock almost has his breath taken away just by listening to it. “How do you shave?”
Well. That’s unexpected.
“How do I shave?” Sherlock repeats.
“Yeah.” John sounds completely unabashed. “I mean, the blade is sharp, and the Adams apple is hard to get around, even for me, and I have finesse in my fingers. And proper eyesight.”
Sherlock almost smiles. It feels good to be spoken to like this, so unapologetically.
“You’ve always wondered this?” he asks. He hears John snorting beside him, and suddenly a hand nudges his shoulder, just a little.
“I’ve sometimes wondered this.”
“You’ve sometimes wondered?” Sherlock clarifies. “You’ve stood in the mirror, shaven yourself, and though ‘Gee, I wonder what I’d do if I couldn’t see the blade right now, or my face, or anything’?”
John chuckles, and this time Sherlock can’t help his smile. The sound buzzes in him, waking the tingling in his fingertips from slumber.
“Yeah,” John says. It sounds almost joyous.
“No, you haven’t,” Sherlock says. He can’t entirely keep the amusement out of his voice. His shoulder is hit again, this time when John bumps into him a little; clumsily enough for it to probably have been an accident.
“Maybe I have,” John argues. “Maybe that’s a thing that I’ve done.”
“All right,” Sherlock says, but in a tone that makes it clear how much he does not believe in that idea. John chuckles, again. The sound is no less beautiful for its constancy.
John grows quiet for a moment, and tenses up a bit beside him. Sherlock feels it in the shift of the air. At first he’s confused – he hasn’t said anything that could be interpreted in an unlucky way – but then his cane hits a step in front of him, where the pavement levels up, and he understands.
He walks over it without problem, but John, who has never been with someone like him before, was probably worried he’d trip over it.
“How long were you watching that for?” he asks John, when they’re past it. John’s huff of breath is almost embarrassed.
“Are you that good or am I that predictable?” he asks.
“A bit of both,” Sherlock says. Probably true, too. John hums.
“Modest,” he comments. Sherlock shrugs, knowing that he will see it.
“I’m very impressed by that, by the way.”
That he comes out, just like that, to say it, is a marvel to Sherlock. His deductions have been very little appreciated before, and when they have been, it has certainly never been this vocally. It aches a little in his chest, and he isn’t sure why.
“That’s because you’re less clever than me,” he says.
He almost isn’t surprised, any longer, when John reacts by laughing. This one is loud; bellowing into the street and echoing a little between them. Sherlock could play that sound on repeat.
“You’re probably right,” John concedes. Sherlock, honestly, isn’t so sure. Talking to John feels a little like being left in the dark about something John has realised a long time ago, and finds obvious.
They’re silent for a while after that, but it isn’t uncomfortable. The tangible feeling of John’s weight walking along next to him invokes a sensation of calmness in his chest he so rarely feels. Over the sound of their footsteps, getting more and more in tune as they walk along, he can hear John’s breathing; steady and soft.
“Why did you change schools?” he asks, after a while of this.
“Hm?” John sounds like Sherlock’s words pulled him out of deep thought.
“You’re new here. Why did you change?” Sherlock repeats.
“Oh. You know, just because. It’s the sort of thing that happens.” There’s a brief moment of silence; it seems almost hesitant. “We move a lot. My mum does business,” John continues then.
“Hm.” Sherlock doesn’t have much else to comment. There’s an edge to John’s words, though. He can’t quite figure out what it’s supposed to mean.
There’s another thing: moving a lot, means possibly moving from here; moving away again. It’s too early, probably, for Sherlock to get a slight tinge of sadness at the thought. But then early is an entirely made-up construct, and it seems Sherlock’s brain hasn’t gotten the memo about it.
“You know,” John says, interrupting his thoughts. His hand lands on Sherlock’s shoulder, and Sherlock’s heart nearly skips a beat. He thought that was a myth. “I’m glad that I did. Change to here, that is.”
“Oh. Why?” Sherlock might know something of the answer. His pulse can be felt in his wrist when it starts becoming elevated at the thought.
“You’re interesting,” John says.
He sounds like he might be smiling, but Sherlock can’t know. He has a hard time thinking, either way, with John’s skin pressing so closely to his own; everything becomes about that patch where parts of their bodies are pressed together. He doesn’t shake the hand off, despite how intense the feeling is, and he thinks maybe John understands this as acceptance; at least he squeezes it shortly.
“That was a compliment,” John says, interrupting his thought process.
Sherlock tries to press his lips together to stop his smile. “It was?”
“Yes.” John is silent for a moment. After a brief pause he adds, “Sherlock.” Sherlock wants him to say it again; say his name. It still sounds beautiful when he does; like it should have lived on his tongue all along.
“Thank you,” Sherlock says. He means much more than that. Somehow, unlike himself, he believes John’s words. John squeezes his shoulder again.
Sherlock stops walking, and turns towards him. For a while, it seems, they stand there: John’s hand on his skin, neither of them speaking.
“What was that for?” he asks then. He twitches his shoulder under John’s hand, to let him know what he means.
“I’m not quite sure.”
“Well.” Sherlock supposes that’s a fair enough reply. He shrugs, trying to let this be known. “All right.”
There’s a pause where neither of them say anything, and the silence between them feels like a void for them to fill with stories and honesty, like that. Sherlock wants nothing more, but is also overwhelmed, so he says,
“What’s the number on the house we’re next to?”
John’s hand falls slowly from his body, and the moment is broken. Sherlock wishes he hadn’t spoken, or that he could reach out and pull the moment back over them, like a cylinder or a duvet.
“A hundred and fifty-six,” John says.
“I’m next.” Sherlock had been so caught up in their conversation that he almost forgot that their walk was supposed to end somewhere.
“Fifty-eight?” John asks. Sherlock nods. There’s a moment of silence again, and Sherlock doesn’t know what it means.
“Let’s go then,” John says. He doesn’t put his hand back on Sherlock’s skin, but their arms brush several times with their closeness as they walk the next seven steps until they are in front of the gate to Sherlock’s home.
John is silent for a while, so eventually Sherlock fishes his keys out of his pocket and turns to his gate, slowly finding the key-hole and inserting it. He doesn’t twist it yet, but turns back, so his head is turned in John’s direction.
“I’ll see you tomorrow?” he tries. He wishes he could reach out to touch John’s face, just so he could feel the expression on it. John remains silent for just a moment too long, and Sherlock’s frustration clouds him. So many things happened just now, and for one of the first times since the accident he feels like he’s rushing after the world to keep up with what is happening in it.
“Or not,” he says. “Since I can’t actually see. You know, non-verbal communication doesn’t work that well with me.”
He does twist the key then, so the gate unlocks and he can push it open. He keeps the key in his hand, but lets the gate go, so it will stand gaping wide in front of him. He can’t see this either, but he can know it. He doesn’t know John.
“Sorry,” John says. Sherlock doesn’t leave him, but only hums non-committedly. Then John’s hand comes back to rest on his skin, this time on his upper arm, and the air goes out of him. He turns his body fully back, so they are facing each other.
“I’m smiling,” Johns says. It makes Sherlock smile, too, despite his intention not to. He exhales.
“All right,” he says.
“Good.” John’s hand leaves his once more. The conversation feels bigger than it was. He feels it when John takes a step back; he’s saying goodbye.
“Bye, then,” John says, and proves Sherlock right.
“Bye,” Sherlock says. He steps inside the gate, finally, and allows it to close behind him.
As he starts walking along the steps up towards the house, John calls after him:
“I’m still smiling.”
When Sherlock flips two fingers at him, John laughs so loudly it rings in Sherlock’s ears, even while they are this far apart. He smiles to himself for the rest of the afternoon.
The following day John keeps him in the cafeteria a little longer than the others with a hand to his upper arm and says, “Can I follow you home again this afternoon?”
He does, and this time Sherlock doesn’t take out his cane, unfolding it in front of him, but, acting braver than he feels, puts his hand into the crease of John’s elbow. John doesn’t comment, but he puts his hand very shortly on top of Sherlock’s, and Sherlock thinks that’s good enough, too.