John is lying across the plastic seats, his head resting on his mostly-empty duffle bag. He mumbles and jerks in a light sleep. Sitting next to him, Sherlock is drinking some truly horrible coffee without tasting it. As the seats begin to fill up, Sherlock slides over and transfers John's head to his lap as smoothly as possible. It's an excuse, if Sherlock is being honest with himself, that he did it to free up a seat for someone else — but it's a plausible excuse.
An older woman, across from them, seems to notice them. Sherlock stares her down, unravels her. She's struck by an intimacy between them, a perceived homosexual relationship and it's evoked conflicted memories. Probably, prejudices learned in childhood, and perhaps a beloved male family member who came out later in life.
John's shoulder tenses and shifts against the side of Sherlock's thigh, and too much heat is radiating off of him. He is grunting and grumbling. It's likely that his dream has taken him back there, back to the blood and the freezing water and the dark, back to the man he didn't save and the one he did. Sherlock puts his coffee cup down on the ground and his hand on John's shoulder.
"John," Sherlock says.
John gasps awake. "Sorry," he says hoarsely after a moment, wiping his nose with a tissue. He looks at his watch and lets out a sigh that turns into a quiet groan. Sherlock keeps his hand firmly on his shoulder, rubbing slightly with his thumb, in case John gets any stupid ideas about sitting up. He feels John's muscles relax slowly, almost imperceptibly, like the hour hand of an analogue clock, or the stars in relationship to the horizon.
Sherlock's hand rests against the bare skin above John's collar and —
— everything is dark and bright — my heart is aching like when I heard "Carol of the Bells" at Christmas as a boy and I could stay here and breathe and breathe and breathe it in until I'm ready to burst —
— but I won't burst because I'm flexible — so expandable — and I've taken in far more pain than this before but it's the beauty — the beauty that may be my undoing and —
— I am sending this all to you as if my emotions and thoughts run through me in liquid form and I can control them with my will and the beating of my heart and our circulatory systems are now joined and I can take as well as give —
Dazed, Sherlock lifts his hand.
As soon as he collapsed into his own bed, sleep had spirited Sherlock away. Then it had returned him decisively, as though Hypnos himself had given him the once-over and banished Sherlock from his kingdom. Now Sherlock's back is to John's door, his bare feet cold on the carpet. In about twenty minutes, John's cough syrup will wear off and his cough will wake him.
Like it did at 8:25 am and 12:17 pm.
At other times, John had mumbled and cried out in his sleep, but that had likely been from nightmares. Sherlock hasn't heard him do that in a long time, not since the first few weeks after he moved in.
Sherlock raps on the door, says, "John, I'm coming in," and opens the door. There is a vague murmur in reply. John is a shapeless lump under the covers, which are pulled to one side, pooling on the floor and just covering the edge of John on the other. There is a continent of used tissues stretching from beside the bed over to the bin.
Sherlock finds the cough syrup bottle on the floor, mixed up with the covers, then goes to the other side of the bed and sits down against the headboard. John makes another muzzy noise.
"John, you're overdue for your medicine."
John raises his head slightly, looks at the clock, moans. He scoots and shifts and gets into a semi-sitting position, then slumps forward and rubs his face. He takes the bottle from Sherlock, pours out a dose in the little plastic cup, and takes it without shuddering.
"Want to sleep some more?"
John doesn't answer right away, taking his time screwing the cap back on the bottle and putting it on his bedside table. No, I don't want to go back there, don't want to see that anymore, don't want to relive it...
"Yeah," John says and lies back down.
Sherlock putters around his room for a while. It is a mark of John's exhaustion that he can sleep through it. Sitting on the floor, the soles of his bare feet together. Standing and staring at the ceiling. Pressing his shoulder blades back against the wall. Shadowboxing (lovely, the way it makes his muscles feel!). Sitting on the floor again, deciding he liked standing better, sitting again.
Later, Sherlock goes back to his own room, checks his phone. Nothing of interest.
Unless a new case — a good case — comes in soon, he will have a long, familiar battle ahead of him. He will fight to convince himself to get onto his feet and go to the toilet or go to the kitchen or put on clothes. Winning is hard, and winning doesn't even mean he'll feel any better.
John will encourage him, praise him, because for John, being dressed and clean and eating meals makes him feel better. John will see him doing Real Human Person things and feel relief, thinking he's seeing the result of Sherlock getting better, rather than the result of Sherlock (broken, exhausted, toiling, barely keeping himself together) using the whole of his energy to make himself get up and do things he doesn't want to, and that won't make him feel better, and that never help him get better. Because John loves him but doesn't understand.
Heaviness on his chest, weights on his shoulders. Hard to breathe. Pressure on his forehead, light blocked from his eyes. Brain constantly whirring, trying to figure this out, trying to find a way out, trying to find a solution. A map to get out of this. Steps to take to get out of this. And when his will fails to comply, his brain will — with precision, with logic — point out the faulty aspect of himself. Loudly. Increasingly louder. Crescendo.
He needs a case, needs a case, needs a case. Soon. Before the battle starts in earnest.
Upstairs, John is grumbling something again (he is back on The Recent Case in his dreams) and Sherlock needs to do something. He puts on his trousers properly, and his coat over his dressing gown and the t-shirt he slept in, and his shoes without socks and doesn't comb his hair.
He leaves the flat, blinking and shading his eyes in the blinding daylight. He goes up the street to the Korean Grill (not authentic at all, but they do cook the meat while you wait and serve it with lots of rice and veg). It's the mid-afternoon lull between lunch and dinner, and the service is quick. Sherlock orders enough to last them a few meals.
As he climbs the stairs, (so many stairs to get to John. Too many!) his stomach is making aggressive high-pitched noises. This was an excellent idea — he can silence it and have an excuse to wake John up and make John feel better.
"Food," Sherlock says. "You'll feel better."
"Yeah. Hang on." John gets up stiffly and shuffles to the bathroom.
When he comes back, Sherlock is already eating. John shakes his head, "You shouldn't eat in here, you'll —"
"I've already been exposed to your germs. Either I'll catch it or my immune system will fight it off."
John plops back into bed and struggles to get the covers straight and fully over his legs. Sherlock hands him a Styrofoam container and plastic fork. John accepts them with a little weary, appreciative sigh.
After they eat, they go downstairs. John settles on the sofa and reads a novel for a while, then tosses it on the floor without marking his page and goes back to dozing. Sherlock sits at the laptop, his knees vibrating, not really looking at the screen. John seems to be sleeping more soundly now.
Mrs. Hudson taps on their ajar door. Sherlock looks up at her. She pokes her head in, takes in John (sleeping, with his bright-red, raw nose and box of tissues tucked under his arm like a teddy bear) and walks in quietly, a newspaper in her hand.
"Oh, Sherlock." She shows him the front page. "There's this horrible story in the paper today, just horrible. And I wasn't sure, but I hoped it wasn't..."
He glances at the photo. There are a number of people standing with their backs to the camera, looking at a flooded crypt. Most are uniformed. Two off to the side, near an ambulance, are wrapped in blankets. Their faces are turned away, but they are he and John. "It was."
"Oh." She sets it down on the table and puts her arms around his shoulders. "You poor things," she says several times, holding his head to her chest. She releases him and looks at John. "How's he doing?"
"His physical condition is obvious. Mentally, he will need some time to recover."
"And you, dear?"
"I? I just need a new case."
She puts her hands on her hips. "Now, now, you need time to recover as well. Don't pretend that you don't. After going through that."
"I—" Sherlock closes his mouth. Arguing with Mrs. Hudson is counter-productive. He can tell her to shut up, but he's never once argued her into changing her mind.
After Sherlock has sat at the computer for some time, and his email has failed to provide him with any potential cases or clients interesting enough for him to consider, and he's pulled his knees up and stared at them for a while, John gets up with a groan and shuffles to the bathroom. When he comes out, he heads for his laptop at the table. Sherlock hears him pause to look at the newspaper that Mrs. Hudson left (he can't look at John, can't make eye contact) and the room and even the street are in complete silence, like the world is holding its breath with Sherlock. Then John sits down, turns his computer on, and logs into his blog.
"John," Sherlock begins.
"I know I can't write it up. I wasn't going to," John snaps.
"I know you know. I was going to tell you I spotted a typo on one of your older entries, the petting zoo one."
"Oh." John rubs his face.
"It's a double l in llama."
"Yes, thank you," John says. Then after a moment, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to snap at you."
"You can snap at me if you want to," Sherlock says.
Then John gets engrossed in his computer and is more boring than he was when he was asleep. Sherlock nearly nods off where he is several times, but it takes a lot of self-convincing to get himself to go back to bed. He's disappointed that John never tells him he should go to bed.
"Sherlock," John says quietly from the doorway.
So John makes some noise in the kitchen, then comes back and sits in bed next to him without comment, and Sherlock changes his mind about eating. They finish the leftover Korean Grill (inexpertly reheated in the microwave by John. There are layers of hot and pockets of cold, but it doesn't matter). John is still congested and stops eating to cough for a while — long rattling coughs. It's nearly time for his next dose of cough syrup. He sounds exhausted. Sherlock isn't forcing John to look after him — John chose to do so on his own. But still. John needs rest.
When they're done eating, Sherlock stands up — his bare feet gripping the floor to make up for his wonky balance, hems of his pajama bottoms under his heels and dragging on the floor as he walks. Without a word, he takes the take-out containers into the kitchen and throws them away (or at least balances them on top of the overflowing rubbish). Then he goes back into the bedroom. John is blowing his nose again, for a very long — an impossibly long — time. He throws the tissue at the bin with a sigh and a moan, his nose raw.
"We're a sorry pair, aren't we?" Sherlock says, handing John his cough syrup.
John laughs, and Sherlock is able to smile.
Sherlock stays long enough to watch John take his medicine, then goes to the bathroom and when he comes back John is asleep on his bed. Sherlock gets the covers over John and turns out the light and crawls in beside him.
John is wearing a t-shirt and Sherlock strokes John's bare arm. He can feel every tiny bump and imperfection — ingrown hairs or clogged pores, insignificant things, things most people wouldn't notice. John feels lovely.
"Did I... fall asleep here...?" John asks without opening his eyes.
"Don't worry about it." Sherlock strokes John's arm still.
"That feels nice..."
He strokes John's arm and leaves a trail of his presence behind.
— the sky is huge and vast and stretches down under us and beneath the other side of the planet and I can feel it all —
There's an exquisite pressure behind Sherlock's closed eyelids. His body is calm. The patterns in the dark on the inside of his eyelids, the logic his mind tries to create out of the blackness and sensation, that's all. New data, unbelievable data —
— a vast machine, cogs turning and clicking infinitely large and moving and in synch and in tune — and I am part of the machine and an observer and a creator and a child of it and —
— It's too great and too complex for any other mind to perceive, every piece animated, every piece having its own function and —
— my skin is thick and alive and a separate entity wholly committed to me and now it's joined to you as well, to your skin which is wholly committed to you and I want to touch without this boundary —
— a warm, protective, gentle energy, I want to give it all to you — in return I will leech from you all the horrible memories and pain and ghosts and monsters that you've had to compromise with and I will utterly slay them — draw every trace of them into myself and crush them and if I shatter, you will pick me up and put me together —
Sherlock realizes his perception of time is altered, because when John thrashes slightly in some nightmare, he isn't sure if it's been seconds or hours, or even if he himself has fallen properly asleep or not.
John is distressed.
Sherlock will draw the memories out of him, if he can.
"He said she was broken. He had tried to put her together and was coming to me for help, like she was a broken toy. He had, in his hands. Cupped in his hands, like this, he had... he held out some f-fingers and a chunk of something else and hair and..."
The roads, narrow and deeply rutted, all blind turns around rock and trees. Footpaths branching off. Impossible paths, because there wasn't enough foot traffic on them to keep them from being overgrown. Game trails then? Misdirection? Nature? So many paths. This was where they've found them wandering, the ones who were lucky enough to be found wandering.
The rain was getting heavier.
When Sherlock wakes up, John is no longer in bed, but Sherlock can hear him in the sitting room. He stays in bed for most of the day, even though he wants nothing more than to follow John. He checks his phone. There are annoying questions about The Recent Case from people who have no business with it, and Sherlock deletes them with angry button jabs.
When his bladder reaches the point of being painful and ignoring it doesn't make it better, he manages to get up to pee. He looks at himself in the mirror and thinks about at least wetting a flannel and wiping his armpits and groin and decides that he should, but ultimately doesn't.
Sherlock falls back into bed. He can wage the war here or on the sofa or pacing the flat or walking like a sleepwalker, barefoot, tousle-headed, dressing-gowned on the streets of London.
Or (worse) he can wage it quietly, privately behind a facade of normalcy, washed and combed and pressed and placid-faced, all the while despairing walking through the rest of his life like he's ok inside when he's not. It hurts less being the unshowered, unshaven, undressed wretch wasting away in his flat.
Eventually, if he doesn't fight, if distraction doesn't come, then John will come stand in his doorway, then Mrs. Hudson, then if things go on long enough, Mycroft (shudder). After that... who knows.
A case has to come. It has to.
He listens to John in the kitchen and sitting room, his footsteps too slow and shuffling, still coughing in misery, his movements, his computer booting up.
Sherlock has a weight on him. He wants to go to John, but it's too heavy.
John comes and stands in the door.
"You're not catching it, are you?" John asks from the doorway.
John sits on the bed and Sherlock feels the mattress drop under his weight, but is having trouble actually rolling himself over to look at John. He's all twisted up and moving would make it worse. John probably wants to tell him that he got the same emails, the same requests for statements about The Recent Case that Sherlock deleted from his phone, but can't figure out how to bring the topic up. Can't bring the topic up. Maybe physically can't. Nausea, sensation of his throat closing, stinging in his eyes. Probably all that.
"Are you sure?" John's hand rests on Sherlock's back.
"You should know by now what I'm like between cases. This is normal."
"But you were better yesterday."
"Because you were worse."
"You got up to look after me?" Pause. "Of course you did."
"I should have today too. You're not well."
"Well then, I'll do the same for you. Wait a moment."
John leaves. The silence almost makes Sherlock's ears ring, but there are a few sounds from the kitchen. To fill the space, Sherlock mentally lists the names of all the murderers he's implicated, in chronological order. John comes back with grilled cheese sandwiches. Taps the edge of the plate against Sherlock's shoulder blade.
Sherlock sighs and opens the eye that isn't against his pillow to look at John, then sits up in stages. Gets his elbows under himself, twists his legs, heaves his upper body up. John looks back at him, that look that says he's being melodramatic. So Sherlock gets himself the rest of the way into a sitting position and eats his sandwich — cut diagonally into two triangles, perfect — to make John happy. They eat in silence.
When he's done, Sherlock wipes his greasy fingers on a paper towel that John brought with the plates and checks his phone. Nothing. "I need a case," he growls with more volume and energy than he'd meant to. He turns it off. "Sleep in here again, John."
"I'm sure I'm not very good company, coughing all night."
"Having nightmares too."
John looks stricken. "Oh, God, did I...? Did it bother—?"
"No." Sherlock grasps John's hand because he looks like he's about to flee. "Anyway, I slept better with you here, and I think you did too."
"You sort of touched my arm. I woke up a few times —"
"It calms me down. You too. Let me do it again?"
Sherlock goes to the bathroom and cleans his teeth and combs his hair and makes himself ejaculate into the toilet and flushes it (to dissuade his body from getting any incorrect ideas about the close proximity of another human in his bed, because sometimes it behaves unpredictably and so irrationally and remembers bits of those millions of years of evolution that have kept humans reproducing. Sherlock wouldn't care if it happened, except it might confuse John and require time-and-energy-wasting explanations).
Once they're settled in bed, Sherlock's hand moves on John, sliding up and down his back under his t-shirt. His skin is smoother here than on his arms. John shudders under a suppressed cough and Sherlock pulls himself closer, pats him soothingly. He's afraid John will call this off at any moment. He waits for John to stop him, but he doesn't and —
— floating geometric patterns are coming toward me, crystal-like, child's-paper-snowflake-like — but so much more complicated and evolving —
— it branches into digits, grows human hands that are unlike human hands, with crop circle patterns for knuckles and far more than four fingers and a thumb and —
(A relief, such a relief from the grayness and the boredom and the weight and the internal battles...)
— ivied walls around me, quaint and properly British, ivy pulsing and thick and growing and maybe there is no wall under them, no foundation, just growth and —
— a decaying temple across a bridge low to the water and drums and I want what's inside —
When John jerks and mumbles, Sherlock realizes it's because John has nodded off and is dreaming again.
He lies on his side and puts his hand on John's head, fingers in his hair and palm brushing the ridges of his ear. John begins snoring in a congested, somewhat pitiful way, but Sherlock isn't tired. He is going to draw out the darkness from John, and then perhaps delete it all completely from his mind.
"Zachariah, I'm John. You can talk to me. I need you to talk to me. It's hard, but we can help you. Do it for Nikki. I know you can speak, I know you can hear me. Here, how about we play with these? Luke Skywalker isn't it, this one? Is he your favorite? Here, you take him and how about if I'll be..."
"Oh, what is the point of all this? We're wasting time. He doesn't want to talk to us. He can't even understand what's happened, or that people think he's to blame—"
"Sherlock, go downstairs. Just let me do this. Just trust me. Give me an hour to— Sherlock!"
Sherlock ripped the action figure out of Zachariah's hand [Delete] and threw it against the wall in one motion. It hit hard and clattered to the floor, but Zachariah didn't flinch, didn't move, like an animal playing dead in the face of a predator. To think that anyone could seriously suspect him —
John gasped and started saying something, but Sherlock spoke over him —
"Those pieces of your friend, all carved up like a butcher's rejects, dripping in blood —"
John grabbed Sherlock's arm. "Sherlock!"
"Pretty girl once, wasn't she, but not anymore, and you gathered the pieces up, like bringing posies home in a basket —"
John pulled Sherlock away, toward the door.
"Where were they? Where did you find them? Why won't you tell us? Where did you find them?"
John shoved Sherlock out into the hall. "Get out!" [Delete. Delete. Please. Delete.]
"He has to tell us!"
"Stop fucking yelling! This isn't the way!" John hissed, his hand gripping the door like he was ready to slam it in Sherlock's face. "You've probably set me back hours, maybe days with him — or maybe now he won't open up at all —"
"He's a lost cause."
"You're not claustrophobic?" Sherlock stripped off his coat, already wet from the rain. It was freezing, but he could move his arms more freely without it. Anyway, once it got completely soaked, it would just pull him down.
"No," John said. He was moving his phone around, staring at the screen.
"Unlikely we'll get reception. If we get stuck, there's no phoning for help," Sherlock said and got on his knees to creep, then on his front to wriggle into the impossible space.
Behind him, he heard John following.
"If the water level rises, or if you go under for any reason, stay as calm as possible — it's best to think it through now, visualize it clearly, staying calm — if you can't find air above you, then keep moving forward steadily."
Sherlock falls asleep without meaning to. Once, much later, he wakes up to John taking more cough syrup and blowing his nose. With a groan, John lies back down, and Sherlock slips his hand back under John's shirt.
"Sherlock, what is this?" John asks quietly.
Sherlock can't voice one single word of what he's experienced. He can't because he's a rational person. He supposes there are terms like meditation and hallucination and lucid dreaming. Explanations to be made, but...
"I don't mind it," John says, vulnerably. "I won't make you stop. It's just..."
He can either act like a Real Human Person and make up some lie (probably too late for that, to be honest) or he can be Sherlock and tell the truth. No, make that part of the truth. "I like touching you."
"Alright," John says. "I like it too."
"But are you... attempting to have sex with me? It's ok if you are—"
"I... yes. But." Sherlock stills his hand. "If it's inadvertently arousing you, I would be willing to manually relieve you."
John lets out a hiss of air through his teeth and for a few heartbeats Sherlock can't read him.
"Is that what you want?"
"Want no. Will yes. It's the least I could do in exchange," Sherlock says.
"Well, it's not necessary."
"Tell me when it is."
Then John starts laughing, a slow, genuine laugh that shakes the bed. Sherlock can't help joining in. Then John coughs and sits up to get something from the bedside table. Something crinkles in his fingers, and when John lies back down, Sherlock smells eucalyptus on his breath.
"Oh God, just when I think you can't surprise me anymore." John's cough drop clicks against his teeth. "It's like going home for a dysfunctional family dinner. No matter how prepared I think I am, they always manage to shock me."
"You're saying I'm dysfunctional?"
"No, although technically, yes you are, and I'm sure I must be too. I couldn't even think this stuff up." John is smiling; Sherlock can hear it in his voice.
"You don't have to. Just go with it," Sherlock says.
"Shut up and go to sleep, Sherlock."
Then the room is full of impossibly pink light from a red sky (Sunrise? Sunset?). Sherlock wonders if it's going to rain, decides it doesn't matter, it's unlikely to affect him unless he has a case, although the rain might bring up more memories for John. Fishes out his phone from the pocket of his pajamas and still there are no cases.
"Nothing good?" John asks.
"No," Sherlock replies, and slumps back down onto the bed.
"Are you going to want to do this again?" John asks, gesturing toward the bed.
"Yes," Sherlock says.
"Hmm." John gets up and goes to the bathroom, then Sherlock can hear him moving around the flat, coughing from time to time.
Being alone, in his bed, with only his own interconnected body parts (and most of his organs inside his abdomen and thus largely inaccessible) is painfully unacceptable.
Places Sherlock can try touching John:
-arms, back (data has been acquired for these)
-the web of skin between his thumb and first finger (a short rubbing motion, circular perhaps)
-back of the thighs/dip into the back of the knee/down the back of his calves (how will he have to position himself for this?)
-crook of his elbow (perhaps using his tongue)
-the border between the buttocks and back of the leg
-belly (slightly rounded)
-belly and chest (perhaps vibrating slightly with laughter or speech)
-belly and chest and navel and nipples?
-point of his elbow (one finger, anti-clockwise)
-more to be added later
Some hours later, in a stab at returning to normalcy (oh how he hates laundry, boring boring delete), Sherlock dumps all of his dirty laundry from the hamper to the floor. He opens his un-unpacked bag and pulls out the plastic bag full of damp, muddy, bloody clothes. He's not sure if anything will be salvageable (especially after he's left it for several days), not sure if he even wants to open it. John (who is more practical about such things) simply threw out most of his own wet/muddy/bloody clothes the moment he took them off, rather than lugging them back home.
Sherlock, in a burst of impulsive energy, takes the bag and stuffs it into the kitchen's overflowing rubbish bin. He doesn't allow himself a second thought, doesn't allow himself to speculate on the condition of those clothes. He goes back to his room and slams the door behind him with the last of his energy.
There are shadows thrown onto the ceiling by the streetlights. Sherlock watches them. They have sharp, sharp edges.
When John knocks on the door and comes back in, it's after midnight — Sherlock can tell from the sounds of the street outside and the quality of London's ambient light through the window. His back is starting to ache from lying in bed so much.
John crosses the room to the bed and doesn't comment on the explosion of dirty laundry everywhere. "Sherlock?" He presses his hand to Sherlock's forehead.
"Still not ill," Sherlock mumbles, rolling onto his side to face away from John.
"You haven't got up all day."
"Started the laundry," Sherlock corrects.
"Alright. You haven't got up in any significant way today."
"Please get up. Wash up, get dressed, have a proper dinner. You'll feel better."
"It doesn't help," Sherlock says, sharply. "If only it were that easy. Look deeper, John, you have to look deeper — as if going through the empty motions of a healthy life meant I felt better. It's a common misconception. So is calling this laziness, or me being sulky, or me wanting attention, or me creating this."
"I never said any —"
"Well you should know better. You're a doctor."
A pause. "Yes, I am. And you're in pain and I want to help. I can... we could... get this properly diagnosed, Sherlock. Get you on some meds," John says, like it's so easy.
Sherlock shoves his face harder into the pillow. It's all so ridiculous because he loves John, and John loves him, and yet he can't care about what John's telling him to do, he can't hear, can't place any hope at all in it. Sherlock laughs bitterly, but even as he does, he twists his arm up and finds John's wrist.
John, obligingly, turns his hand palm up and wraps the tips of his fingers around Sherlock's hand, as Sherlock rubs his thumb side to side across the inside of John's wrist, across the texture of it — the veins there, under the skin. It might be better with his lips or his tongue but for right now it's enough.
—fire burns purple in midair and the furniture in the room is all very large compared to Sherlock but also fragile enough to splinter under his weight — but John is a constant — John is solid, present but separate, immune to it all, and as Sherlock spirals and swoops in the air, he is attached to John's wrist so he always feels secure —
John's other hand falls to Sherlock's shoulder blade, a benediction.
"We'll talk more about this later. I'm bringing you dinner," John says. Sherlock doesn't clutch on to him or try to keep him there, but does let his grip linger. John leaves the room and it's cold again.
Sherlock is seized by the need to make an effort. He has to get out of this damned bed. So, pulling a blanket with him, he slips off the mattress and half-falls, half-lowers himself to sit on the floor with his back against the bed, holding the blanket around him. When John comes back, he'll see that Sherlock tried. Even if it is pathetic.
John comes back with tea and food (they're down to toast made from the heels of a loaf of bread and tinned pears) and sits quietly with Sherlock on the floor while he forces some of it down. Sherlock wonders how to explain the pressure crushing him, the utter uselessness of everything, the way he has to force his mind endlessly through great lists of sterile facts to keep it from self-destructing. The only thing that has made it any better has been when he can touch John and his mind goes to that free place. Thinking about it, especially with John so close, gives him a spark of energy.
"I'd like to experiment with touching you in other places."
"Sherlock," John sighs. Then, after a moment. "Where?"
"I can limit myself to your chest, arms and back if you're more comfortable with that, but access to your whole body would be best."
"Not good?" Sherlock gets a cold, panicky shiver at the thought that John might walk away and go back to sleeping in his own room. "Very well, I will limit —"
"You know, I think this is sex for you, somehow. You never do anything the normal way, do you?" John asks.
"Yes, yes, touch me wherever you want. Truthfully, I've been expecting this since we met."
"It's not sexual."
John holds up his hand. "One rule. Well, one for now, I reserve the right to make more later."
"You're going to go take a proper shower first."
Sherlock gets to his feet slowly, throwing the blanket back on the bed. On the way to the bathroom, he strips off his t-shirt, throws it at the wall. He gets through the first few minutes of the shower alright, then he just crumbles. He gets out without perhaps rinsing the shampoo out as thoroughly as one should (and it goes without saying, he didn't make it to the conditioner at all, so his hair will be awful when he combs it, but he can't see combing it in the foreseeable future anyway). He doesn't feel magically better, but can appreciate in some detached way that his body isn't disgusting anymore.
John is washing up in the kitchen. Stepping over the laundry, Sherlock puts on his last pair of clean pants (the horrible, horrible blue ones with the designer's name on the waistband like his body is a walking advert) and a clean t-shirt and pajama bottoms. He gets into bed to wait for John with exponentially increasing anticipation. Accelerando. Con anima.
When John finally comes in (fresh pajamas hair combed breath minty) instead of getting into bed, he sits on it cross legged and looks at Sherlock in the dim light.
"What exactly is happening when you touch me?"
Sherlock sighs. Why does John have to be so boring? He reflexively pulls his arms up, crossing them and folding them over his face like origami.
"Surely you have the brainpower to imagine beyond the sexual, to realize that one person touching another doesn't have to mean —"
"Touching another while lying in bed, and asking for full access—"
"It's not about that!" Sherlock presses the heels of his hands into his eyes until he sees strange colors and shapes and false lights.
"Alright. I've had a bit of therapy, you know, I can make a stab at another possibility."
"If you're going to say something about my mother —"
"Being held and soothed as a small child. Feeling loved and well cared for. Skin-to-skin contact. Is that what you need?"
"Makes it sound stupid. As if I would blindly reenact something—" Sherlock says from behind his hands.
"You would have been pre-verbal. The memory would go deep. And anyway all of this did start after we — we went through something pretty difficult, it's not such a leap that you would want comfort now."
"That didn't affect me."
"How could it not?"
"Get under the covers."
When John doesn't move, Sherlock raises his voice. When it cracks on some of the words, he gets even more frustrated. "You're ill and having nightmares. I'm depressed. We're both the only people we've got, and we need this. So get under the covers and let me touch you."
Sherlock rolls over, putting himself and John nose to nose. Sherlock snakes his arm under John's t-shirt and strokes John's warm skin. He can feel John relax. Every breath. Gently rounded belly and chest and nipples —
— pixels and pen strokes on scrap paper and serviettes form together into buildings, a city shooting feelers up to scrape the sky and I am utterly naked and insignificant before it —
He could say, "I love you," (because despite appearances, Sherlock is not a machine, and most definitely not an idiot, and he can both feel and recognize love) and John could say it back, but he imagines John's mouth would stumble over it. The concept of it, the truth of it, flows through John's veins, colors his every action, but for John, speaking it would mean getting all befuddled over it. So many unspoken rules about when to say those three words in a relationship and how, so many years of labels gay-straight-bi. John's heart is here and his body is getting here, but his brain is still lagging.
Even so, the words are pushing up in Sherlock's throat. They are perhaps the only words he's ever self-censored around John. But to avoid John's discomfort, he does. Anyway, John must know it already on some level, without Sherlock having to put it into those clumsy, clichéd words.
— and the individual pieces flutter in the breeze but the whole is solid, so solid — little bits that every human no matter how lacking in imagination or benevolence have contributed — the stronger averaging out the weaker and adding up to more than I could have hoped to give the human race credit for and I'm part of it, and you, we're part of it and —
John touches Sherlock's hair, fingers skimming over the drying, curling ends. "What is happening in your head?" John asks, softly.
Sherlock opens his eyes. Sees John watching him with wide eyes.
The very tips of John's fingers touch Sherlock's cheek. New data new data. John says, "I'm watching your face. And... I've never... you've never looked like this before. It's like you're... You're sure you're not getting off on this? It's alright if you are."
"No. Not — not like you mean it."
"But you look —"
"It... improves my mood," Sherlock says. "I can't explain it."
"Touching me?" John asks.
"You're putting yourself into some kind of altered mental state, aren't you? To escape your depression?"
Sherlock hesitates. "Mm." John's hand in Sherlock's hair makes light rustlings in his ear.
"Can I kiss you?"
Sherlock's human heart flutters. His mind, although it remains calm and clear, is greedy for new data. "Yes."
John pulls himself closer and Sherlock tries to sort out what to do with the arm that's trapped between them. John seems to anticipate this and grasps his wrist and tucks it down tight at his side easily and his breath is on Sherlock's lips and his other hand at the back of Sherlock's neck and he presses their mouths together. New data. Lovely new data.
[Save save backup]
Sherlock's free hand pets John's hair, his thumb strokes John's temple and cheek. The lines on John's face are heavy. Life and emotion have creased him. Sherlock knows the expression that makes John's skin fold in each of those places, and he knows the stimuli that cause each expression. He knows what's deepened some of them lately.
He wills the horror out of John. He'll drain it off with his mouth, press it out of John's mind with his hand.
"This doesn't make sense! There's something missing here!" Sherlock thumped the file of papers onto the desk, sending the mouse flying, swinging on its cord and hitting the side of the desk with a brittle sound.
"I know, we haven't been able to figure it out either. Nor the police."
She couldn't seriously, seriously be putting him in the same intelligence and reasoning bracket with the rest of the idiots. But then, that made it worse, because Sherlock really couldn't figure out what was going on. He really was missing something, just like the rest of them.
"Why are half of your records on paper and half on that outdated paperweight?" Sherlock asked. When she stared at him without answering for a half second, he snapped a clarification. "The computer!"
"Not all of us know how to use it, except for Solitaire!" she began, clearly rattled by him. "It was just easier to do things on paper, and it's never been an issue be—"
"Until now, when a person who was in your care has turned up in little pieces, and it is almost certainly an inside job, and there are major gaps in your records —"
John looked back and forth from one of them to the other, clearly weighing the distress Sherlock was causing versus its usefulness.
"I'm cooperating!" she cried. "I've cooperated as much as I can! It's not my fault the records are in that state!"
"No, of course not," Sherlock said. "You're only in charge here." He stalked out of the room. The evidence, the facts had to be there somewhere — in the tucked-away pockets of the building, the grounds, the residents' minds, somewhere. Getting to them — that was the problem.
"Yes I am. It's an emergency."
"John, we're in the middle of a murder investigation!"
John pulled on the warmest jumper he'd brought. "I know. But they need help right now, as much as they can get."
Sherlock threw himself down onto the camp bed (an unused room and two folding beds were the best they could do. Sherlock and John hadn't even had time to use them. They'd been up all night watching the entrance to the secret passage). "Stop playing the hero. Let the staff go."
"They can't. They're needed here." John sat on his bed and began putting his shoes on.
"I need you! You know I do! You switch the lens of my brain out of Macro mode when it gets stuck! You talk to these idiots and smile and nod and they stop blathering and start talking! This case —"
"You'll notice," John said, pulling the laces tight, "that I'm not even asking you to come with me. I'm not even pointing out that you're perfectly able-bodied, and that there will be people older and weaker than you there working —"
"Yes. Yes, you have a point. The other employees from the shop Zachariah volunteers at are likely to be there, would you ask them again about —"
"No," John said, walking out of the room.
When Sherlock wakes up, the clock reads 6:36 am. John is not in bed next to him (what?), and the bathroom is quiet and dark, and Sherlock doesn't know where else he might have gone. The room is grey, his mind is grey, his mood is grey and it's not so bad except for the anxiety about where John is and what he's doing that manifests as physical pain at the bottom of Sherlock's stomach. It gets worse when he hears floorboards creaking above, then after a time, movement in the kitchen.
Sherlock twists around and props himself up on one elbow. "John? John?!"
The movements in the kitchen resolve into hurrying footsteps and John opens the door. There's yellow light from the kitchen behind him. "What's wrong?" John is dressed.
"You're going out."
"Oh. Yes. Just a few hours at the clinic, though. Then I thought I'd pick us up some groceries on the way home. We're really running out of — everything."
"But you're sick."
"Not so much anymore, and I'm past being contagious. Getting out for a few hours will do me more good than staying in and resting, at this point." John is inching the door shut, turning his body slowly away. "You want anything from the shop?"
Sherlock throws himself back into his pillows. "One hundred and three pearls from the necklace of a mermaid princess."
John stares at him for a long moment. "Yes, well, I'll do my best, but I may be forced to make some substitutions. I'll be back in a few hours, Sherlock."
Sherlock texts him all morning:
-Lemons grown from plants tended solely by mute maidens in Greenland.
-Feathers from all flightless species of birds.
-A perfect locked room mystery. No Scotland Yard involvement.
-A diamond that is the same exact shade under sunlight and moonlight.
He jumps when his text alert finally chirps.
-Was planning to pick up bread milk eggs etc. what do you think? compromise important between flatmates. Y/Y?
Sherlock grins a little and types a reply.
-Spicy chicken flatbread and let me stroke your legs. Will forgive the lack of the rest.
It is tempting to stay in bed and let John come and find him and coax him with food (spicy chicken flatbread if Sherlock is lucky) but Sherlock gets up and walks as far as the kitchen when he hears John on the stairs.
John comes in with his arms full of groceries. "Oh, you're up. Excellent!" Sherlock pushes some stuff around on the table to make room (it's a token effort really, and they both know it) and John sets the bags down.
Sherlock looks at John's face for longer than most people are comfortable with — he looks tired (not unpleasantly so) and windblown and quietly cheerful and his face has a soft, rumpled quality like the skin of a Shar Pei. He smells like autumn wind, and Sherlock wonders if John's skin would feel chilly and taste like dried leaves under his tongue (he wants to taste John. Now. He hadn't ever realized before that he wanted to. True, he's considered touching John with parts of himself other than his hands, wondered what it would evoke, but now he wants to move beyond just the sense of touch).
There's something locked inside, a closed vault door that John is trying uselessly to block from sight by standing in front of it. There was something of that when Sherlock first met him.
"I told you I'd be home before you knew it." John puts the boring, practical things that they desperately need into the fridge and cupboards, then takes out a plastic container with the spicy chicken flatbread and smiles. Sherlock (wants to trace those wrinkles and creases on John's face) feels his own cheeks bunch up and a subtle pull of muscles in his face and his lips elongate and curl —
"Well. That's better. Oh, that is loads better," John breathes, watching Sherlock's face.
Damned uncontrollable facial muscles.
John opens the cupboard for plates, but Sherlock says, "Never mind that," and they sit on the sofa together and eat.
John seems to have decided that they should get back onto a more normal day/night schedule, because he is stubbornly remaining upright and out of the bedroom. Sherlock sits at the computer and skims his email and the new comments to John's blog. He deletes a handful that are about The Recent Case so that John won't see them.
His pointer hovers over the delete icon for a new email from their most recent client, though, Zachariah's mother. It thanks them (waste of time) and absolves them (unnecessary) and sketches out a bravely hopeful plan for the immediate future (irrelevant and dull). Such a waste of time and keystrokes; the case is over, the client received a full report, her son was cleared of any suspicion, Sherlock was paid. There is no more need for contact (unless there is legal action of some sort in the future in which he and John need to provide information). If Sherlock were still working solo, he would delete the email. Instead, he is debating whether it is better for John to know about it or not. In the end, he compromises by leaving it on the screen with the pointer still over the button.
Drowsing, Sherlock listens to John showering and getting ready for bed, then walking around double-checking the locks and turning off lights. Sherlock sees the bar of light under his bedroom door vanish, then John comes in, shuts the door softly behind him, and slides into bed next to Sherlock. He smells lightly of something citrusy, and is freshly shaved, and has trimmed his fingernails.
"You're just going to bed, John, not on a job interview," Sherlock says. "No no, get in the other way round. Your head at the foot of the bed."
"I told you. I'm going to touch your legs. I've thought about it, and this will be the most comfortable way." Sherlock tosses John's pillow toward the foot of the bed. John snatches it out of the air and holds it protectively.
"Yes, and by the way, about that text —"
"Head to the foot of the bed, please," Sherlock says again, prodding his shoulder. John feels deliciously warm from the shower and Sherlock can't wait to get his hands on him properly.
"No. And don't text me things like that. What if someone saw it?" John catches Sherlock's pushing hands. "And I will not sleep upside down!"
Sherlock huffs. "It's not upside down. But if you're going to be like that —" Sherlock gets on his knees and turns himself around, dragging his pillow over John's face on the way and generally flopping and wiggling and disturbing his bedmate as much as possible. It takes a while to get the covers properly situated for both of them so that their feet are covered but not their faces.
Once he's comfortable, Sherlock grasps John's ankles and John jerks slightly and Sherlock slides John's trousers (soft, flannel) up over his knees, leaving his calves bare.
— I am on white clouds over the Earth and there are lights flashing by below me and manmade things — colossuses of metal bridges and skyscrapers like mushrooms that shoot up after a rain —
The area around the Achilles tendon is interesting, the shape it makes coming up from the heel. The backs of John's knees feel like they were made for Sherlock's fingers to dip into.
— flags snapping in high breezes above buildings with coded messages in their lit windows and I can solve them, I can solve them all —
Sherlock flinches as John's hand suddenly strokes up Sherlock's thigh, over his pajamas. This is new. John hasn't done this before. Sherlock hits his mental pause button.
"This alright?" John asks when his fingers rest at the edge of Sherlock's waistband, under his t-shirt and slightly cool against his skin.
"Mm." New data new data collecting sensation data shiver data loved data collecting saving.
John's fingers follow the line forward, brushing Sherlock's stomach. John's other hand joins in, tugging lightly at the drawstring Sherlock never remembers to tie.
Obviously, John has done some serious thinking today. He made some decisions, during that change of scenery earlier, when he left the flat. He left and decided to do this and now he's come home and is doing it and oh.
John's hand brushes the front of Sherlock's pajama bottoms lightly, almost accidentally.
"Alright?" John asks again.
Sherlock realizes self-consciously that his own hands have stilled — John has obviously noticed and thinks it's significant. He resumes the slide of his own palms over John's skin. "Yes."
John's fingers define the shapes of Sherlock's body through his pajamas, gingerly. Sherlock lets him do what he will and —
— I could fall — my fragile body could fall and burst open but it doesn't matter because I won't fall and even if I did I'd miss the ground and —
John curls forward, his hair brushing Sherlock's calves and slips a hand into Sherlock's pants. He handles Sherlock's soft penis gently, both directly and rubbing through the cloth. The different textures make interesting sensations; Sherlock knows he prefers touching John's skin directly, but wonders about switching it out with doing it through cloth sometimes. It might alter the experience.
— I can see the movements below me — streams and car lights and pedestrians and white flying birds below me and it's all amazing and so large —
John's hands are moving faster, squeezing tighter, pulling harder. It's breaking his focus.
"Careful. Gently," Sherlock says.
John lets out a shaky, sighing laugh. "You're not..."
"Not really getting turned on, are you?"
"Oh." Sherlock continues the long stroke of John's calves. "Should I be?"
John puts Sherlock back the way he found him and rolls onto his back.
"I told you this wasn't about sex, John," Sherlock says.
"And I didn't believe you." John laughs, self-deprecatingly. "I thought I could get you to... I've made a fool of myself."
"I don't mind your hands, as long as you're not manhandling me like you're trying to get my skin off." Sherlock sits up, thinking of turning the right way around in the bed and going to sleep.
"It was supposed to feel good." John's voice is muffled.
"Is that how you touch yourself?"
Sherlock shrugs. "I'm not like you, that's all." He throws his pillow at the headboard and gets out of bed, stretching and hearing his back pop.
[Session ended prematurely. Save file]
"If I did it differently, would you get hard?" John asks.
"Maybe. It doesn't really matter."
He tugs his side of the covers back down and gets into bed properly beside John, not quite touching him, but with his face resting in the space between John's ear and shoulder.
"Sherlock, you know, this could be medical —"
"I suppose I should thank you for trying. You wanted to make me feel good, didn't you? You haven't taken my lack of physical response personally?"
"No," John says.
"It's not you. I love you."
"D-do you?" John says, his throat sounding tight, his voice distant.
"Oh." John swallows. "Oh. Well that's... good."
"And I meant what I said before — if I'm causing you sexual discomfort, I am willing to relieve it. May I?"
"Y-yes. But you don't — Sherlock, you don't have to."
"Well I've touched you almost everywhere else." Sherlock touches the front of John's trousers. He is indeed hard. "You know me; I always need new data."
John lets out a little shaky sigh as Sherlock frees him from his clothes and begins stroking him at the pace he uses on himself when he needs to get rid of an erection. John gently slows Sherlock down, then takes his hands away.
— pliant armor like artichoke leaves — like Art Nouveau — are wrapped around myself and I'm wrapped around you and we're curled up at the core and everything I have felt in my life and appreciated or failed to appreciate stretches out infinitely before me —
— even if my own life is finite, what can be more infinite to the human existence than its own lifespan, its own experiences —
"At any rate, I was planning on stroking your perineum tomorrow. I expected this scenario to arise then," Sherlock breathes into John's ear.
John lets out an explosive breath.
— and everything will only increase and you are there but your eyes are closed, you're wrapped into me —
— and this future of sensations and the repetition of the good things, the best things — the only kind of repetition I can live with — is ahead of both of us — open your eyes, open your eyes, you can close them again if it's too bright, take it in a blink at a time —
John keens in between ragged breaths. His limbs quiver. Sherlock deftly, tidily catches most of John's come in one hand without breaking the rhythm of the other.
"Oh," John says on the exhale. "Oh — that was — Jesus, Sherlock."
Tissues, by the bed, for John's cold. Sherlock leans across him to grab one and wipes his hands, throws it down with the rest of the rubbish on the floor. His untrustworthy facial muscles are straining themselves again; Sherlock, the cat who had the cream.
"Fucking hell, Sherlock," John is still saying, breathily.
Sherlock settles back down and puts his arm across John. John rolls into him, fisting Sherlock's t-shirt in both hands.
"John, just now, I went into an altered state again. It was most pleasant. Stimulating."
"Does that disappoint you?"
"No. No, it's..." John laughs. "Sexy. And so you."
"Does knowing that's what happened to me heighten your experience?"
John nods against Sherlock's chin.
[Save save save save backup backup backup backup]
Sherlock pets John's hair and feels him doze off. Then he focuses hard.
Those things that linger in John.
John knelt, breathing through his mouth, and examined the remains. "There were cuts that went all the way into the bone."
Sherlock whirled around the room, as if his body couldn't contain his energy, but he was careful about where he put his feet, so he wouldn't step on any of the remains or evidence. "There has to be another way in, there has to! How else could he get them in here!"
"Male. Probably mid 20s..."
"Marcus Welby. He disappeared some six months ago — God, the police here are idiots —"
"I remember seeing him on the news." John sighed.
"Just six months this time. He's escalating. Used to wait years planning, picking the right victim." Sherlock steepled his hands in front of his face. "The killer brings them down here. He feels strong, superior, powerful. Probably plays with them for a while. Kills them in different ways — that means just killing them is getting boring, he's trying to find a more exciting way of doing it —"
John moved to the smaller heap. He nudged a metal tag with his pen. "Sherlock, this was a registered service dog."
"Of course, separating them would have aroused suspicions of foul play, better to let them both vanish like they'd walked off somewhere —"
"No one would have heard him scream down here, not this far down."
John stood and wiped his sleeve across his face. Sherlock's brain and eyes stopped consuming the details of the room and focused on John for the second and a half it took to see that he was alright. Exhausted. Disgusted. But holding together reliably.
Sherlock paused, torn between the fleeing man and the wounded man. John had chosen the wounded man — he was holding Zachariah up — and that sight made Sherlock's mind up for him. He helped John haul Zachariah up onto a ledge, away from the water. John climbed up, torch held in his mouth, pulling open the clothing over the wound. Zachariah's face was a corpselike white. Sherlock wondered if, even now, even after they've failed to put Nikki back together like he asked, he comprehended what death was. If he knew he was dying.
Then John nodded — red to the elbows in blood — and Sherlock hurried down the tunnel after the fleeing man. Molto allegro.
Sherlock hated it when it got this messy.
Oh and — Baritsu was more effective when one isn't mostly underwater.
Sherlock and the man grappled for the gun. Sherlock got a lungful of air, but took an elbow to his temple. The one rather canceled out the other.
Then John was there — John! In the trembling torchlight, for an instant, Sherlock saw fire in his eyes. Then the torch slipped under the surface and illuminated the water oddly as it splashed and surged.
As John lunged forward, Sherlock's fingers closed around the gun. John grabbed at the tall man's hand and Sherlock yanked and was sure the damn thing was going to go off and kill one of them (of the three, he knew which one he'd choose). Then the full weight of it was in his hand and the man was staggering back with John holding him from behind.
"Stop!" Sherlock shouted, pointing the gun with both hands to keep it steady.
John got his footing and, with practiced ease, got out of the potential path of any bullets. The tall man looked wildly around for any escape.
"Stop, or I will shoot you," Sherlock said evenly.
John, staying low and wary, retrieved his torch and aimed it at the man.
Just in time to see him put his hand to his mouth and swallow.
"No!" Sherlock shouted.
The man slumped to his knees, then fell face down in the water, and shooting him would be superfluous.
"Two employees with the same name!" Sherlock shouted. "And no one thought to tell me, not even when your own staff were the main suspects? When we were telling you it had to be an inside job? I never knew about him, I never interviewed him!" Sherlock gestured vaguely toward the flooded crypt where the police were retrieving the bodies. Many bodies. "If I had, I would have known! The calluses and his shirt collar — and then this wouldn't have happened! If you'd kept your records better, this wouldn't have happened! I should have known by now, when dealing with idiots, I have to think like an idiot — and not assume that a second record for the same name is just the result of your catastrophically incompetent record keeping!"
The idiot woman cowered front of him, tears and snot on her face. The paramedics were trying to tug Sherlock toward the ambulance.
"Sherlock." John grabbed him hard enough to pop a button on Sherlock's shirt. [Delete] But Sherlock shut his mouth and turned back to the paramedics and let them finish their various examinations of his body.
John was wrapped in a blanket and shivering.
"John, no one will blame you for Zachariah's death. His wounds were clearly extensive and we had no way of getting additional help quickly enough."
"I know," John said. "I just..."
Wonder if Zachariah would have lived had you stayed with him? Wonder if I'd have died, had you done that? Wonder if it was your choice that caused one of us to live and the other to die, and what your choice says about you as a person?
Sherlock got his payment from Zachariah's family, same as he would have if he'd wrapped up the case neatly with no further deaths and the culprit in custody, waiting for justice.
The shower is running and John is missing from his side of the bed (His side? Is that what it is now? They have a bed, they have sides?). Sherlock rolls over, vaguely displeased with John's return to early rising.
Later, when John sits on the bed, the sky outside is bright. John is dressed. Looking down at his hands.
"Morning," Sherlock says from his pillow.
"Morning." John smiles tightly. He's nervous. He's going to talk about last night.
Sherlock rests a sleep-heavy arm on John's knee. "Let's not have this conversation."
"I haven't started one."
"Excellent." Sherlock closes his eyes.
"Sherlock, you'll want to hear this."
John turns more properly toward Sherlock. Takes a deep breath. "I've... in relationships, before... I've had people — girlfriends — say 'I love you' to me, and I've never not said it back to them."
"Yes?" Sherlock prompts, wondering why this conversation is necessary.
"I was just being polite sometimes. Is that awful? I mean, I cared about them, of course, but love? I said it back because I didn't want to hurt their feelings." John is focusing somewhere around Sherlock's collar. "But I also know how it feels to be the one to say it first, and then the other person doesn't say it back, and you're just left dangling and it's the worst feeling."
"You're feeling guilty because I said it and you didn't say it back," Sherlock says. "Don't worry. It's not necessary."
"But — no, Sherlock, what I mean is —"
"You love me. Of course you do."
John closes his eyes. "Yes. Yes, I think I do." He sighs like a burden has been lifted. "You've known for months, haven't you?"
"Oh, at least months." Sherlock smirks. "I would say that putting it into words is a sentimental and meaningless gesture, but it would be hypocritical considering that I said it last night myself."
"Well, it is a bit of a custom," John says, "at least among those of us who can't read everyone else's inner thoughts at a glance." He tweaks a lock of Sherlock's hair. It bounces back into place. "What kind of relationship can we have, though? I mean, are we going to have one?"
Sherlock shrugs. "Same as we've always had. Same as we've had the last few days. Same as last night."
"Is that something you want?"
"John. I've been in bed with you, stroking your bare skin for how many days now, and you have to ask?" Sherlock catches John's hand and yawns. "You can keep dating your girlfriends too, if you like. You do rather like penetrative sex and I don't foresee myself being interested." He yawns again. "Maybe once, as an experiment."
John chuckles. "Nothing's ever quite normal or quite healthy for us, is it?"
"God no. That would be far too tedious."
When Sherlock tears himself out of bed (he has to get up to plug in his phone, and then as long as he's up he may as well go to the toilet, and then as long as he's still up he may as well see what John's doing), John has long since made and finished eating breakfast (there's a plate of scrambled eggs and sausage in the fridge for Sherlock) and is at his computer. Sherlock looks over John's shoulder. John's hands still on the keyboard as he waits for Sherlock to comment.
John is writing a long reply to their client from The Recent Case, which mostly seems to be a combination of sympathy, insight, explanation, apology, and encouragement. It holds a tone that perfectly balances the personal and the professional, something John does so effortlessly and Sherlock struggles toward (but he only bothers when his usual approach puts people off to such an extent that he can't do his job).
"Well?" John asks and sips his tea. Forced nonchalance.
"Are you easier in your mind about this case?" Sherlock asks.
"Starting to be," John says. He nods at the screen. "This helps."
Sherlock flops on the sofa, stares at the ceiling.
"And you?" John asks.
"While the murder of our client's son, and the suicide — rather than capture — of the culprit are not the optimal outcomes, these things do occasionally happen. We are in a dangerous line of work, and we are brought into dangerous situations. You were a soldier; you understand. My reputation may have suffered. My pride certainly did."
John smiles. "I think you work through it in your own way. You just don't admit it."
"Hmm." Sherlock rolls over, away from John, and tucks his knees up. He studies the plush of the sofa, wishes he'd put some warm socks on, listens to John click the mouse. He visualizes the periodic table.
"Sherlock," John says, some time later. "You'll want to see this."
"Secret passage discovered in a house... Residents shined a light through a knothole and discovered a corpse in a walled-off space. Old family legend about a rich uncle who predicted his own murder before vanishing, they think it's him and they, oh, they still have his diary. Antique jewelry, coins and fine ceramics were discovered... and then — listen to this — they were appraised for millions, then were all apparently replaced with fakes —"
Sherlock rolls over and watches John's face as he reads. Sherlock is holding his breath.
"The walled-up room is still unopened. There's no door. They suspect there to be more valuables inside... Two separate contractors have been hired to tear the wall down and both have died before starting the job, one of an apparent heart condition, the other a suspected drug overdose. They're talking to a third who is —" John looks up at Sherlock, who is getting off the sofa now — "only willing to take the job if you're there. You're guaranteed first access to the room and the corpse..."
"Brilliant, brilliant," Sherlock says breathlessly, leaning in to see the screen and rather crushing John. "A bit too romantic, too gothic novel, but that's what makes it so brilliant, someone has concocted this whole scenario, has to be. Has to be! For the press? The press are going to eat this up when they get wind of it, we've got to beat them to it. Oh, someone has been clever and ridiculous and toppling their house of cards is going to be —" he kisses John full on the mouth, his whole body vibrating with energy. "Tell them I'm on my way." Sherlock strides toward his room. "I've got to get dressed."
"Shower!" John calls after him. "Conditioner!"
"Yes, yes," Sherlock calls, impatiently stripping off his pajamas as he walks. "Five minutes!"