Good morning, Sherlock.
He crumples the post-it between his fingers. Halfway through his coffee, he retrieves it from the floor and smooths it out again, careful not to rip it.
Sherlock does experiments. He reads about old unsolved cases. John likes emailing his old army friends, because he’d always meant to, and it feels like he’s actually doing something useful with his time.
He’s not, of course. Everything he does feels empty.
Living with Sherlock is like living with Sherlock except he’s not living with Sherlock. He’ll wake up and he’ll find that things have been moved around or that the fridge is harboring human arms in the crisper or the microscope on the table smells like something rancid, but he never sees him. The wall collects holes that he didn’t hear made. Newspapers lay in dismantled pieces across the living room floor. John picks them up sheet by sheet and recycles them.
He tries not to let his life become a routine. He tries to be more like Sherlock, to piece together how he spent his time awake by where he’s placed his coffee mug and coat. He can’t. He tries. It’s a nightmare.
He dreams about seeing Sherlock again. They don’t do much, they’ll both be sitting in the flat and John will just stare at him. His eyes, mostly. He’s terrified he’s forgetting Sherlock’s eyes. Sometimes Sherlock will read the paper, or do an experiment. Sometimes he will speak and the sound of his voice will be wonderful. And John will watch.
He has nightmares where he’s chasing Sherlock around London but he can’t catch him, fingers grabbing at the end of his bloody ridiculous coat. And then John catches him and Sherlock is there, standing, and John’s so prepared to touch him and look at him and hear him speak but his eyes still have the lids pulled over them, the skin stretched thin over hollow sockets.
John used to wake with a start from those nightmares, only to hear a thud from downstairs immediately after. The knowledge of that was horrible, worse than the dreams themselves. Limbs stiff, expressly quiet, even though there was no danger of Sherlock waking. He’d slip his hands under Sherlock’s limp arms and haul him onto the sofa. He’d stare for a moment, resting his palm over Sherlock’s forehead as if checking for a fever before returning upstairs and trying to go back to sleep.
After a couple of weeks, he trained himself to sleep straight through the nightmares. The dreams would go on, and on, and he would stare at the empty sockets willing himself not to wake until eventually he didn’t have a choice in the matter.
It’s not definite, how it started. It set on slowly, like a disease. John had felt ill when Sherlock was awake, he’d slept a lot. Sherlock was a constant buzz of energy, he was up for days, John stumbled around in stupors, he napped. After four days, Sherlock went to bed and John woke feeling better.
When Sherlock seemed ill, John figured whatever he’d come down with had been contagious. Sherlock had put up a fit about being sick and John had chuckled and made him soup and fed it to Sherlock while he was semi-conscious.
The only strange thing about it was that while Sherlock was sick, John couldn’t sleep.
It only got worse after that.
Taped to the empty carton of milk: I used it to grow bacteria.
Written on the back of the old note: Please buy some more.
Taped to the new pint: Alright.
It was John’s idea, for once. The notes. Good morning. Brilliant idea. Record that Cold War documentary for when I’m up tonight. Lestrade called. I read a weird article in the Times about a talking dog, it made me think of you and I’m not sure why.
Sherlock didn’t write back at first. John figured that it was out of spite. Not for him, of course. But for everything.
It didn’t matter what the notes said, not really. They all meant the same thing.
Sherlock’s first note had read I keep dreaming that I’m trapped at the bottom of a hole and it’s snowing and John had written back What do you think that means? and Sherlock had said Nothing, dreams are completely nonsensical and John still keeps the scrap of paper in his bedside table drawer. He doesn’t care that Sherlock probably knows.
I hate this.
It’s going to be alright.
They both want to write it. They don’t.
Mrs Hudson catches on because Sherlock stops taking cases. She doesn’t ask questions, but she’ll make conversation, especially in the late hours. She’d set an alarm for three in the morning and climb the seventeen steps to 221B carrying a plate full of some sort of baked good. She’d sit and she’d talk with whoever was awake. Not about anything of consequence, just things. Mrs Turner, a new recipe, her thoughts on the things in the paper. Just things. Just a voice in the night.
They’d always leave half of whatever she’d brought — banana bread or oatmeal cookies or a key lime pie — uncovered in the middle of the kitchen table, but neither of them would ever explicitly state why.
(If it had been Sherlock who’d been sleeping, he’d write a passive aggressive note about how he doesn’t want to eat half a loaf of banana bread before ripping it up and cutting himself a slice.)
I hope you’re eating.
Sherlock will fall asleep anywhere. John will always smile when he sees him and then lift him, move him to bed. If he ever gives in to temptation and places Sherlock in his own bed, neither of them are ever awake at the same time to mention it.
They watch each other sleep. Sherlock sits on the edge of John’s bed and sometimes, when he’s feeling brave, he’ll slip his fingers into John’s mouth. He doesn’t know what has possessed him to do it the first time, but he grew addicted to it. So soft and pliable, so warm. It’s always so slightly open in sleep, gently breathing, and it’s so close to words that he’s not saying and a reality that he can’t have that it’s seductive to touch, he supposes. And the third time he’d done it John’s mouth had closed and sucked, just barely, on his two fingers, and Sherlock had become so overcome with hatred and regret that he just had to keep daring, again, again.
I’m so sorry.
You had nothing to do with this.
Neither did you, if that’s what you’re suggesting.
I’m still sorry.
So am I.
Sherlock doesn’t like going out to cases. Lestrade calls again and again to see what’s wrong, and one day he stops by, and Sherlock opens the door and glares at him so forcefully that Lestrade is temporarily struck speechless.
When he regains his bearings—
“What’s bloody going on with you? We thought you were dead, or worse!”
“You really miss me trespassing onto your crime scenes?”
Lestrade doesn’t deign the comment with an answer. He narrows his eyes and tilts his head. “Say, are you alright? You’ve got the darkest circles I’ve ever seen. I—” He cuts himself off. “Don’t say you’re using again.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” But he’d considered it.
Greg watches him for a minute. “You don’t look like you’ve been sleeping very well.”
“Goodbye, Lestrade,” Sherlock says, taking hold of the door.
“Hey, where’s—?” But he’s slammed the door in his face.
He presses his palm against the door and lifts his other hand to his face and tries to fucking pull himself together.
I’m sick of this.
It’s John’s idea to buy the tape deck, he forces Sherlock sleep a few more hours so he can go out when the shops open. The thing is ancient. The shopkeeper told John he looked exhausted. John had smiled.
He sits at the table, palms pressed firmly into his thighs, rubbing them in anxiety, thinking. He reaches forward and presses ‘record’, which clicks heavily. The tape starts rolling.
“I, um—” and he closes his eyes against himself because he hates how his voice has cracked. “I thought I could get this for you and we could— give it a try. If you wanted. Um.” He cracks his knuckles. He is suddenly hit with a sweeping rush of pure terror when it crosses his mind that he may have forgotten how to talk to Sherlock.
He leans forward like he’s telling a secret, and whispers. “I miss you,” he says. He grips at his hair. “I miss everything about you.”
When he wakes again, the kitchen table is covered in heaps of unwound, filmy tape. There’s a post-it stuck hastily to one of the piles.
Tried something. It’s still in progress.
John wants to write Did you even listen to it? but then he realises that perhaps the destruction of the tape deck wasn’t an experiment at all.
Three weeks later, when John wakes up he finds a long, rambling deduction waiting for him on a repaired tape recorder. He grips the hard plastic in his hands until his knuckles turn white, he wants to press the speakers to his ear but it muffles the sound instead of amplifying it. It’s so novel to hear the sound of Sherlock’s voice that he doesn’t even care what he’s saying, he’s talking about some sort of case or another but it doesn’t matter, he’s talking to him, he’s talking to him.
It takes him nine and a half minutes to notice that the kidnapping case that Sherlock is ranting about is from 1918. He doesn’t know why he’s overwhelmed with relief by the realization, and then he does.
He listens to twenty minutes of radio silence after Sherlock stops talking, and he figures that the tape’s just going to run out but for some reason he can’t stop himself, it’s like temptation. And then, like a burst, Sherlock’s voice surfaces again. It’s cracked and broken and tired, like maybe there’s holes in the tape:
“Oh God,” he says, and that’s it. His breath shakes. “Oh, God.”
Used up all the sugar.
I’ll buy us some.
He touches Sherlock’s face as he sleeps. Runs his fingers through the thick mop of hair. Sometimes Sherlock will turn, face nuzzling perfectly into John’s palm, and John won’t move. Not for hours.
Don’t be lonely is hidden under the sofa. They keep pretending they haven’t found it.
They’re so lonely it hurts. A constant ache in the chest, like too small shoes.
The tape recorder is a bit more tolerable. It’s nice to hear something. They can listen to each other late at night instead of watching telly. Sometimes, if there’s enough stretches of blank tape (there often is), they can record it back and forth and play it like a conversation, as if the twelve minutes had happened in real time and not over the course of eight mornings and nights. When the tape runs out of empty space, they place it in a shoebox which they take to keeping on the bookshelf.
They talk about insignificant things, simple things. The same things they’d talked about when they were awake and didn’t have a case on. John would ask why Sherlock’s not taking cases on, but he already knows.
He thinks about it whenever he’s about to fall asleep, because despite the fact that it’s selfish it makes him feel rather proud.
I think we might be sick.
He doesn't respond to that one for days. He replies to the others. John would figure that perhaps he hadn't noticed it yet, except Sherlock notices everything.
Why aren't we getting better?
Sherlock would be bored if he didn’t spend as many waking moments as he could withstand trying to think of how to cure them.
He sits at the desk and says “I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you,” until the tape runs out and the record button snaps up with a thick click.
Sherlock opens the deck and removes the cassette. Still seated at the table, he takes his lighter and sets the plastic on fire.
When John wakes up, the flat smells like burnt plastic and he cannot figure out why.
He often indulges himself and tucks Sherlock in. All tight against his blankets. He likes the soft, heavy weight of Sherlock’s body, lifting it and cocooning it. It helps him feel close, he thinks. It’s not at all like the old way, but then again, nothing is.
Sherlock goes into John’s room and he shouts at him. Anything, everything. It starts as nonsensical syllables and evolves into ridiculous, sentimental confessions and then anger and frustration and finally he feels like a child next to a dead body, his hand on John’s wrist as he pleads “Wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up!”
John’s body turns away from him. Sherlock reaches out puts his hands in John’s hair. “I’m sorry. I know. I’m sorry.”
Were you talking to me yesterday?
I was trying.
It worked a little.
It was worth a try.
John tries, too. They can’t truly say anything to each other but their voices are in each others’ heads and it’s not a recording and that’s something.
It would probably be easier if we lived apart, Sherlock writes, and he doesn’t admit it but he thinks about dying. He tells himself that it is because he finds it painfully tedious to be tied so closely to another person like this.
Don’t you dare.
Sherlock saves that note in his bedside table drawer. He doesn’t care that John probably knows, but all the same he slips it into the cigarette box he has stashed there just so if anyone looked in, they wouldn’t see it at first glance.
The real solution comes when Lestrade begs Sherlock to take a case and his itching former self can’t resist the temptation, and he scribbles a note to John before it occurs to him that it’s completely useless if he leaves immediately.
But then Lestrade says ‘Sherlock!’ and Lestrade thinks that John is gone and that he is helping and he is not entirely wrong and Sherlock thinks that he should go with him and so he goes.
It’s exquisite. Being on a case again is like being high, he is distracted and he is functioning at full capacity and he can take out every inch of anger he has on criminals and incompetent detectives.
Sometimes, at random intervals, he is hit with sudden waves of tiredness, but he has enough force of will to overpower it and recovers to full capacity in under three minutes. He knows what he’s doing, what’s happening. He doesn’t care. It doesn’t matter, anyway. He doesn’t have John anyway. There’s no need to let him wake when there’s so much more important things to be done. He shouldn’t be thinking about John.
Lestrade starts regretting his choice by the fifth day, probably because Sherlock’s devotion reaches fanatical heights even more extreme than their previous enthusiasm. At one point Lestrade puts a hesitant hand on Sherlock’s shoulder and Sherlock shakes him off with the violence of a dog shaking off water.
“Come on, don’t be an idiot, do you want this solved or not?”
“You’re going to run yourself into the ground.”
“So be it.”
He is awake for two hundred and twenty-eight hours. The last two and a half days had been particularly taxing, Sherlock’s drowsiness growing more and more forceful and he could not tell if it was exhaustion or is John was getting more determined. He assumes that he’d be in quite a strop if forced to sleep for nearly ten days, but then he stops himself thinking about it.
The tedious tasks he’d usually leave to Lestrade and Mycroft and the answer “who cares about a bunch of blank boxes on forms?” he completes as though thrilled by it, much to the shock and chagrin of the entirety of New Scotland Yard. But even then he finds himself half-dozing, which is what possesses him to test a theory.
By the time he gets back to Baker Street he feels like only half of his limbs work. But he climbs the steps to John’s room, he opens the door and falls into it, and there is John, sleeping, and he is almost breathless with happiness at the sight of him.
Sherlock collapses on top of him, all his weight, hands sliding under his t-shirt and onto the skin of his stomach and he closes his eyes and then he hears John’s voice and it is saying “you fucking tit,” and Sherlock’s hands grip his sides tightly, so tight it must hurt, and he tries to keep dozing, and John says“I am so bloody hungry” and Sherlock kisses him.
And that, he assumes, is when John figures it out because Sherlock is hit with another wave of tiredness as John comes to awareness, and jolts upwards, and kisses him. Sherlock can’t respond at this point but John can, he can do enough of it for the both of them, and Sherlock manages to ease them down so he doesn’t have to hold his head up because it feels so, so heavy.
“I’m so cross with you,” John says, which is hard to believe when he has his tongue in Sherlock’s mouth, and his speech sounds sleepy and slurred and happy. “Don’t ever do that again.”
Sherlock wants to answer but he can’t.
John realises this. Sherlock can feel him pull away and he whines at the loss and he can feel John’s thumbs sliding across his cheekbones.
“I can’t get tired again,” he says. “I’ve been ready to wake up for ages.”
He makes a noncommittal noise.
“Open your eyes,” he says, and it’s the last thing Sherlock hears. “Are you still here? Please open your eyes.”
He sleeps for four days. When he wakes up—
A bit not good, Sherlock.
And, again, folded up in the box where they keep the cassette conversations—
The bit where you kept me in a coma. Not the other bit.
Sherlock actually feels himself biting back a smile. He writes:
John kisses him awake the next time. It is the pleasantest thing in the world.
Do you think one of us has to die? Or would that just keep the other awake forever? Would the other never die? Or are they completely unrelated? Death, ‘the eternal sleep,’ you know.
Not an option, Sherlock.
I was just wondering, honestly.
John watches so closely for the flicker of his eyes opening. But by the time Sherlock’s reached that point of waking up, he can barely stand the exhaustion. His thoughts of Sherlock are mixed with thankful thoughts that at least he doesn’t dream of Afghanistan.
“I still hate this,” Sherlock says. John forces himself to mumble a response before he forgets:
“I hate it more than I did before.”
Sherlock might say something more, but John doesn’t hear him, just feels his cool hands so soft against his face.
Sherlock has to steel himself before he does it. He thinks it might be a bit not good but he’s been tempted from the start and he’s trained himself how to be tired and he’s so close to being tired and all he has to do is slide himself between John’s legs and he’s done it, he’s here, he won’t turn back.
John’s not aroused at all, why would he be, he’s completely unaware of what’s going on. Sherlock’s unsure of himself but he’s spend his entire time awake making himself as adept as he possibly could, so he presses his face to John’s pants and mouths against him and above his head he swears he hears John’s breath hitch.
Encouraged, he curls his fingers around John’s pants and pulls them down and takes John into his mouth, sucking gently. And then, yes, that’s satisfying — a definite groan and the feel of him hardening and oh that’s interesting, he should take notes — later — he sticks his middle finger into his mouth to wet it thoroughly before rubbing it against John’s perenium and that’s when he forces himself to grow drowsy.
He licks the length of John’s shaft from balls to tip, and now John’s groan is full-throated and his left hand has moved to paw listlessly against his hair. John’s hips start thrusting in jerky, involuntary spurts.
“Oh God,” John says, and the new wave of exhaustion isn’t voluntary, a spurt of panic shoots through him because he hadn’t considered this, hadn’t mulled through the full consequences — he tries to finish quickly as possible, he wraps his hand around the base of John’s cock and pulls, mouth suckling at the glans — he’s in a hurry — “Sherlock, Jesus Christ— I— oh—!” and John’s hand finds firmer grip in Sherlock’s hair, the shot of pain is enough to keep him awake but only barely—
He falls asleep with his mouth still open, tongue half lolling against John’s cock, resting his head against John’s thigh.
That didn’t go as well as I imagined.
First times never do.
It almost hurts, how much John believes in him. When he doesn’t answer, he receives a ten minute response to their conversation that involves John rambling on about musculature and space and metro traffic and another note, placed right next to the last.
That wasn’t meant to discourage you, you know.
I want to be rid of this.
We will be.
The vote of utter confidence is worse than anything, because Sherlock has no idea what to do.
When Sherlock doesn’t speak at all for three days (sometimes I don’t speak for days on end), John makes a video using his laptop’s webcam and leaves a note on the top of the desktop. He also writes the password at the bottom of the paper, which Sherlock thinks is insulting to his intelligence until he realises John is probably joking.
Sherlock finds the video with ease and presses play. John doesn’t speak at all during the thing, but Sherlock watches with rapt attention all the same. When it ends, he replays it immediately. And again. He palms himself through his trousers. His mouth has fallen open and he hadn’t noticed at all.
He feels quite petulant for being convinced so easily. After considering at a great length what to write, he simply scribbles out a hasty Fine.
He fills the fridge entirely with body parts and leaves the rest of the food out to spoil out of pure spite. John sees this and laughs, and then records himself laughing, and Sherlock should feel at least slightly angry but two minutes and forty seven seconds of John laughing is worth all the injured pride in the world.
How are we going to keep doing this?
Finally showing a little weakness.
So do detectives.
Says the man who shot holes in the wall out of boredom.
Get your bloody corpse pieces out of my fridge.
I love you, you know.
We’re going to be alright.
One day, when John’s watching — closely, ever so closely —
Sherlock opens his eyes.