It was a blazing hot day in August. The old Victorian farmhouse at the hillside dead-end of Route 221 was like an oven even with all the windows open and fans blowing. It didn’t even feel like the same place John Watson had moved into the past November, with the howling winds raking the rusted tin roof in winter and the cool gray pea-soup fogs of spring wrapping the laurels and the junk-bedecked yard in veils of gloom.
John sat on the old couch on the porch, in shorts and thin old olive drab vest, fanning himself with a half-read newspaper. He didn’t mind the heat so much, not since Vietnam had taught him that some muggy 90s weren’t the worst thing that could happen to a man. Sherlock Holmes was a wilted rag on the couch in the curtain-darkened parlor, though, and there wasn’t much that could rouse him from his torpor. He’d get more active when the sun went down, John thought, like some skinny, sharp-eyed night-hunting fox.
But just because Sherlock’s body had powered down into a lanky form of concentrated laziness, in thin pajama bottoms and a worn-thin bathrobe, it didn’t stop his mind from devouring letters and newspapers, and it didn’t stop his mouth from going and going, when the rocket train of his brain threatened to flatten everything in its path -- including John. This was one of those times that John just needed to get away and breathe a little, even if the air he was breathing was so dank and swampy it wasn’t much help in fighting off the bad memories.
“Yes, John, it is preposterous and fruitless and it never helps in the long run to settle a dispute,” Sherlock had said.
John had turned to him, gobsmacked. “Are you actually reading my mind?”
Sherlock tapped his fingertips together - voice calm, but John could see him vibrating inside with the excitement of intellectual conquest. “No. Ridiculously simple. You were reading the newspaper; you only got halfway through an article that you know is about events that will lead to the imminent fall of Saigon. Then your eyes wandered to the unframed portrait of Robert F. Kennedy on the bookshelf, and you thought of him for a moment, of the terrible waste and the unfulfilled potential - not to mention the fact that you know he was the only presidential candidate in recent memory to show some awareness of the existence of the Appalachian people, and the poverty and environmental degradation that upsets you so --”
He still pronounces it App-a-laysh-yun, John thought, twitching. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Will never blend in here. Will never try. We might be doomed. He’d been starting to feel a rising fear far out of proportion to the present facts.
“- and you recall his passionate commitment to bringing the war to a peaceful but honorable conclusion. He was the last best hope, and you can’t help but think that there are many dead who might be alive today but for a terrible night in California - ”
Sherlock wasn’t wrong - of course he wasn’t.
“That’s . . . amazing! You just followed my thoughts all the way!” It was sincere; John was amazed. But also John had just wanted Sherlock to take his well-earned praise, enjoy it, and stop. For now. Please. Stop.
When there were no cases, Sherlock turned to John and stripped him bare, mind and soul, and sometimes he stomped right on little landmines.
He’d normally be glad to have Sherlock strip him bare in body instead, but it was too hot for even that to be much fun.
It was the heat getting to him after all. Had to be. It’s not like John was never willing to talk about the war. Hell, he’d let his old buddy Billy Murray in Pittsburgh - down one foot and one girlfriend, but alive at least - forward him a truly dazzling array of underground newspapers full of conspiracy theories, everything that ever came out of the VVAW office, and constant invitations to every march from Georgia to Ohio to Maine (not like Billy ever went either). And John got pretty chatty sometimes in Sheriff Lestrade’s poker rounds with some of the Lestrade family brew in him (so much so he’d asked Sherlock to keep his bankbook under lock on the boys’ nights out).
But something was in him today, something tense and guarded, something just holding off the edge of panic. He’d stomped out without a word, pressing a cold can of beer to his face, leaving Sherlock to his monologue before John said something he’d regret, or fell down into that dark, confused place where he couldn’t find anything to say at all.
The screen door banged; distant thunder rumbled and the sky over the hazy-green mountaintop was that summer shade that was hard to tell between blue and gray. Dog-day cicadas made their metallic rasp up in the trees. John tried to ground himself in the wood under his feet and the familiar smells.
He had to get out before Sherlock got to the newspaper article he’d just skimmed, about a mysterious package received by some quiet old hill lady outside of Bluefield. Severed ears. Why would that bother him? Oh. He knew exactly why that would bother him. But it sounded like it could be a wild case, one Sherlock could really sink his teeth into. John could handle it. In a little while. He’d be fine. He just needed a moment.
The screen door creaked and soft footsteps approached carefully. “John. It’s me. I’m coming up behind you,” said Sherlock in a low steady voice. “Try to relax.”
Sherlock could be patronizing as hell sometimes. But in this moment John just obeyed it, took deep breaths, and leaned back into that large hand that rested lightly on his unwounded shoulder, fingertips thrumming lightly in beat with his pulse. John was learning to listen past the genius, and hear the awkwardness of Sherlock learning to care. For him. He had to feel a little honored.
“That wasn’t just a legend, then,” Sherlock said quietly. “The trophies.”
John shook his head, grateful that so much could stay unspoken with Sherlock - the man loved to explain things, so it meant a lot when he refrained. He could almost hear new thoughts and knowledge slotting into place in Sherlock’s brain. Sherlock didn’t speak, but John imagined a mechanical, almost cicada-like noise.
Sherlock’s hand on his clavicle exerted a gentle pressure, and John leaned back against his chest.
“Sounds like a good case?” John said.
“Oh, yes. Definitely a seven, possibly a seven-point-five. Lestrade has already called. Are you in? Or is the heat too much for you?”
John chuckled. “I’m in, always in.”
Sherlock searched his face until he found what he needed to see. Their kiss was quick and soft, and Sherlock allowed John to use his shoulder for leverage as he stood, his leg only aching for a moment. “Hope you’re not going in your bathrobe,” John said. “And you better have your own cigarettes, I’m not givin’ you all of mine this time.”
“Give me a moment to get ready, John,” Sherlock said with a wide smile.
John cracked his knuckles and searched for his shoes. That war’s over, Watson, he told himself. Can’t do any more for the folks over there. Look to the one right here.