“Pound for your thoughts.”
John opens his eyes; Harry’s sitting across from him in the train compartment with Gilly, her girlfriend asleep in the seat next to her, head lolling on Harry’s shoulder, mouth wide open. He smiles at the sight, because the thought of Harry sitting still while an exhausted woman drooled on her shoulder was once as impossible as resurrection.
“I thought it was a penny,” John says.
“You looked so deep into your headspace I figured it would take at least a quid to get you out again.”
“It was a nice weekend,” he says. Gilly passed the meet the Watsons test with flying colours, making his dad laugh as they went through the garden plant by plant, getting his mum’s scones recipe to make them at home for Harry. No wonder she’s knackered.
“It was,” she agreed. “Funny how everyone’s more pleasant when I’m not drunk.”
John has to agree; for once their family time wasn’t marred by Harry’s drinking or John’s more recent grey shroud of grief. They went to the play, had a lovely meal out beforehand, and even more lovely meals in the garden, enjoying the seemingly endless midsummer evenings. Their parents, while still active, aren’t getting any younger. Their relief at John and Harry’s transformations was palpable.
“I’m glad you’re doing so well,” he says. “Gilly’s good for you.”
At the sound of her name Gillian twitches a little. Harry rolls her shoulder to get Gilly’s head better balanced. “She makes things easier to bear,” Harry says, as if it’s a confession. Maybe it is. Harry hates vulnerability almost as much as Sherlock, and coped in very similar ways. “I still get angry, lonely, hurt, but then she pats my hand — “
“Your arse,” John says. “I was in the kitchen while you were cooking paella.”
Harry continues right over him. “ — and it’s somehow all right. Life’s still hard. But it’s easier.”
The paradox makes sense to John. “Clara didn’t?”
“She could have, if I hadn’t broken what we had. Again and again. Too many promises given, not enough kept.”
It’s the first time Harry’s admitted any responsibility for what happened with Clara. John’s going to leave it lie. They sit in silence for a little while, watching the summer sun-gilded scenery sway by. Breakfast stretched into brunch, and they took a later train than planned, the half past three departure, which will put them in London at just shy of eight o’clock. John has to work in the morning. His evening will be consumed by getting home, unpacking, getting ready for the work day. He doesn’t have time to go see Sherlock, who is off somewhere conducting interviews anyway.
Disappointment must have crossed his face, because Harry says, “That’s not what you were thinking about.”
It’s true. When Harry offered her pound, John was in the middle of reliving the memory of the birthday party. There was so much pleasure in it, and it’s not the first time since the party he’s wallowed in every detail. Initially Sherlock stood on the periphery, brow slightly furrowed as he tried to cope with the noise and laughter. John had chalked up his slightly stand-offish manner to strained relationships and the unfamiliar territory of a party. But he was there, glass of wine in hand like a disguise or a talisman, and that was enough for John.
He’d never thought Sherlock would be nervous over a present. If he’s totally honest with himself, he didn’t expect him to bring one.
Opening the box is the highlight of the memory. He slows it down, savoring the peculiar aura of twilight and the glow from the Chinese lanterns against the silver box on his lap, the not-unpleasant scent of a cigar drifting from the next garden over. Based on the shape and depth of the box he’d assumed scarf. Sherlock adored accessories, and had exquisite taste. John had been drifting in an island of time, thinking about having another glass of that really good wine, the brush of a warm breeze on his nape, the scent of Mrs. Hudson’s perfume reminding him of the upcoming trip to see his mum and dad. Then he’d opened the box —
— white tissue thick cream paper black lettering not a scarf…
— donation in the amount of one thousand pounds to The Prince William and Princess Catherine Veterans Memorial Fund…
— In recognition of and with deepest appreciation for your service…
— brick pavers ringing the circumference of the monument as your selfless sacrifice encompasses and upholds the liberties and values we hold dear…
— engraved John H. Watson, M.D., RAMC….
He remembers how his throat closed, hot tears welled in his eyes, and his heart thumped against his ribcage. It was impossible, yet it happened. Sherlock selected and gave a gift so stunning and generous and outrageous and right John couldn’t believe it.
Then Lestrade spoke, and John’s glad someone said something because he’d forgotten words, much less how to put them in order. He’d recovered his vocabulary sufficiently to explain what it was not a brick but perhaps not what it meant everything when he looked at Sherlock, and then words were gone again.
John’s never seen anyone look at him with so much fear and hope in his eyes.
Sherlock stood in the gloaming, half and half out of the light thrown by the Chinese lanterns, utterly bared to John, and all he could come up with was Ta, Sherlock. Thanks very much.
It’s what people say, and it’s inadequate, but he meant it. He meant it so very, very much. He’d never do that for himself. Maybe for a mate, but never, ever for himself. All weekend he’s tried to think of a more appropriate, thoughtful way for Sherlock to show he knew, respected, and honored John. He’s failed, come up blank every time.
“You’re doing it again,” Harry says wryly. “Five quid. Will that do?”
“Sorry, sorry.” John rubs his hand over his jaw.
“I know what you’re thinking about. Or rather, who.”
He doesn’t deny it. “What’s on your mind, Harry?” he asks, expecting Harry to remind John of how broken he was, how badly Sherlock devastated him, how crazy he is to even consider trusting Sherlock again.
“People don’t change,” Harry says.
“You did it,” John points out with a nod at Gilly.
“Ask Clara how long it took me. Ask her how hard it was to wait and watch, not knowing if this was the time I’d break through, or if I’d slip back yet again.”
He didn’t have to ask Clara. He’d lived it, although not as deeply and painfully as Clara. What’s more, Sherlock isn’t Harry. Sherlock is a singularity in a bespoke suit. “We’re friends,” he says.
“I saw the way you looked at him.”
But did you see the way he looked at me? I always look at him like that, like he’s the fixed point in this incomprehensible thing that is my life, but fear and hope and (admit it) love in Sherlock’s eyes? That’s never happened before. That’s the miracle.
She’s trying to take care of him. It’s a newly learned habit occasioned by Sherlock’s attempt to fly off the roof of Barts, and once a Watson decides to nurture and protect, they’re done for. “We’re just friends,” he says again. For now. They’re getting closer to something other than friendship, but for the first time in his life, John’s considering the consequences of tilting at windmills.
Harry gently shifts Gilly until her head is pillowed on Harry’s thigh. “Heavy,” she comments, but it’s not a complaint. “I hit him, you know.”
“You hit him?”
“Right hook to the face.”
“At the party?”
“No, after he came back from the dead. He asked me to lunch, at Simpsons, no less, and I walked in, punched him in the face, told him to stay away from you, and walked out again.”
John stares at her. Flat out gapes at his sister, who’s never once done anything to protect him, and who must have caught Sherlock really, really off-guard. “You hit him.”
“I’m not sorry, either. He deserved it.”
“You hit him.” He sounds like a scratched CD, but Sherlock hadn’t told him this, either. He hadn’t told John about Sarah, or Harry.
“He didn’t listen, either — “
“I wanted to do that.”
Harry’s shoulders shake in an abbreviated laugh. Gilly grumbles a little, then subsides when Harry strokes her hair. “Sorry to step on your toes, then,” she says. “Why didn’t you? He really did deserve it.”
He remembers the blinding fury the color of the blood that would run from Sherlock’s face, the way the emotion gurgled and choked inside John like it did when someone tried to breathe through smashed cartilage and bone. “I was afraid if I started, I wouldn’t stop.”
That impulse is gone. He’s forgiving Sherlock, slowly but surely. The question of what will be left when the anger’s burned to ashes has yet to be answered. But offering forgiveness isn’t willingly trusting. John’s got trust issues. Ella doesn’t write the words on her notepad every session like she used to, but sometimes she does. Anymore he thinks it’s as much a note to him as it is to her. She knows he can read her handwriting upside down.
Harry’s expression sobered. “John…I know what he’s like. I know this from his side of things, and he’s a bad bet, a terrible risk. People don’t just change, no matter how great their intentions. I gave Clara lots of grand gifts, and then a few weeks later….” She strokes Gilly’s hair again. “I ruined Clara,” she admitted. Confessed, really. Her throat worked. “I took years of her life and gave back nothing in return. That’s what happens when generous souls fall in love with right bastards. I love you too much to see that happen.”
If John were a more cynical man, he’d laugh at Harry’s late-to-the-party attempts to take care of him, but he’s lost too much to walk away from anyone, so he just smiles at her. It’s a sad smile, not a happy one, because they’re past the point where pure happiness comes anymore. If Harry wants to care, he’s going to let her care.
John shifts, knowing his next words will sound like justification, needing to say them anyway. “He did listen, Harry. I told him to piss off when he came back.” She won’t understand the reference because she didn’t see Sherlock’s face in the rain, nor hear his the deduction based on the condition of Harry’s old phone that night on the way to the pink lady’s crime scene. She doesn’t know the power those words held for him and Sherlock. “I could have gone back to things exactly the way they were, back to his work — “ He stops himself before adds back into his bed because there are things even sisters don’t need to know. “But I told him to piss off, and he did. He’s changed.”
“The threat of losing you has that effect on people,” Harry says. “Just…don’t rush, okay?”
He’s not rushing. When Sherlock appeared in his doorway, gaunt and trembling and grief-stricken, John had no intention of ever speaking to him again, but Sherlock is Sherlock. He’ll hurt John again, and John will hurt Sherlock. It’s what people do, as inevitable as dying. But Sherlock’s also not the man he was before he stepped off the roof of Barts.
John finds he wants to know who that man is. Because the other thing he’s spent the weekend fantasizing about is walking through Regent’s Park with Sherlock over the next couple of years, watching the memorial go up, seeing his name on the wall and knowing Sherlock did that for him. The gift, and the promise inherent in it, bring up the possibility of hope, to anticipate a future together.
It takes time, becoming human, but John’s patient. He can wait. He’s got issues of his own to figure out, two big hurdles to clear as he and Sherlock find their way. Sherlock’s different. He’s changed, still changing, right in front of John’s eyes.
The question now is, can John?
The hurdles present themselves rather naturally, like a dual jump in a steeplechase. As Sherlock’s work picks up, he asks John to do something John used to do all the time: he asks him to go to Barts and collect something from Molly, then bring it to 221B. This time it’s a kidney. Unlike their previous life together, this time Sherlock asks if it’s convenient, and he says thank you when John agrees.
But it’s Barts, followed by 221B Baker Street. He hasn’t been to Barts since resurrection day, nor to flat B at 221 Baker Street.
John can do this. He can. He braces himself, though, sets the analytical portion of his mind to record, because of all the places with the power to cause a PTSD flashback, Barts is the worst, with their flat coming in a close second. Tea with Sherlock in Mrs. Hudson’s flat was fine. He’s fine at Speedy’s. He’s fine in Regents Park. He runs through medical school memories as he walks into Barts but when he takes the stairs into the basement, his mind begins to betray him. He hastens his pace down the stairs, moving on autopilot, then opens the door to the pathology lab at Barts and finds white-coated sitting Molly behind a microscope.
Layers of Sherlock flood in like a tidal wave coursing down the stairs, crashing over John.
Afghanistan or Iraq?
I love you. SH
You shouldn’t be here, John.
He’ll be cremated.
Did you mean it?
John stops, breathes through it.
Take your time. As much time as you need.
The words are Ella’s, but he hears Sherlock’s voice. He breathes. In. Out. In. Out. Again. In. Out. Again. When the hot flash recedes to a cold sweat, he opens his eyes.
Riding the crest of the wave is the memory of shouting at Molly Hooper loudly enough to terrify her when he realized he’d sat by a stranger’s body, mourning his lover. “I’m sorry,” he blurts.
Molly blinks. “For what?”
“For shouting at you, for scaring you, the day Sherlock came back. I was out of line.”
“No, you weren’t,” Molly says. Her expression is matter-of-fact. Thanks to Sherlock, they’re all older, wiser, less willing to expend energy on things that don’t matter, in the end.
John’s about to explain that in his worldview, men don’t terrify women, no matter what the provocation, especially men trained to kill, men who are gripping the edge of their sanity with bloody, torn fingernails, but the cold sweat’s giving him goosebumps, so he takes her at her word. She hops down from the stool and comes over to him, rubs his shoulder, then gives him an awkward hug. The breaks in the friendships may have healed, but like mended bones they ache in the right weather. This is definitely the right weather.
He clears his throat and dredges out of his memory Molly’s handwriting on a package containing a Blackheath scarf. Anything he opened after Sherlock’s gift is a bit of a blur. “Thanks for the scarf.”
“You’re welcome,” she says with a smile. “Bit hot for it now, but summer never lasts long.”
“I’m glad you came.”
“I’m glad I did, too. I wouldn’t have believed that gift if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.”
He latches on to the newer memory like a baby monkey clinging to its mother. “Did you know?”
“No,” she admits. “He came up with that all on his own.”
This is likely true. Lestrade obviously didn’t know what was in the box, and John can’t imagine Sherlock asking Mycroft for help with a present for John. He knows what Sherlock is doing for him. He knows, and he’s watching. Waiting.
He clears his throat, shuffles a little, then steadies himself. “I’m here for the kidney.”
“He didn’t ask for a kidney.” Molly looks around, as if somehow a diseased human kidney will appear in a tray.
John shows her his text stream from Sherlock.
If not inconvenient, please pick up kidney at Barts. SH
Thank you. SH
Molly shows John her text stream from Sherlock.
How was your mother’s fifth week of radiation? SH
How was your mother’s sixth week of radiation? SH
The texts are both from nearly seven weeks earlier. John’s so astonished he almost forgets about the kidney.
“The texts came like clockwork, once a week, at 10:47 a.m. I think he had reminders set up on his phone,” Molly says.
“That sounds like Sherlock,” he says absently.
He wanted Sherlock to be human, not a fucking selfish machine. But he’s going to be the Sherlock version of human, which will mean setting up reminders to ask after Molly’s sick mum, but forgetting to tell her to find him a kidney. Sherlock feeling the feels, feelingly, is Sherlock, brilliant, focused like a laser, and forgetful.
He purses his lips, blows out his breath and looks around the lab. Now in addition to sweaty and shaky and slightly sick to his stomach from the flashback, he’s annoyed.
Molly’s watching him carefully. “He’s trying, John. He’s really trying.”
“I know.” He exhales through pursed lips. “Okay. Right then. I’ll see you later.”
“Do you know what he wanted? Any particular pathology or — ”
“No,” John says shortly, then takes a breath and counts to five. “Maybe he didn’t need it anymore. He’ll be in touch.”
He walks to Baker Street. At some level he knows he’s quicker to flare than he should be. It takes a while, but in that time he’s able to untangle the knot inside him, separating the component strands into Going Back To Barts and Sherlock Taking John For Granted.
This frame of mind is not the one he’d hoped for whilst approaching 221B Baker Street for the first time since the resurrection.
A pink and gold sunset gilds the summer sky as John steps through the unlocked front door. Stopping to say hello to Mrs. Hudson feels like an act of cowardice, so he climbs the stairs to B, where the door is slightly cracked. He pushes it open to find Sherlock sitting on the settee, paper strewn haphazardly on the table in front of him. He’s wearing tailored trousers and a button down shirt, and is barefoot. One long finger rests on the top sheet of green and white printer paper from the 80s while he texts with the other hand. His shoulder blades jut against his dark blue shirt, but it’s the sight of Sherlock’s pale, long, bare, defenseless feet that stops John in his tracks.
A tumult of emotion-laden memories writhe inside him like a basket of colorful, poisonous snakes — Sherlock in his pajama pants, a t-shirt, and the blue robe, barefoot and still smelling of John’s sweat; fighting over who would clean the loo; sitting in their coats after the explosion blew out their windows; watching crap telly; endless cups of tea; the gray haze of grief so terrible it was physically painful — all illuminated by a bolt of physical desire so strong he fears he’s lit up like a summer storm. It’s how he feels. Dark thunderclouds split open by desire.
By Sherlock’s bare feet. Feet that used to climb from John’s calves to the backs of his thighs to his arse as John fucked him insensible.
He stops breathing.
It’s been so long, so fucking long since he’s felt Sherlock’s body against his, inside his, around his, and Jesus God were they good together.
But the sky goes dark again. Like lightning, lust cracks then disappears. It’s the roiling grey and black that remains.
John can probably get away with never going to Barts again for the rest of his life. Not going to 221B Baker Street home is a different story, and right now he can’t tell if the problem is the location, Sherlock’s thoughtlessness, or his own fucking head.
He has to know.
Sherlock looks up and for a split second, he was back, arrogant and distant and dismissive and annoyed by the interruption. Then his eyes widen.
“Shit. Shit!” His hand flies to his hair as he leaps to his feet, disturbing another pile of paper beside him. It slides to the floor as Sherlock says, “The kidney…John…I forgot.”
Of course he didn’t think about how John might feel at Barts, or in the (their) flat. But that’s not fair, and John knows it. “It’s all right.”
Hand still fisted in his curls, Sherlock looks panicked, as if one unnecessary errand will send John slamming out of his life forever.
“Sherlock. It’s all right.”
But it does bring up the question of how Sherlock will behave as he’s drawn deeper and deeper into The Work. Those are the cold case files he wheedled from Lestrade, and now Mycroft’s involved. Sherlock’s old life beckons with a come-hither wink and a sexy little smile. Which leaves John Watson, formerly Sherlock’s PA and blogger…where? Is there a blog post in this? How would he write it up?
He has to know.
He steps into the flat and closes the door behind him. “What are you working on?”
“Maisie Parks, six years old, was killed by a hit-and-run driver in the East End over thirty years ago. She was walking with her sister, who let go of her hand for a split second.” Sherlock seems to realize where his hand is, runs his hand through his hair, and lets it drop. “I remember all the times I ran away from Mycroft when he was supposed to be watching me.”
“Harry never could keep me in hand, either,” John offers.
Sherlock’s face relaxes. “I interviewed all the surviving witnesses while you were in Edinburgh. No one had anything else to offer, but someone must know something. Someone has to know something.”
“Have you tried the website forums? Are they even still active?”
“Neither of us shut them down,” Sherlock says, “and no one else had access. The hosting fees were charged monthly to my card.”
Sherlock looks at him. “You wrote up the cases after we solved them. I’ve not had much worth blogging about since I returned.”
John shrugs. “Why not ask for help? Get Lestrade’s permission, then post the details. See if someone comes out of the woodwork. We live in a global village now. Interviewing the neighbors doesn’t just mean the people who lived next door.”
“Do you mind?”
John sits down with Sherlock’s laptop. “Password?”
“The Fibonacci sequence to eleven digits, replacing three with capital B and one with zed.”
“So, what is it?” John asks without looking up from the keyboard. He’ll fat finger this for sure.
Sherlock rattles off a sequence of numbers and letters. John opens the website and finds his administrator privileges still intact after nearly three years. The spam inbox is crammed full. John deletes the contents of the box, skims a few conspiracy theory posts around Sherlock’s demise, then remembers it’s not his job to maintain the website anymore. Keeping that firmly in mind, he uses Sherlock’s admin identity to pin a new post to the top of the main page, composes the content while Sherlock texts Lestrade, then the girl’s surviving sister. By the time John’s got the entry ready to post, complete with a link to a newly created Facebook page for The Science of Deduction, Sherlock has responses in the affirmative from both the Yard and the family.
“Dinner?” John asks absently as he copies, pastes, and posts. Have at it, hive mind.
They order in and eat dim sum while John pores over the other files. He doesn’t have much to offer, but he’s able to suggest a couple of new identification technologies that might be useful if the evidence hasn’t deteriorated, and he keeps himself moving briskly, because the air’s charged with both John’s lingering uncertainty and desire so potent John imagines it’s seeping from the freshly plastered walls. Before he knows it, it’s well after midnight.
John yawns, then rubs his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. “Is the second bedroom habitable?”
“I’ll just stay over. No point in going out to Dagenham just to turn around and go to Islington.”
Despite his attention seemingly focused on his laptop, Sherlock goes still. “Are you sure?”
He has to know. Sherlock is waiting for him, and will wait for him, and he deserves to know if John’s going to flake out. John needs to know, too. Working with veterans taught him that not knowing is worse. If you can identify your triggers, then you know. You can plan, work around them, face them down. Not knowing is worse.
Sherlock goes to the linen closet in the bathroom. “These should fit the bed in your — the second bedroom,” he says, and hands John haphazardly folded sheets. “Now. Blankets. You prefer two, but it’s warm tonight so perhaps just one.”
John’s heart is pounding, and he’s broken out in a second sweat. His cock is half hard, but his stomach’s twisting, so he takes the quilt from Sherlock and climbs the stairs to the second bedroom. Sherlock appears in the doorway with the second blanket. John takes it, then puts his palm to Sherlock’s chest, and urges him out the door.
“Thanks. Get some sleep,” he says, then closes the door.
Heat sears his palm like he laid it to a hot burner, then snatched it back. It’s the first time he’s touched Sherlock since the night before Barts. Yes, it was to shove him out a door, but it was touch. He makes the bed himself, strips to his pants, and climbs in.
He has to know. A self-identified sociopath who risks his life to prove he’s clever is a good fit for a soldier with PTSD and an adrenaline habit. But with every passing week, Sherlock’s new identity as a good man gains shape and heft and confidence while John’s past continues to ambush him.
He has to know.
Sherlock has no idea what that was all about, and John’s touch lingering in the skin over Sherlock’s breastbone doesn’t make it any easier to think. Consequently, he doesn’t sleep for a long, long time. He eases into the leather chair in the sitting room, tucks his knees under his chin, and lets the feel/demeanor of a flat with John in it seep through his skin, into his bones.
The next morning, Sherlock awakens in the chair to see a cup of tea on the kitchen table and a plate strewn with toast crumbs on the counter. His neck twinges sharply when he rights his head. Massaging the muscles, he checks his phone and finds a single text from John.
I think it’s best if you don’t ask me to go back to Barts.
The lingering tension in John’s jaw, the unwavering approach to the Maisie Parks case, and the resolute set of his shoulders as he climbed the stairs to the second (his) bedroom all crystalize in Sherlock’s brain. He’s trying to prove something to himself, to Sherlock, but mostly to himself. Sherlock shakes his head in disbelief, then regrets it as his neck reminds him that he’s nearing forty. He’s managed to turn London into a second Afghanistan for John, riddled with places that waylay his mind and trigger flashbacks.
I agree. I’m sorry. SH
Now I know.
Sherlock can read John’s shrug in the text. He climbs the stairs to stand in the doorway of John’s bedroom. The bed isn’t stripped as it would be if John were a helpful guest who expected Sherlock to wash the sheets immediately. It’s not rumpled as if John were leaving a hotel room. The bed is neatly made, as it was every morning John lived in 221B, as if John might come back to it that night.
His heart skips a beat. It’s possible John made the bed. It’s also possible John didn’t sleep in the bed. He could have spent the night sitting with his back to the wall, hunched over, breathing like he does when he’s struggling through his memory’s assault on his mind, without asking Sherlock for help.
Did he ever ask Sherlock for help?
Sherlock struggles to remember. Before his resurrection he paid not the slightest attention to John’s needs. Did John ask for anything other than affection?
No. John asked for nothing for himself.
Have a good sleep? SH
Like a rock. Could have slept another eight hours.
Perhaps 221B wasn’t a field of landmines, then.
Carefully, as if sharp movements could jar reality right off the rails, Sherlock closes the door to John’s room. He checks the website and Facebook page. Lots of likes and reposts, but no responses. He goes back to his experiments, and in the afternoon he goes to the shops, where he studies the active ingredients in different products for cleaning household appliances and deduces the housewives for the practice until he’s bored.
This is a ridiculous use of his time.
I require cleaning staff with suitable security clearance. SH
Nesting, are we? MH
Mycroft’s next text is a CCTV still picture of John leaving 221B Baker Street that morning. John’s face tells the story of his night. He looks tired, but at peace with something, his eyes clear, ready to face the day.
Relief pulses through Sherlock. Appearances must be maintained, however.
Fuck right off, Mycroft. SH
I’ll send CVs. MH
Thank you. SH
It’s a perplexing problem. Like forgiveness, trust cannot be forced. John can offer forgiveness, but he has to open to trust. He has to let Sherlock in again. He has to be vulnerable to him in a way he never was before.
Sherlock thinks on it. Trust is lived into by being trustworthy. Therefore, he will demonstrate a continued capacity to be reliable.
How’s Neverwhere? SH
Brilliant. Radio 4 did a version a while ago. I’m going to track that down and give it a listen.
Sherlock cannot think of anything less interesting than Radio 4’s programmes, but then he doesn’t have John’s punishing commute. While he’s considering replies that do not suggest John’s brain will rot right out of his ears, another text arrives.
Off at four today. Dinner?
Come to Baker Street. SH
It’s casual, nothing to suggest John might not be able to handle a simple meal in the flat that used to be his home. It’s not a test. It’s an offer made to a friend who worked long hours in a difficult job.
You’re not going to cook, are you?
You never cooked before.
Sherlock rolls his eyes.
Cooking is chemistry. I am a chemist. Deduce. SH
When John opens the door to 221B Baker Street, delicious smells waft down the seventeen stairs he knows so well. Jesus. Sherlock got takeaway. John’s about to lead with an apology when Mrs. Hudson emerges from her flat, a solicitor’s envelope in her hand. Her eyes are wide as she beckons him over, one finger pressed to her lips.
“What’s going on?” John asks in a stage whisper.
She holds out the envelope. John opens the flap and tips the papers into his palm. The top sheet is a letter from the Bank of England, and clipped to the paper is the deed to 221 Baker Street, City of Westminster. He looks at the document, then at her. When he’d moved out after Sherlock’s disappearance, she’d been struggling to make ends meet.
“How did you — ?”
“I didn’t,” she says, still whispering, then glances significantly up at the B flat. “He says he had nothing to do with it, but who else? Did you — ?”
Sherlock’s home, his home, is the flat upstairs, in this building, so John senses a combined effort from the Holmes brothers. He supposes he’ll have to start speaking to Mycroft again. A slight smile lingers on his face as he slips the papers back into the envelope and hands it to her. “Wasn’t me, love,” he says. “I’m happy for you, though.”
“I can’t…I don’t…how do I thank someone for buying me a building?”
It’s tricky, John muses. Like saying thank you for buying a brick. “Rum cake? He used to eat half of yours at one sitting.” During her time in Florida Mrs. Hudson picked up a recipe that called for enough rum to knock out a rhino. Sherlock slept for hours after he ate it.
“It hardly seems enough,” Mrs. Hudson objected.
“He’ll like it.” The aroma of curry and ginger continues to waft tantalizingly to John’s nose. “Oi, Sherlock,” he calls up the stairs at the open flat door, “I was only taking the piss. You didn’t have to get takeaway.”
“I did not get takeaway,” Sherlock bellows back from the kitchen.
“I smell biryani,” John shouts, then winces. Sherlock does bring out the shouty in people. “Did you get takeaway?” he asks his former landlady at a more reasonable volume. It smells good. Really good.
She shakes her head, tucks the envelope under her arm. “I’m out of rum,” she fusses.
“Put that in a safety deposit box,” John cautions.
“Freezer tonight, bank tomorrow,” she says and plucks her handbag from the chair by the door.
Sherlock appears at the top of the stairs, wearing a black apron over trousers and tailored shirt, with a lethally sharp knife in one hand and a terrified tomato in the other. “You smell biryani because I cooked biryani. Good evening, Mrs. Hudson. Would you care to join us for dinner?”
John smiles at her. Sherlock can’t see her expression, but John can, astonished by her good fortune, overwhelmed by the impossible.
“No, thank you, dear. You two enjoy yourselves.”
John jogs up the stairs. Sherlock lifts an eyebrow. “She’s out of rum,” John says.
Inviting Mrs. Hudson for dinner was the right thing to do. John’s approving smile tells him so. Later Sherlock will find a way to thank her for declining. Based on her response to the deed to 221 Baker Street, he’s also going to wait to tell her that she holds the patent for the mould-killing solution he’s developed in the months since his resurrection. Mrs. Hudson, who survived an abusive husband and years of explosions and gunshots and shouting not to mention the sodding Blitz, who scrimped and saved just to get by, is well on her way to becoming a very, very wealthy woman. 221C is now habitable for the most sensitive allergic asthmatic, but she won’t ever need to rent it out again.
They drink wine with the biryani and John compliments both rather a lot. Then they watch crap telly. Sherlock tries to be polite but most people who end up on game shows are idiots so he ends up yelling at the screen. John glances between Sherlock and the tv, and giggles his lovely, unique, unselfconscious giggle.
Why do people laugh? Because they’re —
pleased with life
comfortable in their surroundings
falling in love.
Oh God. Please.
When they switch off the telly, John’s so boneless he’s slumped down in his chair, and he doesn’t look at Sherlock when he speaks. “Tell me where you were. What you did.”
It’s late. Very late. Traffic noise is almost nonexistent, and the city has the eerie, slumberous pulse it takes on in the wee hours. In between one vibrating London heartbeat and the next, awareness materializes in Sherlock’s brain.
John’s testing himself.
“Is this for the blog?” Sherlock asks. “Because I think Mycroft would prefer — “
“It’s not for the blog. It’s for me.”
Definitely testing himself.
“You don’t have to know. Ever. That time doesn’t have to exist for you.”
John turns his head to look at Sherlock. “How long have you been back from the dead?”
Ten months, two weeks, three days, and sixteen hours, or six months, three weeks, five days, and two hours, depending on which resurrection John means. The first dates from the moment John peered into the backseat of Mycroft’s car. The second dates from the moment John didn’t throw a kneeling, wrecked Sherlock out of his flat. “Nearly a year,” Sherlock hedges.
“In all that time have I asked where you were?”
“Once,” Sherlock says scrupulously, in case John’s forgotten. Sherlock hasn’t. “The first time we had dinner. The story made you angry.”
“It did,” John concedes. “Times have changed. I want to know.”
Sherlock waits, but John doesn’t look away. His willingness to face down his own fears once again staggers Sherlock. “I’m afraid this will provoke a response similar to your reaction to Barts.”
John shifts, looks away. Don’t bring up Barts again. “I don’t feel the same way about this as I do about Barts. I can’t go back there. Not right now. Maybe not ever. But I’m here, in the flat. I’m all right. I want to know where you were.”
“Two years of your life are unknown to me. I want to know.”
Sherlock goes still. He looks at John, waits until he lifts those astonishing blue eyes to Sherlock’s. “It’s unpleasant.”
“Mycroft is unpleasant. The DVLA is unpleasant.”
Fair enough. “Moriarty was involved in every revolting permutation of dehumanizing exploitation possible. He destabilized entire countries, bled money from struggling economies, financed heroin and cocaine pipelines all over the world. He bought women and children, traded them for drugs and guns, then sold those drugs and guns to addicts and warmongers who preyed on the weak and helpless and displaced.”
“Still not scared.” He smiles, and it’s John’s broken, helpless, indefatigable smile. “I invaded Afghanistan, remember? We spend our lives in the darkness most people don’t know about and would run from if they did. Unless you don’t want to remember what you did and saw, tell me. Please.”
His gaze locked with John’s, Sherlock waits another thirty seconds, then he begins. He picks up the tale where he left off, seeing John at the cemetery, and this time John doesn’t storm out. He watches Sherlock talk. Mirrored in his blue eyes is the emotional aftermath of everything Sherlock saw. Sherlock paces, gesticulates, draws diagrams, relates complicated relationships between law enforcement, criminals, the press, public world leaders and secretive terrorists. He tells John everything.
John’s watching, and Sherlock is very nearly fine.
Sherlock froze when John used we. When he started talking, he lit up like a fucking supernova confined only by pale English skin, and there he was, the man John loved (still does) but more. Intellect and intuition melding with heart and soul. It’s four in the morning before Sherlock winds down. John’s eyes are gritty with exhaustion, and his guts are tangled in knots from hearing Sherlock’s tale. He faced all of that alone, so terribly, heartbreakingly alone, and yet, after all of that, he chose to break and then heal, for John.
“You are. Amazing.”
Sherlock shrugs. Shrugs! “I’ll call you a cab, shall I?”
Elbows braced on his knees, Sherlock cuts John a glance full of heartbreaking vulnerability. The street light picks up glints of silver at Sherlock’s temple. “Of course.”
Sherlock trusts him. John could break this Sherlock, break him into tiny, irreparable pieces. Break him harder and more permanently than his family, his school fellows, or the drugs. Sherlock’s waiting for him, and will wait for him forever.
He’d better be really fucking sure he’s able to make that move.
He has to know. He has to know he trusts Sherlock. He did once. He can again.
He just has to know.
“Thanks,” he says.
John climbs the stairs to the second his bedroom. Sherlock sits on the settee, observing his emotional state. Telling John the tale of his disappearance hollowed out his ribcage and abdomen, leaving behind an ache so potent it guts him. He leans into the desire, heightened almost unbearably by the emotional connection he’s forming with John, leans into the ache, leans into the terrifying possibility that unrequited love is now his lot in life with John.
He tries to be properly grateful for friendship, but it aches, Christ, how he aches. For a long, heated moment his mind toys with the idea of opening the door to John’s room, sliding into his bed, and along John’s skin before he’s awake enough to protest. He’s done it before. He remembers, in exquisite detail, everything John likes. John wouldn’t awaken until it was too late, until Sherlock’s clever mouth and deft fingers make it impossible for John to do anything except writhe and gasp and shudder.
But sex is a complication they do not need, and he knows now, truly understands, what it means to have earned another human being’s friendship, how fragile that possession is, how quickly it can be lost.
He is an aching, trembling mess of desire and angst and need. But he breathes through it, lets it be what it wants to be, and eventually it recedes. He falls asleep on the settee, and dreams that John is watching him again, his face sober, thoughtful. When the click of the front door closing wakes him, he’s covered with a blanket. A steaming cup of tea sits within reach on the table, his mobile propped against it. There’s a text from John.
There’s this new invention called a bed. Good for sleeping. You should give one a go.
He rubs his neck with one hand as he replies with the other.
They’re good for something else, too.
You still look deceptively innocent when you sleep. Thanks for dinner. See you soon.
Free tonight? Possible break in the Maisie Parks case. Could be a late night. SH
I’ll be there around six.
John opens the door to 221B with a duffle bag in hand.
“A change of clothes, a razor, and a toothbrush. When I go to work in the same clothes the patients spend the next two days making up increasingly filthy stories about where I was and who I was with. The worst of the lot is Ernie Garrett, but I’m afraid he’s using humor and sexual jokes to cover some pretty deep — ”
He catches sight of Sherlock’s face and stops abruptly. “Do you mind?” John asks, as if he’s somehow gotten hold of the wrong end of the stick.
“Not at all,” he says quietly. “I don’t mind in the least.”
A slight flush darkens John’s cheekbones. He trots up the stairs. Sherlock hears drawers opening and closing, then the sound of plastic clattering into the toothbrush holder affixed to the tiled bathroom wall.
Once again, the intimacy almost cripples him.
“Where are we going?”
“Pulborough. In Sussex,” Sherlock adds, when John lifts his eyebrows for further clarification.
“You caught a break?” John asks as Sherlock navigates them out of the city proper on the A24. “A hit on the website?”
“Facebook, actually,” Sherlock says. “An excellent strategy, for which I thank you. It’s the agony columns of a hundred years ago, people’s entire lives posted online, with pictures, and archived for my use. A private message from one Milly Richardson, who was quite eager to tell me she heard about my little adventure with the Talisker. Name dropped several of the Chelsea set at the house that night. Quite the gossip, our Milly. Remind me to not thank Mycroft. She claims to have information. I checked her name against the tip log and the interviews. She’s not on the list, although with thirty year old data, that doesn’t mean she wasn’t.”
A familiar heady electricity courses through his veins, mixed with an unfamiliar component. He’s excited by the prospect of solving the case winning! but he’s also wary of what he feels. In the past he would have demanded John come along so John could watch Sherlock be brilliant. Now he’s not sure his reactions will be appropriate. He has a suspicion as to why she contacted him, and there is significant bit not good potential to this situation. He needs John’s presence steady him.
He parks the car on a white gravel drive curving in front of a three storey stone house on the edge of the South Down National Park. The gardens, tended by two uniformed workers, teem with fall color. The woman who opens the door is in her mid-fifties, with a neat bob, a two-piece ensemble, and low heels. But the East End formed her words and accent, try as she might to shake it, and there’s a smug cast to her mouth that rubs Sherlock wrong.
“Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson,” he says.
Her gaze brightens. “Oh. I looked at the website and it was just you, Mr. Holmes. I didn’t expect your blogger.”
A fan. “Dr. Watson is consulting in his capacity as a medical professional.” If said capacity is as Sherlock’s guide to the appropriate nuances of human interaction, it’s a form of therapy administered by a medical professional, he supposes. “May we come in?”
She admits them to the cool stones of the foyer and leads them to a sunny sitting room overlooking the downs, then rings for tea. Sherlock and John sit down side-by-side on the couch. Almost instantly a maid bearing a tray with a tea pot and two kinds of biscuits appears. Sherlock takes one, because it’s what people do. John takes two and bites into one as Sherlock begins.
“Maisie Parks. Six years old. Not even three stone. Tiny little thing.” He wants her to hear the name, the details.
“Two days after the incident, a friend of my mother’s asked me to say her son spent the evening with me that night.”
Sherlock knows who her mother’s “friend” was, and he doesn’t like the little game she’s playing. “His name?”
“A lifelong alcoholic with a reputation for driving whilst under the influence,” Sherlock says. “The police interviewed him and he denied being behind the wheel that night. Did you know why your mother’s friend might ask you to lie about his whereabouts?”
“No,” she said quickly. “Oh, no. I didn’t. The police never contacted us, you see.”
Sherlock sets his tea cup and saucer on the polished table between them. “Did you suspect why?”
Mrs. Richardson looks at him like he’s being unreasonable. Her chin lifts. “I suspected, yes,” she said. “My father owned a repair shop. He took care of the Chessmans’ vehicles.”
John sets his half-eaten biscuit on his saucer. As he transfers crumbs from his fingers to the napkin, his hand brushes Sherlock’s thigh.
The Chessmans likely eased Mrs. Richardson into the schools and social engagements that lifted her to her current strata. “Your mother was their housekeeper, not Mrs. Chessman’s friend, and in due time you married a cousin. Not quite the Chessmans milieu but he’s worked his way up in airline industry. So you said nothing.”
“Walter was from a very good family,” she says. “His father was in finance in the city, and his mother chaired a number of charity causes.
Walter himself was a highly respected solicitor. He made a mistake.”
“A little girl died.”
John’s hand brushes his thigh, this time a little harder, as he sets his cup and saucer on the table.
“No one asked,” Mrs. Richardson says again. High colour stains her cheekbones under the rouge. “Don’t you see? No one asked. And I’m telling you now.”
“Why now?” John says.
“Because Walter Chessman died within the last six weeks,” Sherlock says. He doesn’t know this from any database or records. He knows this because this priggish woman wouldn’t have come forward if the man responsible were still alive.
“He needed a liver transplant and didn’t get one,” she says, as if the NHS somehow failed the excellent Chessman family.
“Donor organs usually come at great cost to individuals and families, and therefore go to people who will take care of them, not lifelong alcoholics,” John replies. If Mrs. Richardson knew John even slightly, she would understand that his remarkably even voice covered great depths of disdain.
“Well. I’ve told you what I know. Thank you for coming by.”
Sherlock doesn’t get up. He looks around the home’s sunny interior, the sprawling deck overlooking the parkland, the gleaming bookshelves lined with photographs of the Richardson and Chessman families on holiday in Spain, at two different World Cup finals, opening presents at Christmas. “Caroline let go of Maisie’s hand for just a moment. She wasn’t supposed to let go of her sister’s hand. She was supposed to help her, protect her, take care of her, and instead she let go and Maisie died. She’s carried that around for thirty years, because of your deception. You bought this with two little girls’ blood and tears.”
Color disappears from Mrs. Richardson’s face, leaving behind clownish color on lips, cheeks, and eyes, and trembling skin under her neck.
“Sherlock,” John says quietly.
Bit not good.
He glances at John. Really? That’s it? Because he could continue in this vein for hours.
John shakes his head slightly.
That’s it, then. John says it’s time for this to end, so while Sherlock thinks he’s letting her off far too easily, Sherlock gets himself under control. John stands, so Sherlock does as well. Without another word Mrs. Richardson opens the door to her lovely home. Her control holds, but Sherlock suspects it will be a very long time before she surveys her little domicile with anything resembling satisfaction.
The ride back to London takes longer than the conversation. They sit in silence, staring out the windscreen. Sherlock watches John absently rub his leg, the bad one.
“Text Lestrade,” Sherlock says. “See if he’s still at work.”
“You know he’s still at work,” John says as he gets out his mobile.
Indeed, when they arrive at the Yard over an hour later, Lestrade is in his office, filling out paperwork. They walk through the nearly empty squad room, Sherlock hands him the Maisie Parks cold case file. “Walter Chessman,” he says simply.
“And you know this how?”
“A witness came forward.”
“Intimidated into silence?”
“Traded her silence for a grand house in Sussex and a Land Rover.”
Lestrade’s eyebrows lift. “Right. Does Chessman know? Because if there’s a flight risk I’ll roust out — “
Lestrade’s shoulders slump. “Right then.”
He looks at John, standing quietly beside Sherlock. “You going to write this up for the blog?”
“I’m not giving this particular witness the satisfaction,” John says.
“Too bad,” Lestrade says. “I miss your posts. He’s smart, but he doesn’t have your way with words.”
Sherlock rolls his eyes. Tellingly, John doesn’t say anything one way or the other.
They turn to leave when Lestrade adds, “Sherlock, it’s a good thing you did here.” He taps the file with his forefinger. “Nothing flashy. Just good work. Thanks.”
“Using Facebook was John’s idea,” Sherlock says.
John holds his hands up. “I wrote a post. He did the deducing.”
“I hardly think suggesting the strategy that broke the case open — ”
“Go bicker at home,” Lestrade cuts in. “So I can go home. Eventually. Sometime this week.”
It’s well after midnight by the time they return the car and get a taxi to Baker Street.
“Thank you for coming,” Sherlock says as they climb the stairs to the flat.
“That was a tough one. Little girl, two little girls, really. One died, and one had to go on living.”
“Her sister never got over it. She’s moved on, but she still carries that memory with her. At least now I can tell her that it wasn’t her fault, that a drunk driver is responsible for her sister’s death.”
“She’ll be grateful for that,” John says.
“But she’ll never get past it.”
He looks down into John’s eyes, sees the awareness that tells him they’re both aware of what they’re really talking about. Two steps forward, one step back, and some days he’s not sure it’s a dozen steps back. How can John ever trust him again? How? Sherlock let go and John died. Or his love did. All the bricks in the world won’t bring it back, won’t make John trust him again.
“She might,” John says. His voice is quiet, but sure. “Now she knows. Don’t underestimate her. Good night.”
Hands tucked under his head, John lies in the second bedroom upstairs, listening to the sounds of a gorgeous, heartbreaking piece of music he can’t identify.
Fear and hope. It’s a crushing combination when he feels it himself. When he sees it in Sherlock’s eyes, it’s devastating, and it’s taking on a new edge. Pain.
He has to know. He must know. But he’s not sure exactly what it is he’s missing, what piece of information would give him what he lacks. Trust issues are tricky. He clings to what he believes to be certain, avoids everything else. The problem is…the number of things he’s certain about is shrinking, and everything else includes a Sherlock he can break, and who now holds ten times the power to break John.
Letting go can be problematic.
He has to know.
John is sound asleep in Dagenham when his mobile rings in the middle of the night. He fumbles for it, fully prepared to tell Sherlock he’s in bed, asleep, and not available. But training kicks in as soon as he sees the number belongs to the psychiatrist assigned to Ernie Garrett. He’s on his feet, shoving his legs into his trousers, scuffing his bare feet into shoes as he answers the phone. “Watson.”
Doctors are trained to sound calm and collected under the worst circumstances. The worse it is, the calmer they sound.
Dr. Mendes sounds millpond calm.
Oh God. Oh no.
John yanks on a pullover and sprints down the hall. His door slams with a hollow boom that echoes inside him as he runs toward the main road in search of a taxi.
Possible break in human trafficking case. Will you come? SH
Needed at work.
That does not sound good. John hasn’t been terse with Sherlock in weeks and weeks. He goes alone, lasts a couple of hours before he’s shouting at Anderson over his evidence collection methods (still execrable), which is an improvement. He needs John more now that he can feel the tragedy of this scene, but John cannot come, and Sherlock has no right to demand his presence. So the incoming text feels like a gift.
Off work. Still need me?
On way home. Meet me there? SH
John arrives an hour later. “Sorry I couldn’t get away,” he says briskly. “What did I miss?”
“Two girls, discovered at Battersea. Both brutalized, one worse than the other. I’ve seen this before. It’s a highly effective technique to terrorise the other girls into submission. They won’t ask for help, risk escape, or befriend each other. Their killers cut their tattoos from their skin but we’ve got the locations, and that will help us narrow down missing persons. Interpol might be able to help. I may need to go to Budapest Tuesday next, assuming the corruption inquiry in Latvia proceeds — ”
He’s pacing as he talks, but when he looks at John, who’s standing at parade rest in the middle of the flat, he stops dead in his tracks. On the surface everything looks fine, just fine, just another day at the office for John Watson, but his face, his harrowed, beautiful face can’t quite hold onto the fine. Sherlock straightens. A jolt shoots up his spine and lifts the hair at his nape.
“I won’t be gone long.”
So Sherlock’s trip isn’t the cause.
“I will come back.”
“If I believe anything after the last year, it’s that you’ll always turn up again.”
Silence. He believes John meant those words to be humorous. They weren’t.
“John,” he says quietly. “What happened?”
John’s face wars with itself, as if the muscles and ligaments want to do one thing and the skin insists on doing something else. “Ernie Garrett tried to kill himself.”
A flat, even recitation of facts. “God. I’m sorry. How? Where?”
“His flat. Pills. We got him to hospital, pumped his stomach. He’ll be all right. Or he won’t. It’s impossible to tell right now.”
Sherlock prepares to state the blindingly obvious as gently as he can. “John. If I text you asking you to come to the scene of a brutal double murder and you’re dealing with a patient’s suicide attempt, you needn’t come.”
“You said you needed me,” John says, but there’s a tremor under the words. He flushes, looks away, rubs his hands through his hair. His next words hold a pain Sherlock can only begin to comprehend. “I’ve been no goddamn use to anyone today.”
Only John would see consulting at a double murder as being useful. Only John would take on more pain, more senseless brutality, as a way to help. But this…this will break him. It’s not humanly possible for John Watson to not care for the people in his charge. But he can’t keep going like this. If something doesn’t change, this will end John, and them.
You wanted to stand beside him. This is what it means to stand beside John Watson.
“I’m not hungry.”
“I’m not asking. You need to eat. And sleep.” He turns for the kitchen, confident Mrs. Hudson left curried something earlier in the week.
He has food, and he has a bedroom John can sleep in. He knows how to do this. After all, John taught him.
“I can’t. I need to talk to David about his medication and therapy plan. God. They don’t understand him like I do. There has to be something I can do.”
Sherlock turns back to the doorway between kitchen and sitting room, a container of curry in one hand and a bowl of rice in the other, because he knows that tone of voice, that frantic mental hamster wheel. “All of those things will be done in the morning. What you can do, right now, is let it go.”
John wheels on him. “Let it go? Let it go? This isn’t the same as Jim fucking Moriarty, Sherlock. This isn’t fake. Ernie Garrett knows he’s not clever, and he knows he’s never going to be well again. A life is at stake!”
Sherlock recoils from the venom in John’s voice. At one level he knows it’s not directed at him, but…it is. “That is not what I meant,” he says carefully.
“His life is worth something. Why doesn’t he see that? Why? Why?” John’s voice trails off. Sherlock can see the moment John realises what he’s said, and to whom. His face fractures once again. “I should be with him. I couldn’t — . I left before — . I have to go sit with him.”
The words shatter the charged air in the flat. Sherlock sees John remember the last time he sat with the aftermath of a suicide. Sherlock remembers watching him, observing without seeing what he’d done to John Watson.
He sees it now. Sherlock’s frozen in place as John bolts for the stairs, then slams out the front door.
That did not go well.
He looks at the curry, then at the rice, held in his too-large hands, and wonders why he thought he could be John for John. He’s a flapping, awkward crow of a man. He is the last person capable of offering comfort to another human being.
Stick to not hurting. You’re almost good at it. Helping, however, is beyond you.
He puts the food back in the fridge. Is this what people do? Fail each other, then put food away? It’s…incomprehensible.
John is in pain. John is wrestling with something he cannot overcome. John should not be alone.
John left, a clear request for space.
For a long moment Sherlock considers his options. Respect boundaries or engage in creepy stalkerish behaviour and follow him? Text him? Call him? Follow him via CCTV cameras, which is also stalkerish and a boundary violation, but an invisible one, although John will know he’d do that.
John did not say piss off. If they have established anything at all in the complicated, insane relationship of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, it’s that the only phrase that ends them is piss off.
Sherlock whirls into his coat and sets off after John.
He can’t do it.
He has to do this. Ernie Garrett is depending on him. At Barts.
It’s just Barts. It’s just hospital. They’re all alike. Floors of rooms, equipment, labs, waiting rooms, storage closets, elevators and stairways and morgues with bodies under sheets in cold trays…
He can’t do it, set foot in Barts, not even to help a wounded soldier. So he left, moving automatically through the streets to 221B Baker Street. He’s seen this before, soldiers in a trance seeking the comfort of places where they used to feel safe, as if returning to the past will heal something in their wretched present. He’s done this before. After all, he spent many an afternoon sitting in Speedy’s Cafe. Waiting.
John stops. Drives his fist into his leg. Turns in search of retreat, somewhere to hide, somewhere to pull himself together. He can’t fail, but the blackness circles overhead, spiraling down for him, talons extended and razor sharp, and he’s going to fail.
He can’t bear it. He can’t bear Barts, and he can’t bear this.
He turns again, and Sherlock’s there, off in the distance.
John finds, deep down, he knew Sherlock would be there.
Sherlock stays put. His coat sways in the breeze. He has his hands in his pockets, and even from thirty yards away, John can see the curls dance across his forehead.
Without knowing why, or what will happen, John pulls out his mobile.
John moves with such distinctive purpose and intention a five-year-old could track him. Sherlock easily closes the distance between himself and a silver-gold head bobbing in the distance. When he clears the main gate to Regent’s Park, he sees John stop, then drive his fist into his leg. After a moment, he turns in Sherlock’s direction.
Sherlock just stands where he is. John sees him, and stops where he is.
Is this how John felt all the time, this never being enough, yet wanting so badly to be enough? It’s unbearable, and yet John bore it, so Sherlock will learn to.
John’s got his mobile in his hand. A second later Sherlock’s phone buzzes.
Sherlock walks toward him. John watches him, and Sherlock has no trouble reading his mind. John’s gaze lingers on his throat, exposed by the open collar of his shirt, and then on his hips as he walks, until he stops right in front of John. “You ought to be illegal,” he says.
Classic avoidance technique.
This again? A mild joke intended as a diversionary tactic glossed over with a hint of sexual innuendo? For a genius he’s really quite stupid. That’s what John does. When it comes to others, John shoulders burdens, soldiers on, squares up, holds strong. When it comes to himself, he deflects, dodges, ducks, demurs, beguiles.
This stops here.
He draws himself up to his full height. “John,” he begins.
John huffs out something too edgy to be a laugh. “You’re right. I won’t last a year in this job if I don’t learn to let it go. I’m sorry. I know it’s not what you meant. You meant I need to pace myself.”
He meant I love you. He meant I want to take care of you. He meant You are not alone. He can't blurt those things into the shimmering fall air of Regent's Park. It will give John every excuse to cut and run. “Yes.”
John’s staring off into the distance as he speaks. “It’s circling back for me,” he says, and it’s a confession, one Sherlock doesn’t understand. “I’m afraid I can’t do this job. That I’ll fail the patients.”
“It’s perfect for you, and you are perfect for it,” Sherlock says quietly. John shouldered the pain and trauma and anguish and suffering of others because he’s a good man and that’s what good men do. Who did that for John? Who stood beside him and held him up and supported him? Who made it possible for him to do what he so clearly felt called to do?
Sherlock would do that. He’s in. All in. In John’s power to forgive lies a healing they both need, but in Sherlock’s ability to be a quiet presence at John’s side lies a healing John needs, has needed since he was invalided home years ago, one exacerbated by Sherlock’s fall.
There are so many layers to friendship, so many unexplored depths. It might be enough.
“It’s better you’re not…that is…you don’t have to be alone. If you don’t want to be. Let someone else hold part of the burden for you. Let me do that. Please.”
The word seems to crack the ice-thin layer of fine fine it’s all fine on John’s face. He looks at Sherlock, the webbing of lines around his eyes and mouth contorting as he struggles to keep it together. John is on the edge, as much on the edge of a ledge as Sherlock was on the roof of Barts. Anguish slices across his face, then disappears. His throat works. People stare surreptitiously as they walk past. John coughs, ducks his head.
Not here, you idiot, in the middle of a public park.
Sherlock tilts his head back towards Baker Street. It’s a silent invitation, one John responds to by falling in beside Sherlock. They walk back to Baker Street in silence, which seems like a pathetic and inadequate response to the enormity of the situation looming on the horizon. Inside the flat Sherlock sets about making tea. He’s English. The solution to everything is to keep calm and make tea. John will talk. Sherlock will listen, and watch. For as long as it takes, he will be there for John.
When he emerges from the kitchen, he finds John hunkered down on his heels, his back to the wall, his arms covering his head. Tears plunk to the wood floor inside the door.
John is weeping.
Sherlock’s so astonished he stands there, tea pot in one hand and two cups in the other. Sherlock’s seen him fight through PTSD, but he’s never seen John Watson surrender. What he’s witnessing is weeping likely similar to the way he wept after Sherlock tipped off Barts and out of his life for two years.
Sherlock sets the tea pot and cups on the floor, then crawls to John’s side. He’s wracked by terrible, body length tremors, and the sobs come from somewhere deep inside him, a place Sherlock can’t even imagine. Tentatively he places his arm across John’s shoulders. John shudders, as if he’s throwing off Sherlock’s arm, but the next time Sherlock reaches for him, he collapses into Sherlock as if Sherlock is the only thing between John and utter destruction.
John Watson is a small man to carry the burdens of others, and yet he willingly carries them. The weight has nearly broken him. It takes a very long time for John to cry himself out. When Sherlock thinks about it, John’s letting out Afghanistan, his lover’s faked suicide and very real resurrection, and, most recently, Ernie Garrett, who is the visible tip of an iceberg of trauma and also the straw that broke John Watson’s back, if Sherlock wants to mix his metaphors unconscionably. It doesn’t matter now. He sits beside John until his legs fall asleep, until John’s weeping turns to tears, the subsides into shaky breathing.
“Sherlock,” he says.
Sherlock expects thank you or an apology. Given the circumstances, John’s character, Sherlock’s newly amassed database of human interaction in which people seem to apologize at the drop of a hat, he’s confident that’s what he’s going to hear in John’s trembling voice, gratitude or an unnecessary apology for being human, for needing Sherlock. "I forgive you.”
Air evaporates from Sherlock’s lungs. A powerful surge of emotion curls his fingers through John’s jumper, shirt, into the flesh and muscle and bone of his shoulder. “Shhhh. I know. I know. Go on upstairs and get some sleep,” he says quietly.
John nuzzles into his hand for a split second, soft, thin lips and a day’s worth of stubble, the skin of his cheekbone damp with tears. Then he goes upstairs without another word.
Well, that was embarrassing.
In the loo John splashes cold water on his face until his face feels cool, then braces his hands on the porcelain sink. Head bent, he refuses to look in the mirror. He’d intended to bestow his forgiveness on Sherlock like a gift — the only gift he has to offer the well-dressed consulting detective who has everything — and instead he fumbled it into the air in a voice ravaged by a snotty crying jag.
Lovely. Nice. Well done, Watson.
In his room John lies down on top of the covers, fully dressed. He intends to get himself together, then go back downstairs, but sleep hooks him like the cartoon character snagged from a spotlight. One minute he’s aware of the light coming through the bedroom window, the next he’s aware that the light has shifted up the wall, and Sherlock’s playing the violin.
Violin. 221B. He knows.
What he knows is that he’s never going to know.
Sherlock’s right, as he so often is. John has to let go. The only way he’s ever going to know he trusts Sherlock again is to let go of the fear and let Sherlock walk beside him and shoulder his burden. He’s the one holding them back this time, trying to know, grasping after a security that will never come.
He doesn’t have to know. Knowing is as much of an illusion as safety.
John has to let go, before it’s too late.
A hint of autumn sharpens the air as Sherlock stands in front of the window nearest the fireplace. He’s serenading young lovers across the street when John comes down the stairs. He finishes the movement, then lets the violin droop from his shoulder.
“I woke you,” Sherlock says into the quiet. “I’m sorry.”
“I…yes, but it’s fine. I kind of missed it. I still wake up in the middle of the night and think I heard the violin.” He looks at Sherlock. “You need to sleep, too. That crime scene today sounded brutal, and they’re not going to get easier.”
Was it always going to be like this, moments of opportunity arriving at the worst possible time for Sherlock to act on them? Because it’s too late in the evening, after too difficult a day for John. “I know,” Sherlock says quietly. “I’m going to bed now.”
He reaches into the violin case for the soft cloth he uses to wipe the instrument. John watches him, and Sherlock experiences a moment of rightness violin 221B night John watching so profound he wants to weep when it dissipates.
“That’s not what you’d normally play when you’re working on a case. What’s the occasion?”
Sherlock gestures out the window. John crosses the sitting room passing in front of a perfectly good window to stand very, very close to Sherlock. He takes in the couple, leaning against a car and snogging.
John ducks his head and puts his hands on his hips, as if the sight is too much for him. Sherlock watches a moment longer, soaking up the sensation of John’s body heat seeping through his clothes. Anyway, the incoming data stream is quite good, a chance to test his improving sentiment skills.
Yes. He will focus on the lovers. Not John.
It’s a thorough, slow snog, one that’s been going on for quite some time. They’re kissing as if they have all the time in the world John’s not moving nothing to rush, nothing to dread, no awareness that life will bring pain beyond measure, and that what they feel may not be enough but it’s all they have John’s not moving. They kiss as if they’ll never have to begin again, and again, and again…
John’s not moving.
When he turns away from the window, John is still right there, his body sharing heat with Sherlock’s, his face tipped up. His hair and face are rumpled with sleep, his eyes dark with pain and purpose and an intent that stops cellular vibrations in Sherlock. John tilts his head a little, then nudges up into Sherlock’s mouth. John’s mouth slides across his, his lips soft and warm from sleep, with a sharp edge from the gold-and-silver scruff around John’s mouth. The pain in Sherlock’s chest is so staggeringly sharp he freezes.
John pulls back. “Do you…not want this?”
Sherlock presses one hand to his breastbone. The ominous thuds come with the spacing and impact of an anvil tumbling down a rocky hillside. They didn’t lessen when John broke off the kiss. “I think I’m having a heart attack,” he says.
Which, all things considered, would be a cruel twist of fate indeed.
John slides a chair into the backs of his knees and Sherlock folds into it. He braces his elbows on his thighs, laces his fingers together behind his head, and hunches over while John presses his strong fingers into Sherlock’s wrist. “Please John, please, I didn’t know, you were so vulnerable and I didn’t know, I can’t, please, please don’t kiss me if you don’t mean it — .”
Did you mean it?
“Shhhh,” John says, as if he can hear Sherlock thinking. “Shhh. Shhh.” He rubs Sherlock’s back between his shoulder blades. It’s soothing, the noise and the touch. Slowly Sherlock lets his guard down, lets his hands relax until they dangle from his knees. But he still can’t look at John.
Then John comes to him.
“I meant it,” John says, low and even and sure. He sets his mouth to the spot where Sherlock’s jaw meets his ear.
“I mean this, too,” John says, and kisses the tender skin under Sherlock’s ear.
“And this,” he repeats, and mouths his way along the line of Sherlock’s jaw, to the corner of his mouth.
“I mean this,” he whispers again. His lips move against Sherlock’s, who is unable to keep himself from turning his face to John’s. The brush of lip against lip, the shocking hot slide of John’s tongue into his mouth, the taste of him nearly does Sherlock in.
John flattens his hand against Sherlock’s chest an unscientific way of taking his pulse then fists his hand in his shirt wrong possessive oh God want need desire I am yours. Sherlock drags John across his lap, and he thought this would be slow and sweet, a careful exploration of bodies years older than before, a cataloging of changes and similarities, pleasure layered on pleasure until they were boneless, mindless. But the flames roar up, an affirmation of life and love and hope. His tongue is in John’s mouth and his hands slide under John’s jumper and shirt. John’s hands are opening his shirt, then his trousers, and God, he’s going to die after this, but he must have it, have John, now, forever, but nownownow.
The grip of John’s fist on his cock forces a low, rough groan from his throat.
He gets John’s jeans open and shoved, together with his pants, lower on his hips. It’s sheer animal rutting, John’s hand squeezing their cocks together, working the pre-come around their glans to slick things up. Sherlock wraps his hand around their cocks from the other side, and the circuit’s complete. They thrust and grind and stroke. John’s gripping the back of the chair with one hand. His ankles are tucked into the chair legs, tilting him forward. Sherlock’s feet are braced against the floor, giving him the leverage he needs to thrust up.
John licks his hand, then locks eyes with Sherlock, lifts his palm and licks it, too. Sherlock cries out at the slick glide of tongue against his palm. The little bit of extra lubricant is all they need. He reaches up with his free hand and grips John’s nape, drawing John’s forehead down to meet his. I meant it get strangled in his throat as pleasure tightens every muscle in his body.
“Oh, fuck,” John gasps. His mouth is millimeters from Sherlock’s, so his breath gusts over Sherlock’s open lips. “Oh fuck Sherlock oh fuckohfuck.”
“John — .” Sherlock’s voice is nearly soundless. His cock jerks and pulses semen onto his chest, then his abdomen.
John’s release follows almost immediately. Chest heaving, he slumps forward and rests his forehead on Sherlock’s. “That was…fuck, now I’m having a heart attack…Christ, that was…exactly like it used to be.”
“It used to last much longer,” Sherlock says. It wasn’t enough. His fingers relax and lift to hover over the nape of John’s neck, but he’s not sure he can touch John there now that the passion’s gone. His hand ghosts over the equally intimate patch of skin on John’s hip, and finally falls to his own thigh.
“It’s been a while,” John admits, seemingly unaware of the little drama of Where to Place One’s Hands After Frottage With One’s Former Lover playing out along his back. “There’s been no one since you came back from the dead.”
Sherlock is quiet. “There’s been no one since you,” he says finally.
John sits back and stares at him. Their semen slides down Sherlock’s ribs, into his shirt, but all he cares about is the sheen on John’s eyes. Sherlock has an odd impulse to touch the tips of his fingers to John’s eyelid so the liquid seeps out, then set his mouth to the crease and taste it. He doesn’t. He stares into John’s ocean-dark, ocean-deep eyes while John processes this last piece of information.
“I’ll get you a towel,” John replies hoarsely.
That is not what Sherlock hoped John would say. Did they just become friends with benefits? Because that is not fine.
He closes his legs so John can ease off him and retrieve a towel from the kitchen. He cleans himself up, then tosses it to Sherlock, who wipes off his stomach and cock. John buttons up, then moves away from Sherlock into the light falling through the opposite window.
The couple outside has replaced Sherlock’s violin with the car radio. A woman’s voice, clear and strong, drifts up, raspy, powerful, aching with a depth of feeling that acknowledges so much, longing despite the pain, love in the face of betrayal:
Round and around and around and around we go
Ohhh now tell me now tell me now tell me now you know
Darkness lies between them as John stands, hands on hips, and looks anywhere but at Sherlock. This is where he leaves. In the past, when they’ve crossed a difficult emotional threshold, John leaves.
“You’re leaving now,” Sherlock says across the void.
“Is that a question or a statement?” John says to the window.
Sherlock finishes fastening his trousers, then looks up at him. “A question,” he revises.
“I don’t want to leave,” John says.
Don’t theorize ahead of data. Don’t deduce. Ask.
“What do you want?”
John’s eyes are so familiar Sherlock’s heart stops. He knows that emotion, knows it well, from John’s birthday. It’s fear and hope.
“Get some sleep. Wake up to you sprawled over two thirds of the bed. Eat something. Do that — “ John nods at the chair where Sherlock sits, “ — again. Properly.”
John’s learnt to mistrust his desires. But Sherlock hopes. He aches and hopes. Still sitting in the rectangle of streetlight coming through his window, Sherlock braces his elbows on his knees and clasps his hands to hide the tremors as he tips into emptiness. “John,” he says quietly. “I…want everything you want…I want more. I want you to stay but you are under considerable emotional distress…I want you to stay, I want to ask you to stay forever, but I will not take advantage of you again…”
His voice trails off.
Stay. The singer’s voice cries out from the car radio below, challenge, plea, dare, demand, a call, all in one powerful female voice.
They both stand on the front lines of the war against evil and despair, because that’s who they are, where they live, in a London alternately vibrantly alive and eerily silent, in the in between. It was wrong to bring it up, but the time will never be right, he thinks with despair. It will never be right.
Hand still on his hips, John looks at him. “If you want me to stay, ask me to stay.”
Panic closes Sherlock’s throat. Not yet, not yet, let me continue to woo you until there’s no doubt, no hesitation. I was just getting good at it.
But John kissed him. John said I meant it. Is John waiting for him on the other side of this final barrier?
“Stay,” he says, his voice nearly soundless.
“I’m an invalided soldier with PTSD and trust issues,” John says bluntly. “I’ll never be right.”
Sherlock shakes his head in disbelief. As if John could ever be wrong. Sherlock looks at John’s steady hands, at the unselfconscious set of his shoulders, the deep peace in his dark blue eyes. He’s the hero. He’s the one who throws himself into every incarnation of hell for Sherlock, for strangers. Sherlock wants, more than any drug or sex or victory, the privilege of standing beside him while he does.
“Stay. Please,” Sherlock adds, stronger, because that’s what people do, and because he means it.
John cocks his head and considers Sherlock as if to say Your turn.
“I,” Sherlock says precisely as he gets to his feet, “am a terrible risk. As you have proof.”
“And yet here I am,” John says, dead serious. “Here I am. Again. Do you risk your life to prove you’re clever?”
“I have done, yes. Not of late. Tonight I’m going to risk my heart to prove I love.”
John goes still.
Sherlock stands in the light cast through the farthest sitting room window. “I love you.”
John Watson is a frozen sculpture of crow’s feet, sex flush, mussed silver-blond hair, and courage, of slept-in clothes over muscle and bone and scar tissue. Right now he stands in front of Sherlock with Sherlock’s heart, mind, soul tucked away in his breast pocket of his button down shirt, between his warm, soft jumper and his beating heart. He is the only thing that is good and right in Sherlock’s world. He is John, his John.
Sherlock continues. “I’ll never be right either, but nonetheless, I love you. It’s not enough, and it’s all I have. All I am. I love you, John. Stay forever. Please.”
I love you, John.
It’s the ultimate in vulnerability. I love you. No pressure to say it back. But he will. Because he does. Has since the day Sherlock admitted he wanted to kiss John, and yet didn’t want to want to kiss John. Never stopped. He loves this man, the most human of humans. That’s what stepping off the roof of Bart’s did for Sherlock. It took him on a journey into the darkest, strangest of places, the human soul. His own, incontrovertibly human soul.
Letting go can do the same for John.
A crevasse gapes at his feet, not all that dissimilar from the black canyons that stretch between London rooftops, the one where he left his cane behind. If Sherlock can learn to love, then John can learn to fly. He takes a deep breath, as if gearing up for a running leap, as if sprinting as hard as he can at the edge to fling himself into the void.
“I love you, too.”
Sherlock’s closes his eyes briefly. Best to blink now, in case this disappears whilst he does.
When he opens his eyes again, John is still there, his hand extended into the darkness between them. Sherlock takes it, and they yank each other into the void of shadowy space. The impact forces a raw sound from Sherlock’s throat. He wraps his arms around John’s shoulders, buries his face in John’s hair. John’s on his toes, and the grip of his arms around Sherlock’s shoulder blades is tight enough to bruise. They are crushed together along the length of their bodies. John makes a sound somewhere between a sob, a gulp, and a hitching breath.
“God, I missed you.”
Sherlock tightens his grip, then strokes the back of John’s nape with his hand. He nuzzles into his hair, his ear, breathing in John, absorbing John through his skin. John sighs, then tucks his head under Sherlock’s chin. His lips press against his pulse. Sherlock feels Loveyouloveyouloveyou resonate against his throat as much as hears the words. He tilts his head so his mouth is above John’s ear and gives the words back to him in a murmur. I love you, too, John. John. I love you.
A tremor undulates slowly through John. Sherlock tightens his arms, pulling John closer, and when the tremor ends, they’re curved into and around each other, so there is no space between.
Silence falls, or perhaps they fall into silence. Either way, they’re together, and together they’re falling. Flying. The slow, deeply percussive beats of Sherlock’s heart are wings, lifting them up, defying gravity, holding them aloft in the currents.
Flying is controlled falling.
Soaring is love.
Before he can sleep, however, there is something John must do. He goes to Barts to sit with unconscious Ernie Garrett. He shakes the whole time he’s there, his voice trembling as he talks to the fallen soldier, the tremor in his hands resolving only when he reaches for Ernie Garrett’s limp fingers. You are not alone. I will not leave you. I will not fail you. You do not walk alone, and you never will.
He stays as long as he can. Ten minutes. Not long. He’ll do better the next time, and the time after that. When he leaves, Sherlock is waiting for him at the end of the corridor. John walks right up to him and buries his face in his chest. Sherlock wraps one arm around him, holding him close in the silent ward. “You’re the bravest man I’ve ever known, or will ever know,” he says.
“I don’t feel very brave,” John says to the Belstaff.
“That’s why I’m here. I see you, John Watson. I see you.”
John looks up into those wise gray eyes. “I know.”
One corner of Sherlock’s mouth lifts. “Home. Bed.”
He’ll get no argument from John.
“Wake up, John.”
He’s dreaming. Has to be dreaming the erotic contrast of a soft mouth and rough stubble against the sensitive inside of John’s wrist. A tongue lingers over the tendons under his skin, then the mouth moves to the inside of his elbow, then the hollow of his shoulder, then the juncture of neck and collarbone. A soft, sleepy noise somewhere between a moan and a plea drifts into the bedroom’s still air. It’s him, and it’s been an eternity since he made that sound.
There is no moment of uncertainty. John knows exactly where he is. In shrinking concentric circles: England, London, Westminster, 221 Baker Street, flat B, in Sherlock’s bedroom, in Sherlock’s bed. Sherlock’s sprawled half on top of him, his leg between John’s, his calf tucked under John’s, and yesGodyes that’s Sherlock’s mouth exploring the transition from skin to beard on his throat.
He knows exactly where he is, who he’s with, and what’s going to happen. The certainty of it all grips his throat, and he makes that sleep-rough sound again.
“John. Wake up.”
“Don’t want to,” he murmurs even as his arm wraps around Sherlock’s shoulders. “Dreaming.”
A low, furry chuckle he feels against his throat. “You’re not dreaming,” Sherlock says, and presses his hard cock against John’s thigh for emphasis.
“God,” John growls. His hands grip Sherlock’s shoulder and hip, holding him still while John attempts to writhe against him. Sherlock’s positioned himself so there’s no pressure on John’s cock, and he finds he wants that quite badly right now. “It’s a good dream.”
Sherlock makes another one of those velvety noises and proceeds to kiss his way up John’s throat to the soft skin under his jaw, then his ear, then work his way to the corner of John’s mouth. He pauses there, using teeth and tongue on the hyper-sensitive skin until John’s lips part. When Sherlock continues to tease him, John uses surprise and control of Sherlock’s hips to roll him onto his back.
“My turn,” he says.
Sherlock lies beneath him, his face beautifully stunned, full of awe, all barriers down. John returns the tease, kissing around Sherlock’s mouth with flickering licks and worrying nips until Sherlock’s mouth opens. Even then John restrains himself, tongue caressing the soft skin of his inner lip, teeth, retreating to mouth at his jaw, then back, slightly harder. He pauses to tug Sherlock’s t-shirt over his head, then lift his arms while Sherlock does the same to him. His hips match the rhythm of his mouth, pressing against Sherlock’s thigh as he licks deeper, easing away when he kisses along his eyelids. John’s familiar with invading in all its forms and guises; he’s quite good at this part, so Sherlock’s mouth is wide open and thoroughly conquered by the time John draws back to look at him.
The ground still vibrates when Sherlock moans.
“I want to be inside you, but if I do this will be over in seconds.”
Sherlock stops pretending John can pin him to the bed and rolls them into their original positions. “Next time,” he says.
John’s pants join Sherlock’s pajama bottoms on the floor. Kneeling between his spread thighs, Sherlock reaches into the bedside table to withdraw lubricant and condoms. John nods at the condoms. “I had my physical a couple of months ago,” John says. “All tests were negative, I was always, always careful, but I’ll get tested again if you want.”
“No, it’s fine…I’m not sure how long I’ll last without one,” Sherlock admits.
“Just go slow,” John whispers. He wants this more than anything, Sherlock bare inside him, the electrifying connection of skin to skin. “Sherlock. Please.”
Sherlock tosses the condoms back in the drawer, then settles between John’s legs to open him. Taking his time, he lifts John’s thigh onto his shoulder. When the first finger breaches him, John winds his fingers in Sherlock’s hair. “Jesus. Yes,” he growls.
He gets exactly what he asked for, a slow, steady rhythm, carefully avoiding his prostate, just opening him for the second finger, not intending to arouse him and all the more arousing for it. In very due (overdue) time Sherlock adds a third. It’s all John can do to keep his hands off his cock. His arse pulses around Sherlock’s fingers until his arms and legs are trembling.
“Now,” he whispers. “Now, now, please, now.”
And then and then oh Jesus God Sherlock kisses his way up John’s body to loom over him. His mouth hot and soft against John’s, he presses his glans against John’s slippery hole and begins a long, steady push inside. When his hips are flush with John’s arse, John closes his eyes and pulls his legs a little farther back, lets his knees drop open. Sherlock slips even deeper. Pleasure thuds through him. When it subsides, John takes a deep, shaky breath.
“Open your eyes, John.”
John shakes his head. “Too much. You can talk or I can open my eyes. Not both.”
He somehow senses the smile. “We’ll see. We’ve got all the time in the world,” Sherlock murmurs. He’s on his elbows above John now, nuzzling into John’s hair, his ear, dropping kisses on his mouth, holding his flat stomach away from John’s aching, dripping cock. He doesn’t move. He just stays inside John, kissing him, until John feels his orgasm ebb down his shaft to pool in his balls.
“Okay. I’m good,” he says, and opens his eyes.
Sherlock’s still there, thumb idling at John’s temple. His eyes are a fathomless gray as he peers deep into John’s soul.
“I love you,” John says. He can’t help himself. He’s on the edge of everything, and he can no sooner stop the words than he can stop his heart from beating.
“And I love you,” Sherlock replies.
His voice is a baritone rasp, and for a moment John’s throat closes. He could die now, and everything would be fine, just fine. All that came before and all that will come after turns on this fulcrum, this fixed point in time and space and history. Sherlock is inside him and he loves John.
It’s too much.
John thinks hard about the McBurney incision, the way it parallels the external oblique two to five centimeters from the right ilium's anterior superior spine then travels through the external oblique to the internal oblique and transversalis muscles.
“What are you thinking about?”
“How you smell.”
Sherlock bends his head to John’s cheekbone, where he inhales. “Sex. Tears. Sleep. Skin. Your skin has the most distinct scent, like chai tea and curry and the clinic’s hand soap, but right now you smell like salt and sex. It’s very arousing.”
Fuck it all. John reaches down and grips the base of his cock, trapping his orgasm in his balls. He shifts under Sherlock, opening himself wider, squirming closer. Sherlock gasps rather gratifyingly. “Keep talking.”
“I’m also thinking about how you taste. I love the taste of sweat on your skin, and I love the taste of tears, too.”
One seeps from the corner of John’s eye. He’s so emotionally exposed like this, and he just doesn’t care. Sherlock’s here, with him. “It’s how life tastes,” John manages. “Sex and sadness. Like the sea.”
“Yes,” Sherlock agrees. “I’m also thinking about how I want to shove your knees to your chin and fuck you through the wall.”
John’s cock throbs, hard. He’s going to be talked right into an orgasm. “Jesus. Stop talking.”
Another velvety questioning noise. Not talking, but…What? Why?
“I don’t want this to end, and if you say another word, I’m going to embarrass myself.”
“Stop laughing, too.”
He presses his lips together, but John sees amusement in the lines beside his mouth and eyes. It gleams in his gray eyes. He’s seen the full range of humanity in Sherlock now. Grief and anger and desolation, laughing and loving. God. Loving.
Ankles to his ears for a good hard fuck can be very loving. “Next time?” he asks with a strangled gasp.
“Next time you fuck me,” Sherlock murmurs. “Time after that?”
“It’s a date.”
Sherlock goes silent, braced on his elbows, kissing John until his nerves seethe in his skin. “Once. Just once.” He knows it’s going to end this. He has to have it.
The stroke is slow and measured, and as brilliant and fiery and devastating as Sherlock. It doesn’t end it, but it does send a percussive beat of pleasure through John, eddying against his skin. “Christ. Oh, Christ. So…fucking…good.”
“Don’t come,” Sherlock says. “John, don’t come. Not yet.”
So John fights it even as he surrenders to the exquisite tension Sherlock spins as fine and strong as silk. His hands roam from Sherlock’s back to his hair to his arse. He digs his fingers into Sherlock’s bum, pulling him closer with every measured stroke. Sherlock draws it out until John’s shoulders curl up off the bed as he buries his face in Sherlock’s neck.
One hand cups the back of John’s head. “I love you.”
Lovers words in a lover’s voice, and John’s utterly undone. It’s like dying, or as he imagines dying, held in Sherlock’s arms, his vision going black as he shudders and comes and comes and comes, one last burst of pleasure as Sherlock’s release pulses inside him.
When he regains coherence, Sherlock’s cleaning him up. John musters the energy to scoot onto one half of the bed, but when Sherlock flops down beside him, he gathers John in. “That’s what’s supposed to happen after someone says I love you.”
Sherlock’s voice is drowsy, and deep enough to dowse for water. John smiles. “It’s one of many things that can happen after someone says I love you.”
“Hmmmmm,” he says. “Better than last time.”
It’s John’s turn to make a velvety humming noise. Sherlock’s eyes drift close, but he forces them open again. To John’s experienced eye it looks like he’s fighting the sleep that comes after a case; in some ways, this was the ultimate case. A Study in Sentiment. The Adventure of the Most Human of Humans. A Case of Identity.
How would he write this up? How could he possibly write this up? He won’t do it, of course. The Resurrection of John Watson will stay between them.
John reaches up and tucks Sherlock’s hair behind his ear, then brushes his thumb over that impossible mouth. “Your control was better than mine.”
“Wanked before I started,” Sherlock mumbles without opening his eyes.
John giggles. Sherlock’s answering smile is nothing more than a lift of his cheek and a slight wrinkling at the corner of his eye. He’s almost out, but can’t seem to stop himself from checking to make sure John’s still there. John shifts a little closer, and Sherlock tightens his grip on John’s hip. “Don’t get up,” he murmurs. “Stay here a little longer.”
John watches Sherlock drift. “I’m staying forever.”
John wakes before Sherlock does. He watches his lover breathe deeply, his long fingers twitching in his dreams, before he slides out of bed. He takes a quick shower, dresses in his spare clothes (neatly laundered, thank you Mrs. Hudson), then wanders into the sitting room and looks around. It’s the same yet not the same, like Sherlock. Like him. For starters, it’s oddly clean. No matter. A couple of boxes and suitcases in a taxi’s boot and he’ll be home.
Might as well make it official. He opens Sherlock’s laptop, finds the Fibonacci’s constant on his phone, types in the password (with proper substitutions), and opens the Science of Deduction website to the forums. His admin identity is still there. He opens a text entry box, and types two words.
The mouse arrow hovers over the Post button. It’s a hobby. Everyone needs a hobby, especially people in difficult, stressful jobs, and there are stranger recreational activities than solving crimes with his lover, the world’s only consulting detective, and blogging about it.
He goes to the kitchen to make tea and scrounge up something to eat. Sherlock won’t sleep long, and John’s feeling half of his forty-plus years, so they’re going to need fuel.
Three days later John sets his crumb-strewn plate in the sink next to the dishes from last night. Today is the day the team meets with Ernie Garrett. Sherlock was up late IMing an agent with Interpol and therefore is still asleep, so John texts him. Sherlock will look at his mobile before he’ll get out of bed, much less open his laptop.
1. Good morning.
2. Will bring home takeaway. Thai or Indian?
3. Do the dishes. I’m not kidding, Sherlock.
He swallows the last of his tea, grabs his messenger bag, and heads out the door. Half way down the steps he remembers his ID, and trots back up to grab it.
Just inside the door a hand fists in his shirtfront, and he’s dragged full length against Sherlock’s body for a thorough kiss. His lover smells like sleepy, unshaven man, his hair a wild tangle of curls, his mouth still beautifully swollen from the previous night.
“God,” John mutters against Sherlock’s mouth. “I have to go.”
The kiss stays deep and passionate for a few more seconds, then backs off into a more gentle rubbing of lips. “I know. Important day. I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
With one last flick of his tongue, Sherlock releases John’s shirt, then slaps his ID into his palm. “Thai tonight, and yes, I’ll do the dishes.”
“Did my text wake you?”
Sherlock just smiles lazily, lifts one brow, and shakes his head.
Like an idiot, John grins back, then heads out again.
He’s not even to the corner when his phone buzzes.
I meant it. SH
John smiles, and texts a reply as he crosses the street.