It's nearby. He can't see it clearly, can only catch glimpses, and it keeps moving, but it's close. He can hear it. He can smell it. He turns sharply, to confront it, but it's gone. Something rustles behind him and he turns again, trips, scrambles backward until his back hits something… railings…. God, it’s a fence. He’s trapped. It's closer now. He still can't tell where, can only huddle, helpless, as it comes toward him—the snap and snarl, the glowing red eyes, the hot breath, the meaty, rotten stench of it…
...and he's jerking awake, drenched with sweat, heart pounding, terror clutching his throat.
He can’t remember the last time he got a good night’s sleep. He doesn’t see the point in trying to self-medicate, or meditate, or any of the other remedies he’s tried. If they didn’t work for his regular nightmares, the ones where he’s back in the desert, the ones where he watches his friends getting blown up over and over, the ones where he wakes up with his hands twitching with the urge to grab his gun, to end the hell once and for all, to blow his goddamn brains out, they’re hardly going to work for this new fun addition to his list of horrors.
So, instead, John runs.
There's a full moon, which is good. When he's clear of the trees he can see the path in front of him and pick up the pace, running faster, running harder. But it’s also creepy because for all that he knows that there was no hound, no giant dog with teeth and claws, in the state he’s in, it’s like every damn werewolf movie he’s ever seen is suddenly making its home in his subconscious.
At these times, at arse o’clock in the morning, when he thinks if he stares at the ceiling of this bedroom any longer he’ll go stark staring mad, he goes running. At the very least it exhausts him so that he can’t think anymore. He can close his eyes and not see flesh being torn apart by bombs or by sharp teeth, ripping and shredding, and oh god he’s trying to stem the bleeding but it’s too much, the bandages soak through again and again. Sherlock’s face is waxen and his eyes flutter closed. John’s hands are in Sherlock’s guts and he sobs as he keeps packing the bandages. It’s futile. He knows he can’t save him.
He’s passing beneath a stand of trees. The light’s gone and he can’t see but he can’t slow down. Only the stretch and strain of his muscles matters, the pounding of his heart, picking up the pace, faster and faster, so he can’t think of anything else. Then his foot catches on a root or something and he’s plummeting, his hands scraping hard as he hits the ground. He’s grateful for it, grateful for the shuddering jolt of it through his spine because he’s present again, focussing on the burn in the heels of his hands.
John rolls onto his back and stares up at the silhouettes the tree branches make against the skyline and just breathes.
It’s not rational, he knows that, but if Afghanistan taught him anything it's that the mind isn’t always rational. It doesn’t matter that he wasn’t really in danger. It doesn’t matter that it was the chemicals. It doesn’t matter that it was only the once and he knows it won’t happen again.
He’d thought he was mostly over it, in the light of day, when he’s rested, when he’s sitting across from Sherlock at the breakfast table. He eats his bacon and eggs while Sherlock looks down his nose and talks about the dangers of high cholesterol as though John doesn’t know; it’s not like he’s a doctor or anything. John mostly ignores him except to roll his eyes when Sherlock steals the best bit of bacon. He’s fine when they’re working some new case that sends them racing across London. He’s fine when he’s grinning at Sherlock exchanging insults with Anderson or Donovan at a crime scene while Lestrade looks like wants to wash his hands of the lot of them.
But it’s not mostly anymore, is it? He’s barely sleeping lately. He’s having trouble keeping his eyes open when he’s supposed to be working. He sees shadows lurking at the edges of his vision and when it’s too quiet he hears the scrape of claws getting closer. He can’t keep on like this, this hypervigilant state that keeps him teetering on the edge of sleep but denies him rest and recovery.
He’s not sure he can forgive Sherlock for this.
“You haven’t been sleeping well.”
John opens his eyes. Sherlock’s looming over him, studying him. Sherlock’s fully dressed and his hair looks damp and windblown as though he’s been out somewhere. John hadn’t even noticed him leave. He’s been sitting his chair, his mind angrily bellowing to get up, while his body refuses, leaden and exhausted.
“How can you tell?” he says, not bothering to raise his head off the back of the chair.
“The dark circles under your eyes and the increased puffiness of the skin, the—”
“That was a rhetorical question.” John’s well aware he looks like hell; he doesn’t need Sherlock to point out the obvious, thank you.
“Also, your nightmares have significantly increased in duration and intensity in the last three months. Did you know that you shout out in your sleep?”
That was new, as far as John’s aware, anyway. Sarah hadn’t mentioned anything when they were together, not that he’d been able to sleep any better at her place.
“When you sleep, that is.”
“Sorry to have woken you.”
Sherlock makes a dismissive noise and flings himself into his chair. Everything’s so dramatic with Sherlock. John’s tempted to close his eyes again but he can feel Sherlock’s eyes boring into him. It is nice that Sherlock’s noticed—no, of course he’s noticed—it’s nice that he seems concerned, concerned enough that he apparently wants to talk about it, because one thing John knows for sure about Sherlock is that he would rather be tortured for information or forced to spend time with Mycroft than talk about feelings. And that’s not an exaggeration. So John makes a supreme effort and lifts his head to look at Sherlock.
Sherlock’s looking at John’s lap. No, at his hands, resting on his thighs, palms facing up because the scrapes on the heels of them are still raw. There’s still dirt and debris ground into them. Treatment should be his first priority; most of the skin’s gone. He hadn’t realised in the dark how much skin he’d managed to take off; he hadn’t given them a thought when he’d returned home. The throbbing of his hands hadn’t seemed important as he’d collapsed on his bed and closed his eyes, not expecting to be able to sleep but desperate to try.
When he’d blinked grainy eyes open, he’d been grateful to find the room somewhat light. He’d dreamt of an amorphous presence nearby, not the usual nightmare, not threatening enough to make his heart pound, to cause his muscles tense in expectation of horror. The sense of being watched that had prickled at him as he woke had faded nearly immediately with the remnants of the dream and he’d felt awake enough to get up to make a cuppa. He’d only really noticed the state of his hands when he’d gone to put the kettle on.
He reaches for his mug now, suppressing a wince as he grasps the handle and raises it to his lips, but he knows Sherlock’s seen it. Sherlock can deduct the shit out of the smallest clue a thousand miles away with one eye closed and high as a kite on recreational drugs. The apparently undivided attention he appears to be giving John now seems unnecessary, or possibly just pointed.
John’s expecting the tea to be cold; he’s pretty sure he put it down and forgot about it. He’s just alert enough to register the warmth of the mug against his fingers and the steam rising from the top before he scalds his mouth by taking a too big of a drink. He blows on the surface near the edge of the mug a few times and then takes a careful sip, then another. It’s clearly freshly made and exactly how he likes it, which is a miracle in itself. Sherlock’s usual attempts at making tea, on the rare occasions he can’t browbeat Mrs Hudson or John into doing it for him, seems to be to throw the tea bag, the hot water and some milk (if John’s lucky) in the general direction of a cup and hope for the best. Sometimes John feels nostalgic for a time when he could afford to be particular about the way he drinks his tea.
“Thanks,” John mutters. If Sherlock’s bothered to get his tea right, he must be really worried. “Good cuppa,” he says, because he does appreciate the effort and also because he believes in positive reinforcement. He curls his other hand into a loose fist and turns it so the wound isn’t so visible.
“You’ve recently taken to going running in Regent’s Park in an attempt to exhaust yourself into a state where you can sleep well—to no avail, evidently.”
John wonders if he’s deduced the location due to the type of dirt and crap still embedded in his palms or he’s just assuming John would go to the closest park to them. Makes sense. The fences are easy enough to get over and no one really cares about people being in there after closing as long as they don’t bother the swans.
Sherlock scowls. “It’s not working and now you’re so tired you’re falling over.”
“Your reflexes and reaction time are dangerously compromised.”
“What if you injure yourself more seriously next time? Or if you are attacked? You are in no condition to take care of yourself.”
John’s hands clench and he carefully sets the mug down beside his chair before he spills the tea. Bit rich of Sherlock expressing concern now, when it’s his fault, it’s his fault the nightmares are worse. Sherlock’s eyes are trained on his hands again. “Speaking of taking care of myself,” John says, not very hopefully, “don’t suppose you’d like to make yourself useful and go get the first aid kit from under my bed?” He keeps it in his room because he knows that, if he kept it in the kitchen like normal people, Sherlock would have gotten into it for... some purpose or other. Disguises, chemistry experiments, using band-aids because he’d run out of tape—John wouldn’t put anything past him. Not that Sherlock respects the sanctity of his bedroom; it’s more that he counts on Sherlock not being bothered to go to the effort.
Somewhat to his surprise, Sherlock obediently gets up and disappears up the stairs to John’s room. John takes the reprieve from Sherlock’s laser-like attention to take several deep breaths.
He’d thought he was over the incident. That he wasn’t angry at Sherlock anymore. Sherlock had been affected by the mind-altering drug as well and it had unnerved him in a way John hadn’t realised the man was capable of. He’d told himself that it had affected Sherlock’s judgement, that even Sherlock wouldn’t deliberately drug his best friend—someone already suffering from PTSD—with a hallucinogenic weapon designed to induce terror in its victims. Not even Sherlock could be that irresponsible, that cruel.
And Sherlock had seemed to understand at the time when John had explained why he was so pissed off. He’d even seemed just the tiniest bit contrite, although John wasn’t ruling out wishful thinking on his part. But it had been the first time Sherlock had admitted to such a pedestrian feeling as friendship. For John. That was a huge step forward, John had thought. He’d thought it was enough. Apparently his subconscious hadn’t got the message.
Sherlock reappears in front of him. John holds out his hand to take the first aid kit, but Sherlock doesn’t hand it over; instead, he pulls his own chair closer and sits down in front of John. He picks up a bowl from the floor and puts it on his lap, and then holds out his hands. Bemused, John puts his own hands in Sherlock’s. Sherlock draws them towards himself, surprisingly gently for Sherlock, and then submerges them in the bowl of warm, cloudy water. The familiar, comforting smell of Dettol finally impinges on John’s senses. How lost in his thoughts was he that he didn’t notice Sherlock getting that?
The grazes sting sharply, but John focuses on the warmth of the water, the feel of Sherlock’s fingers still clasped around his own, because Sherlock hasn’t let go. John glances up, but Sherlock isn’t looking at him. Sherlock is staring intently at their joined hands. After a couple of minutes go by like that, Sherlock still hasn’t said anything, still hasn’t moved. There’s no sound in the flat apart from the muffled noise of the morning traffic in the street below. John briefly considers making a snarky comment—something about how Sherlock’s fingers will get all pruny if he keeps them there—but he finds he doesn’t want to break the spell. His eyes drift closed, and when Sherlock finally lets go, John doesn’t move. Sherlock’s in charge of this, whatever it is.
John feels his left hand being gathered up. There’s a sensation—a washcloth being gently wiped across his torn skin. So gently that John squints his eyes back open just to check that Sherlock hasn’t been replaced by somebody else, somebody not-Sherlock. Sherlock’s eyes flick upwards to meet his and his mouth quirks in a way that looks apologetic, and then he’s looking down again and putting John’s hand down, picking up the other and repeating his actions. John closes his eyes again.
His hand is being wrapped gently in a towel now and John takes the hint and lifts his other hand out of the water. Sherlock wraps that one up too and John hears the creak of the chair. He opens his eyes to see Sherlock leaning over to place the bowl on the floor. He sits up again and rummages in the first aid box, pulling out the antibiotic spray and a couple of the sterile bandages. He holds them up triumphantly. John nods in approval and watches with a distant sense of wonder as Sherlock Holmes carefully sprays the antibiotic over his wounds and then, picking up first one hand and then the other, carefully covers the areas with the large adhesive bandages.
“Thanks,” John says, when he’s done, because Sherlock’s still sitting there, and it’s only when the word is out of his mouth that he realises that it’s the first word either of them have spoken since he asked Sherlock to get the first aid kit. He hadn’t anticipated Sherlock would want to be involved in the actual application of the first aid. In fact, if it wasn’t for the fact that he can feel the wounds throbbing still under the bandage, he’d be half convinced this was yet another hallucination, albeit a more pleasant one than the usual.
“You should go back to bed,” Sherlock says abruptly. “You’re tired and we’re going out later. I need you to be alert and paying attention, at least as much as you’re capable of.”
“Cheers,” John says dryly. He thinks about asking Sherlock where they’re going, but decides he can’t be arsed. Sherlock will tell him what he wants him to know. “I’m good though, I got some sleep,” he mumbles, and then yawns.
“You slept for an hour and 53 minutes,” Sherlock says matter-of-factly. “Barely enough time to enter a non-REM cycle. Certainly not long enough to have been of any real benefit to you.”
“How do you…?” John yawns again. “Never mind, I don’t think I want to know.”
He’ll get up in a minute, he tells himself. He can’t seem to bring himself to move. Before he can completely sink into a stupor though, Sherlock starts to fidget. “You’re not going.”
“I don’t want to go back to bed.”
“Because of the nightmares.”
“Because… yes, because of the nightmares.”
“They’re worse now. Why?”
John stares at Sherlock incredulously. Either this is one of those giant blind spots Sherlock occasionally inexplicably has or he’s in major denial. Or perhaps he’s deleted it.
Sherlock’s still looking at him expectantly.
“Really, Sherlock?” John says only, and closes his mouth very firmly against any further sarcasm. Anger stirs again in his chest, tightening in his throat. He has a feeling that if Sherlock just says the wrong thing, this could go badly for everyone. Sherlock is Sherlock and if he hasn’t got it by now, no amount of yelling at him will change anything.
“Yes, really,” Sherlock says, patiently for him. His eyes flicker over John, no doubt cataloguing John’s micro-expressions for all he tries to keep his face blank, cataloguing the way John’s hands flex as they try to close into fists, the way his leg is starting to tremor in a prelude to a bout of jittering.
Sherlock’s face changes, and John had thought he knew every expression in Sherlock’s repertoire, but he doesn’t recognise this one. Before John can even begin to decipher this new expression though, Sherlock whirls to his feet and is reaching for his coat, his face averted.
“Sherlock,” John says, and he’s reaching out, barely noticing the sting from the stretch of his abraded skin, but Sherlock’s still not looking at him, Sherlock’s tying his scarf briskly around his throat, his eyes somewhere far away.
“Never mind, John, of course you’re no use to me like that. I’ll text Geoff, he likes to feel useful. You stay here and rest,” Sherlock says, waving vaguely in John’s direction, but he’s half out the door already and still not looking at John.
John’s left sat alone with his bandaged hands and the dregs of his cold tea. “It’s Greg,” he says to the empty flat.
It’s a couple of weeks later and John is still waking from nightmares more often than not. Sometimes he gets up and goes for a run but the weather’s been shitty lately and he’s not quite masochistic enough to try it during a torrential downpour. A few times he wakes with the conviction that he’s not alone, his heart beating fast. He has to consciously control his breathing so that he doesn’t give away the fact that he’s awake if there is an intruder. He lies awake, staring into the dark, listening hard, but other than the occasional yell from the street or honk of a horn, there’s nothing. He’s alone. It’s just another fun facet of his PTSD.
Until the night it isn’t. He’s not actually expecting to hear anything now, not really, although his fight or flight response hasn’t got the memo, but there it is, the barely-there creak of a floorboard, the shifting of shadows in the corner. John rolls over and sighs, as though in his sleep. He reaches slowly towards his side drawer, to the gun he still keeps there.
“It’s just me.”
John flops back against his pillow. “Sherlock,” he says evenly, up into the darkness. “Why are you lurking in my bedroom?”
“I wouldn’t exactly call it lurking.”
“Then what would you call it?”
“Popping in to see if you would like a cup of tea?”
“At,” John fumbles for his phone and turns on the display, “three o’clock in the morning,” he says incredulously.
“You’re always drinking tea. And you complain when I don’t make you one.”
“When you’re making one for yourself!”
“I am making one for myself.”
John’s about to tell Sherlock just what he thinks about his flatmate’s sudden embracing of basic courtesy, when it occurs to him that there’s something off about Sherlock’s claim—not that he’s not perfectly capable of pulling a stunt like this—but there’s something about his tone…. Is Sherlock actually worried about him?
And actually, a cup of tea wouldn’t go down badly now anyway. He sighs. “Go put the kettle on,” he says. He swings his legs of the side of the bed and rubs his eyes.
“This isn’t the first time, is it?” he says, when they’re sat opposite each other, sipping the hot brew. Miracle of miracles, Sherlock’s made his tea correctly again. Much more of this and John’s going to start feeling spoilt.
Sherlock’s holding his own tea up to his mouth, his long pale fingers wrapped around the mug, and he appears to be looking for the secrets of the universe within it. “What makes you say that?”
Sherlock glances up at John from under his lashes as he sips his tea.
When it becomes clear he’s not going to say anything, John sighs. “Why?
“I’m concerned about you,” Sherlock mutters, as if it physically pains him to say the words.
John opens his mouth and then closes it again and thinks about what it cost Sherlock to say it outright like that. Christ, he must be in a state if Sherlock, not the most empathetic person in the world, is worried enough to stand guard over him while he sleeps. “That’s... nice… of you,” he manages.
Sherlock sits back in his armchair and crosses his legs, his mug of tea now held carelessly in the hand that rests on the arm of the chair. Sherlock’s mouth twists.
“Yes, I know,” John says, because he knows Sherlock. “You’re not nice.”
Sherlock shrugs, elegant even slouched as he is in his silk paisley pyjamas and—hang on—“Do I want to know why you’re wearing my dressing gown?”
“It was closer.”
John sips his tea. It’s apparent that Sherlock’s not about to say anything else, and John honestly doesn’t have the energy to pursue the point. It’s peaceful enough. The adrenalin rush has left him. He sits and cradles his tea and, eventually, his eyelids start to droop.
He jerks awake to a hand under his arm, but he doesn’t startle. Sherlock’s scent is familiar, comforting: his usual understated cologne, faint now at this late hour. “Bed, John,” Sherlock says. His voice is soft and deep. John allows himself to be pulled to his feet and guided forward. His feet seem too heavy, and he’s not sure how he’s going to make it up the stairs, but he can’t be bothered to worry too much, or really open his eyes. He lets Sherlock guide him instead. Then Sherlock’s stopping. John halts his own shuffle forward and turns obediently at Sherlock’s urging. Sherlock’s nudging him to move backwards. There’s pressure against the back of his legs but John doesn’t even look. John lets himself be pushed back, down onto a mattress that feels like clouds, and John sinks into it, down and down and down.
He wakes to a familiar impatient tapping sound. He opens his eyes to a room shaded in gloom, but with light peeking around the edges of the curtains. John feels the difference immediately that just getting a few hours uninterrupted sleep has made. He’s ready to face the day.
And to face the man sitting propped up against the headboard, his long legs crossed at the ankles, laptop in front of him. Sherlock’s peering at something on the screen, a look of intense concentration on his face, as he pecks forcefully at the keyboard with the fingers of one hand.
John goes to move, to stretch, and only then realises: “You’re holding my hand.”
“Oh, yes,” Sherlock says, without pausing in his rapid-fire one-handed typing. He lets go of John’s hand to stab at the keyboard with both of his own.
“Why were you holding my hand?”
“Technically, you were holding my hand,” Sherlock says. “You were flailing in your sleep and knocking my keyboard, disrupting my work, so I took hold of your hand to keep it still. It soon became apparent that this was exerting a calming influence on you, so I merely maintained hold of your hand to assist you to achieve a good night’s sleep.”
Oh. Okay. That was. Something. “How long have you been here like this?”
“If by ‘like this’ you mean, how long have I been holding your hand, then five hours and twenty-two minutes. If you mean sitting here on your bed, six hours and seven minutes.”
“I just told you. Are you usually this slow in the morning? Don’t answer that, the question was rhetorical.”
“Why are you here in my room? I thought we agreed that you weren’t going to do that anymore.”
Typical bloody Sherlock. Ask him not to do something and he does the complete opposite. Apparently, Sherlock interpreted ‘Don’t lurk in the corners of my room, it’s creepy and I might shoot you’ to mean ‘sit on my bed and hold my hand while I sleep.’
John really, really should put his foot down about this. Give Sherlock an inch and he takes a bloody mile. Every damn time. But John’s feeling better than he has in long time, longer than he can remember. He feels rested; his head is clear and he feels… he feels… It’s been so long it takes him a minute to recognise the sensation. He feels all right. Normal.
“You were distressed. Would you really rather I’d left you to wake screaming again?”
John gives a long luxuriant stretch of his body, pleasantly surprised about the lack of twinges or aching joints.
“No,” he says, with real gratitude. “But five hours, Sherlock?”
“I managed to occupy my time constructively.” Sherlock taps out a last staccato burst of typing and then closes the lid decisively. John is extremely unsurprised to note that it’s his laptop. “Tea?”
Sherlock’s across the room and out the door before John can say anything else. He’s about to sit up—get up—when Sherlock sticks his head back in the door. “The advantages of a good night’s sleep apparently don’t extend to increased mental acuity in your case.”
“Use your eyes.”
Sherlock’s head disappears. John looks around. Notes the periodic chart print on the wall, the violin case propped in the corner. Huh.
Sherlock’s making tea. Again. John’s beginning to wonder if Sherlock hasn’t been replaced with a pod person. Still, tea. John slides out of Sherlock’s bed and stretches again. He feels good. Probably should stop looking gift Sherlocks in the mouth and go and have tea. Maybe he can talk Sherlock into making breakfast as well, he thinks, as he makes his way to the living room, then remembers he hasn’t looked in the fridge for a while.
Maybe eat out instead.
John’s sleeping better nowadays. He still wakes up occasionally, his heart pounding, the screams of the dying slowly fading as he stares blindly into the darkness, but he’s not desperate for sleep anymore. He doesn’t feel compelled to go out into the night seeking to exhaust himself. He’ll put the light on and read for a while, or listen to a podcast, or music, until he thinks he can go back to sleep. He feels like his old self again. Sherlock’s stopped making acerbic comments about his observational skills and general intelligence. Well, mostly. He’s happier. Sherlock’s happier. They exist in a state of domestic bliss that has Mrs Hudson looking at them with what’s definitely fond satisfaction.
Until the night John wakes up and he’s not alone again. He’s not even sure what’s woken him this time. Not a nightmare, he thinks, he’s relaxed and still sleepy. And not alone.
He knows that because his cheek is resting against something warmer and firmer than his pillow and his arm is also wrapped around something warm, something that’s rising and falling slightly, and John’s not really awake, but he knows who it is immediately. He’s comfortable and doesn’t want to move. So he doesn’t. He lies there, breathing in unison with his bed companion, wondering at his lack of inclination to move. He could easily drift back to sleep, he thinks.
There’s a movement above him, and the rustle of a page turning. John reluctantly shifts and lifts his arm, flopping onto his back to stare at his housemate.
Sherlock’s propped up against the pillows, reading a hefty hardback lit by a clip-on book light.
Sherlock looks up from his book. “Ah,” he says, and smiles, not one of his self-satisfied ones, or his gloating ones, but something softer, something John only sees occasionally, and only directed at him.
“Hello,” John says.
“Am I in your bed again?”
“Not this time.”
Sherlock doesn’t appear to be in a hurry to leave even though John’s awake now.
“You should get some sleep.”
“I don’t think—“
Sherlock’s face is in shadow behind the book light, but John thinks he looks bemused. Still, Sherlock closes the book and turns off the light, and in the darkness again, John’s conscious of his movements, reaching over to put the book down, shifting to lie down.
“Under the covers, Sherlock, even you’ll get cold otherwise.”
Sherlock’s hesitation is almost palpable, even in the darkness, but then he’s moving off the bed. For a moment John thinks he’s leaving. Disappointment churns in his stomach. But then there’s a draft as the bed clothes are lifted and Sherlock’s getting into bed, lying next to John, lying very still as though he’s not sure what he’s supposed to do now.
John yawns. He turns on his side towards Sherlock and reaches out to pat Sherlock on the arm. “Go to sleep,” he says, and within minutes is asleep himself.
He wakes up to the morning light, fully expecting Sherlock to have fled at some point during the night, so he’s surprised to find his housemate dead to the world, limbs sprawled over as much as the bed as humanly possible. John regards him fondly for a few minutes, but he needs to pee, so he carefully lifts the arm that’s flung carelessly over his hip and slides out of bed.
When he returns to his room he stands at the foot of the bed and looks at the sleeping figure. Sherlock’s managed to spread out over the corner of the mattress John had been relegated to, but John’s still tempted to climb back in. To lift a limb or two and crawl back into the warmth of the bed, of Sherlock’s unconscious embrace.
The sudden urge startles him enough that he takes a step back. Where did that come from? What are they doing here?
John’s wide awake now and his head is buzzing. He gets dressed as quietly as he can. Sherlock doesn’t stir, even when he accidentally drops one of his trainers on the wooden floorboard.
So, he’s sharing a bed with another man now. What does that mean? Does it have to mean anything? He doesn’t have any answers and obviously there’s no point asking Sherlock. What he does know is that Sherlock seems fine with whatever this is, and John’s just had the best night’s sleep he’s had in years.
By the time he returns to the flat he’s decided he’s not going to deprive himself of getting a good night’s rest because of some internalised, unevolved bullshit about sharing a bed with another man, because he feels rested, energised and at peace with the world.
That lasts until he gets upstairs and sees Sherlock. The thundercloud above his head is barely metaphorical.
“I went for a run.”
Sherlock’s eyes run over his sweat soaked t-shirt and tracksuit bottoms. “Obviously.”
All John’s newfound peace evaporates. “Okay, out with it.”
“Right.” So much for their recent closeness.
“You run when you’re… not good.”
“You’ve been better recently.”
“I’ve invested a lot of time into this project,”
John feels like he’s been struck. “I’m a project to you?”
“You know what I mean.”
“No. No, I don’t. I have no idea what is going on here. What do you mean you’ve invested a lot of time into this project?”
“The time I’ve spent improving your sleep patterns and quality of rest.”
“Look, I appreciate your efforts, but a few nights staying up to keep me company….” Sherlock’s expression changes. It’s barely a flicker before his expression smooths out again, but it stops John’s building outrage in its tracks. “It wasn’t just a few nights, was it?” he says slowly.
“It doesn’t matter.”
“How many times? How many times have you stayed up with me?”
“I didn’t keep count.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Believe what you like.”
John sinks into his chair and covers his face with his hands.
“John?” Sherlock sounds bewildered now.
“I just need to think, okay?”
There’s silence for another minute or so. Sherlock’s stare is like a physical weight. But then John’s hears him sniff pointedly and a few moments later there’s clattering from the kitchen. John has half a mind to go out again, but he can hardly go for another run, and anything else would just be walking out on Sherlock for dramatic effect, and he’s not about to do that. He’s not the drama queen in this relationship. John allows his shoulders to slump and sighs. He feels damp and sweaty and smells like it. He gets up and turns. Sherlock’s staring with great concentration into a white container John hasn’t see before and probably really doesn’t want to know about.
“Just going for a shower,” John says, probably unnecessarily, it’s not like Sherlock wouldn’t be able to deduce as much in a heartbeat but he feels awkward leaving Sherlock without a word right now, not when they’re in the middle of something that feels important, feels like it could change things, maybe everything.
Sherlock doesn’t respond.
John spends a long time letting the hot water beat down over his head and shoulders, his muscles relaxing incrementally, his whirling thoughts gradually slowing as his mind calms, until one thing becomes clear. No matter how dispassionately he described his actions, Sherlock’s been taking care of him. John’s grateful, but they can’t keep on like this. It’s not fair to Sherlock. Something’s got to change.
When John emerges from his room, Sherlock is gone.
John might be ready to talk about this, but Sherlock clearly isn’t. When he reappears, hours later, he quietly withdraws to his room. John reminds himself that Sherlock is even worse at dealing with emotions than he himself is. Usually Sherlock would be the one pushing John to talk, to react. John’s going to have to be careful broaching...whatever this is. Because he suspects Sherlock is brittle—and the thing about brittle things is, they break.
Weeks go by. John doesn’t keep track of the days. He never does find a way to broach the subject with Sherlock, because any time he tries, Sherlock either finds an excuse to be elsewhere or determinedly changes the subject. John knows more about the calculating the time of death by insect activity than he ever expected or wanted to. After a while he stops trying. Sherlock’s shoulders relax and things return to normal. More or less.
John thinks maybe he’s okay, that whatever Sherlock did worked. He hasn’t had a nightmare in ages, at least not one of the ones that he wakes screaming from. As far as he knows, Sherlock hasn’t come into his room again.
One afternoon John comes home to find a disassembled IED on the floor of the living room. There’s no sign of Sherlock. He stares at the device for a long moment and then goes and makes himself a herbal tea. He sits down with his laptop to respond to some emails, ignoring the detonator a metre away from his foot.
After about half an hour, he hears the front door slam and footsteps on the stairs. Sherlock appears in the doorway. He looks from John to the device, clearly expecting some reaction from John.
“Afternoon,” John says blandly.
“John,” Sherlock acknowledges.
“Kettle’s just boiled,” John says, as he types.
Sherlock sits down cross-legged on the floor and contemplates the device in front of him. After several minutes John looks up again to find Sherlock watching him. John smiles at him and looks down at his screen again.
It’s fun watching Sherlock squirm, but John represses the urge to laugh. God help him if Sherlock thought he was being laughed at.
“It’s for a case,” Sherlock says finally, when it becomes clear that John isn’t going to ask.
“I assumed as much.”
“Anything you’d like help with?”
“No, no, I’m fine. This one’s simple enough, not sure why Mycroft even bothered to call me in.”
“How is your brother?”
“Fine. Why do you ask?”
“Just being polite. It’s what people do.”
“Fine.” It’s not like John can’t ask Mycroft himself if he wants to know.
Someone’s calling his name. Through the screams and the gunfire he can hear someone calling for him. Someone needs him. He takes a deep breath and then another, and another. Someone needs his help. He can do this.
The chaos of battle recedes. The sounds fade into faint echoes. The smoke clears. John breathes fresh air again.
He recognises that voice. “Sherlock?”
“Yes.” Is that relief in Sherlock’s voice? What’s happened?
“You were dreaming again.”
“That’s one word for it.”
“You were shouting something about an explosion.”
John sits up. His hands are shaking. He crosses his arms and tucks his hands into his armpits to still them. The bedside lamp is on and he can see Sherlock sitting on the edge of the bed beside him, watching him, a crease between his eyes. If it had been anyone else, John would have said they looked worried.
John swallows to make sure his throat will work. His voice comes out rougher than usual when he says...“Did you do it on purpose?”
“Damn you, Sherlock, the IED.”
“No!” Sherlock looks genuinely horrified. “Mycroft sent it over. It was for a case. You can ask him if you don’t believe me.”
Bloody Mycroft. John feels utterly murderous for a moment.
“Why would you think that?” Sherlock says, sounding baffled.
John laughs, but his voice cracks. “The Hound.”
“But that was ages ago.”
“It’s all relative, I suppose.”
Sherlock actually looks to be at a loss for words.
The silence stretches out. John has nothing to say. He doesn’t feel like making things easy for Sherlock this time.
“Would you like a cup of tea?” Sherlock asks finally.
Ah, the power of a cup of tea. Why not? He won’t be able to get back to sleep any time soon. “Sure,” he agrees.
Sherlock mouth twists in what’s probably meant to be a smile and he disappears from John’s room. John thinks about getting up but he’s feeling reasonably okay now, all things considering. He no longer feels like his heart is trying to exit his body through his throat and his hands have stopped shaking.
It helps. Having Sherlock there helps, these past few weeks of Sherlock making him cups of tea, holding his hand, letting him sleep against him. Sleeping with him—platonically, of course, but that doesn't mean it's not a big deal, even for Sherlock. Maybe especially for Sherlock. He knows Sherlock well enough now, from the things Sherlock’s said and from the hints Mycroft’s dropped, his sly allusions, to know that this isn’t something Sherlock does.
So that means something, right?
His t-shirt’s soaked with sweat. John gets up and changes into a clean shirt and hesitates for a moment, thinking about how good a shower would feel right now. But then he hears footsteps on the stairs. Sherlock’s bringing him tea, and it’s easier to just get back into bed. He props up the pillows and leans back against the headboard.
Sherlock looks relieved when he sees him; presumably he no longer looks like death warmed over. John holds out his hand and finds a smile for Sherlock when he hands over the mug. He watches as Sherlock hovers by the bed. He’s not sure of his welcome, John realises.
“Get in,” John says, nodding to the empty side of the bed.
Sherlock just looks at him.
“I won’t ask again.”
Sherlock goes around to the other side of the bed. He hesitates for a moment and John wonders if he’s got it wrong, that this isn’t something Sherlock wants, but then Sherlock shrugs out of the dressing gown he’d been wearing and slides under the covers. He lies down immediately and appears content to just watch John sipping his tea.
John thinks about Sherlock, about his life now, about how surprisingly not-weird it feels to be sharing a bed with Sherlock. Every other aspect of his life revolves around Sherlock—why not this too? The simple fact that Sherlock is here at all would seem to indicate he feels something similar.
The tea is hot, sweeter than he normally takes it. He wonders if Sherlock made it like that deliberately, that he’d looked bad enough that Sherlock thought he was at risk of going into shock. He drains the last mouthful and puts the mug down on the side table, then lies down on his side, facing Sherlock, who’s still watching him intently.
“I forgive you.”
Sherlock blinks. His expression doesn’t change.
“I don’t know whether you needed to hear that at all, but I needed to say it.”
“I’m not better. I might never be completely better. But I’m seeing my therapist again. It’s helping. And you’ve helped too. I’m grateful. But you know what else will help, Sherlock? No more experiments involving me. No more bombs in the bloody flat.”
“Agreed,” Sherlock says immediately.
“All right, then.”
John wakes up to sunshine streaming around the edges of the curtains. There’s a leg tucked between his own and an arm around his chest that tightens possessively when John shifts in an attempt to make some space between them. John stops trying to move, because he’s comfortable, he’s warm and he’s rested. He’s not sure what exactly this new development means, but he thinks he’s looking forward to finding out. It’s not conventional, but since when has their relationship ever been conventional?
John still runs. But he’s longer running to escape his demons—and when he’s ready, he turns around and runs home to 221B Baker Street, and to Sherlock Holmes.