Cadence: The measure of beat of a rhythmical flow.
The holiest of all holidays are those kept by ourselves
in silence and apart; the quiet anniversaries of the heart.
-Henry W. Longfellow
Of course, it would be the coldest night for this date since 1706 or some such ridiculous year. After all, that was just the kind of absurd thing that happened to John Watson or, at least, the kind of thing that had been happening to him since Sherlock Holmes came into his life. Which was not quite the correct way of putting it. Sherlock had not “come into his life”; he had swooped in like a cyclone, winking and twirling his ridiculous coat until in no time at all, he had taken over the entirety of John Watson’s existence.
It was irritating that words did not always suffice. //Taken over? // More like he’d simply been handed that existence, eagerly given it by a lonely desperate man who had no one else interested in who he was or what he did. Or what he wanted. John preferred not to think about the fact that he regretted not even one bit everything that had happened since his surrender.
Not even, on the coldest damned night in over three hundred years, when John, who had once almost died under a sweltering desert sun, was now freezing to death under an English sky. Slowly perishing of the cold while covered in the blood of his best friend. While telling said friend stories of the doomed Scott expedition to the Arctic.
He’d forgotten to mention to Sherlock earlier that this was the first anniversary of their meeting at St. Barts.
The night began, as these things always seemed to, innocently enough. It was a relatively minor case of industrial espionage, the only complicating factor being that the crime was taking place at a high security military contractor. Hence the need for strict confidentiality. A quiet word in the proper ear [said word, no doubt, coming from A Minor Official in the British Government] led to Sherlock being hired for the job of uncovering the source of the leaks.
It didn’t actually take long for him to crack the case and discover the identity of the somewhat surprising culprit, who turned out to be an outwardly timid clerk of no unusual habits or vices.
In part because of the need for secrecy [and also in part, John knew very well, because Sherlock was an arrogant prat] it had been decided that they had no need of assistance from the local Norfolk authorities. //He’s a clerk, John, what possible danger could he pose?// So there was no armed backup when they arrived at the isolated cottage late in the evening. Sherlock even sent the taxi away.
[In retrospect, had they had even an inkling that inside the charming cottage lay the bodies of the man’s wife, mother, and teenaged son, they might have been a bit less lax. Or maybe not. Sherlock might have just seen that as an extra challenge. But at least John would have been slightly better prepared.]
Hindsight was a wonderful thing.
The red taillights of the taxi were still just visible although disappearing down the road, when the first surprise occurred. The suspect, instead of cowering at the sight of justice come to call at his front door, simply pushed his way past them and headed for the open field next to the cottage.
They set off in immediate pursuit, slipping and sliding a bit on the frozen ground. It was almost pitch black, a cloud cover turning the moonlight into a pale and milky glow. John managed to get his pocket torch out, but the narrow beam it cast on the path was of little help. It felt as if they were chasing a shadow.
Who would have expected the balding, bespectacled clerk, for chrissake, to have a gun? Of course, had they known about those three dead bodies back at the cottage…
When the shadow stopped and turned, John actually thought that the man had finally seen sense and was about to surrender. Just to be on the safe side, of course, he was already reaching for his gun when the horribly loud explosion of a shot filled the night.
Sherlock, in the lead as usual, paused. “Oh,” he said, sounding surprised.
John fired immediately and the shadow dropped. “Sherlock, you okay?” he asked, knowing that the suspect was dead and of no further concern.
“Actually,” Sherlock was turning toward him now, “actually, John, I think he might have killed me.”
The toppling of the tall man was so gradual that John was able to catch him and they hit the ground together.
John could feel the hot wetness of the blood that seemed to be gushing much too quickly from Sherlock’s stomach. “Ohgodohgodohgod,” he whispered. “Sherlock, don’t, please don’t.”
He scrabbled to find the torch. At that moment, in what seemed an unnecessarily cruel act of nature, the clouds overhead drifted away and moonlight bathed the scene. John could see Sherlock now and what he saw made his heart clench.
Sherlock’s eyelids fluttered. “John,” he whispered. “It hurts.”
Uselessly, the doctor patted the bleeding man’s face. “I know, I know it hurts. Just stay still.”
John reverted to battlefield mode. He grabbed his phone and hit 999. When the almost bored sounding operator answered, he managed somehow to remember the name of the road they were on and even approximately where they were on that road.
“Help is on the way,” the now-crisp voice said. “What is the condition of the victim?”
“Condition?” John blamed the cold, such bloody cold, air for the tears and the thickness of his voice. “He’s been gut-shot. I’m a doctor, I’m a doctor…please hurry. He’s dying.” He dropped the phone and realised that Sherlock was watching him. Somehow, he smiled. “Got to hurry them up, right?”
He ripped off his coat, glad for the jumper, even though it didn’t seem to help against the cold. Once the coat was folded, he pressed it against the wound. “I know this hurts,” he said raggedly, “but I need to stop the bleeding.”
“It’s fine, John,” Sherlock whispered.
John pressed harder and Sherlock whimpered. “I’m sorry,” the doctor said in a ragged voice.
Sherlock seemed to drift away.
“SHERLOCK!” Deliberately, John yelled as loudly as he could.
The eyes opened and struggled to fix on him. “John…meant to say…one year. One year.”
John bent over him. “That’s not enough time, dammit, I want more, so you just hold on, understand?”
“I know.” John was shaking so hard he could barely keep the necessary pressure on the wound.
There was no sound yet of an approaching ambulance.
“If it’s not…too much trouble...I’d like a cup of tea. You make good tea.”
“Soon, Sherlock. I’ll make you tea soon, I promise.”
A shuddering sigh escaped from Sherlock.
John leaned close again. “You know, we might as well be in the Arctic with Scott. You know about that, right?”
“Oh, shame. Might have been useful.” John knew he was rambling, but he had to do something. “I always admired the grace with which they faced their fate. Like Oates. He simply stood up and said, ‘I am just stepping outside and may be some time.’ Then he left. Very British, don’t you think?”
Sherlock seemed to misinterpret the story. He struggled to sit up. “Don’t go, John, please.”
John gentled him back down and leaned over him again. “I’ve already said I’m not going anywhere.” He kept pressing and thought maybe the blood flow was slowing a little.
Sherlock was obviously going into shock and John was so cold. So cold.
John pressed his lips to Sherlock’s ear. “Worst comes to worst, we’ll go together, okay?”
Sherlock was beyond answering.
John thought he could hear help very close now, but he didn’t know if it would be in time. “Together,” he whispered again. “I promise.”
In the end, Sherlock was much luckier than they had any right to hope for. Despite all the blood and the pain, the bullet had missed all the vital organs. He would be fine eventually, although no one was looking forward to the recuperation period. Their luck continued, as John’s frostbite was deemed to be minor. Although it still hurt like hell.
During the darkest hours of the night, John sat beside the hospital bed and thought about how he had almost frozen to death covered in the blood of the most important person in his life. On the anniversary of their meeting.
Perhaps sadly, he still didn’t regret any of it.
And in the not-too-distant future he might take some comfort in the fact that, in the end, it was not John Watson who left.
Sherlock Holmes was not a patient man, never claimed to be, didn’t give a damn about it. Although it might be said that after his recent and extended absence from London and all he cared about, he was slightly less impatient than he used to be. But only slightly.
So by the time John turned up, nearly forty-five minutes later than expected, Sherlock’s mood was no better than could have been predicted by anyone who knew him at all.
Well, that was not his fault, was it? Ever since their time apart and his own return to life, especially since their relationship had changed [for the much better, in his opinion], Sherlock simply felt better knowing where John was at all times. That was only reasonable, in his opinion. After all, it was a dangerous world, even with Moriarty and his web destroyed, and John needed to be kept safe. And honestly he had felt this way even before Moriarty ever appeared. That’s just the way it was. Sherlock tried not to ignore the facts of any situation.
Possibly he over did it sometimes. Fifteen texts wondering when John was leaving the clinic and where exactly he was at the moment served no purpose except to cause John to turn off his phone completely.
At any rate, when the other man finally stepped from the cab, Sherlock could only growl, “About time.” He glared. “Do you exist in some alternative universe? One where 1900 actually means 19:45?”
“Sorry,” John said cheerfully. “Couldn’t get a cab and then the traffic---”
“Don’t care,” Sherlock interrupted. “Come on.”
John walked quickly to keep up with him as they made their way through the blackened hulks of buildings that lined the docks. “You going to fill me in? I’d like to have some idea of what’s going on. Just in case, you know.”
“Tedious,” Sherlock said with a put-upon sigh. “If you had been at the briefing---”
“Working, Sherlock,” John reminded him.
“And how can you expect to be informed if you turn off your phone? I might have had something important to tell you.”
“Something other than JOHN. JOHN. JOHN, you mean?”
Instead of responding to that, Sherlock swerved into an alley that ran between two loading docks. “Now we wait,” he said, pulling John into a doorway with him.
“Okay.” John leaned into Sherlock and dragged a hand through the dark curls. “Hello,” he said. “Do you know what tonight is?”
After a moment, Sherlock turned his head slightly and pressed a quick kiss into John’s hair. Then his gaze returned to watching the alley. “Of course I do. Six months ago today a dead man improbably returned, wanting back into your life. Remarkably, you did not turn him away.”
The silence was comfortable between them.
“Sorry,” John said finally. “I didn’t mean to worry you.”
Sherlock huffed as if the very idea were laughable. “Very soon,” he said, “two men are going to appear at that end of the alley. One will have an envelope, the other a briefcase. Said items will be exchanged. Then we move in.”
Well, it was an explanation. Of sorts. Skimpy on details, which was no new thing.
“Okay,” John said slowly.
“Most importantly, we want the briefcase. It would also be convenient to apprehend both men.” His voice took on an edge. “But Mycroft is most interested in the briefcase.”
“I owed him one.”
“If it’s that important some help wouldn’t go amiss.”
“As usual,” John said bitterly. “The last time you took on a confidential case for Mycroft things didn’t go so well.” They both knew that every time John ran his fingers across the faded scar on Sherlock’s stomach his anger at Mycroft over that and so many other things flared anew.
“I am assured that this time no one will be armed.” Sherlock slid John’s gun into the other man’s waistband, then squeezed his arm. “Except you, of course.”
Events played out just as Sherlock had said they would. The exchange was made. But surprisingly [not really] neither man reacted appropriately when Sherlock stepped from the shadows and announced that the two were under arrest. [Well, not officially, but it was the most efficient way to proceed.]
After one stunned moment, the men took off, one heading towards the labyrinth of buildings and the other in the direction of the pier. Without the necessity for words, Sherlock set off after the man with the briefcase as John charged towards the water in pursuit of the other one.
Sherlock was much faster than the rather fat man he was chasing and in very short order had him on the ground, with plastic cuffs securing him to a convenient rubbish bin. No doubt John had his prey down as well. Carrying the damned briefcase, the contents of which could determine the future of something or other according to Mycroft [Sherlock had stopped listening by that point], he set off to join his partner.
There was a sudden shout and then the unmistakable sound of something hitting the water. Sherlock almost didn’t even have to have seen what happened to know. Really, it beggared belief. How many times could one [somewhat] short doctor end up in the Thames before it became a cliché? At least this time he hadn’t gone off a bridge or a boat.
Sherlock knew that he was only thinking these things to keep from worrying that something really bad might have happened. Something really bad happening was entirely unthinkable. He was running flat-out now, wanting to get down to the shoreline so he could help John extricate himself from the mud.
But as he scanned the scene, there was no sign of John, either lying in the mud, cursing his life, or swimming towards the shore. Something twisted inside Sherlock’s chest. “John?” he called. “Where are you? JOHN?”
There was no reply save the cries of the gulls from overhead.
Then he saw the John-shaped form floating just off the shore. Floating face down. Sherlock dropped the briefcase, ripped off his coat, kicked off his shoes and plunged into the water. He covered the distance quickly, grabbed John and flipped him over so that his face was out of the water, and began dragging him to the shore.
Once they were on the ground, he dropped to his knees in the mud. “John?”
The other man was not breathing. From the blood that was visible, it was obvious that something had hit the back of John’s head before he went into the water.
Sherlock fought down the panic that threatened and called up an old mental file. He cleared John’s mouth with a forefinger, then tilted his head back, one arm behind his neck, and closed off his nose. He pressed his mouth to John’s and breathed into it. Five quick breaths. He used one hand to check for a pulse. There was none.
Sherlock did not allow himself to think.
He simply lowered his head and did five more breaths.
Check the pulse.
Sherlock moved to kneel beside John’s body. He opened the jacket and found his breastbone. One quick strike, not wanting to break a rib, but needing desperately to get the breathing started. Then he placed one hand at the top of the breastbone and one at the lower third. He pushed fifteen times and then breathed again into John’s mouth.
Suddenly, John was coughing and choking and filthy water was spewing out.
When he was sure that John was continuing to breathe, Sherlock reached for his phone with one hand and his coat with the other. He punched one button, “Mycroft,” he said in something like a gasp. Then he forced himself to speak calmly. “Some assistance, please. Immediately… for John.” His voice didn’t crack too badly. He dropped the phone, leaving it on, and then wrapped John in his coat before pulling him into his lap, holding on tightly to the other man.
“Sherlock,” John whispered.
“Shh, it’s all right. You’re fine now. You’re fine.”
John coughed a little. “You saved me.”
Sherlock ran a finger down John’s face. “No,” he said quietly. “I saved myself.”
John seemed to understand that. “Same thing,” he said.
Lights and noise were getting close. Help was arriving.
It was no more or less stupid than any of their other arguments, but it seemed to make something snap inside John.
Maybe it was the plastic bag of fermenting human livers that sat on the food shelf, actually rather draped over the box of takeaway moussaka that John had been planning to have for his very late dinner. That he had been looking forward to all day, a long clinic day followed by hours at the Yard as Sherlock, desperate for a challenge, trolled the cold case files and moaned about boredom.
Or it might have been the foaming experiment and new burn mark on the kitchen table that pushed the doctor over the edge. “Vital, John, vital,” Sherlock cried, before throwing himself on to the settee.
Or maybe John was just really tired after what had been a pretty crap day.
He grabbed his jacket and headed for the door.
“Where are you going?” Sherlock whined. [And no matter how often and how indignantly he denied it, Sherlock did indeed whine.]
“Out. I need some air.”
That air was quite chilly actually, not really the night for a stroll, but the point needed to be made. What that point might be wasn’t exactly clear, but still…
It was nearly midnight, so there were very few people on the sidewalk and John ignored those that were. Through the good luck of with whom he lived---worked with, slept with---John had some knowledge that most of the population didn’t. For example: how to get into the park after hours. He even had a favorite bench to sit on at times like this and he went there now.
My life, he thought. Who else on the bloody planet had a favorite bench in the park for those late nights when his flatmate/lover drove him around the bend?
But John was a philosophical sort.
//Could be worse, I guess.//
Well, he’d had worse. All those months without Sherlock, unless one counted the visits to a headstone.
But, dammit, he’d really wanted that moussaka.
Sherlock pretended not to care that John had stormed off yet again. Although for whom he was pretending remained a mystery. Clearly, John was ridiculously fond of storming off.
For a very brief time, Sherlock dwelled on what would happen if one of these times John didn’t come back. But John had promised, so it was stupid to worry about it. Sadly, sometimes worry couldn’t be banished by the force of even Sherlock Holmes’ will.
After a few minutes, he got up and went for his coat, then started down the stairs. Mrs. Hudson’s door was open and she peered at him. “Was that John slamming out?” she asked.
“Of course it was,” Sherlock snapped, twisting his scarf into place.
“Whatever did you do?”
According to their landlady [and everyone else they knew, actually] it was always his fault when John turned moody or whatever it was that caused him to over-react.
Sherlock just bid her a polite good night and left.
He knew where John would go. In the past, it would have been to Sarah’s sofa, but that was a long time ago and it would never happen again, of that Sherlock was certain.
No, John would be in the park, sitting on his favorite bench.
And so he was.
Sherlock dropped onto the other end of the bench and they sat there in silence, huddled into their coats as the temperature dropped.
No one spoke for some time.
Rather unusually, it was Sherlock who broke the silence and the words that came from his mouth were not at all what he had expected to say.
“John, I think we should get married,” he said. At the very moment he spoke, Sherlock knew those were the truest, most important words he had ever uttered.
They both listened to the distant wail of a siren.
“Will you stop putting body parts next to my dinner?” John said.
“Since it seems to annoy you to an unreasonable degree, yes, I will stop doing that.” It was a quiet vow.
John gave his most definitive nod. “All right, then.”
Sherlock took a breath. “You will marry me?”
“We will marry one another,” John corrected gently. “And it will be fine.”
They stayed on the bench for a while, not talking or even touching.
Finally, they stood.
“You know,” Sherlock said, as he began to remove the scarf from around his neck. “If you intend to persist in rushing out into the cold nights, you should really invest in a warmer coat.” He dropped the scarf around John’s neck and wrapped it snugly. “I am a busy man and have no interest in wasting my time nursing you through pneumonia.”
John gave him a look. “But you would do,” he said firmly.
“Most probably.” Sherlock paused. “Definitely,” he amended. “But I would be irritated about it.”
Cold and tired, they left the park, walking slowly, shoulder to shoulder, and went home. Once there, John made tea while Sherlock carried the bag of livers down to the rubbish bin.