John stood in the entryway while Sherlock swirled into their flat, trying to make himself look busy.
“Sherlock,” John said. Sherlock paused and turned around. “Let me see your back.”
“What? Why?” His eyebrows were pulled together. He probably thought his confusion would mask his fear.
“I need to make sure you’re alright.” Sherlock gave him a dubious look. “I saw how you held yourself in the restaurant, how you mentally mapped out the floor plan. I know the look you made when you went through the quickest escape route. I saw how much it hurt you to keep at least part of your back to the street because I used to do the same thing, Sherlock. I still do, from time to time. I know from watching you and listening to the music that something happened. So just... let me see your back.”
“Great! So while I was gone you suddenly grew some brain cells and learned how to finally observe! Do you feel special, now? Was that whole spiel just to show how much you ‘cared’? Do you think that gives you some special right to know what happened? Why act like you’re concerned about what happened?”
“Because, Sherlock, I do actually care! Did you understand nothing of the music that I wrote!? I’m your friend, Sherlock! And I like to think, even after these horrible years, that I still am! I may be right pissed but that doesn’t mean that your emotional and physical state aren’t of any concern to me.” John’s voice took a steel edge to it. “After what I’ve gone through, it’s in your best interests to not accuse me of not caring about you.”
Sherlock visibly swallowed and started unbuttoning his shirt. He didn’t meet John’s eyes and his hands shook. John stepped forward and clasped Sherlock’s hands in his. “I just want to make sure you’re okay. If you can look me in the eye and tell me that you aren’t in pain, I’ll let it drop. If you can tell me that yes, you are hurt, but it’s been taken care of, then I’ll let you be. Now, are you hurt?”
Sherlock’s eyes flicked toward John’s before dropping with his hands. He gave a sharp nod and took a deep breath before settling his chin on his chest.
John finished unbuttoning Sherlock’s shirt, more worried than before. If Sherlock could control his hands, then it couldn’t be anything good.
John grimaced when he saw Sherlock’s chest and he looked up to see if Sherlock had caught his expression. His eyes were closed.
John lightly wrapped his left hand around Sherlock’s right wrist as he moved around to his back. “Mind if you slip it off?”
Sherlock shrugged his shoulders and the shirt dropped to just below his elbows. The sight that John was met with was not unlike a battlefield.
His back was covered in slashes and cuts and burns. Some of them looked very, very recent while others seemed several years old. His back still had stitches and bruising was especially concentrated on his sides. It looked as though cigarettes were put out consistently on the back of his shoulders and low neck.
The slashes and cuts overlapped, wounds that had healed uncleaned, and several slashes looked like they had been opened up recently. The freshest one looked barely a week old.
“Jesus, Sherlock,” John breathed out. “They people who did this to you… are they… are they dead?”
Sherlock nodded his head.
John lightly ran his free hand over a mark that had already scarred. “These need to be cleaned. Would you rather that be done in here or the bathroom?”
“Can you clean them in your room?”
“Sure, of course. My kit’s with my stuff anyway,” John didn’t let go of Sherlock’s wrist after taking his pulse again. Instead, he had to lightly tug to get Sherlock moving and up the stairs. He seemed calm, a bit pissed, but calm. His heart, however, was racing. Scared, then, was John’s conclusion.
John, unfortunately, had to let go to let Sherlock take off his shirt. “Lay down on your stomach, if you can. It would make this easier if you could.”
Sherlock didn’t respond, instead, he did as John had instructed him to. “You’re okay with this, right Sherlock? I don’t want to make anything worse.”
“I trust you, John. Completely.” His voice was steady.
John swallowed down the threat of tears as he opened up his kit. He got out the needed materials and climbed up onto his bed. He knelt beside Sherlock and started on the open wounds. Thankfully they hardly bleeding. “None of your stitches were torn open. How long did they keep you in the hospital?”
“Then who took care of you, then?”
“Mycroft’s doctors. After I was flown home. I rested for a couple of days.”
“And why don’t I believe you? Absolutely stubborn, you are. You need to be careful.”
Sherlock made a ‘hum’ of acknowledgement and they fell into a companionable silence. After John was finished cleaning his back, he started dabbing antibacterial onto the wounds. “What kind of pain medications did the doctors give you?”
“They didn’t. Mycroft’s orders, I suppose. I still wasn’t completely lucid during that time, if I’m to be honest.”
“Sherlock,” John’s voice cracked. “I’m sorry. I’m so fucking sorry.”
“There’s nothing for you to apologise for, John. I made my own decisions. I should be the one apologising.”
“It doesn’t really matter, does it? How long did they torture you, Sherlock? What have you been doing for three years? Where have you been? Can you answer any of that?” John swallowed. “Why didn’t you take me with you?”
“They had me for three weeks before Mycroft could get me out. They weren’t the first ones that captured me, just the most brutal. The others, I had let myself be captured to get information. I usually had a way out. Siberia… that’s where I was for most of those three weeks. For the past three years; everywhere. I’ve been everywhere. Everything I did was for you, John. All of it. Lestrade and Mrs Hudson may have been threatened, but it was because of you that I came back.”
“What do you mean we were threatened?”
“Moriarty had snipers on all three of you. It was either kill myself or….”
“Or we were killed.” John finished for him.
“And I couldn’t take you because that would just be selfish of me. What if you had gotten hurt, killed, because of me? I couldn’t tell you that I was alive without putting you in danger. I couldn’t have watched you die, John.”
“I almost did, Sherlock. I don’t think you realise that. After you were gone, I thought that I had failed as a friend. I thought, ‘What was the point? I’m useless. Can’t even talk down his best friend from a rooftop’. It wouldn’t have been hard to fake my death. I don’t think you would have had to watch me die, Sherlock, because wouldn’t have been there if I did.” John started on dressing the slashes. “I can’t stress what your death did to me, Sherlock. I don’t think I ever will. I don’t think you can appreciate just how close to the edge I was.”
“Don’t. Just. Sit up. I need to wrap this around your chest.”
Sherlock pushed himself up and sat with his feet under his legs and John leant forward on his knees, wrapping the gauze around his chest.
“Why did they torture you, Sherlock? What could you have possibly gained from letting all these people capture you and hurt you?”
“It was to save you, John. I told you. It was all for you. Every lash, burn, cut. Every broken rib and blackened eye. I did it so I could find the man who was supposed to put a bullet through your heart and put one through his. I am worth nothing, without you, John Watson. There is nothing that wouldn’t do, that I didn’t do, to save you. To protect you.”
“Sherlock Holmes. I always wondered why I wasn’t enough. ‘Why couldn’t you just be enough?’ I asked myself that, wondering what worth I really had. I was no one, without you. I was just a bumbling fool with a shoddy leg. You Fell and I broke without you because without you there is no me. You were gone and I didn’t know how to get back up because that’s what you were always there for. You were there to tell me to get over myself and go and get some milk. Or you were the one who already had a mug of tea for me after a nightmare. Now, when I sleep, I don’t dream of Afghanistan. I dream of you Falling. Then I dream of you being happy, of both of us being happy. I dream that you’re back and I’m living a full life and…”
John closed both hands around Sherlock’s wrists and both men had found themselves drawn closer together, and neither of them cared that their cheeks were wet and that their voices shook. “And if I wake up and find out these past couple of days have all been a dream I won’t survive.” John bowed his head.
“But… why?” Sherlock question. He sounded as torn up as John himself felt.
“Can’t you deduce it, Sherlock?” John looked up, vision blurred and voice weak. “Can’t you just see?”
John shut his eyes as a new wave of tears spilt over, readying himself for a sure rejection. He felt his heart stop and stomach contract as Sherlock moved his hands, in what John thought was an attempt to distance himself. He let go of his wrists and was shocked when his face was cradled in two large hands, thumbs brushing his cheeks.
“Why do you think I risked coming back, John? How could I be anything without you?” Sherlock’s voice was strangled and John sobbed as Sherlock pulled him into a hug. They clung onto each other as they cried, their faces buried into the other’s neck and shoulder for the second time that week. “I’ll never leave, John. Never again. Neither one of us could survive it for a second time.”
Sherlock bolted up from the bed, fighting with sheets, before remembering where he was. His eyes swept the room for confirmation that this was, in fact, John’s room. They must’ve fallen asleep while holding each other… last night, a quick look at a clock showed. The space that John had occupied was still a little warm, so it couldn’t have been too long ago that he had left the room.
The sound of a violin answered Sherlock’s question as to what woke him up. He silently walked out of John’s room and sat on the bottom step, just listening to John playing. He had gotten to be a pretty decent player in only three years, Sherlock thought.
The piece sounded sad, miserable, with a light undertone to it. As it steadily grew lighter, happier, Sherlock stood up and walked into the living room. John was facing the fireplace and his eyes were closed. Sherlock watched his change in expressions in the mirror as more and more was added to the piece. He was watched as John’s fingers flew across the strings with the bow and he felt heavy. He felt incomplete.
As John’s playing slowed, became sadder, empty, Sherlock moved in front of John and waited until the last stroke of the bow faded out before saying anything.
“What was that?” He asked as John’s arms fell to his side.
“It’s what loving you felt like.” Sherlock’s breath caught as John’s eyes met his. “I’m hoping it’s going to need to be revised.”
Sherlock stepped closer, afraid. What if he did something wrong? Something horrible? Isn't this the place where he says something comforting?
“Where did you get the violin?” He stuck to something he deemed safe.
“Your brother and a second-hand shop.”
Sherlock waited to see if John was going to elaborate as his eyes flicked to John’s lips and back up to his eyes. There was a slight smirk. John saw that, then. "May I?" He asked.
“Yes,” John said, breathless, and Sherlock curled his hand under John’s jaw as bent his head and brushed against John’s lips.
“This is okay?” He whispered, for no logical reason except that this was something that needed to be handled carefully. He needed to be sure. He needed to make sure that he wasn’t making a mistake, that they both wanted this.
“Yes, Sherlock. It’s fine, it’s good. It’s perfect, actually,” Sherlock watched a ghost of a smile appear on John’s face as he whispered and broke into a smile of his own before pressing his lips completely against John’s.
No, he knew that it was not going to be easy, but since when has anything between them been easy? Easy was boring anyway, he reasoned. That’s why he had John.