John looks up and sees that Sherlock is holding a key. It’s an everyday, ordinary sort of key, or at least, that’s what it looks like. John smiles. “Oh thanks.” He reaches out and takes it. “Been looking for that.”
It’s a lie.
He’d hoped never to see it again after he ‘lost’ it a few weeks ago.
A few weeks later, there’s a fire in the grate, there’s Thai takeaway on the table, and James Bond is gadgeting about on the telly.
Sherlock doesn’t have a case.
“It’s not a key you use.”
“What key?” John keeps his eyes fixed on the Aston Martin on screen. It’s blue.
“That key you nearly lost the other day, do keep up John. You didn’t changed your habits while it was gone, you weren't frantically searching for it, and you haven’t gone out and conducted any secretive or personal matters beyond filing for taxes since its return. So, not ‘nearly lost,’ then. More of an attempt at discarding. But why?”
John thinks for a moment. “Is a key a key if you never use it?”
Sherlock considers. “A keepsake, then, but for what? From what?”
“Is a keepsake a keepsake if you don’t want to keep it?”
The detective glares at him but doesn’t keep quiet long and is soon muttering about security boxes and traveler’s safes and the sound of it eventually settles John to sleep. The telly flickers against his eyelids, and Sherlock’s voice ripples unintelligibly beside him.
Here, in the centre of the flat, where a great mind hums and purrs, John can sleep the way he used to sleep.
Sherlock is gone for seven days: Sensitive Documents. Mycroft. Tokyo.
John’s never been and is fine keeping it that way. He’s seen enough of mad lights and sleepless cities, honestly.
When he collects Sherlock at the airport, the detective’s eyes dip to take in his left leg, and John thinks maybe next time he’ll tag along, no matter where Sherlock has to go.
He smiles to himself, thinks the word ‘companion’ and nearly bursts out laughing.
Sherlock notices but doesn’t say anything – not his area, or does he think it’s not his place?
John wishes the man would delete those two concepts. They apply less and less.
The suspect twitches, and then she’s running, and Sherlock chases after her, and John chases after Sherlock, and it’s brilliant, because even though they lose her (“Sprinter, John!” Sherlock gasps out, “that confirms it – those were her footprints –”) even though they go home just shy of empty handed, for a minute their blood is singing, their nerves alive, their hearts are racing, the beats syncopated just so, and John can hear it, hear them, and it feels like being home, like being surrounded by everything that’s right about the universe.
Sherlock doesn’t start to question, because Sherlock is always questioning.
So perhaps, it’s better to say that John stops making such an effort.
It’s certainly closer to the truth.
It’s unexpectedly…messy when Sherlock does put it all together. Sherlock has a nifty little saying about impossibilities and improbabilities, but My Flatmate Is an Alien is something out of a tabloid, something a desperate client might say to try and pique the great detective’s interest.
Impossible and improbable don’t even come into it – it’s simply not realistic.
There’s a bit of shouting, a bit of a strop, and hurt feelings all around, even for people who don’t believe in sentiment.
“Just – don’t tell Mycroft,” John says as he turns to retreat to his room while he can still call it that, because he’s tired, and his chest is one big ache, and he’s not sure if it emerges as pleading or commanding, but something in the words or tone arrests all of Sherlock’s outraged little movements.
When their eyes meet, there’s quite a bit more trust and belief than either of them expected.
“Tell me everything,” Sherlock commands (or is it pleads?).
John tells him everything.
Stars shine, planets spin, ecosystems evolve, species differentiate, individuals specialize, and Sherlock experiments.
It’s the way of the world, the universe, existence.
John lets him.
“I had two hearts once.” John raises a hand to rub at his scarred shoulder. His shirt is off and Sherlock is leaning close, his magnifier in hand, his blinking gaze comically enlarged by the curvature of the lens. “Now there’s just the one. It gets lonely, knocking about my ribcage all on its own.” He smiles a bit. It’s not a happy sort of smile, because John hears it at night, sometimes, beating too fast or too slow, losing rhythm without a partner to help keep count. The sound of its distress is loud in the emptiness of a room that is exactly the size you’d expect it to be when you enter it.
Sherlock makes a note in his notebook.
“It’s not psychosomatic. It never was. It’s a time wound.” John tilts his head to keep track of Sherlock’s hands.
Today Sherlock is measuring John’s range of motion and reflexes, muttering, frustrated, delighted. He snorts and says: “Nope.” The ‘p’ pops obnoxiously at the end – Sherlock has always had a fondness for his plosives. “Still psychosomatic.” He’s also proving reticent to let go of his original observations concerning John. After all, they were right; they were true. (For given values of ‘right’ and ‘true’). “It comes and goes.”
John tries not to sigh and mostly succeeds. “No it doesn’t. It sort of…curves around? Like a – you know what? Never mind. Yes, it comes and goes.”
“And now you’re patronizing me. Dumbing it down for the native.” That’s the latest trend in accusations, trotted out at a moment’s notice. John counts to ten in Nubrellian.
“Hardly. I’m just… accepting your reality.” That earns him a ‘we are not amused’ look. John rolls his eyes. “Look. Reality is – fluid, a story we tell ourselves and each other. We convince ourselves of reality. What’s real, what’s happened, is open to interpretation, to memory. Remembering a wound, even if it didn’t happen, can make it real now.” Even if it hasn’t happened yet, John amends but doesn’t say.
“And now you are actually describing a psychosomatic trauma in simplistic terms? To me?” The dark humour in Sherlock’s next words matches the splendid darkness in his eyes: “They will never find your body.”
When John has stopped laughing, as they both recover their breathing, he straightens and kisses Sherlock.
The detective makes a surprised sound, but it falls away quickly into a sort of stunned silence. John pulls back just in time for Sherlock to surge forward and reciprocate, the beginnings of apology and disappointment wiped away in a flood of touch.
There, in the middle of 221B, John finds himself sighing and gasping, caught up in Sherlock as much as Sherlock is caught up in him, a binary orbit, and John can feel the way he used to feel, the way he thought he’d never feel again.
It helps him decide – or rather, it helps him come to terms with a decision he made some time ago.
“That key – still have it?”
Sherlock has the grace to attempt an expression of chagrin. His hand dips into one of the many hidden recesses of his coat. John will always be amazed by that coat and what it hides, what it holds. The sheer capacity of its pockets stuns even him, sometimes.
John turns the key over and over in his fingers after Sherlock holds it out to him.
“Want to go for a ride?”
Sherlock’s eyes narrow. “Where to?”
John can’t really stop the grin. “Anywhere you want.”
“You weren’t kidding,” Sherlock says after a long silence. It’s the first thing other than places and times he’s said since the doors opened on a stage in 1881, where a young woman cradled a Stradivarius in her left arm even as her right brutalized it, her bowing an exquisite attack, her music a raging outpour of soul and sentiment. At the time, it had struck John how familiar the violin seemed – and perhaps the violinist, too, with her sharp looks and dark ringlets.
But the colour had drained from Sherlock’s face (what little there was) and then he’d simply listed another time and place.
And then another.
And now, here they are.
John sits down beside Sherlock, who has lost a bit of the pallor of shock, and lets his legs dangle over the edge. Their thighs are pressed close, their knees knock, their calves brush as their feet swing. “I really wasn’t.”
“Hmm. Time and relative dimension in space.” Starlight glitters in Sherlock’s eyes, and John thinks he could stand to see some more mad lights and sleepless cities reflected in those eyes.
Especially if those eyes are there day after day, opening beside his, closing in a shared darkness, again and again and again, little iterations of a perfect day over and over. He can feel the joyous clench of it, that distantly sweet ache, even though it hasn’t happened (yet?).
“You said to me once that they’d never find the body. My body, that is.” It’s the last part, the last promise John won’t break to himself. He doesn’t want what he had before, so very long ago, all those fleeting gazes, all those variant eyes. If these are to be his last days, they will be on his terms. His left shoulder aches, and he flexes his right hand against the memory, just once.
“Yes.” Sherlock doesn’t turn away from the view, but John knows he has his full attention.
“I’m hoping you’ll be around to keep that promise one day.”
Sherlock tears his eyes from the swirl of light before them, but he can’t hold John’s gaze – or won’t, perhaps – and looks away to the side. Swallows, purses his lips together. His eyes are so expressive, and John wonders how anybody could think for one moment that the man beside him is anything less than staggeringly, beautifully, achingly human.
Dark curls shift as he nods, just once, and John feels his heart crush in on itself even as it soars, one heart feeling for two, and he reaches a hand for Sherlock’s.
Their fingers twine, their palms lie flush, and here, at the edge of the universe – of everything – where no one else can see, they accept a reality with each other in it.
John doesn’t have to stand to know that his leg won’t buckle, and he doesn’t have to listen to know his heart won’t stumble.