and so i've learned the meaning of the sun
and all this like a message comes
to shift my point of view
i'm watching through my own light
as it tints the shade of you
She watches him sleep.
It is a gross violation of boundaries, an audacious act that is completely atypical for both the sober companion she once was and the discreet detective she has worked to become. Even the surgeon within her, the exacting medical professional who worked so diligently to compartmentalize, disapproves. Still, she keeps vigil, using the powers of observation he has taught her to monitor the steady rise and fall of his chest, the gentle hiss of his breath, and the almost imperceptible flutter of his eyelashes against his sallow cheeks.
When he passes out on the floor, she perches on the armchair, curling her limbs like a cat's and chasing her usual tea with the sharp, bitter taste of black espresso. When he nods off at his desk, she presses her back to the wall and allows herself to be absorbed by whatever case details line the ground at her feet. Sometimes, she paces back and forth along the wall of crazy, studying the collage and her mentor at intervals of equal intensity.
Occasionally, he writhes uncomfortably in his sleep, his limbs thrashing angrily against the surface on which he's collapsed. In these moments, she broaches yet another boundary to lay a warm palm between his shoulder blades, lining his spine with her middle finger and pressing her thumb into the knots below his ribcage.
"You're okay," she tells him, her voice a soothing balm. "You're not alone. You're home. You're safe. I've got you. I'm right here. I'm right here with you, and you're okay. Everything's going to be okay. I'm right here. I've got you."
She chants the platitudes until his breathing slows, until she can feel the feverish warmth of his sleeping figure through the thin cotton of whatever shirt he's chosen, until the phrases run together and the periods cease to exist and the only thing between the words is the pulse of his heartbeat through his back and the gasp of her breath, his breath, their breath.
She closes her eyes and listens for the rush of life beneath her palm, feels for the roar of blood in his veins and the expansion of his lungs and the proof that he is, in fact, alive and okay and safe. The words are for her as much as him, but she thinks that's okay. She's fairly certain he doesn't remember these moments upon waking.
He nods off more frequently now. She tells herself his exhaustion is just a symptom of withdrawal. She tries not to be concerned when he stops filling saucepans with elephant dung and mugs with eccentric combinations of sleep-depriving herbs. She tries instead to focus on the way that the circles under his eyes are gradually disappearing, the way his cheeks are regaining their pale, healthier pallor. She tells herself that the adjustment to his circadian rhythms is a step in a healthier direction, a move towards a life dictated not by addiction, but by a desire to remain functional at all times. Useful at all times. She tells herself that Sherlock is finally learning to practice self-care.
She doesn't bother to consider that it has been weeks since she allowed herself the luxury of a night wrapped in her down comforter, weeks since he has woken her with breakfast and a selection of attire.
She doesn't miss her bed, but she does miss the sound of his voice in the morning, determinedly dragging her toward consciousness.
He used to watch her sleep.
Even after she admonished him for his "creepy stalker" behavior, even after countless lectures on the importance of boundaries in their relationship and the necessity of one's own space, he used to make himself comfortable in the armchair beside her bed and study the abandon with which Watson would surrender herself to unconsciousness. Since their time together, he's seen lovers come and go—Andrew, most notably, though a few particularly odd characters from the dregs of society represented in TrueRomantix come to mind—but he is convinced that the proverbial sandman remains Watson's longest and most committed relationship.
It began as a way for him to divine additional insight on a case, a means of changing his surroundings and sharpening his perspective. It quickly evolved into a way to create in their relationship the intimacy that she was initially so hesitant to provide. He is well aware of the arrangement that served as the impetus for their connection—her a sterling sober companion, him the delinquent addict charge. He had hoped that her acceptance of his proposal for partnership would put them on equal ground.
It did not, unfortunately, assist in the destruction of Watson's carefully placed walls. Sometimes, he thinks she allowed herself more vulnerability as his sober companion, when it was her job to serve as an example of the emotional openness he was expected to achieve. He still hears the echo of her voice, soft and genuine amidst the din of the precinct.
"I think what you do is amazing." *
He catches glimpses of that woman every now and then—when she hugs Marcus after a particularly difficult case, or in that terrifying moment when she hugged him after his conversation with the barrister. He hears echoes of that soft, sweet voice in her firm declarations of loyalty—"You really don't get it. When it comes to what we do, the only thing that matters to me is our partnership." * When she sleeps, though, he sees that woman in full, unabashedly on display against a background of white cotton and goose down. When she sleeps, he can watch her lithe form nestling into a burrow of blankets and believe that she is still human, still vulnerable, still unbroken by the horrors of the life he has chosen to lead.
She doesn't sleep anymore. Her cheekbones have grown razor sharp. Shadows collect in the hollows beneath them. Her eyes are bright as always, but the redness of the rims belies her exhaustion.
She doesn't sleep, doesn't unpack the delicate feminine beauty of her true self, until he sleeps.
He deduced this quite by accident, writhing around on the floor during a particularly difficult bout of withdrawal. In the midst of violent tremors, feverish dreams, and cold sweats that left him feeling wet, clammy, and embarrassed, he felt her hand along his spinal column and heard the woman he thought he'd left on the other side of an alluring needle in a rusted tin box.
"You're okay. You're not alone. You're home. You're safe. I've got you. I'm right here. I'm right here with you, and you're okay. Everything's going to be okay. I'm right here. I've got you."
The first time, it was an unfortunate consequence of relapse.
The second time, it was an experiment. He wanted to see if she would remember the words she'd spoken, if the desperate undercurrent in her soothing tone was real or imagined. He was curious as to whether she would break her own rules about boundaries again, whether she would make the rash decision to touch him as friend, confidante, and protector.
The third time, he was verifying conclusions the second time had drawn.
Now, a month later, he has lost count of the nights he's spent with his spine pressed to her fingers.
He tells himself he is practicing feigning death. It is, after all, a useful skill for anyone whose life is in constant danger. Once mastered, the skill will provide an addition opportunity for him to instruct Watson—perhaps even a chance to bring her the relief his relapse has stolen.
He tells himself that his sudden desire to feign sleep in her presence has nothing to do with her hand on his back or the words that make him ache with a peace he'd once felt only through heroin. It surely has nothing to do with the certainty of her presence or the strength she radiates from her chosen perch.
He finds, to his surprise, that her words lull him into actual sleep more often than not.
The circadian adjustments mean, however, that his days of comatose REM sleep are over. He finds that little noises wake him now—the rustle of Clyde chewing on a particularly crunchy lettuce leaf, the blare of a siren as an ambulance roars past the brownstone, the muted crash of ice into the tray in the depths of the freezer.
The first time Watson begins whimpering in her sleep, he wakes immediately. Suddenly cognizant of the potential for the destruction of this delicate balance they have struck, he stays as still as possible, sneaking glances at her shaking form with as much silence as he can muster.
His name, a broken cry on her sleep-thick lips, tugs him to his feet. Struck with more feelings than he knows how to process, he inches towards her. In the moonlight, the tears on her cheeks look almost silver.
She is crying for him.
Guilt winds his stomach in knots and sparks through his fingers. He taps them shakily against his thigh, unsure of what to do or how to proceed.
He has to stop the crying. Watson cannot cry in his presence. The very suggestion of her tears is a knife through his heart, but this strange combination of tears and his name is unbearable.
He reaches forward tentatively and lays a gentle hand on his partner's back, right between her delicate shoulder blades. His thumb twitches, drawing a soothing line along the base of her scapula.
"You're okay," he murmurs without thought. "You're not alone. You're home. You're safe. I've got you. I'm right here. I'm right here with you, and you're okay."
The litany is instinctive, an impulse that erupts from the depths of a tight esophagus and spills forth in a raspy baritone that sounds nothing like his usual clipped, matter-of-fact timbre. It feels like a prayer to a God that he doesn't entirely believe in.
Let me do this for her. Just once, let me do something right.
When her quiet sobs dissipate in a trembling breath, his sigh of relief is audible.
The words keep coming. "Everything's going to be okay. I'm right here. I've got you."
He does not know how long he sits, long limbs arranged on the arm of her chair with his hand pressed to her back, murmuring the words he has heard nearly every night since his relapse. He does not care.
He finally unfolds himself to reach for a blanket, a plush-looking throw that feels like velvet against his fingers. Faux mink, if he remembers correctly, because Watson would not let him purchase anything made of real fur. He arranges it like the down comforter around her frame and watches as she nestles into it, curling herself more deeply into a fetal position.
He monitors the steady rise and fall of her chest, the gentle hiss of her breath, and the almost imperceptible flutter of her eyelashes against her sallow cheeks.
When she wakes, hours later, he notes that the circles under her eyes are less prominent, and her cheeks have regained some of their pale, healthier pallor.
He clears his throat expectantly and gestures toward the tray of tea and toast. On the arm of her chair, he has arranged a dress, a sweater, and a pair of her favorite ankle boots.
"Time to rise, Watson," he says with a decisiveness he doesn't feel. "The day is wasting, and we have work to do."
Her brow furrows in confusion as she stretches. He watches the ripple of sinew in her back and remembers the warmth of her skin beneath his palm.
"I can't believe I fell asleep," she mutters incredulously. "How long was I out?"
"Long enough that you should feel adequately rested," he remarks wryly. "I took the liberty of fetching your breakfast and a suitable outfit for the day."
Her eyes trace his face with the intensity he has taught her. He's not sure what she's seeking, but he desperately hopes she finds it.
"Give me ten minutes," she murmurs finally before gifting him with another scrupulous look. "Are you…okay?"
"Never better," he assures her with a terse smile.
She rolls her eyes and drags herself from the chair, wincing as her muscles protest the movement. With no protest, she gathers the clothing he has assembled and pads toward the bathroom, leaving the throw in a tangle on the cushion.
"Watson?" he calls.
The echo and tinny quality of her voice allow that she is upstairs, in the bathroom, and that he has time for a small indulgence before she returns.
He sinks into the chair and wraps himself in the blanket, surrounded by her scent, the softness of her voice, and the memory of her warmth at his back.
"You're okay. You're not alone. You're home. You're safe. I've got you."
He clears his throat of the sudden thickness and blinks away the looming threat of tears. Something about this chair…
"I think we should work in your bedroom this evening. I require a change of scene."