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A Week in the Dark

Chapter Text

MONDAY

 

Life with Sherlock Holmes was never boring. No matter how much John Watson might wish otherwise.

“For God’s sake, John, we’re losing him!”

“I’m coming, you bastard!” he panted, lengthening his stride as much as possible. Damn him. Damn his impossibly long legs and his uncanny ability to move lightning-fast in a bespoke coat and his bloody inability to leave police business to the police. He was a doctor, not a triathlete, and as Sherlock delighted in reminding him, he did not have quite the legspan of the detective or the criminal in question. Killed three people, John, come on. Head down, he put on one last burst of speed – and ran smack into the detective he’d been cursing.

“What the –”

“Shh!” Sherlock dragged them both up against the wall, one arm flung across his chest, the crystalline puffs of breath mingling between them. “He thinks we’ve lost him.”

“Then shut up,” John hissed, one hand reaching reflexively for his absent sidearm. It was rare he left home without it recently, but dear God, surely he should be allowed to go to work and back without gearing up for mortal combat. As if Mondays weren’t already shite.

He should have said no. He knew he should have. Except for some inconceivable, unfathomable reason, when it came to this frenetic, impossible madman he just couldn’t.

“Was he armed?”

“I don’t know, keep quiet!” It would be a cold day in hell before Sherlock listened to anything John had to say but it was always worth trying.

“Between the two of –” Sherlock cut off as John elbowed him, hard, and without the rumbling voice they could hear the scratch of footsteps on asphalt, hovering, hesitant. He wasn’t sure he’d lost them, debating whether to flee or catch his breath.

And then he took off again.

“Quick!” Sherlock bolted around the corner and John bolted after him, mouthing the curses he lacked the breath to utter. The alley was tiny, squalid, and slippery as hell, coated in ice from late January snow. The only trace of the murderer was a boot whipping around the corner at the end, disappearing into God-knows-where.

“We’ve lost –”

“Not a chance,” Sherlock snarled, barely slowing down. The grey in his eyes had hardened into steel, determination evident in the set of his jaw. “Come on!” God, with that coat and those legs John could’ve sworn he was flying.

He himself only made it two steps before slipping on ice and falling on his arse.

“Oh, for the love of –” But he never got to specify exactly what he loved enough to keep subjecting himself to this, because two things happened.

“John?”

Lestrade – finally – arrived on scene.

CRACK.

Sherlock let out a cry of pain.

“Sherlock!” Soreness instantly forgotten, he scrambled to his feet and bolted again, eyes fixed on the last place he’d seen that flash of coat. This part of the alley was even smaller than the last one, all rubbish bins and rats and the tiniest opening to the main road where the murderer was now fleeing. Any pursuers would be blocked by Sherlock’s prone body, stirring feebly and rubbing the back of his head, a discarded piece of pipe not two feet away.

“Call an ambulance!” John barked back to Lestrade, already frantically kicking aside bags of rubbish and dustbins and all manner of things he would usually refuse to touch with a ten-foot pole except he had to get to Sherlock.

“John?”

And now fear was thundering in his veins, a thousand frozen razor blades surging through his body, because he’d never, ever heard Sherlock sound afraid before. Anxious, yes, tense, always, but never afraid, and right now Sherlock Holmes was afraid. “I’m right here, Sherlock, I promise, I’m right here –”

“John? John!”

Lestrade be damned, all bloody London be damned, he slammed to his knees so fast he tore the leg of his trousers, seizing Sherlock around the shoulders and pulling him close enough that they almost touched noses. “I’m here!” He was shouting, stupidly, as though he could will Sherlock better by sheer volume, but he couldn’t seem to stop himself. “Sherlock, please, I’m right here!”

“I can’t see you,” Sherlock breathed, pale eyes fixed directly ahead. “My God, why can’t I see you?”

One swift, sharp jab of dread, leaving John almost unable to see too; then Dr Watson was mercifully in control, all calm analysis under fire. “Blunt force trauma possibly caused swelling of the optic nerve – Lestrade’s called an ambulance, we’ll get you to a hospital, run some tests – hey, you’re gonna be all right, you understand me? You’re gonna be fine.” Unthinking, he moved his hands from his shoulders to his cheeks, cupping his face in his hands and pressing their foreheads together. Sherlock calmed instinctively under his touch, still wide-eyed and panting like a startled deer. Cautiously, his hands fluttered out, brushing first John’s jumper, then his shoulders, then finally coming to rest on his neck, long fingers half-clasped at his hairline.

“John.”

“I’m here.” It was all Sherlock needed to hear; his breathing slowed and he half-closed his eyes, even as the wail of sirens reached their ears and Lestrade’s men frantically barked orders around them.

“John.”

“I’m here.” Sherlock’s thumb swept over his jugular. A different kind of adrenaline swooped low in his gut. “Sherlock, I –“

And then the paramedics were everywhere, prising them apart, yanking Sherlock flat on his back and nearly slamming John into the alley wall. The second they lost contact, however, Sherlock went mad.

“JOHN! JOHN! GIVE HIM BACK!

“Let me through!” John snarled, shouldering one of the paramedics so hard he knocked him over. Two more seized him by the shoulders and shoved him back to the sidewalk, pinning his arms so he couldn’t lash out. “Get off me!”

“If you don’t let go of him right now I will murder all of you and pin it on each other and that is a promise!” Sherlock snarled, so loudly that even Lestrade stopped to stare. John took advantage of the momentary distraction by wrenching away and sliding between the two medics, grabbing Sherlock’s flailing hand. He jerked away and tried to punch.

“Hey! Hey, you idiot, it’s me!”

“Oh.” Sherlock relaxed, still breathing hard but for all the world as if he was out having tea. “Hello again.”

John let out a puff of air that could have been a laugh. “Hello, you insufferable git,” he said affectionately, trying hard not to show how deeply unsettled he was by Sherlock’s dead-ahead gaze.

“Sir, I’m going to have to ask you –”

“Unless you’re planning on sedating both of them,” Lestrade called over, “I’d let him tag along, mate.”

The paramedic gave an audible sigh of frustration. “Fine. Try to stay out of the way.” He turned to the other medics, who were now sneaking up behind Sherlock with a neck brace. “Blunt force trauma to the optic nerve – stabilize him and get him to St. Bart’s, stat.”

“Right. Sherlock, they’re going to strap you into a neck brace but it’s just a neck brace, all right, it’s just a – Sherlock, calm down!” As soon as the neck brace touched his throat Sherlock went mad again, jerking away like a skittish dog. “Can’t you give him something to calm him down?” John asked a medic tersely. “A sedative isn’t really such a bad idea.”
“Back in the ambulance.” A stretcher was conjured from seemingly nowhere, Sherlock was lifted onto it, and they set off, John stumbling slightly as Sherlock’s hand tightened around his, vicelike.

“Don’t leave.” It was obviously supposed to be a command, but came out like a question.

“I won’t.” He squeezed back affectionately, climbing into the ambulance as a medic readied a needle for sedation. Sherlock sighed, closed his eyes, and with a wail the ambulance was off.

Chapter Text

TUESDAY

 

Sherlock had never put much stock in the notion of hell, but if he had, he would have considered it a place where he was constantly surrounded by the stupidest of the stupid, the dumbest of the dumb, where pop music played gratingly loudly and his company always insisted he explain his brilliant deductions but refused to understand.  Someplace a lot like central London, actually.

This was a hundred times worse.

No matter how he tried, he couldn’t adjust to the randomness of sensation without the common thread of sight to tie it all together.  The sudden wail of a siren, a fleeting scent of petrol or tea, the smack of his hip against a table – all there and gone, with no warning and sometimes no explanation.  That was the worst.  Yes, the table was his, but the siren – police or ambulance? Was Lestrade on a case or did some little old lady slip in the tub?  The tea – John or Mrs Hudson?  Or his own imagination? Was he going mad already?

He groaned audibly and buried his face further in the couch.

“Lie like that long enough and you’ll smother yourself.”

He turned his head just enough to catch a whiff of earthy spice as the edge of the couch gave way.  “Unless you’re here to offer up your corneas for an immediate transplant, I suggest you go away.”

Much to his irritation, John gave a wry chuckle.  “It’s not your corneas that are knackered, it’s your optic nerve, and it’ll be fine in a week or so.  Same with the concussion.”

“The question is not whether my optic nerve will be fine,” Sherlock growled into the couch, with all the venom he usually reserved for paedophiles, crap telly, and Anderson, “the question is whether I will have thrown myself out the window by then. Multiple times.”

“Sherlock, we’ve only been home six hours.”

Damn. Another inconvenient side effect; no light to judge the time by. Six hours.  Suddenly he couldn’t take it; he slammed his feet to the floor and swung himself into a stand with hardly a wobble, striding off toward (he hoped) the kitchen.

“What the hell are you doing?”

“I have several experiments on a very specific timetable, John, I cannot simply lie around invalided when there’s work to be done.”

“You cannot be – of course you are – Sherlock, sit down!” A surprisingly strong hand seized his shoulder and dragged him into a kitchen chair.  “You’re going to hurt yourself, and we’ve already agreed no more than one trip to A&E per week!”

“A ridiculous agreement made to keep you off my back and you know it,” Sherlock muttered, standing and promptly knocking over a pile of books.  Wrong way.  “Loss of vision heightens sensitivity to other sensory input, I’m perfectly capable of compensating –”

“Not with toxic chemicals and decomposing body parts!”

Sherlock rolled his eyes. A bit of an odd feeling when you couldn’t see.  “Honestly, John, you’re starting to remind me of Mycroft. Might I remind you I am not one of your imbecilic patients –”

“I don’t care if you’re the bloody pope, you’re not experimenting blind.”  There was a rustle of wool, and he could practically see John crossing his arms.

“Please, if I’m as much of a danger to myself as you claim on most days, I can hardly get worse, now, can I?”

The drip of the sink, the tick of the clock, the silent buzz of John thinking furiously.  Steps, clattering, the clink of glass on a table top and something being poured.  “You thirsty?”

Usually Sherlock was the master of the non sequitur. “Yes?”

A glass was slid into each hand.  “One’s water, one’s sulphuric acid. Drink up.”

Ah, a test. That was the John Watson he knew and – well, all that.  He hefted both glasses, carefully to avoid spilling, and swirled them expertly at chest level to create fumes.  One should burn his nose. One should not.

“There.” He took a hearty swig from one, and just to piss John off, he took a swig of the other too.  “Really, John, flimsy attempts at life-or-death ultimatums are beneath you.”

John huffed, scrambled around a bit more, and another dozen or so objects slammed to the table.  A dry rasp and a muffled whoosh, and then the muted stench of natural gas.  “Five Bunsen burners. One of them is lighted. Tell me which one without burning the shit out of yourself.”

Dammit. He’d been had and they both knew it.  He only knew the general direction of the table, and he couldn’t reach out without risking knocking one over or burning himself.  He was helpless as a child and the smug bastard was enjoying it.  “Turn them off before you poison us both.”

John complied, gathering them up and moving to shelve them.  Sherlock gave him a three-pace head start before springing up and heading for the refrigerator.  “Just because an open flame isn’t a good idea does not in any way mean I can’t – John, why won’t the refrigerator open?”

“Move your left hand up about three inches,” John called.

“Oh – a padlock, John?  That is . . . beyond dull.”

“You really need a new insult.”

“I could pick it.”

“You do and I’m shutting you in your room and pushing the cabinet in front of the door.  Besides, good luck finding your lock picks or your throwing knives or your distillation set or any of your chemicals, because it’s all been stowed away, to return when your vision is nothing less than twenty-twenty. And maybe not even then.”

“Stowed away?”

“Yes, and don’t even think about searching for them, because I’ve hidden them quite well, thank you.”

His mind was working furiously, but not at what it should have been.  “You had time to hide all my things? When?”

“What, you can find a serial killer with a pink suitcase but you can’t –”

“You promised me you wouldn’t leave,” Sherlock said quietly.

The pause that followed was quick and sharp as the stab of a knife.  “Look, I didn’t, all right? I asked Lestrade for some help and he and a few blokes from the Yard swung by.” Another pause. “I didn’t leave, I swear.”

“Yes. Good.” A bit unnerved by how relieved he felt, Sherlock busied himself feeling his way across the kitchen to where he knew a stack of case files were sitting.  A few more clumsy steps and a banged knee later and he was sitting on the couch, files stacked neatly on his lap.  “There. Time to start the day.”

“I realize some of your abilities border on the superhuman, but surely even you can’t read blind.”

“I can’t.” He turned his head in John’s direction and waited.

“Oh – come on, it’s my day off! This is not how I want to spend my day off!”

Great. John was going to help him, he always did, but he wanted Sherlock to work for it.  “How would you like to spend your day off?”

A sputtering pause.  One point to Sherlock.  “I don’t know, doing anything else! Watching telly, going for a walk, reading something I enjoy.”

“Crap telly bores you, you’re too worried I’ll do something stupid to go on a walk and you haven’t read a book in three months,” he reeled off, long fingers drumming the folders.  Usually by now he would be dissecting John’s appearance to see why he was so reluctant, deducing whether he had a date or had stayed up too late or whether he was just grumpy.  Or maybe he just wanted to hear Sherlock say it.  He did that with annoying regularity.  “Please.”

Definitely wanted to hear him say it.  “I’m sorry, what?”

“Please?”

He sighed, and Sherlock caught a breath of the same earthy spice as the sofa gave way beside him.  “Pass me the first file.” He complied, wriggling down so that his head was halfway down the back of the couch and his legs were sprawled out comfortably.

“Start at the beginning, move in chronological order, try not to add any personal remarks unless asked,” he instructed, closing his eyes from force of habit.  John made a sound he was beginning to know very well, a half-irritated, half-fond sound, and a hand briefly rubbed his leg.

He’d never noticed how warm John’s hands were, or how thick with calluses; they snagged at the flannel of his pyjamas as he moved, in a way that should be grating, but was oddly comforting.  The hands of a healer and the hands of a killer, all in one; reliable, capable hands.  Hands that until recently he really hadn’t had all that much contact with.  “What was that for?”

“I just – you’re going to be okay, do you know that? You’re going to be fine.” The hand disappeared, and there was a flurry of paper and the clearing of a throat that always meant John was embarrassed.  “All right, case one.  Forty-year-old man found in a meadow . . .”

 


 

“Come on, four of six is not a bad run for us mere mortals.”

“Four of six,” Sherlock snarled, standing up and letting the files scatter on the floor.  It had been hours, at least he was fairly certain, and his mind felt like a hamster on a wheel; the longer he ran, the less progress he made.  “Four of six! Sixty-seven percent, John, a drunk Anderson could do better than that!”

“If that was true you wouldn’t have them,” John pointed out reasonably, the files whispering dryly as he picked them up.  “You’ve got to cut yourself some slack, mate.  You’ve solved four cases mildly concussed and blind –”

Don’t say that word!” he barked, lashing out with a foot and feeling minor satisfaction as a book went spinning away.  His head was throbbing horribly and found himself quite willing to kill anyone in his vicinity; a part of him knew irritability was a side effect of concussion but the rest of him was busy writing expletives on every wall of his Mind Palace.  Which, to top it all off, seemed to have been filled with cotton.  Dear God, what if he was stuck like this?  What if he could never think again and was stuck just as hopelessly stupid as the rest of the population? He lashed out again, hearing the thwack of another book hitting the wall.  “That word is an abomination, a plague, a pestilence on an otherwise perfectly capable –”

“Sherlock.”

And Sherlock really did stop, because John was supposed to be shouting, yelling at him in exasperation to calm the hell down, but his voice was gentle, compassionate, a lilt to the end suggesting a smile.  No one had ever said his name like that before.  It sounded like something precious.  “Y-yes?”

John took two steps so he was directly in front of him.  “Look, I know you’re scared right now –”

“Am not,” he grumbled. His dazzling repartee had been reduced to that of a five-year-old. This just kept getting better.

“Of course not,” John said, still with the lilt of a smile.  “Look, one week of thinking like the rest of us won’t kill you – might even be good for you.  And then you’ll be back, I promise.  You’ll still be brilliant, okay? You’ll always be brilliant.” Something pressed into both his hands.  His violin.  “Play.”

John almost never suggested he play.  “Are you sure?”

John snorted.  “Well, if you were anyone else I’d say it’s ten o’clock and you should go to bed, but as is, I wouldn’t object to some music.”  He wrapped his hands around Sherlock’s, pressing the instrument and bow into his hands.  “Play, Sherlock. It’ll calm you down.” One last squeeze and he was gone, his footsteps fading toward the chair.

From the time he was ten, Sherlock had prided himself on autonomy.  Need was for the weak; stupid, helpless people leaning on others to save them from quicksand without having the brains to realize the others are sinking too.  As soon as he’d been shipped off to public school, he’d needed no one and nothing, even managing to minimize food and sleep.  The second John left the room, however, something shifted subtly.  The nearest sensation to it was being spun around once rapidly; not enough to be dizzying, but enough to lose all sense of direction.  Like a ship with its mooring cut. Adrift.

“John?”

He was back almost instantly, heavy footsteps tracing back toward him.  “Yes? What do you need?”

He hesitated, the words congealing nastily on his tongue, but he forced them out anyways.  “I don’t suppose – would you mind staying? Just a while,” he said hastily, because John really did value his sleep in a way that confounded Sherlock.

John didn’t reply, but the couch groaned as he sank down on it.  “Do you know the spring section of the Four Seasons?”

“You know Vivaldi?” Sherlock asked, surprised.

“Just the one,” he admitted, and Sherlock had to laugh.  “Go on, then. I’ll be here all night.”

“Thank you,” Sherlock breathed, tucked the violin under his chin, and swooped into song.

Chapter Text

WEDNESDAY

 

There were some days that his mind didn’t so much resemble a palace as a labyrinth.

Music swirled like snow as he delved deeper and deeper, burrowing into his thoughts.  The concussion had stretched them out, made them hazier and less coherent, so it felt more like walking through a montage than an actual train of thought.  A memory here, a riddle there, a half-solved equation scrawled on a wall, a childhood dog bolting past him . . . It was a leaden, weightless sensation, time crawling, music swimming by, and relics of his past surfacing and vanishing with ease.

A pebble from that trip to Littlehampton beach at age six, where Mummy had cried because he’d almost drowned and hadn’t let him explain that he wasn’t trying to die, he just wanted to count the sand dollars on the ocean floor and he’d forgotten he needed to breathe.

A half-melted ice cream on the ground from the zoo at age nine, where Mummy had yelled because one does not under any circumstances reach out to touch the tigers, even when trying to determine whether males or females typically had more stripes.

The threadbare blanket Mycroft had draped over his shoulders while explaining that no, Daddy was not coming back.  Not for Christmas, not for his birthday.  Daddy was gone.

And then he had to stop, because instead of an object a boy was crouched against the wall before him, a pallid little thing with scabs on his knees and a mop of dark curls.  He was staring straight ahead, knees pulled to his chest, face blank and unmoving.  So unmoving he hardly seemed to breathe.

Hello, Sherlock said tentatively, but the boy did not so much as flinch, merely continued to look and breathe and nothing else.  Can you hear me?

Slowly, slowly, the boy turned his head, meeting Sherlock’s gaze with eyes that were hooded and owlish and impossibly pale.  And all the breath left Sherlock’s lungs because it was him, it was him in a time he’d tried to delete and yet here he was.  He’d been four at the time, new to the wonders of his own brain, unsure of how to harness it.  There had been no palace then, merely a maze wrapped in a jungle wrapped in an adventure book.  He’d disappeared into it, thinking and thinking and thinking, and it had been so strangely wondrous that he’d forgotten to find a way out.  Mummy had found him, shaken him, shouted to the heavens, but he’d lost himself inside his own head, too caught up to even hear her screams.  Even the doctors she’d rushed him to could find no explanation; the best words they could find were self-induced coma. He’d clawed his own way out nine hours later, confused and unnerved at having changed locations and without the faintest idea of why everyone was so bloody terrified.  He’d spent decades building an entire palace just to make sure he would never get lost again.

Lost like he was now.

Except this time he had a lifeline, Ariadne’s string shining through the dark, but instead of a string it was a hand at his shoulder, a heavy, physical hand and actual audible words.

“I brought tea,” John murmured, and Sherlock was wrenched bodily back to 221B.  “I expect it drunk within the hour.  No passing out on me, understood?”

And he was out of the labyrinth but back in the transport, the damaged, blinded transport, so he nodded numbly and plunged into the maze, where he was lost and alone but at least he could see.

This time, however, there were things worth seeing, gleams of gold among the bleak:

That ridiculous cane John had conveniently forgotten on their first chase, when they’d shared their first joke and giggled like fools.

A severed digit from when John had come flying into the den clutching a towel that barely covered his arse, shouting that there were fucking fingers in the shower.

A red glass ornament from when John had forced him to help decorate the Christmas tree, tasking him with creating the garlands and being repaid with a pelting of popcorn and cranberries until they were both howling with laughter.

“You need to eat. Biscuits on the table.”

So the dance began, the losing and the finding, Sherlock forgetting himself and the hand at his shoulder gently reminding, over and over.

“Play some Tchaikovsky, I love that.”

“That tea still isn’t drunk.  Don’t make me force-feed you.”

“Stop thinking.  You get so cross and the music sounds bloody awful when you try to think.  Just play for me.”

And so he did, the melodies changing from dark and violent to sweet and gentle, even happy at times, and he stopped going back to the labyrinth.  Because to his eternal surprise, he couldn’t see here, but John was here, and maybe he’d prefer being blind to being alone after all. Just maybe.

“I need to go to bed, mate, but I’ll be back in the morning.  You sure you’ll be all right?”

He paused in his song, turning the question over in his mind.  “Yes,” he said honestly, surprising himself.  “John . . . thank you.”

John didn’t say anything, only squeezed his shoulder again.  And when Sherlock played on, this time a lullaby to ease John’s way to slumber, he found himself smiling.

Chapter Text

THURSDAY

 

It was only after he’d exhausted his musical repertoire that he heard the music.

It was soft, grainy, almost gramophone quality.  At first Sherlock thought he was imagining it; surely even with all the information he’d deleted he would have noticed John acquire a gramophone.  But there it was again, some obscure jazz song fluttering down the stairs, and he was so damnably bored that he found himself groping around for the stair rail and hauling himself up the stairs.

As he neared the source of the music he recognized the scratchiness as synthetic; the song was playing from a laptop and had only been made to sound vintage.  It still didn’t explain why John’s room sounded like a party at Gatsby’s, however, so he found the doorknob after a few fumbling tries and pushed it as far open as he dared.

He could just make out a light on the opposite side of the room, presumably the window, and something flickering in front of it every few seconds.  It took him much longer than it should have to realize the shadow was John himself, rocking rhythmically back and forth.  The floorboards creaked out a pattern as he stepped hesitantly forward and back, mumbling to himself.  Sherlock found this mildly worrying until he realized what he was saying.

“One, two, three, four . . . One, two, three – ah, bugger, wait . . . All right, one, two three, four . . .”

“Are you – dancing?”

The rhythm dropped off abruptly, the music cutting off with a clatter of keys.  “Dammit, Sherlock, do you even know how to knock?”

“I didn’t know you danced.” He’d thought he knew everything about John.

“I don’t.” At first he didn’t elaborate, as though hoping the silence would cause Sherlock to lose interest.  When Sherlock made it abundantly clear that he wasn’t moving, however, he sighed.  “Teresa does, and apparently some blathering prat with one too many beers in him told her I do too. Oh wait, that was me.”

Sherlock felt his face twitch as he fought for composure. “Ah. I see.”

“I know you’re laughing at me, you bastard.” But there was a tinge of a smile to his voice.

“It is ridiculously easy to do so,” Sherlock said with a supreme shrug.  “So are you any good?”

“Oh yes, I’m – I’m absolute rubbish, I can’t even joke about this, I’m probably going to elbow her in the face all night long or she’ll go in for a dip and I’ll drop her and it’ll be a great bloody disaster.”

The most ridiculous mental image of John dressed as a flamenco dancer burst like a bubble in Sherlock’s head, and all the restraint in his body wasn’t enough to keep a mangled snort from catching in his throat.  John snorted too, and flopped back on the bed with a groan.  “I give up. I’ll cancel.”

“You will do no such thing.” Sherlock took two steps forward, hands out slightly, until one brushed the bed and the other John’s knee.  “Up you get.”

He felt John tense, immediately on guard.  “Why, what’re you doing?”

“Really, John, you think I made it through five years of public school without being coerced into some ghastly dancing lessons?”

“Let me get this straight – you deleted your knowledge of the solar system rather than dancing lessons from your school days.”

“Of course. Mummy would have killed me.” He tugged again, more insistently.  “Do you want to make a liar of yourself or not?”

“There is no way you dance.”

“You doubt my abilities?” Sherlock asked haughtily, feeling his way up the bed to tug at John’s sleeve.  “And here I thought I was ‘brilliant’ and ‘fantastic’ and all that.”

“I didn’t mean you couldn’t, I meant surely Sherlock Holmes doesn’t dance.”

He had a point.  “Not with just anyone, but I suppose I can make an exception.” He smirked crookedly. John always liked that. “Come on, surely even your brain can hold a few simple steps inside it long enough to impress some insipid nurse.”

“Do you know even when you’re being helpful you’re a complete arse?” But he hauled himself to his feet, chuntering under his breath about how daft he must be to take dancing lessons from the man who leaves severed ears lying about on the kitchen counter.  Sherlock wasn’t sure how the two activities were correlated, but that was John for you.

“Enough with the histrionics.  Start the music again.”  John complied, turning it up irrationally loudly as if he could somehow drown out his palpable embarrassment.  “Now hands out.”  But here they both went for the waist, tangling arms and accidentally poking each other in the side.  “John.”

“No.”

“You’re shorter.”

“You put more product in your hair than most women.”

Sherlock could almost see that jut of jaw that meant he wasn’t going to win.  “Fine, but only because I’m still not sure you can reach my shoulder.” Before John could find a witty rejoinder or possibly knee him in the groin, he seized him by the shoulder and pulled him close.  Too close; for the briefest of moments they were pressed flush, chest to chest, before John came to his senses and pulled away.

“Right,” he said too forcefully, “what next?”

“Ah.” The cotton in the Mind Palace seemed to have abruptly thickened.  He cleared his throat.  “All right, first step on the beat is forward with the left foot.” He stepped and John stepped and bloody hell, they collided again.  “No, John, when I step forward –”

“I am not going out only knowing the girl’s part, Sherlock, now let me lead or I swear I will spin you round three times and set you loose like a kid at a birthday party.”

“You wouldn’t.”

“Try me.”

He would.  “Fine. Left forward, right forward, left side, right close, and go –” He dragged John backwards, who was so caught off-guard that he took an extra step forward and they collided for a third time.  “Oh – do come on, John.”

“Would you ruddy slow down a bit?”

“You do understand the basic concept of dance is that you step on the beat, correct?” Sherlock snapped, more irritated at the fact that the brush of John’s nose seemed to have imprinted on his shoulder like memory foam than at his partner’s inherent slowness.

“Fine!” John snapped, and barrelled forward, practically carrying Sherlock through the steps.  His hand slipped around Sherlock’s back, almost lifting him off his feet.  “That any better?”

“Much,” Sherlock said, although his voice didn’t sound much like himself.  “That – that’s it, basically, there are more complicated steps but I doubt you’ll need them.”

John was quiet for a moment, and Sherlock could feel the twitch of his foot tapping.  “Forward, forward, side, close.  Suppose I can do that.” And his next words were full of his smile.  “Ready?”

“I –” But before he could answer he was being whipped around, yanked by the waist until he had lost any and all sense of direction.  John’s steps were plodding and heavy but surprisingly fast, and while Sherlock prided himself on his reflexes he barely managed to step in time to keep from being bowled over.  Two quick turns about the room and he had no idea where he was, the music swinging dizzily around him, everything swimming but the rock-solid touch at his back and the crushing grip at his hand.  “John – God’s sake –”

“Think you can keep up, Ginger Rogers?” John breathed in his ear, and Sherlock felt his lips curl into a challenging grin as if without his volition.  And they were off again, swinging frantically and utterly without grace around the room.  Sherlock had never danced the female part before and was so disoriented by the lack of direction and the music and the touch that he kept accidentally stepping forward even as John stepped God-knows-where, knocking knees and bumping chests and even somehow smacking heads.  This was getting ridiculous.  John paused to let out a shout of laughter and Sherlock seized the lead, his steps smoother and surer as he found himself on familiar ground once more.

“Sherlock!”

“You can’t dance!”

“You can’t see!

“I’m still better off than you!” John tried to take the lead and Sherlock blocked, and again, and then John forced him back and he countered by leading the next step, and soon they were tromping about the room like a drunk spider, all legs and knees and occasionally elbows as both grappled to retain the lead for longer than two steps. John’s arm had come around so tightly it was almost circling his waist and Sherlock’s fingers were furled so tightly in his shoulder that it had to be painful, and they’d turned in so many circles that they could be on the moon for all he knew, because the only thing he was certain of at the moment was dizziness and John –

His knees caught the bed and he pulled John down on top of him.

All the breath left him in a whoosh, not just because John was heavy (which he was, undeniably, but not so much weighty as solid) but because of the flood of sensation that rushed over him.  John’s breath was sputtering with exertion, his chest pressing sharply into Sherlock’s with each gasp, and his arm had gotten pinned underneath with his fingertips splayed at Sherlock’s shoulder blade.  For his own part, Sherlock’s pulse had skyrocketed the second they slammed back into the far-too-soft bed, his hand clenching around John’s so tightly he couldn’t tell whose fingers were whose anymore.  His hair was soft and his jeans were rough and the stud of his waistband was digging in at Sherlock’s stomach, just above his –

John vaulted to his feet, his fingers vanishing so abruptly Sherlock felt as though part of his hand had been torn away.  The entire episode had taken all of three seconds and yet Sherlock was breathing as though he’d run a marathon, and noted with interest that John’s sharp huffs sounded about the same.  “Well. Thanks. Guess I’ve got it about down.”

“Suppose so.” Sherlock was still splayed out over the bed like an idiot; he pulled himself far more slowly to his feet, dusting himself off and fervently glad that he had an excuse not to meet John’s eye.  “Good luck.”

“Thanks.” The worst pause in the history of awkward silences.  “Shall I help you back downstairs?”

It was a dismissal, and Sherlock took it as such.  “No, thank you,” he said coolly, running his fingers along the bed until he found the wall.  “I think I can manage.” And without another word, he strode from the room, mercifully managing not to collide with the doorframe.

He made straight for the living room, feeling about until he found his violin. Forty-seven seconds exactly; he was getting rather good at this.  Most days the violin helped him think, but on days like this he was fervently glad of its ability to stop him from thinking, to keep his mind off of anything but the next note, the next bar, the next song.  Because no matter what, he did not want to think about that hand in his, that comforting weight, the jumper that should have been frumpy but felt like home, and the fact that his entire body was screaming at him to get the hell back up those stairs and . . .

And he had no idea.

Chapter Text

FRIDAY

 

John was gone.

Sherlock still couldn’t read the clock, although the dying light told him it was sometime in the evening.  He’d put down his violin (gently, as he still wasn’t sure where the case was) and asked John if he was hungry, and he simply wasn’t there.

“John?” The flat echoed slightly. Nothing.  “John?”  His own voice bounced uselessly back at him.  John usually answered by the second call.

Do. Not. Panic.

He was just out for a stroll, that was all, just out enjoying the night or grabbing a beer or chasing some serial killer down back alleys except he wouldn’t do that without Sherlock, so it was useless to worry, of course he wasn’t worried, and if John got in trouble which he wouldn’t or got hurt which he couldn’t whoever he was with would phone Lestrade, who would take care of him until Sherlock could get there.  He wasn’t going to get hurt, of course he wasn’t, he never got hurt except when he was with Sherlock and Sherlock was always there to pick up the pieces so it didn’t count and if he got hurt which he wouldn’t Sherlock would be there as always except how would Sherlock know because he wasn’t with John and why wasn’t he with John –

Do. Not. PANIC.

Phone. He had to find his phone.  He sat back on the couch and started fluttering his fingers like a pianist over the coffee table, desperately searching for his mobile.  His fingers, however, rebelled against him in not-panic and clumsily knocked the mobile from the table, sending it skittering across the carpet.  He swore foully and dived to recover it, only to pull back swearing even more foully as his forehead smacked squarely into the corner of the table.  Grumbling every expletive in every language he knew, he grabbed the table and crawled around it on all fours, ears burning with humiliation even though there was no one to witness it. His knee struck his phone and he snatched it up, curling into a kneel in the middle of the living room.  Navigating from memory, he managed to pound the keyboard until a new message pulled up, his fingers not moving nearly fast enough.

 

Where are you

SH

 

He’d already pushed SEND before realizing the fundamental problem with his reasoning: even if John did respond, there was no way to read it.  He’d never bothered learning where the read-aloud setting was on his phone; he’d never imagined a situation where he’d need it.  Stupid. Stupid.

He threw the phone. It bounced off something and landed God-knows-where.  Pointless, but he was quickly discovering there was something supremely satisfying about sending things flying across the room when frustrated.  Still, nothing else was in reach, and he was certain that if he kept kneeling in the living room like an invalid he would go mad. Or possibly madder.

So he got to his feet and strode across the room, uncaring of the half-dozen objects he stepped on in the process.  He got as far as the kitchen before stopping dead.  In all honesty, he hated his room; it was blank, cold, nearly untouched for lack of sleep.  Too impersonal. Nothing in this flat felt personal.

His hand brushed the back of a chair and tangled in heavy fabric, almost knocking it to the floor.  He scrambled to snatch it before it fell, and caught a whiff of tea and the musky earth he was starting to associate with John. John’s coat.  Straightening abruptly, he held it out in front of him as though examining it, both fists clenched in its folds.  The longer he held it, the more he could discern, if not properly deduce; the third button was missing and his cologne wafted from the folds of the material, and for the life of him he couldn’t seem to let go.  In three rapid paces he was back on the couch, clutching the jacket underneath him, facedown in the rough fabric.  It smelled amazing – petrichor, that was the word he was looking for, that lush earth-after-rain scent – and felt even better, one sleeve snagging on his cheek gently as a kiss. The panic was still there, of course, but ebbing, forced into the Mind Palace’s broom closet and locked away.  The cotton filling it was still thick and heavy, however, and even though he didn’t remember so much as closing his eyes, soon enough he was jolting awake as the door opened.

 “Sherlock, what are you doing?”

He sprang up, staggering as he tried to orient himself.  John was at the door, smelling of Guinness and cigarette smoke and surprise.  Knowing full well there was no logical explanation for this, Sherlock slowly reached down, hung the jacket over the back of the couch, and sat back down witch considerably more poise, as if by erasing the evidence he could ensure it had never happened.  “Why . . . wait, is that mine?”

“You left,” he said quietly.

“What?”

“You left me!”

“It’s Friday night, I was out with Teresa.”

“You left me for a date?

“Well, what did you expect, you great prat?  I can hardly wait around forever for you to –”

“For me to what?” Fuming silence.  “John, for me to what?”

“Get better!”

“That is not what you were going to say! I’m not an idiot!”

“I never said you were – God, Sherlock, when are you going to learn to leave well enough alone?”

There was real anger in that question, and something Sherlock couldn’t identify.  The annoyance seeped out of him at that, because it wasn’t often John was unreadable to him and to be perfectly honest, it was enough to worry him a bit.  “I’m sorry.” Silence.  “John, I’m sorry.”

John sighed, and he could hear the tension escape with the sound.  “I was coming back, you know.  I always come back.”  Something warm and calloused brushed his hairline – fingertips.  His breath came back in a rush as if John had somehow handed it back to him, because in his panic he’d forgotten one of the most elementary principles of 221B: People left. John didn’t.

Suddenly needing something more than words, he reached out hesitantly, waving his fingers until they brushed the nappy wool of John’s collar.  “Come here.”

A quiet snort.  “I am here.”

“No,” he insisted, bringing his other hand up to hold him more securely, “come here.” And he dragged him onto the couch beside him.

Warm. That was his first impression.  Good, gentle, comforting warmth, like sunlight through a window.  Denim and wool, freshly laundered, and he was painfully aware of how long it had been since he’d changed his pyjamas.  The second was that he’d been wrong, that long-ago day at Buckingham Palace: John wasn’t short, not exactly.  Short implied being small, almost delicate, and John Watson wasn’t either of those.  He was compact, strong and sure as a brick wall.  That being said, it wasn’t a perfect fit by any means; the couch was narrow and they were not, so their heads knocked and their legs tangled together before they found the right angle.  Then all at once Sherlock’s gangliness wrapped around John’s compactness and they snapped into place like pieces of a puzzle, John stretched out on the couch and Sherlock curled over him, catlike.  John shifted, making a sound deep in his throat, and Sherlock realized his fingers were still tangled in his jumper; irrationally, they tightened every time he moved, as though by sheer will he could keep John exactly where he was.

And then those curiously comforting hands were there again, one pressed flat against the small of his back and the other curving at the place where his neck met his shoulder.  “You can let go now,” he said gently.  “I’m not going anywhere, I promise.”

Slowly, a bit painfully after clenching so tight, his fists unfurled, although now he was unsure what to do with them; the last time he’d been this close to someone he . . . he couldn’t remember.  Of course John seemed to know exactly what he was thinking; the hand at his throat lifted and landed on his, guiding it down to John’s waist.  “There. Keep me from falling off, would you?”

Sherlock let out a breath that might’ve passed for a laugh and nodded, his nose brushing John’s chin as his head bobbed.  The hand disappeared from his own and reappeared in his hair, tracing glorious circles through the curls.  “On second thought, sleep.  You look like you need it.”

He really did intend to obey this time, but the second he closed his eyes John’s clever fingers swooped just over his ear, and something in his head shifted, like an engine turning over.  Slowly but surely, the fragmented maze of his Mind Palace was pulling itself back together, the cotton dissolving so that he could focus on the reassembling rather than the wreckage.  He almost felt like himself again.  And God, it was good.

His lips curved. “John.”

“Yes?” John’s voice was fuzzy, as though he was the one supposed to be sleeping.

“I can think.”

Chapter Text

SATURDAY

 

“How are you feeling?”

Sherlock blinked into reality, slipping out the door of his considerably tidier Mind Palace.  For the first time, he was seeing something other than lights and shadows; there were the fuzziest trace of shapes in his eyes, a tangle of blotches and shadows that still didn’t make any sense but was a damn sight more interesting than greyish-black.  John was no longer beside him, but sitting on the couch just above his head, rustling a newspaper.

“Head hurts rather badly. What time is it?”

“Eleven in the morning. You’ve been sleeping for ages.”

“Not sleeping. Thinking.”

“I told you to sleep,” John said, exasperated.

“And I wanted to think.” He stretched, noting the stiffness from a second night on the couch and winced as a wave of pain hit his temples.  “Ugh, that hurts.”

“Need anything? Breakfast, a cold compress, painkillers?”

Sherlock paused in the act of massaging his own skull. “Why?”

“Why would you need anything?”

“Why are you so intent on taking care of me? Why all the concern?” That was it, he realized; that was the question he’d been turning over in his head since he’d come back from the hospital.

John shifted on the couch, silent, and seemed to be measuring his words.  “Well, I suppose I do feel a bit guilty about leaving last night – I mean, I did promise.  But . . . come on, we’re friends, right?  That’s what friends do for each other.”

“Oh.” Not the answer he was looking for, but for the life of him he didn’t know was.  “Well, at any rate, thank you.”

“No problem,” John said, sounding pleasantly surprised.  “So you’re sure you don’t need anything?  I know eating’s not really your thing, but I have it on good authority that food tastes good.”

“No digestion. I just regained my ability to think, I’m not surrendering it so readily.” He hesitated.  Social norms would file the previous night under “exigent circumstances” and dictate he not bring it up again, but his head was throbbing quite badly.  “I don’t suppose . . . you could do that thing from last night? With your fingers?”

He could practically feel the heat radiating from John’s face.  “You’ve got to learn to be more specific.”

“Why? No one else is here.”

He let out that little huff he always did when he was beaten, and Sherlock had to smile.  “Fine.  Come here.” He smacked his knees with his palms, and Sherlock wriggled up to lay his head on them.

Unfortunately, his sight being what it was, he dropped his head a bit too close for comfort and had to jerk back up again and the whole thing was just uncomfortable as hell.  Damn it all, he was actually blushing.  “Um – er –I –”

“Oh, good God, here,” John said exasperatedly, taking Sherlock’s head in his hands and guiding it considerably further down his legs.  “Just stay there and we’ll all be fine, all right?”

“Mm-hmm,” he mumbled, for once at a loss for words, and John’s fingertips began to move through his hair again, each swoop easing away the pain as if by magic.  Sherlock Holmes had never put much stock in physical contact but dear God, this had to be what heaven felt like.  It was just like he needed.  Of course it was what he needed, it was John, John always knew what he needed – how did he do that?

After what could have been five minutes or half an hour, the hands in question hesitated; maybe he thought he’d fallen asleep.  “Is that better?”

“Mm, dear God, don’t stop,” he rumbled, arching his neck into the touch like a cat.

A throat cleared halfway across the room.  “This a bad time?”

John jumped up so fast Sherlock nearly tumbled off the couch.  “Lestrade!”

“Mrs Hudson let me in, but – but I can come back, you know, if you’re . . . busy.”

“Nonsense,” Sherlock said briskly, springing up off the couch. Lestrade didn’t care that deeply about his health; there was one reason he would come.  “What have you got for me?”

John, true to form, came around a step behind.  “Oh no. No, you cannot be serious.”

“We need his help.”

“Well, you’re just going to have to manage, because he’s not going anywhere until he can see.  Doctor’s orders.”

“Look, there’s a body that looks like it’s been mauled by a dog in a flat locked from the inside, now –”

“Really?” Sherlock said, intrigued.  “Were there –?”

“Sit down,” John growled, and Sherlock drew back, because John was using his Army Voice.  He’d only used his Army Voice once before, and usually it meant the recipient was in danger of physical harm if he did not comply.  Even more interestingly, Sherlock noted that his heart rate had elevated slightly as soon as he heard it, and there was a slight sheen of sweat condensing on his palms. Odd.

“Just give it two minutes, that’s all he usually needs –”

“Not going to happen.” John’s voice was getting terse.

“You’re being ridiculous,” Sherlock said, finding his voice and rolling his eyes.  Still an odd feeling, despite a few patches and shapes.  “I’ll be fine –”

“Stay out of this, Sherlock!” John snapped, grabbing his elbow and pulling him behind him.

“Look, John, he’ll be surrounded by policemen, they’ll have eyes on him constantly –”

“I don’t care! Look at him, Greg, hasn’t he done enough for you? He’s fucking blind! What more do you want?!”

The room seemed to echo, both Sherlock and Lestrade too surprised by his shout to respond. “It’s a crime scene, John, not the Afghan desert,” Sherlock said quietly.  “I’ll be perfectly safe.”

“What, like you always are on cases? Cases where you get chased and beaten and shot at? What happens when you get shot at and you can’t fucking see?

Sherlock pulled up short, wishing for the thousandth time he could see his flatmate’s face.  It took a hell of a lot to rattle John Watson, but at the moment he sounded genuinely worried.  “I rarely get shot at the actual scene of the crime,” he pointed out, attempting to peel John’s fingers from his sleeve.  Undeterred, John pulled so that their backs were to Lestrade, his fingers tightening even more.

“But what if you get hurt?” he asked, his voice low and urgent.  “I can’t let that happen, not again.”

Almost without his volition, his hand came up to cover John’s.  “It’s no less dangerous than letting me hang about here bored,” he joked, but John didn’t even have to reply for him to know he wasn’t convinced.  “I’ll be fine, John. I’ll be with you, won’t I?”

That seemed to be the only thing that could’ve made John relax, if only marginally.  “One word from me and you’re back here, understand?”

“Perfectly.” He smiled, and he knew John smiled back.

Lestrade cleared his throat so loudly it had to hurt.  “Yes. Case. Dead body.”

“Text me the address, we’ll take a cab and meet you there,” Sherlock said briskly, adjusting John’s grip on his elbow to the traditional blind-guide position.  “Lead the way, Dr Watson.”

 


 

Crime scenes were supposed to be messy.  They were supposed to be bloody, possibly smelly, almost always dirty.  Sherlock thrived on that messy, on the I-Spy-like jumble that camouflaged the essential and set his mind whirling.  Crime scenes were supposed to be chaos.

They were not supposed to be an indiscernible blur.

“Where’s the damn body?” he hissed to John in frustration, under the pretext of straightening his scarf.

“Two o’clock,” he murmured, gently pulling on his elbow until he was angled in the right direction.  “Sprawled on the floor with his throat torn out.  Quite nasty, really.”

“How far?”                                                        

“Two paces.” He stepped forward and Sherlock followed him, until something in the carpet squished under his shoes. Ah, blood. Now they were getting somewhere.

“Watch it, freak, I don’t want your footprints all over my crime scene,” Donovan called from somewhere, her usual snort of derision.

Sherlock turned to deduce her to pieces . . . and found that it was much harder to deduce what he couldn’t see.  “Yes, Sally. I’ll . . . keep that in mind.”

The room quieted slightly, palpably surprised; that was the third time in his adult life he’d failed to find a sufficiently witty rejoinder.  John’s grip on his elbow tightened.  “It’s too soon,” he murmured so only Sherlock could hear.  “If you need to go, just say the word –”

“Please, John, not in front of the children,” he said brusquely, pulling free of John’s grasp.  For the first time since Baker Street, including the cab ride, John let him go, and Sherlock felt a twinge in his chest that he only belatedly realised was regret.

“So.” He cleared his throat and snapped out his magnifying glass, although all it got him was a magnified blur. Fantastic.  “I don’t suppose you could describe the scene for me?”

Silence. Even better – he was still blind and now his seeing-eye dog was having a strop. His usual MO would be to let John sulk until he was ready to come back, but he was uncomfortably aware of the eyes watching him from behind; he was supposed to have results, now.

More huffy silence.  His pride prickled.  “Fine. Have it your way.” Snapping his collar up defiantly, he stood with more flair than necessary and strode over to the wall, his hands out slightly until they brushed against the wall.  Cheap wallpaper, peeling slightly at the corners; an old apartment, definitely not in line with the vaguely visible business suit the body was dressed in.  Separated, then, living out of his savings account.  He ran his fingers along until he found the corner, turning around to survey the room.  A couple blotches, some person-shaped blobs.  Blobs that were staring at him expectantly.  He tried to move back to the body, but a table caught against his side and he had to clutch at it to keep it from toppling over.  In an attempt to salvage the remnants of his dignity, he smoothed his palms over its surface, making a soft “ah” noise as if gleaning some sort of inspiration from an imitation-oak table top.  John snorted audibly, while Sally snickered something unpleasant to Anderson. The frustration bubbling in his stomach increased tenfold.

“So you know what happened yet?” Lestrade asked.

It was that innocuous little question that finally sent him over the edge.  “No, Lestrade, I do not know what happened yet,” he replied testily, each word steadily turning into a snarl, “I do hope it is not too inconvenient that I'm taking longer than usual to do your job, but perhaps you'll grant me a special dispensation on account of I can't see.  Is that what you wanted to hear? Is that what you've all been waiting for me to admit? Fine! Fine! I can't see a damned thing and I can't deduce what I can't see, so what am I doing here? Why even bother?  The great Sherlock Holmes, the world's only consulting detective, brought low by a half-hearted blow to the head! Why not just shoot him and put him out of his misery? Why not just put him down like the useless mutt he is?”  He sank down and rocked back onto his haunches, breathing hard, hands at his temples.  The cotton had invaded Mind Palace again, except this time it was on fire with frustration, scorching the walls, wiping out valuable data, blocking out everything but his own self-loathing.  His breathing was speeding up, his heart pounding out of control; dimly, as if from a great distance, he heard Donovan stage-whisper, “The freak's finally gone mad.”

And then like a torch in the dark there was that gun-calloused hand on his shoulder, that tea and petrichor in the air.  His heart rate slowed, if only minimally; such a heady rush of relief washed over him that he found himself leaning into the touch like a lifeline.  “Sherlock. It’s going to be all right.”

“I can’t,” he rasped, licking his painfully dry lips.  “I can’t –” Can’t what?  It was obvious he couldn’t think, his little display had ensured everyone south of Edinburgh knew that; so here he stood, stammering like a cretin with no new information to offer. God, he was never going to hear the end of this, surely half the Yard was whipping out camera phones even now –

“Hey. Hey.” Both hands on his shoulders now, breath tickling his face.  “You know what?  Ignore them. You said they were idiots and you were right, so just shut them out and don’t waste another thought on them.  Just focus on me. Can you do that?”

He nodded, taking a deep, centring breath.  Focus on John. The callouses scratching at his coat, the faint scent of tea and musk, the blurred haze where his face should be, where he could feel the concern pooling.  From anyone else it would be condescending, but it was just . . . John.

“Better. Much better. Now tell me what you need me to do.”

Another steadying breath.  “Be my eyes.  Tell me everything, down to the last detail, down to the last fibre on his jacket.” He reached out until he found his collarbone and fisted his fingers in the cable knit, desperate that he understand.  “You have to be observant, John, you have to tell me everything.”

“I can do that.” He left off the I think, but they both heard it loud and clear.  Still, warm fingers threaded through his own and guided them back to the cosy fold of his elbow so they could both face the body, and somehow Sherlock was far more reassured than he should have been.   “All right, well, body's late-to-mid fifties, balding, bit of a paunch, cheap suit but expensive watch.  Tan line on the ring finger suggests separated or divorced, fairly recently.  According to the crime scene report he's recently back from Singapore on business.  Nothing in his immediate vicinity but an unused hypodermic needle and a . . . football, fresh new one, but –”

“A football?” Sherlock narrowed his eyes, the Mind Palace slowly but surely emptying itself out.  “Why would a fat corporate man have a football?”

“Sherlock, there's something off about this ball . . .”

Sherlock wasn't strictly speaking listening.  “Has anybody checked his closet?” he called to the house at large, almost rising, but that would mean breaking contact with John, so he decided against it.  “Has anybody looked through his clothes?”

“Nothing, er, suspicious,” Lestrade said, although his tone said there was something plenty suspicious about the current situation.  “Just clothes and the like.”

“Any sportswear, anything you would exercise in?  Football cleats, socks, shorts, anything?”

“Um, a few t-shirts, some pyjama pants, but now that you mention it, not really.” A short pause as Lestrade caught up.  “So what's a bloke like this doing with a football?”

“Sherlock, this football is not normal, the air plug is . . . here, feel.” His hand wrapped around Sherlock's wrist and guided it into the football, his fingertips brushing what should have been an air plug but was instead larger and far more complex.

“So the thieves somehow managed to smuggle a dog in here, rip out his throat, and claw in a football . . . why?  What was so special about this football? What could have been inside it?”

“Could've been another smuggling operation, maybe jewels or artefacts, but it doesn't explain how there isn't a single dog hair or paw print or anything.  Best we got was a few inconclusive bloody smudges and a door that was locked from the inside.”

“Any sign of forced entry by the window?”

“Locked, and no one’s fingerprints but his own.”  Lestrade made an audible nose of frustration.  “So if something was in the football, where could it have gone?”

“Well, it could hardly have just walked away, now, could it?” Sherlock asked testily, trying to take a step and accidentally kicking the body in the face.  “You said there was a hypodermic needle.  What was in it?”

“A sedative, something barbiturate.  You think he was a junkie?”

“Can’t’ve been,” John said, shifting a bit awkwardly so he could examine the body while still tucking Sherlock’s hand reassuringly against him.  “No previous needle marks, and somehow I doubt he just happened to get mauled the first time he tried shooting up.”

“So he intended to sedate something else, possibly the dog coming after him, but for some reason was unable to deliver the dose in time, but how would a dog gain access to a locked room . . . ?”

“Sherlock,” John said.

“Are there any other points of entry?  A bathroom window, a fire escape?”

“The best we could find was an air vent that was missing a grille, but there’s no way a human could fit through,” Lestrade said.  “Or a dog big enough to do that kind of damage to a man’s neck.”

“Sherlock,” John said, tugging slightly.

“He was a smuggler, for God’s sake, surely there’s some kind of escape hatch or trapdoor that your lot was simply too thick to notice –”

“Sherlock, the football!”

“Yes, John, there was something in the football that the dog wanted, brilliant deduction, now do try to keep up,” Sherlock said impatiently, his brain still ticking away, although today it more closely resembled a hamster on a wheel than its usual well-oiled machine.

“But that’s just it, I think the dog was in the football.”

That stopped just about everyone dead.  “Come again?” Lestrade asked politely, while Sherlock just stared at the blur that was his once-sane flatmate.

“Look here . . .” John wrapped his hand around the outside of Sherlock’s, a bit awkwardly as his was somewhat smaller, and guided him until he was fingering the rough edges of the torn ball.  “The casing is peeled outward, not inward, like something burst out rather than dug in.  And there are a bunch of little claw marks –” Fingers pressed his down gently until he felt the needle-thin marks in the rubber “– all along the inside, but the outside is fine.  That’s why he had the sedative; he already knew about the animal.  Whatever hurt him clawed its way out of the football first.”

And then in a flash of neurons it was all there,  all perfect and solved and there was a rush of euphoria more miraculous than dropping a puzzle and having every piece fall in place.

“Of course,” he breathed, and then he was off, whirling in his usual circle around the room, knocking Donovan to one side and making Anderson slam into the wall in his haste to get out of the way.  “Of course! So bloody obvious, dunno how I didn’t think of it before – I must be getting as bad as you cretins! It all makes sense, the football, the needle, Singapore! Singapore! John, you’re brilliant!” And having come full circle he seized John’s shoulders, popped a kiss on his forehead, and led him by the arm out of the flat.

“Wait – where are you going?”

“Home!” Sherlock called merrily over his shoulder.  “Nothing more to do!”

“But you haven’t told us who killed him!”

“I don’t know, not yet at least, but I do know how, and that was what you all brought me in for, wasn’t it?”

“Then how?” The all-too-familiar howl of frustration made him grin, even as he dragged the curiously silent John down the stairs.

Singapore!

Chapter Text

SUNDAY

 

It was an odd day, even by 221B standards; and it was odd in that it was utterly uneventful.  Sherlock lounged on the couch, waiting, tracing patterns in the ceiling and straining his eyes to read a few case files.  By lunchtime he could read as far as three feet away without too much difficulty.  He’d always been a fast healer, and today especially he was grateful for that.  The clock seemed to have slowed to a crawl, eleven o’clock growing further and further away rather than closer, and John wasn’t helping anything; he hadn’t said a single word since they’d left the crime scene, although since breakfast he’d periodically walked into the den, lifted a hand as if to say something, and just as suddenly walked away.

It was probably that . . . that appalling display of affection at the crime scene.  He would have brushed it off, explained it away, but in all honesty it had caught him by complete surprise; it hadn’t even registered until they were halfway home, and by then John had been so impassively silent for so long he was afraid to say anything.  So he shoved it into the basement of the Mind Palace, where it pulsed like a living thing, and busied himself with cases, solving two and driving himself half-mad with the other five, although he didn’t mind it at all because the madder he was the less he thought about John’s forehead against his mouth.

“Everything all right here?”

He started, snapping his head around to stare.  After nearly thirty-six hours of silence he hadn’t been sure whether John was even in the flat anymore.  “Depends,” he said slowly.  “What time is it?”

“Nearly eleven-thirty.”

And he had to smile, because finally, the waiting was over.  “John, let’s take a walk.”

 


 

The night air was cool and damp, a fine mist clinging to the breeze.  It was just cool enough to be comfortable in his long coat, and even though he could only make out headlights, neon flashes and street lamps, he was starting to feel in his element again.  The easy pressure at his elbow didn’t hurt either.

“You still haven’t told me where we’re going.”

“Can’t a couple of old friends enjoy an evening stroll together?” Sherlock said easily, taking a right turn at seventy-nine paces.  John followed, albeit hesitantly.  The blind leading the blind.  How very poetic.

“A couple of old friends who aren’t us, yeah.”  He adjusted his grip so that they were pressed flush from elbow to shoulders.  So much contact was unnecessary; Sherlock should have pulled away. He leaned in.

“Just a stroll, John, just an evening constitutional.  You trust me, don’t you?”

John didn’t answer directly; he didn’t have to.  Instead, with a dry sound that suggested he was rubbing his eyes, he mumbled, “Ah, Sherlock,” and something else, something that sounded like “can’t keep waiting.”

“Sorry?”

“Nothing.”  His thumb was running lazily back and forth over Sherlock’s arm, and Sherlock noted with clinical surprise he was enjoying it.  Physical touch used to repulse him, too dirty and filled with germs.  After a week of almost constant contact, however, he was so accustomed to it that he felt vaguely unsettled at the thought of letting go.  Perhaps the assault had wakened a childlike sense of vulnerability.

Or perhaps it was just John.

“I . . . I noticed I offended you at the crime scene,” he said hesitantly. Normally he would be loath to discuss it, but it was the only thing still bothering him.

John’s fingers twitched, but he didn’t pull away.  “It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it.”

“Obviously it was something or it wouldn’t have upset you.”  He hesitated, but reached over and laid his other hand on top of John’s.  “What did I do this time?”

 John sighed, a sound more fond than exasperated.  “It’s just – you’re allowed to seem vulnerable every once in awhile, you know?  I’m not a seeing-eye dog, I’m not a hammer in a toolbox you can take out, use and put back.  I’m your friend.  You’re allowed to need me every once in awhile.” Another quiet snort.  “‘Not in front of the children.’ Honestly.”

“That was probably uncalled for,” he admitted, turning left at eighty-four steps.  “Would it help if I said you’re hardly just a seeing-eye dog?”

“Not a seeing-eye dog.  High praise from Sherlock Holmes.” His tone was unreadable, and he withdrew just enough that their shoulders stopped touching.

Sherlock tightened his grip on John’s hand, which slid slightly down his arm.  “You have to know that you’re the best friend I could hope for, John, you hardly need me to tell you that anymore.” It was meant to sound as dismissive and condescending as always, but it came out embarrassingly serious.  John, however, relaxed, their shoulders lining up once more.

“Well, obviously, but it’s nice to be reminded every once in awhile.”  He gave his arm a squeeze, and they continued on this way for exactly one hundred and eighty-two steps, neither speaking, easy silence stretching out between them, pretending it was perfectly normal for two flatmates to walk down the street at nearly midnight practically holding hands.  They’d gotten far too comfortable with each other.

“How’s your eyesight?” John asked as they turned left at two hundred and sixteen steps.

“Better,” he said honestly, squinting appraisingly at the street.  “Not so well in the dark, of course, but in the daylight I can make out most objects.  Not well enough to drive but legally not blind.”

“Spectacles would probably do wonders right about now, you know.”

“John,” Sherlock said with supreme dignity, “it will be a crisp, cold day in hell before you see me in spectacles.” John laughed, and his hand slid still further down Sherlock’s arm.  Sherlock let it.

By the time they turned right at six hundred and thirty-three steps they were hand in hand.

He had barely time to enjoy the sensation of John’s thumb gliding over his index finger, however, when John stopped dead, looking up in horror.  “Wait –” Damn. He had counted on John not recognizing the building until they were at the door.  So much for a pleasant walk.  “This . . . this is the crime scene.”

“Yes.” No point in lying.

He could hear the gears turning in John’s head and wondered why he found it so endearing even when it meant there would be a fight.  “Oh no! No, you are not doing this, not again! You are not lying and manipulating your way back into danger barely a week after you were blinded with a lead pipe!” The fury in his voice mounted with each word, and with a curse he tried to pull his hand away and turn back.  Sherlock’s reaction was instinctual; he seized it with both hands and held on for all he was worth.

“Wildlife smugglers, John,” he said rapidly, the words tripping over themselves in his haste to make him understand.  “Singapore is one of the wildlife smuggling capitals of the world, and there’s good money for businessmen willing to smuggle exotic pets into the country.”

John stopped pulling.  “You’ve got to be joking,” he said, although he stayed where he was.

“It wasn’t a dog, it was a primate. A macaque, most likely, based on the most common exotic pets and the size of the claw marks.  Easily small enough to hide in the ventilation system but large enough to do a substantial amount of damage to a grown man, as evidenced.”

“So you’re saying he was murdered by a monkey.”

Sherlock huffed.  “Have you ever been confronted by an angry macaque, John?”

The eye roll was almost audible.  “So he was getting ready to sedate it, but it had already clawed its way out and attacked him when his back was turned.”

“As you so brilliantly deduced at the crime scene, yes,” he said, and sped on because the crime scene made him think of the kiss that had sprung from nowhere.  “You saw him, he was a posh corporate man who thought he’d make a quick bit of cash – hardly zookeeper material.  Now all that remains is for the man’s handlers to realize something has gone horribly awry and come to collect the animal. They would come at night to avoid attention, of course, and I gave them approximately two days to see the police and devise a plan, so –”

“So any minute now a bunch of angry, most likely armed animal smugglers are going to break into the flat and try to fish a monkey out of a ventilation shaft?” John’s voice was fraying at the edges.  “Fucking hell, Sherlock.”

“I don’t know why you insist on getting this upset every time we run into a spot of trouble, you know, I would have thought you’d be used to it by now.”

“A little warning would still be nice, you know? Maybe a written notice if you’re feeling generous.”  He began tapping at his mobile with his free hand; he seemed to have forgotten he was holding Sherlock’s with his other.  “I’m phoning Lestrade, I am phoning Lestrade and telling him what you should have –” He broke off abruptly, just for a split second, but it was enough.

“They’re up there now, aren’t they?”

No,” John said too emphatically.  “Just two minutes, all right? Two minutes and Lestrade will be here.”

“Two minutes is too long, they could leave or hear the sirens, Lestrade never did understand subtlety –” He tried to bolt for the building, but John yanked him back with surprising strength.

“Sherlock, don’t make me do this,” he growled, with just the hint of a plea.

“Do what?”

And then John lunged, wrapping his arms around him and bowling him backwards.  They slammed into a lamppost, tangled together, and before Sherlock could do more than register their cheeks pressed side-by-side he was being whipped around, cold steel clapping around his wrists.

The hell do you think you’re doing?” He yanked as hard as he could, but the cuffs held firm.

“Keeping you safe.”  John stepped back, panting slightly but undeniably satisfied with himself.  “Let’s see you break your neck down the stairs now.”

For a full thirty seconds, Sherlock Holmes was actually speechless.  “I . . . h-how long have you been carrying these around?”

“You really do think I’m an idiot, don’t you? ‘Let’s take a walk.’ Honestly.”

Gritting his teeth, Sherlock hauled back, throwing his entire weight and then some into his arm.  Pain lanced around his wrists, but the cuffs didn’t so much as groan.  He’d spent good money on these cuffs.  “John, there are people around.” John’s sense of social decorum had always been greater than his; maybe the thought of someone seeing the world’s greatest consulting detective handcuffed to a pole would stir some sympathy.

No such luck.  “Well, none of them have the keys, so I really can’t be arsed.  Now I’m phoning Lestrade and you’re going to stand there and keep quiet, you understand?  Keep on like that and you’ll cut yourself.” Even through the exasperation the smugness was palpable, making Sherlock seethe with humiliation.  “Hey, Greg, long story short the killer’s a monkey and its owners are at the crime scene right now, so we’d appreciate it if you hurried.  Yeah, monkey, like Wizard of Oz without the wings. Great.” The mobile beeped off, and John let out a sigh of satisfaction.  “Now we wait. Like normal people.”

“Normal people do not cuff their friends to lampposts,” Sherlock muttered blackly.

“Normal people don’t take evening constitutionals to crime scenes,” John retorted, and seemed about to say more when he cut off, and Sherlock realised that in the light of the lamppost John was only barely blurry, his head snapped around to stare at the window of the flat.

“They’re leaving, aren’t they?”

“I think they might have spotted us – one came to the window and pointed.”

“If we lose them we’ll never find them again, them or that monkey,” Sherlock said urgently, yanking again at the cuffs.  The steel bit deep and held.  “John, you’ve got to let me –”

“Not a chance,” John said, pulling his gun from the back of his jacket.  The air froze in Sherlock’s lungs.

“You are not going up there without me!”

“You said it yourself, this is our one shot and I’m not watching you break your neck on a staircase.  Lestrade will be here in two, I’ll be right back.” And to Sherlock’s horror, he took off.

“My eyesight is fine it’s fine John you’re not going without me JOHN!” Blood was running down his wrists and he didn’t care because John was gone, disappeared toward the building without backup or Sherlock or even a plan.  He swore, flapping his hands wildly and swearing even more loudly at the wave of pain the motion caused.  John was going to get himself killed.  After everything, after all the times he’d been there to pick Sherlock up off the ground, he was going to get himself killed and Sherlock couldn’t do a damn thing because John handcuffed him to a lamppost.

Handcuffs. Wait a minute.

Forcing himself to calm down, he took a deep, centring breath and hoisted his hip up toward his hands, bringing his coat pocket into reach.  He’d planned for this. Well, not exactly this – not being brutally betrayed by his best friend out of sheer pig-headedness – but he’d planned for being handcuffed, at any rate, and with any luck his failsafe was still in place.

And it was.  Nestled in the lining of his jacket pocket was a single hairpin.  Which should more than suffice, but Sherlock couldn’t help but groan.  A hairpin. His failsafe was a hairpin.

He twisted the cuffs, glancing up at the window.  Flashes of movement, but nothing concrete.  No shouts or gunshots, at least, but every passing second made that all the more likely.  His mind racing with something like prayers, he hunched over, fumbling with his hands until the hairpin was close enough to his mouth that he could prise it apart with his teeth.  Two more swift bites and it was in shape, bent to the same minute S form as the key.  And now the difficult part.

True, his vision was better than it had been in the last week, but jamming a thin strip of metal into a pinprick of a keyhole with bound hands was no picnic with perfect eyesight.  Contorting his wrist a bit further than was natural, he scrabbled around, willing himself with all his might not to drop the pin.        

Muffled shouting from the flat.  Sherlock’s blood ran cold with it, a roaring filling his ears.  Clamping down on the instinct to howl John’s name until he came back to him, he redoubled his effort, frantically scratching the pin back and forth until it snagged, just a bit.  Finally, the hole.  Twisting his wrist yet farther, setting his teeth against the fine lines of pain threading all the way to his elbow, he jammed in the pin and turned as sirens filled his ears.

A single gunshot burst in the flat.

Sherlock’s fingers slipped, numb; by some miracle he’d managed to stick the pin deep enough that it stayed even as he lost feeling in his entire body.  For half a second there were no deductions, no Mind Palace, just a blank wall of terror; then he was almost in control again, clawing at the pin with shaking hands, trying desperately to turn it even as muzzy background voices shouted questions.

A click, a jerk, and he was free.  Not even bothering to dislodge the other cuff, he whirled around with a roar of “JOHN!” and tore off, at the building’s door in five strides flat.  He was vaguely aware of officers following him, of concerned tenants poking their heads out or shouting for the police, but he cared for none of them, saw none of them; his entire world had shrunk down to the path between himself and John, to the third corridor on the left to the staircase up five floors and to the second door on the right –

Except he was only two flights up when he careened into someone.  Someone who smelled of animals and was covered in loose hair and was holding a spectacularly drowsy monkey under one arm.

He punched him so hard he felt the jaw break under his fist, snarling in satisfaction as he crumpled down onto the landing.  In all probability he would have preceded to kick in the skull of the man who had threatened John if it weren’t for about six hands hauling him back so some underling could slap on cuffs and confiscate the monkey, and even then he might’ve bloody well tried if not for a familiar voice calling his name.

He was only another flight and a half up, crouched on a landing with one knee drawn up to his chest.  “You melodramatic git, there was only one and he wasn’t even that good, he missed me by a mile and the recoil took the gun out of his hand –”

 Sherlock almost collapsed on top of him, falling into something that was more of a messy splay of limbs than a proper hug.  “Don’t you ever do that,” he gasped.  “Don’t you ever do that to me again.”

“Welcome to my world, you prat,” John said affectionately, but he brought one arm around his back and squeezed.  Sherlock allowed himself precisely two more seconds of indulgence before leaning back and pulling himself together, although it took considerably more effort than he would have thought.

“John,” he asked, “why are you on the ground?”

John rubbed the back of his neck, the outlines of his ears darkening slightly.  “I might have . . . sprained . . . something.”

“And how did you do that?”

An indecipherable grumble.

“Come again?”

“I fell down the stairs, you bastard,” he snapped, and they both burst into such decadent giggling that Lestrade looked over.

“Everything all right over there?”

“John needs a hospital,” Sherlock announced, standing and hauling John over so that his arm was over his shoulder and their fingers were loosely twined (for maximum stability, of course).

“Of course he does. I’ll get one of the lads to drop you off.”  Lestrade shook his head, looking over at them, Sherlock with one hand out to brush the wall and John wobbling on one leg.  “Dear God, aren’t you two a sight.”

“I wouldn’t know,” Sherlock said, and it was so bloody awful that John giggled all over again, and still cackling like children, they limped off together down the stairs.

Chapter Text

MONDAY

 

Damn it all to hell, he was rubbish at this.

He’d spent the first half-hour of his day standing in the exact centre of the flat looking around, partially because it was simply glorious to have his sight back and partially because John was hurt and when John was hurt he was supposed to do . . . something.  Something nice. Something that would make him smile.  Except he couldn’t for the life of him think of anything good enough. The most infuriating part was that the only person he would even consider going to for help on this was the one he was trying to be nice to.

He settled for cleaning, at least initially; one of the first things John had mentioned upon his first visit to 221B was the clutter, and it had worsened considerably since then.  Maybe he would even clean the body parts out of the refrigerator; John had definitely mentioned how nice it would be not to see a severed head first thing in the morning, and Molly would be only too happy to loan him some space in the mortuary.  It would of course have been difficult to explain to a cabbie why his backseat was occupied by a jar of fingers, exactly thirty-six eyeballs, two separate specimens of human skin and a rather impressive ball of hair, so he compromised by playing a grotesque game of Tetris in the bottommost drawer of the fridge, managing to cram every ill-conceived experiment in the flat into one tiny, easily sealed container. Three hours passed and the flat looked almost presentable.  A swift Google search later and he had something of a battle plan.

First, breakfast in bed. Chicken noodle soup was widely regarded as some sort of panacea, and while the effects were obviously psychological, it did seem the sort of nice gesture that might elicit a smile.  For some reason the smile was becoming more and more important to Sherlock; he hadn’t properly seen John smile in a week and a half.  They didn’t have chicken noodle soup, however, and leaving John alone was out of the question, so he settled for the dusty tin of tomato soup he’d found while searching the pantry for leftover neurotoxins.

Sherlock Holmes knew a lot of things.  He did not know it was possible to burn soup.

“Oh come on, it’s a bloody liquid, how –?”

“Everything all right?”

He spun around, the spoon in his hand flinging little droplets of tomato everywhere.  John was leaning against the counter, a little pale, a little peaked, but otherwise fine.  “No,” he growled, turning back to the burnt chunks and thin tendrils of smoke rising from the pan.  “How do you burn soup?”

“For one thing, that’s marinara sauce,” John said mildly, picking the tin up off the counter and examining it.  “An experiment or some kind of weird craving?”

Dropping the spoon, he ran both hands through his hair and barked out a sharp laugh.  “Your breakfast in bed, actually.”  He didn’t turn around, waiting for the snort, for the eye roll, for the indignation that always followed something burning in 221B.  Instead, there was a giggle, small at first, and then an explosion, with Sherlock joining in helplessly until he had to grip the countertop for support.

“Sherlock,” John said.  Sherlock looked up and oh God, it was the smile, bright and effortless and so very John.  He tried to walk over and see how badly the pan was damaged, but his boot caught on the floor and he fell forward.  Sherlock moved faster than he ever had, swooping forward and seizing him just under the elbows.  John steadied himself against him, sliding his arms back until they were almost hand in hand and still smiling that smile that made Sherlock’s chest seize up and shook the foundations of his Mind Palace.

“I can’t leave you alone for five minutes, can I?” he asked warmly, giving his arms an affectionate squeeze.  Sherlock swallowed hard, running his eyes along the curve of his lips . . . and still couldn’t do it.  So he bowed his head, turned his wrists and kissed those glorious hands instead, running his lips along the thick callouses and barely touching his tongue to the centre of his palms.

Oh.” John’s mouth fell open, his eyes widening and his pupils pooling wide in those brilliantly blue irises before his lids slammed shut.  Sherlock couldn’t resist looking up almost shyly, gauging his reaction, hoping against hope for a response other than disgust.

“Open your eyes, John,” he whispered, one hand skimming up to touch the delicate shadow beneath his right one.  “I really have missed those eyes.”

John opened his eyes.

And slammed Sherlock against the wall.

Sherlock gave a muffled shout that was cut off by the press of John’s mouth against his, insistent, demanding.  He had to be standing on tiptoe to reach but Sherlock’s eyes were sliding shut and with John’s lips at his mouth and John’s hands at his wrists it felt like John was everywhere.  And then John’s mouth slid open and there was just a flash of his tongue and Sherlock went mad, flipping him against the wall and seizing his waist hard enough to bruise because he had to taste him again, because if John’s hands were his salvation his mouth was going to be the death of him.  He bit down, gently, suckling at his lower lip and John moaned into his mouth in a way that left him seeing white.  All this time. All this time, he’d had no idea how precious, how beautiful this could be.

John made a half-hearted attempt to pull back, his hands tangling with Sherlock’s hair.  “W-Wait, Sherlock –”

“Less words,” Sherlock growled, pressing in to drag his lips along John’s jaw.

“Wait – wait –” And Sherlock really did pull back, because he recognized the look in his eyes.  Process.  He needed to process.

“What do you need?” he rasped, moving his fingers to touch his pulse, and it felt so good to ask that question, to give back in some small way to this curious man who’d given so much of himself since they’d met.  “What can I do?”

John was shaking his head slowly, almost dazedly, his hands still buried in Sherlock’s hair.  “I don’t understand,” he whispered, although an awestruck smile was playing at his lips.  “What made you change your mind?”

Sherlock opened his mouth to reply, but one of John’s hands wandered down to the sensitive skin behind his ear as the other traced his shoulder blade and words failed him.  He cleared his throat and tried again.  “I should’ve been lost,” he murmured hoarsely, trapping John’s hand in his and dusting a kiss over each fingertip.  “I couldn’t see, couldn’t think, couldn’t deduce . . . it’s who I am, John, and without it I should have been utterly lost.”

John’s eyelids fluttered shut.

“But I wasn’t,” Sherlock pressed on.  The words were awkward, some too rushed, some drawn out, because this was hitherto uncharted territory but he had to make John understand.  “I was so damnably trapped in my own head but you found me.” He swallowed painfully.  “No one’s ever bothered to find me before.”

“Of course I did,” John said incredulously, pulling his hand away to splay it across Sherlock’s cheek.  Dear God, they could live to be a hundred and he’d never get used to this.  “I’ll always find you.”

“I know you will.” And that in itself was a miracle.  “I just wish I understood why.”

John’s eyes sharpened slightly.  “You can’t be serious.”  Sherlock shook his head, mute, and John’s hands moved again, cupping his neck as if it were something precious.  “Do you honestly think you were the only one lost, you daft bastard?  I was a washed-up veteran with no future and no home. My life was over, and then . . .” It was his turn to swallow and look away.  “I was dull as a rock before you. I’m just returning the favour.”

“A rock?” Sherlock pulled away indignantly, although he didn’t go far. “A rock?” Yet again the doctor had left him at a loss for words, because no one got to talk about John like that, not even John himself.  “You are not a rock, John Watson. You are an anchor.” And he pressed in to claim another kiss, and another, and another, until his head was swimming and John was gasping his name against his lips and it was worth every agonizing second of blindness just to be able to have and hold his John like this. His John.

John’s mobile went off, and to Sherlock’s astonishment he broke away to check it.  “You cannot be serious,” Sherlock growled, nipping at his neck in punishment (John almost dropped the phone). “It is my job to check the phone at socially unacceptable times, John Watson, it’s your job to shout at me for it.  Not the other way around.” He nipped again, harder.  John groaned.

“It’s not my fault you’ll kill me if I let you miss a job – oh, you’ll love this.”

Sherlock really did stop, pulling away just enough to brush his nose against John’s.  “Let me guess, another murder?”

“Two suicides, same time, same cause of death, exact same note in the exact same handwriting, without any connection between the two victims.”

Yes!” Sherlock spun around, crowing in triumph, stamped a hard kiss across John’s mouth, and took off for all of three paces before realising it probably wasn’t the best idea to merely take off after two dead bodies after one has just snogged one’s flatmate for the first time.  He wasn’t sure what the best idea was, however, so he turned back tentatively, waiting for John to tell him what to do.

“Oh, go on, you crazy bugger,” John laughed, stumping across the kitchen to hand him his coat and scarf.  “I’ll catch up when I can.”

But Sherlock shook his head.  There was no way he was going off alone, not anymore.  Not now that he didn’t have to.  So instead he took the coat, shrugged it on, and held out a hand.  “Together?”

John smiled that smile, positively glowing, and it struck Sherlock that he was happy enough to look the same.  “Together,” he replied, and they set off for the crime scene hand in hand.