He was killing Sherlock.
John had never expected it to get this far, had never expected the unfulfilled bond to eat away at Sherlock until there was nothing left, just this empty shell of a man curled up and given up on the sofa. The curly hair was limp and lifeless now, plastered in places to Sherlock’s skull with sweat, and the thin length of the man’s neck was pale as death.
Sherlock was dying, and it was all his fault.
It had started with what they thought was just a cold. Intellectually, John knew what happened to those with an unfulfilled bond, but it was rare and for a while John hadn’t even made the connection. Then the cold got worse, and something niggled in the back of John’s brain, but he still remained at a loss.
And then Sherlock’s voice began to go.
It was hardly noticeable at first, he didn’t pay it much mind, but he soon began to realise that the more Sherlock lost his voice, the voice inside his head grew louder.
Not everyone had one. In fact, John supposed he was one of the lucky few that did. It wasn’t necessarily rare to have a soulmate, but it was special, and it was coveted. There were those that were born without soulmates who grew jealous at the connections other had, and there were those who had believed they were without soulmates and accidentally married the wrong person, causing quite a stir.
It accounted for a fair portion of their cases, his and Sherlock’s, actually. Crimes of passion indeed. One spouse finds their soulmate and it’s not their partner, an affair takes place, a discovery, a murder. It happened far too often, in varying degrees. He supposed that it was what the legend of Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot was based off of, but that didn’t make the matter of soulmates any easier or better understood.
When John first heard the voice in his head, he hadn’t understood what it had meant. It was funny and interesting, and made him feel less alone, and though the root of the words were his own thoughts, they were spoken in ways he never would have done himself. He certainly wouldn’t have called Mrs Clancy an ‘insufferable idiot with a Napoleon complex,’ though he had considered his (short) teacher to be a bit unnecessarily mean and overbearing, but the voice in his head was quite clear on the matter. The voice also seemed to be more interested in bees than rugby whenever John went outside, but he grew accustomed to the stranger’s voice and barely let it distract him from the game.
Over time, John began noticing the voice changing. He’d find himself giggling whenever the voice cracked, though he remembered all too well when his own had done that. Puberty then. The owner of the voice had to be a couple years younger than him.
Obviously, the voice said. While the average male begins puberty between the ages of nine and fourteen, thus allowing for the potential of a miscalculation, the most probable factor is that the speaker is at least two years younger than you if not more based on the differences of octaves between you.
John’s inner voice was a little bit of a know-it-all. But it was right.
Interested in these ideas, John began studying the medical books at school, which he found to be rather enjoyable. The voice apparently thought so too, but it had been less enthusiastic when John began considering a military career.
Really, John? The army? There are quicker ways to killing yourself, and better ways to get the adrenaline rush you so obviously crave, the baritone voice had snarked.
John had heard the softer tones change, cracking, into the rumbling baritone he was now so familiar with. He hadn’t thought much of it at the time when he was younger, the fact that his voice was male, but then his sister had come out a gay and their father was less than pleased.
Homophobic imbecile, the voice had sneered as John lightly examined the red mark left on Harry’s face. It would bruise, but it could have been worse. They both knew that from experience. Harry didn’t stick around much after that, not that John blamed her.
Yes you do. She left you behind. With him.
Sometimes John hated the voice. Mostly he hated that it was never wrong.
It was around that time that John really began understanding what the male voice in his head meant. He had grown so used to it that he hadn’t really questioned it before, but now he did. He didn’t want it to be a male. He began pushing down thoughts of boys, hating himself for them, and instead focused on thoughts of girls. He might have overdone it a bit, especially in the military as he grew closer to his male commander there, ending up earning himself a nickname he wasn’t entirely fond of but was nonetheless true.
Three continents? Truly? It’s a good thing you’re a doctor, I suppose, so at least you know how to use protection. Though it would be interesting to study the effects of nongonococcal urethritis.
It wasn’t that John was homophobic, of course he wasn’t, he just couldn’t seem to move past the memory of his father, of the need to be the perfect child to make up for Harry’s own rebellion. He had to follow certain rules.
Is that why you let yourself get shot at? Danger you wouldn’t normally allow yourself to have. It’s the only time you feel like yourself. Feel alive. Idiot. Don’t die before I get a chance to meet you.
John got shot.
Please, God, let me live. Let me find him.
Even if you had a soulmate, that didn’t mean things always worked out. You didn’t always find them, and if you were the speaker you really couldn’t tell if you had once until your listener found you. If the listener died before finding the speaker, it only made sense for the speaker to assume they never had a soulmate to begin with. John didn’t know if that was easier or better than knowing you had a soulmate and never got a chance to meet them.
It could be harder for listeners, however. If the speaker died, so too did the voice in the listener’s head, and there were quite a few times where the listener suffered a breakdown then, the loss of their soulmate’s voice and the strangeness of their own driving them insane.
John wondered what his soulmate thought. As a speaker, did he believe he was alone? Did he believe he just didn’t have a soulmate? Was he hoping he did? Was he waiting to meet John? Was he even gay?
There were times, sitting in his little bedsit, eyes on the blinking cursor of his screen as he stared at his therapist assigned blog, that John wondered what would happen to his speaker if John took his Browning out of the drawer. Would his soulmate know? Would he feel the loss? Would he even care?
Let me meet you.
John wondered if putting his letter on his blog would be a bit crass. He wondered if doing it would steal some of the spotlight from the others in the papers. His would be explained at least. He would leave a letter. Maybe tonight.
And then Mike came along and wanted to introduce him to a friend.
John wondered if Sherlock knew that he had saved John’s life that day.
“Mike, can I borrow your phone? There’s no signal on mine.”
John’s head had snapped to the strange man the second he’d heard his voice, the blood rushing in his ears, and he had to steady himself on his cane.
There was no mistaking that voice, not even for a second, and John had thickly swallowed down everything he wasn’t quite sure he wanted to say.
I found you.
You found me.
I found you.
Sherlock Holmes. John hadn’t allowed himself to say anything, not until he understood more about this strange, bewitching man. He had to know more. For the first time in…well, longer than he wanted to admit to, he wasn’t thinking about his gun waiting for him at home.
John still didn’t know what he wanted to say or do. It wasn’t unheard of for soulmates to reject each other, he supposed, but he really didn’t want to put himself out there when John was trying so hard to be straight only to be rejected. Even still, there was something about the stranger, his thoughts kept repeating the same refrain.
You found me.
You found me.
You found me.
Did Sherlock know? John had tested the waters during what would be their first dinner together, wondering if Sherlock could somehow tell that the unassuming man sitting in front of him was his soulmate, had even later brought up the mention of soulmates, but he had been ruthlessly cut down. Politely, but ruthlessly.
“Besides, John, the entire subject of soulmates is pointless. I obviously don’t have one so why would I clutter my mind with such idiotic details when I could simply use that space for something else.”
“Why do you believe you don’t have a soulmate? You could be a speaker.”
“Trust me, John. It’s really not my area, nor do I even want one. I shudder to think of the obligations being soulmates entail.”
Of course, then they were on a mad dash after a cab, and standing in the entry way of the flats later, giggling and without his cane, John felt himself fall just a little more. He did end up using his gun after all, but not the way he originally intended. The smile Sherlock gave him later solidified something inside him. Something he couldn’t—or didn’t want to—explain. After all, being friends with this madman was worth any pain being silent caused him.
Not that it was easy. There were a few times he’s respond out loud to his thoughts thinking that it was actually Sherlock speaking to him, but thankfully it seemed like Sherlock really did ignore and delete things about soulmates because he never suspected. John had to stop the urges to say something, couldn’t risk it, couldn’t risk what they had. He could yearn in secret. And, maybe, he could allow himself to hope.
He’d thought about telling Sherlock at the pool. He didn’t want to die with that secret. He wanted Sherlock to know. He stopped pretending to himself then too. He was madly in love with Sherlock Holmes, his soulmate. He almost told him, and then Moriarty came back and he never really got the chance again. Which was just as well because it wasn’t too long after that John’s heart shattered with the knowledge that Sherlock could never love him.
Your grudge against The Woman is both flattering and alarming.
He supposed it should have been obvious. Only someone like The Woman could hope to ensnare someone like Sherlock Holmes. John had done his best to keep his jealousy in check, had to remind himself that just because Sherlock was his soulmate it didn’t mean that he owned him, and threw himself back into his old habit of focusing on women. He only admitted to himself in a whisper that a tiny portion of him had been a bit pleased he had thought she was dead. He hated himself for it too.
He still did. Especially when it became obvious that it was John’s love that was killing Sherlock.
Looking back on it now, he could make the connections. Sherlock had began getting sick exactly one year after John found him. Found him and did not tell him the truth. It had started slow, had even started when still dealing with The Woman’s deceit, but then it had progressed at a frightening speed. Sherlock’s body was shutting down.
John knew what he had to do, praying that it wasn’t too late, but the thought gutted him. How would his mad genius react? Even John’s inner voice was starting to get more snappish with him, which he really thought wasn’t fair, but it was what it was. John would have to tell the truth and hope that Sherlock forgave him. Hope that Sherlock understood that John understood that it didn’t mean they were expected to follow any obligations and that John was well aware that his feelings weren’t reciprocated.
Or maybe not mention the feelings at all. Not gay, he’d always said, which was technically still true. Being bisexual wasn’t the same thing as being gay after all. He just hoped that he could pretend he wasn’t mooning over the consulting detective like some lovesick teenager. He would simply tell Sherlock they were soulmates and hope for the best.
Later. He’d tell Sherlock later.
The younger man was asleep, of course, and John didn’t want to disturb him. Another hour or so wouldn’t hurt anything, would it?
John moved into the kitchen, deciding to make a cup of tea while he waited and gathered his courage, and tried to ignore the voice in his head as kept pointing out that he was supposed to be brave. Supposed to be better than hiding with his tail between his legs. John mentally gave the voice in his head a two-finger salute.
Very mature, John. Honestly, it’s a wonder you ever got anything done if this is who you truly are. You can’t even tell a dying man—dying because of you, I might point out—that you love him, or at the very least are soulmates destined to be together.
Didn’t I tell you to piss off?
If Sherlock dies because of your cowardice, you will never be able to forgive yourself. You would never be able to survive it. I’m just the voice in your head, John. You know the truth. Anything I say is your own thought process. So when I say that you will lose yourself if you kill Sherlock then you know I’m speaking the truth. If you lose your soulmate, if you lose Sherlock, you know where you’d go.
Will you finally pull the trigger this time?
“Shut up!” John shouted, pressing his hands into his head as though to quiet the insidious words that ate away at him like acid. He breathed heavily, eyes clenched shut, until the roaring in his ears passed again.
John’s heart fell to the floor while his stomach jumped into his throat. His inner voice…it was gone. Sherlock was gone. Sherlock—
“Sherlock!” John cried out in terror, steeped tea forgotten, and raced to the sitting room expecting to find his soulmate’s lifeless body limp on the sofa.
Sherlock wasn’t on the sofa.
John thickly swallowed, staring with wide eyes at the figure of Sherlock standing by the window, fading sunlight haloed around him, while he stared at John with a clenched jaw and narrowed eyes. There were twin spots of red anger on his cheeks, he could see that, but the man still looked deathly pale. “Sherlock?” he asked quietly, hesitantly. Why couldn’t he hear him?
Sherlock opened his mouth as though to speak before pausing, snorted, and firmly closed his mouth again. A sardonic eyebrow rose as he stepped away from the window.
John sucked in a deep breath, taking a startled step back, feeling his legs tremble and threaten to go out. Wh-what?!
The voice, so familiar, was also so different. It wasn’t his inner voice. Though in his head, it didn’t come from within him. He watched Sherlock, uncomprehending.
Or should I say ‘hello, soulmate.’ Sherlock’s other brow met the first in his hairline, hair still damp with sweat, before both lowered again. Ah. There it goes. I suppose I don’t have to tell you how strange it is to hear your own thoughts spoken in a voice not your own. Funny how all I had to do was acknowledge who—what—you were for it to stop. And yet you’re still there, aren’t you? Sherlock roughly shook his head and snarled when John opened his mouth. Don’t speak! Not verbally.
John’s own brows furrowed, not certain he understood, not understanding at all what was happening. Sherlock…this isn’t possible.
Impossible? No. Improbable, perhaps, and yet somehow still happening. Rules out the definition of ‘impossible’ then, doesn’t it?
John studied Sherlock, heart beating rapidly in his chest, and nervously ran his tongue over his lips. Perhaps due to keeping such a focused gaze on the other man did John notice the way those indescribable eyes dropped down minutely to watch his tongue’s movement.
What you’re suggesting is…is telepathy! That can’t be possible.
And yet somehow it is, Dr Watson. This is you and me communicating nonverbally with our minds through thought transference. What else would you call it?
An insane dream?
And yet neither one of us are sleeping, Sherlock replied with a roll of his eyes. There was no denying the words were coming from the man across from him. The man whose hard edges hadn’t seemed to soften at all during their conversation.
John bit his lip. Sherlock…I’m sorry. Even in his mind the words sounded soft.
Sherlock’s eyes were mocking. And to what are you apologising to me for? For not telling me we’re soulmates? For wasting a year of my life with this secret? Or for letting me almost die because of your internalised homophobia not letting you admit that your soulmate happened to be a man? Sherlock’s next eyeroll was full of disgust. So nice to know that my life is less important than your ridiculous need to appear straight!
John’s eyes widened again and he took a step back as thought physically struck, before stepping forward beseechingly. Sherlock, no! he tried desperately. It’s not like that at all! I promise! I didn’t even realise it was the bond doing this until you were already sick!
Sherlock scoffed. And yet I’m sure it played a big incentive.
No it didn’t, you berk! John hotly declared, hands fisted at his sides as he drew himself up more to his lamentably still short full height. I would never let you die for anything, do you understand me! It would kill me if you were to die! I was going to tell you as soon as you woke up! I don’t bloody care that I’m bisexual!
It was Sherlock’s turn to take a startled step back, eyebrows once more in his hair as he stared back at John. It was exceedingly obvious that he hadn’t been expecting John to admit to his sexuality. Asshole. The shock didn’t remain evident on his face for much longer, however, and he frowned deeply at John. Then why didn’t you tell me?
John was about to retort in anger again, before he processed Sherlock’s words, or rather the tone of his words. There was an edge to them, yes, but there was something else hidden there as well. Something…unsure. He swallowed down his anger, tried to organise his thoughts, staring at Sherlock as he worked his mind around an impossible thought.
No. Maybe not impossible. Improbable.
You told me. The second day I’d known you. You told me you didn’t want a soulmate. You told me you weren’t interested. In me. You turned me down. I have to say, turning me down and then never denying when someone calls us boyfriends sure does send one hell of a mixed signal.
Sherlock’s cheeks flushed again, but this time not in anger. There was a vulnerability to him now, a hesitancy as he stared at John, his eyes rapidly scanning over all of the older male. John let him. He let him see it all.
I was terrified of losing you. Terrified of losing your friendship. No matter my other feelings for you, I value your friendship first and foremost. I never wanted to lose that.
Sherlock swallowed, licked his lips, swallowed again. The flush was spreading down his neck and over his ears, and John couldn’t help but find it very adorable. Had he ever seen Sherlock truly blush before?
And…these other feelings of yours…what exactly are they?
Well then. John drew in a deep breath, heart still pounding in his chest, and slowly stepped forward again. Once, twice, covering the short distance between their two bodies. You know how I feel about you. I admire you. Your mind is unlike anyone’s I’ve ever seen. You’re brilliant, absolutely brilliant, and yet so clueless on other matters. You’re kind, though you try to deny it, with a deep generosity that you try to hide. You like to help others, but you say it’s for the case. It is, sometimes, but it’s also something more. Something you.
Sherlock was frozen in place as John slowly prowled forward, staring at him with wide unblinking eyes, as if disbelieving what he was seeing. The flush was brighter now, all encompassing, and John wondered if it had travelled down to his chest as well. He offered a small smile to the taller man, and slowly he reached out to press his hand against the other man’s chest, causing Sherlock to suck in a sharp breath. He imagined he could feel Sherlock’s heart trying to beat itself out of his ribcage.
You say you don’t have a heart, but we both know that that’s not true, he said with a slight tease at the reference. You probably have one of the biggest hearts I’ve ever met, which is why it hurts so much when people are cruel. They don’t try to understand you, to understand that the things that make you different are the things that make you so special. God, it hurts not to be understood.
Sherlock shuddered against John’s hand. Y-yes. You would know. You’re not understood either.
Well. I want you to understand me right now, Sherlock Holmes. Because my feelings for you… John drew in another deep breath. He’d come this far, and Sherlock hadn’t run away yet. He just hoped ‘yet’ wasn’t the keyword here. Even when I wanted to deny them, I couldn’t. Even when I was afraid to admit what I was. You told me you weren’t interested, and I wanted to respect that.
I thought I wasn’t, Sherlock said, quite in John’s mind, his expression softening slightly. I thought that there was no way I could ever have a soulmate, that even if I did that they would reject me, so it was better to…to not want one.
Well you have one now, John murmured, bringing his spare hand up to gently cup Sherlock’s jaw. And your soulmate would be very happy to learn that you were in fact interested. There’s certain obligations that your soulmate doesn’t find so terrible, and he hopes that maybe you won’t either.
Sherlock swallowed, and there was a flash of trepidation in his eyes before he shielded against it again, but John was too close not to have seen it. And what obligations are those?
John smiled. Well, your soulmate would hope that he could do this, could touch you like this, to be close. His thumb gently caressed Sherlock’s sharp cheek, and the other man leaned into the touch as though without thought. Maybe kiss you from time to time. But it’s not necessary. Nothing is necessary. No obligation is necessary. I don’t want you to ever feel like you have to do something to please me.
You mean to please my soulmate, Sherlock lightly teased, a small curl of an almost-there smile curving at one corner of his lips.
I mean me, idiot. I’m your soulmate. And you’re mine. And I would very much like to kiss you.
Sherlock stiffened beneath John’s touch, and the flush that had been settling came back full force. John. You don’t have to do anything to prove yourself.
I’m not, he smiled, sliding his hand back to curl into Sherlock’s sweaty hair at the back of his neck and pulling him down as he leaned up on the balls of his feet. I’m doing this because I want to. He still hesitated, however, still paused just before closing the distance, giving Sherlock time to protest or object or pull away, and smiled when Sherlock did none of those things. “Sherlock,” he breathed quietly, before finally closing the gap.
It was hardly a perfect first kiss. Sherlock was frozen against him, his lips chapped from his sickness, and it was a little awkward getting the angle right, but to John it was perfect. Any kiss with Sherlock had to be. He didn’t linger, however, knowing that Sherlock could easily become overwhelmed, and settled back on his feet with a small smile as he looked up at Sherlock. Sherlock, for his part, was staring down at John as though he’d never seen him before.
Sherlock—John began, a little worried about Sherlock’s continued lack of response, but all thoughts were wiped from his mind when Sherlock’s hands came up and pulled John in again, crushing their lips together in a desperate kiss. John felt the worry inside him melt away, and he happily wrapped his arms around Sherlock’s neck at the eager kiss, letting Sherlock remain in control, opening himself up when he felt the sweep of Sherlock’s tongue.
Really, it was Sherlock’s own fault that John let out a deep moan, causing Sherlock to freeze in shock again. John was about to pull away and apologise when Sherlock let out a small growl and pulled John in closer, one hand moving to slide down John’s back to cup his arse through his jeans and pull him in closer. John’s body certainly took an interest in that, and he could feel himself twitch in question, but he was also aware that Sherlock was still sick, or at least recovering from illness. With a force of will he really hadn’t known he had, he forced himself to pull away.
“Jesus, Sherlock, careful,” John groaned, dragging in a deep breath.
Shut up. No words.
John chuckled as Sherlock tried to bring him in for another kiss again, placing a hand on the man’s chest to keep him away. All right, all right. But you need to rest, Sherlock. You’re in no fit state for anything else. I need to check over your vitals. See if the bond is still attacking you.
The sooner you’re better, the sooner we can do non-boring things.
Sherlock perked up at that, just as John knew he would, and he could help but fondly shake his head and let out another laugh. Reluctantly he put space between them, before indicating Sherlock to sit down while he fetched his med kit. It was exceedingly difficult to actually check Sherlock’s vitals, of course, since the man tried to kiss him every chance he got.
Oi, I don’t think it’s standard practice to grope your medical professional’s arse, he pointed out at one of Sherlock’s wondering hands.
I just want to make certain this is real and not a fever induced dream.
John’s expression softened, and he took a deep breath. Besides the fact that Sherlock’s throat was still sore, he knew why the man preferred the non-verbal communication. It was easier to be truthful and to let down your guard when it was just in your own head. He settled on the sofa next to Sherlock, examination complete and vitals looking better than they had in weeks, before taking the man’s long hand in between both of his own shorter ones.
This is real, Sherlock. I promise you. I’m so sorry I put you through this. I didn’t know not telling you would cause this. I never wanted to hurt you, Sherlock.
Sherlock took a deep breath, swallowed, and looked at John with a bright intensity, the likes of which he hadn’t seen in a few days as the illness stripped him of himself. John. What are you expecting with this? What do you want? You’ve told me, I’m getting better, so you don’t have to…commit to anything you don’t want to. I’ll understand if you want to—
Shut up, idiot, John snorted and smiled up at Sherlock, leaning in to softly press their lips together. I want you. All of you. I want to be your soulmate, your partner professionally and otherwise. I want to wake up knowing you are mine and go to bed knowing you’re going to be there when I wake up. He swallowed. All the way. I want to know that I love you, and maybe, if I’m lucky, you…you might love me too.
Sherlock stiffened against him, but John didn’t pull away. He didn’t hide, didn’t try to take it back, he just sat there looking up at the other man. Sherlock swallowed thickly, blinked rapidly, licked his lips, and shuddered against John before pulling him in for another kiss.
A benefit of their telepathic communication, he supposed, was that kissing didn’t necessarily have to stop their conversation. Sherlock’s lips curled into a smile against John’s.
Idiot. Wasted an entire year.
John pulled back and rolled his eyes. Yeah, yeah. Well you made it quite clear you weren’t interested.
Then I was an even bigger idiot than you. His eyes softened, his skin naturally flushed as colour began returning to him, and he softly cupped John’s cheek. I love you, too.
John smiled up at Sherlock, and he didn’t know who moved first, but then they were kissing again, sweet, tender, and—
Perfect, they whispered together.