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Everything's Going to be Ok.

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Fourteen thousand eight hundred and seventy two. That’s the number of minutes it’s been since Sherlock last saw John smile. Two hundred and forty eight hours. Over 10 days.

It was during a case, a boring one, Sherlock had to admit. A woman had murdered her fiancé after discovering she was cheating on her. Open and shut domestic. Even Lestrade would have solved it within five days. Sherlock had it figured out before he got to the second paragraph of the case analysis.

But it got John out of the house, a rarity in the months since Mary had died. The only times Sherlock saw him at all anymore were in response to cryptically worded texts promising mystery and danger.

John never said anything, but it was obvious that he needed the distraction, that the moments when his life was in jeopardy, when the adrenaline kicked in, were the only times he was able to stop thinking and to forget, even just for a moment. He also liked knowing that he was still needed, and Sherlock liked needing him, more than he admitted to himself.

So Sherlock took the dull case, he took lots of dull cases. And instead of arresting the woman immediately, or during any one of the 17 opportunities that were available to him throughout the day, he dragged John to stake out her apartment when he knew she’d be at work. And when her military brother happened to invite some of his friends over, he had decided that would be the perfect opportunity to waltz in and announce that somebody’s sister was a murderer who would be spending no less than fifteen years in prison and if it was alright with everybody he would wait for her to come home inside where it was warm thank you very much.

John had called him insane, but had followed him in anyway. Just like Sherlock knew he would, just like he always did. Given the circumstances, the fights that followed were relatively amicable. There was one brief moment of being caught off guard when one of the men pinned him to a piano, but John had come to his rescue within seconds. The police were there within minutes.

Sherlock had ignored the way his hairs stood on end and his mouth went dry as John had rubbed his hands against his chest, checking for wounds. He was fine, of course.

He was always fine when John was there.

That was when he had decided to steal a ceramic ashtray he’d seen John eyeing with amusement. It was all white except for a few hideous blue splotches. He wondered if John was remembering the one he stole from Buckingham Palace. Probably not. He probably just found it funny, didn’t matter.

Sherlock took advantage of anything John found funny these past few months.

He’d had to hide it under his coat for ages while he dealt with the idiotic Scotland Yard. Worth it, though, as he presented it to John as a present in the cab on the way home, to hear John’s “you’re a bloody nutter, you know that” with an exasperated smile clearly laced with affection and warmth, yet still not quite reaching his eyes. It was ok though, it was better than nothing. Sherlock took what he could get these days.

Now, however, Sherlock is pacing the floor of 221B. Mrs. Hudson had tried to interrupt with food or something equally tedious, but a well flung tea cup into the door frame above her head had sent her scurrying. Mycroft had called earlier in the day, reminding him that tonight was a danger night for John, the anniversary of when John had met Mary. “Sentiment”, he had explained dryly to Sherlock, but for once, Sherlock understood. Mary was the only person John had ever truly loved, the person who was supposed to be different, the person who was supposed to help him get over his trust issues. If Sherlock ever stooped to something as pedestrian as marriage (not likely), he knew that he would hate it if the person had betrayed his trust.

Even though John clearly didn't like talking about his feelings, he obviously had them. And of course tonight John would be contemplating what he viewed to be his mistakes, even though none of what had happened was technically his fault. He would view himself as a failure.

Sherlock just hoped John was not an idiot. At least not about this, at least not tonight. He had tried to show John over and over how valuable he was to him, asking for his input on cases, even commenting on that ridiculous blog. Tonight, he had made sure to specifically ask for his help, certain that he wouldn't be able to refuse. But he hasn't heard a word from him, not even an "I'm busy".

Sherlock is positive John has nothing on his schedule, and even if he did, he always cancels his plans for the promise of a case.

He checks his phone for the fifth time, making sure his message went through. “Come at once”. Sent at 16:34. It was now 18:02. He knows John has been off work for four hours, and he desperately wants to make sure he is ok, but he doesn’t want to just show up at his house uninvited. That’s not what people do. Is it? He doesn’t know anything anymore when it comes to John. He doesn’t know how to make him happy, He doesn’t even know what he’d say, if he’d even be welcome. Maybe John has someone over, maybe he’s finally starting to move on with someone else after Mary.

The thought shouldn’t repulse him as much as it does.

18:37. His phone pings and he grabs at it, hoping it is John saying he is on his way. Instead it is Mycroft, no text, just a picture of a man sitting on the bench near the Thames. He expands the picture and looks closer, realizing with a start the man is John. And that he is holding a whiskey bottle. Only a few sips missing though, this isn’t necessarily not good, maybe John had just wanted to clear his head with some fresh air. Never mind that a blizzard is expected to hit later that night. He deserved a drink after all he had been through.

Another message, again from Mycroft. “This isn’t his first bottle. He’s already finished a half-empty one”.

Oh God. Definitely not good.

Sherlock is in the cab before he has time to think. He can't lose his best friend. Not again. He's not delusional. He has no idealistic fantasies that he could ever be enough for John on his own, for the rest of his life. But he has to reach him now. He has to be enough tonight.

He knew John had been depressed, but he never imagined that it was this bad. Stupid, stupid. Is it possible that Mary had meant that much to him? It wouldn’t be the first time his inability to understand human emotion had interfered with his deduction abilities. But still, John had hated her at the end. Hadn’t he?

Would he really rather be alone and drunk than with Sherlock?

All he knows is, John can't finish that second bottle. If somehow, miraculously, the alcohol alone isn’t enough to kill him, who knows what that level of inhibition would do to his already fragile mental state. When he's drunk he becomes painfully honest, angry.

Sherlock would know.

Ten minutes twenty three seconds. The idiotic cab driver continually ignores Sherlock’s incessant demands that expediency is vital, muttering something about slippery roads and the impending storm. The promise not to tell his wife of 20+ years about his affair with her younger sister gets him a string of curses shouted in French, but also finally increases the speed slightly. Finally, he can see a shape in the distance, and he’s out of the car before it even comes to a complete stop, a wad of bills thrown in the driver’s general direction.

Sherlock plans to run but the sight of John as he approaches immediately makes him grind to a halt. He’s still in the exact same spot that he was in the picture, slightly more slumped, staring into the freezing darkness. He hasn’t noticed Sherlock, and, thankfully, the bottle looks almost as full as it did before.

Ok, then. He doesn’t actually want to take his life. Not yet anyway. He just wants to forget.

Sherlock starts slowly walking along the wet grass towards the bench. Oh God. Oh God. Oh God. This is worse than the time John was in the bonfire, worse than the time he saw him at the restaurant with Mary, ring box in hand. This time he can’t think of anything to do, anything that would fix this.

He racks his brain, wishing he could just take on John’s pain instead. He would gladly throw himself in the river if it meant John got a chance at happiness. At normal.

Your life is not your own, keep your hands off it. Sherlock’s own words come back to him. He remembers the first time he heard them, when Mycroft said them to him the third time he found him curled up on the stairs outside a local drug den, knowing that his next hit wouldn’t be his last, but almost wishing that it would. Back then, he genuinely hadn’t thought anyone would mind if he suddenly stopped existing. Mycroft would put on a good show, his parents would bring flowers to his grave for a few months. Eventually though, life would go on.

But then, John.

John had reacted in a way he never could have imagined during his two year absence. He had actually grieved, he had actually missed him. He had actually cared.

Would he still care now? Now that Sherlock was at least partially responsible for his wife’s death? Probably not. Deep down he wishes he would.

It’s ironic really. In becoming this close to John Watson, he had proved himself right. Love really is a dangerous disadvantage. It had cost him his life, multiple times. It had made him uninterested in the work these last months, no longer as effective at his job. It had made him hurt in ways he never thought possible. It had almost made him return to cocaine, if not for the knowledge that John might need him again.

It had made him end up here.

For the first time, he realizes why people are willing to risk everything for someone they care about. Despite everything, John had saved his life that day he casually strolled into St. Barts’. He knows he can never be happy on his own again. He was fooling himself to think he ever was.

He remembers that first day, meeting John, back when his biggest concerns had been finding cases exciting enough to keep him off drugs and placating Mrs. Hudson after he burned a hole through her kitchen counter. How he thought he had been able to convince himself he didn’t need anybody. How he was married to his work. How it was easier this way. Now, six years later, danger in itself isn’t enough. John, damn him, had taught him to feel. To be a better person. To enjoy talking to a living entity for once, instead of just a skull on a mantlepiece.

Which is how he knows that’s what John needs now. Friendship, warmth, caring. He doubts he’ll ever be able to save John the way John has saved him, but he knows he needs to try.

Slowly, Sherlock approaches the bench and sinks himself down onto it, coat collar up to protect against the wind, hands shoved deep into his pockets. The warmth of his body radiates off of him despite the frigid temperatures, and he knows John can feel his presence, even if it goes unmentioned.

They sit in silence for 4 minutes and 19 seconds until, finally, John speaks, head still facing straight ahead, bottle still open in his hand. “Ya dint have to come”. The words are slow and slurred, more so than Sherlock has ever heard them before. At least he’s still conscious and forming thoughts. That has to be a good sign. Right? Alcohol was never really his area after all.

Sherlock waits a beat, then offers a simple “no” in response as acknowledgement. Of course he didn’t have to come. But where else would he go, what else could possibly be more important than John? His best friend. His only friend. He wishes he could reach out and offer encouragement, something to show John how much he means to him, how broken he would be without him, how broken he is without him. To find some way to express to John that none of this is in any way his fault, that Mary would want him to still find some way to live, to help him somehow begin to heal. But, of course, he says nothing. He hates himself for it. Conversation, sentiment, has definitely never been his area and he’s sure he would just make the situation worse.

A few more minutes pass in silence. Finally, John turns his head and speaks again.

“I really thought Mary was the one.” He sways on the bench for a moment before grabbing onto the side to steady himself and slouching down. He turns his head upward, gazing into the sky as if the answers he’s searching for are somewhere within that eternal darkness. “I just thought… i dunno what I thought.”

Ah. Mary. He was expecting that to be the topic on John’s mind, but he’s still not prepared for the knot that forms in his belly at the mention of her name. He had tried to be supportive, he really did, but honestly, the woman went off and left her own husband for months. She had lied to him from the moment she met him. Of course, Sherlock lacks experience in this, but even he is pretty sure that’s not how relationships are supposed to work.

But that’s what John had wanted. Wanted her. Wasn’t it?

John didn’t want better. Did he?

He realizes John has paused, now is probably the time to try to offer support and comfort. That’s what people do after all. But while he’s still contemplating what word choice would be appropriate, John opens his mouth again.

“I shoulda married you ya know”, a singly husky bark of a laugh, devoid of all humor, escapes John as he sloppily sits up, waving the bottle as he looks off into the distance again. “You’re a bloody sociopath too but at least I mighta been happy”.

Sherlock’s sudden inability to breathe has nothing to do with the rapidly dropping temperature. Mercifully, John continues before Sherlock is forced to figure out what in the hell one is supposed to say to that.

“I mean look at you. You’re here. You’re HERE”. He waves his hand generally towards nothing in particular, gesturing at the deserted land around them. “There were so many times during that first month of our marriage that I just left, had to get out. She never once came after me.” He pauses and then picks up speed, slurring words as if in a desperate attempt to get them out before they become locked inside of him forever. “But ya know the worst thing? I don’t even miss ‘er that much. In the last few months I felt angry, but now…” he trails off. “I can’t even remember the last time we had sex.” Another humorless laugh. “The worst part is, I was getting ready to leave her.” He stabs absentmindedly at nothing, or perhaps at where he is still seeing her in his mind. “And then she was dead and I felt nothing, empty, and alone. But I felt like I should feel sad. Like I should have saved her. And now i dunno. It’s gettin’ harder to picture ‘er face.”

Another pause. Only six seconds this time.

“She was the one that was supposed to feel grief. I was supposed to leave her. She took everything from me. And she went and died and made me feel bad about not being there in time...”

He turns for the first time and clumsily places his hand on Sherlock’s shoulder. “I’m so sorry about that by the way. Blaming you. It’s not your fault. It’s my fault. You were right. I chose her. It’s always my fault.” He makes a feeble attempt to laugh again, but by now the situation is distinctly not humorous and it turns into a coughing fit instead. Finally, he just sighs and leans forward, haphazardly running his foot along the ground, seemingly trying to conjure up enough courage for what he’s about to say.

“Ya know, the truth is I was just jealous. Of my wife and my best friend. How cliche is that? I mean, I get why you liked her. I get why you texted her that night. She’s so much better at helping you than I ever was. I shoulda been the one who went first. I shoulda died”.

John. A terrible liar under the best of circumstances, he is positively atrocious at it when drunk. And he’s not lying now.

Sherlock’s mind spins trying to process this new information, to separate John’s ridiculous, self-deprecating ideas from reality.

So he really does despise her. That’s new information. Perhaps it is still him dealing with his grief.

But perhaps it’s not. Maybe he really was fed up with her lies and disappearing acts, and now feels guilty for not missing her more, wishing he could go back to simpler times.

But to think that Sherlock would rather have Mary than John in his life is so absurd he can’t even process words to form in response. John hasn’t actually been thinking that this whole time, has he? He hasn’t really been believing that he should have been the one to end up with a bullet? If anyone should have died that day it is obviously Sherlock.

Either way, Mary is gone and Sherlock is here. It is what it is. “It’s not your fault” is all he manages to get out. Of course it’s not his fault. Any idiot could see that. How can he possibly even think such a thing? But John makes no response, continuing to stare at the ground.

“For what it’s worth, I’m glad you didn’t die”. Oh God. That’s even worse. It makes the whole situation seem flippant, casual, almost funny, when in reality, it is the most since statement that Sherlock has ever uttered in his entire life. Also it brings the attention back to the fact that Mary did die, highlighting the fact that he still hasn’t responded to any of John’s other sudden declarations.

Unsurprisingly, he still receives no response.

Sherlock continues to sit quietly, eventually reaching his thumb out to brush against John’s hand on the bench, then gets bolder and slowly moves his whole hand until it’s covering John’s. Human contact. And, as John makes no move to pull away he hopes desperately that by some miracle it will be enough. That it will make John realize everything will be ok. That he is not alone. That he is loved.

But then John looks down at his bottle as if he’s forgotten about it and Sherlock is tired of sitting there doing nothing. Tired of not being able to help. He may not be able to make everything ok again, but he sure as hell can save John’s life tonight. And tomorrow night. And every night after that for as long as John will tolerate him.

Sherlock completely understands the desire to forget and escape reality. He will never judge John for wanting to let go; his own drug-filled past makes such an act impossible. But he’s clean now because of John, and he will damn well do everything in his power to ensure John does not fall into the pit of addiction that is almost impossible to escape.

Before John has time to react, Sherlock has grabbed the bottle and strode to the water’s edge, where he throws it as far as he can. He stands still for a second, watching it hit the murky darkness and get sucked under.

He turns back, expecting John to be upset, possibly violent, but instead he is sitting, eyes open and vulnerable, confusion etched into every line of his face, staring intently at Sherlock as if he’s attempting to solve a complicated puzzle.

“Why da ya care about me anyway?” he slurs as his hands reach for the bench as an anchor to keep himself from toppling over. “You’d be better off without me”.

Still not lying. He genuinely doesn’t know. How can he not know?

“John”. Sherlock is still standing, his voice low and husky, his eyes piercing into John’s, begging him to understand, needing him to understand. His mind flashes back.

He thinks about all the times John has surprised him, astounded him, He remembers what he had started to say the time John had last heard The Woman’s text, before he was interrupted by John’s vision of Mary. All these years. All the looks, all the selfless acts, all the brief touches, haven’t been enough. It is time to finally say it out loud.

He takes a breath as he once again returns to his seat on the bench, John still searching his eyes for an answer. “John. You are doing yourself a disservice. I have known many people in this world but made few friends, and I can safely say that you are the only one with whom I would ever want to spend an extended period of time, much less with whom I could ever live. You’re a skilled marksman, a phenomenal doctor, and an even better friend. Far from making my life worse, you have made it infinitely better and I am forever indebted to you for saving my life again and again. Mary wasn't your fault, she was mine. I’m sorry I wasn't there when you needed me before, and I will do everything possible to rectify such an error. So I will be here as many times as you need me, for as long as you will let me. From now on. You are my…”. He pauses awkwardly. Why is this so hard to say? He’s a grown man for Christ’s sake. Surely it’s obvious by now anyway, but still somehow has never been uttered aloud. He takes a steadying breath and tries again. “You are my best friend.”

There it is.

The real reason, the “because I love you” remains unsaid of course, but as he watches John’s eyes bore into his own, and hears the soft “oh” escape his lips he feels that it was understood.

Sherlock wants desperately to look away but for some reason he cannot seem to break eye contact. He has never been so vulnerable with someone before, and he feels naked and exposed. He almost wishes he could take the words back but they still remain, fluttering overhead.

John continues to process for what feels like an eternity, the confusion in his eyes deepening before slowly fading, becoming replaced by an emotion Sherlock has never seen before, that he can’t quite place.

Eventually, Sherlock cannot stand the silence any longer. He slides over slightly, so he is now on the opposite side of the bench, half-angling his body towards John, half toward the water in front of them. He opens his mouth to assure John that he doesn’t expect a response, that he doesn’t expect John to still consider him his best friend in return after everything he’s put him through. But even as he is struggling to push the words out, John comes to life again, his eyes flickering up to meet Sherlock’s for a brief moment before traveling down to his lips and remaining there for one second, two seconds, three… before Sherlock can deduce what’s happening, John is pulling on Sherlock’s coat to force his mouth closer to his own and pushing in.

Oh. OH.

The moment Sherlock’s lips brush John’s, his mind goes completely blank. Of the 17 possible scenarios he had cataloged for how John might respond to his attempts at intervention, this was nowhere close to any of them. He has suddenly lost all ability to think, to move, to process. All the thoughts that were previously swirling in his mind come to a grinding halt, swept away into the chilling wind before he can notice, to be replaced by only one: John.

Nothing as coherent as before, not what am I supposed to say to John?, or what does John want me to do?. Not even, holy fucking hell I’m being kissed. By John. Or this is definitely, totally, completely not good. Not yet anyway. It is just

John.

After a few moments, he slowly regains the slightest bit of composure to find that his mouth has gone slack, clearly an unconscious effort on the part of his body to allow John better access. John takes this as consent and continues to press in with full force. Sherlock has never seen him so vulnerable and yet so determined. Other than the occasional bite of food after a full day without, John has never taken charge of anything related to Sherlock. The occasional eye roll of course, and “oh god” whenever a new body part appears in the fridge, but certainly never like this.

Sherlock still has not really reciprocated, except for his body’s continual betrayal by refusing to allow him to close his mouth in the slightest. His hands remain on the bench, his eyes open, finally regaining their sense of sight only to start cataloguing each movement. John’s golden hair shines under the faint glow of a nearby street lamp. His eyes are closed, his hands clutched desperately to Sherlock's coat, pulling himself closer and closer, almost as if he were trying to melt into Sherlock's body as a final desperate attempt to escape his own.

And his lips are soft. So soft. Softer than they have any right to be in the frigid night air.

Sherlock has wanted this moment for so long, dreamed about it, thought about it more than he likes to admit, despite his constant efforts st keeping his mind under control. But he never thought that it would actually happen.

It still hasn’t, he reasons with himself, hard as it is to form rational thoughts while Johns body is pressed so close, his hand on his neck, his tongue continuing to explore, his lips softly forming whispers of groans that reverberate throughout Sherlock’s entire body and make his hair stand on end. The only reason this is happening is because John is lonely, depressed, and drunk out of his mind. He simply wants human contact, and Sherlock is relatively that. Also the only body available at the moment. John probably won’t even remember in the morning.

Still, Sherlock can’t seem to bring himself to push John away. If he’s being honest, he knows there will never be a moment where he will stop John from touching him in any capacity or in any form.

For a brief second, he allows himself the indulgence of pretending that it is real. That John is sober and by some miracle still wants him anyway. That they’re on a proper date and this is just a prelude of what’s to come when they get home. That afterward they’ll fall asleep in the same bed and John will make him breakfast and laugh, finally, in a way that reaches his eyes, and sit in his chair again, and write his blog in his ridiculous hunched-over, two-fingered typing way, and...

He snaps back to reality with a blink, John’s tongue still sloppily pushing against his. No need to get carried away. It’s just pathetic and can only possibly lead to disappointment.

At least before he knew what he was missing, he could pretend, try to make himself believe that friendship was enough, that physical contact, while fulfilling for ordinary people, would just be a useless distraction from his work. That feeling John, kissing John would be no different than his other encounters, and ultimately unsatisfying.

Now he knows for sure that that’s not true. He would give up anything to do this with John for the rest of eternity. For John to want this, for him to have permission to reciprocate. He wishes he could just forget this night, for it not to torture him every time he sees John, or even thinks about him, a reminder of what could have been. But as his mind palace is cataloging every detail, every touch, every noise, he knows that is impossible.

He can’t delete anything when it comes to John.

All of these various thoughts filter through Sherlock’s brain in a matter of seconds, and before long, maybe realizing Sherlock is simply sitting there immobilized, maybe finally realizing who he’s kissing, more likely feeling dizzy and sick as the alcohol continues to take affect, John slowly pulls back and sits up. Sherlock braces himself for the look of disgust in John’s eyes, for perhaps a slurred apology or some other indication of regret, but it doesn’t come.

Instead, John’s eyes are still open and defenseless, his guard completely down. His lips are swollen and ruby red, a stark contrast to the cold air. As his tongue comes out to subconsciously lick his lips, Sherlock can’t help but follow it with his eyes.

Sherlock absentmindedly realizes it has started snowing as John leans back on the bench and slides down until he almost falls off.

“You”, he slurs, obviously taking great pains to try to control himself and talk coherently even as his body sways unsteadily on the bench. He pauses for a moment, his face scrunching together in concentration, making Sherlock want nothing more than to kiss the adorable little wrinkle that forms in the middle of his forehead. “It’s you. You make me happy. You…”

He topples over towards Sherlock and manages to catch himself at the last moment, his hand reaching out to grab Sherlock’s shoulder to propel himself back upward. His hand remains as he continues, raising his other index finger to waggle it in Sherlock’s direction. “You...keep me right.” He seems overcome with the effort it’s taking to make even the slightest movements and allows his head to fall bonelessly against his chest. His eyes close.

Sherlock wonders if John remembers that he was the one who said that phrase first. He must, right? He wonders if he realizes how long it took him to choose those words exactly. How no combination of sounds in any language could ever have adequately described the multitude of ways in which John had saved his life. How three little words in particular kept forcing themselves to the forefront of his mind no matter how hard he tried to push them away. How terrified he was, because he’d never felt them before. Didn’t even realize he felt them at all until it was too late.

As torturous as it was to give that speech knowing he could never say what he really felt, the one small mercy was that he never had to hear John say those words to Mary either. Still, he must have when they were alone.

Didn’t he?

Either way, it’s clearly time to go before John passes out entirely.

He puts John’s arm around his shoulder, stooping so that he can reach, and half drags, half carries him to the street, where miraculously a cab is coming despite the time of night and the snow now falling rapidly. Upon further contemplation, it was probably sent by Mycroft, but at the moment it’s his only option and John is his first priority. Hacking into Mycroft’s phone to deliver a strongly worded message via morse code can wait for another day.

He pulls John into the seat next to him, hoping that he won’t be sick on the ride home, but he is mercifully asleep even before the door is closed.

His head rests again Sherlock’s shoulder, and once again, Sherlock is startled by how natural it feels. Normally, he detests physical contact, but this is John. John. Who can incapacitate any adversary without batting an eye but who struggles to use a chip and pin machine. Who can beat up a criminal, leaving several bruised ribs and sprains, yet in the same hour with the same hand, gently bandage the most gruesome wound. Full of contradictions: the doctor and the soldier, arrogant and humble, brilliant and an idiot. The best thing to ever happen to Sherlock, and also the worst. John taught him what it meant to care about someone more than himself, to be human, to become the person John already thought he was. And then he left, making Sherlock wish he could go back to simply being a sociopath. But apparently there isn’t a switch for that sort of thing. Sherlock would know; he conducted extensive research on the subject.

Sherlock slowly circles his thumb on the back of John’s hand as he continues to sleep. Does he really wish he could go back to not caring? He genuinely doesn’t know. He does wish that this moment could last forever.

Upon consideration he realizes that that’s probably a bit not good, given the fact that John has had one of the worst nights of his life and is currently almost unconscious.

But he was also open, vulnerable, affectionate. Sherlock is allowed to gaze at him, to touch him, to smell him, to bring him back to Baker Street like the old days, like nothing has changed.

Tomorrow John will go back to his house, he’ll go back to never mentioning Mary, back to keeping his feelings bottled up, back to awkward conversations when he even sees Sherlock at all.

712. That’s the number of John’s heartbeats Sherlock can register in the silent cab, the snow falling outside making the experience seem almost dreamlike. He wonders for a brief moment if it is actually in his head. He’s always worried about one day getting so deep into his mind palace that he can’t differentiate between it and reality.

But, no. Even there, he would never have John say what he said, do what he did.

All too soon they arrive and Sherlock manages to wake John up enough to half drag him through the door. As they ascend the first few steps, his mind is immediately pulled back to John’s stag night, into what now seems like a different lifetime. He barely remembers what they talked about, something about “international reputations” and “Hudders”, but he remembers laughing. He remembers feeling safe, accepted, comfortable. He had pretended to have had a horrible time the next morning for John’s sake, but in reality it was the happiest he’d ever been. Even more surprising, given that he wasn’t thinking about work at all. Who could have guessed that after all those years surrounding himself with more and more cases in an attempt to challenge himself, all he really needed was one night of having a certain, stout army doctor all to himself again, one night of seeing him laugh, of watching him let at least one of the walls that he do determinedly surrounded himself with down?

The promise of love, the pain of loss, the joy of redemption. God, he really had ended up being obvious after all.

Funny, when he decided not to tell John he was alive after jumping, all he could think of was not jeopardizing his plan, that nothing was more important than taking down Moriarty’s network. He never could have conceived that John would actually greive. Certainly never imagined that he would so easily find someone else to commit his life too, given his prior history with relationships up until then. Didn’t realize it would bother him so much that he did.

Now, he would give anything, would leave Mycroft to deal with Moriarty on his own, if it meant that John would stay.

By now, John is completely useless, his knees buckling, his feet practically dragging along the floor as Sherlock struggles to support his body weight. There’s no way Sherlock can get him up the stairs without potentially killing both of them, which honestly just seems anticlimactic at this point, after all their previous brushes with death. Rather than try, he instead half-carries, half drags John into his own bedroom and gently sinks him down onto the bed. John’s eyes are closed, even though he’s still slightly awake, and Sherlock lies him down and tenderly removes his shoes, then somehow manages to find a blanket tucked away in his closet to cover him with.

As he goes to leave, he turns at the door and is stopped in his tracks at the image of John, lying on his back, one arm draped lazily over his forehead, lips slightly parted, eyes closed. Comfortable. Warm. Safe.

Once again he is caught off guard by the longing for different circumstances. Circumstances where John ending up in Sherlock's bed, sleepy and disheveled, is a regular occurrence. Where Sherlock is allowed to crawl in next to him, to rest his head on his shoulder, to kiss the irritatingly exposed patch of skin on his left side, right underneath his colllerbone, to let his lips trace up to his shoulder and down his arm. To still be there in the morning, to see John wake up with a drowsy smile, to finally kiss his lips fully and passionately. He’s never felt the desire to cuddle before. God. Just the implication has been enough for him to abruptly leave after several one-night stands, rapidly lecturing on the effects of chemicals firing and the parallels between desire for meaningless comfort and idiocy, calls of “arsehole” and “bloody prick” following him out the door.

But now. Not only does he think he would not mind, he almost craves it.

Suddenly, the words he left unspoken are too much, and have been for far too long.

He hesitates another beat, tenderly resting his hand on the doorframe, capturing this moment in his mind palace where it will always remain, no matter what tomorrow brings.

“I love you” he whispers into the darkness. I have always loved you, since that first moment. I will always love you. He startles for a moment when he notices John’s eyes flicker open before closing again, a silent acknowledgment that he’s heard. Sherlock prays he won’t remember in the morning, yet finds he doesn’t mind as much as he should if he does.