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A Shot in the Dark

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Sherlock heard the jangle of keys as John ran up the stairs. John stopped suddenly in the doorway, as if held back by an invisible barrier.

He was an hour earlier than Sherlock had expected. And had only finished half his pint. Curious. Lestrade must have been particularly tiresome tonight, which was quite an achievement.

John still hadn’t moved.

“Please, come in,” Sherlock said sarcastically, and poured more yoghurt into the blender. John slowly stepped into the flat.

John’s fingers twitched, so slightly that he probably didn’t even notice. The anxiety was back, then.

“You’re home early,” Sherlock said, buying time. Nearly impossible to tell what had set this off, unless John mentioned it. And half the time John wasn’t even aware of it himself. He would come home from the shops shaking and completely oblivious.

John blew out a breath. “Yeah.”

“What did Lestrade want?”

“Oh, uh. Needed advice about the divorce.”

He was lying. Balance of probability meant Lestrade had provoked him somehow, whether intentional or not.

“Good thing you escaped, then.”

“Yeah.” John wandered into the sitting room and stared at the carpeting, his back turned to Sherlock. He fiddled with the keys in his left hand.

Sherlock measured out the sugar and dumped it into the blender. These nights went best when he let John lead the conversation.

He secured the lid and set it on medium speed. It was coming along well so far. John shouted something over the whirring.

“Sorry?” Sherlock asked.

“I said what are you working on?” John finally took off his jacket and hung it by the door, slipping his keys into the pocket. He came into the kitchen and glanced over the array of objects on the table, including a brick, a garden statue, a collection of paving stones, and a trowel.

“Rates of moss growth on different surfaces. It’s the garden equivalent of dust. Tells you how long a place has been abandoned.”

Sherlock peered into the blender, then removed the lid and sniffed it. He picked up a paintbrush and one of the paving stones and started to apply an even coat.

“And you’re painting it on?” John asked, bless him.

“Mhm. Found the recipe on Pinterest.”

“Suppose it’s not the worst thing you’ve grown in our kitchen.” John picked up the miniature statue and examined it. It was a frog wearing an anorak and holding a red brolly overhead. “God, where do you find these things?”

“Homeless network keeps an eye out for anything interesting that washes up. Spotted that one near Waterloo Bridge.”

John laughed and shook his head. “You’re a hoarder.”

“No I’m not!”

“You’re paying people to fish rubbish out of the Thames.”

“It’s not rubbish, John. He’s got a sort of quiet dignity.”

Sherlock reached for the statue and his fingertips brushed against John’s. John flinched and dropped the statue onto the table. The red umbrella snapped off with a plink.

Shit, sorry.”

“It’s fine.” Sherlock gathered the pieces and set them to the side.

John rubbed a hand over his face. “I think I’d better call it a night.”

“Alright.” It was most certainly not alright. He’d have to keep an eye on this.

As John headed upstairs, Sherlock pulled out his mobile and texted Lestrade.

What the hell did you say to John?

* * *

Sherlock heard a loud clang and leaped out of bed. He threw on his dressing gown and found John in the kitchen, standing over a pile of cutlery scattered on the floor.

“Are you alright?” Sherlock asked.

John sighed. “Yes. Sorry. I’m a mess tonight.”

“Technically it’s tomorrow already,” Sherlock said, trying to keep him talking. Together they stacked the cutlery back in the cupboard, John’s hands still shaking.

“What were you looking for?” Sherlock asked.

“I don’t know. A distraction. Woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep.”

Sherlock pulled out a chair from the table. “Sit down, I’ll be right back.”

He darted into his room to check his phone. There were two messages from Lestrade.

:) :) :)

You can thank me later

Was Lestrade some sort of sadist? He began to type something rather crude, but John was waiting on him. He left the phone in his room and returned to the kitchen.

John was leaning against the counter with an unfocused look in his eyes. Sherlock reached into the cupboard and pulled down a bottle of whiskey and two shot glasses. He set the glasses on the counter and began to pour.

“What are you doing?” John asked.

Sherlock gave him a look that stopped just short of an eye roll.

“I can’t drink, I have work in a few hours.”

Sherlock cleared his throat. “Er, John. You’ve just had your first anxiety attack in months. You should probably call in regardless.”

John sighed. He picked up the bottle and read the label. “This is good stuff.” He’d take John’s word for it. It was a long-ago gift from a client. “Shouldn’t waste it on me.”

“It’s not a waste.” Sherlock pushed his moss experiment to the side, and set the glasses down at the two seats closest to his room. He took a seat, and John followed suit.

Sherlock raised his glass. “Cheers.” Their glasses clinked before they tipped them back.

Sherlock screwed up his face as the drink slid down his throat. Perhaps exaggerated a bit for effect. But it paid off: there was that lovely warm giggle from John.

“You missed an exciting evening last night,” Sherlock said.

“Hm?”

“I finished the first coat of moss on all the samples. You can help with the next one, if you’d like.” Sherlock smiled. “Combines all the fun of watching grass grow and watching paint dry.”

John snorted. “Beats the time you roped me into checking toenail clippings for signs of fungus.”

“That was a highly educational opportunity,” Sherlock teased. “I’m sure you learned a number of valuable lessons.”

“Yeah, I learned not to let you ask me for any favours,” John said. “Why are your experiments always so gross?”

“Needs must, John.”

“It’s always rooting around in Southwark skips, or something. Why can’t we go to Majorca? You can poke about in the tide pools, and I’ll tan.”

“You’re becoming quite the sun worshipper in your old age. You’ve just come back from holiday.”

John inhaled sharply. “Yeah.” He turned away.

This was the problem, then. Something to do with that awful woman he took to Cornwall. Leave it to Lestrade to pry into John’s personal life.

“Sherlock,” John said, staring at the table.

“Mhm.”

He looked up. “I’m sorry.”

Sherlock startled. Where was this coming from?

“I forgive you.”

John scoffed. “You don’t even know what I’m apologizing for.”

“It doesn’t matter,” he emphasized. “I forgive you.”

Silence settled over them. Why on earth did John want to apologize? Is this what was causing the anxiety? After John’s reaction to the mere mention of holidays, surely it was the Cornwall woman.

Could it be both, somehow?

“That frog is staring at me.” John broke the silence at last, nodding at the statue on the worktop. “I think he’s plotting his revenge.”

Sherlock rolled his eyes. “He’s just being dramatic. He’s a frog, he’ll be fine in a little rain.”

“Suppose so. Plus he’s still got the anorak.”

Sherlock picked the two pieces up idly and whistled a tune. He tried sticking the umbrella back in the frog’s hand. Ceramic with clean breakage. It would be fine with a little glue.

“Is that…?” John asked.

Sherlock’s jaw snapped shut. It was, unfortunately. Hallelujah, It’s Raining Men. Hadn’t known it was still lodged in the hard drive. Embarrassing.

John giggled, then began to laugh hysterically. Sherlock laughed along with him, and finally relaxed. John had turned the corner. He’d be fine within a couple of hours.

John laughed so hard that he started to cough. “Are you alright?” Sherlock asked.

“Yes,” John wheezed. “Oh.” He shook his head, still giggling. “I don’t know what I was worried about.”

He turned his gaze onto Sherlock. It was so warm and fond that Sherlock squirmed.

“Erm, John.”

“Yeah?”

“I’m…” Something caught in his throat.

“Go on.”

“I’m… not sure what you apologized for. But. You shouldn’t worry. About me.”

John stared for a long moment, then shook his head. “You’re always one step ahead of me,” he said. “All this time and you beat me by thirty seconds.”

“I don’t understand.”

John got up from the table and stood over Sherlock. He ran his thumb over the collar of Sherlock’s dressing gown. “Then I guess it’s my turn to lead.” He tugged gently on the silk. “Up.”

Sherlock scrambled to his feet. John slid his hand up until his fingertips brushed the nape of Sherlock’s neck. Sherlock stood as still as possible while trying not to pass out.

“Breathe, Sherlock.” John laughed and Sherlock felt a warm puff of air on his cheek. “Yeah?”

Sherlock nodded and exhaled. John leaned in and kissed him.

Sherlock closed his eyes. When he opened them he squinted at the light streaming through the kitchen window.

“You’ve cured me,” John said, smiling. “I’m ready to go back to bed.”

Sherlock struggled to catch his breath. At last he managed, “The sun’s already up.”

“Well, good thing I’m planning to take the day off.”

Sherlock laughed and pulled him towards the bedroom.