It was getting harder and harder not to tell him. Once Sherlock realized it himself, it became an almost Herculean task to keep from telling John everything. He had grown so used to telling John nearly everything that went through his head that not having his usual audience was agonizing. But some things needed to stay secret. Or at least, that was what he told himself every time he lost his nerve.
One morning at the breakfast table, it was particularly nagging. John didn't notice Sherlock watching him. He was too engrossed in the morning paper to look up. But Sherlock had been stealing glances at him for a while, glances which turned progressively longer until they became a continuous stare.
When John suddenly looked up from his paper, Sherlock promptly downed a drink of his coffee, trying to appear occupied. It was warmer than he remembered, and it burned. He managed to prevent a coughing fit, but only barely.
“What?” John asked, paper still in his hands.
“You looked like you wanted to say something.”
“Whatever gave you that impression?”
“You had the look on your face. Try to keep any deductions rattling around in your head to less than five minutes, though, yeah? It's still early.” He turned the page of the paper, glancing between the print and Sherlock. “Come on, I know when you're resisting saying something. Get it out of your system.”
Sherlock opened his mouth to speak, but paused. In his head was a string of words, admissions that he probably shouldn't make for the sake of his own dignity.
“Did you know that there is a special subset of serial killers called Angels of Death, or Angels of Mercy if you prefer less biblical imagery? They are serial killers who, in their daily lives, are medical professionals. Like yourself.”
“Well not you specifically, of course, but your profession, yes. Although I suppose with careful planning you could make for a decent serial killer.”
John's face wasn't so much an expression of surprise as it was it is too early for this. Without missing a beat, he said, “Good morning to you too, Sherlock.”
He barely got the sentence out before Sherlock stood and left the room, his coffee abandoned on the table.
* * *
John sat quietly in his chair as he always did at this time of night, reading and usually failing to relax. It always amused Sherlock, how much he attempted to be like everyone else when the reality was that John was only truly relaxed when on a case. John wasn't even entirely aware of it, which Sherlock just found endearing.
Sherlock watched him from behind his laptop across the room. He liked these calm evenings in Baker Street. True, it lacked the adrenaline and speed of the work, but now and again, he preferred this slice of domesticity.
He had failed the other day, a fact which continued to buzz around in his mind, a near-constant irritation. Why was he incompetent in this one area? His eyes fell to the computer screen, not actually seeing anything. He forced himself to quit fidgeting with a pen he'd picked up from the tabletop.
“I have something quite important to tell you.” Sherlock looked up to face him. John waited, eyebrows raised, finger marking his place in his book. With a quick snap of his wrist, Sherlock shut the laptop. “Vital information, really.”
After another silence, John said, “Okay.”
When Sherlock looked at him, his throat felt tight, but he forced himself to speak anyway. “Do you know why Stradivarius violins are thought to have a higher quality of sound than others?” It was all he could do to keep from closing his eyes and cursing himself right then and there.
John frowned, confused. He set his book down, his hand reflexively moving to the side of his face, an expression of concentration that he often assumed when Sherlock wasn't making any sense.
“Stradivarius,” he said.
“Yes, of course. One of the leading theories is related to when they were made. The peak of their production coincided with what was known as the 'little ice age' in Europe, a period of colder temperatures.”
“And this has to do with violins because?”
“The colder temperatures may have resulted in denser wood. Denser wood produced a different sound quality in the instruments. Which may be why we've been unable to recreate it since.”
John stared blankly at him. “And this is very important information?”
The longer John silently stared at him, the more Sherlock wanted to run. But he forced himself to keep his face unreadable, the usual picture of vaguely superior intellectualism. He hoped it was effective.
“You've lost me.” John didn't sound especially troubled. He had grown rather used to being lost.
Sherlock stood from the table, laptop under his arm. “As ever John, you see but you do not observe.” At least that was honest.
Sherlock walked calmly – at least, he hoped it was calmly – to his bedroom, shutting the door behind him. He leaned against it, laptop still tucked under his arm, staring off into space.
Surely it wasn't as bad as he thought it was. Surely John was used to him rattling off seemingly unrelated facts by now. That was fairly normal behavior, right?
He sighed, rubbing his hand over his eyes. No matter what he kept telling himself, he knew the answer.
* * *
Sherlock had been playing his violin for four hours, which, coincidentally, was how long John had been gone. He ended up so lost in the music that he didn't even hear John come in.
Sherlock stopped playing, looking over his shoulder to find John standing behind his chair, bags on the kitchen table behind him.
“It's a piece of Romantic music, Brahms.”
John paused for a second before saying, “Yeah, it sounded romantic. But I guess violin has the tendency to sound that way.”
It took Sherlock a moment before he realized what John had said. He had one flash of panic, suddenly grateful that he had never been one to turn red at inopportune moments, followed by, “No, no, no. Not romantic as in romance, John. As in the Romantic movement.”
“Which is different how?”
“The Romantic movement had little to do with romance, and actually had a great deal to do with darker subjects like the supernatural, or the nocturnal, the fabulous and strange. In fact, speaking generally and not of music, Jane Eyre is a prime example of Romanticism, and it includes a madwoman locked away in an old house who escapes in the night and tries to set someone on fire.”
“Well, that certainly makes the difference clear,” John said, deadpan. “You're right. Not romantic.” He turned and walked back into the kitchen, beginning to put things away in the cabinets.
Sherlock was grateful John's back was turned. He would never have been able to look him in the eye after that lovely bit of conversation.
Who in their right mind, when provided a perfect opportunity, uses it to bring up someone being set on fire? Of all time periods, he had to be playing a Romantic piece. Sherlock set his bow and violin down, pacing around the living room. His eyes lingered on the wall, which was looking more and more appealing. Maybe banging his head against it enough times would make him come to his damn senses. Or at least knock him unconscious so he wouldn't have to deal with these missed opportunities and terrible conversational errors.
He spent a while after that in his room, feeling rather paralyzed and incredibly foolish, all under the lie of looking for a piece of sheet music. Said piece didn't exist, but John didn't know that. Sherlock couldn't manage to be in the same room with him, not right now.
At this rate, there was no telling what he was liable to say if he dared to open his mouth again.
While he sat on the edge of his bed, wondering how much longer he could stay in his room before John noticed how long he'd been gone, he replayed the afternoon over and over in his head. The way John had said the word romantic was far too appealing. No doubt a trick of tone of voice, or a trick of Sherlock's lying memory, a false impression to lessen the feeling of mortification. John's words always had a soft edge to them, didn't they? It wasn't odd for a word to sound so easy when it was spoken by him. Surely the way he had said it was a cruel figment of imagination, a hyperbolic version of his usual patterns of speech.
Absolutely, he told himself, it is all my own hyperbole.
* * *
The storm had gone on all day, and it had given Sherlock a headache. He had turned off most of the lights in the living room to combat the pain, leaving the kitchen light on as a compromise. He sat on one end of the sofa, knees pulled up to his chest, glaring petulantly at the rain outside the window. Now and then there would be a burst of thunder, a flash of lightning, a particularly vicious sounding rush of wind. The storm had completely ruined his productivity for the night, and had put him in a mood that was only redeemable by John's presence. Before he had come home, Sherlock had been sulky and touchy, but once John returned, Sherlock softened a little, even though the storm was still driving him crazy. It was always easier to weather such things under John's rather calming influence. John had gotten annoyed with him turning off most of the lights, but he had finally given up. His initial irritation stemmed from him wanting to be productive as well, and needing light to do so, but he seemed to be enjoying the dark and useless evening, more than Sherlock, anyway.
John had been busying himself with meaningless tasks at a slow pace, clearly in no hurry to actually accomplish anything. After a while, he came and sat down next to Sherlock on the sofa, leaning his arms on his knees and following Sherlock's gaze to the storm outside the window. Sherlock's eyes flitted away from the rain, finding John a much more welcome sight. He had been quiet today, coming off of a recent end to another ill-fated relationship. But he didn't look brooding tonight, much more at peace with life. While Sherlock never mourned the end of any of John's relationships, he never did like seeing John upset. If it took a night of forced dark and quiet to help him be less upset, then Sherlock was willing to put up with a month's worth of storms.
It could work, couldn't it? It could at least work better than it had with the girlfriends. They already knew each other's quirks, already knew they could tolerate each other even under the oddest circumstances. Each knew how the other took their tea, who was the lighter sleeper, how they preferred to pass their time. It could work. If he would just do something about it.
A flash of lightning briefly illuminated the room, making Sherlock wince a little at the pain that knifed through his head. When he reopened his eyes, John was watching him, concerned.
“Yes, perfectly all right. Just –” It should have been so easy. But all Sherlock could do was shake his head. “Lightning. Not helping my head.”
John nodded, pushing himself to his feet after a moment. He walked off to the kitchen and returned a few minutes later with some painkillers and an ice pack. Sherlock obediently took the pills with his tea. John held the ice pack in place against Sherlock's head, positioning Sherlock's hand to hold it where he had decided it should go. Of all the details, John even knew what side of his head he got headaches on. John sat back down next to him without a word, Sherlock considering the constant, devoted care, what it meant when someone knew that much about you.
“Should kick in within the next thirty or forty minutes,” John said absently, a phrase he was used to telling people. Another flash of lightning, one quick second of harsh light on John's face. He looked toward the window, away from Sherlock, drawn by the flash.
“Did you know that in French and Italian, the phrases for 'struck by lightning' are coup de foudre and colpo di fulmine, respectively?” John turned and met his eyes. “Of course, that's the literal translation. Typically the phrases are used idiomatically, in which case the meaning shifts from 'struck by lightning' to 'love at first sight,' which is troubling in a way. I have yet to understand why anyone thought it would be a good comparison, love and potentially life-threatening nerve and organ damage.”
Sherlock expected John to look away, to roll his eyes and go on with his night, but he didn't. It felt like forever before he let his eyes be drawn back to the storm outside their window, but Sherlock was flooded with relief when he wasn't under that gaze anymore. Part of him hoped that John would get up and leave entirely, but he didn't.
Sherlock lasted five minutes before he made excuses about his head and left the room.
* * *
The following night, the two of them were walking home from dinner, having gone out after realizing the only items in the fridge were body parts. One of them was a human heart, a detail which Sherlock hoped would speak for him, but only garnered a muttered “Jesus Christ.”
Sherlock's phone buzzed in his pocket, and he paused on the pavement to check it, secretly hoping that perhaps a case was available to keep his mind occupied. But it was only Mycroft.
As he tapped out a reply, he glanced at John, who had stopped walking as well, waiting on him. He was looking at the sky. The storm from the day before had blown over completely, leaving the sky untainted by clouds and lightning.
“Stars don't actually twinkle, you know,” Sherlock said. He looked back at his phone to send the message before replacing it in his pocket. He resisted a resigned sigh. It had become so common, replacing what he wanted to say with something meaningless, that it only made him feel tired and empty.
“No. It's a visual illusion, a trick of turbulence in the sky. Usually a star isn't an individual star either. Often what you're seeing are binary stars.”
John waited for him to elaborate, and when he didn't, Sherlock nervously glanced around the street. No cars to jump in front of, no reason to enter any of the stores and restaurants. He hadn't thought this through.
“Nowhere to go this time. No doors to shut,” John said. Sherlock whipped his head around to face John, who was calmly standing there, hands in his pockets, the picture of neutrality.
“What do you mean?” Sherlock fought against the heavy feeling of mortification growing in his stomach. He had noticed.
“You know what I mean. You've been doing this all week, spouting off facts and vanishing.”
“I have no idea what you're talking about.”
John scoffed, smiling a little. He stared at the ground for a minute and said quietly, “Fine. What are binary stars, anyway?” John had once told Sherlock that oftentimes, when people asked a question, they were actually asking something else entirely. Sherlock had a feeling this was one of those times.
He took a deep breath. “Binary stars are two stars orbiting around a common center of mass. There is always a primary star, and a second one, known as its companion star. Because of course every primary star must have a companion star. The orbit would be all wrong without it.”
“You idiot,” John said, his smile widening. Sherlock felt the automatic I know rise in his head, but John silenced it with a kiss, gentle and easy, his hand holding onto Sherlock's arm. “I am perfectly content being your companion star.”
Sherlock was struck dumb for a moment before finally getting out, “You – you do realize what I said? Do you realize what you're saying?”
“Yeah, Sherlock. The human heart wasn't exactly your most subtle move. Or the idiomatic use of 'struck by lightning.' ”
“Well, I – you see –”
“Just promise me one thing.”
“Try to avoid calculating my potential skill as a serial killer over the breakfast table.”
Finally, Sherlock was able to laugh. “I will certainly attempt it.”
“Good. Now come on. Let's go home. There's no sense in standing out here all night.”
John started to walk away, but Sherlock stopped him. “John? Thank you. For being in the same orbit as me.”
John smiled, reaching out for Sherlock's arm, dragging him into step as they walked down the sidewalk.
“Thank you for letting me.”