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Sleep is a Place

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Midnight. Street lights paint the sitting room in orange and yellow: twin columns of faded fire, climbing the door, excising a segment of the kitchen. John has been in bed for eighty-seven minutes, retreating with groans and sighs up the stairs; there has been no further sound for seventy-one minutes, because when John has been properly occupied he drops quickly into good, deep sleep.

(When John has been held in stasis, odd days at the surgery or daytime telly with Mrs. Hudson, his sleep is broken and riddled with dreams; he still lays in his bed, only stumbling down if drawn in by kitchen odors or the violin; he cannot be drawn down now, not without waking Mrs. Hudson as well...

You are the only motion in the room: you and the dust that is drifting down, ethereal, seemingly independent of gravity. You breath and the dust shifts, everything displaced; your hold your breath and everything is still again. You have not slept in four days. There is only so far you can travel with caffeine and nicotine and will, before your faculties begin to suffer for it; but the case is over, a murder prevented, a man in jail and a woman free. You and John ate at Angelo's, John teasing you about your rediscovered appetite, and now you are heavy and slow, bones creaking under the weight of your skin. Your body is burdened with sleep but not your mind: your thoughts are like the dust in the air, spun up in languid motion, slow and fine, impossible to stop.

You exhale, and the dust goes flying. Chaotic motion, each fragment impossible to model—but only a moment, and then it's back to baseline, homeostasis. (You deplore stasis; deplore regularity; deplore routines and predictability. Is there nothing new under the sun? Of course, your work relies on patterns, on probabilities, and you'd be well shot of a job if chaos reigned; you hear these thoughts in John's voice, teasing you, always practical and efficient in the business of the so-called real world in ways that you are not.

(Is this a misnomer, "real" world? Isn't reality that which can be empirically proven, the replicated study, the statistical trend? Why then are facts and figures less real than the lies we agree to tell ourselves, the mass delusion of unexampled hearsay that structures "normal" people and their boring little lives? Why are you always faulted for speaking the truth?

(Two people could probably explain that to you, but you don't care to talk to Mycroft and John is asleep, the good deep sleep of a chase and a fight, and it seems you might saw on your violin for ages and not summon him; time seems to have digressed from true linearity, curving around itself like the dust curves at random in the air, Brownian motion, a Brownian life. Your thoughts are digressing into tangent lines and parentheticals, open and dangling, because it has been four days and two hours and five years and a lifetime—since? Until?

You've quite forgotten the metaphor.

...Your left leg hurts in an abstract way; you jumped from a window and landed on it hard. Your shoulder aches from a punch imperfectly dodged. There is paracetamol in the kitchen if you could move for it, if your body were not molded to the couch, sinking into its divots and curves and the counters of the stubborn springs. Would that you were a creature of thought, pure spinning reason like the dust in the air, a muse for John or Lestrade to conjure without the frustrating necessities of living. Bodies are tiresome, the weight of bone and muscle, the fragile balance of chemicals reacting: homeostasis again, tug of war, for again and again you give in to food and sleep and again it is not enough, never enough, not for long....

The only thing worse that sleep is this: not sleeping, mind and body out of synch, out of joint, in this witching hour of night so that your thoughts are slow and light and wander into a labyrinth of parentheses. Your eyes burn, and familiar things slip in and out of focus; you want sleep now, want to wake up, want anything instead of this fuzzy torpor. You want, but only in abstract ways, because there is a distinction now between wanting and doing that doesn't complicate your waking life, and sleep is not a place you can just find.

(John does not have this problem with sleep, not when he's been working (properly working, not just at the surgery, you haven't voiced this distinction to him yet but there are statistical trends; John sleeps well when he's relaxed by danger, he sleeps—what was the metaphor? The sleep of the righteous man. Strong moral principles and a crack shot. John sleeps well after things that should've haunted him, is haunted only when he's at rest. It's entirely possibly he's just as mad as you but in more socially-acceptable ways. He sleeps like a soldier, dropping off nearly anywhere and waking quick and smooth; he is a machine that rusts in disuse and you, oh, you are a chemical reaction, self-sustaining, lost in Brownian motion beyond all limits of your mortal coil.

(The metaphors are getting rather out of hand, aren't they?

(But if sleep is a place and you go there (pseudogeneric-you of colloquial English, a habit you've resisted since grammar school...then sleep is indeed a place, and you've got a bit lost, wandering off like the dust in the light; it's not your body dragging down your mind, no, really, your mind is dragging your body off course. If sleep is a place you can find it, surely John knows where it is, righteous John with his steady hand and his infinite knowledge of mass delusions. John can lead you there, and John is a place you can find... stand, and your knee aches. You shuffle barefoot up the stairs, blinking your burning eyes, letting the fiery streetlights burn you away. One two three four five six seven eight nine ten douze treze quatorze quinze...oh, damn, you missed eleven. No, it's far too late to go back for it now; must push on, up the last three steps. John has left his bedroom door cracked. (There are nights he positively slams it, when you are being awful and he is being irrational and the violin only serves to conjure monsters; there are nights he keeps it shut to keep you out, and nights he keeps it shut to keep himself in, the nightmare nights when he's rusting in stasis. But he left it cracked tonight. (Possibly he was worried about you, gone quiet after dinner, bogged down by sleep and thought and carbohydrates; possibly he was afraid you'd get bored and set fire to furniture. But it pleases you to think that he knew you were coming, that this is a map, that he left the door open because sleep is where he is.

You don't need to switch on the lights; rusty orange puddles on the floor of the room, devoid of dancing motes, and in its glow you can just make out John, loosely sprawled on his back, one arm over his head. It's a childlike pose, and you study it, the shape of his shoulders under his t-shirt and the rise and fall of his breathing. He runs beside you and fights in your stead and gives himself up for you, sword and shield, and he sleeps soundly, only ever then. You are possibly having a revelation about this.

You are possibly very tired.

John snuffles as you slide under the blanket with him, dressing gown and all, then snaps awake. "What? Sherlock? What the hell--?"

"Shhhhh." It's a single phoneme, pure sibilance, and in the still of the room it seems like it will never end, like all the air will rush out of you with it, all the dancing motes of thought. It's a terrible idea and you are too tired enough to mind it. John's mattress is entirely too firm.

"Sherlock, it's three o'clock in the bloody morning. What's the matter?"

"Sleep." It's an appealing thought (the only thought, because somehow it went three while your mind was in motion and everything's going increasingly gummy around the edges. You steal one of John's pillows and close your aching eyes; everything smells like him here, and you can feel him roll over to face you, little puffs of breath on your face scattering thoughts and atoms. The blanket is really quite nice.

"Sherlock. Sherlock, open your eyes. You're not concussed, are you? On drugs?"

"Clean," you murmur irately.

"All right, but then explain why you're in my bed!"

You try to walk yourself back and you can't; your logic has dissolved and left you heavy and warm in John Watson's bed, trains of thought gone trackless through the air. "This is where the sleep is," you try to tell him, because he accepts these things sometimes, like airline pilots and mobile phones; because he accepts lies and mass delusions; because he trusts you.

(He trusted you enough to kill someone, trusted you enough to die, trusts you enough to sleep; he's awake now, but the sleep is still here, you've very nearly found it.

John sighs on your face. "I'll pretend that made sense, shall I? Have you been to sleep as all since I came upstairs?"

You snuggle into the pillow. It could possibly be construed as a shake of the head.

"Fine. Jesus. As long as you're sleeping at all, I suppose..."

He relaxes against the mattress; squirms, tugs on the blankets. You tug back. He sighs again. His right arm curls over his head again but the left arm stays down at his side, and it seems like a sign, like place to let you in. You shift over and curl against him, loosely, one hand resting on his beating heart.


John gets positively squeaky when he's alarmed. Must remedy that. Not now, though. "Sleep," you tell him, pressing your nose into a spot above his ear.

There is a moment when he stays very tense and still next to you; another moment when he softens, though the stillness is the same. "All right," he says. "It's fine. We're going to talk about this in the morning."

"Hmm." (It is already the morning, it will never be morning, just this stretched-out slice of time and darkness (but that might be all right, because this is lovely, except for the firm mattress (and that can't be helped. This is you, and this is John, and this is where sleep lives, warm and languid, the weight of your eyelids and stillness of a darkened room. This is nice.