Chapter 1: The Case of The Restless Detective
“Oh, what does it even matter if Henry Fishguard killed himself? He’s dead; it’s not as though he's waiting for me to solve his very pressing case!”
Sherlock slammed shut the heavy book he’d had open on his lap, sending a cloud of dust into his face. He sneezed, which made hot spikes of pain shoot into his shoulders and neck. With a grunt and a sniffle, he shoved the book — ' Chronicles of Bow Street Runners: Unsolved Cases ' — to the floor with a satisfyingly loud thud.
From under the table, Arthur’s head snapped up, startled from a mid-morning snooze. He obediently stood and padded over to Sherlock with his head cocked to one side, unsure whether he should be settling into work mode.
“No, Arthur! Bed.”
Sherlock’s voice cracked like a whip through the quiet flat and Arthur immediately did as he was told, lying back down with his head on his paws and his ears tucked back. His big brown eyes watched Sherlock warily, but he stayed put.
He hadn't meant to snap at Arthur, who was only doing precisely what he'd been trained to: being attentive to his needs and looking after him. As much as Sherlock loved the canine and as grateful as he was to have him — and John — in his life, he had never quite managed to drain away the churning undercurrent of hatred towards needing them to manage his life. He loved John and wanted nothing more than to be with him, but being reliant on the man was another matter altogether.
Sherlock could feel it, the black cloud descending on him like a swarm of locusts. It had been creeping around the edges of the last few weeks, slinking in during the darkest hours at night while he lay in bed, his eyes fixed unblinking on the ceiling, miserable and lonely, despite John’s steady breathing and the comforting weight of John’s arm pressed against his own.
And the pain certainly didn't help. The process was still ongoing to make adjustments to his nerve stimulator, and after the latest appointment five days ago, things had been much worse than he would have expected after a very promising first week. His shoulder blades and biceps ached constantly, and the wrist splints were chafing so much lately that even John’s gentle hand massages every morning were too much for the abraded skin. This morning, barely thirty seconds into it, Sherlock had demanded — rather unkindly — that he stop, and he didn’t have to see John’s face to know that he’d been hurt by it, though John simply nodded and left the bedroom to shower without a word. Sherlock had half-expected John to say something about ungratefulness, but it was for the best that he didn’t; there would have been an argument. Right now, Sherlock could hardly muster any gratitude for anything that had to do with the way of life he had certainly not chosen voluntarily.
Sherlock was used to disappointing people. After so much time together, it was almost a relief to discover that John was just like everyone else and would soon grow tired of his partner’s ceaseless demands, his mercurial moods and his inability to match John's physical efforts, especially when they made love.
With a deep sigh, Sherlock turned away from the table, aiming for the sitting room. Perhaps he should try typing up some of those notes about the various tensile strengths of Icelandic sheep’s wool. Might as well, he thought. John wouldn't be home from work for several hours.
Arthur raised his head, watching him, but did not get up from his spot. Sherlock rarely scolded him unless his mood was this abysmal. He’d never had any need for anything but praise for his outstandingly well-trained and loyal companion. Arthur must have sensed that something was amiss with his owner this morning, but Sherlock’s uncharacteristic scolding seemed to have made him unsure how to help.
With a grunt of frustration, Sherlock realised that his wheels were stuck on the book he’d dropped. He jammed the heel of his hand against the joystick, but he only managed to move the chair a few centimetres. He yanked the stick backwards as hard as he could and felt the chair lurch, finally freed from its literary captor. It slammed into the edge of the table and there was a tremendous crash as several glass beakers fell to the floor.
“Sherlock?” Mrs Hudson’s soon voice quavered from the vicinity of the stairs.
He closed his eyes momentarily before rolling them, willing her to go back to her hoovering or whatever other nonsense she got up to during the day. She practically smothered him with concern when John wasn't at home — as though Sherlock would keel over simply from a lack of constant supervision. Ordinarily, he didn’t mind her fussing too much. On some days, he even found that he was grateful for it but today, he just wanted to be left alone to battle the rising darkness. Whatever anyone might try to say to him to help would only remind him once again why things were this way.
“I’m fine, Mrs Hudson,” he tried through gritted teeth, but she had already bustled into the flat and was tutting around the broken shards of glass.
“Ooh, just a bit of an accident, it looks like. Well never you mind, we’ll just tidy this right up. Best to stay there for a moment. Wouldn’t want you to pop a tyre.”
He didn’t answer, just slid shut his eyes and clenched his teeth and waited for her to leave . He willed her not to fill the silence with any inane chatter, to just get on with it and leave him to his thoughts. The desire to get up and run away from the suffocating thoughts that made him want to claw at the insides of his brain, to scoop it all out and dump it into a bowl, was becoming unbearable. He wondered if it would be flammable, this inky blackness that threatened to consume him, or if it was like a black hole, sucking the life from everything, leaving no escape.
“... call John?”
He was startled to realise he was being spoken to, and how completely and quickly he'd been consumed by his thoughts.
His eyes snapped open to Mrs Hudson’s gaze fixed firmly on him. Sherlock could recognise her perfume, could smell the lemon cleaner she used when she polished the wood, could smell the faint hint of mothballs and the remnants of last night’s herbal soother lingering in her woollen shawl. He could only stand a fleeting glance at her face, though: she wore the gentle, patient look he was well used to. It was the look that said poor Sherlock. It said it must be so difficult for you. He had received countless varieties of it from countless people. It was a window to the deepest places of a person’s thoughts; the part that said thank God it’s not me.
He could not see that look today. He couldn’t be certain what his mind would do with pity right now if he let it pierce through his already weakened defences. He turned his head away and closed his eyes once more, hoping Mrs Hudson would take her cue and depart.
Several moments passed. Sherlock felt his forehead crease. Why hadn’t she left? She should have huffed and rolled her eyes and muttered something about him being difficult and how she was not his housekeeper.
Her hand on his shoulder made him flinch and his eyes snapped open. She was close, closer than he expected, and he had to work to avert her gaze. But instead of pity, he saw determination, the quiet tenacity he’d always respected in this fierce, self-appointed godmother of a woman flaring to life behind her age-worn features.
“I’ve texted John. He’s coming home.” Her voice was kind, but firm. She moved away, back into the kitchen.
“No.” Sherlock wasn’t even certain what he was saying, or why, but the words kept coming. He steered away restlessly, anxious for escape. “No, I don’t want him. I can’ t–– He can’t help and he hates having to abandon work. Not this, not... today.”
He didn’t want to drag John down with him. He feared it would envelop them both, that the darkness wouldn’t be happy until it had sucked everything and everyone he loved into the pit with him. It would seal off all the escape routes until they all...
“... died,” Mrs Hudson’s voice droned over the sound of the sweeping glass, pulling him out of his thoughts once more. Sherlock glanced up. “It’s her fourth cat in as many years and I thought, maybe she should just try a houseplant, the poor dear. But what do I know? Anyway, I’ll just pop over to her house with a casserole for the afternoon, console her on her loss of, what was it? Sassy? Tootsie? Or was that the one with the spots…? Not that it matters a whit...”
He could feel her eyes on him, watchful even as she bustled about the kitchen. He was tired but didn't want to go through the trouble of rearranging himself back onto the bed. He could do it on his own, now, with a bit of occasional assistance from Arthur if he wanted to efficiently turn onto his side, but it hardly felt like a triumph today.
His eyes darted about, the flat suddenly terribly suffocating.
He wanted out; moved to the doorway. He knew this restlessness well; it was similar to how he felt just off a cocaine binge. It rarely haunted his black periods but when it did, it was terribly not very good at all.
He needed to get out.
“Sherlock, dear? John will be home soon. Be a love and put the kettle on for him? It’s absolutely dreadful out. All this rain! I don’t believe I’ve ever seen so much! Sherlock?”
But he was halfway down the stairs already, the motorised hum of the chair lift drowning out her blather. He didn't even spare a thought to Arthur, didn't even remember the dog until he heard a bark from behind the door he'd closed behind him. Never mind.
He had no idea where he was planning to go, or if he even had a plan. All he knew was that he had to leave.
He watched his hand reach for the doorknob with mild fascination. His mind was nearly blank now, his movements disconnected.
Mrs Hudson was in pursuit of him, on the stairs, her voice rising in alarm, but he was already out of the lift and close to the front door.
Sherlock pushed it open and was through without another thought.
The rain splattered his cheeks, even though he tried to keep to the side of the pavement nearest the wall. He steered his way forward without thought; the blankness welcome, soothing even. A long-dormant craving flickered, but it was weak, easily ignored.
No. Not drugs. I need...
He realised he wasn’t even sure how to finish that thought.
He maneuvered under a wide shop awning and stopped. His arm was soaked through when he pulled it from the joystick.
He knew that was more than a bit not good and that he was acting foolishly and dangerously, but he needed to think, needed to breathe, needed to stop feeling like he was slowly watching himself fade into nothingness.
He needed things he knew he could never have. Things the lack of which he was usually better at managing. He needed it all to stop being so hard all the time; the real pain in the areas he could feel and the phantom pain in the areas he couldn’t, the pain of disappointing John and the pain of loss, admittedly much duller now than it had been years ago — before John — but which still reared its ugly head from time to time.
He needed quiet. Not the physical kind — apart from not having to deal with idiots — but the internal serenity he felt when his mind wasn't chasing its own tail. He needed that particular, blissful quiet that he felt during a challenging case; that's when all of his thoughts crystallised until they formed a point, razor-sharp and ready. He hadn’t had a case in weeks, hadn’t felt the rush of adrenaline as the last piece clicked into place and the perpetrator was brought to justice, hadn’t felt the flood of warmth at John’s praise, or the surge of arousal that stepped in when the adrenaline ebbed. Of course not even Lestrade could make a triple homicide appear on cue — not legally , at least — and Sherlock couldn’t help his physical condition. Though some progress had been made after they’d moved back to London, the fact remained that he was a tetraplegic and would be stuck in some manner of an embarrassing mobility contraption until he died.
A car whizzed by, sending a cascade of water into the mouth of the narrow street where he sat, splashing his trouser leg. For the briefest moment, Sherlock imagined moving away from the alley, away from the shops, away from the few people scurrying under their umbrellas. He imagined the thunk of his tyres as he dropped off the kerb, imagined — remembered , really — the screech the tyres would make, slipping and sliding as they fought for traction on the wet pavement. He imagined the impact––
He shook his head, pushing his joystick forward and leaving the semi-dry comfort of the filthy alley, stopping abruptly when a thought so heavy and final and jarring hit that it shoved his heart into pounding in his ears:
I'd never do that to John. I promised.
Besides, getting hit by a car wasn’t exactly a fail-safe method of suicide. He’d learned that the hard way once. He was tired and cold and wet and though the darkness wasn’t gone, it had certainly cleared a bit. He ducked his head against the rain — was it letting up finally ? — and turned toward home.
John’s hands trembled as they stroked over Sherlock’s chest and stomach, partially obscured by the sudsy water. Residual adrenaline? Sherlock wondered, but had no words and no energy to address the issue. Being close to John felt good; warm and soothing, but Sherlock was still tense, anticipating the unpleasant conversation he knew was coming. He’d had to learn to rely on John as his guiding light through difficult conversations, but this time there was a heavy dollop of guilt involved which made him want to bury his face in a pillow and pretend none of today had happened. It was yet another aspect of their relationship in which he lacked skill and ability as opposed to John: addressing emotional issues.
John had said little to him besides a resigned hello when he had arrived back home, striding out onto the landing and ending his mobile call — presumably with Mycroft — with a curt ‘ he’s home now ’ just as Sherlock was locking his chair into the stair lift. He had taken in Sherlock’s wet clothes and hair with a quick glance, his worry betrayed only by the deep lines bracketing his eyes and mouth, before disappearing to run a bath.
Sherlock had waited, silent and shivering, in the sitting room, Arthur's paws on his lap as the relieved dog attempted to lick every inch of his face.
Equally wordlessly, John had opened the bathroom door and motioned for Sherlock, helped him undress and settled him into the water. His hands were quick and efficient, not lingering, but to Sherlock’s surprise, John then stripped off his own jeans, jumper and underwear and climbed in behind him, sloshing water onto the floor as he adjusted their positions.
Now, Sherlock leaned back against him and examined his own shins, partially visible between islands of suds. They were pale and skinny, the muscles atrophied from disuse. There was a bruise on his right knee, the origin of which he didn’t remember; most likely, he hadn’t even felt bumping into anything. His socks had pressed a ring into his slightly swollen ankles; since he did nothing with his feet except reposition them with his hands, blood pooled down there and made the swelling worse towards the evening. He grimaced at his left thigh which was quivering from a spasm. It should stop soon once his nerves, confused without central control, fully adjusted to the change in temperature from the chilly flat to the hot bathwater. He tried to ignore the fact that he could feel John's left hand splayed against his chest, but not the other which had settled around his stomach.
On his best days, Sherlock didn't feel less like he did now. On his best days, when there was a good case on, there were things at which he was better at than most people because of who he was. Who — and what — was he right now? On days like this, days when he just existed, every difference between him and John prompted comparison, acted as a reminder, served as a mockery of him. How did people in his situation get past this, and why did he have to have such rotten luck that apparently, he wasn't a person who possessed that skill to accept and move on?
He leaned his head back against John's shoulder and closed his eyes, trying to get his mind to drift off elsewhere. Staying in the present would mean continuing to be hyper-aware of his body and its limitations, continuing to be restless and wanting to crawl out of his skin.
John said little until the water began to cool; that's when he offered to wash Sherlock's hair. Though he usually relished the feeling of John’s capable hands and strong fingers raking through his curls and digging into his scalp with just the perfect amount of pressure, Sherlock declined. Once again, his mood was tainting what would usually be a lovely thing by turning it into a glaring reminder of why John was offering.
It was only a matter of time before John would try to initiate some trite inquiry into his mental well-being. 'You seem tired, Sherlock,' is what he might say in an attempt to circle the real issue. Yes, Sherlock was always tired because it took so much more effort for him, as opposed to the able-bodied, to manage even the simplest things. John would also probably be over-attentive tonight. 'Do you need help with that, Sherlock,' was something John said often enough to him on their better days, and of course Sherlock bloody did, all the bloody time with so many things.
At their last crime scene, which had been a messy double murder with an axe, Anderson — Anderson! — had offered to fetch a few planks from the garage to build a makeshift ramp so that Sherlock could enter the premises. Sherlock had bit his lip and growled to John to just get the bloody camera, before turning around and leaving the scene as fast as his chair would carry him, Arthur in tow. Those planks couldn't have carried the weight of his chair, and he'd had even worse trouble carrying the emotional weight of receiving pity from Philip Anderson of all people. He'd solved the whole thing in fifteen minutes, via Skype, but derived little joy from it. Now, he regretted not taking his time to relish the investigation because they've been in a dry spell since.
Back in the present, John — attuned as always — didn’t push for an explanation for Sherlock's reticent silence and rejection of assistance during their bath. He stayed close but let Sherlock manoeuvre himself out of the tub and back into his chair. The only thing John did after getting out first was to drape a fresh towel across the chair seat before disappearing into the bedroom.
Arthur was sitting vigil outside the bathroom door and began wagging his tail the moment Sherlock emerged. Painstakingly draping another towel around his shoulders, Sherlock did a brief stop in the kitchen for a treat for the dog before joining John in the bedroom. Yet another dose of guilt was due for leaving Arthur behind when he left the flat. Most likely the canine had been severely distressed.
It was only eight in the evening and though they never went to bed this early, John was already changing into pyjamas. Sherlock positioned himself by the bed, distractedly crunching his hair dry inside a third towel John gave him without even asking if he wanted one; he always did.
That's what Sherlock’s life now largely consisted of, in stark contrast to how he’d lived his life before the accident. The last thing he wanted to be was John's routine, John's chore, Mrs Hudson's self-appointed ward, or the client of the three nurses who did his five weekly visits.
"Want to turn in and do some reading? Or we could watch something on your tablet?" John suggested.
His tone was hard for Sherlock to read. Normally, John would have read him the riot act by now, would have chastised him for taking unnecessary risks, for being reckless and stupid, for breaking their pact of self-care in exchange for unending support for continuing The Work. That lecture should have happened by now and it was making Sherlock uneasy that it hadn’t.
"Might as well," Sherlock offered carefully. He didn't know whether he wanted to be in his chair, on the sofa, in bed, or back outside in the rain. He didn't know anything, except that he wanted to be distracted.
John collected pyjamas for him — a fresh pair folded neatly by Mrs Hudson — and Sherlock expected him to just deposit them on his lap and leave him to it. Arthur was standing by his chair, expecting to assist with — among other things — pulling on the trouser legs to straighten them. Sometimes it seemed that only Sherlock’s imagination limited the ways in which Arthur could lend a helping paw in dressing up or taking clothes off. Why hadn’t he taken Arthur with him outside? They could have gone to the park, played a bit of ball; the dog didn’t care about the rain and wouldn’t get cold easily, thanks to his thick fur. Arthur needed recreational outings instead of just working all the time. Sherlock realised this was yet another example of how bad he was at making sure other people’s — and creatures’ — needs were fulfilled and not just his own.
"You look done in," John said and his tone had now lost the polite, endlessly patient quality of before. It brooked no arguments. "Let me help, and we'll be done quicker."
A few minutes later, Sherlock had to admit that accepting that help was a good idea. He was bone-weary, and as John's strong hands rearranged him, lifted him and held him very close, he felt his throat tighten. The connection was grounding. So grounding that he feared letting slip evidence of emotions which would make John pity him even more right now.
"Can I be a bit angry with you now?" John asked, pulling aside the duvet and top sheet so that Sherlock could lift himself from his chair onto the bed.
Sherlock stiffened, his jaw clenching as he slid into bed.
Here we go.
"Save your breath. I don't need a lecture."
John collected their dirty clothes and towels, disappearing briefly into the bathroom to deposit them in the hamper. His tone was resigned when he returned; "Sherlock, I'm not angry about wherever you went or what you did out in the rain. Well, I am, but I know you did it because it probably felt like the best worst idea at the time. No, I'm angry because you didn't think to tell me something was wrong before it got to this point. I'm mad at myself, too, for not picking up on the fact that you needed me here today."
"Arthur, belt," Sherlock commanded, and the dog dutifully stood up on two paws on John's side of the bed with a buckled belt in his mouth. Sherlock grabbed the loop, and Arthur pulled back, helping him turn to his side so that he was facing John. The command "Arthur, bed," sent the dog to his designated spot in a cosy dog bed in the kitchen, carrying the belt with him. Sherlock then burrowed under the duvet, pulling it nearly fully over his head. "Mrs Hudson overreacted," he muttered from underneath the fluffy pile.
"I don't think so," John said. The room darkened for a moment when he switched off the ceiling lamp. He moved around the bed, flicking on the lamp on the bedside cabinet before slipping under the duvet. He rolled onto his side, too, facing Sherlock.
"'Sherlock's out of sorts, and I think maybe you should come home,' is what she said, and though she has a tendency to fuss, you know she wouldn’t call me at work to tell me such things unless it were really true."
Sherlock was tempted to protest further about their nosy landlady, but he knew it wouldn't deter John from having the rest of the conversation they both knew was coming. He sniffed and waited.
John leaned in to kiss the top of his head visible from underneath the bedding. "Have you realised it's been four months since the last time you got like this?"
Sherlock pulled the duvet down to see his husband's frown. "Are you handing out medals? Should I be impressed that I’ve managed that long? A whole quarter of a year — good on me for keeping my spirits up. "
“Is that a good thing?" Sherlock pressed on. "That it’s been that long since it’s… since I’ve been like this. I don’t keep track like you apparently do.”
"You tell me. The Work's been good, there's that, and things at home haven't seemed too bad, either," John mused.
Sherlock replied with an affirmative hum.
"I guess I was hoping that the last time would have been, well, the last time, but then again the first time didn't happen because of your accident, did it?" John asked quietly.
Sherlock shook his head in confirmation. They had talked about this; his history of what Mrs Hudson had christened his black periods. These episodes had been appearing since his teens, and they used to engulf him fully for days, weeks, sometimes even months. In adulthood they tended to drag on until there was a good case, or his self-medicating with illicit substances went off the rails badly enough that Mycroft intervened.
"Did you ever…" John trailed out, then swallowed. Sherlock could imagine him trying to access his physician's mindset, to distance himself just enough so that he could bring up whatever he was struggling to discuss.
"Did I ever try to terminate myself?" Sherlock offered bluntly, and John's eyes went a bit pale in that strange way they did when he only barely managed to school the rest of his expression into not revealing his surprise or shock. His eyes always betrayed him.
"Yeah," John answered slowly, "Or, I guess what I meant, was: did you ever consider it before… the way you did after the accident?"
"The chasm between thinking and doing can be wide, or it can be very narrow," Sherlock pointed out, still feeling blunt and distanced. "How wide was yours?"
This was only half an attempt to distract, to lead attention away from himself. He genuinely wanted to know.
"After Afghanistan, I came pretty close,” John admitted without hesitation. “Never had your determination, though. It wasn't a thought I found very consoling. I felt like I might reach a point where I'd have to do it because it was the only option instead of feeling like it was an escape plan."
Sherlock hummed thoughtfully as he considered that statement. "I didn't think about Switzerland today," He admitted, and felt surprised at the fact. It used to be a safety blanket, that plan, something to fall back on as an idle thought in the background: Thank God I have Switzerland if this day gets any worse, was he often petulantly or sadly thought before John came into his life. That thought was the proverbial flipping-off to the entire universe, a final act of rebellion. If he wasn't allowed to live the way he wanted, he'd punish the world and everyone else in it by at least dying the way he wanted.
But he never wanted to hurt anyone in the process. Least of all John. Sherlock was now willing to admit he'd antagonised Mycroft, chased him away, vilified him so that it would have been easier to imagine that his departure from this plane of existence would affect his brother little, if at all. He knew better, but hadn’t been in a mindset where he could have considered anyone but himself. Until John .
"I did think of… other such things today," Sherlock admitted to his partner, and felt John's hand seek out his and clasp their fingers together. "Just idle thoughts."
"Sherlock." John's tone was strange: tight and thin. "You know you can talk to me about anything, always?"
"You have made repeated statements to that effect, yes. I trust the sentiment behind it is genuine and that you'd do your best to make good on that promise." But I’m not always sure it’s true.
John emitted a wet kind of a snort and swallowed. Sherlock knew he was attempting to get control of his emotions, to keep this conversation on track as well as possible.
"If you ever start reconsidering calling off the —" John finally got hesitantly out, clearing his throat. "—the plan you had after the accident—"
"––you would be the first to know. I wouldn't just slip into the night, proverbial or otherwise."
"I wish it was off the table. I know why it can't be, but I wish—" John sighed.
"You wish our lives were different," Sherlock said, and his tone was sharper around the edges than he had intended.
"No. No, Sherlock, I don't, and that’s the truth. Not even on days like this. It is what it is, and while I'd never be grateful about what happened to either of us, at least what happened means that we understand each other and that we're in this together. It should have taught us that it’s kind of pointless to assign blame and get bitter because we can’t change the past; the only way is forward. What happened to us shook our foundations and that’s why we could help each other get past all that crap."
"So, you think our relationship is mostly based on past trauma and disability?"
"No,” John counters sternly. “And I really didn't mean that we should be thankful for anything that’s happened to us; God no. What I’m saying is that it's useless playing the what-if game. Fuck, you know I'm bad at this sort of thing; find it kind of difficult. I just want you to remember I'm not here just for good days. I’m here for all of it."
"Even if the bad days begin to seriously outnumber those?"
"Do they, really? Four months, Sherlock. You've got a pretty good track record of getting past these periods."
"What do you suppose I should pull out of this supposed bag of magic tricks you think I have, then? And if it doesn’t work, what’s it going to be, doctor? Pills? Therapy?"
John sighed. "Of course there’s no easy trick to this. And it's going to make things so much worse if you put a lot of pressure on yourself to fix it quickly, to pretend you're doing okay, to playact for me."
"This is not a state in which I want you to see me."
"I know," John said quietly and fondly. "I didn't want anyone to see me the way I was after Afghanistan, either. Hell, I was so embarrassed of myself at that interview with Mycroft, just wanted to flee because there was no way I was going to get that job.”
“What do you mean? You did get the job.”
John snorts. “Sometimes I think Mycroft picked me precisely because I was the worst candidate — because I was struggling, too. I think he’d realised that what might get through to you was sure as hell not a load more of detached professionalism.”
Their initial struggles to get along are now mostly a fond memory; John had been so persistent, so desperate to engage, so easily discouraged. Sherlock couldn’t help respecting his tenacity, and his curiosity had been piqued especially when John paid him back in kind when he got dismissive and mean. It had been a revelation when Sherlock realised he was intrigued by John, enjoyed spending time with him, even if he was just Mycroft’s paid help at that point. John had always demanded more respect, more reciprocity than those other people Mycroft had paraded through the house. John didn’t scare easily and early on, Sherlock had to work hard to resist the hope that John might actually like him a bit.
“I'm just saying that you shouldn't think I only want to be with you on your good days. It's not about the Work either, Sherlock — me wanting to spend time with you. Every day, regardless of what kind of a day or week or month you've been having, I'm happy to come home to you. I look forward to coming home, to see you and be with you."
Sherlock didn’t reply, because he was busy enough trying to battle the pang of guilt brought on by John's statement. What had he ever really done to warrant such a reaction? John likes him against his better judgment.
"I know you compare us,” John said sternly. “I know you think I do more when it comes to our relationship and sex and our daily lives, and that there's lots of things you can't do well or at all. But that's not what this is about. Aren't all couples supposed to complement each other? You certainly work harder than me in the brain department, and you keep things interesting, and remind me what it's really important, and you give a phenomenal blowjob." He nudges Sherlock’s arm under the duvet. "There's nothing I'd change. Not even the restlessly cranky, low-mood version of you because I know this will pass."
He does give good head, judging by John’s reactions. And, it’s something his physical limitations does not affect at all. At least there’s that. "Maybe that's just what you want to believe. Need to believe. That it always goes away."
"Lord knows neither of us wants to remember your first year after the accident but think about it: you pulled yourself out of it."
"You did that."
"No, you did the work. You let me try, and you met me halfway. I know it's the very definition of depression that it's hard to see the way out, and I know it's hellishly disheartening to think or accept that you've had it for a long time and it's something we have to manage to some extent probably for the rest of our lives––"
"It’s our life only until you leave."
The bed rustled as John moved closer, tipped his head into the pillow to meet Sherlock’s gaze, his eyes serious. "No, Sherlock. I won't. I know making promises about forever often backfires, but I can promise you that I won't ever leave because you're having a hard time in that beehive brain of yours. That's not going to happen, and you have got to stop making things worse for yourself by panicking over that when your reserves are at the lowest."
"There are… things," Sherlock tried, tongue-tied and anxious. "There's things I think about that would upset you. Would make you angry because just as you said, we've moved on from that first year; you don’t want to go back to that."
Since they’ve been together, officially, properly, Sherlock has known that John needed to believe that everything was fine, that things couldn’t ever get as bad as they used to be. Would John listen to him, really listen, and take him seriously instead of dismissing how he felt and what he thought was as just a temporary case of the doldrums?
What if one day it isn't? John would think he's giving up in a cowardly manner, that he's not trying hard enough. John will be disappointed that I'm not holding up my end of this relationship.
"They're just thoughts, Sherlock," John told him in a tone that Sherlock tried not to interpret as condescending.
He'd never been any good at reading people; most of the time, he seemed to see and hear what he deduced as most likely, instead of what people really meant. "Not to me they're not, because I'm the one who has to deal with them."
John's hand tentatively trailed a path up his sheet-covered arm and gave his shoulder a squeeze. "You're right." He drew a deep breath and rolled onto his back, reaching one hand out to flick off the lamp.
Sherlock was both glad and fearful that he could no longer see John's expression.
"I did promise you we could talk about it. It, I mean, Switzerland," John said quietly.
Sherlock imagined his partner grimacing in the dark as his lips formed the name. "We're not at that point, not right now," Sherlock hastened to promise.
"I know. Because nothing's changed, has it? I would hate it if you put it back on the table, but I'd understand if there were new issues which kept you from working, made you less independent. But there hasn’t been any of that, so right now, it's hard to tell what part of it is just…"
"…me," Sherlock offered bitterly. "The way I've always been. It’s like you said: this isn't anything new. Sometimes it just grabs hold of me."
John slid his arm across the small distance separating them, and Sherlock watched his hand brush against his thigh..
"I don't suppose there's anything I could do to take your mind off it right now? Just a thought," John suggested. His tone was a careful combination of mild suggestion and amicable nonchalance. He was propositioning Sherlock, offering a distraction, but leaving an out in case the answer was no.
For possibly the first time, Sherlock no longer wanted a distraction; instead, he wanted to talk and needed John to listen. "I don’t…” Sherlock tried, "I can't really see myself doing any of that right now." He knew he would just be self-conscious, frustrated and mildly disgusted with himself. Not very fertile ground for arousal. "I don't treat Switzerland as an easy escape anymore," he continued, and John moved his hand back to safer ground. "I don't hold it aloft on a silver platter like I once did. It no longer holds the same appeal, but still it sits there, at the back of my mind, tucked away in a corner, an option I may never end up using but remaining a notion I can't shake. One day, it may be a necessity. It would take a drastic change for the worse in order for me to dust off that idea again, though, and it would be a jointly planned endeavour."
"You said you were thinking about something… maybe related today?" John asked, sounding still reluctant to continue on the topic.
"Different. Switzerland was… planned. Deliberate. The other thoughts are just a… what if-kind of thing. I wouldn't do it, John. Not like that, not as a whim. I wouldn't do that to you."
John was quiet for some time, his eyes fixed on the ceiling of their bedroom.. When he finally spoke his voice was gruff, stuffy. "I–– I appreciate you saying that. But… I never want you to live for me, or because of me. I need you to live for you."
"What does it matter why I want to live? If I want to live to be with you, to try to make you happy, or even if I decided to live just to piss Anderson off, wouldn't any of those be reason enough? Wouldn't you be happy if anything was reason enough?"
John laughed out loud, startling them both. "Only you, Sherlock. If you wanted to live just to spite Anderson I'd be happy and kind of jealous."
"I promise you have nothing to fear from that dimwit," Sherlock scoffed, a slight smile tipping one corner of his mouth — his first of the day.
A faint light then illuminated the room on Sherlock's side of the bed. It was his phone, the screen activated by a text.
John rolled onto his side and their eyes locked in the very dim light, an unspoken question lingering in their gazes. A mere half an hour ago, Sherlock would have just pushed his phone off the bedside cabinet and closed his eyes but now, he felt a tiny spark ignited, a flicker of hope dispelling the smallest bit of the darkness. He couldn’t help but be a little bit curious.
"Want me to get it?" John asked. It would spare Sherlock having to turn over.
John slid out from beneath the covers, and came around to Sherlock’s side of the bed, collecting the phone and keying in the access code only he and Sherlock knew.
"'Double homicide inside a hospital isolation room. Murder-suicide not a possibility but security camera says nobody entered or left. Will you come?'" John read aloud. He didn’t need to specify the sender as Lestrade. "A hospital sounds pretty accessible," John added hopefully.
Sherlock was now faced with a conundrum: warm bed with John's arms around me, or a case? A case that has to be at least a seven?
He performed a quick survey of himself: the bath had helped with the pain, and talking to John had helped with, well, other things. And John, — wonderful John, his husband — was already standing beside their warm, inviting bed, phone in hand, looking half-excited even after a long day of working and worrying, ready to go because this is what they loved: a good case.
The thought of having to go through the ordeal of making himself presentable did not entice Sherlock to abandon the bed, but needs must. He’d just have to accept a bit of help; no time to do this the slow, hard way. "Get me up and get my clothes," Sherlock commanded.
In the kitchen, Arthur’s collar jingled as he got to his feet, ready for action.
Chapter 2: The Polishing of the Silver Lining
Here is a surprise stealthy chapter 2 which was not originally planned; it just happened like gravy.
We get to now hear from John about what happened right before and a few days after the events of chapter 1.
On most days, John enjoys his locum work. He rotates through London's various A&E departments, filling in shifts here and there for senior doctors that are out with their own illnesses, parental leaves, and the like. He has enough experience and an improviser's mind, so he's not bothered by having to adapt to different work environments, and it keeps him from getting bored when casework with Sherlock hits a lull. Today, he’s spearheading the trauma team at the Royal London, a familiar and frequently-called location due to the vast number of staff employed there. It's a slow, quiet day which all staff would usually relish, but John is bored.
After several hours of whittling away his shift in the break room and aching for something interesting to do, he walks down the hall to ask — beg, really — the charge nurse if there's anything he can help out with. Her response — draining the seroma of a patient who had a breast cancer operation three weeks ago and keeps accumulating fluid around the wound — is not much of a challenge for a former trauma surgeon, but beggars can't be choosers. At least it'll get John's mind off of what's been going on at home lately.
He knows that, at some point, he should intervene when Sherlock gets moody like he has been for the last few weeks, but he also thinks that by now, they should be way past the point in their relationship where Sherlock wouldn't talk to him, wouldn't turn to him if he's not well, physically or otherwise. John needs to believe they've learned their lessons, both of them, about self-care and mutual reliance, but of course this is Sherlock bloody Holmes and his self-care is abysmal at the best of times.
John shouldn't be angry. He knows what he signed up for when he fell in love with Sherlock. Rare is the relationship that isn’t as thoroughly tested as theirs. Relationships are never a picnic in a park, and even though theirs seems to have seen more rain clouds than sunshine, John loves their life together. Still, no matter how much confidence John has in their ability to work through whatever life throws at them, being the spouse and primary caregiver of a periodically depressed tetraplegic is precisely as it says on the tin. On a good day, John provides the help Sherlock needs not just willingly, but enthusiastically, and Sherlock accepts it as such. John loves being there, loves being the one Sherlock depends on. On a bad day, however, John is tense and on high alert, the verbal punching bag of a frustrated and crabby man-child who just might drive over his foot during an argument if the mood suits him. This week, John knows things aren't well, and that he should intervene, but then again sometimes these things, these moody periods of Sherlock's, pass on their own once a case comes along. John is tired of arguing about everything. He’s tired of suggesting things for Sherlock to do during the day to keep his overactive brain occupied. John is tired and he feels terrible about it but it would be nice if just once, Sherlock took some initiative—
Stop it, John scolds himself. This whinging isn’t doing him any good, even if it is only in his head. He needs to remember where they started from. If Sherlock could pull himself out of these moods, the two of us would never have even met. The guilty realisation that hits is immense: I want him to snap out of it for my own convenience.
Absent-mindedly skimming his adopted patient’s records, he can't help but think back to the first moments when the sun seemed to break through the gloom of Musgrave Court — the first moments when Sherlock had actually reacted to him favourably instead of staying shrouded in his depression so deeply that no one could get through. Nothing after John's medical discharge from the army had felt as good as Sherlock smiling at him for the first time. That unadulterated smile of Sherlock’s still sent butterflies to flight inside John, especially when it was as rarely spotted as it had been lately.
I love him so much, John thinks, without even a hint of self-doubt. Of course, I want him to be alright instead of… this.
John tries to remember when this particular black mood started. He knows there isn’t always a root cause, not always a handy scapegoat to pin it on, because that’s not how depression works, but he skims their recent memories all the same. They haven’t had a case in… a week or two, not since that gruesome one with the axe. John knew Sherlock had been annoyed that he couldn’t access the crime scene in person, but after sending John in with the video camera, he solved it in record time even for him, and they’d tried a new restaurant to celebrate afterwards.
Sherlock had had an appointment a few days ago — just before the case — to follow up on the spinal cord stimulator that had been implanted. He had seemed tentatively optimistic about the stimulator based on the first week's experience but as in all things, he grew quickly impatient and frustrated when things didn't immediately go the way he wanted. He has such a low threshold before announcing that he’s quitting and throwing his toys out of the pram , John thinks. There's also the fact that the physical activity in his daily life fluctuates wildly from growing roots in the sofa to a case-solving marathon through London. Finding the right stimulator adjustments has to be a huge challenge.
Dragging himself out of his own head, John tries to enjoy the fifteen minutes he spends with the eighty-four-year-old Mrs Matthews, who is unnecessarily apologetic about coming to A&E instead of waiting a few days to see her GP. The postoperative seroma — a gathering of clear, viscous fluid — has grown so big she can’t sleep, so John assures her several times she's done the right thing by coming in. She tells him funny stories about her career as a nurse in rural Wales while he works, and his hands are steady today, his smile easy even while his mind wanders.
Just as he's pulling off his sterile gloves with a snap, he feels his phone vibrate again in his trouser pocket. He had felt it buzz when he was still in the middle of the procedure, but had ignored it, deciding he could check in as soon as he was done. He supposes he could ask permission from admin to keep the sound on based on being a spouse's primary caregiver, but so far it's been enough to be able to read a text within ten minutes. He expects it to be Sherlock, perhaps with an irritated inquiry about his working hours or a demand to bring something specific from the shops.
Digging out the phone from his pocket after hastily saying farewell to Mrs Matthews, John is surprised to see a missed call from Mrs Hudson as well as a text: "Sherlock's out of sorts. I think you should come home."
Out of sorts how? He texts in reply, but knows he won't wait around to read her explanation. The decision to abandon his shift has already been made; he'll tell the charge nurse now and call the locum agency from the locker room. It's a slow day. They can manage without me because it seems that today, Sherlock cannot.
It's hard to be supportive when the person needing it has taken off in the rain without his phone, his wallet, his coat or even his assistance dog.
“Fuck,” John says aloud as he enters the flat and scans the sitting room.
"Manners," Mrs Hudson says, pursing her lips at his glare.
John wouldn't pride himself on being able to interpret the inner workings of a dog's mind, but he's quite certain Arthur had been relieved to see him. Once greetings had been exchanged, however, the dog had become restless, scratching at the door and searching the flat for the person he is supposed to never ever leave unsupervised.
"It's alright, Arthur; he probably hasn't gone far," John promises, aware that he's mostly trying to reassure himself, to push away the bad feeling twisting his gut. Mrs Hudson had called him again just as he'd been about to descend the steps of Whitechapel tube station. She'd sounded quite frantic in the way that she always does when she thinks Sherlock is being very reckless. In some strange way, she seems to harbour some guilt over the day when Sherlock had his accident — as though his decision to chase a criminal could have been somehow prevented by her.
John ignores what Sherlock always describes as their landlady's incessant and overly-concerned nattering and tries to make tea, but before the kettle clicks itself off, he's too worried to not call Mycroft. He delegates Earl-Grey-brewing to Mrs Hudson and presses the correct speed dial.
"Hello," Mycroft answers curtly, and John can hear that he's walking somewhere where his footsteps are echoing on stone. "I don't have long, John, so apologies in advance if I must cut this short."
"Can you––" John almost asks if the older Holmes could track Sherlock's phone, but that would be an exercise in futility since that very phone is currently being sniffed at by Arthur where it's sitting on the coffee table. "I know you can access CCTV."
"This is not a secure line," Mycroft reminds him dryly. “But hypothetically yes, if the realm is at stake.”
“The realm of my marriage might be,” John snaps, in no mood for Mycroft’s crypticism. The older Holmes has been nothing but helpful and supportive of their union, but John is worried and the specific worry he always feels for Sherlock has acquired a desperate edge of urgency. When you've come close to losing someone several times…
"I assume your… knight is on the move, then, without the new mobile he got for Christmas."
"He left the flat thirty minutes ago."
John debates internally whether to make it known that Sherlock is out in an icy rainfall without warm enough clothing. He wouldn't want to unduly worry Big Brother because Mycroft has never quite stopped worrying about Sherlock in a way that can easily make him overbearing and sceptical of John's abilities to sort out problems. Then again, Mycroft probably won't lift a finger unless he's told why this occasion is worrying as opposed to all the other times when Sherlock has gone somewhere on a whim.
Once, Sherlock suddenly having whims would have delighted both John and Mycroft to no end because it would have meant he was recovering from wanting nothing but ceasing to exist. Whims can be both good and bad, though, and John is reluctant to consider what internal impulse had made him do the wheelchair equivalent of a sudden exit stage left.
"And he's left Arthur at the flat."
"I see," Mycroft says and his tone instantly turns grave. "The last time I saw him, I must say I thought his mood was low."
"It's plummeted since," John admits, grimacing. "When we visited last — has it already been two weeks since? — he was just… I don't know, down . Now, he’s sort of painfully restless; won't sleep, even though he's tired all the time, he's cranky but not the kind of proactively melodramatic he always gets between cases. He seems… anxious. Mrs Hudson says it's a bit like he used to get when––"
"––when he was still engaging with illicit substances. You suspect that is what he may be after?"
"I don't know." Honesty is the best policy. As much as John wants Mycroft not to worry, to continue on with his life, to trust that John can look after his brother and that his brother can look after himself, Mycroft knows — perhaps better than anyone — Sherlock's past struggles with drugs and life and himself.
"Apologies for the candour, but we may not have the luxury of wasting time on euphemisms: could he have deteriorated to a level that would bring on suicidal––"
John stops listening, because the front door is opening downstairs, and he recognises the sound of the automated, electric door opening mechanism engaging. Nobody who lives at 221b uses it except for––
He can breathe again.
"John?" Mycroft asks, sounding urgent.
"He's home now. Got to go." John rings off without even listening to Mycroft's reply.
Days later, John finds himself in bed with an armful of post-case consulting detective, a very different creature than the shivering and rain-soaked one John had coaxed into a bath three days earlier. They're both exhausted, but especially for Sherlock, it's an entirely good kind of tired. It seems he can finally sleep, blissed out over a satisfactory conclusion to the 72 hours of intellectual stimulation his brain has just enjoyed. They'd eaten and then crashed into bed, where Sherlock is now draped across John like a human-sized hot water bottle, snoring into John's left armpit. They hadn't spared a single thought to brushing teeth or the wrist splints; they can manage one night without.
One thing John can't leave unattended, though, is the suprapubic catheter. Before he allows himself to drift off, he needs to make sure Sherlock's in a position where it's not compressed or kinked. It had been capped for the duration of changing clothes; John realises he needs to get a new bag from the bathroom cabinet. The suprapubic catheter Sherlock now has — the route of which takes it from the bladder directly through the skin and out just below the waist of his trousers — is much more convenient than the penis-indwelling catheter Sherlock had before, but is still vulnerable to many of the same complications and practical issues.
There's a sleepy, grumbled protest when John carefully jostles Sherlock around so that he ends up mostly on his side facing away from the middle of the bed, a pillow tucked underneath his upper leg. With a quirked-up lip, John mutters something fond about pillow princesses, but Sherlock is already lost to the world once again. He can change position in bed now, so he won't end up flopped face-down unless that's how he wants to be, but John still fusses. He can't not worry, especially since he does find the catheter pressed between Sherlock's thigh and the bed when he pats around for it.
There's a draft in the hall and the hairs on John's shins stick up as he makes his way to the bathroom and fumbles around for the switch. Schloppy sounds from the kitchen signal that Arthur is having a drink. The dog must be tired, too — their chase of a gang of art thieves had run the whole Met team ragged with Sherlock in the lead.
After having a piss himself and then sorting out the catheter bag, John pauses at the foot of the bed. For a moment, he watches Sherlock in the dark; traces the lines of his lithe form under the covers, tries to make out facial features from underneath the mess of curls, and watches the reassuring rhythm of his deep, slow breathing. Memories of days spent in hospital rooms simmer just underneath the surface and are now brought forth by exhaustion and the late hour. Days and nights watching breathing that had been much more laborious and faster, fearing that it was the harbinger of difficult decisions, procedures and even more fear and worry.
I didn't try to change your mind just so you could die from some fucking pneumonia, he had once yelled at Sherlock, about seven months after their wedding, when he was being an idiot about a cough during a case, refusing to allow John a proper assessment. John knows he’s outstandingly angry when he drags Switzerland into a conversation and he always regrets doing so immensely afterwards. On the other hand, talking about it a few days earlier had felt surprisingly good. Sherlock's promises of being willing to talk to him had helped, but maybe he just has to accept that the fear will always be there, holding a dual blade to his throat. He fears that Sherlock wants to live but can't, and he fears that a day might come when the depression swallows them both whole. Sometimes John isn't sure whether Sherlock's life is dotted by those episodes, or whether he's got it backwards: that a manageable level of depression was Sherlock's normal before, and now he lives like a drowning man, occasionally bursting to the surface and getting a triumphant lungful of oxygen, only to sink back under.
I have to trust what he tells me. I have to trust him when he says that he's happy, that he wants this life. I can't start second-guessing him or questioning his reasons.
It's just that the sense of powerlessness gets to John sometimes.
"Jesus," he grouses under his breath when a sudden burst, a sudden perfect storm of emotions hits and makes him blink and look up at their bedroom ceiling, his throat suddenly stuffy. He breathes out, presses his fingertips on his closed lids.
I just want to keep you.
A bare toe is poking out from underneath the duvet, so John grabs a throw Mrs Hudson knitted them last winter, folds it in two and covers the end of Sherlock’s pale foot. He can't resist giving a pat to where he thinks Sherlock's ankle is, even though he knows Sherlock won’t feel it unless he notices the slight tug on the duvet.
It's one thing John still hasn't made his mind up about: when should — or could — he touch the areas that Sherlock can’t feel? Sherlock is inordinately sensitive and picky about touching other people and being touched and, while John has pretty much a carte blanche to do anything nice, he wants to respect his partner and not do things behind his proverbial back. It had been a surprise to learn that Sherlock really enjoys watching John touching parts of him which retain little to no sensation when they're having sex, but the way he'd explained it had made a lot of sense when John had given it a thorough think: watching you do those things and enjoying them makes it more… normal.
In his sleep, Sherlock has grabbed a handful of top sheet and dragged it up close to his face and John wonders if this was his preferred sleeping position before the accident too. Sometimes he imagines Sherlock living here, burrowed into this very bed or pacing around while thinking out loud like Mrs Hudson says he used to do a lot. He imagines Sherlock climbing on furniture, flouncing into a sulk on the sofa like Mycroft has explained were his habits as a teen. He imagines Sherlock darting off on foot in pursuit of a subject… and his stomach sinks. He feels guilty imagining Sherlock doing any of these things because he can't connect with the idea of that person. Then again, as strange as it may sound, he wouldn't trade his Sherlock for that Sherlock because there wouldn't have been a Sherlock-and-John if the accident had never happened.
'It's no use playing the what-if game ' he'd told Sherlock mere days ago. The truth is, he knows that they both play it in their heads on occasion. Nevertheless, it's no use imagining some alternate universe. John suspects neither of them would have been in a place to start dating if they’d met in a different lifetime, nor would he had ever believed someone like Sherlock would be interested in the likes of him. He smiles privately in the quiet bedroom, remembering a time Sherlock had said almost the same thing to him: ’who’d ever want me as a boyfriend?’ Perhaps it was fate that led them to meet at just the right time, to lock them in before they could choose otherwise.
With one more glance at his sleeping husband, John leaves the bedroom. He’s tired, but he has too many thoughts weighing on him tonight to sleep any time soon.
Company has to be better than brooding in the dark, he decides. On a whim, he grabs his phone from the kitchen table.
'Paperwork done?’ He texts Lestrade.
A reply comes almost instantaneously. 'Just about to drive home. Fancy a pint if His Nibs has run out of battery power?'
John suspects Lestrade might have made such a joke about Sherlock even before the accident, considering what a quivering bundle of excitement the man is during a good case. He's never circled around the issue of the disability Sherlock has, and he's never doubted whether Sherlock could get back to work and perform well. He makes things easier, makes them sound natural at times when John is twisting into a knot trying to manage things during The Work such as Sherlock's health and mood and routines and––
'Yeah. Beehive on Crawford?' John suggests. The thought of being able to leave the flat even for an hour floods him with relief. The Beehive is one of the pubs closest to 221b.
John writes a note explaining his absence, tiptoeing back to the bedroom to leave it on top of Sherlock's phone, which he places within his reach. After a moment’s deliberation, he leans over and presses a gentle kiss to Sherlock’s forehead. He doesn’t stir.
Arthur gets a thorough scratching behind the ears before John slips into his coat. "Your watch starts now," John tells their companion.
The pub is warm, noisy and bustling with signs of human life, the air thick with the rich scents of food and drink. John finds Lestrade in a two-person corner table, shedding his scarf.
"Good timing; you can buy first round," the DI quips.
John gives him a grin he didn't know he had in him tonight and goes to do as he's been told. He picks two bottles of Scottish small brewery stout after asking for a recommendation from the barkeep. He's in the mood for something strong and earthy tonight. None of that cloister-made continental wheat piss Sherlock orders when I twist his arm to buy the occasional round . The thought makes him chuckle. Taking Sherlock to a pub is like taking a llama to the opera: it may initially look around with curiosity, but sooner or later it will be standing out too much and having a verbal spitting match with the other customers, ruining the ambience.
And John loves all of it. He loves how Sherlock makes people confused, makes them second-guess themselves, how Sherlock breaks all the rules all the time and makes damn sure people never ever underestimate him twice. It truly would have been a waste of a life if Sherlock never got to work again, if people never got to see his brilliance and if the people involved in the cases that only he can solve never got closure.
"I think this one's going to be easy for the prosecutor. You got a name for the blog post?"
John grins again, feeling the tension in his shoulders ease fractionally. "Can't pass up on the chance to use 'Caught red-handed' , can I?" he jokes, prompting forth laughter from his friend as well. The leader of the gang had been found trying to blend in amongst a crowd of museum-goers. He may have gotten away with it, had he not first cut through a room where a new exhibition was being created. The walls had been given a new coat of paint and he’d inadvertently brushed up against one, smearing his entire right arm in red. Sherlock had spotted him immediately among the patrons gathered before a tour guide.
"You know what Sherlock said?" Lestrade asks. "'He should have grabbed one of the coveralls on the floor in that room and pretended to be a workman.'"
"It's a good thing he never branched out into crime," John says. He raises his pint. "Thanks for the company tonight."
"You looked like you might need a pint."
"That obvious, huh?"
"When the whole thing was cracked wide open, you were the one who just looked like your shift's finally ended."
John takes another swig of his beer and watches the shadows of passers-by through the window. “Or was just beginning.” In reality, it never ends.
"Rough week, then?" Lestrade summarises.
Rough life , John almost corrects. "We scrape by, but then the next one always comes along."
"You don't enjoy it? Working together and all that?"
"He works. I make it possible." Sherlock insists that John is vital to his brain work, the conductor of light for his deductions, and that he cannot possibly do any of it without John. No, he really couldn't . Not physically .
John shakes his head as though doing so could banish all the thoughts he's having again about this whole thing, thoughts he would never have believed could exist when he'd been so happy about Sherlock wanting to live, after all. "Forget I said that. It's not fair for me to complain when he's the one who has the hardest time."
Greg's mouth tightens apprehensively, then thins into a more resolute line. He digs out his wallet, pulls out a photo worn at the edges. He slides it across the grimy table next to John's pint.
"That's Daniel," Greg says, tapping a finger on an older boy in the picture. There are three children depicted in the image, sitting on a sofa. "This is Alexa," he continues, tapping next a chubby-cheeked toddler with Greg’s eyes. "And that's Charlie. All mine."
John's smile doesn't quite reach his eyes. "Cute."
"Fuck yes, they're cute. They're also annoying, and messy and exhausting and sometimes, when they're driving me nuts, I just want to close the door and hop in the car and drive south and never look back. Look, I'm not really comparing being married to Sherlock to having kids, but––"
"I think you'd be surprised at how many similarities there are sometimes." Why does everything have to be such a bloody battle, unless there's a case on and he's too distracted to notice I make him eat and sleep and sort himself out? The Work seems to be John's only bargaining chip these days.
"John." Greg's gone very serious. "I would kill for these kids. I would sit the rest of my days in prison for protecting them if I had to. I love them more than my wife, my job and my own life combined. But occasionally I can't help wanting nothing more than a few moments alone. Sometimes, even if they're the best thing that happened to me, I can't stand them for a moment. And I hate my life and my job and my wife occasionally when they piss me off, but I wouldn't trade them for anything, you hear me? It's just that you have to vent that stuff out or it gathers and grows and makes you so bitter you can't see straight."
"I should be happy for every day I have with him. Anything could happen."
"Nah, you don’t have to love every day with him. That’s exhausting."
"Any day, he could decide––" John starts to protest, but Greg lifts up his hand.
"No, he won't. Trust me ," the DI says pointedly. "There'd have to be an apocalypse and you'd have to be on your deathbed for that man to leave you like that, to not want to be with you anymore. You never saw him before, John, and I used to think that was a bloody good thing because it was a pretty sorry sight but maybe it would be useful if you knew what it was like for perspective, yeah? He hid it well, mind you, but he was always a mess, only one step away from a crash. He was in a well, John, trying to claw out but never getting even halfway up before sliding down."
"What's he now, then?" John asks sceptically.
"He occasionally looks at the well and knows it's there but he sure as hell doesn't want to jump back in."
"That's not how depression works," John scoffs. It makes him uneasy, putting words to Sherlock's private problems in front of their work contact, but then again that designation probably terribly underestimates the importance of Greg to both of them. He's a friend, John decides. People talk to their friends.
Greg goes to get them another round. It appears he's not done talking about this. "Sherlock needs you, and you need him, but you also need other people. I couldn't have survived those baby years and the terrible threes and Dan's first teen years without my missus. When things got too rough, we sometimes took it out on each other but that meant we never took it out on the kids. You need to vent, you need time for yourself, and you need to relax at least a little about Sherlock. You've said you don't want to be like that brother of his."
John sighs. "I've had to accept that while our methods differ, I did take on a lot of what was Mycroft's duty."
"And you took it all on why? Not because you had to, not because someone was paying you the big bucks, but because you love Sherlock."
"Yeah," John confirms. "It wouldn't be so fucking hard, would it, if I didn't?"
Greg sets his pint on the table with a clunk. "Exactly!"
Both their cheeks are now rosy and warm from the beer.
"Right now, he's where? At home, in bed, with Arthur? You worried about him?" Greg prompts.
"Is that a little big enough that you can't enjoy yourself right now?"
"I don't know." John truly doesn't.
"Look, I'm not saying it's not a massive job, what you're doing. And I'm not saying you shouldn't worry, but coming from someone who knew him before: you don't have to tiptoe around his feelings when you're tired or having a shit day because you're afraid he's going to buy a plane ticket on a whim to Switzerland. He once told me you were different from the other people looking after him — that you were honest." Greg is pointing a finger at him. "He doesn't want Doctor Perfect and Endlessly Patient — he wants you. You keep him right. You can. You do. All the bloody time. He even says so and I can see it, we can all see it, all of us that knew him before. He's not the same, John, he's better."
"Yeah, so much better that our landlady's texting me at work that he's gone off the rails."
Greg blinks blearily. "I think that ship sailed when he was born, mate."
John can't help chuckling a little.
"Maybe you're a bit overprotective of him, not wanting to accept that his ups and downs are just business as usual, that it's just life with Sherlock Holmes," Greg suggests.
"No one should have to live like that. We've tried a lot of stuff––"
"And what worked was not the meds or anything else but just plain old engaging his massive intellect," Greg jokes. "That's how it was before the accident, too. I got him cold cases when he stopped changing out of his pyjamas and dressing gown. I know it hit him so damned hard, the accident I mean, but things obviously balanced out a bit when he met you. You knew you were never going to have it easy or boring or predictable. He's highly intelligent and high-maintenance and I'm not just saying that because of the chair. He's so clever he trips over his own brain, so he needs someone who's got two feet solidly on the ground. Just think about tonight," Greg says. "I don't think there's anyone who wouldn't have enjoyed the Sherlock Show at its best."
"I do like the work. No, scratch that, I love the work. I want to keep my medical licence, though, otherwise running around with him would be all I'd be doing."
"It's probably good for you to hold on to the doctoring," Greg confirms. "It's your thing. Everyone needs their own things. Sherlock does, too."
"He drives me mad but I love him," John announces.
"No," Greg corrects. "He drives you mad and you love him."
'As much as you love him, you need time for you and a breather every once in a while ,' had been Greg's parting words to John. In the spirit of that statement, they'd had a few pints more, and the DI had called a ride home, vowing to collect his car from the alley he'd parked it in the next morning.
"I owe ya one, mate." John says.
Greg shakes his head firmly. "You don't think I need a breather, too? I've got two small blokes and two ladies of various sizes requiring my attention the moment I hang my hat at home."
"Right," John says, and gets such a hard clap on his shoulder that it nearly makes him lose his balance.
He checks his phone: no messages.
"Out like a light?" Lestrade asks.
"It's the same every time: he talks about the case for an hour or two until the adrenaline starts to wear off. Then, he'll get cranky unless we fix his blood sugar so I usually try to find a restaurant quickly or order in. He'll eat his portion and steal half of mine, then crash in bed," John explains, standing on the kerb waiting for Greg's Uber. There didn't seem to be much taxi traffic on the quiet side street so they hadn't even tried hailing one.
"Thanks for tonight," John adds sheepishly.
"Don't mention it. Just promise me you'll suggest something along these lines when you need it."
Should I go back to therapy? John suddenly wonders. He'd cancelled a lot of appointments after learning about Switzerland; he hadn't felt like Ella could be much help. But, he doesn't want to burden his friends with his troubles, or even talk it out with Sherlock who's got enough on his plate as is. But maybe Greg's right and he needs to do both: to find an outlet when he gets exhausted, and to stop trying to always present a sunny side when Sherlock's being the opposite, too. We're in this together .
"I feel like I can't crumble under the pressure because he needs me sane, and that I'm responsible for his will to live," John suddenly reveals. It's the alcohol talking, I never say such things out loud.
"No. You're not. You can help, but that’s solely his responsibility," Greg tells him just as his driver stops in front of them.
After the car has disappeared from view, John lingers at the kerb before starting the walk home.
Maybe we should look into some therapy for Sherlock? Then again, fat chance he'd be willing to even cross the threshold of a therapist's office. I'm all he's got. The thought is sobering: John truly is all Sherlock has, because he certainly doesn’t want his parents or his brother looking after him. He chose me. Do I want to do it? Hell, yes. I really do.
Had he ever hesitated marrying Sherlock? No. Had he ever hesitated moving in together? No.
I love him, John concludes, and decides he wants nothing more than to get home.
As he cleans his teeth, John studies his face in the mirror. The lingering buzz from the beer makes his features blur around the edges, but not unpleasantly so. There are new lines around his eyes and mouth; worry lines, and laugh lines, a topographical map of a life well-lived. His hair is now more grey than blond but his eyes, though they’re currently rimmed in red from exhaustion, still watch Sherlock across a crowded room, still light up when those kaleidoscope eyes lift to meet his, still sparkle with mirth when he playfully teases his husband. This is a face , he decides as he spits and rinses off his toothbrush, of a man who has loved with everything he has and why shouldn't that sometimes be pretty draining?
He hums into that thought as he flicks off the light and walks through the kitchen to check that the door is locked. The flat, and the street outside, are dark and quiet, though it isn’t yet midnight.
After divesting of his shirt and jeans, he makes his way to the bed in just his pants and vest, slipping under the covers and nearly sighing with relief at the cocoon of warmth found inside. He lays on his back for a moment, staring at the ceiling and listening to the quiet snore of his husband beside him as he reflects on the evening’s discussion with Greg.
I chose this life.
He scoots closer to the warm body by his side.
And given the chance, I’d choose it again and again and again.
His jaw cracks as a sudden yawn overtakes him. His body draws naturally against Sherlock; his arm snaking comfortably around slim shoulders and shifting until Sherlock’s head is nestled against his good shoulder. He presses a kiss to riotous curls and sighs.
Sherlock makes a small noise in response and lifts his head. “Y’home?” He mumbles sleepily.
John glances at Sherlock’s phone and sees that his note has been moved off of it. He hums and squeezes the arm around Sherlock‘s shoulders. "Yeah. I'm home."
He gets an uncoordinated but affectionate pat against his chest in return.
“Went to the pub. Had a good chat with Greg, but there’s no place I’d rather be now. I love you, Sherlock.”
“And I, you.” The words scarcely make it out before Sherlock’s breathing deepens and slows once more, his body growing heavy against John’s.
We’re okay, John thinks as the heavy shroud of sleep finally settles around him. We’re okay together, and there's going to be French toast for breakfast.
— The End —