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I Would Refuse to Breathe the Air

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It was after a case, of course, the first time Sherlock Holmes told me he loved me. A really, truly horrible case, if we're being honest. He was rattled by it, I could tell, and it takes a lot to rattle that man. I was rattled too, don't get me wrong, but I was more rattled by the fact that he was so rattled...

Does that even make sense?

Anyway.

There's a long explanation about dirt from the bank of the Thames on someone's trousers, and the way the paint was splattered at the crime scene, and the temperature of the blood that, apparently, didn't belong to the victim, but the basics of it are simple. Sherlock didn't solve the murder in time, and I couldn't save the life. We failed, spectacularly so. We were too slow, just by seconds. We arrived, the police several blocks behind us, just in time to get a front-row view. A woman sat not three feet in front of us, tied to a chair, forced to watch the light leave the eyes of the man she loved. He was almost gone before we arrived, but we were there for the end.

Sherlock would normally tell you I'm being overly dramatic, with this talk about light leaving someone's eyes, but later, that was how he described it in his statement to Lestrade. A rattled Sherlock can be rather poetic at times, I've noticed.

I rushed over to the man, hoping there would be some way I could keep him stable until help arrived, but he'd lost far more blood than anyone could reasonably replace, even if it had been possible to keep him alive long enough for a transfusion. There was nothing I could do. I was kneeling beside his body, feeling his lukewarm blood soak through the knees of my trousers and stain my hands, when I turned around to see what Sherlock was doing.

It isn't a sight I'll forget any time soon. I'll probably remember it for the rest of my life, in fact. He had untied the woman who had then, apparently, slid out of the chair and into his arms. She was clinging to him, sobbing loudly into his neck while he sat with her on the floor, holding her tightly and stroking her hair. He was silent, not bothering with the false reassurances and platitudes usually forced onto people in situations like that. We locked eyes for a moment, and the expression on his face hit me like a ton of bricks. His eyes were wide, and he had that wrinkle he gets between his eyebrows when something's gone terribly sour. His lips were pursed, and if I didn't know better, I would say he looked as if he was going to cry, right then and there.

But he didn't. That was later.

Lestrade was pounding through the door not a moment later, and the next few hours were a blur of forensics, statements, and paperwork. They found the killer not a block from where we found the couple, and he was locked up that night. The one good thing that came out of all of this was that it looks as if it'll be an open and shut case. That bastard's going away, for a long, long time, thanks to Sherlock.

So, there we were, sitting on the sofa together after watching a man die and a woman's heart get ripped out. It didn't really seem appropriate to watch Doctor Who reruns, considering the circumstances, so we sat in silence while the tea went cold. Sherlock's fingers were just barely trembling, his eyes still had the wide doe-like look to them, and they were suspiciously red-rimmed. The last time I'd seen him so affected by anything was in Baskerville, and even then, it was only because he was being poisoned. He opened his mouth as if he wanted to speak, but looked as if he couldn't quite find the words he needed to say.

That's fine though. I'm a doctor; I'm patient. I'd waited two years for him, thinking he was dead, and I could surely wait another few minutes for him to put his thoughts together without interrupting his train of thought.

"Christ, it was just like Bart's," was what he said, when he finally found his voice. I'll be honest- not what I was expecting. But with Sherlock Holmes, you learn to expect the unexpected. Or at least, you don't get quite so surprised by it.

"Bart's?" I asked, not quite following his logic yet.

"The rooftop. My suicide," he answered. His voice was thick, the way voices are when you have restrained tears draining down the back of your throat. Now, I was sure I wasn't following his logic. That man was killed, we had seen it. Of all the things that had happened that night, a suicide wasn't one of them.

"I'm not following. How was it like your... how?" I still have trouble saying it, even though I know it was all a bloody twisted magic trick, now.

"The woman, she..." he trailed off, turning to face me and biting down hard on both of his lips. He reached out for me, but stopped with his fingers centimeters from my face, and let his hand fall down to his thighs. "I swear to you, John, I had no idea. I had no idea," he said, repeating the last four words under his breath. He broke our eye contact and looked down at his hands, which were laying palm-up on his lap, rather than his usual steepled gesture. The closest word I can think of to describe it would be... surrender.

"Sherlock, you're going to have to explain this to me. You had no idea about what? You know, you can't blame this on-"

"I'm not," he said, his voice sharp but still quiet. 

"Okay, okay," I replied, holding up my hands to placate him. "Then what's going on?"

"The woman, when she was crying all over me, she kept saying 'I never told him I loved him. I never told him. He's gone, and he'll never know,'" he answered, balling his hands into fists as he spoke. Without warning, he suddenly slammed a fist down, hard, directly into the coffee table. "Damn it, John, I didn't know, and I've fucked everything up!" He shook his head, as if his mind was an etch-a-sketch and he could erase his thoughts. I was genuinely surprised- not only was Sherlock Holmes on the verge of tears, right in front of me, but he was swearing. He generally believes swearing is an indication of lower intelligence, employed by those of us with "inadequate vocabularies." I could probably count on one hand the number of times I'd heard him say "fuck."

"Okay, so, he didn't know she loved him. That's sad and all, but Sherlock, there's something else to this. What didn't you know? What's got you so upset?"

He looked at me, and I felt as if his eyes were boring a hole straight through my chest. I had never seen him so open, and in such emotional turmoil. He blinked, and the tears finally cut their way through the grime on his cheeks, searing their tracks into his pale skin. "Did you hear her call his name? When you were trying to see if you could resuscitate him? Didn't you hear her, John? She screamed it, you must of heard."

I shook my head. I didn't remember hearing anything, really, until after I'd given up on him. It's a remnant of my days in Afghanistan, I suppose- working on patients while blocking out the sounds of screaming people and IED's.

"She sounded exactly like you," he said, more tears escaping, and running unchecked down his face. That was when it dawned on me. The woman he'd held while she screamed the name of her almost-lover and sobbed over lost time and regrets and words left unspoken- that woman was me, watching him tumble from the rooftop. "The whole time I was away, John, your voice haunted me. You screamed my name as I was falling, and the memory of it nearly broke me, but even then-" he paused and swallowed back his emotions, trying to keep himself from coming apart any more than he already was. "Even then, I swear to you, I didn't know. I didn't know until I heard that woman scream that man's name the same way you screamed mine. It all makes so much sense now, really, but I can't imagine... John, I can't begin to fathom..." he trailed off, raising his hand, again, to my face, and allowing it to reach me this time. He cupped my cheek, and it was as if he lit a fire underneath my skin. My mouth was probably hanging open at this point, but honestly, I couldn't tell you. The only thing I was thinking about was Sherlock, my best friend, my almost-lover, the man who gave me so much when I was so alone, sitting in front of me, telling me he finally, finally, understood the things I'd never had the sense to say. Before I could think of a response, he continued.

"When I was gone, you grieved for me, and for that, I am sorry. Truly, deeply, sorry, John, with all my heart. The things I went though, while I was away, they were horrible. There were horrible things done to me, and I have scars that I will carry for the rest of my life, but it is nothing, nothing, compared to the thought of losing you. At least I had the comfort of knowing you were safe, thinking you would simply pick up and move on, only having lost a friend. I didn't know, John. I swear to you, I never knew you loved me, until that woman screamed. You never told me, because of the 'married to my work' nonsense, probably, I don't know, it doesn't matter. But I swear to you, John Watson, that I will never, never break your heart like that again. I cannot bear to imagine..." he closed his eyes then, pressing his palms into his forehead. When he looked back up at me, he looked even more wrecked than he had seconds prior, if that was even possible.

"I cannot bear to imagine living in a world where you are dead. That's why I had to jump. They were going to shoot you, and Lestrade, and Mrs. Hudson, but I might have taken a chance if there hadn't been a sniper trained on you. They were going to kill you, John, they were going to take you from me, and I had to stop it, even if it meant hurting you. I am so, so sorry to have caused you pain like that. I will never forgive myself, but I would do it again tomorrow if I had to. Because, John Watson, I refuse to breath the air of a world that does not have you in it," he managed to finish before his face crumbled completely, and he curled into me, burying his face in my stomach and giving in to the sobs he had been suppressing. 

I never would have expected this sort of display from him, not in a million years or a thousand lifetimes. For a moment, I was too shocked to react. Sherlock sacrificed himself for me, abandoned his entire life and the few people who care about him, just to keep me safe. Not only that, but he loves me. Sherlock Holmes. Loves. Me. My best friend, who I had convinced myself would never return the feelings I had for him, who I had resigned to play side-kick for until god knows when, loves me. It took a moment for my brain to come back online after that revelation, but once it did, I wrapped my arms tightly around his shaking shoulders and pulled him back up to face me. We were practically horizontal at this point, with our legs still dangling off the side of the sofa, but thank God Mrs. Hudson didn't walk in, or we never would have heard the end of it.

I held is face close to mine, and wiped some of his tears away with the pads of my thumbs as I spoke. "Christ, Sherlock," I started, my brain warring between speaking to him and kissing him. I went with speaking first. I couldn't afford to screw this one up. "It's okay. It's alright now, you're back, and you love me, and I know now. I know. Thank you so, so much for saving me. I didn't know it was like that. But please don't cry, love, it's all fine, I love you, I forgive you," I said, not nearly as articulate under duress as he is.

"You're crying too, John. Did you not notice?"

I hadn't noticed. He brought one of his hands up to my face, pulled me close, and kissed the bags under each of my eyes. We rested our foreheads together, the dampness on our faces mixing together, and I'm sure I was grinning like an idiot despite the fact that I was, apparently, crying like a teenaged girl.

We stayed just like that, breathing one another's breath, for a while. I think we were both a bit shocked, having exceeded our max emotional output for the next decade or so.

"I don't much like breathing the air of a world without you in it either, Sherlock," I finally said, after several minutes ticked by.

"I won't make you do that ever again, if it can be avoided. I promise you. No more magic tricks."

My skin felt like it was buzzing with electricity everywhere he touched me. I smiled, brushing my lips slowly and softly against his. "No more magic tricks."