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survival by proxy

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Sherlock inhales.

Tonight, again, a snarling tidal wave rips through the midnight stillness of 221B Baker Street. Sherlock lets it carry him, hair catching on splinters in the doorways, arms tangled and bruised in the unforgiving spaces between the staircase’s wooden banisters. He watches, blearily, as the wallpaper patterns streak and blur past his head. There are patches on his arm, though one might as well say they are in his arm, sinuous swirls of intoxication sublimating into his arteries and pumping in his pulse. The wave is relentless, as is his surrender to it.

The thousand quicksilver strata of his mind conflate into the monochromatic haze of pure sensation. Always it is such a relief to be free of thought, to escape detail.

“What are you doing,” John is saying, calm and steady, there it is, his crisis voice; and the trance fractures - tea stain in duvet, Lipton Earl Grey is John’s favorite, sick last night, then, he never brings tea in the room unless he is and his hand doesn’t shake anymore, sheets 150 thread count eyes refocusing and telltale markings on the ceiling, there used to be a mobile hanging here - not too heavy, thin wire, not for a baby, so the last tenant was an artist, ah, yes, acrylic paint traces on the kitchen floor, ill-concealed by wood lacquer -

God, it is so silent. Sherlock wants to scream. The press of quiet, of muffled night traffic, of a sleeping John breathing in and out no more than ten feet and a scuffed teal door away, is more than he can bear.

The sick yearning is upon him, has been for hours, and he can hardly breathe with the weight of it.

****

Water surrounds him again, but it is not the wave. He’d hate it, but John is pushing him desperately down, is looking down at him with his mouth formed into a soundless cry - Sherlock!, probably, and maybe You bloody nutter! - and his face is so, so close. For an instant, Sherlock can see every detail: the tiny pockmark high on the right cheekbone, the exact pattern of the flecks in the right iris. Then the boom reaches his deafened ears, and he knows nothing but blinding momentum and the searing flash of exploding Semtex -

And John is on a hospital bed, devastatingly small under the blankets, and Sherlock knows precisely how he’s doing (he learned to read the hospital machines long ago, though he has carefully deleted the context of this knowledge), but he asks the doctor anyway, in a voice he knows is broken. He keeps asking these pointless questions, and he thinks he might understand a little the kind of burning human need he used to dismiss as silly and redundant. Like guilt.

They’re wheeling him away now, and someone is saying firmly, “Back to bed, now, Mr. Holmes,” and he lets them take him. He has already watched John’s chest rising and falling today. He cannot ask them for more.

****

“Sherlock, what are you doing?” John is saying.

He hasn’t moved, not even an inch, but Sherlock can feel him drawing back even so. Their lips are very close. Sherlock can feel the warmth of John’s, ghost-like, on his skin.

“I have to make sure,” Sherlock says.

The hospital room is still and pleasantly warm. Everything here, including the temperature, is meticulously controlled. The machines hum, blissfully free of thought.

“I have to make sure you keep breathing,” Sherlock says.

John’s eyes flicker closed for a moment, and Sherlock knows this look. It’s the Bit Not Good look.

He doesn’t understand. He wants to explain, wants to say, Kisses began as a way to transfer nourishment, as a way to survive.

Instead, he just moves back into his wheelchair. Talking won’t make the Bit Not Good look go away. He knows this from experience.

Then: “Sherlock, I’m sorry,” John is saying, and he has always looked old for his age, but the ravage of the explosion and the compressed despair of the hospital make him look as if he is slowly dying.

Sherlock says nothing, watches John’s chest rise and fall.

****

Another patch, and the wave is back, crushing, beautiful. The taste of water and chlorine in his mouth fades.

Tomorrow, Sherlock will tell John to go outside, get some fresh air in his lungs.

For now, John sleeps on. Sherlock exhales.