John isn’t the most eloquent of men. He knows this, and he’s okay with it, most of the time. He doesn’t think of himself as a poet, or a fancy wordsmith. He doesn’t think about words at all, really, other than their rather pedestrian purpose of relaying information and thoughts and desires from one person to another on a daily basis. He likes to keep things simple: We need milk. Pick up your clothes. Now. No head in the fridge. Fuck off I’m sleeping. But, these days, things are more complicated. These days, things are all out of order. These days, he gets all tangled up in words. He trips over their meanings. Things get twisted, and what he thinks, what he means to say doesn’t always translate correctly between his brain and his lips. A short in the wire, somewhere. And yet he tries, valiantly, to keep it all simple. Small words. No double meanings. And, categories. Four letters. Four-letter words. Short. Simple. He finds himself making these categories because as his life with Sherlock becomes more complex, categories help keep things ordered. Mostly.
A particularly good word for how it all happens, between him and Sherlock. Speeding train. Nuclear missile. Summer thunderstorm. Bah. See? He knows he’s no poet, but he also knows it’s all beyond his control, that some kind of dark whirling dervish simply picks him up and carries him along, arms and legs twisting and flailing, head bobbing dizzily, scared and uncertain, but excited beyond words, too. Always beyond words. How would he even describe it, besides poorly?
A shock to the system, a punch in the gut, a smack to the side of the head, and he tries to keep up, he really does, but his legs are shorter and his mind is slower and,
Sherlock runs so very—
He’s always had an inclination towards it, he knows. Hid it well under jumpers of various shapes and colours and patterns for years. He knows he never cut as striking a figure as Sherlock, and it used to bother him, when he was younger, when they’d strip naked, when they’d stand together, skin rubbing, breaths hitching, bellies—
Well, belly, as in one. One sweetly curved, the other rather concave, which isn’t really a belly at all, is it? And, as for the rest of Sherlock, the limbs, the neck, collarbones, the skull, the—
How could John not compare? It was impossible.
But who, really, could ever compare to Sherlock? That was the point, wasn’t it?
And these days, when Sherlock buries his (now graying) head against him, rubs his curls against John’s soft stomach while reaching lower, and makes those sounds, the same sounds he’s been making for years and years and years, well John simply arches up against him, against that breathtaking mouth and thinks fleetingly about how much flatter his belly looks when he’s lying down.
Early on, Sherlock slips, just once, after a particularly grueling case, and John and Lestrade burst into the flat to find him semi-conscious, the syringe still dangling from the thin, delicate skin of his arm.
“You promised me!” Lestrade — face gone white as Sherlock’s arm — is yelling, and he slaps Sherlock’s face, hard. “You stupid—”
John is lowering him to the floor, checking frantically for a pulse, for a heartbeat. His hands are shaking. He’s whispering Sherlock’s name over and over and over under his breath, because he doesn’t trust his voice.
“Promises,” Sherlock slurs, his eyes rolling back, “are made to be—”
Lestrade moves to slap him again, but John holds him off. The paramedics arrive and everything gets very noisy and crowded after that.
In the hospital John hangs back, lets Mycroft have his say in low, terse monosyllables. John has never seen him so livid. Or, close to tears, he realizes, as Mycroft brushes by him, glancing at him briefly. Sherlock sees John at last, smiles crookedly at him.
“Why are you way over there?”
“Because if I come closer I might fucking strangle you, that’s why.”
Sherlock waves a hand at him. “That? That was nothing, really. Now, the last time—”
John moves closer. He’s careful to keep his fists jammed in his coat pockets.
“I don’t give a fuck about the last time, right? Because this? This is the last time. Don’t you ever, ever—”
Sherlock is smiling. John stops ranting.
“Have you gone insane? Have the drugs finally—”
“What?” John is so angry he’s spitting. He swipes an arm over his mouth.
“You do care. I thought you might, but I wasn’t sure, because not all the evidence—”
John has to run from the room. He has to run for a long time.
A daily occurrence, really, a kind of by-product of living with Sherlock. The fear of getting blown up, or shot, or kidnapped, again. Fear of falling, or jumping, or walking, even. Fear of cabbies and seven-foot-tall monsters, who really do exist. Fear of bright sunlight, fear of the dark. Fear of strange cars and stranger brothers, text messages, e-mails, rain, hail, doorbells, middle-of-the-night knocks. Fear of what’s under Sherlock’s bed, or worse, in his bed.
Fear of what might be in that one bulging blue container in the very back of the fridge.
Fear that the next dead body that turns up might be someone John can’t live without.
And speaking of the bulging blue container, which does not contain anything remotely edible, John learns early on that food does not play a starring role in Sherlock’s daily existence. Or, rather it does, in its very noticeable absence.
“You need to eat. Everyone needs to eat. Every one.”
“Hmm. This is an expert opinion?”
“It’s a human opinion.”
“Humans are boring.”
“You seem to find them interesting enough. You make your living off them.”
“The dead ones are fascinating.”
“The dead ones don’t eat.”
“When you’re dead you’ll never have to eat again. Promise.”
Sherlock starts picking food off John’s plate, in the flat, in restaurants. He uses his fingers and John lets him, because he’s so thrilled to see him put food in his mouth and chew and swallow he can’t be arsed to lecture about such banalities as etiquette or hygiene. One day, though, the waitress, who John has a bit of a crush on, gives them a very strange look, and after that John starts asking for an extra fork every single time. And, he makes Sherlock use it. At least in restaurants.
It’s one of the stages of grief, John supposes, at least that’s what the therapist reminds him. The very nice, very calm therapist that Mycroft has so graciously arranged (insisted) for him to speak to twice a week. Anger, if you’re being technical, but when you love someone as much as John loves Sherlock “Gone Where?” Holmes, anger just isn’t enough to contain all that emotion, and anger becomes fury pretty damn fast.
It’s an all-encompassing kind of fury, red and throbbing and wicked and thrashing and it washes over him at the strangest times. Like, right after he’s cleaned the entire flat and unearths one of Sherlock’s old scarves from under the stove. Or, when he’s arranging files on his computer and clicks on the “SH” folder he’s managed to avoid opening for months. Or when he’s out walking and sees someone tall. With dark hair. Or when he’s eating. Or sleeping. Or breathing.
After the first year, he’s running out of things to smash.
After the second year, there are 13 holes in the wall, all matching the approximate size and shape of John’s fists.
People start to notice. Of course they do, but John wonders what they’re noticing, exactly. He can never work up the nerve to ask. Does he smile more? Is there a spring in his step? Is he, god forbid, putting on weight?
“So, what does it feel like?” Harry asks him one day in the middle of a long-overdue lunch. She has ordered wine, but the glass sits unsipped in front of her. She keeps glancing at it and chewing the inside of her cheek. It’s some sort of test, John realizes. If Sherlock was here, he’d tell her just that, and a hell of a lot more, to boot. John wishes he was here.
He swallows his pasta, wipes his mouth.
“What does what feel like?”
Harry’s hand moves towards the wine glass. She bites her lip and presses her palm flat against the checked tablecloth. Her fingers are shaking. John watches them, then looks at her face. The sun is behind her. She’s all lit up and so bright he can barely look at her. But, she’s smiling, with effort.
“Being in love, silly.”
Such a long way down, John thinks after. He thinks about it for a long, long time. He thinks about it in the hospital, after the doctors, more than one, he remembers, tell him Sherlock is gone. Gone where? John actually says, stupidly. He asks more than once. Gone where? One of the nurses takes pity on him, takes his cold hand and leads him to some kind of chapel, dim and hushed, where he sits, carved of wax, unmoving, barely breathing, until Mycroft comes to fetch him.
All the way home, as lights and storefronts pass by, crazy angles reflected in the car window, as Mycroft talks on and on about something in a quiet, soothing voice that John will never ever be able to recall after, he thinks about it.
To fall, from such a great height, well, it’s enough to kill a person, isn’t it?
Sherlock often walks around the flat barefoot. Helps him think, he says, the sensation of sensitive bare skin against various surfaces found underfoot:
Linoleum helps calm his mind and sort colours into patterns. (“Colours? Into patterns?” John asks. Sherlock ignores him.)
Carpet aids in recalling details such as scent and fabrics. (John ignores this.)
Shards of glass from last week’s experiment gone horribly awry do not do anything, however, other than hurt like a fucking sonofabitch.
John carefully removes the tiny slivers, glass jewels glinting under the lamplight, plucked by tweezers and dropped in the dish by his elbow. Tiny droplets of blood beading and oozing. Sherlock watches the proceedings quietly, not uttering a word, not flinching. John fixes him up, fixes everything up, then, just before he puts Sherlock’s long, pale foot on the couch with the rest of his long, pale body, he leans forward impulsively and presses his lips to the bandages.
“All better,” he says, then grins idiotically, like it’s all a big joke, because Sherlock’s looking at him like he may have lost his mind, and really, he may just have. Sherlock places his foot very carefully on the end of the couch, never taking his eyes off John’s face.
“All better,” he says at last, but his voice sounds like it’s full of glass.
One of John’s favourite words, as it’s simple and short and encompasses so much without saying very much at all. The word just falls out of his mouth from time to time, and in the beginning, Sherlock hardly gives it a passing glance. But as time passes, as he gets to know John better, he realizes the word has layers. Layers of meaning, of inflection, of usage.
“I used all your shaving cream for an experiment.”
“Fine.” (Translation: Sort of fine. Will forgive. Buy me more.)
“I blew a fuse this morning. Fridge went out. Food’s gone over.”
“Fine.” (Translation: Not completely fine as I just went bloody shopping yesterday. You will replace all food. You will replace it today.)
“I need you to remove all your clothing and drape yourself over the chair like this.” Sherlock demonstrates. “For a case,” he clarifies. “Really.”
(Translation not required in this instance as John was up and out of the room before Sherlock could even finish speaking.)
“John. John. I…may I…I was wondering if I—” Sherlock stands at the edge of John’s bed at 3 a.m., asking but not asking at the same time. John sighs.
“Fine.” (Translation: Yes it’s fine, it’s more than fine you great bloody man. Look, I’ll even move over to make room and when you lie down I’ll put my arm across your chest but make it look like an accident so neither one of us will be embarrassed by our inappropriate proximity and have I mentioned I love you?)
It doesn’t happen as often as one would think, really, but when it does, it’s spectacular in both range and intensity. And, smoke. Lots and lots of smoke. In different colours, even.
Today’s it’s a rather vivid blue and has filled the entire flat in a matter of mere seconds. John and Sherlock burst onto the street, hacking and wheezing, just in time to see Mrs. Hudson trundling towards them with groceries. She takes one look at the blue clouds billowing from the upstairs windows, turns around and walks away.
“I do so adore that woman,” Sherlock gasps. Then he vomits on John’s shoes.
“You really are beautiful, you know,” John says once, in a moment of passion/weakness. “I mean—” Then he bites his lip and waits.
Sherlock — hair-tousled, red-cheeked, lip-swollen — looks at him, all cheekbones and alien eyes and mouth before he leans down to kiss John again, whispering against his mouth: “No one’s ever said that to me before. Ever.”
Oh god, thinks John, I’ve gone and fallen in love with your—
Funny how, even though he’s older than Sherlock, he always thought Sherlock would die first. Gloriously, of course, like a supernova. Like a hail of bullets. Like fire, brilliant blue or green. But no, in the end it’s John, and it’s boring, and it’s terminal and there’s nothing to be done about it. Nothing at all. And Sherlock has tried.
So, now they sit together in late-afternoon sunshine. And hold hands, and every once in awhile Sherlock gives John’s a small squeeze, and swings it a little between their chairs. John looks over at him each time and smiles, and each time Sherlock is staring right at him, eyes bright with tears he won’t allow to fall, yet. The time is near. They both know it.
Late that night, curled together in bed, Sherlock lets himself cry for the first time in a long time. John doesn’t mind. He’s too tired to join him, but he feels so very, very sad for Sherlock.
“You can’t go—”
“You can’t. I won’t let you.”
“I don’t want you to go. I can’t—”
But this time John can’t, so he just holds him instead, very, very tightly, until his shirt is wet with tears that aren’t his own and Sherlock has finally stilled.
In the end, he’s old, which is fine, and he just fades away, which is not fine, but it’s better than some alternatives, he supposes. Like a hail of bullets. Or, fire.
Fade. Not his favourite word, of course, but a good one, in the end. He will miss this, all of this, and Sherlock, oh god he’ll miss Sherlock so much.
And the bees, too, of course.
It’s exactly what you are, John Watson, he tells himself, on more than one occasion, especially after making ridiculous statements in moments of passion/weakness. You’re a damn fool for loving someone who is simply incapable of loving you in return and you deserve every single cruel taunt and tongue-lashing and heartache you get from now until eternity. Stop loving that man now. Just. Stop.
But then Sherlock looks at him, or Sherlock kisses him, or Sherlock snuggles him, or fucks him, or coughs on him or whatever, it doesn’t even matter anyway, because he’ll never stop loving him, wouldn’t even if he could.
Well, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? It’s what Sherlock is, what Sherlock does, what Sherlock’s world revolves around. Gathering information, viewing the scene before him with a cold, calculating eye. No stone unturned. No question unasked. He prides himself on seeing what others do not see. And he does see so very much. It’s unnerving. He unnerves people. Well, some people.
But, it’s funny how he can see so very much, and so little, all at once.
But, the fact of the matter is that Sherlock’s perfectly ordered world would fall to pieces if one John Watson were to ever vacate it.
“Do you thinks it’s real?” John curls his fingers around Sherlock hip bone, digs his fingertips into the soft skin there. It makes Sherlock flinch. It makes his eyelids flutter shutopenshut. He exhales sharply When he speaks it’s to the ceiling.
“Did it bring you to me?”
John shrugs. “Suppose. Possibly. If you believe in that sort of thing.”
Sherlock turns on his side, towards John. His eyes are wide and bright and his smile rather lopsided.
“Then I’ll make it my fucking religion.”
Certainly much more adept at wordplay than John, Sherlock does have a difficult time expressing the gentler emotions.
“I am…John. I am…you have to know, how I feel… I am very fond of you. You must know that.”
John smiles, knowing it’s the best he’ll get for now. And he’ll take it.
“I love you, too, Sherlock.”
Sherlock smiles in relief. “Good. Good, then.”
“Yes, that, too.”
So many ways this one can go, it’s almost humourous.
“Don’t be crass, John,” Sherlock sniffs as John stalks from the room, time and time again.
“Ah, fuck me.”
And Sherlock does, time and time again, bent head, sweat beads and soft grunts of exertion, skin and skin, slick and sliding. Sherlock licks every bit of John he can reach. He likes the salty taste of him. He works his head into the space between John’s shoulder and jaw. He likes to have it there when he comes, shaking, shaking. He likes how John’s fingers dig into his back when John comes. In the morning he checks the mirror for marks. If there are a lot, he smiles giddily.
“That was a good fuck,” he says.
“Don’t be crass, Sherlock,” John says. And, he blushes, because it’s true.
Then he comes back. Sherlock comes back, back from the dead, back from gone where?, and it’s been so long, but it’s been a blink of the eye, too.
John can only stand and stare. And stare and stare and stare and—
“John,” Sherlock whispers and it all falls to pieces again.
He almost hits Sherlock. He comes very, very close. Instead, he plows his fist into the wall, behind him. Fourteen.
Then he kisses Sherlock. And kisses and kisses and kisses and—
He’s thought about it over the years, many times, when things have been particularly bad, and once, after a horrible fight that involves shouted obscenities and a shattered dinner plate, he even goes so far as to stomp off to his room, pack his bags and make lots of noise while doing so.
John ignores him. Shoves a T-shirt into his duffle bag viciously.
John stops shoving clothes into bags. He stands there, holding a ragged undershirt he should have thrown out years ago. But, two weeks ago, Sherlock wore it to sleep in and now—
“You can’t…you can’t go—”
John finally looks at him.
Sherlock is wringing his hands, his long pale fingers twisted together so tightly they might snap.
John sits heavily on the bed. He wants to drop his head into his hands, but realizes that might be a bit dramatic.
“I’m not, Sherlock.”
“You’re packing. You’ve never…this is the first time you’ve—”
“I know. I just…” He sighs. It all seems so silly just then. “I’m not going anywhere.”
Sherlock makes a small sound and kind of collapses next to him, knees on the floor, and he pushes his face into John’s lap. John pushes his fingers into Sherlock’s hair and smiles down at him.
“Promise,” Sherlock says, his voice muffled. His fingers pluck at John’s pants. John watches.
Sherlock shakes his head. It’s an odd sensation against John’s legs.
“No. Say it.”
John laughs. “All right. I promise. I’m not going anywhere.”
Sherlock exhales heavily, his breath hot on John’s thigh. At John’s words his shoulders visibly relax and his head turns to the side so John can see his face, his smooth, pale cheeks, which might be wet. It’s hard to tell in this light.
“We have time, then.”
“We do,” John says. Sherlock’s hair slides through his fingers. He stops. Wait a minute. “Time for what, exactly?”
Sherlock closes his eyes and smiles. He can see it all.