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Breakable

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"How bad is it?"

Sherlock startled awake at the sound of John's voice, although there was no way he could've fallen asleep, even for a moment. No way. John. John's awake. John's alive. Of course he's alive. John's all right. No. No. John's speaking. He can speak. Of course he can speak. Don't be an idiot. He's fine. No. But he's awake. John's awake. John.

He pushed down the useless thoughts that threatened to overwhelm him and focused on the man in the hospital bed in front of him. John was awake. He had been sedated for almost a full day after the surgery but now he was awake. Sherlock reached through the rails on the bed and carefully squeezed John's left hand; John's fingers twitched weakly in response. He could move. His fingers, at least. On one hand. Relief. Love. Fear. The emotions surged before Sherlock could stop them.

"How bad?" John repeated. His voice was a dry croak that threatened Sherlock's self-control again.

Sherlock let his gaze travel the length of the bed, checking for any voluntary movement other than the twitch of John's fingers in his. Nothing. He was half-certain he would vomit if he had to repeat everything the doctors had told him, so all he said was, "T-9."

"Okay," John said. Sherlock could feel his own heart beating very fast; John's stayed steady, its rhythm broadcast by the monitor next to the bed.

"The surgery went well. They've been waiting for you to wake up to do more tests."

John nodded and closed his eyes. "Not yet." He squeezed Sherlock's hand, harder this time. Sherlock squeezed back, and bent awkwardly over the railing to brush his lips against John's knuckles. He felt John's other hand tangle briefly in his hair and had to bite back a whimper of relief. Of course he can move his arms. Both arms. Don't overreact. The injury was mid-spine: T-9, the ninth thoracic vertebra; John would still have movement in most of his upper body. But hearing the doctor read it off a chart and having the proof of John's hand carding gently through his curls were two completely different experiences.

A minute later and John was asleep again. Sherlock wanted to wake him up and grab him by the shoulders and shake him and demand that he try to wiggle his toes, kick his legs, stand up and walk. He wanted to weave his hands into John's hair and kiss him until they both couldn't breathe. He wanted to crawl into bed next to him and cry himself to sleep. Instead he just settled back into the moulded plastic chair, leaving his fingers wrapped in John's, waiting, waiting.

_____

He knew John could likely remember what happened; he hadn't hit his head or lost consciousness at all. Sherlock himself would never forget a moment of it. Some memories he could delete or over-write with ease. Others he would try to dismiss but they would slip into the hidden rooms of his mind palace, occasionally surprising him when he least expected it. And then there were memories like this, events that replayed every time he closed his eyes, intensifying and magnifying each time he relived them.

It wasn't even a suspect they were chasing, just a witness. A possible witness. A kid who'd probably been too high to even notice the man being murdered in the flat across the hall, but Sherlock wanted to talk to him, so while Lestrade and Donovan stayed downstairs interviewing the landlord, Sherlock had grabbed John by the arm and they'd gone after him. The kid had taken one look at them and fled, out of his flat, down the stairs, and doubtless out the front door. There were police all over the street out front, though, so the kid would head down the alley, hoping to slip off undetected into the night. Predictable and slow. Sherlock would be there first.

He opened the flat's only window and climbed out onto the fire escape, a cold draught of wind catching and lifting the tails of his coat. John was right behind him, of course, not hesitating to follow as Sherlock bounded out and down the stairs, and then he wasn't behind him anymore. The soft groan of the old metal creaking beneath Sherlock's feet became an ungodly screech as the rusted stairs gave way, pulling away from the building's wall as John clamoured down them.

Sherlock was already on the lower landing. He turned back and lunged toward the railing but not in time; John was on the ground in the alley below, his body twisted beneath a section of the broken stairs. It took Sherlock every long-neglected bit of self-preservation he possessed not to leap over the railing after him. Instead, he flew to the other side of the fire escape and yanked at the ladder it held, feeling pieces of the metal flake off beneath his gloved hands.

"I'm coming, John! Don't move! I'll be right there!" He wasn't sure if he shouted it out loud or just in his head, but he was on and down the ladder before it even finished descending, his feet barely touching the rungs, more of a slide than a climb, and it still wasn't fast enough.

He had his phone out before his feet hit the ground, for the first time appreciating the "Emergency Call" button he'd always seen as a rather vulgar intrusion on the lock screen. "Ambulance!" he shouted, as soon as the call was picked up, trying to pull the chunk of stairway off John without dropping the phone. "Don't move! Don't," he said to John, and crouched down next to his head while he gave the dispatcher the address and told her what had happened.

Sherlock settled his hand on John's shoulder as he answered the dispatcher's increasingly inane questions. John reached up and grabbed his hand, his grip tight and desperate. "Stop moving," Sherlock commanded again, then screamed into the phone, "He's 44 years old, how can that possibly matter? You have the address--get an ambulance here now!" He wanted to pitch the phone away into the darkness so he could focus on John, but he needed to make sure the dispatcher understood that there could not possibly be anything more important happening in the city than John Watson lying injured in this alleyway. He shoved the phone up between his ear and shoulder so he could have both hands free for John, and then someone was pulling the phone away from him and Sherlock had never been happier to see Sally Donovan than he was at that moment. She squatted next to them and calmly answered all of the operator's idiotic questions and after a moment Sherlock was able to tune her out and concentrate on John.

"It hurts." John had not lost his gift for stating the obvious. Sherlock pulled off his gloves and wrapped both hands around John's, some vague instinct telling him the skin-to-skin contact would be comforting.

Comforting. That's what he was supposed to be now. "Don't move," he repeated, and then had to stop himself from saying every other thought that passed through his mind. You may have a spinal cord injury. Your right leg is bent at an awkward angle beneath your left, but you don't appear to have noticed. I don't see any blood, which is good, but I'm afraid you may have lost control of your bladder. Now your leg is twitching--you can't feel that, can you? Can you? Oh, John. Help. He forced himself to exhale and speak again. "The ambulance will be here soon."

"Cold," John said.

"You're going into shock." Shit. Shit. Shit shit shit.

"I know," John said. "Still feel cold, though."

He had to let go of John's hand and stand up to take his coat off. It was cold, the air tonight, and Sherlock felt himself naked and exposed as he draped his heavy wool coat carefully over John. He could hear sirens now, though. Donovan had stepped away to the end of the alley to direct the paramedics, and there was no sign of the boy they'd been chasing. He'd probably heard the crash of breaking metal and run the other way, never even came near this godforsaken alleyway. Sherlock had led John out onto the traitorous fire escape for nothing. Stupid. He turned and kicked at the broken metal with the side of his foot. A small piece shot off to bounce against the wall; the rest of it just sat there, taunting and still.

"Sherlock." John's broken voice caught at him and a hand wrapped around his ankle.

"Stop fucking moving," Sherlock said, crouching down again, anger bubbling up, not at John but directed at him anyway.

"Don't leave me alone."

"I'm not. Of course I'm not. Don't be ridiculous." He softened his voice, though he knew he would find no happy medium between anger and tears.

Donovan skidded down the alley toward them, leading two uniformed men with a stretcher. Sherlock let her tug him out of the way. That was surprising; he would've expected himself to recoil at her touch, say something cutting. Instead he slid back on his rear until his back hit the wall of the building behind him. He drew his knees up to his chest and stayed there, shivering, watching as the paramedics hunched over John. They were moving too slowly, he thought; John should be in the ambulance by now, but they didn't even have him on the backboard yet. The reason why appeared a few moments later, in the form of two more first responders who raced down the alley to join them. The four of them spread out around John and proceeded to lift him onto the backboard. Sherlock thought they would've rolled him onto it; there must be a reason for the different technique. This was the kind of thing he would usually find interesting, except--

He rocked up onto his knees and vomited what little food he had in his stomach. He was still dry-heaving when Donovan grabbed his arm and pulled him upright. "Come on." The paramedics were loading John into the ambulance. Donovan picked Sherlock's coat up off the ground and shoved it at him. "And here's your phone back. Come on, now, I don't want to have to drive you to the hospital."

He let her keep her hand on his arm and told himself it wasn't because he was too unsteady to walk to the end of the alley on his own. John was already in the ambulance when they got there; Sherlock couldn't see his face from where he stood outside, just his body, strapped to the board, and the edge of the rigid plastic collar that ringed his neck. One paramedic was inside with him; another stood outside, in Sherlock's way. He tried to push past him to climb in beside John.

The man put his hand on Sherlock's chest to stop him. He had two inches and three or four stone on Sherlock, but Sherlock was quite certain he could knock all the other man's teeth out and leave him bleeding on the ground if he needed to.

"Let him ride. It's his husband." Donovan punctuated the lie with a hand against Sherlock's back, urging him forward. He glanced back at her; he was going to have to be nice to her for a long time in exchange for all the small favours she was doing tonight.

"I don't care who he is. If he's going to be sick again he has to ride up front. I won't have him upsetting the patient."

As if a little vomiting would upset John. Sherlock scrubbed his hand over his mouth. "I won't be sick again." He pulled himself up to his full height and tried to look composed and sure of himself. If he'd been wearing his coat instead of clutching it against his chest and shivering that might have been more effective.

The paramedic glared at him and Donovan shifted forward as if preparing to fight and then from inside the ambulance John spoke. "Let him in." He didn't sound hurt--his voice was pure Dr Watson with just an edge of Captain Watson, commanding and steady, and the paramedic grimaced and turned sideways to look at his patient and Sherlock scrambled up into the back of the ambulance before anyone could say anything more.

The paramedic frowned and then shrugged and climbed into the ambulance, pulling the doors shut behind them. He pointed to a small chair that folded out from the wall and said, "Sit there. No distractions." Sherlock sat, hunched into the chair but with his feet stretched out, trying to be simultaneously as close to John and as unobtrusive as possible.

Chapter Text

When John woke up again he seemed much less groggy, although saying he was more like himself might've been stretching it a bit. He did sit up enough to drink some water through a straw.

Sherlock held the plastic cup for him and watched him raise himself, weight on his elbows, enough to take a sip. Good, that was good, wasn't it? Except he also thought John wasn't supposed to be moving at all, though if they really wanted him immobilised they wouldn't have stopped the sedative he'd been getting through the IV. Right? He could ask John's opinion: From a medical point of view, is it wise for you to be lifting your shoulders from the bed? Will that aggravate the swelling in your spine? Shouldn't you just stay flat on your back? Three days ago he would've thought he could say anything to John, anything, but now there was a whole list of words in his head he couldn't say: paralysis, spine, wheelchair, walk. My hand is on your thigh--can you feel it? His stomach twisted at the thought of the answer, so he did not ask.

When he'd finished drinking, John eased himself back down and pressed his right hand against his side, the movement somewhat hindered by the multiple wires and tubes snaking out from that hand.

"You should probably try to stay still."

"Yeah, but it's bloody uncomfortable." He shifted his right shoulder so it sat a little higher on the pillow and asked, "How many ribs did I break?"

Sherlock grimaced. "Four of them are bruised. Just one cracked--the tenth one." Which you probably can't feel. He was amazed at how quickly he'd been able to start censoring himself around John. It didn't feel like much of an accomplishment.

"Well, I guess that's something," John said. His mouth twisted as he settled back against the pillow again.

"Call the nurse. They reduced your painkillers when they were trying to get you to wake up, but they can probably bring them back up now."

"No. It's fine."

"It's not fine if it hurts, John. What kind of horrible doctor are you?"

John sighed. "It's not-- It's fine. Just." He closed his eyes through a couple of deep breaths. Sherlock knew from experience that breathing deeply with injured ribs was not a pleasant sensation.

"It's not fine."

"It is, Sherlock." His eyes were still closed. He paused, then added softly, "At least I can feel it."

Sherlock's breath caught and he found himself again at a loss for words. "John."

John opened his eyes; they were dry. Sherlock's were not. He looked away and picked up the corded call button that hung over the side of the bed. "You should call the nurse anyway. I was supposed to let them know when you woke up."

John took the bulky device from him and pressed the button in the centre. A moment later a voice responded. "I'm supposed to tell you I'm awake," John said, a ghost of a self-conscious smile directed at Sherlock as he said it.

"All right, Dr Watson. Someone will be there in just a minute."

John set the control down on the table next to him. "I don't know any of the nurses over here."

"Oh, so you won't be able to get special favours from them."

"Hmm. I think you're underestimating my ability to get special favours, love." He gave a grin that looked fairly normal; Sherlock was almost able to return it.

The nurse arrived shortly, and introduced herself and asked, "How are you feeling, Dr Watson?"

"Shitty," John replied. "And call me John. I'm a bit more of a patient than doctor at the moment."

She smiled at him and he smiled back. Sherlock could see that he was gritting through the pain but John always flirted with nurses, always, as a doctor and as a patient. He probably couldn't have stopped even if he wanted to, and Sherlock had stopped minding years ago.

He watched as the nurse checked John's vitals and made notes on his chart and helped him find a more comfortable position by inclining the bed so he could sit up a bit. Through it all John kept trying to smile, though Sherlock could see that with every small movement he made the smile became a little less genuine, a little more forced, until finally Sherlock couldn't stand watching anymore.

"He's in a lot of pain," he said.

The nurse was standing at the foot of the bed, writing something on John's chart; she looked over at Sherlock as if surprised he had spoken. He refrained from insulting her ability to observe her patient and simply said, "He won't admit it, but he is. He's not normally that pale, there are far too many lines around his mouth, and his ability to flirt with you is decreased by at least seventy-five percent. Look at his hands."

She frowned and glanced at John, then down at the chart she held. "I can increase the morphine, if you want. Not too much, we need to keep you awake, but a little. If you want."

John started to decline--Sherlock could see the word on his lips--and then he let his head roll back on the pillow and the smile slip from his face. "Yeah. That'd be good, ta," he said.

She wrote something else on the chart and then fiddled with the controls on the machine next to the bed. Sherlock noted the settings, knowing he shouldn't but not really caring, if it meant he might be able to make John hurt less at some point.

Some of the tension eased out of John's face almost immediately and Sherlock let himself relax a little as well. Though another day spent cramped in this chair and he was going to need some morphine of his own. Or at least a cigarette and a hot shower, maybe a back rub. He sighed and slumped down in the chair; it'd be a while before he got a back rub again.

The nurse used the call button to page a doctor who showed up almost immediately, followed by another doctor, and then another nurse. Two male doctors, two female nurses. How stereotypical. John found the second, younger nurse more attractive than the first. Sherlock thought they both wore too much makeup. And both of the doctors were trying and failing to disguise their escalating hair loss. He honestly couldn't remember the last time he'd admired the physical appearance of any person other than John.

The doctors and nurses all crowded around John's bed and made encouraging noises. John was smiling again, a bit more easily now, as they unclipped wires and removed one of the IV lines, getting him ready to move. Not out of the bed, though; the older nurse kicked off the locks on the wheels so they could roll the whole bed from the room.

"Sherlock." John raised his head to look past everyone who was in between them. "Come with me, yeah?"

"Of course." He pushed himself to his feet. He hadn't left John's side in two days and wouldn't start now, not if John wanted him there, although he realised he was going to have to get some proper sleep eventually. His body was tired but even worse was his mind starting to feel fuzzy and slow.

They wheeled John's bed through the door and down two halls and into a lift, then had to go through two more halls before they finally reached their destination. Not the most efficiently designed hospital, Sherlock thought.

The taller doctor, Jones or something common like that, was the surgeon who'd operated on John yesterday. He pulled up a copy of John's CT and MRI scans and started talking, flicking his pen against the large computer monitor for emphasis. Sherlock felt slightly ill, looking at the crushed bits of vertebrae and damaged nerve and knowing it was a picture of John's spine, not just a random image on a screen.

Sherlock found a spot near the door where he'd be out of the way. He leaned back against the wall, then shifted over a few feet so his view of the screen was partially blocked by the doctor. He tipped his head to his chest and closed his eyes and half-listened. If he concentrated he could store the information where he could access it later but not have to process it fully right now.

That worked until they finished reviewing the scans and moved on to examining John. Then he had to stop listening entirely, distract himself by counting the floor tiles and mentally rearranging them into more symmetrical patterns.

It got progressively harder not to be affected as the doctors poked and prodded at John's body, rolling him onto his side and then back again. John sounded all right, though, if a bit fuzzy from the drugs; Sherlock would never understand his ability to make small talk under any circumstance. He was still flirting with one of the nurses even as he answered questions about whether he could feel the pressure of a hand or the prick of a pin on his foot or his knee or his pelvis. Most of the answers were "no."

"How about that?"

John's voice. "Er, yeah, it's warm. I can feel that."

"Good, good. How about now?" What were they doing to him? Sherlock opened his eyes but didn't try too hard to see; he felt ill enough as it was without having to look at John's expression, which was likely to be one of either hope or pain, possibly both at the same time.

"No, nothing. Wait, yes, it's cool. Cold."

"Limited temperature sensation preserved on the left side. That's good, John." The doctor kept talking, something about proprioception and vibration sense but Sherlock lost the thread of it. He didn't understand why, though; surely he could comprehend medical terminology at this level. He read John's medical journals all the time, and hardly ever found something he didn't understand. This room, there were too many people in it and the air was too thick. It had a physical presence, pressing against him, making him feel as slow and as stupid as he imagined ordinary people must feel.

He picked up the conversation again a few minutes later. John wanted to try sitting up, but the doctors wouldn't let him. Weeks, they said, it would be weeks before he could even try, for fear of doing further damage. John groaned and one of the nurses reached out in sympathy, patting his shoulder. John said something low and the nurse and the shorter doctor both laughed, and then John was laughing, too, the sound soft and truncated and clearly causing him more pain. He was lying in a hospital bed, unable to move his legs or even sit up and he was laughing.

Sherlock felt sick. If he didn't get out of this room he was going to vomit. It was bad enough that he'd been sick in front of Donovan after John fell. He didn't need to embarrass John by doing it again here, never mind what it would do for his own reputation. Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective with a weak stomach.

He pushed himself away from the wall and stumbled toward the door. John was talking behind him, still, sounding much better than Sherlock felt. "Could you please--" he heard John say, and then the door swung closed behind him and Sherlock was back in the hallway. The air here was just as pungent and thick but at least there were fewer people around, more space to breathe. He would apologise to John later; he wasn't trying to get away from him, just from that room and everything else in it.

He let himself collapse slowly to the floor, leaning against the wall, his feet pulled carefully in so he wouldn't trip anyone walking by. If he tried very hard maybe he could settle his stomach before John was done.

He didn't get the chance. The door to the room behind him opened and one of the nurses came out. The one John thought was pretty. She squatted down next to Sherlock.

"When was the last time you had something to eat, love?" she asked.

"No, please." He put a hand to his middle in distress.

"All right, no food, but we're putting some peppermint tea in you and then you're taking a nap." She looked past Sherlock at the nurse's station down the hall and caught the eye of another nurse, a broad young man who was almost as tall as Sherlock. He jogged over to them.

"I can't sleep," Sherlock said. "John is--" He waved his hand at the door to the room, the explanation obvious. Honestly, trained medical professionals should know better.

"He'll be a while, still. They're going to do another CT scan and then they might take him down for another MRI. You get some sleep and when you wake up he'll be done."

"I'm not leaving."

"No, wouldn't ask you to, love. You can sleep in his room."

Oh. Well. That didn't sound too bad, actually. He put his hand back to push himself to his feet using the wall as leverage, but the other nurse got in the way and tried to help him up. Sherlock glared at him until he backed away.

"Sorry, mate. You just look a little unsteady. I'll go find a pull-out bed for you."

Sherlock followed the woman to John's room, a trip which seemed to take even longer on the way back. By the time they got there, the male nurse--his nametag said he was called John, which Sherlock refused to say--had already arrived with an ugly vinyl armchair that opened up into a narrow mattress. He fetched a pillow and sheet from the cupboard.

"Thank you," Sherlock said. He tried to keep in mind John's policy of always being nice to the nurses because they would make your life easier, but it was harder than it looked. And he certainly wasn't going to flirt like John. He settled for trying to scowl less. John-the-nurse-definitely-not-smart-enough-to-be-a-doctor-named-John said, "Cheers, mate," and left.

The woman--Nadine--all right, that name was acceptable--disappeared into the hall and then came back a few minutes later with an under-brewed cup of--well, it wasn't really tea if there were no actual tea leaves involved in the making of it, was it? It was just hot water weakly flavoured with mint and some sugar. Though it did sit better in his stomach than anything else would have.

He took off his jacket and sat on the edge of the pull-out bed and sipped at the tea-beverage, staring at the spot where John's bed was supposed to be. He tried to let his mind go blank, a technique at which he was actually quite practised, but at which he'd been failing miserably over the past few days. But even the failing effort was at least moderately distracting, and better than actually letting his thoughts roam free right now.

Nadine bustled around, coming in and out of the room several times, restocking supplies in the cupboard and generally annoying Sherlock with her presence. He'd almost finished the tea when she approached him and held out a tiny plastic cup. There were two pink pills in it. "It's just an antihistamine, but if you're as tired as I think you are, it should knock you out for a couple of hours."

He stared up at her. "I'm fairly certain it's against the rules for you to give drugs to your patients' visitors."

She stared back, a bit more directly than he'd expected. "And I'm fairly certain that my patient is not supposed to have a visitor living in his room 24/7, especially one he's not actually related to, but I guess sometimes the rules don't apply."

"You could lose your nursing licence for giving me drugs."

"It's an over-the-counter allergy drug. Not even a slap on the wrist. Besides, you won't turn me in."

Sherlock kept his glare on her for a few seconds, then took the pills and swallowed them with the last of the tea. "That man talks far too much for his own good."

"Sorry?"

He didn't bother explaining how he knew John had been the one to tell her to give him the pills. Instead he just lay down on the too-short mattress, kicking his shoes off and letting his feet hang off the end. He didn't want to sleep, but short of going back to be with John he didn't know what else to do with himself. I'd go watch him have the scans right now if I didn't think it would kill me.

Nadine dimmed the lights and said, "Get some rest and you'll feel better when John gets back. You know, when I heard that he was admitted, I was hoping I'd get to meet him and Sherlock Holmes."

He rolled his eyes. "Are we everything you thought we'd be?"

"John is delightful."

"He flirts with everyone. Don't think it means anything. And anyway he has terrible taste in women."

"As for you, I'm going to reserve judgment. Maybe you'll be different after you've got some sleep."

"I'm never different," he said, and rolled over so his back was to her. Nadine and nurse-John had been extremely accommodating to him--actually nearly everyone he'd encountered here thus far had been nice to him--and it was driving him mad. Striking out at her didn't feel as good as he'd hoped, though.

He pulled his jacket over his upper body, more as a barrier than blanket, since the hospital room was actually warmer than he found strictly comfortable. The doctors were worried about John's circulation and his ability to maintain his body temperature. If that was permanent, they'd have to find some way to better insulate the flat; it always got dreadfully draughty in the winter. The flat. Sherlock forced his mind away from trying to figure out how they would live at Baker Street if John couldn't walk, never mind manage the stairs.

-----

They may have been just a couple of allergy pills that he'd taken but they still knocked him out for longer than he wanted. And he would've slept even longer if he hadn't drank all the terrible peppermint not-tea. His bladder was the one part of his body he'd never been able to deny.

Sherlock rolled over on the little bed and saw that John had returned while he'd slept. In fact, he must've been back for a while, because he was asleep again, but there was a tray next to the bed with the remains of a rather disgusting-looking hospital meal on it: sandwich wrapper littered with cheap breadcrumbs, half-empty cup of applesauce, nearly full paper cup of chicken noodle soup. Empty cup of tea, of course. They might have John on the blandest diet possible, but they wouldn't keep him from his tea.

Sherlock got up and used the loo and then came out to stand next to the bed. He poured himself a glass of water and tried to rinse the taste of peppermint and sleep out of his mouth. Then he just stood there for a while, watching John sleep.

He was on his back, the bed once again fully reclined, a thin blanket covering most of his body. John hated sleeping on his back. He said that whenever he had nightmares he was always on his back. Sherlock didn't quite believe that, and had always meant to do a study of it, to see if it was true or if John simply didn't remember all the times when he slept on his back and didn't have a nightmare. He could do it now, ask John every time he woke up what he'd been dreaming of and see if there was any correlation, but the idea held no appeal. This wasn't an experiment or some medical oddity for a case--it was John, lying broken in a hospital bed and Sherlock couldn't do anything to fix him.

What he wanted to do was climb into bed next to him. If he had been on his side, there would've been more space and Sherlock might've been tempted; John was small and Sherlock was thin and they'd done it before, ignoring minor gunshot wounds and broken limbs and doctors' orders in favor of the comfort only found in each other's arms. But even if John could lie on his side, even if he weren't restricted to his back until most of the spinal swelling and the danger passed, Sherlock wouldn't have dared, not now. Even the slightest chance of hurting him more was too much to risk.

Although, now that Sherlock had his own little bed, maybe he could . . . .

Sherlock pushed the pull-out bed across the room until it bumped up against John's bed. John didn't stir. Good. He slipped the call button from its spot hanging over the rail. It also had buttons to adjust the bed, including raising and lowering the entire frame. He thought this would be the point where John woke up, but all he did when Sherlock lowered the bed was bring his hands up from underneath the blanket. Now the two beds were at the same height. Sherlock collapsed the railing between them and then slid onto the pull-out mattress. John was facing him, his head tipped just slightly to his right. And now Sherlock was close enough to touch him, close enough to smell him. John actually smelled like medical grade adhesive and chicken soup and unwashed hair at the moment, but Sherlock didn't care.

John's hands were clasped loosely together just beneath his chin. Sherlock slid his hand in between them, careful not to disturb the IV line still in John's right hand. Just one tube now; they'd discontinued the nutritional supplement now that he was conscious. He worked his fingers all the way into John's folded hands, felt John's grip tighten in his sleep. Touching John calmed him, settled his heart and mind in a way that nothing else could. He closed his eyes and exhaled, focused on the feel of John's skin against his, blocked everything else out, because nothing else mattered, just that the two of them were together right now.

Chapter Text

"Well, isn't this a sight? Two sleeping beauties."

Sherlock scowled without opening his eyes. "Not asleep," he told Lestrade.

"Yes, you were."

"I was, but not recently." He sat up and tried to run his hands through his hair, but only succeeded in getting his fingers caught in the snarls.

Lestrade picked up the awful plastic chair and brought it over closer to Sherlock. "How's he doing?" He nodded toward John, voice low so as not to wake him.

"Don't bother whispering. You won't wake him up and if you do, good. He's been asleep forever."

Lestrade frowned. "But he's been awake, right? Your text this morning said he was."

Sherlock nodded. "For a while, yes. He had some tests and then he ate lunch and he's been asleep ever since. It's been hours."

Lestrade shook his head. "Give the man a break. He's recovering and I'm sure he's on all sorts of drugs that're making him tired."

"So? I took drugs and I'm awake now, aren't I?"

"Wha—Sherlock, what did you take?" Lestrade flipped from concerned friend to investigating officer with barely a blink.

"No, nothing like that." He waved his hand at Lestrade. "Don't be stupid. I took some allergy medicine and slept for a few hours."

"Oh. All right." Lestrade relaxed again. Sherlock would've liked it if the other man had looked at least a little bit embarrassed at his false assumption, but he supposed Lestrade had dragged his half-conscious body from one too many drug dens for that.

"So, other than asleep, how is he?"

"He can't move his legs and he's in a lot of pain. He's pissing through a tube and he's on morphine and even the idea of that is making me feel a bit nauseated, and also a bit jealous. Did you just come by to chat?" Of course he didn't. He brought several duffel bags in with him, set them down by the door. John's things; he's been by Baker Street.

"I didn't think about him being in pain. I guess I thought he wouldn't be able to feel it."

"He fell two storeys and broke his back, Lestrade. Of course he's in pain. It wasn't just one small point of impact."

Lestrade shifted his weight back in the chair, glanced over at John. "What's the prognosis?"

"Not good." Sherlock leaned forward, elbows on knees, and dropped his head into his hands. His hair felt disgusting.

He didn't want to have to give Lestrade the details but it was better that he tell him now, instead of leaving it for John to do when he woke up. He thought back to everything the doctors had told him after the surgery and everything he'd been trying to ignore when John was being examined, spent a moment synthesising it into something he could say without breaking down.

"His spinal cord was crushed, but not severed. That sounds promising, but it's really not. He can't control any muscles below the injury. It's the T-9 vertebra, which is just about here." Sherlock sat up straight and put two fingers on his own torso, just above his navel. "He has a little bit of sensation below the damage level—he can feel temperature in a few spots but not pressure. There may be some improvement once the spinal swelling goes down all the way, but that will take weeks and the improvement is likely to be minimal. Once he's discharged from hospital—which likely won't be for weeks yet—he'll have to go to an in-patient rehab centre. For at least a month, maybe two."

"Ah, Jesus, Sherlock." Lestrade blew out a breath. "I'm sorry."

Sherlock shrugged and shook his head. "How on earth is that apology supposed to do either of us any good?" He dropped his head again and clasped his hands together, his elbows resting on his knees. His hands were shaking. That made no sense. He wasn't even tired anymore. I just took two naps. He pressed his hands together harder, trying to make them stop.

"Hey. Sherlock."

Lestrade was no longer sitting in the chair—he was on the bed next to him. When had that happened? How? He was a bit too close; Sherlock pulled his knees in.

"You all right? You've been staring at your hands for the last five minutes."

"I." He blinked and more time must have passed because now Lestrade's hand was on his shoulder though he hadn't seen him move.

"Maybe you should get some more sleep, eh?"

"No. I'm not tired. It's just . . . thoughts."

"You want to talk about it?"

Sherlock swallowed and looked over at John, who was still sleeping, breathing evenly, his left hand tucked beneath the pillow, his right curled into a loose fist that bristled with plastic tubing. He didn't want to talk about it, he thought he might explode if he didn't, and he definitely didn't want John to overhear. He closed his eyes and said softly, "It was my fault. He followed me out onto the fire escape."

"No, Sherlock, don't think like that." Lestrade paused, then seemed to come to his senses. "What were you doing out there anyway?"

Sherlock shook his head. "I wanted to talk to the kid in the flat across the hall, but he ran when he saw us. I thought we could cut him off if we went out that way."

"Oh. You think he had something to do with it? Because the girlfriend confessed, but she could've had an accomplice." He sounded like he didn't think that was very likely.

"Don't humour me, Lestrade. I made a mistake and John paid for it. I was disappointed that there wasn't much of a case for us and I wanted to do something brilliant and daring to impress him. He likes running after me in the dark. You should see the looks he gives me afterwards." Gave me. His running after me days are over. Sherlock's whole body was shaking now; he tried to push himself up to get away but Lestrade's grip tightened on his shoulder.

"This is not your fault. It was just an accident. There was nothing you could've done to predict it or prevent it."

"I—"

"Not even you, Sherlock." Lestrade turned and folded him into a hug and Sherlock didn't stop him. He didn't stop him; he just hunched himself as small as he could and shook against the DI's chest, trying not to make any noise.

When Sherlock finally got himself back under control, Lestrade let go of him, careful not to meet Sherlock's eyes, and said, "It was just bad luck. It could've just as easily been you."

I'm supposed to say I wish it had been me. Instead he turned away from Lestrade and straightened his cuffs.

"We are trying to track down the building's owner for code violations. The landlord says he's been telling him for two years that fire escape was rusted out."

"Code violations." Sherlock's hands were shaking again, but this time he recognised anger behind the involuntary movement. Code violations. Maybe they would get the building's owner for code violations. He and John knew their lifestyle always had the risk of physical danger, but when someone threatened them they responded in kind; chase after the perpetrator, throw him up against the wall, make him bleed, make him hurt. Shoot him with John's gun if he was still a threat. Fining someone for a building code violation was not an acceptable alternative.

"Sherlock. Do you want—er, maybe I could talk to one of the doctors. See if they could give you something to help you calm down?"

"No."

"It's just, I know this isn't easy. I don't want you to do anything you'll regret." Lestrade looked as if he were torn between offering another hug and scampering out of Sherlock's reach.

"I'm not going to self-medicate, if that's what you're concerned about."

"Okay. Let me know if it gets too much, though, all right? You want to go home and have a shower and change your clothes? I'll stay with John."

"No. I'm not going home."

"Yeah, thought you might say that." Lestrade heaved himself up off the little bed and crossed the room. He lifted one of the bulging duffels. "That's why I packed a bag for you, too. At least, I think this one's all your stuff. Mrs Hudson helped. It was a little disturbing because we couldn't tell whose pants were whose."

"We both wear the same size. Saves time sorting."

"Don't want to know." He tossed the bag at Sherlock and pointed to the bathroom. "Go. Shower. I'll sit here in case he wakes up."

Sherlock was tempted, but the irrational fear that something horrible would happen if he left John's bedside was hard to shake. He hefted the bag. "I'm not sure—"

"Please have a shower." John hadn't moved but his eyes were open.

"Hey, look who's awake," Lestrade said. Sherlock would've mocked him for how stupid that statement sounded, but he found an equally stupid grin spreading across his face at the sound of John's voice. He leaned forward to cup his cheek and kiss him lightly on the forehead.

John said, "Mm. Shower."

"I'm not the only stinky one in this room."

"Yes, but I am likely to be getting a sponge bath soon and you are not." John gave him a sleepy smile that turned into a yawn. He stretched his arms out to either side and twisted his head back and forth on the pillow. "Christ, but I'm already sick of lying flat on my back. I need to sit up a little."

Sherlock reached for the button to incline the bed but John already had it in his hand. "Not too high," Sherlock cautioned, and John gave him a look that was part amused and part a bit pissed off.

"Yes, thank you, Dr Holmes." He raised the bed a little, as much as he was allowed, and then wiggled his shoulders, trying to scoot up higher on the pillow.

"Come on, John, you know you're not supposed to be moving around that much."

"I am barely moving, Sherlock. I'm just trying to get comfortable."

Sherlock watched, trying to resist the urge to step in and help. He knew John wouldn't be so helpless once he was cleared to move and he had time to build up his upper body strength, but seeing him now. God. After several seconds of watching, he stood up and bent over the bed, pushing and tugging at the pillow until John told him to stop.

"Thanks, but it doesn't really make much of a difference." John's eyes were closed, but he reached for Sherlock's hands, finding them without looking. "It's just uncomfortable." Sherlock watched as John's jaw clenched and unclenched. His hands were sweaty.

"Is it uncomfortable or does it hurt?"

"It's not unbearable."

Sherlock nodded toward the machine next to the bed. "They've given you a PCA pump now."

"I know. I'll use it if I need to."

Sherlock picked up the small, corded button that allowed the patient to adjust the morphine dose and set it on the pillow next to John. The thought of being able to use it made his skin itch in a not entirely unpleasant way. He ran his hands over his scraggly face and into his knotted hair. Maybe he would have that shower. "You should at least let the nurse know that you're awake."

"I don't have to tell them every time I wake up, Sherlock. They'll be in to check on me when they need to."

"That older nurse was in once while you were asleep. And then a young girl with terrible shoes brought you tea. I drank it."

"Thanks."

"You wouldn't have wanted it to go to waste." He smiled, relieved at the chance to have a normal, non-emotionally-overwhelming conversational exchange. "Lestrade here has brought us the entire contents of our flat."

"Shut up, you'll want all this stuff." Lestrade lifted a blue backpack that Sherlock didn't recall either of them owning. "This here bag's entirely full of electronics—laptops, someone's iPad, an iPod from about 1999—I figure it must be John's."

"The iPod debuted in 2001."

"You know that, but what's my first name, Sherlock? Oh, I also got all the phone chargers I could find and someone's reading glasses." He held up the frames, looking from John to Sherlock and back again.

Sherlock rolled his eyes and John snorted. "You really think he would admit it if he needed glasses?"

"Please. I am far too young to need reading glasses."

"He has grey hairs, Greg, but he snips them short so they hide beneath the curls."

"It's not to hide them. It's just that they're straighter and thicker than the brown so they stick out funny if I don't trim them. Also, they are silver, not grey."

Lestrade and John were both laughing openly now, John's laugh careful and controlled as he pressed a hand against his bruised ribs. With a huff Sherlock picked up the bag of his clothes and toiletries and stalked off into the bathroom. When he got inside he closed the door and then leaned back against it, feeling a thousand times better than he had in days, even if he did smell like a barn. He could still hear John laughing, gasping for breath just a bit. He listened until Lestrade started talking about football and then turned on the taps.

He showered and dressed as quickly as he could and then flung open the door. "Lestrade!"

Lestrade and John both looked up in alarm, and then John started giggling again. "Please, stop, it hurts to laugh. It really hurts."

"I'm sorry," he told John, and then glared at Lestrade.

"What?"

"Not only did you neglect to bring my conditioner, but you didn't even pack a comb. What am I supposed to do about this?" He pointed to his still-dripping hair that he'd been afraid to even towel-dry for fear of tangling it more.

"Ah, cut it off?" Lestrade suggested.

"Look in the cabinet above the sink," John suggested. "There might be a comb. They usually have basic toiletries for patients."

There was a comb, but it was small and flimsy and not much of a match for Sherlock's hair. He did the best he could and then came back out into the room.

"Also, jeans? Really?" He gestured down at his legs, clad in the unfamiliar fabric that for some reason he owned.

"I don't mind," John said. Ah, yes, that's why I own them.

"I thought you'd be upset if I shoved your suits into that bag," Lestrade said. "You should be thankful—I almost brought the pair of jogging bottoms that I saw in your bottom drawer."

Sherlock groaned. "Those are only for when I'm undercover."

Lestrade looked at him. He'd seen Sherlock in those trousers, and not undercover. Years ago, though, not since John. Lestrade seemed to understand and didn't say anything.

Sherlock shoved his fingers through his wet, half-combed hair one last, futile time and said, "I'm going to go find something to eat. Do you want anything, Lestrade?"

"Nah, I'm not anywhere near desperate enough to eat hospital canteen food."

"I am." He couldn't remember the last time he'd eaten, but this was the first time in days that he felt hungry instead of sick to his stomach. "John, I'll get you a tea. Since I drank yours."

"Thanks, love."

Sherlock felt another stupid grin threatening and quickly excused himself from the room, resisting the urge to kiss John goodbye. He wanted to, but he was afraid a kiss would turn into a sloppy, heated exchange that didn't end until he climbed into bed next to John, embarrassing Lestrade and possibly hurting John in the process. There'd be time for that later. Right now he'd settle for a sandwich and the largest coffee he could find.

Chapter Text

Days passed. Possibly weeks. Sherlock wasn't really paying attention. His phone died and he didn't bother charging it. The only person he cared to hear from was right in front of him. Stuck in bed and still drugged, John slept. A lot. So did Sherlock. Not as much as John, but much more than he normally did.

When they were both awake, John usually put on the telly. Always crappy daytime programmes. Sherlock would push his pull-out mattress up next to John's bed and rest his head on the edge of John's pillow and pretend to watch the show while actually watching John's chest rise and fall with each breath he took. It was hypnotic.

Sometimes John would read the news online and try to tell him about cases they were missing, but Sherlock usually just tuned him out. He wasn't about to leave John here and go out on a case, and anything he might have been able to solve from the room was too boring to be worth his time.

When John slept and Sherlock wasn't tired, he would steal John's iPod and spend hours listening to horrible twenty-year-old pop songs. He was tempted to ask Lestrade or Mrs Hudson to bring his violin to the hospital, but it was too valuable, both sentimentally and monetarily, to even consider. There was a small cupboard where they could lock up their laptops and other electronics, but it wasn't big enough for the violin and Sherlock wouldn't have trusted it anyway. So he listened to John's terrible music and stared off into space and fell asleep far more frequently than he expected. He was bored, yes, and he was used to being bored and of course didn't like it, but this was a different sort of boredom, a suspension, an intermission from real life that was both better and worse than regular boredom. Better because John was there, always; he wasn't off at work or out drinking at a pub with his army mates. And worse because Sherlock didn't know how or if this new boredom would ever end.

He only ventured out of the room when he needed to get food or very occasionally when he wanted to give John some privacy. But John usually wasn't particularly self-conscious, and receiving pointed looks from a doctor or nurse just tended to make Sherlock more inclined to stay. Though sometimes if needles were involved he found somewhere else to be. Needles tended to provoke in Sherlock feelings he preferred not to have.

He did try to shower at least every other day, and Mrs Hudson came by a couple of times to drop off clean clothes and take the dirty ones home to wash. Still just jeans, though, no suits. Just because he'd yelled at her that one time about using the wrong dry cleaner. And that was years ago. But she said she wasn't going to touch his suits, and if he wanted something different to wear he'd need to go home and get it himself. So he made do with the jeans; at least he didn't have to worry about wrinkles. John, meanwhile, was still relegated to hospital gowns.

Finally, finally, finally, John was given the okay to sit up and move around more freely. It was possible that Sherlock was more excited about this than John was. John just moaned about how stiff his back was and then insisted on eating breakfast; Sherlock thought about how much closer they now were to going home again.

He was happy enough that he agreed to get breakfast for himself from the canteen; he sat cross-legged on the pull-out bed next to John and nibbled at a muffin while John ate muesli and toast with jam.

"Do you want my cranberries?" Sherlock gestured at the small pile of slightly soggy dried berries he'd pulled out of his muffin.

"Why did you get a cranberry muffin if you didn't want the cranberries?"

"I thought they were blueberries."

John gave him his patented You are the stupidest genius ever look and Sherlock suppressed a grin. "In my defence, it's very early in the morning to expect me to identify berries correctly."

John just shook his head and scooped up the pile of cranberries, popping them all into his mouth at once. He grinned with his mouth full, berries oozing around his teeth, and Sherlock snorted. "How old are you? Five?"

"You're the one who just picked apart your breakfast with your fingers so you wouldn't have to eat fruit." The words were a bit muffled by the fruit in question.

"I would've eaten them if they were blueberries," Sherlock insisted, and looked up as there was a rap on the door.

"Yeah, come on in," John called, wiping his mouth with a paper napkin. He glanced over at Sherlock, a puzzled look on his face. His doctor had already been by this morning, so this was a bit off-routine.

One of John's nurses came through the door backwards, holding it open with her hip and elbow as she manoeuvred a bulky wheelchair into the room. "Good morning, John," she said, entirely too perky for Sherlock's taste.

John made a sound that wasn't quite a word; Sherlock looked over at him in alarm. He'd gone quite pale, his pallor contrasting sharply with the cranberry smears on the napkin he still clenched in his hand. He dropped it on top of his plate and swallowed audibly.

"Oh, no, sweetie, finish your meal. I'll be back in a few minutes. 'Bout time you got out of that bed, don't you think?"

John answered with another grunt, very uncharacteristic of the way he usually acted with the nurses. He talked with them about their families and knew all their names--this one was Kathy or Kathleen, something like that. She'd shown them several pictures of--a son? daughter? There'd been a dog in one of them.

Kathy pulled the door shut behind her as she left and John shoved away the tray that held his half-eaten breakfast. "Sherlock, I can't—"

What? It wasn't about the food; John nodded toward the wheelchair and then folded his hands in his lap, breathing heavily. No pain or physical distress. Purely an emotional response.

Sherlock swallowed. He could handle this. Emotional comfort didn't always come naturally to him, but he'd been waiting and preparing himself for this, knowing John was bound to break down and need him at some point. He just didn't expect it to be today, when he was finally allowed to actually get up out of bed.

Sherlock lowered the railing on the bed so he could perch on the edge, next to John. "Look at me." John turned his head and Sherlock slid closer, so their hips were touching, and leaned his forehead against John's. He sorted through the possibilities of what he could say, but almost everything would be a lie. It'll be okay. It's not that bad. There's nothing to worry about. I'm here for you. That last one was true, but perhaps more easily expressed without words.

He wrapped both arms around John's shoulders, felt John turn his torso a bit more toward him and tried to remember not to hurt his still-healing ribs. He'd once read that hugging for twenty seconds or longer stimulated the release of oxytocin, which should help calm and reassure John; Sherlock was willing to hold him for a thousand times that, to never let him go. This was the closest they'd been to each other in weeks.

"You're giving me one of those twenty-second hugs, aren't you?" John seemed amused; he knew Sherlock too well.

Sherlock smiled. "Longer." You feel so good against me.

John slid his left arm around Sherlock and moved his head so his chin rested on Sherlock's shoulder. "I just . . . don't want to get in that chair."

Sherlock knew that summed it up, though the reasons why were a million times more complicated. "It is an ugly chair," he said. "You'll get a better looking one, obviously."

"Right. Can't let your blogger be seen in an ugly wheelchair."

"Nope." He grazed his lips over John's chin and cheek, not quite a kiss. John had been shaving but not regularly; he now had three or four days' worth of gingery-grey stubble, almost a beard. Sherlock was a little jealous.

They pulled away from each other eventually. Sherlock stood up and John reached over to grab the cup of tea he hadn't finished. The hospital gown he wore gapped open in the back and Sherlock could see that he still had a brilliant constellation of variously coloured bruises that reached almost to his neck. He realised even brushing against John must've hurt, never mind hugging him. He was still taking morphine, but not very much.

"You'll finally be able to wear your own pyjamas now, if you want," Sherlock said, and turned away, unable to look at him for a moment. The pyjamas were still in the duffel bag Lestrade had brought the day John first woke up; Sherlock had never unpacked most of it. The bag had been pushed into the corner of the room, forgotten; now the wheelchair sat in front of it. Sherlock started to step around the chair, had an urge to shove it out of the way, and then abruptly turned and dropped down to sit in it himself.

"Wha—what are you doing?" John paused with his tea halfway to his mouth.

"Just trying it out."

"Don't." He clunked the cardboard cup down onto the tray hard enough to slosh the tea out onto his hand. He grabbed a napkin and wiped up the spill without looking at Sherlock, then repeated, "Please, don't."

It took Sherlock a moment to process the emotion in John's voice, and he still wasn't sure exactly what the problem was, but a quick analysis told him the safest thing to do was say, "All right," and get up out of the wheelchair. "Sorry." He smoothed his shirt front when he stood and then picked up the bag to look for John's pyjamas. Every time I think I can understand him.

The nurse returned before he'd located the pyjamas. Actually, two nurses came into the room—no, one nurse, Kathy, and one nursing assistant: twenty-three, didn't really like hospital work, needed the job, wasn't attracted to John. She'd be better off going back to work at her parents' restaurant, but Sherlock knew better than to attempt that conversation.

"Okay, sweetie, you ready now?" Kathy was always very motherly toward John, although she couldn't have been more than a half-dozen years his senior. "Let's just get this bed straightened out first." She pulled the railing back up and pushed the button to lower the bed flat again. John leaned forward, holding onto the railings as the bed shifted around him. Once the mattress was flat Kathy pushed another button and the entire bed sank, ending up only a couple of feet off the ground, about the same height as the wheelchair.

The two women helped John manoeuvre to the edge of the bed and then John sat with his legs hanging over the side while the nursing assistant adjusted the wheelchair. He fidgeted with the hem of his hospital gown, not looking at Sherlock or either of the women, then he pushed at the catheter tube running down his leg, but with the gown only reaching his knees there was nowhere for him to hide the tube or the bag it led to.

Kathy gave him a sympathetic smile. "Once you're able to get back and forth to the loo easily, that can come out," she said.

Instead of looking pleased, John grimaced. "Yeah, and then I'll have to use an intermittent, right?"

She shrugged. "Most likely. Can't say for sure." She collapsed the bed railing again. "Is the chair ready, Anna?"

Anna nodded; she'd removed the armrest on the side closest to the bed and pushed the leg rest out of the way.

John looked down at his legs and then over at the chair. "I can probably—"

"Nope. Not yet. Between your injuries and your meds you're not allowed to even try." Kathy and Anna moved to either side of John and Sherlock looked away, feeling like he needed to give him a moment of privacy. Which was fairly ridiculous, since they'd certainly seen each other in far more intimate positions. Still, he made a point of turning his back and unpacking more of John's bag, still looking for his pyjamas. There they were, on the bottom. Excellent packing strategy, Lestrade. Most useful items on the bottom.

He turned back to find John seated in the chair, looking as if he couldn't decide whether to sit up straight or hunch in shame and try to disappear. Although to be fair, a lot of that may have been due to the pain Sherlock knew he was in. He held up the pyjamas and Kathy said, "Perfect. How about a shave and a shower? We can roll the chair right into the shower."

"You don't have to shave," Sherlock added, handing John the pyjamas.

"Yes, I do. And so do you." John settled back in the chair and didn't object when the nursing assistant—Anna—steered him into the bathroom. Definitely in a lot of pain; there was no way John would let another person literally push him around if he were at all able to move on his own.

Kathy followed Anna and John into the bathroom and shut the door behind them. Momentarily at a loss as to what to do now that he was alone, Sherlock paused for a moment.

He'd barely touched his laptop since they'd been here; he was aware of nothing online that could hold his interest. Now he pulled it out of the cupboard, plugged it in and sat in the middle of the bed John had just vacated. He considered checking his email but that seemed like a waste of energy. Instead he opened a browser, typed "intermittent catheters" into the search box, read for a bit and then breathed a sigh of relief. Not as bad as it could be. Feeling optimistic, he next attempted to research different styles of wheelchairs and almost immediately gave up. Far too many options to even know where to begin. Possibly something I need to let John do for himself. He sighed, closed his laptop, and stretched out in the bed so he could think while he waited for John to finish with his shower.

Chapter Text

"Sherlock!"

Sherlock blinked himself back into the hospital room. He had a feeling that wasn't the first time John had tried to get his attention.

"Hey. Welcome back. Trip to the Mind Palace?"

"Yes." At least, that had been his intention, although he'd ended up mostly wandering aimlessly through the halls rather than thinking about or discovering anything useful. "Sorry."

"No problem. Quite used to it." John must have been out of the shower for a while, because the nurse and her assistant were nowhere to be seen and his hair was nearly dry. He sat in the wheelchair, wearing his pyjamas with his dressing gown over the top of them and a pair of slippers on his feet.

Sherlock sat up and tried to straighten his clothes. "You want your bed back?"

"No. Though I think an orderly's going to be in to change the sheets soon. But, ah." John drummed his fingers on the arms of the chair, looking sheepish, before admitting, "I'm bored."

Sherlock raised an eyebrow.

"I know. Shut up. I actually have reason to be bored, unlike you most of the time. There's nothing good on the telly and I've read all the news I can take for the day." He took a deep breath. "Take me for a walk."

"Okay." Sherlock stretched and blinked again, trying to bring himself fully back to the present. A walk. That sounded wonderful, actually. John was suddenly flushing bright red, though. "Are you all right?"

"What? Yeah, of course I am." John rolled his shoulders and pulled his dressing gown tighter.

Ah. Embarrassment, most likely at having to ask to be taken for a walk. Ridiculous, of course. Best to ignore for the moment. Sherlock shifted his line of enquiry accordingly. "Are you due for another pill?"

John shook his head and relaxed fractionally. "Took one about twenty minutes ago while you were off mind-palacing. It should kick in soon, I hope." He sighed and scratched at the back of his hand. "I kind of miss the IV. At least it was fast."

"Hm, drug-seeking behaviour." Sherlock smirked as he stood up. "I'll have to make a note on your chart."

John tilted his head and growled; Sherlock danced away from his hand so he didn't get flicked, then relented and bent down toward John.

John brought both hands up to rest against Sherlock's shoulders. Their faces were inches apart; Sherlock could feel the warmth of John's breath. They held each other's gaze for a moment and then John leaned up and forward a bit and his lips were dry but familiar and sorely, sorely missed.

Sherlock closed his eyes and put one hand on John's outstretched arm, cupped the other around the back of his neck. He had to hunch over more than he was accustomed to, but he thought he could get used to it. He opened his mouth to John's tongue, felt a brief surge of lust as John's teeth scraped his lower lip, and then John pulled away, dropping his chin to his chest. Sherlock pressed his lips against John's damp hair and John exhaled and said, "Okay," as if that settled some longstanding debate they'd been having.

Sherlock stepped back and John raised his chin and straightened his shoulders. "A walk, then?" Sherlock confirmed and John nodded once.

While Sherlock slipped on his shoes, John hesitantly experimented with moving the wheelchair back and forth. Sherlock looked down at his feet as he tied his laces and said, carefully, "Are you supposed to be doing that?"

"No one specifically told me not to," John answered, and Sherlock hummed in reply. He wasn't one to preach about following the rules, but he doubted John would've asked to be "taken for a walk" if he was supposed to be pushing himself around.

He stood up and tried to stick his hands in his pockets, could only fit a few fingers. Jeans are too tight, damn. It made acting casual more difficult. "You can push yourself until you get to the hallway. Then I take over so we don't get yelled at by one of the scary nurses."

"The nurses aren't scary, Sherlock." The slight turn John made to head toward the door wasn't the most graceful move ever, but he was figuring it out quickly enough.

"Mm. Come on. Maybe we can find some sort of crime to solve."

After his earlier reluctance to even get into the wheelchair, Sherlock expected John to be more self-conscious, but he didn't seem to mind being pushed around. Of course, they were in hospital, so he didn't exactly stand out, except in that he actually looked a good bit healthier than most of the other patients they saw.

Walking together through hospital corridors was not exactly the most exciting thing they'd ever done, but after weeks of doing not much more than watching John sleep and eat and putting up with his dreadful telly choices, Sherlock was glad to be out of John's room. He still felt awkward, though; he wasn't supposed to be behind John when they walked. They should be next to each other, holding hands. He inhaled, trying to force himself to be comfortable, hoping John wouldn't notice. Say something. Talk. Distract him. Make him laugh. John liked his voice almost as much as he liked chasing after Sherlock in the dark, so maybe Sherlock could give him that, at least. What else did John like? He liked it when Sherlock was brilliant; unfortunately he had not yet been able to detect any unsolved crimes hidden in the hospital today.

They were several corridors away from John's room by now, near the reception desk for out-patient surgery. A skinny woman in a beige blouse was on the phone; through the open door behind her Sherlock could see nurses and other employees coming and going from a series of interconnected offices. Nothing particularly exciting about any of them, but maybe . . . .

He pushed John's chair over into a small nook where the hall turned and leaned up against the wall behind him. "Don't look at her but I need to tell you something about that mousy little receptionist over there." He lowered his head to whisper in John's ear, trying to see how ridiculous he could be without it being an instant giveaway.

"Sherlock, you are making that up."

"John. You know my methods. Everything I say is truth." He tried to keep the corners of his lips from betraying him, failed.

"There is no way that receptionist is secretly hoarding antibiotics in case of a zombie apocalypse."

"That's why she took this job. Why else would she leave her position at the church? When the world didn't end in 2012, she decided it would be zombies that did us in, and—"

"You are completely making up every word of that, Sherlock."

"No, I'm not. Look, she's wearing trainers with a long skirt. Of course she used to work at a fundamentalist church. Go on over there and ask her about it."

"Er, no, I think I'll pass on that one." He was laughing, though, and so Sherlock had achieved his goal even if John didn't believe him.

The look of pure admiration on John's face gave Sherlock a little thrill that had been absent for weeks. He bent forward to whisper another lie into John's ear; he was so distracted he didn't even notice when someone stopped in the middle of the hall a half-dozen feet away from them.

The camera phone flashed and Sherlock startled up in surprise. John had gone absolutely rigid in front of him.

Less than a heartbeat and Sherlock was around John and grabbing the phone away from the man before anyone else had time to react.

"Oi, that's my phone!" The man reached for it but Sherlock turned and held it out of reach, blocking the man with his hip. He swiped to the photo that had just been taken and then jabbed at the screen to delete it.

"You can't just do that! That's my phone!" The man was shouting now, and they had the attention of nearly everyone else in earshot. Sherlock glanced up to see several people in scrubs edging toward them, and one very large security guard walking down the hall, hand casually placed on the two-way radio at his hip. Good. The more witnesses, the better.

"Are you a reporter, or just an idiot?"

The man narrowed his eyes and reached for the phone again.

"Idiot, then. No one would pay you for that picture." He raised his voice. "And I'm quite certain there are confidentiality laws preventing you from photographing hospital patients without their consent." Sherlock handed the phone back just as the security guard reached them. "Next time you don't get it back," he growled, and then dropped his shoulders and looked up at the guard, pulling on his best innocent victim face.

"Mr Holmes," the guard greeted him. Sherlock didn't remember meeting him, but he hadn't been saving any details about most of the people he'd encountered over the past few weeks. "There a problem?"

He didn't even have to lie. "This man took our picture. I deleted it for him."

The guard turned toward the man with the phone and started asking him why he was there. Sherlock stepped back toward John, put a hand on his shoulder. John shifted into the touch; good, he wasn't going to prickle about Sherlock being too protective.

The idiot with the phone gave Sherlock one last glare as the guard escorted him away, not exactly physically removing him but clearly encouraging him to leave and not return.

The half-dozen employees who had subtly wandered closer when they thought a fight might erupt now returned to their previous business. One of the lab technicians who'd drawn John's blood a few times walked by and gave both of them a flirtatious smile. Both of them. Sherlock frowned in bewilderment and John smiled back at her, then reached for Sherlock's hand when she passed. Sherlock glanced down. The expression on John's face caught him by surprise: a grin much darker and more intimate than the one he'd had just a few minutes earlier.

"John. Stop looking at me like that. Public." It would've been fine but Sherlock's jeans were much tighter than his usual trousers and John hadn't looked at him like that in quite some time and it was making things uncomfortable.

"Sorry." John, clearly not sorry at all, kept right on looking at him.

"Why are you—stop it!"

"Can't help it. You defending my honour and all. Makes me happy."

"Defending your honour?"

"Well, preventing my honour from being photographed in my dressing gown and slippers, at least."

"John." He met his eyes, giving him the my idiot look without saying it. "I was in the photograph as well." He waved his hand down his own body, indicating how he was dressed.

"You look fine."

Sherlock tipped his head toward John, pointed to his hair. He'd given up trying to get it properly tousled weeks ago, settling instead for not too matted.

"Oh. Well, it's better than the hat, right?"

"And I haven't shaved in days."

"No one can see that, love. Not in a photo. You have to get really close."

Sherlock squinted in mock anger and ducked down to steal a kiss. "Come on. I think you've had enough excitement for your first time out."

Back in John's room, the bed sheets had indeed been changed and there was a lunch waiting on the tray next to the bed. "More turkey," John said, and groaned. "There better be real food in rehab." He reached for the sandwich anyway, and took a messy bite, a bit of tomato plopping out from between the layers of bread. He tilted his head back and shrugged his shoulders a few times as he chewed.

"You're tired." Sherlock sank into the armchair that was normally his bed; someone had been in to clean the room and fold up the chair.

John swallowed his bite of sandwich. "Apparently being pushed around is harder than it looks."

"John, give yourself a break. It's the first time you've been out of bed at all." Even just showering had probably been more than his muscles were accustomed to.

"I know. It's just—" He shrugged.

"It'll get better."

"I know," John repeated, taking another big bite of the sandwich. "You know, I am a doctor. I know these things."

Sherlock cleared his throat. "I had heard you were a doctor, but I was confused, because you have the manners of a goat."

John made a kissing motion, mouth still full. "Love you, too, sweetie pie."

Sherlock chuckled and watched John finish up the sandwich in a few more giant bites. I guess getting out of bed burns a lot of calories.

John wiped his mouth, rolled the tray table to the end of the bed and sighed. "I probably do need to take a nap." He lowered the bed with the controls and then flexed his hands and arms as if preparing to try to get himself into it.

"Don't even think about it," Sherlock told him.

John looked over at him. "You think I can't do it."

"I have no doubt that you will be able to do it. I also think you're not at your strongest at the moment and that you're heavier than you think you are."

John put his hands on the arms of the chair. Sherlock could see the strain in his shoulders as he lifted himself up an inch or two for a very brief moment and then relaxed. He scrubbed his hand across his face and said, "I really hate it when you're right."

"That must be difficult for you. Since I'm always right."

"Hmph," John said, but he was grinning as he reached for the nurse call button.

"Don't." Sherlock stood up. "I can do it for you."

John looked hesitant for a moment but then nodded. "Were you paying attention at all earlier?"

Sherlock shook his head. No, I was deliberately looking away. "I've lifted you plenty of times before, John. It's not as if I need to carry you around the room."

"All right." John wiped his hands on his thighs. "Ah, let's see. I need to lock the wheels." He reached down and pushed a lever on each side and then fiddled with the side of the wheelchair next to the bed until he got the arm off. "So, just, lift straight up, don't twist, use your legs, not your back, erm . . . ."

"Yes, yes, I know." Sherlock leaned forward and got his arms under John's arms and around his back. It didn't really take much work physically, just the mental effort to convince himself that he would not hurt John. He didn't. John held onto him and moved easily onto the bed. Sherlock helped him straighten his legs; it didn't feel too much different from his usual manhandling of John, as long as he didn't think about it too much.

John sighed and relaxed back into his pillow. "Hmm. Eat the rest of my lunch or sleep?"

"Whichever you want," Sherlock replied. The syrupy-looking pears and some rather rigid pudding didn't look particularly appealing but John wasn't very fussy.

"You should go get some more food for yourself. I'll nap until you get back."

Sherlock nodded. He wasn't really hungry but it would give John a chance to rest. He picked up the bed's control and raised it to its normal height, then leaned over for a quick kiss. John caught him in his arms and lengthened the kiss, then said, softly, "Thank you." Sherlock wasn't sure what that was for—the kiss? Helping him into bed? Walking around the hospital with him? Knowing John, he was just thanking him for existing. He shook his head at the sentiment. "I'll take my time so you can sleep a bit."

Chapter Text

Sherlock spent almost an hour sitting alone in the canteen, eating some sort of baguette that tasted like yeast and drinking a large cup of coffee that had been cold for most of that hour. Usually he brought his food back to the room; being away from John for this long—even if John was asleep—was making his skin crawl.

Eventually he couldn't wait any longer and made his way back through the too-familiar hospital halls. John was likely to be discharged soon and Sherlock would not be sorry to see the last of this place. Except John still has rehab, and I'm not going to be able to stay with him there.

Mycroft was standing outside of John's room. Sherlock bristled at the sight of him, his usual anger at seeing his brother mixing with just a bit of joy at the prospect of having someone with whom he could start a fight.

"I don't know what you think you're doing here, but you're in my way," Sherlock said. "Move." Mycroft had been here once before, arriving almost immediately after John had been admitted, before he'd even been taken into surgery. He'd confirmed that John was alive and likely to stay that way, made sure that no one was trying to block Sherlock from having access to John, then made sure that Sherlock would be blocked from having access to any sort of narcotics, which was ridiculous, since he hadn't been injured himself and if he wanted to break into the hospital's pharmacy then Mycroft wasn't going to stop him. John had gone into surgery, Sherlock had settled down to wait with his head in his hands and his heart in his throat and Mycroft had said something about work and left. Sherlock hadn't heard a word from him since. Of course, his phone had been dead for a while now.

"I said, move," Sherlock repeated, trying to push past Mycroft without actually touching him.

Mycroft didn't move, just rested his folded hands on the handle of his umbrella. "If you don't want me here, then I'll just retrieve the two suits I left in John's room and you can continue to wear your . . . blue jeans."

Sherlock scowled. "John likes me in jeans."

"Yes, and I'm sure your arse is uppermost on his mind at the moment."

"I've been stuck here for weeks and now it occurs to you to bring me better clothes?"

"You know as well as I that nothing has been preventing you from going home and getting whatever items you thought you needed."

Sherlock took a deep breath, considering which words would best work to inform his brother what it was like to actually care about someone, and Mycroft sighed. "I didn't come here to snipe at you, believe it or not. I came to warn you."

Sherlock tensed, his typical buoyant reaction to a possible threat completely absent. He did not have time for whatever horrible scenario might be about to play out. Murder, kidnapping, terrorist threat: nothing could possibly be that interesting or important. "Warn me about what?"

"Mummy and Daddy are here. I tried to convince them that John couldn't have too many visitors at once, but . . . ." He shrugged.

Sherlock understood. Both he and Mycroft could convince almost anyone of anything. Except for Mummy and Daddy. "But they've got another week left on their motorbike tour, haven't they?"

"Sherlock, they've been back for almost two weeks. I've been trying to keep them away for days, trust me."

Sherlock blew out a breath. "Thank you, for that, at least. Where are they? The family lounge?"

Mycroft's face was carefully blank, but he tipped his head back a miniscule amount, toward the door behind him.

Sherlock's eyes widened. "What? You left them in there with John? I knew you were a rubbish big brother, but this—"

"Now, now, Sherlock. You know very well how they feel about John. They find him charming and he's always ever so good with them."

"Yes, but he's—his defences are down!"

"Defences? Sherlock, they're our parents. They're worried about John. And you. There's no sinister intent."

"Then why did you feel the need to warn me that they're here?"

Mycroft studied his umbrella, not meeting Sherlock's eyes. "I'm not precisely certain what they're up to, but I suspect an ulterior motive for their visit."

"What—what do they want, Mycroft?"

"Just remember that they mean well, Sherlock, even if they are sometimes misguided. And I trust I don't need to tell you to stand firm in the face of Mummy's pleadings, and do what's best for you and John."

Sherlock narrowed his eyes and Mycroft shrugged and stepped to the side, allowing him access to the room. "It is rather crowded in there. I believe I'll wait out here."

"Yes. Do that." Sherlock swept past Mycroft and shut the door behind him, leaning against it briefly before turning around to face his parents and John.

John was propped up in bed again, blanket pulled up to his waist. He hadn't slept at all, that much was clear, but he didn't look upset at the delay of his planned nap. But then, he did tend to be overly tolerant when it came to Sherlock's parents.

Sherlock shifted his gaze. A zippered garment bag was hung over the curtain rod at the window, a new vase of flowers on the sill next to it. His mother sat on the vinyl chair that was usually Sherlock's bed, and his father had pulled the plastic chair over to sit next to her. The room was really too small to fit all of them comfortably. There was no place left for Sherlock to sit.

"Sherlock!" His mother's voice seemed a little too loud for the space. "You've lost weight. Those jeans are still too tight for a man your age, though."

Sherlock put both hands over his eyes and said, "Oh. My. God," perfectly aware that it made him sound like a sixteen-year-old girl but unable to help himself. "Why are you here?"

"Sherlock," John hissed and Sherlock dropped his hands and gave him a faintly murderous glare.

"Sherlock," his mother said. "John is in hospital. Of course we're here."

"He's been here for nearly a month! You certainly haven't been around until now." Not that I wanted them here earlier.

"Come, sit. You're right, John, he does look exhausted." His mother crossed her legs and patted the tiny corner of the chair that was free next to her.

"How small do you think I am, Mum?" He walked around John's bed and then sat down on the end of it, facing his parents. The side of his hand brushed against John's blanket-shrouded foot. For a brief moment, some slow part of Sherlock's brain expected John to either twitch away or nudge his foot into the contact. Then he remembered and pulled his hand back, curling it into his lap instead. John didn't notice and Sherlock looked across the short space between the bed and his mother's chair and recalled being a very small child, running to her outstretched arms when he hurt himself. But he was a grown man now, and he wasn't even the one who was hurt and he was not going to let his mother turn him into a puddle of emotions. No.

His mother was talking, babbling, really. "You can heat it up in the microwave in the family lounge." She dragged a giant, insulated bag out from beside her chair. "There are plates and utensils in the bottom of the bag. I tried to keep everything fairly bland, but I know you're not on a restricted diet anymore, John, so I thought you might appreciate some home cooking."

"Thank you. I'm sure it's delicious." John sounded so sincere; Sherlock would've envied his ability to lie but he knew he probably really did mean it.

"And how did you know about John's diet change, Mum?" he asked, thinking it would do John good to see how she worked; he always seemed to think Sherlock's parents were so innocent.

"Why, I talked to several of his nurses, of course. Most direct way to get answers, don't you think?"

"That's confidential information, Mum. You can't just call and expect someone to tell you all about a patient's treatment."

"It's fine, Sherlock," John said. That had to be a lie; there was no way a doctor should approve of breaching patient confidentiality law.

Sherlock crossed his arms and glared. His mother smiled and said, "There's chicken and potatoes and veg and custard."

"You might want to avoid the custard," his father put in, and leaned away with practiced ease, dodging the swat Sherlock's mother aimed at him. "It can just be a little hard to digest, sometimes." He winked at John and then didn't duck in time to avoid the next swat.

John smiled. "It all sounds very good. I have been complaining about the food here, so thank you."

Sherlock pulled the bag of food over so he could peek inside. "There's a whole chicken in here."

"Sherlock, a whole chicken is not too much food for two grown men," his mother said.

Sherlock huffed. "I'm not eating the dark meat."

"He means thank you," John said, and gave Sherlock a look. He probably would've kicked him if he could. Sherlock's throat tightened and he tugged the bag closer.

"I do like your custard," he admitted. "Thank you." There. Now no one could complain he was rude and his parents could leave.

"Well, that's what we're here for, after all," his mother said, glancing over at his father, who nodded and added, "Anything you need, boys." Mycroft was right; they were definitely up to something.

His mother cleared her throat, lifted her chin, and said, "Now, boys, we have something to tell you. Sherlock, your father and I have discussed it, and we agree. You and John will move in with us."

Sherlock wasn't sure what he'd been expecting her to say, but that was not it. His mouth may have fallen open in surprise. He clamped it shut, glanced over to see that John was equally flummoxed, then opened his mouth again to say, "No."

"Sherlock, our house will be much more easily adapted to a wheelchair. Plus, it's much healthier, being out in the country. Better for the body and the mind to heal. And your father and I can look after you both."

"That is absolutely the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. That is so ridiculous I don't even know where to begin to refute it." He looked at John again just to make sure he still agreed.

"Sherlock, at least consider it." His father used his kindly old man voice to try to trick him, but Sherlock knew better.

"No."

"John gets a say in this, too." His mother turned to face John, whose eyes were wide with panic.

"He thinks it's the most absolutely ridiculous thing he's ever heard, although he might be inclined to phrase it more nicely," Sherlock said, and looked to John to hear his confirmation.

John swallowed and squared his shoulders back. "It's a very generous offer," he said, sounding very composed. He was always so good under pressure. "But I don't want to leave London."

Sherlock scoffed. "That's the whole reason we met in the first place, Mum. He couldn't afford to live here on his own but he was desperate enough to stay that he agreed to live with me." He couldn't help but smile at the memory, and risked a small sideways glance to see John grinning, too.

His mother leaned forward and reached across the space between them to grab Sherlock's hand in both of hers. She made some sort of tutting noise at him and then she glanced over at his father and raised her eyebrows.

His father leaned forward as well, clasping his hands together. "If you're absolutely certain, both of you . . . ."

"We are."

"Well, perhaps then we could . . . ."

Sherlock pulled his hand away from his mother and turned to look at his father. "What insane idea are you having now?"

"Hmm. I just thought maybe, well, your mother and I, we could help out. With your flat, I mean."

"Help with our flat? Please start making sense, Dad."

"Sherlock, dear, you're just not thinking clearly." His mother patted his knee. "It's okay, we know you're under a lot of stress. You live upstairs in an overcrowded little flat. It's going to need a lot of modifications, so your father and I will help out."

"With the cost, she means." His father gave him that vacant little smile he always used and Sherlock squinted at him. Something still seemed off, but the offer was too appealing for him to worry about it.

"That could be quite a lot of money," he said. Of course he would take their money. John kept track of the finances, and while Sherlock thought they were quite comfortable at the moment, he suspected it would be some time before either one of them had an income again. And he certainly wasn't averse to living off others' goodwill. John was the one who always insisted on being self-sufficient.

"Oh, don't worry about that." His mother gave a little wave of her hand, accompanied by the slightly disdainful look that people who have never had to worry about money used when forced to discuss it.

Sherlock looked over at John. The urge to touch him was too hard to resist, so he rested his hand lightly on John's ankle, feeling the curve of the bone through the thin blanket. If John noticed, he gave no sign of it. He addressed Sherlock's parents instead. "That's—that's extremely generous of you. But I don't think we can accept—"

Sherlock cut him off. "Oh, of course we can. It'll be my money one day anyway." That earned him a look of disbelief from his mother and a chuckle from his father.

John licked his lips and nodded his head. "All right. Thank you, really." He still looked a little uncomfortable about it, but then John and his parents were never really going to live in the same world when it came to matters of money.

"Brilliant." His mother clapped her hands together. "Your father knows some good contractors. We'll have them pop round the flat to take a look."

Right. Enough of this, then. Sherlock turned to John. "John, did you get a chance to nap while I was gone?"

"Er, no, actually."

That got both of his parents to stand up quickly enough. John looked embarrassed, but he didn't try to get them to stay longer, either.

"Don't forget about the food," Sherlock's mother reminded them. Then she leaned over to give John a quick squeeze of his shoulder and a peck on the cheek. "And take heart, John. You'll be out of this place soon."

"I know," John said. "Off to rehab." He smiled at her, but it wasn't very believable.

Sherlock understood; he felt the same way. He didn't know what he was going to do with himself for a month or more without John. Visiting hours were not going to be enough. His thoughts must have shown on his face, because his mother tried to hug him next. He tolerated it but didn't hug her back. She rubbed his hair with one hand like she had when he was a little boy and said, "You'll survive, Sherlock. You always do."

His father looked sad, now, too, and Sherlock didn't think he could endure a father/son embrace, so he herded them both toward the door. Mycroft was still waiting outside the room, of course. Maybe. It would be horribly humiliating, but worth it.

"I—I just need to go talk to my brother for a moment," he told John. John nodded; he was lowering the bed so he could sleep and Sherlock didn't think he was really paying attention. "I'll be right back." He stepped out into the hall behind his parents and pulled the door shut after him.

Mycroft had already started down the hall. Sherlock waved his parents on and called his brother back. It pained him to ask, but he had to do it. "John's going to rehab, soon. Could you, maybe."

"I've already ensured that he has a place in the finest centre in the greater London area. Which you would know if you ever bothered to look at your phone."

"Yes, but--" He knew where John would be going, but he thought his doctors had referred him there; of course Mycroft had been behind it. He was already indebted and he hadn't even asked for help yet. "I need to be able to stay with him."

"Sherlock. There are limits, even to what I can do."

Sherlock tipped his chin up and did his best to look down his nose at his brother, despite the disadvantage of height. Mycroft's eyes slid to the left for a split second before he sighed. "I've already taken quite a few liberties to bypass the waiting list and usual channels. Even if I could call in more favours, it might very well backfire. The resentment it could cause—is that really the environment you want to create for John's recovery?"

Sherlock opened his mouth to say he didn't care, he would be with John under any circumstances, but then he stopped. John might care. They'd been breaking the rules here at hospital for weeks, and some of the staff had certainly commented; it quite possibly could be worse at the rehabilitation centre, which would be a much smaller, more intimate environment.

Mycroft took advantage of his hesitation. "I'm very sorry, Sherlock. You're going to have your hands full back at Baker Street, though, getting the flat ready for John. If there is anything else you need from me, I'm more than willing."

Sherlock shook his head. "Mummy and Dad are giving me all their money. A cure for paralysis would be nice, though."

"I'll see what I can do." He tapped his umbrella twice against the floor. "There are a number of promising trials. I'll forward you all the information and you can evaluate them for yourself."

"No."

"No?"

Sherlock looked up at his brother for a moment, then looked away. "Is there an actual, fool-proof cure for paralysis of which you are aware?"

"No, of course not."

"Then, please, look into every possible experimental treatment you can find. Figure out which might be best for John. Consult with all the experts. Just don't ask me to be involved. I can't—I can't think about that kind of thing right now."

Mycroft frowned. "I would've thought this would be right up your alley, Sherlock. Throwing yourself into a topic, researching every possible angle."

He shook his head again. "Not this time. Not this."

Mycroft pursed his lips. "I'll get John's records and look at the research and then let John know what I've found. He might have an interest in the topic, after all."

Sherlock didn't bother glaring. Either Mycroft understood that this was too emotional for him to deal with or he didn't. "I need to get back to John. Thank you for offering to help." He turned on his heel and left Mycroft standing in the hall, not caring if his brother interpreted his thank you as sincere or sarcastic, and not really sure how he meant it himself.

John was still awake, lying flat on his back with his eyes open, hands tucked behind his head. He flicked his gaze over to Sherlock and said, "Did your parents just play us?"

Sherlock tipped his head to one side. Damn. They never intended to have us move in with them. They just wanted to give us the money. "Well, they played you, that seems certain."

John raised his eyebrows. "Don't give me that. You didn't know what they were up to any more than I did."

"No, but I have no qualms about accepting money from them. Like I said, half of everything they have will be mine someday, anyway, and if I use more of it now, it just means less for Mycroft later. You're the one who won't take handouts."

John huffed and then chuckled. "I can't believe they can trick you so easily."

"They're my parents, John. Of course they can trick me. Nothing they do or say ever makes any logical sense; how could I possibly predict them?" He grunted and flopped down into the vinyl chair. "Family. Ugh."

John seemed to find that amusing, too. He snorted and said, "Well, yours is a good bit better than mine."

"Oh, I don’t know. Harry sent flowers when you first got here, remember?"

"Yeah. From Tesco."

Sherlock shrugged. Maybe his dysfunctional family was better, maybe not. They certainly had more resources, though they seemed to think they could pick and choose how to help. He curled into his chair and closed his eyes. "Go to sleep, John. You just went head-to-head with the whole Holmes clan. It may take you a while to recuperate."

John laughed but was asleep within minutes. Sherlock was not.

Chapter Text

At first the rehab centre reminded Sherlock of a nursing home, with its wide, beige halls and communal dining and activity areas, except it smelled significantly better and most of the people there weren't very old. John had a private room, more than twice the size of the hospital room he'd been in. It looked like a standard hotel room, if you ignored the grab bars and the shower with a bench in it. There was a big television and a microwave and a tiny refrigerator and a double bed. If only Sherlock could have stayed there with him, it would be almost like being on an extended holiday together. But he wasn't staying; he'd had to leave John there alone and take a cab back home by himself.

Even after all the weeks at hospital, stepping into Baker Street felt normal, at first. Mrs Hudson's door was ajar; Sherlock tried to be silent, not wanting to have to interact with her just yet. Maybe later she could bring him something for dinner. He climbed the stairs slowly, not his usual bouncing pace, dread growing with each step as he realised just how difficult it was going to be to get John a way to access the flat. Seventeen steps. How the hell are we going to—

The door to their flat was also open. He sighed. Mrs Hudson meant well, he knew, but couldn't he have at least a few minutes to himself? He scuffed his feet on the last step so she would know he was home and then pushed the door open all the way.

Mrs Hudson was in the sitting room, but she wasn't alone. She stood hovering by the desk, Mycroft sat as if he thought he belonged in Sherlock's chair, and Lestrade emerged from the kitchen, the only one with the decency to look as if he knew he shouldn't be there.

Sherlock dropped his duffel bag on the floor and shrugged out of his coat. He thrust his chin at his brother and Mycroft stood, surprisingly, buttoning his suit jacket as he vacated Sherlock's chair.

Sherlock tipped his head at the three people in his flat and said, "What the hell is this? An intervention? Drugs bust? Go ahead, search the flat. You won't find anything. Might try helping me straighten up a bit while you're at it. I've got six weeks to get the floor mostly clear." Not to mention all the renovation. We'll have to start immediately. He flopped down into his chair, anxious, exhausted and aching for his own bed after the last few weeks.

Mycroft leaned against the arm of John's chair. If he tried to sit in it Sherlock was going to punch him. "We've already searched, Sherlock."

"All right, then. Why are you here? Because I know you couldn't have found anything." Unless there's something I forgot. But no, John had got rid of his stash tucked into the lamp base several years ago and Sherlock hadn't felt the urge to replace it. He didn't even have any cigarettes in the flat at the moment. God, that sounded good. Maybe Lestrade would feel sorry for him and let him bum one or two.

Instead Lestrade looked at Mycroft and then reached inside his jacket and pulled out a large zippered plastic bag full of pill bottles.

Sherlock's stomach knotted even more painfully than it had been before, which was frankly quite impressive. He didn’t let it show. "Those are not in any way illegal or controlled substances," he said. "Why were you poking through my nightstand? Did you need some lubricant?"

"Sherlock." That was Mrs Hudson. He was quite certain her only role here today was to speak his name in a disapproving tone.

"Five bottles in your bedside table, brother dear." Mycroft twisted his umbrella against the floor and did not look at Sherlock as he spoke. "Five prescriptions, all in your name, all filled within the last four years, all virtually untouched. You will choose one and begin taking it today."

"Why on earth would I do that? Go away, all of you." Sherlock slouched farther into his chair; maybe he could wiggle deep enough that it would swallow him up and he wouldn't have to be here. This was John's fault. He had told them about this. They would never come into the flat looking for legal drugs on their own.

"We're not leaving until you agree to take one of these." Lestrade rattled the plastic bag; the pill bottles clanked dully against each other.

"Why? I'm not depressed."

"Sherlock, you haven't been yourself since John was hurt. You've been sleeping more than you ever have in your life, and showing no interest in—in anything, really." Lestrade looked over at Mycroft, who cleared his throat and proceeded to list everything he thought Sherlock had been doing wrong.

"You stopped responding to texts ages ago. You allowed your phone and laptop batteries to die. You only shower when John tells you to, and you don't seem to care what you're wearing or what the state of your hair is. You should've been bored out of your mind in that hospital, climbing the walls, but instead you just curled up and slept most of the time. When I was there with Mummy and Daddy you didn't even bother to insult me, or deduce that I'd given up any attempt at dieting while Mummy was staying at my house."

"So I've had other things on my mind. That doesn't mean I'm depressed. I'm just more concerned about John than anything else."

"Last week you turned down the chance to research medical trials, Sherlock, even though that could directly benefit John."

"That's because it's just too—too much."

"Yeah, we understand, really, we do," Lestrade said. He took a step closer to Sherlock, then seemed to think better of it and leaned against the fireplace mantel. "A lot of things are probably too much right now, Sherlock. That's why you need to take the meds."

"No, but—" Sherlock shook his head. Everything they were saying was true, but their conclusion was faulty. "This is normal. I've been acting normal and you're trying to drug me out of it."

Mycroft sighed. "It may very well be normal, Sherlock. But that doesn't mean it's healthy, or that it doesn't need to be treated."

"I can't believe you're here trying to make me take drugs." He tried to sound disdainful instead of whiny but he wasn't sure he managed.

Lestrade was somehow standing behind Sherlock's chair now, though Sherlock hadn't seen him move. God, he was tired. When would they all just leave?

"Sherlock, there's no shame in accepting a little help when you need it," Lestrade said. "I've taken anti-depressants before."

Of course you have. When your wife left you, when she came back, when she left again. The fact that he didn't say any of this aloud made Sherlock unreasonably proud of his own self-control. He felt Lestrade's hand on his shoulder and tensed but did his best not to squirm away. His own fault, for letting Lestrade comfort him in hospital.

"Sherlock." Now it was Mycroft's turn again, apparently. "You clearly have recognised the issue in the past. You have five prescriptions here. You've been to the doctor five times for this—this problem."

"Three times." Sherlock's hands were pressed against his mouth and he spoke into them, but he knew they could hear. "John wrote two of the scripts for me."

"Very well. Three times, and John was concerned enough to help."

"John is the only reason I would ever even consider going to the doctor, you idiot. Why would I care what I felt like if he weren't around?"

He didn't expect Mycroft's look of smugness at those words.

"Exactly. Which is why you will resume taking the medication now, so it may reach its full effectiveness by the time John returns home. Do you understand me?"

Sherlock sighed and let his hands slide away from his face. "I can't take them, Mycroft. I'm not just being difficult here, believe me. I can't function when I take them. I've tried. They make me so sleepy and I can't think at all and it's worse—it's worse than the depression." There. He said it. He'd admitted not only did he feel emotions just like other people, but that he sometimes couldn't control them on his own. Now maybe they'll leave.

"Take half a dose." Lestrade was next to Mycroft now, leaning back against the other arm of John's chair, his arms crossed and his upper body leaning toward Sherlock. "And take it at night, before you go to bed. You'll get a good night's sleep and by morning the sleepiness will have mostly worn off."

"Half a dose? I'm a fully-grown man. What good will half a dose do?"

"You're a fully-grown man who happens to be very sensitive to various legal and illegal substances and their side effects." Mycroft copied Lestrade's cross-armed pose. "A half-dose could very well be enough to keep you stabilised."

"Stabilised."

"Stabilised. You could even start with a quarter-dose and see how it affects you."

"I do not need to be stabilised, Mycroft." He let his head fall back against his chair in exasperation.

"Sherlock, dear." Mrs Hudson stopped her nervous pacing and perched on the arm of Sherlock's chair. Since when was he the only one inclined to sit properly on the furniture? "You're going to be alone in this flat for a while. We'll all be around to help you out, but you know how you get when John's not around. And even when he is here, sometimes—you know how you get. What good are you to him if you're curled up on the sofa crying for a month?"

"I do not cry on the sofa, Mrs Hudson." He gripped the arms of his chair but she didn't back off from her position, just patted his hand.

"I know, I know. There are never any actual tears. But you do have dark days, don't you? Dark weeks? John can't take care of you right now. Maybe later, he will again, but right now you're going to have to take care of him for a bit."

"Mrs Hudson." Sherlock closed his eyes and hissed her name, because really, what else was there to do? She wasn't wrong and he'd already decided to listen to them. He just needed to argue a bit more before he let them know.

He waved a hand at the bag of prescription bottles. "Half of those have expired, anyway."

Lestrade emptied the bag onto the end table. He tilted each bottle, reading the labels, and then handed three of them to Sherlock. "These are still good."

Sherlock glanced at them, then let one fall to the floor. "That upset my stomach." He popped the top on the second bottle. "These are capsules. I can't cut them in half." The third bottle was the script John had written for him about ten months ago. He hadn't tried it, because soon after John had picked it up from the chemist they'd got an interesting new case and he felt better. He rolled the bottle between his hands, thinking. Mycroft, Lestrade and Mrs Hudson all watched him. He exhaled slowly. "I will try this tonight. If I can't think straight in the morning . . . ."

"You will try them for a week, Sherlock." Mycroft straightened up, as if the matter were settled. "And if you don't, I'll tell John. Now, will we need a blood sample each morning or will you cooperate?"

Chapter Text

After everyone agreed that Sherlock needed to be drugged in order to function properly, Mrs Hudson insisted on making tea and distributing biscuits, and then she asked how John was doing, and then Lestrade started telling her and Mycroft about some case involving three cats and a parakeet and they all just sat there talking and socialising until Sherlock was ready to go get John's gun out of its hiding place. Just as a threat; he wouldn't actually shoot anyone.

He stood abruptly and announced, "I'm having a bath now," and strode out of the sitting room, not bothering to wait to see if any of them took the hint to leave.

After weeks of quick stolen showers in John's hospital room, soaking in the tub felt like a bit of a splurge. He sat until the water cooled and then climbed out, found some pyjamas and a clean dressing gown. He needed a shave—Mycroft and the others were right about that, he really hadn't been paying much attention to personal grooming—but his razor was still in the bag he'd left by the front door.

Everyone was gone from the sitting room, thankfully, and Mrs Hudson had cleared up all the tea cups and saucers, but someone had left the door to the flat partway open. When he bent to pick up his duffel bag he heard someone out on the landing. Mycroft, on his phone, pacing back and forth. Sherlock opened the door all the way, glared at him, and then slammed it shut and locked it, knowing that wouldn't keep Mycroft out for long.

Mycroft continued talking, nothing of substance that Sherlock could hear: no surprise there. Finally Sherlock heard him turn and head down the stairs; the door to the street opened and closed and Sherlock relaxed, at least on the surface. It still didn't feel quite right being here without John.

He rummaged through his bag, looking for his shaving kit, pulling out clothes and trying to figure out if they all were due for a wash. Probably. He found his razor, shoved everything else back into the bag to carry it to the hamper—I'm going to have to do my own laundry for weeks, ugh—and heard the door downstairs open again. Oh, lord, Mycroft was back, no longer on the phone, walking up the stairs carrying something this time. What had Sherlock done to deserve this? If he had to be here without John, couldn't he at least be alone?

Mycroft didn't even bother knocking; apparently he had a key. He came through the door carrying his briefcase and a small, bespoke travel bag that put Sherlock's sad canvas duffel to shame. Sherlock frowned and resolved to buy some expensive luggage for himself and John. And maybe don't tell John how much it cost.

Mycroft took one look at Sherlock and sneered. "I didn't realise there was a pyjama shortage. I guess I know what to get you for Christmas."

"Shut up," Sherlock said, letting the disquiet he was feeling slip out as anger in his voice. "There's nothing wrong with these."

"Mm. Perhaps you've just grown taller in the last month or so."

Sherlock glanced down at his exposed ankles. Yeah, so he was wearing John's pyjamas. They were soft and comfortable and Mycroft could piss off. He let his dressing gown fall open and tugged the pyjama bottoms down enough to cover his ankles, exposing the bones of his hips and a few curls of dark hair. "Better?" he asked.

Mycroft rolled his eyes. "Mummy's right. You have lost too much weight."

"Why are you still here and why do you have a suitcase with you?"

Mycroft set his briefcase and bag on the coffee table and dropped heavily onto the sofa. "Mummy and Daddy have been staying with me for almost three weeks, Sherlock. This was the only way I could get them to leave."

"What?" Sherlock knew what his brother was implying but hoped he was somehow mistaken.

Mycroft smiled up at him, insincere and flat. "Don't worry. I brought my own pyjamas."

Sherlock pulled his trousers back up and tightened his dressing gown around him. "Don't be ridiculous. I don't need a babysitter. And Mrs Hudson is right downstairs."

Mycroft sighed and rubbed at his temple. "I know. But I promised Mummy and Daddy. Unless you'd rather they stay here with you?"

Sherlock groaned. "They'd make me talk to them all evening."

"I won't speak to you at all if you'll order us something to eat."

Sherlock huffed and made a comment about Mycroft's diet, because apparently not doing so was a sign of depression, though he knew from his brother's lack of a comeback that he only wanted food because he'd also promised their parents that he would get Sherlock to eat. His family was so annoying. He considered suggesting Mycroft leave and just tell their parents he had stayed, but they both knew that they were rubbish at lying to their parents. Mummy especially. She always knew.

Mycroft was as good as his word; he barely spoke all evening, just ate most of the dinner that Sherlock ordered and spent the time reading through stacks of papers he pulled from his briefcase. Sherlock was surprised he hadn't brought an assistant with him.

Eventually, Mycroft packed up his file folders and went off to the loo to get changed. Sherlock picked up the remains of their takeaway, dropping the silverware and cups into the kitchen sink. It seemed a waste of water to wash such a few items when there would just be more dirty dishes after breakfast in the morning. Besides, Mrs Hudson would probably wash everything for him tomorrow afternoon when he went to see John.

Mycroft reappeared in the sitting room, wearing a dressing gown and silk pyjamas that covered his ankles completely. Plus he still had socks on beneath his slippers. Sherlock shook his head and considered where to put his brother. The bed up in John's old room had been covered in papers, discarded clothes and broken electronics for years.

"The sofa's fine, Sherlock. I can fall sleep anywhere."

"Mm, quite a talent. Are you going to bed now?" It was not quite gone ten o'clock, though Sherlock himself had been exhausted for so long it seemed later.

"Yes. But first I'm going to make sure you take your half-pill," he said. He tossed the bottle of anti-depressants at Sherlock. Sherlock caught it one-handed and opened the bottle, tipped out a small brown pill into his hand. Mycroft produced a pill-cutter from the pocket of his dressing gown. "A full dose is two pills, but I think you should start with a quarter dose."

"Seriously? You carry a pill-cutter in your pocket? That explains a lot." He popped the full tablet into his mouth, swallowing it dry. "I think I can handle one pill."

Mycroft shrugged and set the plastic cutter down on the coffee table. "You're the one who complained it made you tired and stupid."

"I don't think I said stupid."

Mycroft raised his eyebrows, then lowered himself onto the sofa. He toed off his slippers, lining them up neatly on the floor, but left his socks on. Sherlock didn't understand how anyone could sleep while wearing socks.

"If you could please remove yourself from my bedroom, I would appreciate it," Mycroft said. "I need to be at the office for a six a.m. conference call. The Russians are so inconsiderate."

"Fine. I'll go shut myself away in my room so as not to disturb your beauty rest."

"Excellent. Mummy will be so proud that you've finally learnt how to be a good host. Good night, little brother."

Sherlock huffed and thought about again insisting that Mycroft did not need to stay, but instead of saying anything he just grabbed his violin case from where it stood in the corner, dislodging a layer of dust.

"Lullabies, please," Mycroft said. "Nothing atonal."

Sherlock growled and stalked off toward his bedroom. He slammed his door shut and then surprised himself by doing as Mycroft requested: lullabies, played softly, just loud enough to reach the edge of his brother's hearing.

He played for almost an hour before his fingers started making stupid mistakes. So apparently half a dose was still enough to have side effects. That was okay, he thought, putting away the violin. Maybe he'd be able to get some real sleep instead of just the broken, unsatisfying rest he'd had for so long in hospital.

He hung his dressing gown on the hook on the back of the door. John's going to need a lower hook. He squeezed his eyes shut. This wasn't the time to start a list of flat modifications; he could do that in the morning, since visiting hours at rehab didn't start until two. He sighed and pulled back the duvet on the bed, untouched since the last time John had made the bed, over a month ago. The empty sheets yawned before him and a surge of panic gripped his intestines.

He sat carefully on the edge of the bed and tried to breathe slowly through his nose. It's fine. It will be fine.

Maybe the drugs he'd just taken would help, and this panic he felt would subside. Though he knew anti-depressants didn't work that way. They weren't going to magically calm him down; instead they would build up in his body over weeks, and then maybe subtly alter his brain chemistry in the proper direction. Maybe. If they worked. If I keep taking them.

Or maybe the panic he was feeling was caused by the drug—another side effect, a new one, since he hadn't taken this particular formulation before. He closed his eyes and recalled the list of common side effects that had come with the prescription. Unlikely. Unless he was allergic, and that was causing the nauseous flutters in his stomach.

No. He knew what the problem was. The bed. Usually John was in it already by the time Sherlock was ready to sleep. Sure, there were times in the past few years when he'd slept alone at night, when John was away, but not many. And that had been tolerable, because he'd known John was just off at a conference, or gone to work on some boring aspect of a case that Sherlock hadn't wanted to bother himself with. And he'd known John would be back in a day or two, smiling and laughing or possibly bitching and complaining, but either way, walking and whole and not hurt, and now John was never going to be not hurt again, and, God, Sherlock couldn't stand it.

There was no way he could lie down in this bed and sleep, not tonight, not without John. The drugs were making him tired but not that tired. He could never be tired enough to lie in this bed alone and not think about John.

He stood up and pulled the sheets and duvet back up, remaking the bed as if he'd never touched it. He didn't need to sleep. He was tired but not unbearably so.

He put his dressing gown back on and wandered out through the kitchen and into the sitting room. Mycroft was asleep. He didn't know why he was surprised; his brother had always been prone to giving into his bodily urges much too easily. Sherlock had forgotten about the snoring, though he had to admit that it wasn't as loud as it had been twenty years ago, when his brother had actually been fat.

He didn't want to wake Mycroft up; as much as he liked to annoy him, he didn't really bear him any ill will, and anyway if they were both awake they might have to talk or something. So nothing loud, and nothing that required the lights be on. No experiments, not that he felt much like experimenting anyway.

He sat down in his chair, instead. His whole body felt fuzzy and thick, and walking had made him—not dizzy, exactly, but a bit off balance. Yes, this was what he remembered from the last time John had convinced him to medicate himself legally. He hoped it would wear off by morning, but apparently he was going to have to give in and sleep before then. It wouldn't be the first time he'd slept in this chair, although usually after a couple of hours John would come by and drag him to bed. John, hair spiky from sleep, pillow creases on his cheek, detouring on his way to the loo so he could grab Sherlock by the arm and haul him down the hall, ranting about how normal people liked to fall asleep together in bed. I promise I will go to bed when you do if you will just come home, John. Sherlock rubbed at his eyes and wondered if he was going to start hallucinating.

Across the room, Mycroft shifted on the sofa. A very stupid idea bloomed in Sherlock's mind. Very stupid. He was clearly under the influence, making horrible decisions.

The sofa was a little less than six feet long, if you didn't count the arms. Mycroft was more than six feet tall, but on his side, with his legs drawn up a bit, there was at least half a cushion free. Plus more space on the middle cushion, behind his knees. Because he really wasn't fat at all, and Sherlock was thin and quite flexible for someone who was very close to forty. Which meant . . . .

He grabbed the blanket off the back of John's chair, pulled his dressing gown in close and stepped gingerly up onto the end of the sofa. Mycroft squirmed a bit when Sherlock eased himself into the empty space behind his legs and feet, but the snoring didn't stop or change pace and Sherlock was fairly certain that his brother was not faking it and in fact did not awaken. And he really didn't care if he did, as long as he didn't open his mouth and say anything about it. Which he wouldn't. If Mycroft was interested in teasing him, Sherlock had certainly been giving him plenty of ammunition lately, but his brother seemed to know that some things were off-limits even in their eternal game of one-upmanship. Teasing Sherlock about wearing John's pyjamas: acceptable. Teasing Sherlock about having become the type of man who couldn't sleep without the presence of another person to comfort him: no.

He tucked himself around Mycroft as best he could, trying not to touch him but knowing he'd end up doing so as he slept. When he was settled in as comfortable position as he could manage, he spread one end of the blanket over his legs and then hugged the rest of it to his chest. It smelled like John's shampoo, and Sherlock hoped if he kept hold of it in his sleep, it would keep him from reaching out and grabbing his brother. Especially since the closest parts of Mycroft's body were his doubtless sweaty, sock-clad feet.

Mycroft's snoring was steady and soothing, sort of, and the sofa cushions were welcomingly familiar and Sherlock leaned back against them and let the unavoidable pull of sleep settle over him. Only six to eight more weeks and then John would be home.

Chapter Text

Sherlock slept for nearly ten hours; Mycroft was gone when he woke up, of course. But he'd left his overnight bag and when Mrs Hudson heard Sherlock moving around she shouted up that there was a package waiting at the bottom of the stairs. Single-size Deluxe Plush Airbed, read the side of the box. Sherlock hefted the box upstairs and tried not to examine his feelings about having his brother stay another night. At least they wouldn't have to touch each other again.

He had three voicemails, all from his parents, all about contractors his father knew who him owed favours or were old friends of the family. One of them would be here tomorrow to look at the flat and Mum and Dad expected Sherlock to call the others to set up times to meet. That was exactly the kind of work Sherlock did not do. Just the thought of talking to a bunch of construction workers about appointment times and estimates and permits and schematics made Sherlock's skin crawl, and he felt a tiny, irrational stab of anger at John for not being here to do this for him. Which in turn made him feel horrible enough that he called all the numbers his father had left for him. He didn't get through to anyone, of course—who answers their phone these days?—but he left messages and made sure to mention that they could return his call via text, which would certainly make this whole process simpler.

Someone, Mrs Hudson, presumably, although it could have been Mycroft, had stocked the kitchen with perishables, so Sherlock had a banana with his coffee and then decided to pack a few items to bring to John. A half-full box of his favourite tea; it might not be at its freshest at this point, but John would still drink it. There were three chocolate bars hidden in the back of the veg crisper; Sherlock ate one and tossed the other two into the box with the tea and then moved into the bedroom, which wasn't quite as intimidating now that he knew he didn't have to try to fall asleep in there.

John had pyjamas and underwear and a couple changes of clothes already, but Sherlock packed almost everything else: chinos and jogging bottoms, jumpers and button downs and t-shirts. The idea of shoes threw him for a moment; of course John had to wear shoes, even if he wasn't walking in them, and it probably wasn't good to wear the same pair all the time. After a bit of rummaging he found an old pair of trainers John could alternate with the ones he already had with him, then added some loafers that would match the chinos he'd packed.

There was still some room in the suitcase, so he threw in a couple of books, then some magazines and mail that had piled up at the flat. How much free time was John going to have? He grabbed a few DVDs just in case there wasn't anything good to stream online. Of course John also needed his own pillow, and one of the blankets from their bed, to make rehab feel like home. Do I want it to feel like home? Of course not, but he did want John to be comfortable. Okay, now there were two suitcases. He might have over-packed.

Just one more thing—he added a picture of the two of them that John had framed. It had been taken when they'd solved that case in Paris so fast and spent the rest of the week on holiday. Multiple people had asked them if they were on their honeymoon and he and John had laughed at the idea of ever getting married. It hadn't been that many years ago—why did they both look so impossibly young?

Just before he was about to leave, Lestrade texted him. He needed help with a case. This was exactly why Sherlock had let his phone stay dead for so long: to prevent idiots from contacting him. But now he needed to answer or Lestrade would tell Mycroft and Mrs Hudson and they'd all worry and make him talk to them again. He glanced over the details in the link Lestrade sent and sighed, hoping that Lestrade was just trying to get Sherlock back in the game, that he wasn't really so dense. Check with the daughter's chiropractor, he texted back, and then added, Going to see John now. Won't be responding again until tonight so you'll need to use your own brain. Good luck. –SH

The receptionist at the rehab centre remembered him from yesterday and waved him on in, but when he got to John's room it was empty. He took off his coat and then unpacked some of the things he'd brought; John's clothes went into the low chest of drawers and he piled the books and magazines on the bedside table and then sat the not-a-honeymoon photo on top of them. After that he didn't really have anything else to do, and he knew that John would probably be wrapping up his physiotherapy session soon, so he shrugged out of his suit jacket and lay down on top of the bed to wait. There was a table with two chairs and also a loveseat in the room, but the bed looked soft and inviting and even though he wasn't as tired as he'd feared he'd be after starting the anti-depressants, he was still a little sleepier than usual. Which was pretty nonsensical, if you thought about it; everyone complained that he was depressed because he was sleeping too much so now he was taking an anti-depressant that would probably make him sleep too much.

He closed his eyes and opened them just a moment later at the sound of the door opening. Or maybe I was asleep. John came in, wearing a t-shirt and jogging bottoms and a rather impressive coating of sweat. There was a fit young physiotherapist—male, 29 years old, grew up in London, not gay, thank God—right behind him, but John was pushing himself in the wheelchair, despite the strain in his shoulders that said it was not an easy task.

Sherlock sat up as they entered and John's eyes softened some when he saw him but then he said, voice a bit gaspy. "Move over. I need to lie down."

"Are you all right?" Sherlock slid to his feet, standing on the far side of the bed from John. The physio didn't seem very concerned, but Sherlock had rarely seen John so exhausted; he looked almost worse than he had in hospital when he'd first woken up.

"No," John answered. "I'm pretty sure I'm dead."

The physio laughed, not noticing the bitterness beneath John's half-joking tone. "You'll be fine. You're in pretty good shape to start with. This is going to be a piece of cake for you."

Sherlock was very glad he was not on the other side of John's glare, but the physio just laughed again, and then looked over at Sherlock. "I'm Ray," he said.

"Sherlock," he said, and turned his attention back to John.

"I forgot how horrible physio is," John groaned, and wrapped his arms around his torso, then groaned louder.

Sherlock looked past John to Ray. "How much is he exaggerating?"

"Oh, I'm sure it's uncomfortable, and he'll be sore tomorrow, but he'll survive."

"Nope. Already dead," John said. "This is Hell."

"Oh, it gets worse," Ray said cheerfully, still oblivious. John wasn't just in pain; he was angry about it, even if might not have been obvious to anyone but Sherlock. It wasn't just the edge to his tone, but the way all of his movements were shortened and brisk, overly precise.

"You need some help up onto bed?" Ray asked.

John rubbed his hand across his face and nodded and Sherlock stood across from them and watched while Ray helped him out of the chair. And it was helping, now, not just lifting him, which was already a big step up from where he'd been just a few days ago. He was still using the same big, clunky wheelchair that he'd had in hospital; no one had mentioned when he'd be fitted for a new one.

John stretched out on his back and shifted around a bit, clearly unable to get comfortable.

"I can get you some ibuprofen, if you want," Ray offered.

"Ta, yeah, that'd be great."

"Maybe something stronger?" Sherlock suggested.

"No," John said, and Ray just shrugged and went to get the ibuprofen out of the cabinet in the bathroom.

"John, if it hurts that much . . . ."

"It's just muscle strain, Sherlock. Ibuprofen's the best thing for it anyway. I've been off the morphine for over a week. I don't need to go back."

"There are other drugs besides morphine."

"The ibuprofen's enough."

Sherlock sighed and sat down on the bed, careful not to jostle the mattress. "I'm going to repeat my previous assertion that you can be a horrible doctor at times."

"I'm an excellent doctor. It's the patient part I'm still not so good at."

"True." Sherlock put his hand out, palm up, next to John and John accepted the invitation, resting his hand atop Sherlock's. At least he's not angry with me. He let his fingers curl up through John's.

John squeezed his hand briefly. "Sorry about all the sweat. And I know I smell pretty terrible, too."

Sherlock wrinkled his nose. "I wasn't going to mention that."

John smiled, just the ghost of a tired grin. "I'll shower in a little bit. I want to cool down first."

Ray came back with a glass of water and three pink pills and Sherlock bit his lip to stop himself from suggesting he add a fourth, since John clearly did not value his offers of medical advice. He reluctantly let go of his hand so John could sit up and take the medicine.

"Tomorrow morning we'll do some different exercises, give your abs a chance to recover."

John grunted and handed the water glass back to Ray, who wished John a good afternoon and told Sherlock how nice it had been to meet him, even though they hadn't exchanged more than two sentences. When he was gone, Sherlock shook his head in disgust. "Are you going to have to put up with that level of cheerfulness every day?"

"That's what physios are like, Sherlock. It's their job, to be sunny and encouraging." He turned his head to look at Sherlock and narrowed his eyes. "They think then you won't notice as they slowly torture you to death."

"John, I know you like to think of yourself as stoic and manly, but if it's really that bad—"

John cut him off. "I'm just tired." He collapsed back onto the pillow with a faint wheeze.

Sherlock slid down on the bed and rolled onto his side to face John. "Do want to nap?" He could probably fall asleep again himself. He didn't know what else he'd expected to do here with John anyway; visiting hours lasted until eight and it wasn't even three o'clock yet.

"Yeah, I think so. There's tea and then supper over in the dining room later, but for now I'm just . . . done."

Sherlock slid his arm over John's chest and John grimaced and pushed him away. "Did I not mention that everything really hurts?" He paused, eyes squeezed shut, and then added, "Well, everything I can feel, anyway."

Sherlock flinched. He could feel the weight of John's words pressing down and threatening to suffocate them both; he had to do something to counteract them. I need to touch him without hurting him. He reached up and traced his index finger over the line of John's jaw. "Does that hurt?"

"No." John tipped his head away at the contact, the opposite of what Sherlock had expected. "Just—I don't really want you to try to cheer me up right now, okay?"

Sherlock didn't know how to respond, though he understood John's sentiment. After a moment of recalculation, he settled both palms against John's upper arm. They often slept like that; John didn't like to be crowded but Sherlock didn't like to sleep without touching him. "Is this all right?"

John looked at Sherlock again and nodded rapidly, swallowing several times. Despite the tired lines around his eyes he looked very young and fragile in that moment, and Sherlock wanted nothing more than to pull him into his arms and hold him as tightly as he could. Instead he spread his fingers gently along the sweat-damp hem of John's t-shirt sleeve and said, "I missed you last night."

"I missed you, too. I—" John worked his jaw as if he had something else to say and after a moment came out with, "I'm sorry."

"What? No. Don't be ridiculous, John. You have nothing to apologise for."

"I just—"

John didn't say anything else, and Sherlock wasn't sure what to do. Does he want to talk? Am I supposed to encourage him to talk? Clearly John was not just reacting to the pain of physiotherapy. Maybe he would start talking when he was ready. Sherlock didn't know; they didn't do this sort of thing. They didn't need to. Their relationship had always been easy, they'd been at ease in each other's company almost immediately, and on the few occasions when one of them needed emotional comfort, they usually managed to provide it for each other without having to discuss it. An embrace or even just a touch and maybe an unexpected cup of tea or walk through the park together was generally enough to get them through. Sherlock realised that he himself had gone almost his entire life without ever having to deal with any sort of large-scale emotional upheaval, unless you counted the psychological stress of getting off cocaine. Which had been totally different, and he certainly knew better than to compare that to what John was going through right now.

He raised himself up on an elbow so he could better see John's face and John shut his eyes against Sherlock's evaluation. "Stop looking at me."

"What?"

John turned his head away again, as if he could escape Sherlock's gaze. "You're looking at me and analysing, I know you are. Stop it."

"Sorry." Sherlock laid his head back down on the pillow next to John and closed his own eyes, breathing in the scent of John's sweat chased by just the faintest lingering remnant of deodorant. John was quiet for long enough that Sherlock felt himself starting to twitch toward sleep.

"I don't . . . . I can't . . . ." He reached for Sherlock's fingers with one hand. "Sherlock, I don't want to do this."

"It's just physio, John." That's not what he means and you know it. "You've done it before. You'll get through it."

"No, I won't!" John's voice rose toward yelling. "That's just it, see? I'm not going to get through it. I'm going to stay like this. I'm not going to get better. I mean, the muscle aches will go away, but—"

Sherlock fought to keep himself under control. While he might not have known the exact protocol for calming your emotionally fragile, physically compromised lover, he was fairly certain it did not involve bursting into tears and needing to be comforted yourself. He pulled John into an embrace, one arm thrown across his chest and the other wedged beneath his neck, no longer caring what it did to John's over-worked muscles. John didn't object; he gripped Sherlock's arm where it crossed his torso, hands trembling. Sherlock could feel the dig of his nails even through his shirtsleeve.

He didn't move; he just stayed where he was, letting John cling to him, and tried to breathe slowly and evenly, to be a steadying presence and help both of them calm. After a few minutes John's grip on him loosened a little. Beneath Sherlock's arm, John's chest rose and fell at a more normal pace as he began to talk.

"I'm sorry. I guess it's just hit home a little harder today." John's left hand trailed down Sherlock's arm, found the bare skin of his wrist to caress as he spoke. "I had two sessions of physio. Two hours total. Sherlock, I have never in my life worked as hard physically as I did for those two hours. Not in basic training, not in Afghanistan, not in physio for my shoulder. And in between I had an hour of OT. Which wasn't as intense, but . . . I couldn't do most of the things they wanted me to do. I know Ray said I'm in good shape but I'm really not. I can't lift myself in and out of the chair. It took me ten minutes just to put on my shoes and socks, and forget about putting my trousers on by myself. Sherlock." He made a hiccupping noise and Sherlock felt fingers tightening on his wrist again.

John may have been very close to tears, but Sherlock felt better because he knew what to say now. He shifted his arm so he could grab John's fingers and hold them still. "Are you even listening to yourself? Because all of the things you just said—they are going to get better. It's just a matter of time and re-training your muscles. That's what you're here for, to learn how to do those things."

"I don't want to have to learn them! I already learned how to dress myself when I was two! Jesus Christ, Sherlock, are you listening to yourself? Why should I have to learn everything again?"

Because you're too quick to follow me anywhere, of course. My fault, my fault, it's my fault. He took a deep breath and said, "I know it's not fair. But if anyone can do it, you can. Pound for pound, you're one of the strongest people I know. Physically and mentally."

"I don't feel like it."

"I know. But you are, and it will get better, I promise."

"How can you know that, Sherlock?"

"Because I know you and if nothing else, you're too stubborn to let this beat you." Sherlock tightened his grip around John, feeling him gasp as his sore muscles were abused again. I know I'm hurting you but I honestly believe you can handle it, and anyway I need to hold you right now. He tipped his head down, pressed his forehead against John's ribs—at least they had healed well—and John pulled his right arm out from underneath Sherlock to return the embrace.

Sherlock was actually very wide awake, now, but after a few moments John said, his voice more steady, if a bit flatter than usual. "You seem tired. Didn't you sleep last night?"

"I slept." He left it at that. No need to mention Mycroft and the sofa, or the reason why he was still sleepy. He wiggled a bit and John relaxed the arm around his shoulder and Sherlock rolled up onto his side so he wasn't quite as splayed over John's torso.

John was staring up at the ceiling, and Sherlock thought the difficult talking bit was over, thank God. Then he saw John's Adam's apple bob a few times before he said, still not looking directly at Sherlock, "So, yesterday, Mycroft and Greg stopped by? And Mrs Hudson?"

Sherlock sighed and rested his head carefully on John's upper arm. Of course. I knew he was the reason they all ganged up on me. "You could've just asked me."

"Love, I've been asking you for years." John turned his head to look at him, eyes still moist from a few minutes ago, and stroked Sherlock's chin with one finger.

"I would have taken them this time if you asked me. I didn't need everyone to know."

"They're your friends and family."

"And now that they know, they can keep tabs on me. Make sure I'm taking them."

"Yes. That's exactly it, Sherlock."

"Because you don't trust me."

"Because I love you but I know how reluctant you always are to follow through on this."

Sherlock huffed a breath against John's arm. I'm taking the drugs. Can we please drop this topic?

John didn't drop it. "Which one did you go with?"

"Amitriptyline."

John nodded. "Good. It's older but I do think a tri-cyclic will be easier on your stomach than the others were."

"I know. You told me months ago. I do listen to you, you know."

"Right. You listen, and then do what you want."

"John. I'm taking it, all right? I took it last night. One pill. And now I'm tired." He paused, then admitted, "But it's not as bad as I feared. I was really out last night, but I don't feel groggy or slow today, just like a nap would be a good idea."

John reached to hold Sherlock's hand again and said, "I might end up on an SSRI. Prozac or Lustral, most likely. But they can interfere with my blood thinners, so they're holding off for now."

Sherlock considered that. John had been taking Prozac when they met. It hadn't worked. Meeting Sherlock had been what worked. That wasn't bragging on Sherlock's part; it was just a fact. Unless maybe the Prozac had kept John from killing himself before they met. He pushed the thought away. "Are you depressed?"

John lifted his head to peer down at him. "What do you think?"

Sherlock gave a half-hearted smile. "I know, stupid question. I did say I was tired."

"All right. Shove over." John flexed his arm that Sherlock was leaning on. "We'll both close our eyes and maybe we'll sleep and all these stupid emotions will be gone when we wake up."

Sherlock felt his smile turn a bit more genuine. "You sound like me, John. No wonder I love you so much." He scooted over to the bed's other pillow and closed his eyes, leaving just one finger extended so he could touch John as he slept.

Chapter Text

A week passed, and although at any given moment it seemed as if nothing changed, Sherlock knew that wasn't true. John no longer winced at the mention of physio, and he could now usually get himself in and out of the wheelchair without any help. They continued to nap together every afternoon when Sherlock came to visit, but after the first few days Sherlock thought he could probably have skipped the extra sleep if he needed to. He kept the amitriptyline at a half-dose and waited, unsure how he would know if or when it was working. Mycroft stayed with him each night, sleeping on the inflatable airbed while Sherlock took the sofa. Neither one of them mentioned the arrangement or how long it would last, but then one morning Sherlock woke up and Mycroft's bag was gone. Finally. I guess I can be trusted to swallow a pill on my own. Mycroft had left the mattress inflated, spare blanket folded neatly atop it. Sherlock thought he might try it out for himself that night, but when he got back from visiting John that evening, Lestrade was waiting in the stairwell, overnight bag at his side.

"Hey, Sherlock. Mind if I crash here tonight? Had a fight with my girl."

"No, you didn't." Sherlock kicked the door to the street closed behind him and raised his hand in greeting to Mrs Hudson, who was lingering just inside her flat.

"Yeah, I did." Lestrade stood and hoisted his bag over his shoulder.

"You did not. The two of you had a quickie before you came over here. Besides, you're not even living together. You spend the night at hers sometimes but you still have your own place."

Lestrade sighed. "Yeah, all right. I'm staying here for a while, though. I promised your brother."

"I do not need a babysitter."

That assertion had no more effect on Lestrade than it had on Mycroft. "I know. We just don't want you to have to be alone."

"And I don't want to be alone, trust me. But that doesn't mean I want you here." He pushed past Lestrade to head up the stairs, feeling his shoulders tense beneath his coat when he heard Lestrade follow him into the flat.

Lestrade deposited his bag on the coffee table. "Come on, Sherlock. You need help around this place anyway."

"With what? I've spent every morning this week uncluttering the kitchen so it can be renovated."

Lestrade glanced over into the kitchen, which had almost completely clear worktops for the first time since Sherlock had moved in. "Hey, that's not a bad job you did. This room's still a nightmare, though."

Sherlock glared at him and dropped down onto the airbed. Both ends popped up around him. "You get the sofa. I get this. I don't care if you're the guest."

Lestrade shrugged. "Sofa's not going to slowly deflate on me as I sleep, now, is it? I've seen my kids go through enough of those mattresses to know they don't last."

"Please. It held Mycroft. I hardly think it will collapse under my weight."

"Yeah, it's not the weight, though. It's how gently you treat it. I give it one night with you on it."

Sherlock shook his head and rolled onto his stomach, toed off his shoes and let them fall onto the ground. "If you want to help you can make me some tea."

Lestrade snorted. "I will but only if I can find a beer in that bloody fridge of yours."

-----

Lestrade didn't snore, but whereas Mycroft had been gone each day by the time Sherlock woke up, Lestrade hung around and ate breakfast and chatted in the morning. Sherlock was already on edge because the last of the three contractors he had contacted was finally coming out to look at the flat today. Dealing with the first two earlier in the week had been agonising, and he didn't need to add Lestrade's chatter to the mix.

"Don't you need to go to work or something?"

Lestrade drained the last of his coffee. "Yeah, all right, guess I should." He pushed his chair back from the kitchen table and stood. "I'll be back tonight around nine."

"You don't need to come back."

Lestrade hesitated for a moment; Sherlock could feel his eyes on him but did not look up from the toast he was buttering. Finally Lestrade replied, "Sherlock, you're thirty-nine years old and sleeping on a blow-up mattress even though you have a perfectly good bed down the hall. I think you need someone to stay with you still. I'll see you tonight."

Lestrade left and Sherlock shoved his knife so hard into the jar of jam that it slid off the worktop and spilled across the floor, dark red against the dull lino. He cleaned it up and threw the rest of his breakfast in the bin and then tried to figure out what to do with all the piles of magazines in the sitting room while he waited for today's contractor to show up. The first two had been ridiculously late and this one was no better.

He had attempted to be friendly with the first one, and had managed to stay civil with the second, even though he was clearly an idiot who only stayed in business because he lowballed all his estimates, but by now Sherlock was fed up. They should be knocking down walls by now. Or at least pulling out the kitchen cabinets and worktop; that seemed to be more of the type of work everyone was discussing. Sherlock wouldn't mind a good wall demolition, though, as long as they let him help. But they weren't even close to starting yet; everyone was still just talking and writing up proposals and sketches and costs. Boring and not really achieving anything, was it?

By the time today's appointment—Dave? no, Dan—showed up, a half-hour late, Sherlock had moved a dozen large piles of magazines upstairs into the spare bedroom and was even less inclined than usual to make small talk. He'd already had this conversation twice this week, so he skipped the niceties and led Dan into the kitchen, pointing out everything he'd discussed with the others.

"We don't need to keep the pocket doors, but this entrance is already quite wide, so I don't see a reason to get rid of them. But the other door is only 32 inches, the worktops and sink will all need to be lowered, obviously, and when we eat in here we use this little table over here and I usually have my chemistry equipment on the big table but we could switch that around. John hates me doing chemistry in the kitchen but it really is the best place for it."

"John?" Dan paused in his notebook scribbling and looked up at Sherlock.

So that's how it's going to be, is it? Well, he hadn't had a good excuse to punch anyone in a while. "Yes, John," he said. "My partner. Boyfriend. Lover." God, he hated all those terms. "Do you have a problem with that?"

"No, John is my son's name. But I'm thinking you'll want two sinks at different heights since you're a tall bloke and you're not going to want to bend over that far to do the washing up."

Sherlock opened his mouth to say that John always did the washing up but then realised he could have his very own sink reserved for experiments and John couldn't complain or nag him to clean it out. "That's an excellent idea," he said, and forgot all about wanting to punch someone.

-----

Dan the contractor actually had a few other good ideas and as a result his visit took longer than Sherlock expected, but he still managed to make it to the rehab centre precisely at two. John had made a special request the day before and Sherlock was looking forward to fulfilling it.

The receptionist smiled when she saw him. "Oh, hi, Mr Holmes. John's out at the moment but you're welcome to wait in his room if you want. Is that a violin?"

Sherlock shifted the case from his right hand to his left. What else would be in a case of this size and shape? "What do you mean, he's 'out?' Where did he go?"

She shrugged. "Went out with his case manager an hour or so ago. Didn't say where. They don't tell me anything. Is it your violin? Do you play?"

Sherlock sighed and nodded and walked away before she could ask any more questions. He had been trying very hard not to antagonise anyone at the centre while John was staying here, and he thought he was doing remarkably well considering the level of stupidity here was about equal to that of the general population. Sometimes he just had to walk away.

John had specifically asked him to bring his violin and now he wasn't here to hear it, although Sherlock guessed it wasn't his fault. He didn't really have much control over his daily schedule, after all, and he'd doubtless be back soon, so there would be plenty of time to play for him. He helped himself to a couple of biscuits John had left on the table and then got out the violin. He'd only played once in the months since John had been injured, that first night he'd been home, and the lack of practice would probably show. He started with some scales to warm up and had only been playing for a few minutes when a knock at the door interrupted him. He winced; he'd tried to keep the volume down but of course he was still too loud. John had thought it would be okay to play here, but Sherlock should've known there would be someone who would object.

He set the bow down on the table and went to the door, clutching the violin by its neck, surprised at how calming it was just to hold it. Which he needed, because he would not allow himself to be rude to whoever was about to complain about the noise. For John. He has to live here for weeks yet, and I won't make it unpleasant for him. God, he couldn't wait till John was back home and he could go back to being himself.

He fixed an appropriately contrite expression on his face and pulled open the door. "So sorry," he said to the woman standing there. He tipped his head and smiled at her. "I know I'm quite out of practice, and I didn't intend to be so loud."

She looked up at him, surprise evident. Short, overweight, hair dyed too dark for her age: he'd seen her before, but she wasn't an employee. A spouse of one of the other patients, perhaps? Not worth the effort to try to remember. "I'll stop," he told her, and moved to shut the door.

"No, no, no," she said, and put her hand out against the closing door. He pulled it open again so she could speak. Remember: can't be rude.

"It's lovely," she said.

"I was only playing scales."

"Well, they were lovely," she told him.

"Thank you," he said, and nodded and tried to close the door again. Honestly.

This time she stuck her foot out to stop the door. "You could leave it open, if you want. Or—" She looked over her shoulder, though Sherlock didn't think anyone else was out in the hall with her. "You could come and play for us in the lounge."

He blinked at her. Play for us. She wanted him to come play songs for a bunch of strangers. He didn't really mind an audience, truth be told, but he didn't play so he could entertain others. Except John, of course, who wasn't even here. And who would undoubtedly encourage him to do exactly what this woman was asking. He blinked his eyes closed one more time and said, "Let me get my bow."

The lounge was just down the hall from John's room, close enough that when they showed films in the late afternoon it invariably woke John and Sherlock from their shared nap, so it made sense that the people who were in there had heard Sherlock's violin. And there was a small crowd gathered, spread across the sofas and armchairs that were arranged with space for wheelchairs between them. At least a dozen people, split between patients and their families with a couple of staff members lounging about as well. Nearly everyone turned to look at him when he entered; his fingers clenched around the frog of his bow and he had to remind himself to relax. It's just a few people who want to hear music; it's not a recital. He'd deleted the specifics of the last time he'd been forced to perform in a formal setting; he'd been thirteen, and all he remembered was that it had been bad enough that Mummy had never even tried to make him do it again.

He thought maybe he should say something or introduce himself, but instead he just brought the violin to his chin and started in on a scale again. After a moment he sat down on one of the loveseats. He preferred to play standing up, but he felt odd being the only one on his feet and sitting down made it feel more casual and less like he was on display. He paused to tweak one of the tuning pegs that didn't really need it and then said, "Any requests?"

"Do you know any fiddle music?" asked the woman who had fetched him out here.

Of course. He suppressed a sigh. "Of course," he said, and started to play. John would be back soon to rescue him, he hoped. But though more people kept coming into the room to listen, he played for nearly an hour before John finally arrived, a welcome figure hovering at the edge of his vision as he finished the song.

When he was done he lowered the violin to greet John with a grin, the agitation he'd felt at his absence gone at the sight of John's answering smile. John's face was flushed; it was caused by the wind outside, not physical exertion. He gestured at Sherlock's audience and said, "Giving concerts now, are you?"

Sherlock raised his eyebrows just a bit. "Needed an audience, and they were willing," he said, as if he ever would've done this if he hadn't been asked. You weren't here.

"Well, don't stop on account of me." John shrugged out of his coat and laid it on the loveseat, across the arm farthest from Sherlock. He seemed relaxed, as if he'd just done something that made him nervous and he was relieved that it was over. Where had he been? The rumpled state of his trousers and jumper said that he'd been out of the wheelchair numerous times, but he wasn't sweaty or dressed for a physical workout, and there'd be no reason for him to leave the building for that anyway. Wherever he'd gone, he certainly would've travelled in one of the centre's vans, not a car, so he wouldn't have needed to get out of the chair for that. The horrible bulky wheelchair he was using didn't even fold up to fit in a car boot. Eventually he'd get his own chair and it would be smaller and collapsible and—oh.

John had gone out to select his new wheelchair. There was a large medical supply store about five miles away. For some reason the thought that he'd gone without Sherlock was a bit vexing, which didn't make much sense, but there it was. Sherlock swallowed down his irritation and started to play one last song, his own composition this time, one he knew John liked.

John came closer as he played, and Sherlock had to focus so as not to be too distracted from the music when John swung himself out of the chair to sit next to him on the loveseat. When he finished playing, he set the violin and bow on the table to his left and flexed his tender fingers; he'd lost most of his playing calluses over the last two months. John leaned against him, slipping his arm behind Sherlock. "Let's stay and watch the film, all right?"

Sherlock shrugged. He wasn't likely to enjoy whatever film they were showing, but there was always a snack provided and if John wanted to cuddle against him for two hours that would be acceptable. He turned his head to inhale the scent of John's hair and waited for most of the people in the room to stop paying attention to them before saying, "You ordered your new chair today."

"Yeah. I should have it in about a week or so."

"You picked it out without me?"

"Well, yeah. You weren't here."

"I—visiting hours don't start until two. I was following the rules."

John squinted up at him. "You're actually upset."

"No, I'm not." He frowned and tried to explain what he felt, though he didn't really understand it himself. Disappointment, maybe. "I just thought I'd be there to help."

"I had help. You're not an expert on everything, love. There were people there who actually knew about—stuff."

He still doesn't like to even say the word wheelchair. I should've been there with him. Sherlock smiled and tried to make light of it. "I could've offered my opinions. Colour choices. You always need my opinion there."

"Colour was the least of it. I went with black, by the way." John rubbed his hand over his eyes and then rested his head on Sherlock's arm, so he was looking straight ahead. "There were a lot of choices to make. Not fashion but function. Different options. It was a little overwhelming."

"That's the kind of thing I would've helped with."

"No, you would've been impatient and just picked the most expensive options available."

"I would've picked the best options for you. I wouldn't have considered the cost." Did John really think Sherlock had been impatient recently? Because he was pretty sure he'd never been so patient and well-behaved in his life.

"Well, I did pick the best options, I think. I—" He looked up at Sherlock again. "I wasn't trying to exclude you on purpose. I just thought it was something I could do on my own. I didn't even think about you being there. All right?"

Sherlock sighed and lifted his arm to draw John closer. "Well, since I'm reno'ing our whole flat without any input from you, I guess we'll call it even. Now shut up and let me watch this film."

John mock-punched his arm and giggled and two of the women sitting nearby turned around to stare at them and Sherlock stared back and put his chin on top of John's head and spent the next two hours not paying any attention at all to anything that flickered on the screen in front of them.

Chapter Text

Two weeks later and 221B Baker Street no longer had a functioning kitchen or shower, which was why Sherlock was now spending his nights sleeping on the airbed downstairs in Mrs Hudson's flat. She said she was grateful for the company. She was also much more likely than either Mycroft or Lestrade had been to serve biscuits for breakfast. Lately she'd taken to making huge batches almost daily and sending them with Sherlock when he went to visit John.

Today she'd made butter biscuits filled with raspberry preserves. Sherlock left the bulk of them at the front desk when he got to the rehab centre; as always there were far more than he and John could eat, even with John's appetite and Sherlock's sweet tooth.

For once John was waiting for him when he got to his room. Sherlock looked him over. He'd been out again; he was wearing chinos and a button-down. Where—ah, he had the new chair. It was one hundred percent different from the old one, but it had still taken Sherlock a moment to notice, because he'd been distracted by John's expression: a shy, uncertain smile Sherlock hadn't seen directed at him in ages.

"So, what do you think?" John's words were casual but Sherlock could hear the apprehension behind them, see the way he had to stop his hands from clenching convulsively on the slim, contoured arms of the wheelchair.

He wasn't even sure what response John hoped to hear. It's perfect. Good choice with the black. It's horrible. I will never not hate to see you unable to stand. What he said was, "It's tiny."

John raised his eyebrows. "Not exactly words I want to hear coming out of your mouth, but fair enough, I suppose."

"I mean—"

"No, no, it's all right." John was smiling, and some of the tension had eased out of his posture, so it probably really was all right. "I know what you mean. I did think the ultra-lightweight would be best, and since my balance is good I don't need a lot of back support . . . ." He trailed off and looked up at Sherlock, his expression hopeful but with just a touch of—was that shame? Something in Sherlock's chest clutched painfully.

He stepped forward and leaned down for a kiss. John exhaled and opened his mouth; he'd eaten something spicy for lunch, and had shaved last night instead of this morning. Sherlock trapped John's head between his hands and John reached up to unbutton Sherlock's coat and slid his hands around his waist, pulling him closer. Sherlock hunched more and then brought his right knee up to rest it between John's legs, sinking down but careful to put his weight on the seat of the chair, not on John. He pulled back from the kiss enough to ask if the position was okay, and John nodded.

"Isn't there a weight limit on this thing?" Sherlock asked, only half in jest.

John pulled him down farther until he was more or less perched in his lap, though with one foot still on the floor. "It's fine. It's under warranty."

Sherlock huffed a laugh and then kissed him again, one hand in John's hair and the other exploring John's back, ranging first over the muscles bunched beneath his shirt and then down lower, until his fingers found the back of the chair, a thin, rigid cushion wrapped in nylon around a metal frame. It really was a small chair, even given John's size; the back extended only a few inches above the site of his injury and the arms seemed mere suggestions of what Sherlock thought of as standard wheelchair features. The wheels were thin, as well, and canted inward just a bit, making the chair wider at the base than the seat, though Sherlock could see that it would still fit easily through the new doorways that were going in back at their flat. He ran his thumb back and forth across the curve of the chair's arm until John reached to still his hand. Sherlock wrapped his arms around John's neck and said, "It's the perfect size—we both fit. You didn't need me to help pick it out after all."

"Well, we'll see how well it works out." John leaned back in the chair and Sherlock stood up, shedding his coat. John watched him, one hand going up to rub at the base of his neck in what was becoming a habitual gesture.

"Got some stiffness again?"

"Yeah, but I've got a massage appointment in a little while. You're coming with."

"Oh, do I get a massage, too?"

John gave him a bit of a smile. "Maybe later, if you're good. First you're going to learn a few techniques."

Sherlock shook out the wrinkles from his jacket and trousers. "I think we can agree I already have some experience in massaging you, don't you think?"

"Yes, well this is the sort of massage where at least one of us stays fully dressed, hmm? Just give it a chance, all right? For me? I guarantee you'll learn something new."

Sherlock rolled his eyes. "Fine. If you want me to watch some young woman rub her hands all over you, I will."

"How do you know it's a woman?"

"Oh, it's a woman."

John chuckled. "All right. But she's probably close to your age."

"Right. Like I said. A young woman. Lead me to her."

The young woman's name was Jenny—how common—and she was as annoyingly perky as most of the other staff Sherlock had met, but she knew what she was doing and how to explain it as she went along, gently palpating John's legs in what she called myofascial release and then more firmly working the muscles in his torso and arms. It was nothing Sherlock couldn't have learned in a few minutes from YouTube, but it made John happy when he paid attention, so he watched and listened as she over-explained everything she was doing.

"It's not bad yet, but you'll find as time goes by the paralysed muscles will contract and become more rigid, so the goal with massage is to try to keep them as relaxed and pliable as possible for as long as possible."

She handed him a few sheets of paper which Sherlock declined to take. "I'll remember," he said.

"Oh, just take them," John said, lifting his head so he wasn't speaking into the hole in the headrest of the massage table. "I can use some of it on you, too, you know."

Sherlock grunted an acknowledgement—that is not a terrible idea—and folded the instructions in half so they would fit in his pocket.

John laughed and dropped his head back down. "You're trying to work out where we can fit a massage table in the flat, aren't you?"

Sherlock didn't respond, because that was exactly what he was doing. The renovations were making the space more open, but it needed to stay that way for John to be able to manoeuvre around the flat.

"They make portable tables that fold up, you know," Jenny said. She got up off the stool she'd been using and pushed it toward Sherlock. "All right, have a go. Let's see if it's as easy as you think it is."

Sherlock shrugged out of his jacket and settled onto the stool. He'd already been to physical therapy with John a couple of times and learned how to help with his exercises, especially those designed to keep his legs from atrophying too much. They weren't much fun. He wanted to help and would continue to do so, but the feel of the unresponsive muscles beneath his hands was a bit unnerving and he couldn't get past the idea that he would do something wrong and injure John without either of them realising it. The exercises to help improve John's balance and upper body strength were better, but he didn't need much assistance with those.

The massage started out much the same, except that John's skin was bare. Feet, calves, thighs, check for unusual muscle tension, pressure sores, any signs of a blood clot. Don't apply too much pressure and don't forget to move the sheet to keep John covered because he's going to get cold even though it's warm in here.

John kept up a steady conversation, mostly with Jenny, as Sherlock worked his way up his body. It was only when he reached the middle of John's back that the stream of words petered out. At first Sherlock thought he was hurting him; he'd skirted the injury site and line of surgical scars, which meant that John could now feel the pressure of Sherlock's hands.

"Too hard?" he asked. Was I pressing too hard where he couldn't feel it?

"No, it's good. Perfect." John tipped his head to the side to smile back at Sherlock. "Keep going, please."

Sherlock hesitated only a second as he realised that the constant stream of words before now had been because John had been . . . nervous? Why? Embarrassed? About what? Sherlock touching him? Had he suddenly reverted to his old "I'm not gay" position in the presence of a pretty young massage therapist? Unlikely, given the half-lidded look he was giving Sherlock right now, and the way he relaxed under his touch.

No, John was enjoying the feel of Sherlock's hands on him, chaste as it was at the moment, and he wasn't ashamed. But . . . maybe he had been a moment ago? He wasn't embarrassed to let Jenny see Sherlock touching him, though. No, it was worse than that.

Sherlock lifted his hands from the sleek muscles of John's back and slid the stool back down along the table again, so he could reach John's legs.

"What are you doing?" John asked, craning his neck to look back at Sherlock.

An experiment. "Just checking something," he replied, reaching out to glide his fingertips over the side of John's right calf.

Jenny looked up from where she was typing notes in John's file. "Something wrong? I didn't notice anything unusual."

"No, it's nothing," Sherlock said. Nothing physical, at least, but the expression he'd caught on John's face when he'd touched his calf again made it clear what the problem was. John didn't like Sherlock touching his legs. Sherlock slid back up to the top of the table and set his hands to the sides of John's ribs, closing his eyes while he worked on the latissimus dorsi muscles and recalled every detail of John's behaviour while Jenny had been massaging him. It hadn't bothered him when she touched his paralysed limbs; it was just Sherlock that made him uncomfortable.

He made his way up John's back. All of his muscles were quite tense, despite having already been seen to by Jenny, but Sherlock knew it was because John had been using his upper body so much more than he ever had before. It wasn't all negative; he didn't think it was his imagination that John's arm muscles were already more defined than they had been before he was injured. He brushed his hands over his triceps and tried not to get too distracted. The scar on John's shoulder: he knew there was a spot there that had no feeling at all. He pressed his thumb against it while his fingers kneaded John's shoulders. It doesn't bother him when I touch him there; it's just his lower body.

When he was done he ran his fingers through the somewhat shaggy hair on the back of John's head and asked, "Neck and shoulders feeling better?"

"Yeah." John pushed himself up a bit and turned to give Sherlock a quick kiss. "Thank you."

Sherlock put both hands on the table next to John and pushed himself up off the stool. "I was told I was required to attend this training session, so . . . ." He shrugged and raised his eyebrows.

John snorted a laugh and Jenny came over to help him roll over on the narrow table. He put his clothes on, still slow and awkward with the trousers and shoes. When he was done he looked from Sherlock to Jenny, clenched his fist a couple of times and said, "Do you think it'd be okay if Sherlock—?" He tapped the massage table he was still sitting on.

Jenny raised both her hands. "I can't touch him, but my next appointment's not for twenty minutes and I have a lot of paperwork to catch up on, if you want to use the table. I can't leave you in here alone, though. Sorry."

"That's fine," Sherlock said, unbuttoning his shirt. "We aren't to be trusted alone, anyway. Everyone knows that."

He left his trousers on, though if he thought there would be time for a full body massage he would've stripped down without hesitation, whether or not Jenny was watching. The lack of modesty about his body was something he shared with John, although now apparently John was too shy to even let Sherlock touch him without getting uncomfortable.

He watched John swing himself off the table and into his new chair and—oh, of course. Of course he had chosen the smallest, most minimalistic wheelchair he could find, not because it was lightweight or easy to use, but because he was so self-conscious about it. John had always had something of a tendency to not want to be noticed, and he always tried to act normal and blend in. He wasn't normal, obviously—he and Sherlock probably wouldn't even know each other if he were—but he always pretended, at least around other people. But now the wheelchair would make it harder for him to avoid notice, so he had picked the most unobtrusive model he could find. Sherlock couldn't really fault him for that, if it made him more comfortable. He just wished John's self-consciousness didn't extend to him. He should never have any reason to feel awkward around Sherlock in any way.

Conditioning, that's what he needs. John just needed to get used to the idea of Sherlock's hands everywhere on him again, even when he couldn't feel it. He filed the idea away for later; it wasn't going to be something that happened quickly, but there would be time. He sighed and climbed onto the table.

John's hands were cool but strong and sure when he laid them on Sherlock's shoulders. "Jesus, you're too skinny, Sherlock. How much weight have you lost?"

"I've gained two pounds since I started the amitriptyline." Another side effect, one he hadn't even thought to worry about.

"Yeah, but you must've lost at least a stone before that. You need to eat more."

He didn't try to deny John's estimate. "I am eating. Two pounds in three weeks, John. At that rate I'll be back where I was in a few months and then I'll have to start buying new clothes."

"You love buying new clothes. You buy new clothes all the time."

"You have an answer for everything, don't you?"

"I learnt from the best." John dug his fingers into the tight muscles on Sherlock's shoulder and Sherlock grunted in surprise. Apparently he was just as tense as John had been, even though he hadn't been using his muscles in any unusual manner. Although sleeping on the airbed for weeks at a time probably wasn't helping. It would be better when John was back home, and they were back in their bedroom where they belonged. Maybe he would get a massage table for the flat; they'd never needed any excuse to touch each other before, but maybe that would help.

Chapter Text

"Are you sure I don't need a jacket and tie?" John fiddled with the collar of his shirt for the hundredth time that afternoon, his eyes going to Sherlock's reflection in the mirror.

"Oh, for God's sake. I'm not wearing a tie." Sherlock let his head drop back onto the arm of the loveseat. He had been sprawled here watching John get dressed for the past half-hour. I am getting him out of this room if it kills me. Out of this building.

"But you're wearing a suit. What if there's a dress code?"

"John, I have passed by that restaurant twice a day for the last month and a half. There is no dress code." He planted his feet on the floor and stood up, crossed the room to stand behind John. He put his hands on John's shoulders and looked at him in the mirror. "It's a casual restaurant, and even if it weren't, you look fine. Let me remind you that I did not eat lunch and am actually hungry."

John brought his hands up to rest on top of Sherlock's and took a deep breath, examining his reflection. "Let me just find a jumper that matches."

Sherlock groaned and pulled away in defeat. "The brown cardigan," he said, and flopped back down onto the loveseat to wait while John tried to postpone leaving the rehab centre just a little bit longer.

At first Sherlock had dismissed it when one of the nurses took him aside and told him that John was refusing to join any sort of excursion outside of the rehab centre. John wasn't the sort to enjoy a group outing to some art exhibition or tourist attraction; that didn't mean he was avoiding the outside world. Then the nurse had suggested that Sherlock take him out someplace himself, and Sherlock had subsequently spent the last week attempting to take John to dinner. There was a restaurant not even a mile down the road that several people recommended; it had a decent wine list and wheelchair accessibility: perfect. And over the last week John had proceeded to be too tired, not that hungry, really looking forward to taco night in the dining room, and absolutely not about to miss the screenings of Casablanca, Star Wars, and something called Gremlins in the lounge. So, yes, avoiding the real world. But it was stopping now. When John started dithering over the jumper, Sherlock threw his coat at him. "Come on. I had the front desk call a cab and it's waiting."

The cabbie got out of the car when they approached, nodded hello and then walked around to the boot of the cab. Sherlock realised what he was doing just as John tensed and said, "No, er, we won't be needing that, thanks."

The cabbie looked up at Sherlock first and then at John. "You sure, mate? The ramp makes it easy."

"Nope. No, it doesn't. I can get in just fine, thanks." John's anger was under control but clear, probably even to the cabbie. Sherlock's impulse was to step in but he had no idea how to do so without angering John further. He glared at the cabbie instead.

The cabbie shrugged and stepped away from the boot. "Suit yourself. You want the swivel chair instead?"

"No." John's voice grated; Sherlock watched as he curled his fists twice and then reached out to pull open the cab's rear door. He moved back as it opened, keeping the chair's movements smooth now, after weeks of practice, and then rolled up close to the door. There were yellow grab bars inside the cab; John used them to swing himself into the car, muttering under his breath as he did so.

Sherlock stepped toward the cab and the now-empty wheelchair, wondering if he should put it in the boot, but before he could John reached out and grabbed it. He watched John collapse the frame with a few precise, decisive movements of his gloved hands and then pull it into the cabin of the car with him. That's my John. The odd thought sent a shiver down his spine. Of course it is. Who else would it be?

Sherlock shook himself and then walked around the cab to climb in on the other side. He told the driver where to go, settled into the seat next to John and automatically reached for his hand. John threaded his fingers through Sherlock's and Sherlock relaxed back against the seat; this was how they always sat in cabs. Nothing has changed. Then John started to mutter again, only now Sherlock could hear him. "I learnt how to do that. Sherlock, I am 44 years old and someone had to teach me how to get into a car." He tightened his fingers around Sherlock's and Sherlock knew he was supposed to commiserate or console or something to that effect but instead he just felt the strength of John's grip and remembered the way his arms had looked a moment ago, how the muscles on his wrists had stood out where they peeked from between his coat sleeves and his gloves. He pulled his hand away from John so he could peel off his own gloves and shove them in his pocket, then circled his fingers around John's wrist.

"What are you doing?"

"Touching your bare skin, obviously. Are you objecting?"

"It's a little weird."

"Are you objecting?"

"No." John looked up from their joined hands to Sherlock's face for a moment, then shifted his gaze to look past him out the window. "We didn't need to take a cab, you know. You said it was close."

"Mmm." Sherlock tugged off John's glove and ran his fingers over the calluses that littered his palm.

"Are you listening to me at all?"

"It's cold out and the area is not especially pedestrian-friendly. And look how fast we got here in the cab. Well worth the cost." He let go of John's hand and returned the glove he had stolen. "I don't even mind paying."

That got a snort of laughter, and Sherlock reached forward to pay the driver, watching from the corner of his eye as John exited the cab, again sure and steady in his handling of the wheelchair.

He held the restaurant door open for John. I don't care how independent he wants to be. He cannot possibly object to me holding the door for him; it's just common courtesy.

John didn't seem to mind, though he did stop abruptly once they were through the second set of doors and into the restaurant proper. The hostess glanced at them and then asked, "Just the two of you?" She was focused on Sherlock but that was nothing unusual.

Sherlock brushed his hand against John's shoulder and nodded. "If you have a somewhat private table, we'd appreciate it." Though there were numerous people at the rehab centre who had recognised them from the news, everyone there had been extremely respectful of their privacy, and he didn't need that to end the moment they stepped back into the real world. Especially since it had been so hard to get John out here in the first place.

"Of course." She smiled at him and then even more so at John because women had not stopped flirting with John since he'd been hurt; some seemed even more likely to initiate the flirting now. Maybe they see him as more harmless, less of a threat? As if John were somehow less threatening now. Sherlock suppressed his own smile as they followed her to a table at the back of the restaurant.

The dining room seemed to have an unusual amount of space between the tables. Though there was no one else in a wheelchair at the moment, Sherlock realised they must get a fair amount of custom from the rehab centre, and have planned the interior accordingly.

It took a little while, but John relaxed as the meal progressed. He only had one glass of wine, so Sherlock knew it couldn't be attributed to that. We're both sitting and no one can really see the wheelchair unless they look for it. God, how long is this going to last? John would be going home from rehab in less than a week. He can't spend the rest of his life being so self-conscious he wants to hide. Sherlock sighed and ordered himself a second glass of wine, though it was probably going to make him sleepy.

They'd gone out early enough that by the time they got back to the rehab centre there were still a couple of hours before Sherlock had to leave, so he followed John back to his room. There was some sort of vocal performance going on in the lounge, just loud enough for them to hear without quite being able to identify the songs. It sounded like pop music, but John usually liked that sort of thing. "Don't you want to go listen?"

John shook his head. "But don't forget you're supposed to play again on Tuesday."

"I won't forget. My penultimate performance." He raised his eyebrows and gave a mock scowl. He'd been playing twice a week since the first time he'd been coerced into performing for an audience. After the first time he'd learned not to ask for requests, though; an appalling number of people here seemed to prefer to hear the fiddle to the violin.

John pulled off his jumper and tossed it into the wardrobe. He stretched and cracked his neck and said, without turning to look at Sherlock, "Thanks. For making me go out. I know I was difficult about it."

Sherlock dropped his coat on the loveseat and shrugged, downplaying John's reluctance. "It was just dinner. You like dinner."

"I know. I had a good time." He turned around and nodded at the bed. "Let's lie down. I miss our little naps."

"I haven't been as tired the last couple weeks." Sherlock slipped out of his shoes and hung his jacket on the knob of the wardrobe.

"No, me neither. But I could go for a cuddle right now."

Sherlock rolled his eyes. "You can't tell anyone, though. I still have a reputation."

"Oh, please. Everyone knows you're a cuddler. I'm pretty sure it's been on the blog."

Sherlock glared at him and then used that as an excuse to stare while John swung himself onto the bed. At what point did I start finding his inability to walk arousing? That wasn't quite accurate—it's still completely repulsive—but John's competence around his disability, that was starting to appeal.

John rolled onto his side; the movement was never going to be smooth, and watching him pull his legs into position was decidedly not sexy, but Sherlock couldn't help but admire the way his shoulders moved beneath his shirt, the easy grace of his hands. Yes, it's competent John. Gets me every time.

He wanted those arms around him, so he laid down on his side, not facing John, and then eased himself back until their bodies met.

"Mm." John slung his left arm over Sherlock's hip. "You want a back rub?" He skated the fingers of his other hand up Sherlock's spine, too light to be a massage.

Sherlock arched his head back as John reached his neck. "No. Just hold me." He scooted back a little more, spooning firmly against John.

John tightened his arm around Sherlock's middle and pressed a kiss against his neck. Sherlock shivered and slipped his fingers through John's to pull his hand up higher, onto his stomach, because if it strayed any lower this was going to quickly move beyond just a cuddle, at least on Sherlock's end, and he didn't want to pressure John.

John wound the fingers of his other hand through Sherlock's hair. His breath was warm against the skin just below Sherlock's ear, and Sherlock closed his eyes and relaxed into his embrace. He let himself enjoy the weight of John's arm across his ribs and then John inhaled sharply and his fingers stuttered in Sherlock's hair.

"You okay?"

"Er, yeah." John swallowed and lifted his head from the pillow. "I think I'm getting hard."

Sherlock turned his head to get a glimpse of John's face over his shoulder. "From kissing my neck?"

"Apparently."

"And you can—feel it?" No one had really said much about what John's sex life might be like now, and the research Sherlock had done online had been frustratingly inconclusive.

"Sort of, indirectly, I guess? The rest of my body's got all the signals, I think." He paused, then added, "It's kind of warm."

Sherlock pressed his arse back into John's groin. "You are definitely hard."

John put his face against Sherlock's shoulder and giggled. "I feel like I'm thirteen."

"Did you press your cock against a lot of men's arses when you were thirteen?"

"Not in the least. But, I can't say for sure, but I think I might go off really, really quickly."

Sherlock gave another backward thrust against him and then rolled so they were facing each other and he could catch John's mouth with his. He slid his hand down to press against the bulge in John's trousers, then stopped the kiss long enough to ask, "Can you feel my hand?"

John shook his head and leaned back up into a kiss again. He moaned and Sherlock quickly undid John's flies and slid his hand inside his pants. He wanted to ask if John could feel his fingers now—he wanted to collect every possible bit of data about John's reaction—but John was kissing him too urgently, thrusting his tongue roughly and rapidly as far as he could into Sherlock's mouth.

John's cock felt the same as it always had to Sherlock. It filled the curve of his hand, leaking already. He closed his fingers around it and gave a few quick pulls, felt it thicken even more. Sherlock knew that was probably just a reflex from being stroked, but John had become aroused without being touched directly, which had to be a good sign. He brought his other hand up to cup John's cheek and thrust his own tongue back against the insistent push of John's. John gasped and abruptly pulled his mouth away and then Sherlock's hand and John's pants were coated as John's torso trembled against him.

Sherlock pulled his hand out and stretched to snag a couple of tissues from the box next to the bed. "Are you all right?" he asked, tossing the used tissues to the floor.

John nodded and pressed his face against Sherlock's shoulder. He was flushed and still trembling but Sherlock needed to know more about what had just happened. "How was it?"

John rubbed his face against Sherlock's shirt a couple times and steadied his breathing, then pulled back to speak. "Okay. Not quite . . . the full experience, I guess? It's hard to describe. It's more the rest of my body that could feel it."

Sherlock looked at him, trying to imagine what that might feel like, and then licked at John's ear and flicked at his nipple through his shirt.

John shivered. "Yeah. Like that. It was . . . better than I had let myself hope, though." He twisted his torso toward Sherlock, throwing himself over Sherlock's chest. Sherlock caught him and then John was shaking, tears coming heavily enough to soak Sherlock's shirt almost immediately. John had cried in the past few months, of course he had, but not like this, never so harsh and raw. Sherlock had no idea what it meant; he assumed John must feeling some sort of relief, but his reaction was so violent it didn't seem to fit. He'd heard of happy tears but this wasn't at all what he imagined them to be. He wrapped both arms around John and didn't say anything while John bawled against him. Eventually the sobbing slowed, and Sherlock loosened his grip to rub John's back in what he hoped was a soothing gesture.

"Okay?"

John nodded, wiping at his face. "Yeah." He pushed himself up and took the tissues that Sherlock offered. He blew his nose and then eased himself off Sherlock a bit, so he was lying against his side instead of on top of him. "Sorry about the shirt." He flattened his hand over the wet spot, which actually made it more uncomfortable, cold and clammy against Sherlock's skin.

John bit at his lip and slid his hand lower down Sherlock's chest. "I should—do you want me to?" His fingers dipped just below the waistband of Sherlock's trousers.

"Not really," Sherlock said, and pulled John's hand away from his groin, lacing their fingers together. His libido had never matched John's, and the arousal he'd felt a few minutes ago had pretty much disappeared around the time John had started sobbing in his arms. Right now he mostly just felt conflicted. He had a lot to process and sort out in his head; anything related to sex always took up far too much space and time in his mind.

He closed his eyes and held John's hand, thoughts spinning, wishing maybe the wine had reacted just a bit more strongly with the remnants of last night's medication. No, he was definitely wide awake.

After a few long minutes John cleared his throat and said, "Well, I've sort of been avoiding it, but I'm supposed to go to . . . sex counselling, I guess it is?"

"And now you'll no longer avoid it?"

"Erm, you're supposed to come with me."

"Oh." Sherlock paused. "Okay. If you're comfortable with it."

"Of course I'm not comfortable with it. But I think we should."

"It's here, right? Not some outside therapist?"

"Yeah." John spread and then clenched his fingers in Sherlock's hand. "I'll make an appointment tomorrow."

"All right." For some reason the things that happened here in rehab seemed more insular. Safe. He brought John's hand up to his lips and told his mind to stop worrying about things that were good. His mind didn't listen.

Chapter Text

The counsellor they had to see only worked in the mornings, which meant Sherlock had to come in early, before visiting hours. Usually he would walk past other patients' rooms and there'd be open doors and family laughing and people calling hello to him, but now the halls were quiet, everyone off attending to their own personal business, suffering through physio or doctor's visits or counselling of their own.

He felt like he was intruding on something private, and it was a bit unnerving, until he got to John's room and was able to close the door behind him and pretend this was just like every other day he'd been here. He set his violin case in the corner; he'd reached the point where he was actually looking forward to the performances. He was playing tonight and then Thursday and that would be it; John was coming home in less than a week.

John was freshly showered and dressed, drying his hair with a towel. Sherlock smiled and tried to push off the lingering feeling of unease with a joke. "Pity. I see you still haven't learnt a proper hair care routine."

John didn't laugh; maybe it wasn't funny. Sherlock took off his coat and picked up one of the biscuits from the plate Mrs Hudson had sent. It was a little dry: not her best work. "Did you have physio already?"

"Yeah. Then I wanted to be clean for, well, you know. Talking." John made one last pass over his head with the towel and then went to hang it up in the bathroom. "You going to join me for lunch after?"

"Hm, might as well. These biscuits are sub-par." He dropped the one he had bitten onto the plate just as John came back out from the loo.

"Ugh, don't." John picked it up and tossed it into the bin next to the table.

"Thought you would eat it."

"I don't have much of an appetite at the moment. And I'm not saving a half-chewed biscuit, thanks."

Sherlock took a second look at John, beyond the still-wet hair that was begging for either a proper drying job or for some styling gel and finger combing to make it stand up straight. He'd put on chinos and one of his nicer shirts, not just another of the t-shirts that he'd taken to wearing most days. Trying to impress the sex counsellor?

Oh, God, we are about to go talk about our sex life to a complete stranger and John is so nervous about it he took a shower and put on a nice shirt and is too anxious to eat a biscuit. Of course John was nervous; he was the one who was most affected here, the one whose sexual abilities were in question. This wasn't how it was supposed to be. Of the two of them, John was the one who'd always been comfortable with sex, the one who was experienced, the one who'd initiated their physical relationship, dispensing with his belief that he was attracted only to women very quickly after meeting Sherlock. Sherlock sometimes joked about sex or made innuendoes around other people, but he'd never had a serious conversation about his own sex life with anyone other than John. How the hell was he supposed to start now? He sank down onto the loveseat, the tiny bit of biscuit he'd just consumed sitting ominously in his stomach.

"All right," John said, and looked around the room, as if he might find something he urgently needed to do instead of going to the appointment. He exhaled and spread his fingers across his thighs, glanced at his watch and then set his hands on the wheels of his chair, nails ticking against the rims. "You ready?" He looked up at Sherlock, bottom lip caught between his teeth.

Sherlock nodded and stood. He'd grown so accustomed to comforting and reassuring John over the last few months; he should be able to do it now. He reached out to squeeze John's shoulder as they turned to leave the room. This is ridiculous. I have nothing to be nervous about. Nothing. I am fine, obviously, John can obviously still have a sexual reaction, and we're talking to a professional. This is her job. It's not as if we're about to have a sex chat with my parents.

The counsellor was a woman; Sherlock wasn't sure if that meant it would be easier or more intimidating to talk to her. He crowded into her office after John and shut the door behind them.

John had apparently met her briefly early on in his stay; he shook her hand and said, "Hello, Susan. This is Sherlock." Just "Sherlock," not "my partner" or "boyfriend" or anything descriptive. Oh, come on. How am I still so insecure about him acknowledging our relationship after all this time? They were about to have sex counselling together; John was not trying to hide their relationship.

Sherlock shook her hand—55 years old, works here because she wants to, doesn't need the money—and sat down next to John. The office seemed a bit too crowded to be comfortable. Sherlock was used to the open spaces in the rest of the centre, though it wasn't as if this room really needed to be any bigger; they were just here to talk. It's not like we're going to be demonstrating or anything. He looked around to distract himself from that thought: a desk, a couple of chairs, some cheaply-framed paintings of flowers on the wall in between numerous anatomical posters of the reproductive system. A bit more medical than the usual therapist's office, but about what he expected. When Susan opened a drawer of her desk to retrieve a pen, he couldn't help noticing a stack of pamphlets with very detailed illustrations of several sex toys on the cover. He swallowed and looked away; the diagrams of the male sex organs that hung on the wall weren't much better. I cannot talk about this sort of thing. He took a deep breath and focused on a poster that showed a cutaway view of a vagina and all its nerve endings, which was completely irrelevant and oddly quite soothing.

He glanced over at John, who had managed to pull on his calm doctor/soldier front, the one that always allowed him to function under pressure, to set aside his nerves at the moment he really needed to. Sherlock had never quite learned the hang of that, although under other circumstances he could often fake it.

Susan smiled and started talking and—ah, she works here because she had a partner who was injured, not a spinal cord injury, but still serious. She wants to help others now, even though she's no longer with him. Concentrating on the deductions was a definite relief, so he let himself do that. He was just on the verge of figuring out why she was no longer with her injured partner when Susan looked him in the eye and said, "There are a couple of things we should probably discuss right up front."

Shit. Why did she have to do that? Few things were as annoying as being interrupted in the middle of a deduction. And she wanted to talk about-- Unbearable. He waved his hand at her and looked off to his left, away from the posters and their diagrams. "Yes, yes, we know. No anal sex, right?"

Susan's eyes widened, though she was apparently professional enough to keep her jaw from dropping, and Sherlock continued. "Don't worry. That's never been our favourite position."

"Oh my God, Sherlock. Shut up, right now." John was using his most clipped, authoritative voice, which Sherlock knew meant he was really, really supposed to do what John said, but. Oh, well.

"What? This is a sex counselling session, am I not correct? We're here to discuss sex. We are gay men; we have anal sex. Well, John's not exclusively gay, but he has—"

"Sherlock, stop, it's not—"

Susan cut in, her professional demeanour restored. "I understand that it can be an uncomfortable topic to talk about. Now, if you were staying here with John, then you would have already—"

"Sorry, what?" Sherlock must have misunderstood.

She looked over at him as if he were slow. "If you were rooming overnight here, then of course you could . . . ."

She kept talking, but Sherlock tuned her out, turning to look at John, instead. Who was most determinedly not looking back at Sherlock. An odd sense of stillness settled over him, banishing all his anxiety about the conversation and leaving a gaping hole behind in its place.

"John?" He thought he kept his voice very well regulated, all things considered. He definitely did not shout "Why didn't you tell me I could stay?" the way he wanted to.

Susan was looking at Sherlock, puzzled, and John was looking straight ahead as if the yellowing cartoons taped to the side of the ancient computer monitor on her desk were absolutely fascinating and Sherlock sorted through several possible explanations. John didn't know I could stay. Except he had, of course. Sherlock had known it, too; there was a whole wing of the centre filled with bigger rooms and suites where family members were staying with patients, but Sherlock had assumed—assumed—that the option was only available to people who lived out-of-town, or patients who were much more severely injured and would need round-the-clock care. Of course he'd assumed that, because why wouldn't John have told him if it were otherwise?

Maybe he thought I wouldn't want to stay. That could've been true, except it was absolutely ridiculous and John certainly wasn't enough of an idiot to think that. Sherlock had spent over a month in hospital with him, and he was here every afternoon and evening, and even John must be able to see that he wasn't bored by it, that he wanted to be wherever John was. Needed to be, in fact. Which meant . . . .

He knew. He knew I could stay but he never told me. John was still most pointedly not looking at him. It didn't take Sherlock's deductive abilities to know why. He knew but he didn't tell me. Because he didn't want me to stay. He didn't want Sherlock to stay.

Sherlock sat very still for several long moments, until finally John peeked in his direction. "Sherlock?"

"I understand," he said. He stood up, pushing the chair back with his legs, and turned and walked out of the room.

He stood in the hallway, certain John would be right behind him. After a minute or two he realised John was not following. John was just going to stay in that office and not worry about Sherlock leaving because John did not want him to be there. Legs shaking, Sherlock turned and walked away, too numb to even think to go back to fetch his coat or violin from John's room.

His phone rang when he was in the cab: ten minutes. John had waited ten minutes before attempting to contact him. Sherlock didn't answer it; even if he trusted himself to speak to him, he didn't want to do it from the back of a cab. Two minutes later and his text alert beeped. He didn't want to read it. No, he wanted to read it. He didn't want to be angry with John. Of course he was angry with John, but mostly he was hurt. Why wouldn't he want me to stay? He read the text, but it wasn't John apologising; it just said, Please come back, Sherlock.

Well, he wasn't going back, not now, at least. He typed out and deleted a dozen different replies to John and then turned off his phone before he could send something he would regret. Instead he stared out the cab window, trying and failing to make himself deduce everyone who passed by. Not to say he didn't have any sudden realisations: they were just all about himself. And John. And Mycroft. Mycroft knew. John conspired with Mycroft; that's why Mycroft refused to help me stay at the centre. Did everyone know except me?

He debated going someplace other than Baker Street, because Mrs Hudson would want to know why he was home and he didn't need her to tut over and mother him right now. In the end he had the cab drop him at the flat, though, because he didn't know what else to do; haunts he'd frequented in the past held no appeal, and too much temptation. And he couldn't go to the Yard or Bart's or any place where people knew John, because they would wonder why Sherlock wasn't with him.

He bypassed Mrs Hudson's and climbed the stairs quietly; maybe if she didn't find out he was home until tonight she wouldn't fuss. There were a couple of painters in his flat, one painting the doorframes and one touching up the kitchen walls. He watched for a while, but he couldn't really find too much fault with their technique, and it wasn't enough of a distraction. Most of the other renovation work was finished, already, ahead of schedule, because apparently if you paid them enough contractors could make sure jobs got done.

He wandered down the hall to inspect the bathroom; someone had tried to block entry while the tiles were drying, but criss-crossed pieces of tape weren't much of a barrier.

The new tub looked amazing, he had to admit; the designer the contractor had hired had done an excellent job. It had been tricky, because Sherlock knew John wouldn't want it to look like a bath for someone with a disability, even though it had to function as a bath for someone with a disability, but the designer had come through with a plan that featured not a roll-in shower, which John would've hated, but a bench and a hand-held shower head set above a huge tub that would fit both of them if they wanted. Which they would want, of course, assuming he and John ever spoke to each other again. His thoughts stuttered and he forced them away; he would call John . . . later. In a little while. When he thought he could speak without crying or screaming at him.

He took a couple of breaths to steady himself again and then stepped into the bathtub just to check it out, careful not to touch the tile walls.

"Oi! Get out of there!" The painter who'd been working out in the hall stuck his head in over the tape across the door.

Sherlock startled and then pulled his jacket close around him. "It's my tub! This is my flat! I'm paying you!"

"Andre just grouted it this morning! It needs to cure!"

"You're a painter! What do you know?"

"How many bathrooms have you tiled?"

Sherlock glowered at the workman, but found that standing in a bathtub decreased the effectiveness of a good glare, even if it did make him a couple of inches taller. He sat down on the bench, just to prove his point that he could do what he wanted, but sitting there made him think of John and that made him angry and lonely and desperate to check his phone for messages again.

The painter shook his head and grumbled and left and after a moment Sherlock followed him out, because there was no point in sitting in a bathtub just to be spiteful. When he got to the sitting room Mrs Hudson was there, bringing lunch to the workers, and there was no way for Sherlock to avoid her.

"Oh, Sherlock! I knew I heard your voice. I thought you were going to see John early today, so I didn't make a sandwich for you. There's more of that cheese you like downstairs, though, if you want to go fetch some."

He shook his head and tried to step around her, though he didn't really know what to do with himself now that he was home.

"Are you leaving now, then? Did your appointment time get changed?"

"No. I just—" He hesitated a moment, wondering if he should lie or evade her, and her face wrinkled in understanding.

"Oh, you've had a fight, have you? Well, don't worry too much about it, dear. John's sure to forgive you soon enough."

"Why would you assume I'm the one who needs to be forgiven?"

She looked up at him, surprise evident, and his face must have given away more than he knew, because she reached out to pat his forearm. "Oh, Sherlock. Whatever it is, don't hold it against him. John's bound to hit some rough patches now and then, what with all that's happened. But he'll be home soon and everything will be better."

He looked down at her for a long moment and exhaled in relief. She didn't know, at least. Not everyone has been lying to me.

"Come on downstairs with me and I'll make you some lunch and you can tell me all about it." She tucked her arm through his and turned him toward the door.

"I don't want to talk about it," he said, but let her lead him out of the flat.

She didn't force him to talk, just nattered on about some programme on the telly and made sure he ate all of the sandwich she made. When he was done, she poured him another cup of tea and then quietly asked if John had tried to apologise yet.

"I don't know. I turned my phone off."

"Well, turn it back on. Unless you want to stay upset with him?"

He scowled and turned it back on. John hadn't sent any texts after his first, though there were a half-dozen missed calls from him. No voice-mail messages. Sherlock set the phone down on the table, lined up carefully with the edge of the placemat, and went back to his tea.

The phone dinged not even two minutes later and Mrs Hudson clapped her hands in delight.

Sherlock shook his head. "It's not John." That was Lestrade's text alert sound. Lestrade had been texting him almost every day, telling him about cases, although Sherlock knew he didn't really expect him to take anything on. He sighed and lifted the phone to read the message, then spun the phone around in his hands a few times. It would take some creativity to explain why he was at a crime scene instead of the rehab centre without revealing too much of the truth, but he could do it. Maybe today would be a good day to start helping the Yard out once again.

Chapter Text

Lestrade didn't hide his surprise when Sherlock stepped out of the cab.

"I was just hoping for a text back. I didn't think you'd actually show up here. Where's your coat? It's bloody windy out today." He waved Sherlock ahead of him, down a narrow alley filled with bin bags and boarded-over windows.

"Good to see you, too. So you still haven't found a body?" He turned in a circle, looking around the alley.

"No, just all this blood. Don't you usually go to see John round about now?"

"He's coming home on Friday." Sherlock spun around again, peering at the spatters. It would certainly be easier to distract Lestrade if he were wearing his coat. The twirling usually distracted everyone.

Lestrade squinted at him and lit a cigarette. Sherlock's throat clenched with craving but asking for one would be too suspicious; Lestrade knew how long it had been since he'd smoked at all.

"So we figure they were killed here and carried off." Lestrade waved his hand back toward the street where the cab had dropped Sherlock; the blood left a trail clear enough that even Lestrade and his crew couldn't miss it.

"Hmm. She," Sherlock said.

"She?"

"Clearly a woman with bad fashion sense." He pointed to a broken piece of false fingernail with his toe and Lestrade grumbled and called Anderson over to photograph it. Sherlock stepped back to let him. Donovan was hovering near Lestrade, phone pressed to her ear, and she gave Sherlock a sidelong look which he ignored. She was doubtless wondering why he wasn't giving either of them a hard time. He knew he should make a rude comment, just to keep up his cover that everything was normal and his heart was not being torn from his chest, but it seemed like too much effort.

"It's a lot of blood," Anderson said, lowering the camera and looking down the alley where the trail petered out as it reached the road.

"Yes, thank you. Not helpful," Sherlock said, and took a couple of steps alongside the stains. If she had been stabbed while she was in this alley—he visualised a woman standing where the stains were heaviest—then there should be a lot more blood there—he pictured her falling—but instead the blood was there and there, almost as if— He took a few steps back, toward the closest building, and stretched up onto his toes, trying to get a sense of the bloodstains from above, rather than up close.

That was it. Brilliant. He had a brief, reflexive urge to turn to John to explain, but he swallowed it down, looked around to catch Lestrade's eye, and then pointed up. "She wasn't killed in the alley. She was killed in the building upstairs, and they threw her out the window, probably from—" He looked up, sure he could calculate which flat she'd been killed in based on the trajectory of the fall, but there wasn't, there wasn't, there wasn't a window with a clear path to the ground. There was a fire escape. A fire escape. Sherlock's knees locked and he had to reach out to steady himself. On the ladder of the fire escape; it was the first thing his hand touched, and he pulled back so fast his shoulder and elbow both wrenched.

"Sherlock?" Lestrade's voice was very distant, unimportant. He didn't bother responding. No, that wasn't right. He couldn't respond, not to Lestrade, not to Donovan's louder shout as he felt his hands start to go numb, not to Anderson's dim-witted observation that he didn't look very good. He turned away from them all. He needed to get away, away from them, away from the ladder, the fire escape, the fucking fire escape. It was rusty. Of course it was; they were always rusty. Why would he even think twice about a fire escape being rusty if they were always like that? Why would he—?

This is what a heart attack feels like. I know it is. My left arm, my left arm is numb. No, both his arms were numb. It was not a heart attack; it was never a heart attack. But this—this didn't happen to him anymore. Not in years and years, not this panic that would bring him to the ground, that would kill him.

He stumbled down the alley, following the trail of blood, away from the fire escape, away from Lestrade and the others and their useless concern. The alley was too narrow, and full of rusted metal; the street that fronted it was deserted, no cabs in sight, just Lestrade's car and a squad car, and he couldn't get into a cab now, anyway, he wouldn't fit; it would squeeze him and squeeze him like his chest was squeezing him and he was going to die. He was going to die in an alley and that wasn't a surprise but it was a surprise now; it was a surprise like this. He would die like John almost died and oh God, please let me die. Just make it stop.

He was out from between the buildings, now, but there still wasn't enough space. There were buildings all up and down the street, shops and stacks of flats and run-down offices that almost all looked abandoned, but they might not be; there could be people inside any of them, and Sherlock couldn't be that close to anyone, couldn't be inside with walls, or in an alley or a car or anywhere. He couldn't be anywhere; he just needed this to stop. Stop. Remember how to do it. No, he didn't remember how to do it, because he'd always had panic attacks and it wasn't okay and he could never control them and he didn't have them anymore. He didn't have them anymore.

No. I controlled them. I controlled them. I did. He pulled part of his brain out of the screaming orange fog and looked around. There. Across the street. A small, empty car park, the asphalt choked with weeds and debris. Go there. He went, mildly grateful that there was no traffic because he knew he would've walked straight into it, anything to get away faster.

He crossed the pavement and dropped down to sit against a concrete barrier that ran along the back of the car park, its solid weight reassuringly cold against his spine even as the space all around was open enough to ease the claustrophobia. Come on—head between your knees. He knew how to do this; he did. It was horribly familiar and like nothing he'd ever felt before. His chest was on fire and his shirt and jacket were too tight and he was freezing and sweating and most likely not dying.

This is not—this is just. Remember. Yes, he had to remember. How to stop this. How to, how to, how to—stop. He'd done this before, many times, but not in so long; it wasn't supposed to happen anymore. Remember how to stop it. Yes. He wasn't dying; he wasn't even sick. But. It felt like. The fire escape was rusty beneath his hand.

Breathe. Just breathe. He cupped his hands and covered his face with them, head cradled between his knees. He tried to breathe deeply; he wasn't hyperventilating, but he was close to it. He'd never been able to reason himself out of a panic attack—it was the opposite of how life was supposed to be—but deep breathing and emptying his mind did tend to help. Focus on the breath: focus, focus, focus. Is this time different? Is this an actual heart attack? I'm so much older now. What if—

Stop. No thoughts. No thoughts. Breathe. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Warm on my hands, smells like my sweat—that's okay; that's all right. Just feel the breath, no thoughts. Don't. He closed his eyes and felt the heaviness of his lids, the early afternoon light trying to burn through them. He could never stop his thoughts. Pretend I'm with John. He can always pull me out of my mind. Oh God, no. That wouldn't work; it wouldn't work. And he hadn't even had an attack since he'd been with John, not in years. And John wasn't. John couldn't. No. Yes, he could. John's not here but if he were, he would be right behind me with his hands on my shoulders, holding me still, in place, helping. Feel it—feel him. Yes, that helps. He kept breathing steadily; his chest still burned and his arms were numb but his mind seemed able to accept it more now: just a panic attack-you're coming down. It's almost over. You'll be okay.

Someone squatted down next to him. Donovan: he could tell by the sound of her heels on the tarmac. "Don't touch me," he said, without lifting his head from his hands.

"Wouldn't dream of it."

His breathing was much, much better now; he was under control. He dropped his hands from his face. He just needed to wait a little for the shaking to stop. Understandable, given the amount of adrenalin that had just sped through his body. If he tried to stand now he would probably collapse and he didn't need Donovan to see that. "Go away. Leave me alone."

"No fucking way," she said, and reached into a giant shoulder bag to rummage around. She must've gone to the car to get the bag—there was no way she would carry such an atrociously large accessory to a crime scene. He'd never seen her with any sort of handbag at all.

The bag was huge but Donovan found what she wanted quickly; she pulled out a bottle of prescription pills and shook one into her hand. "Hang on, I've got some water." Another rummage and she produced a small, unopened bottle of water. The idea of what else she might have in the bag was almost intriguing enough to interest Sherlock. "Come on, take it."

Sherlock took one more deep breath. He could sound normal if he tried; he knew he could. "Does Lestrade know you carry Xanax in your handbag?"

"Yeah, and he knows I'm illegally offering it to an addict, so let's skip all our usual crap and just take it."

"I don't need it. I'm all right."

She looked at him. Squatting as she was, she was above him; it was disquieting. "I'm all right now," he amended.

Donovan set the water down and grabbed at his hand to try to shove the pill into it. He jerked away. "I said don't touch me," he snapped, and then turned his hand over, palm up. She dropped the pill into it.

"Two," he said.

"Really?"

"I know my own tolerance."

"Yeah, I bet you do." She added another pill without arguing, though.

He took them. The panic attack was over but that didn't mean he was okay; he knew that. The amitriptyline he'd been taking for weeks now hadn't prevented it, but maybe the Xanax would help disperse the lingering aftereffects, and ensure he'd be too mellow for it to happen again. A half-hour, maybe twenty minutes before it started to kick in, though just knowing he'd taken something was soothing in and of itself. So. Just a matter of waiting. He rested his wrists on his knees and opened and closed both fists. Still shaky.

Sally settled back on her heels. "You shouldn't be here."

"Yes, thank you for your input." Heart still beating too fast.

"So why are you here?"

"Because I haven't been psycho-analysed by an unqualified bystander in a while and I thought I'd remedy that."

"You sound like yourself, but you're not. So you must be doing somewhat better, but you still aren't ready to be here."

"Don't be ridiculous. I'm not even the one who got hurt," he muttered, and then looked down at the ground between his feet, knowing what her reaction to that statement would be and not willing to see it.

"I generally think all men are idiots, but I think you maybe set some kind of record."

Sherlock smiled in spite of himself. "Yes, I am an idiot." Talking to Donovan, well, he wouldn't say it was exactly helping, but at least it was somewhat distracting. He didn't think he'd ever had anyone try to talk to him after a panic attack before, and he wouldn't have predicted that Sally Donovan would be the first.

She gave him a final squint-eyed once-over and declared, "I'm putting you in a cab." She didn't try to grab his arm, though, just stood and hefted her bag onto her shoulder and then said, "Up," and waved her hand and he actually stood up and she laughed. "I didn't expect that to work."

"No. It's because you drugged me, no doubt." He brushed off his trousers and his jacket where he'd been leaning against the concrete. His legs were steady enough to walk, at least.

She led him across the car park toward the main road, where there was more traffic. "So Lestrade says John's coming home Friday?"

"Yes." A little bubble of tension spiralled back through his chest and he stumbled on a piece of the broken pavement.

Donovan looked over at him and frowned. "It might take time for him to settle in, but once he does everything will get back to normal for you two. You know that, right?"

"Yes, thank you, again, for the unsolicited advice."

"Anytime." She grinned. "If you get to tell me how to do my job, I get to tell you how to live your life."

"Has Anderson's wife forgiven him again?"

"Anderson is an idiot who doesn't know what he wants."

Sherlock raised an eyebrow.

"Who is sometimes convenient," she added. "And you are lucky to have John so whatever is going on between the two of you, go back to him right now and don't let me see you at a crime scene again until you can bring him with you."

"He—"

She cut him off. "Don't even think it, Sherlock. I know John Watson and I know he is going to be back tagging along with you again as soon as he can. I don't even know how you could think otherwise. Get your head out of your arse." She raised her hand and a cab pulled up to the kerb. Sherlock climbed in and nodded once at her before pulling the door shut and giving the address of the rehab centre.

Chapter Text

As he sat in the cab, Sherlock could feel the Xanax working, reducing the remnants of the panic to a manageable level of anxiety hovering beneath his skin. He felt calm enough to think about texting John, but not quite collected enough to know what to say. It's okay that you lied. Please just be nice to me because I need you and I can't function if you're not at my side. No, at this point it was probably best if he waited until he saw John in person.

John wasn't in his room; Sherlock didn't know how to interpret that. It was gone four o'clock; he was probably down the hall watching some mindless action film with everyone else. Would Sherlock have preferred to find him curled up alone in his bed, penitent and pining? No, but. Maybe. Just a little.

Rather than walking down to the lounge to join him, he decided to wait for John to come back. He was not keen to have a reunion in the middle of a room full of other people.

He lay down on John's bed to wait, grabbing his coat to cover himself, chilled from being outside without it but strangely hesitant to crawl under John's covers. Of course John wouldn't mind, would he? Except for the fact that John had apparently just spent almost two months not wanting Sherlock around, never mind in his bed. He rolled onto his side and burrowed his head and shoulder into the pillow; if he inhaled deeply he could smell John's sweat and the tang of his shampoo.

Why didn't he want me here? John had certainly been eager enough to see Sherlock every day when he arrived, happy to spend their allotted six hours together, and visibly reluctant to say goodbye each night. Sherlock might have missed the larger lie, but he knew John well enough to be sure he hadn't been faking any of that.

So why didn't he tell me I could stay? Sherlock tried to think; the Xanax gave all his thoughts a welcome, clarifying distance, but understanding John's emotional motivations had never been easy for him. They were rarely deducible, and often so illogical that Sherlock didn't even try; he just accepted John's word and let their relationship flourish on its own. How could something so large have slipped in and blindsided him?

He shivered and pulled his coat tighter around him; why did he suddenly feel—? Am I crying? Crying, yes, he was crying. It felt good. Why does crying feel good? It wasn't helping him think. Is it? He closed his eyes and let the strange mix of drugged detachment and emotional overload overtake him.

When he opened his eyes again, John was perched on the bed next to him. A wave of relief and fear thrilled through Sherlock; he had to stop himself from whimpering aloud.

"Hello," John said. "You've got my pillow all wet."

Sherlock let his gaze slide over the damp pillow, embarrassed that he had obviously cried himself to sleep. "Must've drooled," he said, and shut his eyes again.

John's fingers played across his face. "You were drooling from your tear ducts."

Sherlock opened his eyes. John's tone had been light, but his face was very solemn. "I'm sorry, Sherlock," he said. "I should've told you about the family rooming program. I shouldn't have lied to you."

Sherlock considered sitting up, so he could look John in the eye, but it was easier to talk to John's hip. The lying wasn't even what bothered him. "Why didn't you want me here?"

John didn't answer immediately, instead taking a moment to prop the bed's other pillow up against the headboard and settle back against it. Sherlock twisted his neck, trying to look up to see his face. John's always-expressive face, but Sherlock couldn't really interpret what he saw on it right now.

Sherlock steeled himself and said what he knew must be true, what was obvious even if he didn't want to admit it. "You don't have to say it. I understand. I know what I'm like and why it would be bad for you to have me here all the time. I'm pushy and overbearing and high-maintenance and it would be too much to handle while you're here trying to focus on yourself."

John laughed.

Sherlock lifted his head from the pillow, offended. "Really? That's funny to you? I'm being serious and admitting my faults and you're laughing at me?"

In response John reached over to cover Sherlock's right hand with his left. He curved his fingers in a slow caress, calluses rubbing across the top of Sherlock's palm. Sherlock shivered. John smiled down at him and said, "Love, you are all of those things you just said. I'm not going to tell you you're not. But too much to handle? For me? Please. Give me some credit. That is not why I didn't want you to stay."

Sherlock blinked at him and John shrugged and added, "Well, all right. Maybe that was a small part of it."

"Part?"

"I'm more or less used to you being overbearing, Sherlock." He squeezed Sherlock's hand. "That alone certainly wouldn't be reason to not want you here."

Sherlock waited, knowing John would continue. It hurt, yes, having John reject him for any reason was going to hurt, but he was willing to give him a chance to explain, and the faint tremor in John's hand against his told him it wasn't easy for him to do so.

John stilled his hand on top of Sherlock's, looking down at their mismatched fingers as he spoke. "I can handle you, even when you're at your worst. It's me I couldn't handle." He paused and Sherlock watched his chest rise and fall twice before he resumed. His voice was soft, broken; Sherlock had to strain to hear. "I had no idea, no idea. I didn't know how—I still don't even know. I didn't know how to be myself anymore. Fuck, I can't explain it, Sherlock. Everything is so different. I needed to learn how to be myself again. I thought it made sense at the time." He brought both hands up to press against his eyes, though the steadiness of his breathing told Sherlock he wasn't in tears.

Sherlock reached out to comfort him—not his leg. He touched John's elbow instead. "It's okay. You don't have to explain yourself." He wasn't rejecting me. He still didn't fully understand, but if John thought he'd needed to be alone to somehow come to terms with himself, Sherlock could accept that. Although he was certain that if he'd been staying here, he would have been able to make the whole process easier.

"No, I lied to you and you deserve an explanation." John went back to rubbing his fingers along the palm of Sherlock's hand, his voice under control again now. "I thought I needed some time and space to myself, and I think it did help. But those first few days without you I wasn't sure if I was going to make it. It was . . . rough, the mornings were rough, physically and mentally, and then you'd come around and it would be okay for a while but then when you left—" John's tongue darted out between his lips and then he bit down on his lower lip. "I needed to do it, though. I couldn't just . . . rely on you. I needed to do it for myself. To show myself I could do it. I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry." Sherlock raised John's hand to his mouth and kissed each of his fingers, the relief blooming in his chest outweighing any lingering anger at being excluded and lied to. John still wanted to be with him, and had missed him when he was gone.

John seemed relieved, too; Sherlock could feel the tension seeping out of him as he relaxed next to him on the bed. He traced Sherlock's lower lip with his index finger and said, "Plus of course I had to do it for you."

Sherlock pulled his head back from John's hand so he could look up at his face. "For me?"

"Yeah, of course, for you." John peered down at him, eyebrows gathered together. "Do you remember what you were like in hospital?"

Sherlock frowned.

"You were not okay when I was in hospital, Sherlock. Not remotely."

Sherlock thought back. He knew he hadn't been at his best, but . . . . "I wasn't that bad."

"Yes, you were. I couldn't let you continue like that. I couldn't have watched it, especially not with all the crap I've had going on myself."

Sherlock didn't respond, but John continued as if they were arguing. "You were so out of it that your brother and I were able to lie to you and you never even noticed."

John was right; Sherlock hadn't been himself. If he had been, he would've seen right away that John and Mycroft were lying, that the other patients who had family members staying here at the centre weren't just people who lived far away. He would have realised that he could've stayed as well. He scowled. "I knew Mycroft knew, the bastard."

John nodded, looking chagrined.

"Who else? Lestrade?"

"No, I never talked to anyone else about it. Oh, but your parents knew. They were there when Mycroft and I were . . . discussing it."

"And you all four agreed that lying to me would be the best way to proceed."

"I'm sorry, Sherlock. Truly, I am. We just thought—no, I just thought it would be better for us both if you were at home."

"Why would it be better for me at home? How could you think it was better for me to be depressed and alone at home than depressed but here with you?"

"Because at least at home there was something for you to do. I know it took a little while, but eventually you got into the renovation plans, I know you did. If you'd been here—yeah, we would've been together at night, but every day you'd have been alone while I was doing all my rehab and doctors' visits and everything. You would've been just like you were while we were at hospital—bored and listless and depressed and I couldn't watch that every day."

"If I'd started taking the anti-depressants here instead of at home, they would've had the same effect."

John sighed. "So maybe I was wrong. I thought I was making the best decision at the time. Really, I did. Please believe me."

"I do believe you." Though I think you were probably wrong. It didn't matter; John would be home in a few days either way. "Anyway now I actually think the anti-depressants aren't working as well as I thought."

John clutched at Sherlock's hand again. "I thought you were doing better? You've certainly seemed much more like yourself to me. Maybe we should up the dose?"

Sherlock shook his head and settled back on his side, head on the pillow again. "No, I don't want to fool around with that. I've definitely been feeling better. Less depressed." Why was that word still so hard to say? "But today, after I left this morning . . . ."

John's blunt fingers wiped away the new tears that had formed at the corners of Sherlock's eyes. "Tell me."

"I had a panic attack."

"Oh." The fingers paused on his cheekbone, stroking softly.

"At a crime scene."

"You went to a crime scene?"

"That's not the point, John." He tilted his face so John could dry his eyes more efficiently. "Panic attack?"

"Yes, I know, love. I just didn't know you'd been going to crime scenes."

"I haven't. Just today. And then I couldn't because I had a panic attack and left." He didn't mention what had triggered it, though whether that was for John's benefit or his own he wasn't sure. "It shouldn't have even happened. I haven't had panic attacks in years. And I was usually high when I did have them. Now I'm taking the stupid anti-depressant. That should have prevented it."

John slid one hand into Sherlock's hair, gently tracing patterns above his ear. "No drug is perfect. Don't stop taking it."

"I won't." Sherlock sighed and grimaced in frustration. "It was awful and I really needed you there."

John pursed his lips and then tugged at Sherlock. "Come up here so I can hold you." Sherlock obeyed, wrapping his own arms around John and tucking his chin against John's shoulder. He closed his eyes for a few moments until he realised John had shifted and was looking at his phone.

"Well, now I understand all these texts I got from Greg asking if you were all right. I just thought he knew you'd left here angry this morning. He didn't say you were with him at a crime scene, and he didn't tell me you were coming back here."

"No, I barely spoke to him. Donovan, well, she's sort of the one who sent me back here."

John raised his eyebrows and put his phone down.

"Shut up." Sherlock closed his eyes again. "She carries good drugs in her handbag."

"What did she give you?"

"Xanax."

"Did it help?"

Sherlock nodded against his shoulder.

"Hmm. Well, I hope it doesn't happen again, because I'm not going to recommend that you start keeping Xanax around."

"John. I'm unlikely to abuse a depressant."

"Not really a risk I'm willing to let you take. It's addictive. How much did Sally give you?"

"Two."

John tipped his head and scratched at the line of stubble that was starting on his jaw. "White pills, oval?"

"Yes."

"Okay. That dose should be fine. It's probably why you were sleeping when I came in."

"I know it's fine."

"You know, I think the reason you get knocked out so easily by medication is because you deprive yourself of rest so frequently that your body just jumps at any chance it gets to actually relax and sleep."

"Hm. That sounds very scientific, doctor."

"Shut up. It is. You want to go back to sleep right now, don't you? Admit it."

"I will admit no such thing."

John pulled him tighter and then eased himself away from the embrace. "I'm going to go to dinner while you sleep it off. You want me to bring something back for you?"

"No."

"I'll find something you like."

Sherlock grumbled, feeling exhausted and wrung out and cosy all at once, not really caring about dinner and yet pleased that John would bring him something to eat. He shifted back onto the damp pillow, trying to find a comfortable position.

John leaned over to kiss his forehead. "You don't have to play the violin tonight if you're too tired."

"I don't mind. People are expecting it."

John straightened up and adjusted his shirtsleeves where they peeked from beneath his jumper. "Er, they might not be."

Sherlock squinted at him. "Did you tell them I wouldn't?"

"No. There's just enough gossip around here that everyone knows we had a fight and you walked out of here this morning."

"Well, then I'll have to play so they'll know we made up."

"They probably think we fought about sex." John blushed; it was adorable. Sherlock reached up and caressed his reddening cheeks. John swatted his hand away. "Stop it. Go to sleep. I'm going to eat."

Sherlock smiled and watched John slide off the bed and into his chair. He was still settling himself in, looking down at his feet and not at Sherlock when he said, "I talked to Susan after you left, when I realised you weren't coming back. She gave me some brochures and drug samples and stuff. She said we can come back and talk about, ah, specific sex acts, if you want. She said that's just not usually how she starts the sessions."

Sherlock swallowed and watched John carefully, but John was avoiding looking at him and he couldn't tell what he thought. Sherlock knew he'd been rude and embarrassing this morning, even though he hadn't planned to. He did want to talk to the counsellor again, get a bit of advice, though not about positions or sex toys or what they could and couldn't do. But he didn't think he could say what he wanted to out loud, and certainly not in front of John. This isn't fair; this is backward. John shouldn't be the one who can't feel anything below the waist. John is the one who likes sex more, a lot more, really. Sherlock enjoyed it, of course, but maybe once or twice a week was enough for him, usually, while John would have sex every day if it were up to him. Which it usually was, to be honest. Sherlock hardly ever said no, but he wouldn't miss it so much if it were gone. Not like John would. So what were they supposed to do about that?

He shoved the pillow beneath his head around a bit more violently than necessary, and John said, "Or we can worry about it later. At home. And if we want to come back later and talk to her we can, after we've had some time to settle in a bit and see how things go."

Sherlock nodded vigorously. "Yes. That sounds good." No, it sounded horrible, but better than the alternative. He closed his eyes once more, no longer wanting to try to figure out what John thought. "I think I will go to sleep."

"All right." He felt John's fingers brush over his hair but he didn't open his eyes. "Sherlock, if you want to stay tonight, you can. For the rest of the week. We're probably supposed to be in a different wing, but I don't think anyone would care at this point."

Did he want to stay? Yes. But I want to have stayed the whole time. Now . . . . "I don't have any of my stuff," he said.

"I'll share my toothbrush," John offered.

Sherlock waited a double heartbeat before answering. "There are only a few days left. I can make it on my own. I think." He cracked one eye open to find John neither smiling nor frowning, just looking at him. After a moment John nodded, and Sherlock watched him leave.

Chapter Text

Sherlock eyed the stack of clothing that still needed to be packed. Somehow John appeared to have ended up with more belongings at rehab than he'd even owned when they had first moved in together. "How many jumpers did you have here with you?"

"You brought them to me, Sherlock." John didn't look up from making the bed, a completely pointless venture as he was leaving within the next couple of hours and someone would be in to strip the linens after that.

He's leaving. Today. Sherlock had to restrain himself from twirling and shouting in joy. "I didn't bring this many." He dumped out the suitcase he had just packed.

"What are you doing?"

"They won't fit like this. I'm rolling them. Here, wear this one; it takes up too much space." He threw the chunkiest jumper toward John.

John scooped it up from where it landed on the bed and threw it back at Sherlock. "I'm already wearing a jumper."

"I have definitely seen you wear two jumpers before," Sherlock grumbled, and then smiled as he rolled the jumper in question as tightly as he could. He would gladly pack every item of clothing John owned twice over if he needed to; it meant John was coming home.

Sherlock had to sit on the last suitcase to close it, but eventually all the clothes and personal items were squared away. He'd already lugged two bags of books and electronics home the day before. Lestrade had volunteered to pick them up today; Sherlock hoped there would be enough room in his car.

"I think we're ready."

"Yeah." John looked around the room, which was once more an impersonal, clinical space, then brought one hand up to rub at the base of his neck.

Sherlock sat down on the bed and beckoned to him. "Let me."

John wheeled himself around the bed and presented his back to Sherlock. "It's like this every morning. It just needs a couple of hours to loosen up."

Sherlock rubbed his hands together to try to warm them and then slid them experimentally over John's shoulders. The tension was evident even through his shirt and cardigan, hard lines too rigid to be explained away by the additional muscle he had built up over the past two months. "What do you do in your sleep?" Sherlock asked, using his thumbs to try to work out the largest of the knots.

"Tense up," John replied, rolling his neck against Sherlock's ministrations.

"No kidding." He pressed harder for a moment, holding steady pressure against the muscle. Then he asked, softly, "Bad dreams?"

John shrugged, his right shoulder moving more freely than his left beneath Sherlock's hands.

New ones or old ones? Sherlock wanted to ask but didn't. It didn't matter. They both knew that when John had a nightmare it was Sherlock's job to wrap him in long, safe arms and hold him until he calmed. But I couldn't really do that when I wasn't here, could I? And whose fault was that? He felt his mouth twitch at the thought and pushed it away, leaned down to kiss the still-tense muscle of John's shoulder.

John reached up and caught Sherlock roughly by the hair and tilted his own head up to kiss him on the lips. A little more than a brief peck, and then he tugged at Sherlock's arm, urging him off the bed to stand in front of him.

"Come here." He pulled Sherlock down for a better kiss, but when Sherlock tried to straighten up again John held him in place, insistent fingers gripping his upper arms. "Nope, you don't get to leave yet."

"I was just going to check to make sure everything got packed."

"You can check when I'm done," John murmured. He wrapped both arms around Sherlock's waist and drew him close, nudging his jacket aside and pressing his face into his abdomen.

Sherlock shifted in his arms, trying to ignore the press of John's face against his stomach even as his body insisted on responding to it. "That's a little, ah, it's . . . ."

"That's what it's supposed to be, you idiot." John let go long enough to flick the locks on the chair's wheels and then pulled Sherlock forward and down, into his lap. He kissed him again, open-mouthed this time, and while they had certainly kissed in this room before, now it felt like more. If this was how John wanted to express the joy he felt at the prospect of going home, Sherlock was not going to object.

After a moment John loosened his hold on Sherlock and said, "Kneel."

Sherlock felt his eyebrows shoot up.

"Not on the floor. Right here." He pushed his own legs together and patted the seat of the wheelchair on either side, where there did indeed appear to be enough room for Sherlock to kneel. Just in case his intent was not clear, John reached forward and unfastened Sherlock's belt and the button and hook of his trousers.

"John, here? We'll be home in a few hours."

"No. Here. I need to have a good memory from here. Come on. On your knees. You should be just about the right height."

Sherlock put one knee on the chair, then paused before bringing up the second one. "I don't want to hurt you."

"How are you going to hurt me?"

"There's not a lot of space. I could pinch you or bruise you."

"Well, I won't feel it, will I?" He unzipped Sherlock's trousers and slid his fingers over the front of his pants.

Sherlock struggled to keep his thoughts coherent. John's tone had been nonchalant but Sherlock knew the possibility of injuring him was something he was never going to be able to take lightly again. "I don't want to harm you. It doesn't matter if you can feel it or not."

But it was already too late; John pushed Sherlock's trousers down and cupped his right hand around Sherlock's arse and tugged him forward and Sherlock knelt up with his right knee between John's legs and his left between John's right leg and the arm of the chair.

"Pants down," John commanded and Sherlock shoved the waistband of his pants down to his thighs.

"I'll try to be careful," Sherlock said; his voice sounded thick to his own ears.

"Mm." John chuckled, warm breath ghosting across Sherlock's bare skin. "You haven't come in months, have you?"

Sherlock shook his head. He had to clear his throat before he could speak. "I haven't wanted to."

"I have. This week, at least. After the other day, I wanted . . . ."

Sherlock's breath caught. "You wanted to experiment."

John nodded. "It's strange. I can get myself hard, touching myself, even though I can't feel it. But just thinking about it—thinking about you—doesn't do anything like it should. I have to touch. To stroke."

He ran his fingers lightly over Sherlock to demonstrate and Sherlock's heart rate jumped. Between John's fingers, his words, and his hand on his arse, any doubts Sherlock had were quickly evaporating.

"I wasn't able to . . . finish every time, though," John said. "Just once, other than that evening with you."

"So we'll have to do some more experimenting," Sherlock said. He wanted to hear all the details, to ask questions about what John had done to himself the past few nights after Sherlock had gone home. But he also wanted John to shut up and get him off, now.

"Yeah," John said, and put his mouth on Sherlock.

The position wasn't the best; he was trying not to press against John's legs but his pants were still around his thighs and it was throwing off his balance. But John wrapped his arm around Sherlock's waist and held him steady and Sherlock put one hand on John's shoulder and gripped the back of the chair with the other and oh, he had missed this. Why did he always think he didn't care that much about sex? It was all he cared about, right now, thrusting into John's mouth, and how had he possibly wanted to wait until they got home?

John seemed just as eager, and the weeks and months without sex certainly hadn't affected his technique. Sherlock closed his eyes and rocked forward into the nearly forgotten wet heat of John's mouth, but the image that stuck in his mind was of John lying alone in bed, reaching down hesitantly to touch himself even though he couldn't properly feel it. He had a vague feeling that idea shouldn't be making him harder, but it was. Then John brought his free hand up between Sherlock's legs and it was all Sherlock could do just to hold himself upright and try not to choke him. It wasn't long at all before he moaned John's name in warning and John grabbed his arse with both hands and yanked him forward and sucked hard as Sherlock shuddered against him, every muscle in his body clenching at once.

John released him and Sherlock collapsed forward, chest across John's shoulder, and had to open his mouth to catch his breath. His knees folded and he slid down John's front, giving up on keeping his weight off John's legs, settling for trying to keep it evenly distributed instead. "Ah. That." He fisted his hands in John's collar and let his head rest on John's shoulder.

John shifted a bit beneath him, running his hand up the length of Sherlock's back. "Good?" he asked.

"Yes. Did it work for you?" Sherlock spoke into John's shoulder, the cotton blend of his jumper catching against the skin of his lips.

"Hmm?" John leaned back and raised a hand to wipe his mouth.

"Did you make a good memory? Because if not, we can try again, but you'll need to give me a few minutes."

John laughed and wrapped Sherlock tightly in his arms. "It made a beautiful memory. I'm going to think of it every time I start to get upset with you for using up all the milk."

Sherlock smiled and wriggled his way around on John's lap until his feet were on the ground and he was sitting facing out, trousers and pants tangled around his legs. "Complicated," he said, and tugged fruitlessly at the fabric. "My pants are complicated." He rocked up onto his feet for a moment and then immediately plopped back down onto John's lap, remembering at the last moment that he should try to be careful. "Sorry. Can't stand up."

John caught him with strong arms around his chest and brushed his nose along Sherlock's neck. "Sorry, love, but I'm afraid you're in charge of all the standing up from now on." Again, he sounded nonchalant, not upset, though his words set Sherlock's teeth on edge, jarring him out of his post-orgasmic haze. John just set his hand against Sherlock's back and gave him a light push; Sherlock stood, successfully, this time. He glanced back over his shoulder to gauge John's expression. No, definitely not upset.

John wiped at his mouth again and said, "Put your clothes on and get me some water. I'm suddenly strangely thirsty." He grinned and winked. Sherlock gave a falsely delicate little sniff and pulled up his pants and trousers and went into the loo to fetch the water.

"You left your razor and toothbrush," he called out as he filled the cup.

"Just toss them," John said and then stuck his head in through the door. "Assuming we haven't run out at home?"

"No, we're well-stocked." John was now in the loo next to him, so he handed him the water.

"Mrs Hudson's doing?"

"No. My parents have been sending me care packages. Oh. Oh. Damn." Sherlock banged his fist down on the worktop.

John pitched the empty paper cup into the bin and raised his eyebrows in question.

Sherlock sighed. "I assumed they just thought I wasn't competent enough to do my own shopping. But, no, they've been buying me personal hygiene items because they felt guilty. For lying to me." He scowled and leaned back against the sink, arms folded across his chest.

"Sherlock." John reached out to touch his arm. "It was me lying to you. Your parents were just doing what I asked and not mentioning it to you. Don't blame them."

Sherlock tightened his jaw. Of course it was John who had lied, but he would much rather spread the blame around to his family a bit. I am not going to be angry with him. It's done. We're going home. He tapped his heel back against the leg of the sink and exhaled sharply through his nose. "You left your shampoo. Grab it. I don't want to have to listen to you complain about having to use mine."

John moved to get the shampoo and Sherlock looked past him, out at the bedroom that John had been living in for so long. Good riddance. He sighed again. "I'm going to take a couple of the bags out to the lobby. Lestrade should be here soon."

"Yeah, all right." John cleared his throat and glanced up at Sherlock without raising his head before turning away. "I have to go sign a bunch of discharge papers anyway."

Sherlock watched him go, his spine straight above the back of the chair. John's muscles strained enticingly beneath his jumper with each movement he made, which certainly made it easier not to be angry with him. When he was out of sight, Sherlock checked himself in the mirror to make sure he wasn't too dishevelled, ran his hands through his hair and straightened his jacket. Almost home.

He didn't bother to try to disguise the spring in his step as he hefted the largest duffel bag over his shoulder and dragged John's rolling suitcase out into the hallway.

He only made it halfway to the lobby before someone called his name. He turned to see who it was. John's primary doctor here at the centre, the tall Indian man who always wore garish ties. His name was . . . something Sherlock had deleted, possibly within the last half-hour.

The doctor trotted to catch up with him and then turned and planted himself in front of Sherlock, blocking his progress down the hall. "I'm glad I could catch you before you left. I wanted to talk to you about John."

"Obviously. Who else would you talk to me about?" That was rude. I don't care. We're about to leave. Leave! But he let the duffel bag slide off his shoulder and kept his sighing internal.

"John has made excellent progress, physically. I know we were all hoping he would regain a bit more function than he has, but he's done very well otherwise. There've been almost no complications and he's been a model patient when it comes to physio and OT. I think he's put as much effort into his physical recovery as anyone I've ever worked with. He's been really outstanding."

"Yes. I know all this. Gold star for John. What do you want?"

The doctor glared at Sherlock. He matched him in height so Sherlock drew himself up more fully; there was really only one doctor who was ever allowed to intimidate him.

"He's not going to need very much help at home. He would definitely be able to live on his own if he needed to. I understand you've had your flat modified, so it's likely he won't need any day-to-day assistance at all, though helping him out with his physio exercises will of course be beneficial, and there will probably be a few other things you could do to make his life easier. Maybe take over the hoovering, things like that."

Sherlock narrowed his eyes. "I'm unlikely to start hoovering, but our landlady tends to take care of most of the housekeeping for us." He forced a smile, one he knew looked fake and dismissive, and raised the duffel bag onto his shoulder again. Look, I'm already doing the heavy lifting.

The doctor sidestepped so Sherlock couldn't walk around him. "Don't misunderstand me, Mr Holmes."

"I rarely—"

The doctor cut him off before Sherlock could be properly indignant. "John will need help. Just not physically. Being back home is going to emphasise how different his life is now. That's not going to be easy for him to handle. You need to be prepared for him to break down emotionally, and then you need to be there for him when it happens."

Sherlock stared. The nerve. "Of course I will be there for him."

"You need to. And don't be surprised if when he does break down, it's over some seemingly small issue. It won't be pretty, and it will happen."

"I—" He meant to say something cutting and disdainful, but at the last moment he swallowed and opted for honesty, quite rare for Sherlock when speaking to a stranger. "I'm not actually very good at emotional issues."

"I'm aware of your reputation, Mr Holmes. That's one reason I wanted to speak to you, so you could prepare and not be surprised and overwhelmed when you need to help him. Because the two of you do seem to care about each other, but I've seen many, many relationships break down after an injury of this magnitude."

"I won't leave him. I would never do that to John."

"Good. Remember that. Let him know that, and don't give him reason to want to leave you. John of course will continue to have counselling sessions scheduled, as often as he needs, and you're welcome to join him if you feel the need."

Sherlock blinked at him. That seemed even more unlikely than hoovering. "I will be there for John when he needs me, I promise you."

"Good. I'm glad to hear it." The doctor stuck out his hand and Sherlock shook it. "Good luck to you both. Oh, and speak to Lauren before you leave. She wants to know if you might be interested in a recurring violin gig, once a month or so. It pays very little, other than good karma."

The doctor nodded farewell and left Sherlock standing in the hall, wondering how he'd come to have a reputation as someone who needed to be told to be supportive of his partner and yet who also would be willing to give concerts in exchange for good karma. He was never, ever going to understand what went on in other people's heads.

Chapter Text

Instead of pulling to a stop in front of the flat on Baker Street, Lestrade slammed his hand against the steering wheel and said, "Oh, bloody hell. Are you kidding me?"

In the backseat, Sherlock looked away from John long enough to see a huddle of reporters with three—no, four—news cameras standing under the awning of Speedy's, plus another reporter who apparently didn't want to socialise leaning against the wrought iron fence that ringed the entrance to the basement flat next door. He's blocking the ramp. That is John's ramp and he is blocking it. Sherlock had to force himself to unclench his fists. The photographers he was more or less used to, on an occasional basis, but blocking the ramp was not excusable.

"I can chase them off for you," Lestrade said. "I just have to find a place to park."

"You'll have to either pull up very close to the pavement or drop us off at the corner," John said.

"The corner?" Lestrade flicked his indicator on and glanced in his mirror.

Sherlock realised what John meant. "It's the only spot with a dropped kerb," he told Lestrade, and John nodded, lips pressed thin.

Sherlock looked away, out the window at the pavement that looked smooth and barrier-free but was still problematic. How did I overlook that? I thought I'd covered every possible modification. Not that he himself could have done anything with the kerbs, but maybe Mycroft could have arranged a solution.

He glanced over at John, who must have sensed some of his thoughts because he gave a tight smile and said, "It's okay. Parking at the corner will give us more time to get out of the car before they descend on us."

Lestrade pulled the car over to the kerb at the end of the block and said, "How did they even find out you were coming home today?"

Sherlock shook his head. None of the cameras had been there when he left this morning, but there were so many people who had known John would be coming home today, he really wasn't too surprised. Everyone at the rehab centre, a handful of construction workers who'd been working frantically to finish the work in the flat this week, half the employees at New Scotland Yard, probably the entire staff at Speedy's plus anyone else Mrs Hudson talked to: of course the media got wind of it. It wasn't newsworthy, but that had never stopped them before.

"I'll run them off," Lestrade repeated. "I've got my ID card in the glove box."

"No." John sighed. "Don't bother."

Sherlock frowned at him. True, John didn't hate dealing with the media as much as Sherlock did, but given John's recent reluctance to even go out in public, he wouldn't expect him to be willing to face them now.

John waved his hand toward the street. "If you chase them off now, they'll just come back later. I have physio and doctors' appointments every day next week. I don't need them camped outside waiting for me to leave the flat." He didn't look too worried about the reporters but he didn't look happy either, just resigned, which wasn't how he should be feeling right now.

Sherlock reached over and gave his hand a squeeze. "John, we're home. Now. We are actually really both here, right now." He could hear his own jubilation; it didn't even sound like his voice, and he didn't care, because it was true. John's expression softened and he squeezed his hand back, then let go and leaned over to clamp both hands around Sherlock's head so he could give him a thorough, enthusiastic kiss.

"Oi! Two more minutes and you'll be alone in your flat. Hands to yourself until then! I knew I shouldn't have let you both sit in the backseat like I'm your bloody chauffeur." Lestrade shook his head but he was grinning as he grabbed a bag off the passenger seat and opened his door.

Sherlock got out of the car and then stood facing it, his back to the reporters, blocking their view of John. I shouldn't be helping him hide, though. He has nothing to be ashamed of.

Once John was out of the car as well, settled in the chair, he looked up at Sherlock and swallowed. He is nervous. I knew that was false bravado in the car. Sherlock didn't move; he didn't want the cameras to record anything too sentimental, but he did raise his eyebrows and lower his voice to say, "It's just a few reporters. You've handled far bigger crowds for me."

"Yeah, but that was for you. This time they're looking at me."

Ah. Sherlock chanced a glance over his shoulder and heard the click of several cameras. Too late to avoid it now. He stepped toward John and put a hand on his shoulder. "You can do it. You always know what to say."

John straightened his shoulders and lifted his chin. "What are you talking about? I'm not going to say a word. I'm just going to sit quietly next to you and you're going to be rude and dismissive to them."

Sherlock blinked and then slowly nodded, and next to them Lestrade barked out a laugh as he piled the last of the suitcases and bags on the pavement.

"Something funny?"

"Yeah, the fact that you two thought you needed to discuss that plan of attack. John just described your whole life together."

John grinned and Sherlock scowled and then turned to face the reporters and photographers, who had caught sight of them and were moving en masse down the street. He would leave the bags for Lestrade to deal with; it wouldn't do to have someone snap a photo of him carrying luggage, of all things.

The reporters converged on them before they reached 221. That was fine; Sherlock was ready. He threw his shoulders back to make his coat fall more impressively and wondered if he would be able to deduce anything nasty enough or if he should just make something up. The short, blond reporter had herpes, but that was surely clear to anyone who looked at her. She thrust a microphone toward him and asked, "What's it like to be home?"

For God's sake, do your research. I've been home every day. He stepped toward her, taking advantage of the eye contact she had initiated to stare her down. "We wouldn't know. Haven't been able to get home as there's a gaggle of imbeciles blocking our way. Move." She fell back a step, the others moving with her, and Sherlock wished he had grabbed one of the suitcases; he could have used it as a battering ram.

"Dr Watson, what's your prognosis? Will you ever walk again?"

Sherlock flinched but John kept moving next to him, hunched forward a bit and looking straight ahead. They pressed past the cameras, ignoring the questions thrown at them, Sherlock wishing he had some better way to protect John from their inanity.

"Sherlock, will you start taking cases again now?"

"No, but I might start committing murders." He turned abruptly on the questioner and bared his teeth and the man nearly knocked over his own camerawoman is his haste to get out of the way.

They had almost reached their flat; Lestrade caught up with them, providing more of a buffer between the cameras and John and Sherlock. The reporters were determined, though; a thin, ginger-haired woman made one final stab.

"Dr Watson! Dr Watson!"

John surprised Sherlock by stopping suddenly and turning to give the woman a clearly fake yet vibrant smile. It's as if he's been taking lessons. It worked, too; the woman smiled back, and Sherlock felt a faint surge of primal, unfounded jealousy. He's dazzled her, not that I can blame her for it. Look at what that grin does to his eyes.

She pitched her voice low, sympathetic and personal. "Dr Watson, do you think you'll ever be able to help your partner with cases again, or are those days over for you now?"

Enough. Sherlock stepped toward the woman; Lestrade was watching but as long as Sherlock didn't actually touch her he doubted he would be arrested.

Before Sherlock could do or say anything he would regret—or not regret—John put a hand on his arm, then looked up at the woman and spoke very clearly into her microphone. "You should get that mole looked at."

The reporter's eyes widened and she raised a hand to her cheek and the mole in question. Sherlock swallowed back his laughter, afraid that if he let it escape there would be video evidence of him as a giddy schoolboy instead of a properly condescending consulting detective. John gave his arm a quick squeeze before letting go and continuing toward the flat, the reporters and their questions quite obviously dismissed.

Sherlock cleared his throat and said, "If you're all satisfied that you have enough footage to bore your audiences for the next news cycle, I need to re-introduce John to our bedroom. He hasn't been there in months and I've changed the sheets."

John threw an elbow at him but Sherlock heard the giggle he tried to suppress. Good. A certain level of public innuendo is still allowable, as long as I don't cross the line into embarrassment.

Behind them, Lestrade kicked one of Speedy's café tables out of the way and dropped the suitcases he'd been holding, turning to shepherd the cameras back toward the street. He let his jacket fall open to highlight the ID on his belt. "You heard the man, move along now." He swept them back competently enough that Sherlock lost interest and returned his attention to John, who eyed the smooth concrete incline but didn't comment on it as he rolled up to the door.

"God, I have no idea where my keys are," he said, and Sherlock dug in his pocket for his own.

Even though Sherlock had been home every night for the past two months, when he pushed open the door and followed John in, the entryway still struck him as brand new, foreign but welcoming. The stairs hadn't changed, but they weren't going to be using the stairs right now, were they? He turned his head to the right; yes, John had seen it.

"Jesus, Sherlock. A lift?"

"Well, yes. What, did you expect me to carry you up the stairs?"

"I was thinking one of those old lady chair lifts on the railing." John's lips twisted but then he smiled, a real smile, not what he'd displayed outside. "Or, yeah, you'd try to carry me and I'd punch you and then just drag myself up the stairs."

Sherlock tilted his head as if considering. "That would've saved Mum and Dad a lot of money."

John wrinkled his nose and then laughed, turned his chair to face the lift doors, which accordioned open instead of sliding, saving on space. "How did they manage to fit a lift in this place?"

Sherlock pushed the button to call the car. "It's one of the smallest hydraulic models available, maximum capacity is 350 kilos. There are smaller, freestanding electrical models available, but they seemed flimsy and less reliable. This is a permanent improvement to the building. It doesn't take up much space, just the corner of our sitting room. The mechanical's down in 221C. Mrs Hudson's given up on renting it anyway."

"It goes up to my old bedroom, too?"

"Yep. Though, I might've used that as storage space while I was cleaning up the flat, so it's a little crowded up there right now."

Behind them, Lestrade banged open the door to the street. "Oi, don't worry, Sherlock. I don't need help with the bags."

Sherlock waved a hand without turning around. "You can use the lift after us if you want." The doors folded open with a hum and he followed John into the small space, ignoring Lestrade's grumble behind them.

"Sherlock," John said, as soon as the doors sealed shut again. His voice cracked and Sherlock looked over in alarm.

"What's wrong?" He'd told John about most of the renovations as they were being done, but he'd never mentioned the lift because he thought it would be a welcome surprise. Did I miss something? Was the lift going too far, too much of a reminder that John couldn't use the stairs?

"Nothing's wrong, you git." He reached out and roughly pulled Sherlock down into a one-armed embrace. "I just can't believe you actually had a lift installed in our flat. It's—"

Sherlock still wasn't sure what it was, but John didn't finish the sentence. Instead he rubbed at his face with his free hand and then asked, "Mrs Hudson was okay with it?"

The lift dinged its arrival upstairs and Sherlock straightened up, adjusting his coat. "Mrs Hudson loves it. She's been using it herself, says it saves her hip."

Inside the flat, Sherlock watched carefully, but none of the other improvements seemed to overwhelm John quite as much. The sitting room had hardly changed, other than getting a good de-cluttering and straightening. He'd moved the chair John usually sat in at the desk into the corner, but left John's armchair, since he knew even at rehab John had liked to get out of the wheelchair frequently. Sherlock didn't even think that was due to his distaste for the wheelchair in general; it was good for him to move and sit in different positions as much as possible.

The kitchen had been completely re-done, though John seemed more taken with the idea of the new side-by-side fridge freezer being clean than anything else. That might have been because Sherlock had already texted him pictures of the cabinets and worktop and dual sinks as they were being installed.

John was impressed with the bathroom; Sherlock thought he might have been about to strip down and try out the shower, but Lestrade and Mrs Hudson arrived in the flat then, along with all the luggage. Sherlock tried to hurry them out; John seemed to want to be polite and social, but Mrs Hudson took the hint and bustled Lestrade back downstairs for tea.

John rubbed his neck and looked at the pile of bags. "Guess I should unpack."

Sherlock helped him haul the bags down the hall to the bedroom. "I only made one change in here," he said, as he flicked on the lights and stepped aside so John could enter.

"You moved the whole room around."

"I simply flipped its orientation so you'd have more room to get in and out of the bed but we'd still be sleeping on the same sides."

"Oh. Well, you've always been good at that. Flipping the orientation of—things."

Sherlock rolled his eyes. John smirked and looked around the room again, then up at Sherlock. "You realise you'll now be the one with the sun in his eyes every morning?"

"Well, then I'll turn over and bury my face in your hair, just like you've done to me for the past five years."

That got a grin, and Sherlock felt his chest loosen a little. He hadn't realised how nervous he'd been to see John's reaction to all the changes he'd made.

"All right." John glanced around the room once more and frowned. "You didn't actually get a massage table, did you?"

"No. I looked at them but haven't ordered one yet." He squinted at John. "Your neck or your shoulders?"

"Neck, shoulders, back, arms, pretty much everything right now. I guess I might've been a bit tense outside, and it's all just hitting me now. I think I need a rubdown before I seize up. A rubdown. Christ, I sound like a horse."

Sherlock smiled. "Or an athlete."

"Yes. I'm an athlete now. Where's my personal trainer?"

"Right here. I'll order the table, but the bed will do for now, won't it?" He sat down and patted the mattress next to him.

John nodded, then licked his lips: the nervous type of licking, not the erotic type. "Just my torso, all right?"

Sherlock raised his hands. "Fine, but you know I'm supposed to do the physio exercises and leg massage with you."

"Yeah, I know. We'll do it. Just not today, okay? I need today to be . . . not rehab."

Sherlock took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Maybe he's telling the truth. Maybe he just wants to feel like he's home and everything's normal. Maybe he doesn't hate the thought of me touching half his body. He slid across the bed to make room for John. "There you go. Your side, flipped orientation and all."

He brought his knees up to his chest and hugged them, watching John as he moved his chair close to the bed. A quick glance and sharp nod at Sherlock, then John reached over, centred both hands on the bed and smoothly swung himself out of the chair, ending up with his back to Sherlock and his legs dangling off the side of the bed.

When he started to unbutton his shirt, Sherlock could no longer stop himself. He crawled over to fold his arms around John and reached for the bottom button.

John tried to slap his hands away but Sherlock caught him by the wrists. "I don't need your help." John's voice sounded close to breaking.

"Oh, you fool," Sherlock murmured low in his ear. "When have I ever let you undress yourself?"

A pause, and then Sherlock felt John's body relax against his. "Very true. Have at it, then." He leaned back into Sherlock's chest and let Sherlock finish unbuttoning him, then slowly draw the shirt from his shoulders.

Sherlock tossed the shirt to the side and then gently tugged at John's vest. It fit more tightly across his shoulders than Sherlock remembered. John raised his arms to let him pull it off; Sherlock dropped it onto the bed. John lowered his arms and Sherlock let his breath hiss out between his teeth. "John."

John's body went rigid and he tried to crane his neck around to see his own back. "Is it bad? I thought it healed well. It's not as bad as my shoulder, is it?"

"What? Oh." Sherlock looked down at the smattering of small surgical scars that neatly crossed the middle of John's back and spine. They'd never been very impressive, and had faded more in the few weeks since Sherlock had last seen them. "No, they're fine. They aren't much at all." He put his hand over the scars, unsure if John could even feel the touch. There would be time enough to investigate that later.

John had always been muscular, and a month ago, when Sherlock had last seen him shirtless, he had already lost the traces of middle-aged spread that had crept up on him over the last few years. But in the weeks since then . . . . Sherlock let his hands wander across John's shoulders and down his biceps. He dropped his face into John's hair and mumbled, "Flex."

John flexed. Oh. His arms. Sherlock had seen bits of his upper arms, tantalising glimpses poking out from beneath sweaty t-shirts as he returned from sessions of physio, but now there was nothing to hide or impede them. He must be strong enough to . . . . Oh, God, what could John do now that his arms looked and felt like this? He could break me.

John relaxed his muscles after a moment and glanced over his shoulder in amusement. "You like it?"

Sherlock lowered his chin to the top of John's left shoulder, with its old scar and its new strength. He breathed in John's scent and waited for his own body to calm. His arousal was unexpected—it had only been a few hours since he'd knelt in John's lap in his room at rehab—but not unwelcome, though he didn't plan to do anything about it right now. But John would know; he might not feel Sherlock's length pressed against his arse, but he could hear Sherlock's ragged breathing in his ear, and feel the thrum of Sherlock's chest where it curved along his back. Let him know; please let him know. John needed to understand that Sherlock's attraction hadn't changed; in fact it had possibly increased, which made Sherlock feel a bit uncomfortable with guilt. Yes, John was stronger now, and that was undeniably beautiful, but it would be infinitely, infinitely preferable to have him as he had been, less toned and tending to sag but uninjured and happy and whole.

Sherlock closed his eyes and let his mind empty, knowing there would still be both physical and emotional minefields they needed to face, but for now content with just this moment, with John here in his arms at home.

Chapter Text

That night, John was in bed by half-past ten, which Sherlock imagined was a time many reasonable people went to sleep, even if he personally didn't know any of them. "You don't have to go to bed just because I am," John told him.

"I want to." Sherlock closed the bedroom door so he could hang his dressing gown. He fiddled with it until it hung perfectly, neatly lined up over the top of John's; he'd installed the new hook for John's himself, exactly 130 centimetres from the bottom of the door, low enough for John to reach easily but high enough to keep the gown off the floor. "I've been going to bed a bit earlier than usual since—" He waved his hand at the bedside table; his bottle of pills was sitting on top of it.

"Oh?"  John had just watched him take tonight's dose.

"Not this early, but around midnight, usually, and I've been sleeping through to nine or so."  He slid out of his slippers and into the bed next to John.

John slipped his arm around Sherlock's shoulders and Sherlock slouched down into his embrace. "It's been worth it, though, hasn't it? You have been feeling better overall."

Sherlock nodded. "I think so. It takes me a little longer than normal to wake up all the way in the morning, but once I've had my tea, I'm all right."

John tightened his arm around him and pressed a kiss just below his ear. "You poor thing. You've had to make your own tea?"

Sherlock chewed on his bottom lip.

"Mrs Hudson's made it for you, hasn't she?"

"She doesn't mind. She likes to feel useful."

John rubbed his face against the side of Sherlock's, stubble catching against stubble. "Well, there's no reason for her to have to come up here to look after you. Tomorrow I'll make you tea."

"I know you will." He turned on his side so he could wiggle deeper into John's touch and sighed. "But it wasn't exactly a hardship for her. I was sleeping downstairs in her flat anyway."

"You were?"

"I haven't actually slept in here since . . . before." He thought John might've picked up on that already. Apparently not.

"Oh." John pulled away a little bit so he could look at Sherlock. "You—ah, Jesus, Sherlock. I'm sorry, I really am. I didn't know. You could've said something."

Sherlock shrugged. "Didn't think there would be any point. I didn't know it could have changed anything." He suppressed a new surge of anger at Mycroft for not telling him he could have stayed at rehab even when he saw how Sherlock couldn't stand to be in this bedroom on his own. At least John hadn't known that part, though if he had, maybe he would have relented and let Sherlock stay with him. "Anyway, once they started the reno up here it was easier to just stay down with her." He sniffed and changed the topic. "What about you? Are any of your meds making you sleepy?"

"No. I'm just tired tonight. Sort of an exhausting day." He ran the fingers of his free hand along the hem of Sherlock's t-shirt sleeve. "Wouldn't mind if they made me sleepy, though. I haven't exactly had the best sleep lately."

"It will probably be better now that you're home." Sherlock covered John's fidgeting fingers with his right hand.

John's hand stilled beneath his touch. "Yeah. And even if I don't sleep well, it's not like I have to be anywhere in the morning. I can always take a nap."

Sherlock hummed. He had been wondering; was now a good time to ask? He tried to keep his voice casual. "Are you planning to go back to work?"

John shrugged, pulling Sherlock closer with the motion. "Sarah and Robby have both been asking. I guess there are some hours they need to cover. I just don't know. I think I need to settle in a bit first."

"Okay." Sherlock saw no reason to pressure him to make a decision; he wasn't even sure whether he wanted him to go back to work or not. He'd often been annoyed at John having a job, before; it interfered with everything. Now, though, it might be a good distraction for him. It would take away from time he could spend helping on cases, but Sherlock wasn't even sure how many cases he wanted to take anymore. He was a bit concerned that he might have permanently soured on case work, at least out in the field. I certainly don't plan to ever set foot in a derelict alleyway again, no matter how much Lestrade might beg me to help.

Sherlock pressed himself tighter against the side of John's body, letting John's arm on his shoulders weigh him down. It was comfortable for now, though he knew they wouldn't be able to spend the whole night in this position. He could feel himself getting sleepy; that was the pill he'd just taken, of course. He could also feel a new overflow of sentiment starting to well up in his chest, but as much as he might want to, he knew he couldn't ascribe that to his meds. If anything they would be muting his emotions. He closed his eyes. Damn. I think I have to let it out.

"John." Sherlock stretched his arm out and grabbed a fistful of John's pyjama top. "I love you. I missed you so much." He flopped over John's chest so he wouldn't see the tears in his eyes.

John grunted at the contact and then wrapped both arms around Sherlock. "I missed you, too. Don't you dare cry."

"I'm not," Sherlock mumbled.

"Good." Sherlock could feel John's chuckle of disbelief. "Don't. I love you too, you know."

"I know." He tightened his grip on John's pyjamas, then made himself uncurl his fingers, afraid the fabric would tear at the seams.

"You're crying. Stop it."

"Am not." Sherlock wiped his nose on John's shirt. John huffed a laugh against the top of his head and then threaded his fingers into Sherlock's hair. Sherlock relaxed into the touch for a moment, then flashed back to the day John had first woken up in hospital, remembering how reassuring it had been to feel his hand in his hair. He made an undignified noise in his throat and gave up all attempts to hold back the tears.

John tucked him in closer and said, "Sherlock, I love you dearly, but I am so fucking sick of crying. Please, stop." He stroked his hand over the side of Sherlock's face, pushed the hair away from his eyes.

"Sorry. I'm sorry, John." He brought his hand up to his nose, managed to wipe it mostly on John's shirt once again. "I'm just—" He sat up a little to give John some space and cleared his throat. "So I guess it really is possible to cry because you're happy."

"Yes, it is." John grinned; his eyes were soft and his face wrinkled and his expression gave Sherlock a comfort he didn't know he lacked. "Come here, you." He pulled Sherlock back down on top of him and Sherlock squirmed higher so their lips could meet more easily. John tangled his hand in Sherlock's hair again but this time it didn't trigger any memories, just a warm pleasure that intensified when John tugged and rubbed his head at the same time.

He draped himself over John and kissed him until he could no longer breathe, then pulled away, gasping. "Sorry." He sniffed, trying to clear his nose. "I'm kind of stuffy."

"I thought breathing was boring."

"I may have changed my views on that issue."

John laughed and pushed Sherlock off his chest. "All right, then, let me breathe, too. Smothering me. I didn't miss that."

"Yes, you did." Sherlock laid down next to him but pointedly left his arm across John's chest.

"Okay, just a little though." John rested his hands on Sherlock's arm. "Do you want to go to sleep, or . . . ?"

Sherlock considered. For a moment, in the midst of that kiss, he'd wanted to keep going, unbutton John's pyjama top and see all those muscles again, start the experiment on exactly how much John could feel. But the pull of medicated drowsiness was very hard to resist. "Sleep, unless you don't want to," he said.

"No, sleep is fine," John said. "I am tired. But, Sherlock. Has the amitriptyline, er, affected you? Other than the sleepiness, I mean." He stroked one hand over the curve of Sherlock's hip, letting his fingers say what he meant.

"I don't think so," Sherlock mumbled into John's shoulder. "It didn't seem to be a problem this morning, did it?"

"Ha. No, it did not." John turned his head to kiss him more chastely on the forehead. "Go to sleep, then, my little sleepyhead."

Sherlock smiled and let the endearment pass without comment. He had to move away from John to turn off the bedside lamp, but then he settled against him again, comfortably crowded. John didn't object. Sherlock let himself drift, his thoughts slowing and fracturing.

"Sherlock?" 

"Mm?"  Sherlock turned his head.  He hadn't been asleep. It was dark in the room, but he could see John's outline by the light from the street outside.  Wait, was I asleep? John was farther away than he had been before. Too far away.  Sherlock wriggled across the bed until he was once more pressed against him. 

John reached for Sherlock's hand and held it against his lips with a sigh. "Everything you've done here, Sherlock." He paused, curled his fingers tighter around Sherlock's hand. "In the flat, I mean.  The renovations. Everything."  He made a twirling motion with his free hand, toward the bedroom door.    

"Mm?" Sherlock prompted again.  He wanted to listen, he'd missed the sound of John's voice in the dark of their bedroom, but staying awake seemed such a difficult task. 

Both of John's hands wrapped around his now.  His voice was very soft, the words whispered against their hands.  "It's just all so . . . permanent." 

Sherlock blinked himself fully alert.  Permanent. "John?"  Without pulling his right hand away he propped himself up on his left elbow so he could look down at John's face, shadowed in the dark room.  There was no way John didn't understand his own prognosis, no way, but why else would he use that word?  "You know you're not going to—"  He couldn't finish the sentence so he pulled his hand free and swept it down the front of John's body, stopping to rest it on John's thigh, which he knew he couldn't feel. 

"No."  John squeezed his eyes shut and rubbed at the bridge of his nose.  "Not what I meant." 

"Oh." Sherlock scratched at his head and tried to clear the fuzziness from his thoughts. "Well, don't worry. Like I said, Mrs Hudson was more than happy with all the changes. She thinks it'll increase the re-sale value. Though I think we all know she could never bring herself to sell this place." He lowered his head to the pillow again, settling his chin against John's shoulder.

"Sherlock."  John's voice was still soft.  He was speaking at the ceiling, rather than turning his head to meet Sherlock's eyes.  "That's not what I meant.  I mean . . . you've made a lot of changes here . . . permanent changes . . . for me." 

"Yes?"  I'm not really that tired. He's just not making sense.

"So, for me.  So.  That means, I guess.  That I, erm, you're going to want me to stay?  Here?  With you?" 

Sherlock rocked back up onto his elbow to peer at John in the dim light.  All he could manage to say was, "What?"  

John finally turned his head to meet his eyes and Sherlock thought a fraction of the tension left his posture.  "I just, wasn't sure—" 

Sherlock punched him in the arm.  Fairly hard, considering that he was lying down and couldn't get too much force behind the punch.  Also that he loved John more than anything and didn't want to hurt him.  But good God, he couldn't let him be that stupid. 

"Ow, Sherlock, what the hell?"   

"Idiot.  I need to punch the idiocy out of you, obviously.  Of course I want you to stay here with me.  You're not allowed to leave, ever.  You should know that." 

"Should I?"  John was still rubbing his arm but he sounded slightly amused. 

"Of course."  Much as John was sick of crying, Sherlock was starting to find all this emotional expression tedious, especially since his words were apparently having no effect. I just cried and told him I love him. How could he possibly still have doubts? Time to try another tactic. "Anyway, if we ever break up, I'll just be the one who leaves the flat."  It was hard to say such a thing lightly, but he was fairly certain John would understand what he meant, even if he did have his moments of idiocy.  He buried his face in the side of John's neck and waited for him to figure it out. 

John reached for Sherlock's hand again.  "You would never leave Baker Street."

"No." Sherlock whispered, his lips brushing John's ear. "I wouldn't. So I guess we're stuck with each other."

John exhaled and laced his fingers through Sherlock's. "Good," was all he said. "Good." Sherlock waited for more but nothing else came. He fell asleep to the feel of John's fingers moving gently over the back of his hand.

-----

It took Sherlock a long time to get up in the morning; it always did, now: a couple hours of half-consciousness until the need for the loo and the growl in his stomach forced him awake. Today there was the added incentive of John; he was asleep in the bed next to Sherlock and then he wasn't anymore. It seemed like he might have been missing for quite a long time so Sherlock dragged himself out of bed to go look for him.

He found him in the kitchen, making tea, as promised. Sherlock paused in the doorway. "John?" The kettle was off and there were two cups of brewed tea, one black, one milky. They sat on the worktop, at the perfect height for the wheelchair. John's hands were fisted in his lap and his shoulders were trembling. "What's wrong?"

"I can't bring you tea."

"Sorry, what?" Sherlock stepped into the kitchen, looked down at the tea and at John.

"I can't bring you the tea."

"The tea's fine," Sherlock said. He reached for his mug, but it was still too hot to drink.

"I know, but I can't bring it to you! "

"I—oh." And Sherlock understood. He should have realised it earlier, but he hadn't thought about it, the mechanics of something so ordinary as carrying a cup of hot tea through the flat. "But, you—" John had had tea at rehab, tea and coffee and plenty of other beverages, of course he had, but it had always been— "A travel mug. We have travel mugs." Sherlock pulled open one of the upper cabinets. Where had he stuck them when he'd rearranged everything?

"I don't want a travel mug!" John shouted. "That's what I used in rehab but now I'm home! I want my mug! Or a fancy tea cup, or a tall glass of water, or a bowl of hot soup, or whatever I feel like eating or drinking! I just want to carry it and not have to think about it!"

John's shoulders had progressed from trembling to shaking, and Sherlock reached out to touch him. "It's okay. I can get my own tea," he said, which was not the right thing to say; he knew that as soon as he said it. He expected more tears but what he got was a roar. Sherlock recoiled. John's shout was almost loud enough to cover the sound of Sherlock's mug shattering as it hit the tiled backsplash behind the sink. Tea covered everything: the wall, the worktop, the floor. Sherlock opened his mouth to ask if John was okay, if he'd burned or cut himself, but one look and he stepped back, out of John's way.

John didn't say a word, just headed away from Sherlock and into the bathroom. He slammed the door hard enough to make the pictures in the hallway jump against the wall.

Sherlock wiped up the tea that was dripping down the cabinets and binned all the broken ceramic pieces he could find. When he thought enough time had passed, he went after John. He heard no sounds from the bathroom, so he knocked gingerly on the door.

"Go away."

"I just—" Sherlock swallowed and opened the door.

John was sitting next to the empty tub, his shirt unbuttoned but otherwise fully dressed. He looked up at Sherlock and smiled. "I told you. To go away."

Sherlock had rarely had that smile directed at him, the one with the barely curled lips and the flat, narrow eyes that were the opposite of kind, but he knew what it meant. Do what he says. He nodded once in apology and stepped back into the hall, pulling the door closed.

He stood and listened until he heard John moving around on the other side of the door, heard the water start running and the shower turn on. Progress, that was progress: it was better than John sitting and stewing in anger. Right? He didn't know, didn't know at all, and so he just stood in the hall, blinking and wondering if it would all right if he made some more tea.

Chapter Text

John stayed in the shower for a long time after the tea incident, but when he finally emerged he seemed to be in a much calmer mood. Sherlock took over all beverage preparation for the rest of the day and ordered takeaway Thai for dinner. By the time they were done eating, he judged it safe enough to borrow John's laptop and leave the browser open to a page that sold cup holder attachments for wheelchairs. John sighed and nodded acquiescence, pushing the computer back across the table toward Sherlock.

Sherlock shoved the remnants of his dinner out of the way; John would eat what he'd left. "You turned that option down when you picked out your chair, didn't you?"

"It wasn't the look I was going for." True to form, John scooped up most of Sherlock's remaining rice. He gestured with his chopsticks. "To me, a cup holder says, 'overweight American tourist with an electric scooter'."

Sherlock pulled the computer toward him and clicked through a couple of pages. "These fold away beneath the arm of the chair."

John ran his hands over the narrow strips of rigid plastic that formed the wheelchair's armrests. Honestly, doesn't he realise how arousing it is when he moves his fingers like that? Distracting. "These arms are too thin," John pointed out.

Sherlock frowned and clicked some more. "This one would fit, plus it detaches easily. You could just keep it in the kitchen."

John rubbed his hand over his eyes and sighed again. "They make trays that snap on and off, too. Might as well be able to carry a whole meal." He met Sherlock's gaze. "I'm going to hate it, though."

"Oh, come on. Just think of the joy you'll experience when you can serve me tea again."

John's smile was only half-hearted, so Sherlock closed the computer and got up from his seat at the table. "I'm sorry. I know it's not the way you want things to be." He pushed John's plate away from the edge of the table so he wouldn't knock it off and then carefully insinuated himself onto John's lap. John only hesitated a moment before rolling back from the table and wrapping Sherlock in his arms.

Sherlock shifted into the embrace and said, "Maybe there's something I can do to cheer you up?" He didn't wait for John to answer, just started to kiss him. When John kissed him back willingly enough, Sherlock reached to unfasten two of the middle buttons on John's shirt so he could slip his hand in and feel the muscles bunch beneath the cotton of his vest. His other hand snaked automatically around John's shoulders and found the back of the chair. He tightened his grip on it, the stretch of fabric over metal suddenly almost as appealing as John's skin beneath his shirt. Possibly there's something wrong with me, but I really don't care. All of him, any of him. I want anything that's touching John.

"Sherlock." John broke away from the kiss to gasp his name against his neck. "Is this—are we starting the experimenting now?" At some point in the last two days, John had adopted Sherlock's new term for sexual exploration; Sherlock thought he might never be able to think of the word "experiment" without an erotic overtone again. That was fine; he'd always liked experiments.

"If you want to." Sherlock nuzzled at his ear and crept his hand down, searching for the bottom of John's vest where it was tucked into his trousers.

"Yeah, okay." John quickly flicked the rest of his shirt buttons open and hiked up his vest. "I want to." He mouthed at Sherlock's neck for a moment and then pulled back. "But not in the chair, please."

Sherlock tightened his grip on the back of the chair and then relented. "Bed?" He climbed off John's lap.

"Yes. I was going to try one of the pills, but . . . ."

"We can start without for a baseline, then you take one next time and we'll have something to compare."

"Yes, good plan," John said. "Very scientific. Come on, hurry, I don't think I need a pill right now."

They spent the weekend and well into the next week experimenting, with varying results. Getting John aroused was not generally a problem, though he sometimes didn't manage to stay that way long enough to finish. At first Sherlock felt guilty because he himself was managing to get off every time they tried, but since John appeared to be enjoying the experiments overall he didn't dwell on it for long. Even failed experiments could be valuable learning experiences, after all; that was just basic science.

The results were more consistent once they added the pills the sex counsellor had given John; they took an hour to work but the waiting was never boring. John liked the blue pills the best; the yellow ones gave him a headache. But even though he didn't intend to use the rest of the sample himself, he refused to let Sherlock try them.

"Oh, come on, John. I might need them, too. I'm not getting any younger. What if the amitriptyline starts affecting my ability to perform?"

"It hasn't, has it? Let me know if it does and we'll discuss it again then."

Sherlock rolled back against the pillows and tried not to grin. "Trust me, you'll be the first to know."

Overall, they passed a very pleasant, passionate week together. The only part Sherlock didn't enjoy, given the circumstances, was that John was still clearly uncomfortable when Sherlock focused on his legs. It was easy enough to avoid in bed—it wasn't as if he had any particular fetish for John's knees or feet—but it was still a problem that wasn't improving with time. John did his physio exercises diligently every day, and accepted Sherlock's assistance without complaint, but Sherlock couldn't miss the way he closed his eyes and cringed at nearly every touch he couldn't feel.

At least his reluctance to be touched didn't extend to everything below the waist; apparently just the sight of his cock getting hard beneath Sherlock's hand or lips was sensual enough to overcome his discomfort with the idea of being touched where he couldn't feel. And the rest of John's body was proving to be more responsive than it had ever been before. At first Sherlock thought they were both just imagining it, projecting pleasure to make up for John's lack of feeling below the waist, but the more they experimented, they more they both became convinced that the uninjured areas of John's body really were more sensitive than they had been. His nipples in particular were now often his most reliable source of pleasure.

After one particularly energetic afternoon that started with John popping a Viagra and ended with Sherlock's fingernails digging grooves into John's chest, Sherlock kissed away the small bead of blood he'd drawn and gathered enough still-functioning brain cells to say, "We need to go to Soho."

"What for?" John pulled himself up higher on the bed and reached for the box of tissues. "Dinner? Mrs Hudson is making a roast. Can't you smell it? You know she's going to invite us down to eat."

"No. Stop thinking with your stomach all the time. We need to go to that shop in Soho. The big one."

John furrowed his brow and Sherlock sighed and wondered how he could be so dense. "That shop," he said, and rolled on top of John again so he could bite hard at his left nipple, which he had neglected in favour of the right one before now. "The one we like?"

John made several grunting vowel-sounds and pushed Sherlock off with a gasp. "Okay, yeah. We should go to that shop. Later. After we eat."

Sherlock fell back onto his pillow with a smile, a little surprised that John hadn't insisted on shopping online instead. Apparently his previous preference to select sex toys in person still held true.

It was a large store, and Sherlock was very satisfied with their selection of nipple-focused accessories. Nipple clamps, nipple suction, vibrating nipple stimulators. He'd never even been in this section of the shop before; based on the packaging most of the products were aimed at women, but after a couple of minutes of browsing they were joined by an overly-pierced, perky young employee named Bethany who assured them that men also used them. "Just make sure you get the smaller sizes, most likely," she said, and looked at John questioningly, eyeing his chest.

Maybe if you stare hard enough, he'll open his shirt and show you. Sherlock had to restrain himself from saying it aloud, because his mouth had got them thrown out of sex shops before, and also because John would tell him it was rude.

For a moment, Sherlock thought John was about to revert to the same hesitation he'd shown two weeks ago when he'd been so self-conscious on their trip out to dinner. Then John softened and smiled and Bethany smiled back at him and that was it; before two minutes had passed she and John were engaged in an enthusiastic conversation about the merits of rubber-tipped versus bare-metal clamps.

Another employee headed toward them: male, barely twenty years old, spiky blond hair with the ends dyed blue. Oh, God help me but I do not need advice on sex toys from someone young enough to be my son. He'll probably try to flirt with me, too. Sherlock scanned the nearby aisles for something that would let him look busy; John could handle flirting with both of the salespeople at once.

"Give me your list," Sherlock said, sticking out his hand. John looked at him as if he'd lost his mind and Sherlock rolled his eyes. "I know you made a list, John. You always make a list when you have more than a couple things to get at the shops, and I know you wouldn't want to forget anything here. Give it to me and I'll go see what they have."

John sighed and pulled a folded piece of paper from his coat pocket. "It's mostly stuff that Susan recommended to me after you went home that day," he said, and handed over the list. "You can go look but I get to make the final choices."

Sherlock grabbed a shopping basket and went to study the display of cock rings, which he himself had always been leery of but seemed to rate high on the sex counsellor's list of recommendations. By the time he had selected a half-dozen options for John to choose from, John and his two new friends had moved into another part of the store. Sherlock joined them.

"John. We have at least a year's supply of lubricant at home already."

John looked up at him, eyes bright. "We don't have any of the tingling kind."

"You mean the kind that feels like it's burning."

"That was just you. We'll keep it away from your sensitive spots. It didn't bother your mouth or lips, did it?"

Sherlock frowned. "Not that I recall, but I may have been too pre-occupied trying to wash it off the rest of me." And out of me. It had not been a pleasant experience.

John had two tubes in his hand already, but he set them back on the shelf. "I don't really need them. I probably still wouldn't be able to feel it, anyway. Rex just said he knew another paralysed customer who used this type, and I thought, maybe . . . ."

Sherlock clenched his jaw. Rex. I'm sure that's his given name. But he couldn't really begrudge John his hope. A bit of painful tingling would be worth risking if it meant John could enjoy himself. He picked up the tubes John had chosen. "We'll just be careful with them."

Rex pointed at another shelf of full of lubricant. "This warming one is good, too, and if your nipples are as sensitive as you say, it will be quite an enhancement for them, even if it doesn't work anywhere else for you. There's a variety pack with four different flavours."

John added the four-pack to the basket and Sherlock bit back his impulse to complain about anything that was artificially cherry-flavoured.

They went through the rest of John's list and Sherlock carried the basket to the cash register in the front of the shop. It was certainly the most they'd ever purchased in one trip to an establishment of this type. He wondered if Bethany and Rex worked on commission.

Bethany was in the middle of ringing up their purchases when she said, "You've considered nipple piercings, I assume?"

Sherlock flicked his attention away from the till—something was off about it, but he wasn't sure what. "Nipple piercings?" Of course someone with that many rings and studs in her face would suggest nipple piercing. That is . . . the best idea I've heard all day.

He looked over at John for confirmation but John apparently did not share his opinion. "No way. Unh-uh. Not going to happen."

"Why not?" Sherlock raised his eyebrows, honestly curious. True, John had certainly never struck him as the type to favour body piercings, but neither had he expected such a vehement reaction. "I think it would be quite pleasurable, don't you?"

John shuddered, curving his shoulders in toward his chest. "I can't imagine it would be worth it. Do you know how many infected nipple piercings I've seen at the clinic?"

"Oh, come on. You wouldn't get an infection. You're a doctor. You'd keep them meticulously clean."

"You're a doctor?" Bethany paused in ringing them up to take a long glance at John.

"I know you realise he's taken."

She ignored Sherlock to give John another appraising look. "What kind of doctor?"

"A taken one, apparently." John smiled at her and slipped his hand into Sherlock's. Sherlock scowled, secretly feeling the little thrill of pride he always felt when John pointed out their relationship in public.

He squeezed John's hand back. "Although I do think her piercing suggestion is a good one," he acknowledged with a tip of his head toward the cashier.

John shook his head. "Torn nipples, sometimes they're ripped right off. Abscesses, infections that get into the lymph nodes. There are so many ways for it to go wrong." He shivered and let go of Sherlock's hand. "Anyway it wouldn't be a good idea for me to do it, because of the blood thinners. They'd make the healing time longer."

Sherlock rolled his eyes. "You are no fun. Maybe I'll get mine done instead," he said, and pinched himself through his shirt. Bethany grinned at him.

"Go right ahead," John said. "I'll stock up on the antibiotics for when they get infected. Is it the penicillin that gives you the rash and the azithromycin the diarrhoea, or is it the other way round?"

Sherlock glared, but John continued undeterred. "Plus it will take three to six months for them to heal fully, so I won't be touching you until that's over."

Sherlock put his elbows on the counter, leaning in towards Bethany as she finished scanning their purchases. "People always think they want to date a doctor, but it's really not all that much fun."

She giggled and pressed the button to total up the transaction on the till—interesting. Not the giggling. "How long has the money been going missing?"

She looked up at him in surprise. A quick glance confirmed that she wasn't the one stealing, not with that haircut and those twice-repaired trousers. And it definitely wasn't Rex, either. He hasn't worked here long enough. He didn't even know money has been stolen. The manager had only confided in a few trusted employees. Based on the wear on the register's keypad someone had been skimming for months.

Sherlock pursed his lips. Bethany and Rex had been undeniably helpful. John certainly liked them well enough, and he and John were both likely to benefit from their advice, even if no one got pierced. The evidence for the theft was fairly clear-cut; he might as well help them out. "Tell your manager that whoever installed the till is taking the money. They set it up so there are two different user log-ins to open the drawer. Any transactions under the second log-in won't show up if you only print the day's end report for the primary one."

Bethany looked down at the keypad and then quickly back up at Sherlock. "You—really? If that's true, my manager is going to be so happy!"

"It's true," Sherlock said as he swiped his credit card and typed in his PIN.

She was smiling so broadly he was a little afraid one of the rings in her lip would pop out. "I'm giving you a discount," she said. "Twenty percent. I'll probably get a bonus for finding out who's been stealing." She handed him the receipt; John reached for the bag.

Oddly enough, Sherlock's quick deduction about the money seemed to turn John on more than the bag full of sex toys he was now holding on his lap. He was beaming as Sherlock climbed into the cab next to him, pushing the folded wheelchair out of the way. "You should've seen your face light up back there, Sherlock. Beautiful."

Sherlock scoffed. "That was nothing. Hardly even a mystery. Maybe a three, if that. Anyone could've figured it out, if they'd just been paying attention."

"No, just you." John set the bag on the seat across from him and snuggled closer to Sherlock. "I've missed that about you. Watching you be brilliant."

Sherlock looked sidelong at him. "Are you saying I haven't been brilliant?"

"Nope. You know exactly what I'm saying. Don't tell me you haven't missed it, too. Solving cases, figuring things out, amazing strangers with your brilliance."

Sherlock slipped his hands into John's, mostly to keep them still; they kept trying to fidget against his will. Of course he missed solving cases. And amazing people, as well. He liked to show off; he liked people to praise him. He wasn't ashamed to admit it. Lately it had just been more important for him to stay close to John, instead. "I don't know. I've rather enjoyed the last week at the flat, and I think we just bought ourselves several more weeks' worth of experimenting." He nodded at the shop bag, and tried to make his smile sincere.

John squeezed his right hand; Sherlock's fingers were trying to squirm about on their own again. "You should go down to the Yard, see if Lestrade's got anything for you."

"He hasn't had anything he can't handle himself."

"You could go through his cold case files. You always enjoy that."

Sherlock shrugged. John was right, he did enjoy that. He just didn't feel the need to entertain himself that way right now.

John turned in the seat to face him fully and wrapped both of his hands more firmly around Sherlock's. "I'll make you a deal. I'll go talk to Sarah if you go to the Yard and see if they need any help."

"I—" He frowned at John. "You'll talk to Sarah about going back to work?" He knew she had called him several times in the past week but John had avoided talking to her. He did think working again would make John happier; like most people, John complained about his job but Sherlock knew he found it fulfilling. But that would mean hours and hours apart from each other. The thought made his stomach clench a little. Though, if John was at his own job, then maybe it would be all right if Sherlock worked on cases again. Offer Lestrade some advice. Start paying Donovan back for the help she's given me. Just a few simple cases, only when John is at work. Maybe. He wasn't comfortable letting let John out of his sight any longer than absolutely necessary, but if John was working at the clinic. Maybe. "Do you want to do that?"

John gave a half-shrug and let go of Sherlock's hands, wiped his own on his thighs. "I'm still not sure, but I think I want to see what she has to say. Find out what hours they need, see if it's something I could still do."

"Of course you can still do it. Don't be ridiculous." He slid down a bit in the seat so he could rest his head on John's shoulder. "It's not like you have a physically demanding job. You sit in a chair and tell people what's wrong with them."

"That sounds more like what you do, love." John reached up and twisted a curl of Sherlock's hair around his finger.

Sherlock pulled away long enough to fluff his hair back into place and then leaned on John again. "My job is less sitting and more pacing."

"And twirling," John agreed. "Plus stalking. Sometimes menacing. Generally sudden movements that frighten others...."

Sherlock tipped his head to try to see John's face. "So you're saying I'm scary?"

"Terrifying." John started playing with his hair again. Sherlock let him. "You're a little out of practice, though. You can work on it when you go down to the Yard. Yell at Donovan or something."

"No, I have to be nice to her still."

"Oh, that's right. She's your drug buddy now."

Sherlock tensed at the words and John stroked his hair more gently. "Oh no, love, I didn't mean it like that. I'm sorry." He planted a kiss on Sherlock's temple. John's breathing was off; Sherlock could feel it where his shoulder rested against his chest.

"You're nervous. Why?" He shifted so he was no longer leaning against John and could see his face.

"I'm just—" John licked his lips and then swallowed. "Actually I'm suddenly terrified because I just committed to going to see everyone at work."

Sherlock squinted at him. "You just told a twelve-year-old boy named Rex and a girl with a face full of metal your complete medical and sexual history, but talking to your friends makes you nervous?"

"Sherlock." John gave him his "I don't expect you to understand look," but Sherlock did understand. And even if he hadn't, he could see every thought of John's flickering across his face. He's dreading seeing them. No, that's not right; he doesn't want them to see him. He was fine in the store, didn't mind discussing his paralysis and even its sexual effects with the salespeople, but they were strangers. Facing the people he worked with was going to be much harder. He didn't want their pity, didn't want them to think of him as any way different from the man they'd known before.

Without taking his eyes off John, Sherlock pushed with his foot at the wheelchair where it leaned against the seat, but it didn't move at all. He grimaced and reached for John's hand again. "Do you want me to come with you?"

John's tongue darted out again but he shook his head. "You go to the Yard. I'll—I'll do it. Go to the clinic. Monday. I don't have physio, just a therapy appointment at nine, so I can stop afterwards and I won't be too sweaty to be seen in public." He squared his shoulders and exhaled.

Sherlock rubbed his fingers over John's knuckles. "It will be fine. You said they have hours they need to cover. It's not as if you're going for a job interview." He knew that wasn't the crux of the problem, that John wasn't worried about the job, but it was the best he could think to say.

John didn't reply, just twitched his head, a single shake, and curled his fingers in Sherlock's hand. Sherlock watched him carefully but John didn't meet his eyes. Sarah and Robby and that nurse with the bleached hair had all visited him when he first got hurt, but that was months ago now. John hadn't really had visitors in rehab, other than Sherlock, plus Mrs Hudson and Lestrade a few times. Which meant Sarah and the others hadn't even seen him in the wheelchair, only flat on his back in hospital.

"Hey." He reached across John's lap and lifted the bag from the shop off the seat. "We're almost home. What do you want to try first?"

John made fists with both hands and then slowly relaxed them. "The metal clamps first, I think."

"They'll be cold."

"That one lube warms to the touch." John smiled; it looked mostly real. "Don't worry. I won't let it burn you." He leaned back against Sherlock's shoulder again and Sherlock held him and thought they might both be all right.

Chapter Text

Sherlock wasn't too surprised when he got John's text late Monday morning.

Clinic is really short-staffed and they're putting me to work right now. Bring me lunch?

That hadn't taken long. It was barely eleven o'clock. He smiled and hit reply. Sure. 1:00? –SH

He arrived at the clinic promptly at 1:00, bearing coffee and sandwiches from Speedy's. Sarah cornered him as soon as he stepped into the hall that led to John's office. He gave her a wide smile and raised the bag of sandwiches, keeping her at a distance. "Sorry I didn't bring enough to share."

"No, you're not." Her smile was clearly more genuine than his, but then she'd always been like that. "John's still in with a patient. You can wait in the staff kitchen if you'd like." She ushered him toward it, talking as she walked. "He should be finishing up soon. We've kept him busy all morning. He slipped right back into the job with barely a blink."

"Yes, that doesn't surprise me," Sherlock said. He didn't tell her how nervous John had been about even coming here to talk to her.

"He's agreed to work three days a week plus one Saturday a month." Sarah pushed open the door into the kitchen and held it for Sherlock.

He stepped around her. "That's more hours than he was working before. He still has physio and other appointments almost every day."

"We need the coverage. It was tough enough without John, and then Sam quit last month. He and his wife moved to be closer to their grandkids. John said he could work eleven to six, schedule all his therapy visits in the morning."

"Hmm." There were two nurses eating at the closest table; he didn't recognise either but they both watched him as he walked past to sit at an empty table in the back of the room.

Sarah perched on the corner of the table where he sat—very unsanitary, for a doctor. "Sherlock, if you think that's too much for him, tell me. I need to know I can rely on him being here."

"What? No, of course you can rely on him. He's John. Of course you can."

She nodded and tossed her hair behind her shoulder, then leaned toward him and lowered her voice. "Is he really doing as well as he seems to be?"

Sherlock tilted his head and considered: what he thought, what to tell her. "He is. There have been rough moments, but— He'll be fine at work. I know he will." At home . . . no, it hasn't been bad. It could be worse.

"And you? How are you doing?"

"Me?" Sherlock raised his eyebrows. There was no way Sarah actually cared about how he felt; she was only asking because it was possible Sherlock's well-being could affect John's job performance. "I'm fine. Same as always."

"John had a counselling session this morning but you didn't go with him?"

"No, I—" He narrowed his eyes. "Did he tell you he wanted me to go with him?" He knew John and Sarah were close enough friends to discuss personal matters, though he doubted John would ask her of all people to try to talk Sherlock into counselling.

"No. Honestly, I don't think he mentioned your name once this morning." She smiled. "Sorry. Just my own genuine concern. It might be something for you to consider. I know these last few months can't have been easy for you."

Sherlock gave an exaggerated sigh and concentrated on prying the lid off his coffee so he wouldn't have to look at her. "If I tell you I'm taking an anti-depressant will you leave me alone?"

"That depends. Are you just telling me you're taking one or are you actually taking it?"

He tipped his chin down to give her his best withering glare. It should have been effective even though she was sitting above him, but apparently she'd known him too long to be intimidated. She just met his gaze for a moment and then nodded. "Good. I'm glad you're both doing well."

"Yes. Everyone's lovely." He wondered briefly if he would have been better off waiting for John out in the lobby with all the patients. Normally he didn't like to be around strangers' germs but right now possibly catching a deadly disease sounded better than continuing this discussion with Sarah.

Fortunately, he was saved from further conversation by John's arrival. He nodded a friendly hello as he passed the two nurses who sat at the other table; Sherlock took a closer look at them but he still didn't think he'd ever met them before. The younger one called John "Dr Watson" and stared at the stethoscope looped over his shoulders instead of his face; she'd only become a nurse in the hope of meeting a doctor.

When John reached Sherlock's table Sarah stood up. "I'll leave you two to eat in peace. Oh, I got the details about that yoga class for you, John. I'll forward you the email."

"Ta, Sarah. Did you get me crisps, Sherlock, or just a sandwich? I'm starved."

Sherlock pushed the bag of food toward John. "Yoga?"

"Yeah, it's a chair class that's closer than going to the one at the rehab centre. Sarah was going to find out if it was all old people."

"Judy says it's not," Sarah said, and stole a crisp from the bag as John opened it. He batted her hand away and she laughed and stepped back from the table. "So, Sherlock, a bunch of us are taking John out for drinks after work. Join us?"

Sherlock froze. Of course not. He flicked his eyes over to see John's reaction and was relieved that John was wearing his "don't worry, I know you hate that sort of thing" expression, not the "please, it would mean so much to me" one.

He carefully unwrapped his sandwich before answering Sarah. "I need to go over to New Scotland Yard this afternoon. I'm not sure how long that will take."

"Well, you're welcome to join us whenever you're done." She smiled; they all knew she knew he wouldn't join them, but that's what social interactions were like, weren't they? Everyone always pretending. Sherlock sighed and started to eat.

When Sarah had gone John asked, "You didn't go see Lestrade this morning?"

"No. I wasn't sure if he had an early shift or not."

John tipped his chin in disapproval but didn't comment, and the food Sherlock had given him proved enough of a distraction that he didn't pursue the topic. After a couple of minutes he had devoured all of the sandwich and most of the crisps; Sherlock was only halfway through his own lunch. His starvation seemingly postponed for the moment, John slowed in his consumption enough to tell Sherlock about his day so far. It felt like old times; he always told Sherlock about the patients he saw, and Sherlock had learned long ago that if he appeared to listen and nodded in the right places while John talked about strep throat and sprained ankles, he'd get more details when it came to the rare but truly interesting medical cases. There hadn't been any of those so far today, so Sherlock half-tuned out John's monologue and watched for clues as to how the morning had really gone for him.

Clearly, seeing his co-workers had been easier than John had expected; they'd welcomed him back and no one had looked at him with too much pity in their eyes. Based on his experiences over the past couple of months, John would've had other concerns: patients who spoke to him as if he could no longer hear, perhaps even some who were uncomfortable being treated by a doctor who couldn't walk. But John's easy demeanour right now and the excitement with which he was describing the rash he had seen on the back of someone's knees told Sherlock that nothing like that had happened. The way his office was set up probably helped; the examination table wasn't very high, and many of the patients never even had to climb onto it. They just sat in the chair next to John's desk, so no one would ever really be looking down at him in the wheelchair. And of course John himself would've helped his own cause even more; no one who was treated by him could ever doubt his skill as a doctor, although his professionalism might have been called into question if any of his patients could see him right now. He had emptied a packet of sugar onto the table and was using it to draw an outline of the shape of the probable skin cancer he had found on someone's back. When he was done with the story he brushed the sugar into his empty sandwich wrapper and dusted off his hands.

"So I assume you deduced Sarah's news?" he asked Sherlock.

"News?" The way John said it, he could only mean one thing, but Sherlock really hadn't been paying attention to her at all. Why would he?

"Yep. She's due in October."

"Oh. That's . . . good. For her, I mean. And . . . her husband?" Was Sarah married? He let his eyes dart to the corner of the table where she'd been sitting, trying to call up the image of her hand as she'd talked to him. Yes, she'd been wearing a ring.

"Yeah, Gerry. Remember they got married in Bermuda last summer?"

That explained why Sherlock didn't recall going to her wedding, at least. "Isn't she a little old to be having a baby?" That was the sort of thing he wasn't supposed to say to people, but he thought it was okay to say it to John.

John shrugged. "She's a couple years younger than me. It's a little more risky, yeah, but she's not too old."

Sherlock picked more green peppers off his sandwich; he liked the flavour they imparted but not the way they crunched in his mouth. He piled them on a serviette so John could eat them if he wanted. Sarah was pregnant. That news should have no effect on him, unless it meant more hours at the clinic for John come autumn. And yet . . . and yet. It made him think, made him remember back all those years ago, after he and John had first moved into the flat but before they were together. He almost asked her out. He talked about her, he was working himself up to it, and then he and I— If things had gone differently, John might've ended up with Sarah, which was unthinkable, of course. He and John probably wouldn't even know each other anymore. But if John were with Sarah, if they were married, with a baby on the way . . . . Sherlock wouldn't be sitting here with him. And John wouldn't be sitting in that wheelchair. He glanced up quickly to see John tipping the crumbs from the crisp bag into his mouth, oblivious to Sherlock's thoughts.

He picked up his coffee cup and tried to listen as John moved on to more stories about the diagnoses he had made that morning. There was no sense in dwelling on things that hadn't happened, especially so long ago. John didn't want to be with Sarah, of that Sherlock was certain; he had chosen Sherlock and Sherlock had chosen him and their life together now was their life, even if parts of it had gone wrong. At least John seemed happy being back at work. Three days a week would mean a lot of time apart from Sherlock, but if that was what John wanted, then Sherlock wanted it, too.

Late that evening, Sherlock startled back to awareness when the lift doors hissed open. He was sprawled on the sofa and had lost track of time in his Mind Palace. He should have . . . eaten dinner? Ordered something for both himself and John? He squinted at John as he emerged from the lift. He'd only had snacks at the bar; there were salty crumbs on his cardigan. And he'd had three, no, four beers. No, four beers and one shot of something stronger. Enough to affect his mood, no doubt, and certainly his posture; Sherlock hadn't seen his arms and shoulders so relaxed since he'd got the wheelchair. It was possible he shouldn't have been drinking at all, with the medications he was on, but given that he was a doctor out drinking with a group of other doctors and nurses, Sherlock thought he could probably let it pass. At least a few beers would make him much less likely to realise that Sherlock had not held up his end of their bargain. He'd never quite made it over to see Lestrade and the rest of the Yard today.

John hung up his coat and crossed the room to peer down at Sherlock. He smiled at whatever he saw and then nodded and gestured at the sofa. "Up. I need to stretch out. This is the longest I've been—" He tapped both hands on the arms of the wheelchair instead of finishing his sentence.

Sherlock sat up and groaned—how long had he been lying in the same position? He needed to use the loo. He stood and cracked his back, bent to give John a hasty welcome-home kiss and then shuffled down the hall. By the time he got back the stiffness had worked itself out and John had abandoned the wheelchair and his shoes and stretched himself out on the sofa; he was short enough to fit his whole body between the arms. Sherlock put his hand on the back of the empty wheelchair, considered whether John was still likely to get upset if he sat in it, and then twirled one hand in the direction of John's head. "Last I recall that sofa fits us both."

John sat up enough to allow Sherlock room on the first cushion and then dropped his head and shoulders onto Sherlock's lap with a sigh. Cheap beer and some sort of artificially-spiced snack. Not the best John-smell, but having him this close made it worth enduring. John wriggled around as if Sherlock's thighs were a particularly dissatisfactory pillow and Sherlock shifted against the sofa's arm until they both seemed more comfortable. "Better?"

"Mmm. Long day," John said, but he was grinning and Sherlock didn't think the contentedness came entirely from the beer.

He brushed a crumb from the corner of John's mouth and then traced his fingers along his jaw. "Good day, though?"

"Yes. Thank you for lunch." John took Sherlock's wandering hand in both of his and gave it a kiss. Sherlock let his hand fall to rest on John's chest and allowed himself to sink back against the sofa, cosy and comfortable.

He noticed it before John did: a motion in the corner of his eye, a jostling of the sofa back behind him. He jerked his head toward the movement with no sense at all of what it might be. It was John, John's leg, the left one, moving, but not in any rational, controlled manner. A muscle spasm, knee knocking against the back of the sofa, heel jumping enough to knock the fleur-de-lis pillow to the floor.

"Fuck." John pushed himself up halfway to sitting; Sherlock flinched as the movement pinched the flesh on his thigh. He caught John by the arm but John twisted away, though there was no place for him to go. "Fuck," he said again, and squeezed his eyes shut.

Sherlock reached for John again, gave a tentative stroke along his shoulder and settled his hand on his upper arm. "It's all right. They told us this would happen."

John shook his head, a tight, wordless repudiation. Sherlock's instinct was to reach out and try to calm John's spasming leg, but he knew his touch wouldn't be welcomed. He didn't think there was any way to stop it, anyway. They'd been told by several doctors and nurses to expect muscle spasms, though; they didn't happen in the early days after a spinal cord injury, but became much more likely as the reflexes were restored below the injury level. It didn't mean a return of conscious function of any sort; it was just an over-exaggerated reflex that John's body could no longer stop or control.

"It doesn't hurt, does it?" Sherlock felt stupid even asking but John's face was so scrunched it seemed he must be in pain. There were a few spots high on his thigh that were still sensitive to pain, although this movement seemed to involve his lower leg instead.

"No, it doesn't hurt. How could it hurt?" John curled both his hands into fists and then slammed them hard against his thighs.

Sherlock started in surprise and then wrapped himself around John's back so he could grab both his wrists and stop him from hurting himself. "You're going to bruise yourself."

"Who the fuck cares?" John rocked against Sherlock's grip but didn't really try to escape it. Sherlock wasn't sure which of them would win a wrestling match at this point; John's upper body was certainly stronger but Sherlock might be able to overpower him if he could use his whole body. He didn't want to have to overpower him, not ever.

After a moment John softened fractionally in his grasp. "Let go, okay?" Sherlock hesitated but then released his wrists. John leaned forward; his lower leg and foot were still jumping awkwardly against the cushions but Sherlock thought it might have slowed just a bit. John took hold of his own calf, gently but firmly; Sherlock recognised his shift into doctoring mode. He rubbed at the spasming muscle; that was exactly what Sherlock had wanted to do for him. Sherlock exhaled and leaned back against the sofa and let John tend to himself. His internal clock told him less than a minute passed; his internal clock had no sense of how time actually felt. He rubbed his fidgety right hand up and down John's back and waited for the spasm to pass.

Eventually John straightened up; his trouser leg had pulled up along his calf and Sherlock could see a muscle still twitching beneath his sock, but the larger, jerky movements had stopped. He wondered if John's self-massage had helped at all, or if the spasm had just run its course.

John let out a hiccupping noise and then collapsed sideways against the back of the sofa; Sherlock half-caught him and pulled him close. "I know. I know," he murmured against John's neck but John just shook his head and tried to bury his face in the sofa cushion. Sherlock circled his arms all the way around John again, slid his hands beneath his upper thighs, and lifted him onto his lap. John tensed for just a fraction of a second and then relaxed, not objecting. Sherlock had forgotten how natural it felt to hold him like this; the position had largely been supplanted by Sherlock's tendency to climb into John's lap when he was in the wheelchair. He tightened his arms around John's chest and spoke softly against his ear.

"John. You know a spasm is nothing to worry about. You probably just triggered it when you stretched out after sitting in the same position all day."

John sniffed. "I know. Not helping."

"Sorry." He kissed John's hair. "What will help?"

John shook his head again, knocking Sherlock's chin with his forehead. "Nothing. Make it not happen again. I don't like it."

What the hell am I supposed to say to that? Of course you don't like it. Why would you? Everyone had told them spasms were inevitable. If they became too frequent or started interfering with daily life, there were medications available, but since this was the first time it had even happened John was a long way from that. "As long as you keep up your exercises it shouldn't get too bad."

"I know that, Sherlock." That exasperated sigh was the one John reserved for times he thought Sherlock was being particularly dense. "I just don't like it. What if it happens in public?"

"I'll cause a distraction."

John groaned and tightened his fist in Sherlock's shirtsleeve. "This is not a psychosomatic limp, Sherlock. It won't stop just because you distract me."

"It's not you I'll distract. Idiot." He kissed him again. "If we're in public, I'll distract whomever we're with so they don't notice." He paused as if considering, then added. "Most likely I'll insult them. That usually gets everyone's attention."

John smiled at that but then dropped his head against Sherlock's shoulder again. "There are already so many things I can't do anymore. I don't need to add any more complications."

"John, there are very few things you can't do."

"Oh, cut the bullshit, Sherlock. I've spent the whole day finding out new things I can't do. Like tonight, at the pub, I realised we can never go dancing."

Dancing. "But you can—" Sherlock cut himself off. A few weeks ago when he'd been living downstairs Mrs Hudson had tried to show him a documentary on telly about wheelchair dancers, but he hadn't watched more than a few minutes with her because John— "You hate dancing."

John wiped his arm across his face and snuffled a little. "But you like it."

"John, in the five years we've been together, we have literally never gone out dancing. Never."

"Weddings. We've been to at least three weddings together."

"At which you've very reluctantly slow-danced maybe twice with me and then left me on my own. I've had to dance with women."

"I should have done it, though. You wanted to dance with me and I wouldn't do it but I should have because you wanted to and now I can't." His voice was unsteady enough that Sherlock thought he was going to cry, which would've been understandable a few minutes ago but was frankly quite ridiculous in the current context. Dancing.

"I will still dance with you whenever you want me to. I promise."

John turned his head. His eyes were above Sherlock's thanks to his position on Sherlock's lap; Sherlock could see the glimmer of tears clouding the blue. "I don't want to go dancing."

"I know." Sherlock kissed away a tear that escaped and held him, completely at a loss as to how to comfort John when he was making so little sense. Fortunately, just holding him close seemed to be enough; some of the tension lines around John's eyes eased.

"I might be a little drunk." John rubbed some of the wetness from his eyes and then wiped his hand on Sherlock's trousers.

"Yes, I noticed."

"How? It's not like I was stumbling."

Sherlock shifted so he could lean more of both his own and John's weight against the cushions. "No, but you're slurring a bit."

"I am not."

"True, but you would be if you weren't compensating by over-enunciating."

"So you're saying I sound like you." John let all of his weight sag against Sherlock's body. He's feeling better.

"Also, you rather stink like cheap beer."

"Sorry. It was pretty crap beer but they had spicy peanuts."

Sherlock bent his head to nuzzle his shoulder. "Are there any other ridiculous regrets I should know about? Besides dancing?"

John pursed his lips as if thinking. "I've never driven a motorbike."

"You wouldn't know how to drive a motorbike."

"And now I'll never learn." He turned sad puppy eyes to Sherlock; it would've been funny if they weren't still damp with tears.

"How about this," Sherlock suggested. "The next time I steal a motorbike, you can ride behind me on it."

"Next time?"

"Ah, pretend I didn't say that." He scratched at his head and gave John a sheepish look and was exceedingly relieved to see John fighting not to grin. He pressed his face into his hair and smelled the cheap beer and breathed deeply, glad John was home.

Chapter Text

Sherlock winced when John let the dumbbell drop onto the floor. It was only five kilograms but that was heavy enough to leave a dent in the exercise mat that covered the Persian rug. He was glad he'd left the rug in the sitting room when he'd re-done the flat; the hardwood floor never would have survived John's workout sessions. "You should've stopped ten reps ago," he said.

"Piss off," John said, and lifted his head to smile at Sherlock. He was lying on his back with his shirt off and a pleasant coating of sweat covering his torso. Sherlock was sitting by his feet; he'd held John's legs for some of the earlier exercises but for most of the workout he'd just sat here and watched. Not a bad way to pass the time.

He let John recover for a minute or so and then said, "Trousers." He'd already helped John stretch his legs this morning but he hadn't checked his skin in a couple of days. John going to work yesterday had thrown off their routine.

John groaned and slid his hands down to unbutton his flies. Sherlock would've happily undressed him, but he knew John would object to it in this context. When he got the trousers off he threw them at Sherlock and then collapsed onto his back again, arm over his eyes. "Do your worst."

Sherlock was so used to John's reluctance at this point that he didn't even bother sighing. He just started with John's feet, gently massaging them as he looked for any signs of irritation or developing sores. Sometimes John would talk while Sherlock did this but today he was quiet. Sherlock watched his breathing slow as he cooled down. He worked his way up John's body; John kept his arm over his face. Sherlock thought the muscle spasm last night must have made him even more self-conscious than usual.

For a moment he wondered if John would prefer to do this himself; he was certainly flexible enough to manage most of it, although he would have a hard time checking his lower back and buttocks. He could use a mirror. He knew John was uncomfortable having his legs touched, but it honestly had never occurred to him that not touching him was an option. He didn't want it to be an option, and he didn't think John really did, either. He certainly wasn't shy about telling Sherlock to stop doing anything else he thought he could do for himself: I don't care how hard it's raining, I do not need you to hold an umbrella or push the chair for me. But he'd never objected to Sherlock tending to his legs like this, at least not out loud.

When he reached John's navel, John finally moved his arm and looked at Sherlock. He should be able to feel my touch starting right . . . here. Sherlock rubbed firm hands down over John's ribs and then pounced forward, caging him beneath his body as he leaned down for a kiss.

John kissed him back; the transformation was amazing, how quickly he could go from treating Sherlock's touch as barely tolerable to being himself again. Sherlock lowered himself so he lay atop John and John tightened his arms around him. Sherlock broke from the kiss for a moment and raised himself up enough to see John's flushed, eager face. He slid back down his body; John wasn't hard yet, but Sherlock could remedy that. He palmed John through his pants and John raised his head off the floor and bit at his lip.

"Mm, yeah, only I'm actually kind of cold. Could we move to the bed? Or at least let me put my trousers and socks back on."

Sherlock kissed the fabric of his pants and said, "Nope. Bed's okay but the trousers are staying off. We still haven't tried all our new toys yet, remember?"

"Oh, yeah. I liked the last one, though. With the vibrations."

"Noted. Vibrations." Sherlock grinned. "I'm certain we can find something to accommodate your preference in that regard." He climbed off of John, then realised that he himself was still fully dressed while John was mostly naked. How rude of me. He dropped his dressing gown and then his trousers onto the floor.

"Er, bedroom, Sherlock?"

Sherlock smiled at him and then pushed his pants down and stepped out of them. John wasn't saying no. He just didn't want to have sex on the floor, which was a perfectly reasonable request, and might even be because he actually was cold. Or it might be because he had done his exercises on this floor every day since he'd been home and now the two things were juxtaposed in his mind. Sherlock wished he could untangle every twisted-up thought and association in John's head and put them back together for him the way they used to be. He knew that probably wasn't possible, but that didn't mean he couldn't try. And since he was already standing here without any clothes on, now was the perfect time to start.

He took two steps away from John, then turned around and dropped down into the wheelchair. As soon as his bare arse hit the slight padding on the seat he started to get hard. It was partly the chair itself, he knew; he'd been aware of that fetish developing since almost the instant he'd first seen John sitting in it, shy and timid, back at the rehab centre. And part of it was John watching him, sitting on the floor in front of him with sweat drying on his bare chest and probably completely disapproving of what Sherlock was doing. He unbuttoned his shirt and pushed it out of the way, leaned back in the chair and took himself in hand. His feet were on the footrests and his legs were too long; his knees stuck up and he probably looked ridiculous and he didn't care at all. John was watching. If he truly disapproved he had forgotten to tell his tongue, which was darting out of his mouth in time with Sherlock's slow strokes.

"Sherlock. What are you—?" John was breathless again, though he'd been done with his exercises for ages. Excellent.

"I figure I've done this in every other chair in the flat while you've watched, don't you think?"

"Er, maybe? But why—?"

"Oh, I don't know, John." Sherlock lifted his head to look right at John while continuing the steady slide of his hand. "Maybe because when I run my hands all over your naked body I get aroused? And maybe because when I see you sitting in this chair you think I see John who can't walk anymore but what I actually see is John who gets me so hard just by kissing me that I don't think I can make it all the way into the bedroom so I'm just going to sit here in this chair while you watch."

John stared at him and Sherlock tried to keep his face impassive, twisting his wrist a little as if the state of his own cock were the only concern on his mind. "You want me to watch you?" John asked.

"I'd prefer it if you joined me, but since you've made it clear that the only place you want to have sex is in bed, I guess you'll have to sit there and wait till I'm done." He wiggled down deeper into the seat, spreading his legs to hook his knees over the arms of the chair. He moaned as his feet grazed the sides of the wheels.

"What the fuck is wrong with you, Sherlock?"

Sherlock tried to figure out why John's voice was rough—lust, rage, despair?—but he had got himself to the point where it was too difficult to think clearly enough about anything outside of his own body. He hadn't actually meant to go this far. He'd just wanted John to realise that the wheelchair wasn't a turn-off for him, but there was no way he was stopping now. He scooted his arse forward in the chair; the low back wasn't really a virtue in this situation, but apparently John hadn't considered Sherlock's comfort in pleasuring himself when picking it out.

He let his left hand curl around the rim of the chair's wheel, the anodised aluminium cool against his palm. His fingers played along the smooth metal. The wheels were locked at the moment but when they weren't, this was how John pushed himself, his hands curved around the rim just like Sherlock's hand was now.

He tightened his fingers on the metal and let his eyes slip closed. He was slick already, his cock lubricating itself perfectly for his own hand, enough to slide easily but not so wet that he lost the luxury of friction. He could hear John's breathing, nearer than it had been, and cracked his eyes open to see that John had moved closer. He was sitting on the floor next to him, looking up, watching, not reaching out to touch, though his face betrayed the desire. "You can—" Sherlock gasped and his hips lifted from the chair. "You can," he managed again but then it was too late. His eyes squeezed shut and his whole body clenched and bucked as he came over his hand in long, gratifying spurts.

Panting, his head dropped forward and he opened his eyes, a little afraid of what John's expression might be. I might've gone a bit too far. He wiped at his stomach with the edge of his shirt so he wouldn't drip onto the chair and then looked up to meet John's gaze.

John was not upset. He licked his lips and inhaled and said, "Fuck, Sherlock, you really . . . ."

Sherlock put his legs down so he could stand but John reached up and dragged his hand roughly through the come on Sherlock's stomach, wiping it down over his pubic hair and then bringing his hand to his own mouth. "Jesus, that was hot and it shouldn't have been."

"Sorry, what? Watching me wank shouldn't be hot now? When did that change?"

"No, I mean." John closed his eyes for a moment; Sherlock could see him trying to steady his breathing. "Fuck it, it was just hot. You—" He reached up again and caught Sherlock by the wrist with one hand and wrapped his other around the locked-in-place wheel of the chair. Sherlock thought he was going to try to drag him out of the chair but instead he started to pull himself up. Sherlock bent forward and got both his arms under John's and hauled him up and for once John didn't seem to mind being helped. He pulled John up and John sprawled in his lap, their bare chests touching. John wrapped his arms around Sherlock's neck and kissed him. His legs twisted awkwardly against Sherlock's but neither one of them stopped to straighten them.

Sherlock pulled his face away from John's to catch his breath and shake his hair out of his eyes. "Do you still want to do this in the bed?"

John moaned and, surprisingly, nodded, bobbing his head against Sherlock's face as he sucked on his ear. He pulled away far enough to say. "I'll admit watching you was hot but you can keep your wheelchair fetish to yourself."

Sherlock chuckled and didn't try to deny it. He reached down to unlock the wheels but John stopped him and shoved at his legs until Sherlock took the hint and in an inelegant, ungainly tangle of limbs they swapped positions in the chair. John shifted until Sherlock was centred in his lap and then pushed them both across the room, through the kitchen and down the hall. Sherlock draped himself over John's shoulder and thought if he hadn't just come he would do so right now; he could feel John's muscles moving beneath him with each push.

He climbed off John's lap when they got to the bedroom and opened the nightstand drawer while John got himself onto the bed. He surveyed the selection of toys they hadn't tried. The cock rings. They hadn't used one yet but it might be a good idea now since John hadn't had time to take a Viagra; the rings were supposed to have a similar effect. He picked one up and held it in the palm of his hand to present to John. It had a small vibrator attached. "Vibrations, as requested."

John raised an eyebrow. "I'll put that on but it's not going to be just for my benefit."

Sherlock wrinkled his brow and John nodded. "Yeah, I'm fucking you, Sherlock. I know you've been wanting me to and just haven't wanted to ask."

Sherlock swallowed and felt his already-spent cock try to twitch. He had wanted to, but it wasn't fear of asking that had stopped him. "I don't want to hurt you."

"Well, it's not like you're going to break it off or anything, now, are you? Just pretend everything's like it used to be and ride me, okay?"

Sherlock closed his eyes and nodded, not trusting his voice. Yes, yes, yes, okay. He cleared his throat. "I think I can do that. If you're sure."

"Do I look like I'm sure?" John had himself in his hand, stroking without looking. Sherlock wondered briefly what that felt like to him—was there any sensation, or was it like touching a dildo that wasn't even part of him? The thought dampened his lust, so he pushed it away and crawled across the bed to straddle John.

He settled his knees to either side of John's legs and sat back on his heels to watch John work himself. "You might want to put that ring on while you still can," he said. The ring was stretchy but John wasn't exactly small.

"Okay, yeah, give it here," John said, not looking away from his hand on his cock as his other hand scrabbled at the duvet, trying to find the ring where he'd dropped it. Sherlock reached over to give it to him and then climbed off the bed to rummage in the drawer for the correct bottle of lubricant: no burning sensations today, thank you.

John managed to get the ring on without any difficulty. His lips quirked a little as he held himself, looking as if he were examining a patient with an unusually perplexing complaint.

"Er, is it okay?" Sherlock was still a little squeamish about the idea of putting something restrictive around such a delicate organ, although this ring seemed elastic enough that it wouldn't cause any damage. He'd seen the warnings on the back of the package, though: do not wear for longer than twenty minutes. He glanced at the clock.

"Yeah, it's fine." John tightened his fingers around himself and sighed. "I was hoping I'd get some sensation from it even before I turned it on, but—" He shrugged. "Come here." He started to pull Sherlock toward him again, then pushed him away. "Get that shirt off. It's all crusty."

"Oh, you love my crustiness. Don't pretend you don't." Sherlock discarded the shirt anyway. He slid across the bed and fitted his body alongside John's. "Let me," he said, and drew John's hand away so he could run his own fingers up and down John's length. He'd learned the perfect amount of pressure to use; it was different from before, but Sherlock was a quick study. The ring didn't seem to interfere, but its function was primarily to help John stay hard. Plus the vibrations. "Do you want me to switch it on?"

"Not yet. I want to be in you." John turned his head to catch Sherlock in a kiss and Sherlock grunted and straddled John again. He had been willing to do this just because John wanted to, but now it seemed his own body was also quite eager. He rubbed himself against John a few times and then crawled up a little higher, balancing just over the tip of John's erection.

"More lube," he said, and John squirted half the bottle onto his hand. Sherlock ground down against John's fingers for a moment but he didn't really need to do much to prepare.

He sank down onto John until the ring touched his arse. He wanted to turn it on—the silicone-encased vibrator was just brushing his balls—but he would wait for John's word. A muscle memory told him that John was about to start rocking up into him, driving deeper, but of course John couldn't move his hips, so Sherlock moved instead. Oh, how he had missed this; in the last week he'd got off so many times in the course of their "experimenting," but he hadn't had anything more than John's fingers inside of him. He let his mouth fall open and his eyes close. John's hands were on his hips; Sherlock was afraid of being too rough, but John was setting the rhythm, fast and steady and so, so good.

The ring still wasn't turned on but with every downward thrust Sherlock could feel its nubbed texture. He shifted to press more of himself against the toy and lost his balance a bit; John slid out partway as Sherlock's right knee twinged and he fell back, catching himself with one hand on John's thigh.

John grunted and Sherlock quickly moved his hand, leaned forward again. "Sorry, sorry." John was out of him now.

"No, Sherlock, no. Don't—" John's face was flushed; he raised his head from the pillow and dug all of his fingers hard into Sherlock's hips. Sherlock gasped; it hurt. "Do that again, what you just did to my thigh."

"I didn't do anything. I just slipped."

"Do it again. You leaned on my thigh, right at the spot where I can feel it, all right? Right here." John sat up and reached around Sherlock's sweaty body to grab at his own leg.

Sherlock knew exactly where John meant. He'd had almost no improvement in function after his initial injury, except for one small strip of his leg that had never lost the ability to feel temperature and was now sensitive to both pain and pressure. Sherlock was always careful when he massaged or helped stretch John's left thigh because of that spot. He had just never thought to connect it to . . . sexual pleasure? He looked down at John's face. Yes, definitely pleasure.

John lay back again and Sherlock tentatively put his hand down on his thigh, covering the spot where the nerves were not completely deadened. "Here?"

John craned his neck to the side to see past Sherlock's body. "Yeah, I think, but I can't feel that. You need to press. Hard."

"I'm not . . . . I can't do that, John." Sherlock lifted his hand again and then crawled down so he was no longer kneeling over John but instead sitting between his legs, careful to put no more than a whisper of pressure on him anywhere.

"What?" John's eyebrows drew together. "No, it's all right, I want you to, Sherlock. It doesn't have to be hard enough to bruise or anything. Just . . . hard. I want to feel it, please." The note in his voice on that last word; Sherlock didn't think there was anything he wouldn't have done for John at that sound.

He put his right hand on John's thigh, still gentle, and then took John's cock in his other hand. It wasn't quite as firm as it had been, despite the ring that was supposed to impede blood flow. If he really liked the pain then he would still be hard, wouldn't he? Sherlock inhaled but swallowed back his doubts. He clicked on the ring's vibrator; maybe that would be enough and he wouldn't have to hurt him.

John relaxed his shoulders back against the pillow and let out a small moan. "Yeah, that's nice. I can feel a little buzz there." Sherlock set his thumb against the vibrating bullet; it was a lot more than a little buzz. This was the sort of thought he couldn't let himself pursue: he feels so little; what must it be like? Sherlock took a deep breath and let it out slowly and then pressed the palm of his hand into John's thigh.

John didn't react, at first, so Sherlock shifted more of his weight to his right arm to increase the pressure. He tried to keep it even. No bruises, just—

"Oh!" John yelped the sound and Sherlock flinched, easing up. John's left hand closed around Sherlock's arm. Sherlock met his eyes and saw the plea in them, and the command. He felt John harden again beneath his other hand, felt him start to leak as Sherlock pumped up and down, twisting his wrist. "Please," John said, and Sherlock obeyed, rocking his weight into his hand on John's thigh. John whimpered; Sherlock recognised the sound was far more than just pain, but still had to suppress the instinct to stop. He shifted on his knees to get a better grip above the ring and gave him several long, steady pulls as he ground his fingertips into John's leg. Please don't be hurt. Please.

"Yes! Use your nails, Sherlock. Sherlock." John pressed his head and shoulders back into the pillow; Sherlock imagined he was trying to thrust his hips into the air as well. He felt sick and aroused at the same time and he wanted to stop touching John like this but first he wanted to make him scream. John twisted at his own nipples, panting Sherlock's name. Sherlock took another deep breath and then dug his nails into John's skin just as John's upper back arched and he groaned, a deep, guttural sound that sent confusing signals of lust and fear coursing through Sherlock's whole body. He scraped his fingernails over John's leg, clawing at the small strip of sensitive skin much harder than he really wanted to, and gave one final, twisting pull to John's cock.

John let out a choking, gasping sound that might have had words in it, and clamped his hand hard around Sherlock's wrist. Sherlock tried to jerk away—he still didn't like pain, not even a little, and John's grip felt nearly strong enough to break his arm. But then John was coming, cock pulsing and jumping even as the rest of his lower body stayed still.

Sherlock loosened his grip as the last few dregs spilled over his fingers. He flicked the vibrator's switch off, then exhaled and lifted his hand from John's leg. He'd left marks: small, slotted impressions from his nails and larger red splotches in the shape of his hand. Something in his chest clenched and he put his hand back down, gently covering the injury he'd caused, wishing he could do more to soothe to it.

"Oh, God, Sherlock, that was . . . ." John sat up, hands on the bed to brace himself. He grinned down at Sherlock, breathing heavily, and Sherlock relaxed minutely; there was no trace of regret or distress in John's expression, just satisfaction. John gave one final push of his hands against the mattress to get himself fully upright and then reached for Sherlock, pulling him against his chest. Sherlock went willingly, despite the rapidly cooling mess that covered John's stomach. He wrapped his arms around John and tucked his face against his neck. John kissed the top of his head and tried to squirm his hand down between the two of them. "You think you can go again? You were—"

Sherlock shook his head, not lifting it from the cradle of John's body. He had been hard again, while John had been inside him, which had been a bit surprising, considering barely half an hour had passed since he'd come in the chair. But he certainly didn't need to do it again, and truthfully now he didn't even want to; the urge had fled as soon as John had starting asking for pain. "I don't like hurting you."

"Mm, I know, love, but it felt so good." John's voice buzzed against the side of Sherlock's face.

"But I don't—"

"Seriously, Sherlock." John pulled back, forcing Sherlock to look him in the eye. "You don't understand how good it is, how intense. Because there's nothing and then all of a sudden there's something—it's just an overwhelming sensation." He leaned in for a soft brush of lips and then said, "Thank you for doing it even though you didn't want to."

Sherlock tipped his chin down, tight-lipped. "I just can't let myself hurt you, not again."

"Well, you don't have to do it every time, but I probably will ask you to do it again."

"I don't—" Sherlock started to clarify what he meant but John interrupted.

"Hey, can you reach that crusty shirt of yours? I need to get this ring off and I want to clean myself up."

Sherlock closed his mouth, wondering if John really thought he was just referring to hurting him today. Based on the distracted, satiated look on his face, John wasn't really analysing anything too deeply right now. Does it really matter? He knew what John would say: It's not your fault I fell, Sherlock. That didn't mean John would be right, but Sherlock didn't have the heart to argue about it with him. He pinched his eyes shut for a moment, then let go of John and looked around for his shirt so they could clean themselves up and get on with the rest of their day.

Chapter Text

"Hey, wake up and give me a goodbye kiss."

Sherlock opened his eyes and rolled over to find John sitting next to the bed. "I'm awake." He yawned. "Why are you dressed already?" John was wearing jogging bottoms, trainers and a t-shirt: clothes for physio, but his appointment today wasn't until eleven. Sherlock knew he hadn't slept that late.

"Yoga. I told you last night." John leaned in and Sherlock gave him a quick peck on the lips before pulling back; his mouth tasted like rotten eggs and death and he didn't want to inflict that on John.

"It's too early for yoga."

"It's 8:30, Sherlock. This is late for a yoga class. Sometimes they're at sunrise."

"I know. I've done yoga," Sherlock replied, and stretched along the length of the bed, considering getting up but knowing he probably wouldn't yet, not if John wasn't going to be here to keep him company.

John smiled and leaned close again. "Let's have a proper kiss, hmm?" He trailed a hand up the side of Sherlock's face and threaded his fingers into his hair.

If he likes the taste of my dead morning breath, I'm not going to complain. Sherlock leaned up on his elbows so John didn't have to stretch as far to reach the bed from his wheelchair. John tasted like toothpaste with a hint of black tea lingering underneath. This was highly unusual; John never liked to kiss when only one of them had brushed their teeth. Wait a minute . . . .

Sherlock broke away from the kiss. "What do you want?"

John gave him a puzzled look that was not even remotely convincing. Sherlock narrowed his eyes and John sighed and rubbed at his temple. "Sherlock, it's been two weeks."

"What has?"

"Since we made the deal where I go back to work at the clinic and you go back to work at the Yard."

Not this again. He let his head flop back onto the pillow. "I've technically never been employed by the Yard." For some reason John seemed to think that Sherlock's well-being centered on his returning to solving cases. Sherlock disagreed. It wasn't as if he'd been lying around the flat doing nothing. Last week he'd started a new experiment on the pollination rates of the common wasp in the greater London area. He'd found wasp pollination to be greatly understudied compared to bee pollination, most likely because wasps were not as friendly to humans as bees, but they were still essential to the urban ecological system, especially given the declining numbers of both bumble bees and honeybees in England. Honestly, ensuring that plants continued to be properly pollinated was far more essential to most of the inhabitants of London than solving a couple of old murders for Lestrade.

"Stop thinking about bees," John said, and moved to kiss him again. He slipped his tongue enticingly over Sherlock's lips and then straightened up and backed his chair just out of reach. "Get up, have a shower and then go see Lestrade."

"You kiss me like that and then tell me to go see Lestrade?"

"Yep. You said you would. Now do it."

Sherlock squinted up at John and looked for the best excuse. John had already made it clear that the wasp experiment was not a good excuse. "I was thinking I might tag along to your yoga class."

"My yoga class? No."

"Why not?"

"First of all, you're not dressed and I'm leaving now. Second, there's not really any space for you to watch. You'd be crammed in with all the people in the class and I suspect some of them would not appreciate an audience."

"Then I'll join in. That flyer Sarah forwarded to your email said it was open to everyone."

"Everyone who needs to sit in a chair, Sherlock. Not you. And stay out of my email."

"Fine." He rolled his eyes. "How about we meet after physio for lunch, at least? Or would you rather eat without me, too?"

"Sherlock. Of course I would rather eat with you. I'll probably be all sweaty, though. Maybe we can go out after I come home and clean up a bit? We can try that new Chinese place."

"All right," Sherlock agreed. John seemed to have forgotten he'd been in the middle of nagging him about going to the Yard. Maybe one more distraction just to make sure. He stretched out an arm to reach for his wallet on the nightstand. "Do you have money for the cab?"

"Seriously, Sherlock?" John glared at him. He was always so touchy about money; this was almost too easy. "I am a self-sufficient adult."

"Oh, right. I forgot. Because you've never borrowed cab money from me before."

"I have money."

"Did you get it from my wallet?"

John's jaw clenched but then he squinted at Sherlock, anger wrinkling away. "Yeah, that's not going to work, love."

"What are you talking about?"

"Making me forget about how you're supposed to get off your arse and do something today by insulting my ability to pay for my own cab."

"I was just looking after you, John. No need to get all huffy about it." Well, it was worth a shot. That was one problem with having been together for so long; John knew all his best tricks. "If you want I'll let you pay for my lunch."

"I always pay for your lunch," John said. "I'm leaving. Don't forget to get up and go to the Yard."

Sherlock listened until he heard the whir of the lift stop as it reached the ground floor and then he rolled over and closed his eyes again.

By the time he woke up properly, had a shower and got dressed, it was too late to go to the Yard. He wouldn't have time to get anything done there if he wanted to be back in time for lunch with John. Maybe John would go with him after they ate. He wasn't really sure that he wanted John to go with him, but if they were just reviewing files and not out on an actual case it would probably be okay.

He spent some time fiddling with the spreadsheets for the wasp experiment but he'd planned it so he didn't need to collect data again until tomorrow. He had set up the whole experiment around John's work schedule; any information he tried to collect today would throw off the results. He was at a bit of a loss as to what to do with himself now, though; he still had over an hour before he could expect John to return. Still not enough time to go see Lestrade, though. Maybe he could surprise John. Meet him at the physio office, then find someplace new to eat nearby. Some hole-in-the-wall takeaway where no one will care if John's sweaty and tired.

John still had a good half-hour left in his physio appointment when Sherlock got to the office. He sat in the waiting room for as long as he could, but there were two women sitting across from him talking about the wedding plans of their respective daughters and if he had to listen to one more minute of it John would be very, very angry at what he said to them. He stood up, took a step toward the exit door, then glanced at his watch. John's appointments had lengthened since he had been discharged from rehab; Sherlock wasn't really sure why, or what the physiotherapists could do for John that Sherlock couldn't just help him with at home. Since he was here anyway, maybe he could take a peek?

The two blathering women were the only people in the waiting room, other than the receptionist behind the desk. She was typing something on her computer; not work, she had a small window open and was chatting with her boyfriend, even though she was planning to break up with him within the next week. Distracted. Perfect. He strode purposefully past the desk, heading for the door marked toilets, then turned and slipped through the door that led to the treatment rooms in the back.

He found himself in a long hall, dotted along its length with small examination rooms much like any doctor's office. John wasn't in any of them, although Sherlock did get a dirty look from an old woman with her shirt off and moist heating pads draped over both shoulders. The hallway ended in a large, open room that could have passed for a public gym, right down to the mirrors on one wall and the televisions hanging in front of several treadmills. Sherlock's presence here was certainly a breach of patient privacy; there were several people working with physios on various pieces of equipment. No one even looked at him as he entered, though, engrossed as they all were in their own activities. He walked the length of the room as if he were supposed to be there; at least one of the physios saw him but Sherlock smiled and nodded and kept moving and she didn't say anything.

John was at the far end of the room, his back to Sherlock. He was encased from feet to torso in metal and plastic: rigid plastic braces covered his feet, ankles and calves, Velcro straps held metal rods in place along the outside of each leg, and a wide elastic belt circled high on his waist. He was standing up. He was propped in between a set of parallel bars, holding himself up with his arms, and there was a physio behind him with one hand on the belt around his waist and one on his shoulder and another therapist sitting on a rolling stool in front of him, but he was standing up.

As Sherlock watched, John lowered his head in concentration and then used his upper body to swing his left leg forward; the woman in front of him caught it and ensured his foot was planted firmly on the ground before he shifted his weight forward and repeated the process with the right leg. It looked cumbersome and tedious and absolutely agonising and, watching, Sherlock had to slump against a nearby exercise bike so he didn't fall down himself. John wasn't really walking, of course—he still couldn't move any of the muscles in his legs—but at the same time he was walking. It was simultaneously one of the most beautiful and horrible things Sherlock had ever seen.

The muscles on John's arms were positively bulging with the effort. The physio standing behind him—young, female, barely five feet tall—seemed to be appreciating the effect. Let her. Everyone should be able to admire the beauty of John Watson. Sherlock would've expected him to also be charming the pants off her, figuratively speaking, of course, but it looked like John was focusing so hard on each step that he didn't have any spare energy to devote to flirting.

John reached the end of the parallel bars and the short physio brought his wheelchair up behind him so he could sit and roll out from between the bars. He turned around and then both of the women reached out to help him stand once more so he could make his way back. One of the women settled on the stool in front of him again. Before he started moving John raised his head and looked past her. Sherlock met his eyes; he couldn't stop a huge smile from crossing his face, even though he knew John was likely to be somewhat upset that he had sneaked into the therapy room.

When he saw Sherlock, John flushed bright red; more alarmingly, his left arm buckled as he held himself upright on the bars. Sherlock took an automatic step toward him, though he was a good five metres away, but both physios grabbed him before he could fall. John waved away their offer of his wheelchair and repositioned his hands on the bars. He lowered his head again and Sherlock thought he was about to resume his unsteady attempts at walking but instead John said, "Sherlock. Get out." He didn't shout or yell, just spoke in a normal conversational tone, clearly enough to be heard but not loud enough to draw undue attention. Sherlock tried to meet John's eyes and smile again but the look John gave him in return made his blood run cold. He took an involuntary step backward and bumped into the stationary bicycle he had been leaning against earlier.

He knew he wasn't supposed to be here, but he truly didn't understand John's reaction. John was standing up and walking; he should be elated. Sherlock was elated. True, the braces looked rather uncomfortable and not at all practical for everyday ambulation, but still. If I crossed the room to stand next to him I would be able to kiss him without bending over. He exhaled and pushed the idea away; a public kiss in the middle of his physiotherapy session would not placate John. Sherlock could practically see the anger baking off of him. He swallowed and opened his mouth to say something mollifying, not sure what exactly that might be, but before he could John repeated, voice still level, "Out. Now." He lifted his right hand from the bar; the physio behind him steadied him as he wobbled, but John seemed more concerned with pointing accusingly at Sherlock than with keeping himself upright.

"John, I—"

"Sir, you really need to—" The short physio looked at the taller one and then from John to Sherlock. Sherlock glared at her—he was certainly not about to leave because she told him to, and then John raised an eyebrow and tilted his head and Sherlock took another step backward and drew his coat tightly around himself. It's all right. Just leave. Go back into the waiting room and John will calm down and be out in a little while and then we can go to lunch. He chanced one more glance at John, saw his nostril flare, and turned and walked back to the waiting room as quickly as he could without appearing to flee.

John joined him in the waiting room at 12:07; Sherlock panicked for those seven extra minutes, knowing the physio session would've ended at noon. John didn't greet him, just grabbed his jacket from the coat rack and gave a curt nod which apparently meant Sherlock was allowed to follow him out of the building. The office was on the ground floor; Sherlock wasn't sure if he would've preferred a ride in the lift together to force John to at least look at him, or if it would have just given John the opportunity to murder him with no witnesses. I didn't do anything wrong. I only wanted to surprise him and say hello. How can he hold that against me?

Sherlock paused once they were outside and motioned down the street. If John wasn't going to say anything to him then Sherlock was going to pretend everything was normal and no one was angry for no good reason. "You mentioned Chinese—I think I saw one down the block."

"I'm not really hungry."

"Really? You didn't just work up an appetite? Because it looked like you were burning quite a few calories."

John's shoulders clenched as he bumped himself down over the edge of the pavement rather than moving two feet farther to the dropped kerb. "I'd rather eat at home today."

Sherlock stepped down behind him and raised his arm; a cab slowed and then stopped. He put his hand out to touch John's shoulder as John opened the cab door and John jerked away from him. "Don't. You shouldn't even be here, Sherlock. You shouldn't have come. Don't touch me."

Sherlock hesitated, then walked around to the other side of the cab while John climbed in and pulled his chair in after him. Sherlock gave the driver their address and risked a glance over at John; he was obsessively smoothing the fabric of his trousers over his right knee. He's angry with me but mostly because he's embarrassed. Sherlock blinked his eyes closed for a moment; he'd thought they were finally beyond all this, John's shame at his body, but it seemed they kept discovering new ways for it to manifest.

He took a deep breath and said, "John, you were walking," just as John splayed out his palm on his thigh and said, "You can't just barge in on people's private medical appointments, Sherlock."

They both looked at each other; John may have meant it to be some sort of staring competition but Sherlock grinned at him and repeated, "You were walking."

"No, I really wasn't." John let his head fall back against the seat's headrest. "You saw me. Obviously. "

"Yes, I saw you standing up." He tried to regulate the glee in his voice; John clearly didn't think this was something to be happy about.

"You saw me propped up between two bars while belted into a contraption that locks all my joints in place and makes me more helpless than I've ever been. It hardly qualifies as standing up."

Sherlock reached across the empty seat between them and took John's hand; John accepted it without protest and gave a slight squeeze which Sherlock returned. He waited until the cab had sat through a few traffic lights before saying, "John, it's me. It's just me. We are together, and that means I am going to see you. I'm going to see you in bed and I'm going to see you in the chair and in the bathtub and at work and in the lift and in Mrs Hudson's flat and at the shops and in cabs and I'm going to see you wearing leg braces and standing up if that's what you're going to do. All right? It's just me."

John rubbed his thumb against the side of Sherlock's hand but didn't look at him. "This is one of the reasons I didn't want you staying at rehab, you know."

"They had you standing up in braces then?"

"No, but it was just as bad. Every morning for hours I had to struggle through physio and OT and fail and fail and be weak and helpless and I didn't want you to see that. At least now with the chair I'm strong enough to be in control."

Sherlock's chest felt hollowed out at the thought that John still wanted to hide from him. I understand he doesn't want to be seen as helpless around others, but . . . . "It's just me," he repeated and tightened his grip on John's hand.

"I know. I'm sorry, but I can't. Not even you." Something about the way he said that didn't sound right. Sherlock had already seen him, but John was still protesting . . . .

"Oh. They want you to use the braces at home, don't they? And you've refused."

"Sometimes I hate your fucking deductions, Sherlock." He sighed and closed his eyes. "They're called HKAFOs. Hip-knee-ankle-foot orthoses. I'm not steady enough in them yet, but yeah, the idea is a few more sessions at physio and then I take them home and spend time each day standing up."

"And you don't want to do that?" Why on earth not?

"Because what's the point, Sherlock?" John turned his head to look at him, eyes flashing dark. "You saw me. I can't even stand without leaning on something, or someone holding onto me. I'm not going to start being able to walk around the flat just because I strap metal to my legs."

"But . . . ." The physiotherapists wouldn't put John in the braces—the HKAFOs—for no reason. "But if you work at it enough, it will get better, right? You won't be able to move your legs but you will be able to move around in the braces eventually?"

John shook his head. "Yes, but not really. No one thinks it would ever be my primary way of getting around. The chair is much easier and a lot more practical. Less stress on the body. Faster. Even people with lower injuries than mine are lucky if they can move at half the normal walking rate with braces and canes. When you can't feel where your feet are on the ground, it's not really possible to move much faster."

Sherlock nodded. "You'd try to run after me and fall on your face."

John pinched his lips together but not before the beginning of a giggle escaped. "Git. Yes. At least I can keep up with you in the chair."

Sherlock stroked John's hand and wished they were sitting closer together; John had put the folded wheelchair in front of the middle seat so Sherlock couldn't easily slide over next to him. "So if the HKAFOs are never going to be a practical mode of transport, why do they want you to use them at home?"

John shrugged, lips twisting. "It's good to be upright. Good to have weight on the muscles and bones, good for blood flow, it's just . . . good. Except it's embarrassing and awkward and the braces hurt my back." He dropped his head back against the seat's headrest again and rolled his shoulders.

"Massage time when we get home?" Sherlock asked.

"Bath first, I think."

"You should do it," Sherlock said.

"I will. I can smell myself."

"Not the bath." Sherlock brought John's hand up to his mouth and kissed his knuckles. "The braces. You could do it when I'm out, if you want."

John shook his head. "So then when I fall down you can come home and find me trapped beneath a pile of metal on the floor? I don't think so. I know it looks like I'm standing but they really only make me more helpless. Before I tried them for the first time I was excited, but now I hate them."

"But it's good for you. You should do it."

"Oh, you're one to talk."

"What? I do things that are good for me. I haven't had a cigarette in two years. I'm still taking the anti-depressants, aren't I?" He looked over at John and tried to figure out if his words were making any impression at all. "Just try it, will you? You can stand in one spot. Lean against the worktop in the kitchen. You won't fall, and I'll be there if you do. Who knows, maybe you can work yourself up to standing there and washing dishes."

John pulled his hand away and started to growl and Sherlock just stared at him and tried to look innocent and the growl turned into a snort of laughter. "The sink is at wheelchair height, now. I don't need to stand to do the washing up."

"There are two sinks in our kitchen, you may have noticed? Right next to one another?"

"Yeah, but the high one is the experiment sink."

Sherlock sighed dramatically. "I will let you use it. The wasp experiment doesn't really involve the sink anyway."

"I still think the wasp experiment is a bad idea," John said. He smoothed the leg of his trousers again and stared out the window for a while. They were almost to Baker Street before he turned back to Sherlock and said, "So when it's time to bring the braces home you'll have to come with me to my appointment. See how they get them all on and off. I can't do it very well by myself."

Sherlock nodded. "I'll check my schedule, try to make sure it's clear."

"You—oh, you didn't go to see Lestrade today, did you? You are a hypocritical arse, Sherlock."

Sherlock was fairly certain John was suppressing a laugh. "Yes, but I'm your hypocritical arse, don't forget. You're lucky."

"Yes, I am. I know that." John grabbed his hand again, tightly, and Sherlock swallowed and had to look out his own window for a while.

Chapter Text

Sherlock stuck his head into the bathroom to ask if John really wanted to eat lunch at home or if he still wanted to try the new Chinese place. John was in the tub; he stretched and said something about takeaway and Sherlock lost any ability he may have had to resist temptation. He pushed the door open all the way, stepped into the steamy room, and had his shoes, socks and trousers off before he thought to ask if John minded.

John just laughed and sat up higher in the tub to make room for Sherlock. "Already washed my hair, though. Sorry, I know you like that."

Sherlock shrugged. "I showered three hours ago. There's absolutely no reason for me to be in here whatsoever." He stripped off the rest of his clothes and piled them into a semi-neat heap on the seat of John's wheelchair, then climbed carefully into the tub, lowering himself until he was sitting between John's legs.

"Well, I'm glad you're here," John said, and wrapped his arms around Sherlock. Sherlock sank against him, enjoying the solidity of John's body at his back. John ruffled his hair and said, "I know you've missed having as much time together these last couple of weeks. I'm still not thrilled with you interrupting my medical appointments, but if you want to stalk me for the rest of today, that's fine with me. I probably won't see you much tomorrow."

"You've got tomorrow morning free before work, don't you?" Sherlock might not always pay attention to everything John said, but he did enter all of his appointments and work shifts into his phone, and once they were keyed in there they were also permanently imprinted in his mind. Tomorrow morning had nothing scheduled.

"I did, but then I made an appointment with Dr Iyer."

Iyer, that was the name of John's doctor back at the rehab centre. Why would he be going back there? He squirmed in John's arms, trying to turn enough to get a look at his face. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong." John slipped his hands down Sherlock's arms; it was undeniably soothing, but Sherlock didn't let himself relax yet. "I texted him and he agreed to clear me to play basketball."

"Basketball?"

"Yeah, but he actually wants to see me first." John snorted as if the idea of a doctor insisting on doing his job properly were utterly ridiculous.

"Basketball?" Sherlock repeated.

"One of the blokes at yoga this morning told me about this wheelchair league he plays in. One of the teams is looking for new players." John ran his hands back up to Sherlock's shoulders and pressed down lightly as he added, "If you make a comment about my height, I swear I will drown you right now, Sherlock."

Sherlock crossed his arms over his chest so he could wrap his hands around John's wrists. He rubbed his fingers against John's damp skin and tried to isolate why the thought of John playing basketball seemed vaguely disturbing. "It's just—you're already gone a lot. Are you going to keep doing the yoga class?"

"That's an hour a week, Sherlock. Basketball will probably be a couple more hours. And you know what? You can come watch if you want."

"Oh, good. You know how I love to watch . . . sport matches."

"Games. They're basketball games."

"Yes, I was joking." He let go of John's wrists and rested his arms on John's knees. John didn't object.

"Sure you were, love." He kissed the top of Sherlock's head.

"I was." Sherlock tipped his head back to smile upside down at John and changed the topic. "This bathtub is the best thing that's happened to us these last few months, isn't it?" He stretched his legs out until his feet hit the end of the tub; he couldn't quite straighten them all the way, not when he was sitting in front of John like this, but it was still a comfortable fit for the two of them. John's feet were floating, toes poking up from the water next to Sherlock's legs. "I did a good job picking it out, didn't I?"

"You did. You should go on one of those home renovation programmes on the telly."

"I have no idea what you're talking about."

"Come on." John poked him in the shoulder. "Mrs Hudson has them on all the time. I know you've seen them."

"Delete," Sherlock said, and John sloshed a handful of water at his head.

"Hey! You're getting my hair wet."

"Yes. Because you're in the bathtub."

He cricked his neck to shake a wet curl out of his eyes. "I already washed it this morning." John's fingers brushed the stray curl back for him and Sherlock leaned into the motion and reconsidered. "If you get all of it wet you'll need to use some conditioner so I can comb it. Don't soap it again."

"I am familiar with your hair routine." John spread his fingers against Sherlock's temples and Sherlock's whole body went limp at the touch. This was all he needed, all he wanted: just the two of them, alone together with nothing and no one else to intrude on them. Why can't this be our whole life? They didn't need jobs or cases or other people; they could take care of each other like this all the time. Maybe that was why the idea of John playing basketball rubbed him up the wrong way: it seemed so unnecessary. Just us being together should be enough for him. It is for me.

"Close your eyes," John told him, and drizzled more water over his hair. Sherlock closed his eyes and bent his knees so he could slide down and submerge more of his head, letting the water cover his ears. John's hands glided over his forehead, and then dropped away suddenly, splashing into the tub on either side of Sherlock's face.

Sherlock sat up in time to hear a gruff, amused voice say, "Oi, who has a bath with the door open?"

Lestrade was standing in the doorway, arms crossed, head turned so he was looking out into the hallway instead of at them. He had a manila file folder tucked under one arm.

Sherlock crossed his own arms over his chest but made no other move to cover himself. "This is our flat. We'll leave the bath door open if we want, but the flat door was closed. How did you get in here?"

"Mrs Hudson let me in. Seriously, why would you leave this door open? You let all the warm air out that way."

"It wasn't a planned bath," Sherlock said.

"An unplanned bath?" Lestrade shot Sherlock an incredulous look and then quickly turned away again.

"It was my bath," John said, sounding completely unruffled. "Sherlock came in to ask me something and got distracted. Greg, maybe you could close the door for us and we'll finish up?"

Lestrade pulled the door shut and then yelled through it. "Hurry up. I've got a case."

"We haven't even got to my conditioner yet," Sherlock yelled back.

"Oh, Jesus, I really hope you're talking about washing your hair."

"I'm talking about conditioning my hair. What do you use conditioner for?"

"Don't answer that, Greg," John warned. He pushed at Sherlock's back. "Shove forward so I can get out and get dried off. I'm starting to get wrinkled."

"That's just old age," Sherlock said, but he slid to the far end of the tub and turned around, knees pulled to his chest, to watch John climb out of the tub. The urge to help him was stronger than usual, but instead he pressed himself farther out of the way, feeling the cool metal of the tap dig into his back.

John sat on the wide corner edge of tub; Sherlock wasn't thrilled with the position. If he'd known John would adopt that as his seat for drying off he would've chosen a textured surface: much less slippery and dangerous.

John noticed him watching. "Come on, finish up with your hair. Greg's waiting for you."

"He can wait—oh." Sherlock sagged back against the tub wall. "You invited him over here, didn't you?"

"Er, sort of."

"Sort of?"

"Well, yes. I didn't know he'd show up now, obviously, but I texted him this morning, as soon as I realised you had no intention of going to the Yard on your own. Figured I'd force the issue."

Sherlock flickered through several varying levels of anger and annoyance and then said, "Are my intentions really so transparent?"

"To me, yeah. Sometimes. Sorry, love." He grinned and scrubbed at his head with the same towel he'd used on the rest of his body. "Really didn't intend for Greg to get an eyeful of you, though."

Sherlock grimaced and turned himself around in the tub, grabbing the bottle of conditioner so he could detangle his hair. He took his time while John dressed, combing carefully with his fingers before rinsing with the handheld shower head. By the time he was done and out of the tub, John was dressed. He looked up expectantly at him and Sherlock shrugged. "You go talk to him. You invited him."

"Yeah, I will, but so will you. All right? It's just looking over a case. We're not making you go out chasing after criminals or anything."

Sherlock blinked to hide a wince and bent to pick up his clothes from the floor where John had tossed them off the chair. He slipped his shirt on and then opened the door to yell out to Lestrade. "Tell John the details. I need to dry my hair."

He really didn't need to dry it, but John and Lestrade both thought he was vain about his hair and so wouldn't suspect he was avoiding them. John left the bathroom with a resigned shake of his head and Sherlock spent as long as he could dressing and then fixing his hair. Eventually it was completely dried and styled, possibly a bit too elaborately considering his plans for the rest of the day included nothing beyond grabbing food from a takeaway that was likely to be shut down for food safety issues in the next month or so. He sighed and admitted to himself that John wasn't going to quit nagging him until he actually talked to Lestrade, so he might as well get it over with. Probably won't be much of a case anyway. Something any idiot with half a brain could solve. He pulled his jacket on, fluffed his hair one last time and headed out to the sitting room.

Lestrade grinned up at him; he was sitting in Sherlock's chair. "We solved the case. Well, John did, anyway."

John was sitting in his own armchair, file folder open in his lap, looking decidedly less pleased with himself than Lestrade. "It was medical. It was pretty obvious."

"Not to me it wasn't, mate." Lestrade looked from John to Sherlock and his grin slipped. "Oh, ah, whoops."

Sherlock bit at his lips and tried to keep his smile in check. He raised an eyebrow at John. "So you invited him here specifically to force me to work on a case again and then solved it yourself before I got out of the bath."

John closed the file and set it on the table next to him, then looked at Lestrade and said, his voice falsely bright, "Got anything else for us? Maybe something that's a bit more of a challenge?"

Lestrade shrugged. "Sorry, that's all I brought. I'm off the clock until Saturday, as of right now."

"Today's only Tuesday."

"Yeah, and I worked the last eight days in a row. I'm off the clock." He leaned back in the chair, spreading his arms over the back of it. "Donovan's working tomorrow. She might have something for you, if you want to stop by then."

"I have wasp monitoring tomorrow," Sherlock said.

Lestrade looked questioningly at John and John shook his head and said, "Want to join us for lunch?"

Sherlock dropped into John's wheelchair; it was the closest seat available. "He's not invited to our lunch date."

"It's not a date. It's just lunch."

"You said you were paying for me, that makes it a date."

"Not really. We're getting Chinese, Greg."

"Tempting, but I think seeing you both starkers is enough fun for one day. Don't need to go on a date with you, too."

"Good." Sherlock bounded to his feet again. "Lovely to see you, Lestrade. Let me show you to the door."

"Sherlock." John's hand darted out and Sherlock stepped away just in time to avoid getting thumped for his rudeness.

"What? He's used to it." Sherlock gathered up Lestrade's solved case file and escorted him to the door.

-----

Sherlock was woken by the sun slipping through the curtains very early the next morning. He cursed the unusual lack of clouds, though at least he could tell from the angle of the light that he still had several more hours to sleep. He rolled over toward John. John was not there. He squeezed his eyes shut tighter and turned his face into the pillow, reviewing John's schedule. Appointment with Dr Iyer at 9:15, work at 11:00. Even given the travel time needed to get to the rehab centre, it was far too early for him to be out of bed. Must be in the loo.

Sherlock had almost drifted back to sleep when he realised that quite a few minutes had passed and John still hadn't returned. He slid a sleep-tingling hand over the mattress; John's spot was cold. How long had he been in the loo? Sherlock couldn't hear anything. A quick bolt of panic coursed through him and he sat up—was John all right? He couldn't think of anything bad that might have happened that wouldn't have been loud enough to wake him—almost everything that came to mind involved John somehow slipping and falling, although it was possible he could have silently dropped dead of a heart attack . . . .

Sherlock shot out of the bed. The sheet tangled around his legs and he pulled it with him, dragging half the bedclothes along as he threw himself at the door to the loo. The door gave way when he slammed into it; it hadn't been shut all the way. He skidded into the bathroom. John was not in there. He leaned both hands on the edge of the sink and willed his heart to stop racing. Not in here. He kicked the sheet that was still wrapped around his legs back toward the bedroom and straightened up, wiping his sweaty palms on his pyjama bottoms.

He stepped out of the loo into the hall and nearly collided with John, who looked up at him with a confused but completely alive-and-not-having-a-heart-attack expression on his face. Sherlock collapsed against the doorframe in relief.

"What are you doing?" John asked. "Sounded like a herd of elephants crashing through the flat. You'll wake up Mrs Hudson. Why are you even up so early?"

"Why are you up?" Sherlock responded, a bit irritated that John was now putting him on the spot for making noise when he had been the one who'd gone missing and caused the problem in the first place.

"I'm making some tea."

"It's five o'clock in the morning."

"Yeah, tell me about it," John said, and rubbed his hand across his face. Sherlock took a closer look at him: dressing gown on and tied over his pyjamas, wearing his slippers, eyes free of night-time discharge but saddled with dark circles. John had slept about four hours, but had been out of bed for nearly two. Why hadn't Sherlock woken up earlier and noticed he was gone?

"Why didn't you wake me up?" He grabbed his dressing gown out of the bedroom and then followed John down the hall to the kitchen.

"Because it's five o'clock in the morning," John said.

"Why didn't you come back to bed?"

"I tried. Couldn't get back to sleep."

"What—?" Sherlock squinted at John's back; his shoulders were more tense than usual, making each push of his chair shortened and abrupt. "Was it a nightmare?"

"Yeah." John stopped in the middle of the kitchen and Sherlock automatically put his hands on his shoulders and started to try to massage the tension away. John dropped his chin down and exhaled. "It was . . . I don't know. It wasn't really that bad. It just got in my head and I knew I couldn't go back to sleep."

"Hm." Sherlock switched from long strokes on John's muscles to a more concentrated kneading. "Was it the falling dream again?" What else would it be? John had mentioned dreaming of his fall before, but not in the few weeks since he'd been home.

John lifted his head and nodded. "But not like you think. It was a lot worse than usual. I was falling, yeah, but it was through open air. I wasn't in the alley and I wasn't hitting the ground." He paused and Sherlock thought he was done, but then he went on, "And you were there, too. Falling. Except we weren't together, and I couldn't reach you. We both just kept falling and falling without each other." He took a deep breath and shook his head. "Sounds stupid now, but you know how it is, with dreams. I couldn't shake it so I decided I'd be better off getting up. I was afraid I would wake you if I stayed in bed awake myself."

"You should've woken me."

"Why? At least one of us should get some rest."

"You're supposed to wake me up when you have a bad dream."

"I'm supposed to?" John laughed. "Sherlock, you never wake up anymore. You're dead to the world every night for nine hours."

"What? No, I woke up just now, didn't I?"

"Yeah, I'm a little surprised about that. Usually you don't even notice when I get up because of a dream."

Sherlock frowned. "You've got up before tonight?"

"Almost every night, yeah. But usually I get up and go to the loo and by the time I'm done it's okay."

He's been getting up in the middle of the night and I've been sleeping through it? Sherlock had known the amitriptyline made him sleep soundly but this was ridiculous.

John moved away from Sherlock and picked up his cup of tea from the table. Sherlock put his hand on John's arm before he could bring it to his mouth. "Don't drink that. Come back to bed. You need more than a few hours' sleep."

John set the cup down and nodded. "Yeah, no one really likes it when their doctor dozes off on them. Learned that one the hard way." He smiled but Sherlock could tell how exhausted he really was.

He followed John back to bed and lay down next to him, facing him and crowded a bit closer than usual. He was pleased to see that John dropped off to sleep almost immediately, and even more pleased that he himself was able to stay awake and keep watch, just in case John woke up again.

Chapter Text

It was easy to skip the amitriptyline without John noticing. Sherlock curled up in bed next to him around eleven o'clock Wednesday night, like he always did, and they both fell asleep without difficulty. He woke up about four hours later when John tried to steal the sheets from him. After that Sherlock lay awake watching him. John never woke up fully, never got up to use the loo, and didn't appear to have any sort of bad dreams. Around seven in the morning Sherlock started to drift back toward sleep, but that was when John began to stir. He didn't really move around in his sleep much anymore—unconsciously rolling over was no longer possible—but he did start to squirm and migrate farther away from Sherlock. His eyes were flickering beneath his lids—definitely REM sleep—but his mouth was also twitching in an occasional smile: not a nightmare. Sherlock propped himself up on his elbow to watch and John opened his eyes. "Hello, sleepyhead," Sherlock said.

John stretched. "How long have you been watching me?"

"Not long." Sherlock smiled. Sleeping without his meds was easier than he'd expected; he'd been afraid his body would insist on the ridiculously long stretches of sleep to which it had grown accustomed, but he wasn't tired at all right now. He leaned in to kiss John and they started their day together; it went so well that he didn't even consider taking the medicine that night.

The next day was Friday, which meant John had to work; even worse, he was scheduled at the clinic two days in a row, his first Saturday shift since he'd started back. And Friday night was John's first basketball practice; Sherlock had no interest in attending, but if he didn't that would mean almost two full days apart.

And he had to admit that by Friday afternoon he was tired. He hadn't gone to sleep at all Thursday night. He was certain John had actually had a bad dream: he woke up around two, at least. Sherlock didn't want him to know that he was awake, so he just wiggled closer and mumbled "All right?" John muttered something sleepy back and then a minute later got out of bed and headed to the loo. Sherlock waited, peering anxiously through the dark, torn between wanting to get up and check on him and wanting John to think he was still asleep. Because even John would notice something was up if Sherlock suddenly went from sleeping like the dead all night to bouncing out of bed at the slightest disturbance. When John finally came back Sherlock grunted as if the mattress shifting had woken him and sat up, pretending to be disoriented from sleep. He blinked at John and said, "Dream?"

John said, "It's fine, go back to sleep," which Sherlock interpreted as "Yes, but not that bad." He lay back down and mumbled "mm'kay," which sounded ridiculous to his own ears but seemed like something someone half-asleep would say. He rolled onto his side so he could slip a hand against John's ribs; less than a minute and his breathing had slowed enough for Sherlock to know he was asleep again. He closed his eyes but spent the rest of the night fully awake, wandering back and forth between his Mind Palace and his observation of sleeping John.

-----

Sherlock stopped in the doorway of the sports hall. "Are you kidding me?"

"What?" John glanced up at Sherlock and then in at the basketball court. There were a couple of men in wheelchairs already playing; John might not have noticed the obvious problem, but Sherlock certainly did. He turned around and walked back out into the lobby, sure that John would follow. John grumbled about it, but joined him a moment later. "What the hell, Sherlock? Is there some sort of crime happening that the rest of us mortals can't see?"

"What? No, what sort of crime would be happening here?"

"Then why are we out in the lobby? Unless there are a bunch of serial killers in there, I am playing basketball."

"John. What did you notice about those two players in there?"

"Er, they're both bigger and younger than me, and trust me you are about to regret doubting my ability to compete with them."

"No. They're strapped into their wheelchairs, John. Are they going to do that to you?"

John glanced back behind him, into the hall. "Yeah, probably."

"Are you insane?"

"It's just a safety precaution, Sherlock." John licked at his lips and then clenched his jaw. Sherlock could tell it surprised him, too. Maybe he could still be talked out of this.

"You can't play a sport that needs safety precautions like that, John."

"Sherlock, all sports have safety precautions. Helmets, kneepads, mouth guards, rules about contact. That doesn't mean it's dangerous."

"You're not making sense."

"No, you're not making sense," John said. Crap, this was back-firing on Sherlock; John was becoming defensive and more determined. "Think about it—if I accidentally got jostled and my leg slid off the footrest or something? I'd have to stop playing so I could get it back into position. Strapping your legs in place prevents that kind of thing. It doesn't mean anyone is likely to get hurt."

Sherlock crossed his arms over his chest; John rolled his eyes at him and said, "Fine, if you're too much of a baby to watch, then wait for me out here. I'll see you in an hour and a half. There's probably a vending machine around somewhere if you get peckish." He waved his hand toward the hallway that led to the rest of the sports complex and turned around, leaving Sherlock standing by himself in the lobby.

Sherlock watched him roll away and pinched his eyes closed for a moment. I could wait out here. I could. He didn't need a vending machine, though he wouldn't be averse to a quiet corner where he could curl up for a nap. But even if he set an alarm on his phone, John might come out and look for him early, and if he found him asleep he'd want to know why he was so tired. He knows me too well. He'll figure out that I haven't slept for two nights and why, and then I'll have to go back on the meds. Sherlock was too exhausted to lie or deflect convincingly at the moment, but if he could make it through the next few days and get his body back to its regular schedule, John would understand that he no longer needed the medicine. Better simply to go pretend to watch basketball. Maybe he could nap with his eyes open.

"John, wait." Sherlock jogged a few steps to catch up with him and they entered the hall together. Other than the two men already playing, there were only a handful of people there: a couple more men in wheelchairs idly bouncing a ball back and forth as they chatted off to the side of the court, one woman sitting on a bench engrossed in her phone, and one man striding across the court toward them, grinning as if John and Sherlock were his long lost brothers. He had two prosthetic legs; he moved so smoothly on them that Sherlock wouldn't have known he had a disability if he hadn't been wearing shorts. It was just about the exact opposite of John when he was rigged up in his leg braces at physio.

"You must be John," the man said. "I'm Alex."

John shook his hand and tipped his head toward Sherlock as he introduced him.

Alex's grip was firm, his hand not as callused as John's. Injured in the army. Sherlock wondered if he ever would've met John if John had had both his legs blown off while he was serving.

"You going to join us on the floor today?" Alex asked Sherlock.

Sherlock narrowed his eyes, not understanding.

Alex nodded to a group of empty sport wheelchairs huddled at one end of the court. "We've got plenty of extra chairs. You'd be classed as a five, not eligible for official games, of course, but that doesn't matter for practice. You look like you've got quite a wingspan."

Sherlock didn't know if Alex was serious or making fun of him, throwing out nonsense terms because Sherlock clearly didn't know anything about basketball. Maybe he should've done some research when John said he wanted to play. He looked down at John for interpretation and John smiled and quirked his eyebrows at him and then said to Alex, "Sherlock's not much into sport. I think he'd prefer to just watch."

Alex nodded, giving Sherlock another long gaze; Sherlock felt like he was being sized up for slaughter. "Well, if that's what you want. Shame, though. Your hands are huge."

Sherlock shoved his hands into his coat pockets and turned his back on Alex and John before they could see his face colouring. A single row of long wooden benches lined one side of the court; the woman on her phone sat toward the middle of it, so Sherlock went and sat at one end.

He watched John transfer into one of the extra chairs: the wheels were angled much more sharply than his and the seat sloped back so his knees were higher than his hips. Overall the chair looked a lot more rugged than John's own chair; Sherlock did not find that reassuring.

Alex started showing John how to strap himself in and Sherlock had to look away. Being so tired was making him more on edge than normal, and he couldn't think about the implications of John being belted into a wheelchair without making himself more anxious. He glanced around, looking for a distraction.

A few more players had wandered into the hall, some of them walking, though they soon settled themselves in wheelchairs as well. Sherlock knew they all had lower limb impairments but that didn't mean he was comfortable with John playing against people who had so much more function than he did. At least there wasn't any tackling in basketball. Is there tackling in basketball? Surely not.

John stayed off to the side even as the others started to gather together at one end of the court. Alex had acquired a wheelchair of his own and was running him through a series of exercises that involved a lot of leaning forward and from side to side.

"They're figuring out his player classification." A woman Sherlock had no interest in talking to sat down near him. He looked at her with an expression that was meant to be dismissive but not too rude; John hadn't specifically warned him to behave today, but it had been implied.

She smiled and slid down the bench toward him; she smelled like she'd bathed in Claire-de-la-Lune and he forced himself to breathe through it and not move away.

"Wife or girlfriend?" she asked.

"Excuse me?"

The woman laughed and tossed her hair behind her shoulders. She was about thirty, short and busty. He wasn't too exhausted to make at least a few basic deductions about her. Two kids, one of them still in nappies. Drove here. Takes an anti-depressant. Yay. We should be friends, except I'm not taking mine anymore. He pulled his coat in closer, but she didn't take the hint.

"No one else would come to this practice." She glanced over at Sherlock, lips twitching. "No wedding ring, so—"

"If you call me his girlfriend, you will regret it."

She laughed. "Sorry." She looked out across the court again. "So, is it recent?" she asked, then hastily added, "The injury, I mean. I don't care how long you've been shagging."

Sherlock glanced over at her, nodded once, and then turned back to the court. This was intolerable, but if he opened his mouth John would be upset. And causing a scene probably wouldn't make John decide not to play; it would just make him angry.

The woman sighed. "I'll stop talking now."

How very wise of you. He folded his hands beneath his chin and stared out at the court. No one was actually playing basketball yet; there seemed to be a lot to discuss and laugh about first. Only one of the men was not in a wheelchair—he had no visible disability, although he was older than any of the players. The coach. Sherlock had assumed Alex was in charge, but this older man wore a whistle around his neck and soon enough was directing everyone into position so they could start their practice.

John and Alex stayed apart from the others, talking and gesturing both with and without the ball, eventually moving onto shooting, but never quite getting to what Sherlock considered to be playing basketball. After a few warm-up drills the rest of the team did start to play, to . . . scrimmage? Is that the word or is that specific to a certain sport?

He toyed with his phone and thought about looking up the rules of the game, but looking at the screen today made his eyes hurt, even with the brightness turned down. He leaned back as much as he could on the narrow bench and let his gaze drift away from John to the other players. Sherlock couldn't say he'd ever actually watched a basketball game before. The last time he had voluntarily paid attention to a sporting event had been the '84 Olympics, and all he remembered from that was the gymnastics competition and that little American girl whose hair he'd envied. Watching this game was more enjoyable than he'd expected, he had to admit: there were eight strong, sweaty men throwing a ball back and forth not thirty feet away from him.

He'd never had any sort of attraction to athletes before; most of the time he didn't even bother looking at anyone other than John. And nearly all of the players in front of him were younger than he was, some by almost two decades: definitely not his type. Why am I suddenly so entranced by muscular men who can't walk?

He watched them play a little more and tried to focus on the game, not the well-defined arms of the players. The rules seemed pretty straightforward, although no one seemed to be keeping score and he was pretty sure if this were a real game situation they'd be using the whole floor and not only the half of the court they were sticking to now. The coach kept offering advice and critiques to all the players, although he also seemed to be acting as the official . . . referee? Umpire? Something. Every now and then he would blow his whistle and one of the players would curse and pass him the ball and he'd give it to the other team.

The woman sitting next to Sherlock left him alone for a few minutes, but soon another woman joined her; they were annoyingly boisterous in their greetings.

"Tamara! Hi! Is Joey playing again?" the new woman asked. The first woman—Tamara, apparently—slid over even closer to Sherlock and he wavered between keeping claim on his seat and moving farther away from her. After a brief deliberation he edged closer to the end of the bench.

Tamara nodded enthusiastically at the new woman. "Julie, this is—" She turned to Sherlock. "I didn't get your name, did I?"

"I know who he is." Julie smiled at him. "It's Sherlock Holmes, Tamara. Don't you recognise him? He doesn't usually wear the hat, you know."

Oh, good lord, I do not need this right now.

Tamara looked confused, but Julie went on gushing. "So Dr Watson is playing on our team? That's so exciting! I saw in the paper that he'd been hurt—it wasn't that long ago, was it? I'm surprised he's ready to play already—you must be so proud!"

Sherlock frowned. Of course he was proud of John; he'd just never considered that playing a team sport would be something worthy of pride. Sherlock scratched at his chin—did I shave this morning?—and tried to respond civilly. "He has done very well since—since he was hurt, yes. I am proud of how hard he's worked." I'm just not sure why he seems to think basketball is necessary to his recovery.

Julie raised her head to get a look at John through the bottoms of her glasses. "Hm, he looks like he's about a two. What level is his injury?"

"T-9." Sherlock wasn't completely comfortable sharing John's information with a stranger, but he did want to know more about this game, if John was going to insist on playing. "What's a two?"

"His player classification."

"Is that good?"

"Well, not really, not for him, it means he can't move his legs or lower trunk, of course, but it's good for the team. They can only have a total of 14 playing points on the floor at once. He'll probably get a lot of playing time, once he gets the basic skills down. Can he shoot?"

"Can he—?" Oh. Shoot a basketball. "I doubt it. I don't know that he's ever even tried. He's only 5'6"."

"Well, that doesn't matter too much. It always takes new players a while to get the chair skills down, even if they played ball before. He'll probably mostly be a defensive player at first. The roles of guards and forwards don't exactly translate into the wheelchair game."

Sherlock nodded though she was mostly speaking gibberish. He couldn't decide if that was because he was so tired or because he was that uninterested in sports. He turned back to the court; Alex was showing John how to lean to one side and dribble the ball—see, I do know some sport terms—while the rest of the team continued to play. Most of them had worked up quite a sweat by now; Sherlock rested his elbows on his knees and put his chin in his hands and reminded himself that they all probably smelled terrible and he would definitely not want to be near them. He shifted his gaze back over to John; he didn't look sweaty yet, but the t-shirt he'd chosen to wear was very form-fitting. Sherlock grinned at the image and let his eyes drift shut for a moment, until a commotion on the court pulled him rudely from his imaginings.

Two of the players had apparently run into each other, a much more violent collision than any of the physical contact Sherlock had seen so far. Their chairs tangled together, and the smaller player ended up tipping over completely. The coach blew his whistle even as the player with the ball, the one who had knocked the other one over, shouted, "No, play on, play on!"

"Oh, Quinn, you fucker!" The player who had fallen was lying on his side, calves and thighs still strapped to the chair, laughing. The player who'd knocked him over—Quinn—tossed the ball to the coach and offered both hands to the fallen player; a couple of others came over and helped to quickly haul him upright again. Somehow he appeared unhurt; the coach gave him the ball, though Quinn continued to protest that the contact had been incidental.

Sherlock swallowed and looked over at John again; he and Alex had stopped their practice drills for a moment but now started up once more. Apparently no one else seemed to think a player getting knocked to the ground was particularly disturbing; Julie and Tamara hadn't even paused in their chatter with each other. He shivered and pulled his coat tighter, wondering if he'd be able to tune everything out again, and then something Julie had said clicked in his mind.

"You said John would be playing defence." He was interrupting their gossip, but this was more important. "Is that what the player who just got knocked over was doing?"

Julie leaned forward so she could see Sherlock around Tamara. "Wow, you don't know anything about this game, do you?"

"Why would I?" he snapped. "It's not exactly a popular British pastime, is it? It's not . . . football or something." He glowered and turned his head back toward the court, raising his shoulder toward the two women.

"Sorry, sorry," Julie said. "Hey, I know it can be disturbing to watch, but they aren't trying to hurt each other. Your John will be fine."

Sherlock tucked himself deeper into his coat and then realised something that would have been immediately clear if he hadn't been so exhausted and foggy. "Why does the team need more players in the middle of the season?"

Tamara and Julie glanced at each other.

"Tell me."

"Er, well, Oliver—he was a three, good shooter, great range—his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, so he quit the team."

"That's one player. What else?" He looked at Tamara; she seemed to be the more easily intimidated of the two.

She tried to smile as she answered, but she was a terrible actress. "There were a couple of injuries, nothing serious."

"Injuries from playing this game, I assume. And serious enough to be season-ending." He paused. "What about your husband—Joey? Why was Julie surprised he was back? Was he injured as well?"

"No—well, yes, technically, but one of his skin grafts got infected, it had nothing to do with basketball." Talking about her husband made her more sure of herself; she thrust out her chin as if daring Sherlock to question her further. He narrowed his eyes to indicate that she hadn't won the confrontation and looked away from her again.

The two women whispered something to each other, and then Tamara edged closer to him. "Hey, Sherlock." She put her hand on his knee; he flinched away from her, nearly jumping off the bench. She raised her hands. "Sorry. Just wanted you to know that it's normal."

"What's normal? There's nothing normal about me."

"Well, I'm pretty sure that's not true. We've all been where you are right now. He'll be okay. It just takes time."

Sherlock glared at her but she smiled back at him and then resumed her conversation with Julie. Why were they so cheerful? Your husbands can't walk and yet they are out there crashing into each other, trying to hurt each other for no reason at all.

He tried to block out everything around him again but then he heard the coach call over to Alex and John. "We're going full-court. You boys ready to join us?"

Alex tossed the ball they'd been using off to the side and he and John gathered with the rest of the team in the middle of the court. A lot of talking, again, as the coach tried to divvy up the players and their classification points evenly. John was sitting at the edge of the group, his back to Sherlock, drumming his fingers on the wheel of his chair. Sherlock glanced at the two groupings the coach had made and realised John would be playing opposite Quinn, the big man who had knocked the other player over. He would've been nearly a foot taller than John had they been standing, and had to outweigh him by five or six stone, even though his legs were quite atrophied. John didn't seem bothered; he was introducing himself to everyone and apologising for his lack of experience.

Intellectually, Sherlock knew that there was a low probability that John would get hurt; the other players were likely to take it easy on him, given that it was his first time playing. But even so . . . . I can't watch him get knocked down like that. I can't. He took a deep breath to steady himself, glanced one more time at John's back, and then got up and left the hall. He would find the vending machine, get a drink, take a walk outside, lean against a wall and try to sleep: anything rather than watch John get hurt again.

John did not get hurt, though when Sherlock finally returned at the end of practice it was to the sight of John wrapping surgical tape around another player's jammed fingers. Great. Now he would feel useful and needed and they would welcome him back even if he was too old and small to be much good at basketball.

They had to walk a few blocks to get a cab home; John seemed exhilarated from practice, while Sherlock was even more worn out than he had been before. His head wasn't clear enough to predict what John's reaction was going to be, but he went ahead and said what he was thinking anyway. "John, that game is far too violent for you to play."

John laughed and Sherlock breathed a sigh of relief that he wasn't angry, although it wasn't something he was going to let John dismiss as a joke, either. "I'm serious, John. Did Dr Iyer really clear you to play? Because it's demonstrably dangerous, from what I saw today."

"Come on, Sherlock." John reached out to give his hand a brief squeeze; Sherlock missed holding hands as they walked. "We're not trying to hurt each other. It's not like I'm doing mixed martial arts or something."

"You might as well be."

"Sherlock."

Sherlock huddled into his coat. He knew he wasn't going to win this argument and felt bad about even trying—John really wants to play. He enjoyed himself tonight. But he couldn't in good conscience stand by and let John get hurt. At least he needed to get his objections on record. "Isn't there a swim team or something you could join?"

"No. There is not."

"Yes, there is. There must be." He pulled his phone from his pocket to see if he could find one. "There's swimming in the Paralympics."

"I will not be joining the Paralympics swim team." John still sounded close to laughter: good.

"You could."

"No, I really couldn't."

"Why not? You can swim."

"Well, for starters, I think you probably need to know how to swim with actual strokes. My only swimming technique is called 'Not Drowning'."

Sherlock felt his lips curl up and John stopped in the middle of the pavement and turned to face him. "Sherlock, would you like to go swimming with me sometime?"

"Yes, I would like that very much."

"Okay. But I am still playing basketball." He pulled Sherlock down by his coat and gave him a long, thorough kiss.

When he finally let go, Sherlock straightened up and wiped his mouth. "Why stop at basketball? Why not ice hockey or rugby? They would satisfy your bloodlust even more, wouldn't they?"

"Hm, I hadn't thought about hockey. Maybe next winter. I can't play wheelchair rugby, though."

"Why not? Not big enough? There a minimum weight or a maximum number of teeth? You don't have nearly enough tattoos to play basketball but no one seemed to object."

John started down the street again and Sherlock walked next to him. "Wheelchair rugby was actually started for quadriplegics as an alternative to basketball. You need to have both upper and lower limb impairment to play."

"So you're too able-bodied to play wheelchair rugby."

"Yep."

"Well, keep up the basketball. Maybe you'll get hurt enough you can qualify for rugby next season." He regretted it as soon as he said it, but John just shook his head and smiled up at him, his eyes soft.

"Sherlock. You don't have to worry."

"John, some of those players can walk."

"Yeah, well they're not allowed to use their legs, so that doesn't really matter much."

Sherlock knew he was sulking but didn't care. "And apparently I'm your girlfriend."

John's grin turned serious. "Yeah, now that I was a little worried about. Thought I might see a bit of discomfort, or hate, really, but a few of the other blokes already knew who you and I were, and no one seemed to care that we were together."

"Disappointed you didn't get to knock any homophobic heads together?" Though he really couldn't fault John there. They'd both threatened their fair share of bigots over the years; sometimes they'd done more than threaten.

"No, I think I'll get enough head-knocking in on the court to satisfy my bloodlust."

Sherlock winced and John immediately apologised. "The object is to get the ball through the hoop, not to hurt each other. The most that's likely to happen is a few bumps and bruises. Maybe the odd sprain. It will be all right. I promise."

They continued another block until they finally reached the main road. Sherlock noticed John massaging his left shoulder as they waited for a taxi. "You did get hurt."

"No, it's just sore from practice. Lots of movements I'm not used to." He stretched out his arms. "I think I can probably learn to shoot just as well with my right hand, actually. Maybe I'll work on using both next time."

"So your arms can be equally sore."

"Yes." John sounded satisfied, as if that were a perfectly logical solution. Sherlock shook his head in disbelief and turned away so he could hail a cab.

Chapter Text

Sherlock had gone more than three nights without sleep many times before, but only when he had a case to keep him occupied or, years ago, when he'd been high for days at a time. Though he was still anxious and jittery after watching John's basketball practice, he knew he was going to have to force his mind to give into his body and sleep that night. It was difficult to relax, though, even once he was in bed and listening to John's steady almost-snoring. It seemed the anti-depressant had been good for something; much as he believed sleeping so much to be a waste of time, he hadn't minded the way it had reliably dropped him into a deep, dreamless sleep. It was much preferable to what he was doing now, at least: lying awake and trying to keep his mind from racing back to all the useless, disturbing thoughts that tormented him.

At some point he did fall asleep though, because he dreamed. He didn't know if John had a nightmare that night, but he did. He could hear himself whimpering, and knew he was asleep; several times he thought he woke up, but then found himself still stuck in the dream. John falling from the fire escape, but hitting the ground and not moving at all this time. John falling at basketball, tipping over in the chair and skidding across the floor when the straps that held him broke. John falling from the fire escape while strapped into a wheelchair, the metal that was meant to aid him only serving to injure him more. Finally he whined loudly enough that John woke up and nudged him until he opened his eyes. Sherlock found himself curled on his side, the sheets soaked through with his own rancid sweat. "Am I awake?"

"Yeah, love. Are you sick? You're so warm." John pulled himself up to sitting and put a cool hand on the side of Sherlock's face.

Sherlock closed his eyes at the soothing sensation and then blinked them back open, remembering the dream. He sat up quickly, kicking the sheet away, and pulled his legs up so he could turn and face John. A wave of dizziness made his vision grey out momentarily, but he was more concerned with checking on John. "Are you all right?" he asked.

"Yeah, of course I am. You were the one having the nightmare this time." John leaned back and regarded him through the pre-dawn gloom. "You be okay while I go to the loo?"

Sherlock nodded and sagged back against the headboard. He watched John get out of bed, relieved to see that he was able to do so. Just a dream. He's not hurt, not any worse than he was already. He shuddered and shut down the memory of the dream. Not real. It had felt real, yes, and he hadn't been able to find his way out of it until John woke him up, but it was over now. No reason for it to bother him.

The bedroom was extremely warm, or maybe John was right and he was getting sick. He pulled off his pyjama top and tossed it toward the laundry hamper. Better, feeling the room's cool air against his chest, but he was still rattled by the dream. Sleep was supposed to calm his nerves, not make him more agitated. All right. So the meds were good for preventing nightmares, or at least preventing me from remembering them. Still not worth it if they make me sleep through John's bad dreams, though. He twisted his lip at the irony and settled back to wait for John.

When he returned Sherlock lay on his side and pressed himself against him, needing the reassurance of their bodies close together. John touched his lips briefly to Sherlock's forehead. "I don't think you're feverish. Good."

Sherlock snuggled tighter against him and John said, "Mm, it’s lovely that you want to cuddle but I can't sleep like this and my arm's still a little sore from basketball."

"Sorry." He reluctantly eased his upper body away, though he kept himself pressed from knees to ankles against John's leg. It wasn't the most comfortable position and he felt a bit guilty because he knew John might not have welcomed the contact if he could feel it, but he needed to touch him as much as possible. Rather than fading as Sherlock tried to go back to sleep, the bad dream stayed with him, twisting each time he closed his eyes but always much worse than reality.

After an hour or so he gave up. He rolled over and stared at the outline of the window as the dull morning light crept higher and he waited for John's phone alarm to go off.

When it did, John cursed and fumbled at the nightstand until the beeping stopped. Sherlock slid out of bed and picked up his pyjama top from the floor next to the hamper; he'd cooled down not long after he'd awoken but getting out of bed to retrieve the shirt before now had seemed like too much effort.

"You don't have to get up, Sherlock." John was still in bed, rubbing sleep from his own eyes. "Are you feeling okay?"

Sherlock shrugged and dropped back down onto the bed next to him, then rolled onto his stomach to bury his face in the pillow. John ran his fingers through the hair on the back of Sherlock's head. "You never went back to sleep, did you?"

Sherlock shook his head, pillowcase scratching against his face with the motion.

"Must've been quite a nightmare."

"Mmm-hmm." Sherlock didn't offer details and John didn't pursue it, for which Sherlock was grateful.

"I need to shower so I can go to work. Don't fall asleep on your stomach like that, you'll be complaining about your back for days."

"I'm not going to fall asleep." Sherlock turned his head so he could see John.

John pursed his lips and Sherlock was seized by the sudden certainty that he knew that he had stopped taking his meds. He knows. Of course he knows. He's a doctor—he notices these things. Which didn't really make a whole lot of sense, because there was nothing for John to notice. The only thing that had changed when he stopped the amitriptyline was that his sleep schedule had become a little unsettled. He's going to want me to start taking it again because he thinks I'm depressed. But he wasn't depressed; he was just so tired. In a few more days when his sleeping straightened out he would tell John he'd stopped taking it and John would see that he was fine. Until then, he needed to distract John. He amended his earlier statement. "I'm not going to fall asleep because then I won't get to see you before you go to work."

"All right." John tossed the sheet and blanket off his legs, partially covering Sherlock, and then gave his bum a pat through the covers. "Why don't you get up and make us some breakfast while I'm in the shower, then, hmm?" He raised an eyebrow and Sherlock relaxed. Making breakfast was a small price to pay in exchange for avoiding being nagged about his psychological state.

Once he got up and started moving around, he felt a bit better. Maybe he had got more sleep than he thought before he woke up last night. He made eggs and toast and had a pot of coffee brewed by the time John emerged from the bathroom. The coffee didn't settle very well in Sherlock's stomach, but he drank it anyway so he could wake up all the way.

"You're eating some of that, too," John told him when Sherlock set the plate in front of him at the table.

"Not the eggs," Sherlock said. It hadn't really bothered him while he was making them, but now the smell of cooked yolk was turning his stomach. He sat down at the table across from John and picked up a piece of toast. "It's too early to eat anything that heavy."

John shook his head and grinned around his mouthful of food. "You're lucky you've never had to work a job with a regular human schedule."

Sherlock nodded his agreement and tore off a bite of the toast. John didn't comment on the fact that he skipped the butter and marmalade, and the dry bread calmed his stomach enough that he was able to eat two pieces and finish a second cup of coffee.

When John left Sherlock sat down with his laptop and tried to update some of his wasp data. He worked for a few minutes but the spreadsheet layout made him dizzy and the screen seemed too bright again today. He closed the computer after making only a few entries, head spinning. He hadn't done the data analysis he wanted to do, but even entering the numbers he'd collected earlier in the week seemed too complicated at the moment. Maybe a shower would help clear his head.

Somehow the shower made it worse. Instead of soothing him, the hot water seemed to encourage the headache that was forming at the base of his skull. If he didn't know better, he would have said it was from lack of caffeine. By the time he was dressed, the headache had grown and spread, so he made himself some tea just in case that was the problem. There was still coffee left in the pot but he didn't think his stomach could handle another cup. While he waited for the kettle to heat he washed the breakfast dishes; John would be happy that he'd tidied up, at least.

He sat down with the cup of tea and tried to decide what to do with himself for the next seven hours or so. He was still fairly exhausted, but trying to sleep again was out of the question. If he had another dream like the one last night and woke up without John in bed next to him . . . . Nope. Not that tired.

He drained the last of his tea; the cup rattled when he set it back on the saucer. He exhaled slowly and held out his hand, dismayed to see that he could not still the slight tremor. He frowned and admitted to himself that there was only one thing he really wanted to do today, only one thing that would make him feel right. I really, really need John to be here now. Not possible, but there must be another solution. Over the past few years he'd learned that when his mind turned onto this jittery, unsettled path it was best to surround himself with others. John was the best option, of course, but other people could substitute if necessary. Yes. Talking to someone who wasn't unbearable would help pass the time. He jogged down the stairs to Mrs Hudson's flat, but she wasn't home. Entirely too much of a social life for a woman of her advanced years, if you asked him.

Another plan, then. Lestrade. John would be thrilled; he would think Sherlock had had a sudden urge to review ridiculously simple cases. He headed out the door; there were no taxis in sight, so he started walking down the street. Before he could fully process what he was doing he found himself entering the corner shop.

This won't work. He knew better; he did. Nicotine was a stimulant; any sense that it calmed the nerves was purely psychological, born of years of conditioning that had taught him to relax when he had a cigarette in his hand.

The man behind the register was the same one who sold Sherlock newspapers and milk nearly every day. Now he made no move to ring up the pack of cigarettes Sherlock requested. "You don't smoke, mate."

"I'm not your mate. I'm your customer. How much do I owe you?"

"A fight with your boyfriend's no reason to start up a bad habit again."

"I'm not—we're not fighting." Was there anything more tiresome than an ordinary person who thought he knew how to deduce? Sherlock thrust a ten-pound note at the man and grabbed the package from him the moment he retrieved it from the case under the counter.

He couldn't smoke in a cab, so he walked to the Yard instead. It was only a couple of miles; he smoked three cigarettes on the way. It had been two years; he thought he might not enjoy the taste or that he would have forgotten how to breathe through the urge to cough, but he fell back into it without a hitch. The first cigarette was every bit as glorious as he remembered, from the bitter flavour to the strangely comforting sensation of smoke filling his lungs, but by the third one he was regretting the decision to buy them. The nausea he'd felt on and off since he'd got out of bed was worse now, and while he'd never cared about the long-term effects cigarettes would have on his body, he did worry about what John would do if he knew Sherlock had slipped back into his old habit. He stubbed the third one out before he reached the filter and increased his walking speed so he would get to the Yard before he was tempted again.

Lestrade took one look at him when Sherlock walked into his office and said, "Out."

"Sorry, what?" Sherlock took his hands out of his pockets and straightened his shoulders so his coat would fall properly around him.

"Get out of here. Go home. I don't know what's wrong with you but you look like hell. Either you're upset and need to go home to John or you're sick and I'm not having you spread whatever you've got around here."

Oh, please save me from more amateur, incorrect deductions. "I'm fine. I thought you'd been jonesing for me to come around and do your job for you. I'm here. Don't complain."

Lestrade somehow managed to back Sherlock out of his office simply by stepping toward him. Sherlock stopped and held his ground in the doorway once he realised what was happening. Lestrade crossed his arms and lowered his head toward him. "I mean it. You need to go home."

"John's not home," Sherlock said. His voice sounded pitiful in his own ears. "I mean, he's at work, and I've got the day free so I thought I'd stop by and see if you had any urgently unsolved cases you needed me to work out for you." He thought he got the balance of disdain and indifference right that time.

Lestrade shook his head and didn't move to let Sherlock back into his office so Sherlock looked around until he spotted Donovan sitting at her desk. She was watching him already, not pretending to work, so he strode over to her. Even if he couldn't berate her into giving him a case she would most likely be good for a little verbal sparring, which was always very soothing to the nerves.

"Jesus, Sherlock," she said when he got close. "Did you smoke the whole pack at once?"

He startled at her perspicacity but then remembered he must smell like smoke. Lestrade wouldn't have noticed because he smoked too much himself. Shit. John will know. He rubbed his hand across his face. He shouldn't have come here. He shouldn't have bought the cigarettes. Now he needed to shower again before he saw John, and try to air out his coat. Even if John wasn't too upset that he'd smoked, even if he was understanding, he would be disappointed, and Sherlock didn't want to face that right now.

Donovan squinted at him, a mix of compassion and suspicion in her gaze. "You have a fight with John or something? You should go apologise to him."

"No, we didn't have a fight. Why does everyone think we had a fight? And why would you assume I would be the one to have to apologise?"

Donovan rolled her eyes and Lestrade came up beside him and clapped a hand to his shoulder. "You really do look like shite, Sherlock. Seriously, go home and go to bed and wait for John to get home. He'll take care of you."

"I know he will," Sherlock said, and dropped his head. How much more pitiful could I possibly be? He squared his jaw and straightened his shoulders again. "But I don't need to be taken care of. Everyone has been nagging me to come here, but as I'm clearly not wanted, I will leave. Don't bother texting the next time you actually need me, though."

"Sherlock—"

He didn't let Lestrade finish. He turned, letting his coat flare out behind him, and ignored the whispers he heard as he left the building; he couldn't tell if they were sympathetic or mean-spirited and he wasn't particularly eager to find out.

Once outside he found a seat on a bench so he could collect his thoughts for a moment. He didn't know why he'd assumed being around other people would make him feel better. Other people were useless idiots. Lestrade and Donovan: what had he been thinking? Donovan's got Xanax in her handbag. The thought surprised him with its appeal: calm the anxiety and maybe even get some restful, dreamless sleep. He allowed himself a moment to luxuriate in the memory of the distant, detached feeling the drug had produced the last time he'd taken it and then dismissed the idea. He wasn't going to go back inside and ask Donovan for a pill. If he had some at home, maybe, but John never allowed him to keep that sort of addictive substance around the flat. Probably with good reason, yes, but still, it would've been nice to have the option available.

He leaned his elbows on his legs and rested his head in his hands. His head was throbbing but he needed to think about this rationally. His main problem was still lack of sleep; the few hours he'd had last night hadn't been enough to make up for the nights missed before that, and that was why he'd been so anxious for the last couple of days. He closed his eyes and spent a few minutes forcing himself to breathe deeply. He knew how to control anxiety; he'd been controlling it since he was old enough to recognise the feeling, and it was frankly quite maddening that it was getting the better of him. Yet now he was only able to last a couple of minutes before he compulsively checked his watch for the time. Six more hours until John comes home. He knew he wouldn't feel better until then, wouldn't be able to relax until he could lie down with John's comforting arms around him and let his breathing slow to match John's steady pace.

He sighed and ran his fingers through his hair, teasing the sides out and then tamping them back down into a semblance of a human hairstyle. Maybe. He couldn't spend the day with John, but if he timed it right he might be able to catch him on his lunch break. He rose from the bench and looked around for a cab. If he hurried he should be able to shower, get the smell of smoke out of his coat and make it to the clinic before John took his break.

Mrs Hudson still wasn't in her flat but Sherlock knew where she kept the Febreze, which he hoped would take care of the coat. He left the remaining cigarettes in one of his hiding spots in her sitting room, then went upstairs to shower and wash his hair again even though he hated to do that twice in one day. His breath was a bigger problem; he brushed his teeth until his gums were sore, scrubbed at his tongue with the toothbrush bristles and then returned to Mrs Hudson's to nab a couple of peppermints from her candy stash. Satisfied that he'd done all he could to rid himself of any hint of smoke, Sherlock hailed another cab and headed to the clinic.

John was already in the staff kitchen when Sherlock got there, scrolling through something on his phone, the crumb-dotted wrapper from the sandwich he'd brought spread out on the table in front of him. He'd abandoned his wheelchair in favour of a one of the kitchen's ugly, stackable chairs and he had his legs stretched out, feet resting on another chair across from him. Good for his circulation and leg muscles; not so good if Sherlock wanted to sit at the table with him. But then John looked up and smiled and Sherlock felt the knot in his chest loosen a bit. He crossed the room in three long strides and settled into the empty wheelchair with barely a second thought; John no longer seemed to mind Sherlock sitting in it as long as he didn't move it out of his reach.

John leaned over to give him a peck on the lips. "Didn't expect to see you here. Everything okay?"

"Yes, fine. Thought you might want some company." Sherlock swallowed. It was fine; everything was fine. He was with John and no one else was here with them and he could relax for a few minutes. "I didn't know you'd be done with lunch already."

"Yeah, I got the first shift. Got a few minutes left and then I have to let Nancy have her turn. It's been pretty slow today, for a Saturday. Everyone should get a chance to eat."

"That's good, good." Sherlock folded a thin crease into the edge of John's sandwich wrapper, brushing the crumbs toward the middle. A few minutes. I guess it's better than nothing. He took a deep breath and exhaled and cast around for a topic of conversation that didn't make it obvious he was here because he was desperately out of control. "What were you looking at so intently just now?"

He reached for John's phone but John laid a hand on top of the screen. "Nothing much," John said, looking embarrassed. Sherlock squinted at him. What could he possibly be embarrassed about on his phone? He wrinkled his brow and John bit at his bottom lip and lifted his hand. "I was just looking," he said, and tapped the home button to turn the screen on. Numerous possibilities, most of them either disturbing or amusing or both, flickered through Sherlock's head and then he looked down at the phone and frowned. "Wheelchairs?"

"Sport chairs. Basketball chairs, specifically." John spun the phone around so Sherlock could see. "I thought if I'm going to play maybe I should buy my own, but they're expensive. More than that chair, and that wasn't cheap." He nodded at the wheelchair Sherlock was sitting in.

Sherlock ran his fingers over the slim armrests on the chair and then drifted his hands down to fiddle the locking mechanisms off and on a few times. He expects me to tell him to go ahead and buy it and not to worry about the cost. That was what Sherlock always said whenever John fretted about money. Well, not this time. John could afford whatever he wanted to spend on himself, anyway; he was the one with an actual paying job at the moment. "John, you've been to one basketball practice. You might not even end up liking it."

"I like it, Sherlock. And anyway, I said I was just looking. I'm not buying one yet."

"Good." He leaned back in the chair again before noticing the tightness building around John's eyes. "It's not that I don't want you to play—"

"Yes, it is. You've made that pretty clear."

"No, I—" The thought of John playing was even worse now than it had been yesterday; half of the inescapable dream last night had involved John being smashed to pieces on the basketball court. He tried to think of a way to reason with John without angering him. "John. Objectively, is playing basketball really a good idea? You could break an arm. What would you do then? You wouldn't be able to work."

"I could still work with a broken arm, Sherlock. People do that every day, even doctors."

"But you need to be careful. You don't exactly have any limbs to spare." Shit. I'm an idiot. He tried to backtrack, but John didn't give him the chance.

"Get up. I need to go back to work." John's voice was tight, not his own.

Sherlock swallowed and stood up; he could feel his eye starting to twitch, both at the prospect of John being angry at him and at the idea of him possibly getting injured again. John didn't look at him while he pulled his legs from where they were propped on the other chair. Sherlock stepped back to give him room, ignoring his instinct to move closer when they were both upset. John put his hand on the wheelchair and it rolled a few inches away from the table. "You left the bloody lock off, Sherlock," John growled, and pulled the chair close again so he could re-engage the mechanism.

"Sorry. I'm sorry. I—" He put his hand on the back of the chair, more to steady himself than to help John, and John said his name, low and threatening.

"No," Sherlock said. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He couldn't have John angry at him, not now. "I am sorry. Please, believe me. If you want to play basketball, you can."

"I know I can. I don't need permission from you to do anything."

"I didn't mean. I know. I know. It's just . . . ." Sherlock wasn't sure how he meant to finish the sentence. This unfamiliar lack of clarity that muddled his own thoughts was intolerable; was this how ordinary people felt every day? He held up his hands in defeat.

John stared at him for a moment, then seemed to relent. He hefted himself into his chair, putting his back to Sherlock. "You don't have to watch me play, if it's going to make you so upset." He balled up his sandwich wrapper and tossed it toward the bin. It hit the wall and then fell to the floor.

Instead of making a crack about basketball skills, Sherlock walked over so he could pick up the wrapper and throw it away for him. Everything is wrong right now. "I want to come to the games. I want to support you."

"No, Sherlock, no." John shook his head; his voice was even and steady but his nostrils were flaring and his hands were curled tightly around the rims of his chair. "You don't want to support me. You want to direct me into carefully controlled activities that you choose for me."

"What? I do not." That made no sense; he certainly hadn't chosen any activities for John. Everything John was doing lately he was doing on his own. "I supported you going back to work, didn't I? Even though I'd rather have you home with me."

John closed his eyes; Sherlock could see his chest rising and falling, a physical representation of him mastering his anger. He's doing a good sight better than I am at controlling himself, I'll give him that.

John opened his eyes and spoke, his voice clear and careful. "I have to go back to work, Sherlock. I'll see you tonight." He wheeled himself toward the door.

Sherlock hesitated, then jogged a step after him. "Wait. Please."

John stopped and didn't move or object when Sherlock crossed the room to stand in front of him. "I'm sorry," Sherlock said again. "I haven't been feeling my best the last couple days."

"Yeah, I noticed."

Who cares if he knows I stopped taking the meds? Sherlock felt himself relax more than he had in days and sank down onto John's lap. He buried his head against the side of John's neck. John's arms tightened around him briefly but then he pushed Sherlock back by the shoulders.

"Sherlock. Were you smoking?"

Sherlock gulped. He thought he'd cleared up all of the smell. "I—"

"Because you stink like bloody Febreze and what else would you be trying to cover up?"

Lots of things—decomposing organs, raw sewage, bad Indian food—I can think of so many. He tried to smile and John gave his coat collar a deep sniff and then shoved him off his lap.

Sherlock stumbled to his feet and John glared up at him. "I am working until five. I will be home before six. We are going to have a little chat, then, about whatever the fuck you have been up to the last couple days, hmm?" John tipped his chin down and looked up at Sherlock with a particularly menacing tilt to his mouth.

Sherlock nodded. He honestly had no idea what John thought he had been up to, but he knew he couldn't keep going on as he had the past few days.

"All right. All right, then." John clenched his fists once, exhaled and then nodded at him. "Go home, Sherlock. Try to get some rest. I know you haven't been sleeping well, and honestly you look like shit."

Sherlock nodded again and then lunged toward John, wrapping his arms around his neck, probably smothering him in the process. He tried to tell him he was sorry again but his throat was suddenly too thick.

John grunted and hugged him back and then pushed him away again. He ran a hand gently down Sherlock's cheek. "I'm serious. You haven't been yourself, but whatever's bothering you, it'll be okay. Just go home for now, all right? And don't smoke anymore."

Sherlock stood up, slightly embarrassed; he hadn't even thought it was possible for him to be embarrassed around John, but he supposed that was a good measure of just how terrible the last day or two had been. He smoothed his coat and flexed his fingers before putting his hands in his pockets, hoping he looked collected and under control. "I'll see you around six, then? Shall I order something to eat?"

"Whatever you want." John glanced over his shoulder at the door and then up at the clock on the wall. "Look, I really have to go. I'm sorry. I hate to leave you alone when you're not okay, but I'll see you in a little while, and we'll have all day together tomorrow, I promise."

Sherlock turned his lips up a bit and kept his hands anchored in his pockets and followed John out of the kitchen. He wanted a goodbye kiss but there were several patients in the hall and he knew that could be troublesome for John so he settled for another shared smile, this one more real on both their parts, he thought, and then he headed out into the street alone again.

He meant to go home. Truly, he did. He even gave the cabbie the right address, but before they'd gone more than a few blocks he changed his mind. John was right. He wasn't himself; he wasn't okay. The cigarettes hadn't helped, but they almost had. Those first few drags, they'd felt so good, tasted both dirty and pure and he had been himself, for a moment or two. John was right. He needed to sleep and they needed to talk. But maybe he could get back to himself before he did either of those things.

It had been a long time, but he knew of one reliable way to clear his head, to make himself sharp and fully awake instead of dull and fuzzy-headed. John wouldn't approve, but he didn't have to know. He'd done a rubbish job covering up the cigarettes, but he had hours before John would be home again. As long as he didn't use a needle, John would never know. He had plenty of time to find one of his old acquaintances, get high, and come down again. Plenty of time.

Chapter Text

Sherlock and a skinny girl named Sunshine who was very interested in gardening were having a rather stimulating conversation about the decomposition rates of animal bones when Lestrade interrupted. Sherlock had forgotten how much he enjoyed talking to strangers when he was high; cocaine made everyone else a little less boring. Then he looked up to see Lestrade picking his way across the room, cursing as he kicked piles of rotting food scraps and other rubbish out of his way. The building had undoubtedly started life as office space, but at some point in the last decade or so the part they were in must have served as a small church; there were still a half-dozen pews scattered throughout the space, unmoored from their intended positions. Sherlock and Sunshine had bypassed the wooden benches in favour of a couple of more comfortable chairs at the far end of the room, where there should've been an altar table. Probably someone had burned it for warmth in the winter; Sherlock was surprised there was anything flammable left here at all.

Sunshine noticed when Sherlock suddenly stopped talking. She took one look at Lestrade and bolted, knocking over her chair in her rush toward the closest door. None of the handful of others in the room seemed to notice; Sherlock was proud that he'd chosen the most observant junkie in the room to engage in dialogue.

Sherlock sighed and unfolded himself from the questionably upholstered chair he'd been sitting in. Lestrade couldn't have waited another quarter-hour to find me, could he? It had been 53 minutes since he'd snorted his first line and while he had been starting to come down for a while, he had at least 12 more minutes before he fully crashed, based on his previous experiences. He'd really wanted to take advantage of every second. Inhaling powdered cocaine was not his preferred method of use, but it was the easiest and the high certainly lasted a lot longer than when he injected, even if it wasn't anywhere near as intense.

Lestrade grabbed Sherlock by the collar of his jacket and jerked him toward the exit.

"Hey! Watch the suit!"

"You wanker." Lestrade shoved him again. "Is that your thousand pound coat you left lying on the floor of a crack house? Get it."

"This is not a crack house. Have you ever known me to do crack?" Sherlock straightened his suit before bending to retrieve his Belstaff. He'd left it on the cleanest spot on the floor he could find, although in retrospect he probably should've kept it with him on the chair. He'd just been so hot wearing it in here. In his previous life as an addict he'd usually dressed down a bit more.

Lestrade grumbled and then opened his own jacket to pull out his Scotland Yard ID. "Oi, everyone here, party's over! You've got two minutes to clear out before I call for back-up and start arresting for possession."

The half-dozen or so junkies scattered around the room were suddenly fully alert, scrambling for the doors, even those whose drug of choice was not as stimulating as Sherlock's. Sherlock knew that Lestrade had no interest in having anyone arrested for possession. What's the point of driving everyone out of the building? He shook his head in disgust and draped his coat over his arm. It had been within his reach at all times; he wasn't foolish enough to believe that every person here wouldn't try to steal it in a heartbeat. He patted the pocket that held his phone and then slid it out, automatically checking for any new messages; it was possible he'd been too distracted to hear the alerts. "Oh. John texted me." A lot. The first inkling that he had done something he would greatly regret started to slither up Sherlock's spine.

"Of course he did, you git. He was worried about you."

Sherlock put a hand up to shield his eyes from the sunlight coming through the broken windows as he followed Lestrade across the room. "Don't tell him where I was, all right? He'd be really upset."

"Christ, Sherlock, are you kidding me? How do you think I knew to go looking for you? I knew where to find you but John's the one who knew you were gone. He's waiting for us in the car."

"No, he has two more hours at work." He knew he hadn't lost track of time; a glance at his watch confirmed it.

"Well, I guess he left early."

Sherlock froze, a hand on one of the abandoned and much-abused pews to steady himself.

Lestrade grabbed him just above the elbow and pulled. "Come on, he won't kill you in front of me."

Somehow all of the junkies who'd cleared out ahead of them were out of sight already when they got outside. Sherlock was impressed, though he saw signs that several had gone to ground in the building next door. Intrigued, he looked around for clues as to where the others might be, taking a step toward the alley between the buildings before Lestrade smacked him in the back of the head. "Oi, observe. My car's right there."

John was in the front seat. He didn't turn around as Sherlock climbed in behind him. His wheelchair was folded up behind the seat; Sherlock settled himself against it. "John, I—" He cut himself off, unsure of what to say. John didn't respond or even turn to look at him. Sherlock could only see the back of his head and a hint of his jaw, clenched and unyielding.

Lestrade slid in behind the steering wheel and frowned back at Sherlock. "Put your seat belt on. I think you've hit your limit of risky behaviour for the day."

Sherlock pulled absently at the belt; normally buckling it was a habit but everything seemed a little off right now and he'd forgotten. It felt like he had come down all at once. He had tried to delete his memory of this part of the high, the after-effects where he felt like either crying or running back for another hit. His heart was still racing from the cocaine but now the euphoria was gone, leaving only edginess and an enormous regret, both that he'd gone and got high and that he couldn't go back inside and do it again.

He didn't really get a chance to dwell on that, though, because Lestrade put the car into gear and immediately started ranting. "What the hell were you thinking, Sherlock? I sent you home for a nap and instead you go out and get high?"

"You sent me away! What did you expect?" This was perfect, actually—a good shouting match could be a glorious distraction, exactly what he needed.

"Jesus Christ, Sherlock. Yes, all right, I shouldn't have sent you away, but how was I supposed to know how bad off you were? I thought you had the flu and needed a nap. I didn't know you were having a fucking relapse."

"I was not 'having a relapse'. I just decided to get high."

"Why?" Lestrade slowed the car to ease into traffic; his tone softened with it.

Sherlock wasn't in the mood to be tenderly psychoanalysed. He dropped his head back on the head rest and used the most bored tone he could muster. "I like cocaine."

"Why now? You haven't done this in years. What triggered it?"

"I was tired." He tried to keep his voice flat, but this conversation was a thousand times harder to have with John sitting wordless in the front seat, hearing everything but not giving any sort of clue as to what he thought. Sherlock was afraid he knew what John thought and it was breaking his heart. He shifted a bit in his seat and John's wheelchair pressed against his legs; the bite of the hard metal against his shins was a small comfort in light of John's refusal to even acknowledge him.

Lestrade seemed oblivious to any tension, he was so intent on berating Sherlock. "So take a sleeping pill like the rest of us."

"I didn't want to go to sleep. I wanted to wake up." He turned his head and looked out the window, away from Lestrade; his hand moved of its own accord to fidget with the upholstery on the back of John's chair. The cocaine had woken him up, for a little while, but now the exhaustion was once more seeping through, mixing again with unbearable anxiety. Only now with the added bonus of having pissed off John so much he won't even look at me.

Lestrade was on a roll. "You know, for being the smartest man I know you are such a bloody idiot sometimes. I thought we were past this, I really did. I know the last few months have been rough, but come on! I can't believe you thought getting high was an answer to anything, Sherlock. You—"

"Oh, come off it, Lestrade! Like you've never done anything ill-advised in your life. Has your girlfriend found out where you were the last time you told her you had an overnight shift?" Rather than being cathartic, threatening to spill Lestrade's secrets was exhausting; Sherlock collapsed back on the seat again, breathing heavily. This car ride was taking far too long; next time he got high he was going to do it closer to home. He closed his eyes.

"Sherlock. Sherlock!" John was actually talking to him; surely that merited a response.

He pried open his eyes. "What?" It was more curt than he intended, but as he was fairly certain John was not about to forgive him, it was the best he could do.

"Look at me." John was twisting around in his seat, trying to meet his eyes. "Are you having trouble breathing?"

Sherlock blinked at him and considered. It was a little hard to catch his breath, but he wouldn't call it trouble breathing. "No."

"You feel dizzy or light-headed, any nausea?"

"I've felt that way for days." Of course, he'd refrained from telling John that before now.

John narrowed his eyes. "Chest pain?"

"No." Sherlock let his head fall sideways against the cool glass of the window. The car was far too warm for comfort now that he was wearing his coat again; he could feel sweat dripping between his shoulder blades. If he's trying to induce a panic attack in me, he's doing a good job.

"Are you sure? Greg, do you have any aspirin?"

"What? But he's all right," Lestrade said. "You just haven't seen him like this before. He's just starting to come down."

"I've seen enough fucking junkies come down, Greg. Do you have any aspirin?"

"I don't know. There's a first aid kit in the glove box." Lestrade glanced back at Sherlock, tyres swerving out of his lane a bit.

"I'm fine," Sherlock said.

"Shut up," John replied, pawing through the mess in Lestrade's glove box. "I don't want to hear a word out of that stupid mouth of yours."

"I—"

"Shut up!" John turned and thrust an ancient-looking bottle of aspirin between the seats, toward Sherlock. "You have no right to say anything to me right now, you fucking idiot. Take one and chew it, it'll absorb faster. We don't have any water anyway. I can't believe you did this, Sherlock, I can't believe—" John turned away again, thumping his shoulders back against the seat.

Sherlock looked down at the bottle of aspirin and then back at John. "I'm not having a heart attack," he said. Yes, now it did feel like his chest was starting to squeeze a little, but that was psychological, obviously.

"Just take the fucking aspirin. Greg, A&E."

"Yeah, all right, I'm already headed that way. You really think he's—" Lestrade looked back over his shoulder again and Sherlock turned his face away.

"Focus on driving, please," Sherlock said. "We don't all need a trip to A&E." Yes, it was a little hard to get enough breath to speak full sentences, but that didn't mean anything. It just means I'm all the way down after snorting two lines of coke and I am so fucking tired I can't think straight. He could feel his heart beating very fast. That's not even a sign of a heart attack, just a side effect of the cocaine. He couldn't remember exactly how long it used to take for him to feel normal again; unfortunately, while he was always extremely clear-headed when high, the details tended to be difficult to retain afterwards.

"Jesus Christ, Sherlock." Lestrade cut across two lanes of traffic, picking up speed. "I really, I really didn't know when I sent you away this morning. You just looked sick and tired to me. I didn't mean—"

"No, Greg. This is not even remotely your fault." John's voice was hard and flat. "He's an adult. If he needed help he should've told one of us what was wrong, not made us play some guessing game where the winner gets to babysit Sherlock."

Sherlock closed his eyes again for a moment. I should defend myself. He couldn't really think of a good defence, and anything he said would make John yell more, though that was marginally better than being ignored. Instead he popped the cap on the aspirin and shook one out. "Just one?"

"Yeah. Shit, I'm not even sure if aspirin works when the MI's not caused by a clogged artery. Fuck. Just take it, Sherlock."

Sherlock took it. Uncoated, bitter and crumbling between his teeth, and probably too old to be effective even if he was having a heart attack. Which I'm not.

Lestrade managed to get them to the hospital without crashing; Sherlock couldn't decide if he was grateful or not. He reviewed his symptoms, trying to see if John might be right, but everything he was experiencing could be attributed to either the cocaine or was a continuation of the way he'd felt since he'd stopped sleeping after quitting the amitriptyline.

Lestrade pulled up to the entrance of the A&E department and Sherlock didn't move. Seeing the wide glass doors beneath the big red sign had made his heart rate jump again, completely out of his control. "Get out," Lestrade said, and then sighed. "John, take him in."

Sherlock wasn't looking, he was still staring at the doors, but John must have shook his head, because Lestrade said, "Christ, John, you know he's not going in there of his own free will. Just take him in while I park."

John grumbled but opened his door.

All right. So I guess this is unavoidable now. Sherlock exhaled, which did nothing to slow his heart, and opened his own door. He climbed out of the car and then pulled the wheelchair out and unfolded it for John, which was apparently not appreciated. At John's glare he let go of the chair and took a step back while John hoisted himself out of the car. Sherlock's limbs felt shaky and unsteady, but again, that was most likely from a combination of coming down from the high and listening to John's fears and letting them influence him psychosomatically.

John fixed his feet and legs into position on the leg rests, more haphazardly than usual, and then gestured at Sherlock without actually reaching out and touching him. "Come on, then."

Sherlock swallowed and followed John across the pavement to those sliding glass doors. He stumbled before they got there—the ground is flat—took another couple of steps and then had to reach out and grab John's shoulder to keep himself upright.

John tensed at the touch, but kept moving forward and didn't try to shrug away. The doors opened as they approached and Sherlock shivered as they passed through them; the whumping sound they made as they closed seemed to echo through his whole body.

Once inside, John pulled Sherlock's hand off his shoulder and pointed to a row of plastic seats. "Sit. I will check you in."

"I—" Sherlock raised his hand toward John again and John held up one finger.

"Don't. Not a word. Sit. Christ, you're drenched in sweat, Sherlock. That's not good." John's face betrayed a level of worry Sherlock had never seen on him before, though it didn't chase away the anger that was also there. "Take your coat off and sit."

Sherlock took his coat off and sat. He watched as John spoke to the woman at the reception desk, pointing over his shoulder but never once turning to make eye contact with Sherlock. Sherlock closed his own eyes and put his head in his hands. Yes, my chest hurts. But I don't think it's a heart attack, just heartache. He blinked his eyes open again; John was scribbling on a clipboard, his back still toward Sherlock. Ugh, I'm never so maudlin. Clearly something is wrong. He tried to steady his breathing and waited for someone to come get him, or for John to come back to his side.

Chapter Text

Sherlock woke up when a nurse pulled the nasal cannula out of his nose. He glared at her—I did not need supplemental oxygen—and then closed his eyes again. He hadn't needed the oxygen but the sedative had been much appreciated. He wasn't sure how long he'd been asleep: long enough to feel better but not so long that he wasn't still tired. The nurse patted his arm, overly familiar, and said, "Wake up. Dr Taylor's on her way to talk to you."

Sherlock had no particular desire to talk to Dr Taylor, but since that would be the logical first step toward being discharged, he opened his eyes again. He looked past the nurse as another woman pushed aside the curtain to enter the treatment bay: short, trim, sandy-blond hair, a bit angry-looking. Lovely, he was being treated by a female version of John. She was definitely going to yell at him.

She strode into the room, nodded a dismissal at the nurse, and picked up his chart from the foot of the bed. "You did not have a heart attack."

"I know." Sherlock grimaced and pulled himself more upright on the narrow examination bed.

"You know?" She set the chart down, crossed her arms and stuck her hip out, clearly waiting for him to elaborate.

Sherlock opened his mouth to explain and maybe throw in a few cutting deductions about Dr Taylor herself, and then realised how full his bladder was. He was still hooked up to an IV of fluids; that needed to come out now. He started to reach for the tube to pull it out but Dr Taylor stopped him. She pinched the skin on his forearm, testing for dehydration.

"All right," she said, apparently satisfied with the elasticity of his skin, and unclipped the IV line from the back of his hand. "Toilet's right over there. Can you stand or do you still feel light-headed?"

"I was never unable to stand," he said, and swung his legs out of bed, extremely relieved when he was steady enough to get up on his own and walk across the room to the loo. When he was done he washed his hands and then his face and then leaned on the sink for a moment, assessing. His heart rate seemed to be back to almost normal, his breathing was much easier and he was no longer sweating. He was actually a little cold now: not surprising, given that he was wearing a hospital gown that exposed half his body. Still tired, yes, but not unbearably so, less anxious—of course, they gave me a benzodiazepine. It was meant to slow his heart, which it had; easing the anxiety and knocking him out for a while were just pleasant side effects. That would not have been the treatment for a heart attack. He inhaled deeply and then exhaled. Yes, he was definitely feeling much better than he had in days, if somewhat weak and wrung out.

Sherlock returned to find Dr Taylor looking at his chart again—his latest vitals, all within normal ranges. He sat on the edge of the bed and raised his eyebrows at her. "So it was just an arrhythmia, I assume?"

"Sinus tachycardia," she said. "Not something to be taken lightly, but not a heart attack, no."

He waved a hand at her. "Rapid heartbeat. Cocaine always causes a rapid heartbeat. If I'd been alone, I never would've noticed anything amiss at all. Just an overreaction on the part of the people I was with." He didn't feel quite as good as he thought he sounded, and he knew what had happened hadn't been trivial, but as his main goal now was to be discharged as soon as possible, it seemed best to act that way.

She frowned at him. "It's a bit worrying how familiar you seem to be with the effects of cocaine use. You do realise that not only is it dangerous, it's also illegal."

Sherlock sighed and leaned back on the pillow. "If you'd like to call the police, I suggest starting with Detective Inspector Lestrade. He's the one who drove me here. He might still be in the waiting room."

She shook her head and went back to his chart. "Your heart rate's still a bit over 90. High end of normal. Do you know what it usually is?"

"Around 80." He scrubbed a hand over his face and tried to will his heart to beat more slowly so she would release him and he didn't have to leave against medical advice.

"Hmm. Well, if you think I'm going to let you walk out of here without discussing rehab, you're mistaken."

"No. I'm not—" Sherlock swallowed. He couldn't deny his use today. He had told them about it when he came in—he knew there was no value in withholding that sort of information, not with the chance that John was right and he was having a heart attack—but now it was an inconvenient mess that he had to explain away. "It was just this once, today. First time in . . . almost six years."

She didn't believe him, didn't even pretend. Sherlock grumbled and reached up to the back of his head and pulled out several strands of hair. Ow. He'd only meant to get one. "Here. Test it. I'm clean except for today."

Dr Taylor held up both hands in a gesture of refusal. "No, thank you."

Sherlock sniffed and let the pieces of hair drift to the floor. He'd known she wouldn't take them; an actual hair follicle test used thirty or forty pieces, cut close to the scalp, not yanked out. He'd done it for show, to prove to her that he wasn't using regularly.

Dr Taylor scrawled something on the bottom of his chart. "I've no reason to keep you here, but based on your presentation today I expect you'll use again and we'll see you back within three months, probably with a more serious cardiac event next time."

"I won't. Like I said, it was just this once." Sherlock tipped his head and made eye contact with her. It was hard for him to be this sincere with a stranger, and honestly he didn't care what she thought, but he knew she was more likely to let him leave if she believed he wouldn't relapse. She is like John. Damn. John is going to kill me.

Dr Taylor shook her head again and left him alone so he could get dressed. He was tying his shoes when the nurse who'd woken him up returned. She was younger and taller and much friendlier than the doctor, though that didn't make Sherlock want to talk to her any more.

"That glum-looking silver fox who was waiting for you got a call a little while ago and rushed out of here," she said. "Sounded like a work thing. He your emergency contact?"

"What? No." Sherlock scoffed at both the description of Lestrade—silver fox?—and at the idea of him being his emergency contact. He thought Lestrade had only stuck around because he felt guilty for shunning Sherlock this morning.

"Well, who is? I can call them for you, let them know you're being released soon. Still can't let you use your phone back here, I'm afraid."

"I—I don't know."

She tilted her head and he sighed. "I'm not having memory problems. I'm just not sure if he's still willing to be responsible for me." John and Lestrade had argued quietly in the corner of the waiting room once Lestrade had parked the car, and then John had announced he was taking a cab and left; Sherlock hadn't even been seen by the triage nurse yet.

"Ah, I see," she said. "Is there anyone else you want me to call?"

He'd given John's name as his contact when he first arrived, thinking that even though he had been angry enough to leave Sherlock alone, he still would want to be contacted in case of a real emergency. Maybe I should've listed Mycroft or my parents instead. It didn't really matter, now that he knew he wasn't going to die. He sighed. "No, I'll take a cab and hope John's still there when I get home."

"And John is . . . ?"

"He's—" Sherlock stopped, biting the inside of his cheek to keep himself from bursting into tears.

The nurse pursed her lips in surprise; since when was he so bad at disguising his emotions? "So, there are . . . problems at home?" she asked.

Sherlock closed his eyes and tried to get himself back under control. I am never going to be able to leave this hospital, am I? "No. Everything's fine," he said, teeth clenched.

"Right, so that's why you nearly overdosed."

"Oh, for God's sake. He's angry at me because I did cocaine. We haven't been fighting. Would you like to check me over for any signs of abuse?"

"Nope, we already have." She picked up the clipboard at the foot of the bed; Sherlock thought there was a good chance she was about to add a note about him being mentally unstable and recommend him for a psychiatric evaluation, but instead she flipped through several pages until she found the emergency contact information he'd provided.

"Wait. John Watson? Is that Dr John Watson?" When Sherlock nodded, she continued. "I know Dr Watson. Last summer I did per diem work at the clinic with him for a couple weeks. You're—" Here it comes, Sherlock thought. Sherlock Holmes, the detective with the funny hat. But, no, instead she giggled and said, "His 'dickhead boyfriend.' That's what he always used to call you. I don't know that he ever said your name." She giggled again and then looked embarrassed. "Sorry, sorry. He didn't ever say it in a mean way. He would just tell funny stories about you."

"I'm sure he did," Sherlock said, and sighed. He would be happy to hear John call him a dickhead right now, as long as it was still in conjunction with the word boyfriend or an equivalent term.

"I heard he got hurt. How is he?"

"He's a paraplegic. But honestly I'm much more concerned about the possibility that he's never going to speak to me again." Sherlock turned away from her, looking for his coat so he could get out of here as soon as possible.

The nurse put the clipboard down. "Oh, come on. He'll forgive you."

"Right. He's definitely one to forgive 'his dickhead boyfriend'."

"No, no. He always said it with love, you could tell." She gave him another embarrassed smile and then left to check on her next patient.

As soon as she was out of sight Sherlock pulled out his phone and sent John a text. Not an MI. Just arrhythmia. I'll be discharged soon. I love you. I'm sorry. –SH. He sent it quickly, before he could second-guess himself, and then shoved his phone into his jacket pocket.

By the time he was finally allowed to leave, almost an hour later, Sherlock could feel his anxiety rebuilding itself. At least now he had a reason to be nervous. John had not texted back. What was he going to say when he got home? He tried not to think about it as he walked out of the building towards an idling cab.

John was waiting for him in the taxi. Sherlock paused while nearly all of the tension in his body fled and then he opened the door and slid in next to him.

John gave the cabbie their address and then, without turning to look at Sherlock, asked, "How are you feeling?"

"Better than I did a few minutes ago," Sherlock answered. John still didn't look at him. Sherlock straightened his coat where it had bunched when he sat down and watched him from the corner of his eye.

John's right hand was curled into a fist in his lap and his left clutched at the door handle, which meant that he was fighting his instinct to reach out and hold Sherlock's hand like he usually would in the back of a cab. At least the instinct was still there; Sherlock took that as a good sign.

After a few minutes John flexed his fingers in his lap and said, "So the arrhythmia resolved itself, then?"

"Yes. Well, they gave me oxygen and IV fluids and a sedative, so I'm not sure you could say it resolved itself . . . ." Sherlock trailed off when he saw how still John was holding himself. He blinked and tried to decide if he should reach across the space between them. Probably not. John's hand was once more making that fist in his lap and he could still be overly-sensitive about having his legs touched and Sherlock thought his own reflexes were probably too dull to dodge a punch effectively. He didn't need another hospital visit so soon.

They rode for a little while before either of them spoke again. Then John said, "You scared me, Sherlock. So much." He shook his head. "I couldn't even stay in that waiting room."

Something in Sherlock's throat locked at the tone of John's voice; he couldn't speak, but he did reach out now, trying to grab at John—hand, shoulder, anything he could touch. John shrank away from him, pulling himself as far into the corner of the cab as he could, his torso turned so Sherlock was faced with his back.

"I'm sorry," Sherlock managed to say, and dropped his hands, but John kept himself turned away, unapproachable, and Sherlock didn't try again.

When they got home Mrs Hudson had food waiting for them; Sherlock obligingly ate two bowls of the soup she had made. John spoke to him, but only casually, methodically: pass the salt and drink some water and there's more cheese and toast if you're still hungry. Sherlock wondered if he had asked Mrs Hudson to stay, so they wouldn't be alone together, but of course eventually she went back downstairs and then it was just the two of them in the kitchen.

John cleared his throat and started to speak a couple of times and then finally said, "You should go to bed." He turned without waiting for a response and headed down the hall to the bedroom; Sherlock followed him without hesitation.

John seemed at a loss what to do once Sherlock joined him; he ran his hands through his hair and fidgeted with his wheelchair and avoided meeting Sherlock's eyes while Sherlock sat on the edge of the bed. "John—" Sherlock started, but didn't get any farther.

"Look, Sherlock, I can't . . . I can't do this right now, okay? I am so, so angry with you, I can't even think straight." John looked around the room again, everywhere but at Sherlock, and then focused his gaze on the table next to Sherlock's side of the bed. "Did the doctor say it was all right to continue with the amitriptyline? Sometimes that can cause heart issues, too, but you shouldn't just stop it."

Sherlock looked down at his hands and didn't answer.

"Oh, Jesus, Sherlock, you didn't tell them you were taking it, did you? They must have asked you about medications, they must have." He wheeled himself around the bed so he was sitting next to Sherlock's nightstand and picked up the bottle of pills.

Sherlock pulled his legs up onto the bed and tried to make himself as small as possible. "John, I—" He swallowed and forced himself to say it. "I stopped taking the amitriptyline."

John froze for a moment, then carefully set the pill bottle down and turned himself so he was facing Sherlock directly. "You stopped taking the amitriptyline." He closed his eyes and took three deep breaths; Sherlock counted. "Of course you did. Why didn't I—I did! I thought you might have stopped, yesterday, when you were so jittery and weird at basketball practice, but then I thought, no, you wouldn't do that without telling me. And I saw you'd moved the bottle of pills last night, so you must have taken one. Did you move it just to trick me?"

Sherlock tried to shrink farther into the pillows before he answered. "I thought I would tell you once a little time had gone by and you saw I was fine without them."

John picked up the bottle of pills again and held it clenched in one hand, only the cap visible to Sherlock. "So let me get this straight. You stopped the amitriptyline cold turkey, when was that, Thursday?"

Sherlock thought back; simple chronology seemed to require far too much effort at the moment. "Tuesday night was the last time I took it."

John closed his eyes. "Right, of course. So Wednesday, was Thursday okay still? I don't remember you on Thursday, must have been normal, but Friday . . . . God, I should've known better. Of course that's why you weren't sleeping. And let me guess—anxious, dizzy, maybe a little nauseated?"

"I was just over-tired."

"No, Sherlock. You were in withdrawal. And insomnia was one of the symptoms. You idiot. You can't quit an anti-depressant all at once like that. You need to taper off slowly."

Sherlock scoffed. "I do not. I've quit anti-depressants plenty of times before and it never bothered me."

"You never took them for more than a couple days before, Sherlock! Jesus Christ, for someone so smart . . . ." John paused and took a deep breath, let it out slowly. "I know this is hard for you to believe, but you actually are a human being with a body that reacts just like everyone else's when you do shitty things to it."

Sherlock didn't say anything, just watched John fume. He didn't think he'd been in withdrawal, everything he'd experienced over the past couple of days could be attributed to a simple lack of sleep, but if John felt this strongly about calling it withdrawal he wasn't going to argue with him.

"Okay." John rubbed at the bridge of his nose. "Let me make a call. I want you to start it up again tonight, but tricyclics can also sometimes cause arrhythmias, so I'm going to get another opinion as to whether it's a good idea or not. I think yours is probably a low enough dose, but . . . ."

Sherlock nodded. Taking another pill didn't really seem like that big of an issue right now, and at least John was talking to him again. "I'm going to have a shower. I smell like hospital and stale sweat." He stood up from the bed.

"Yeah, do that," John said, looking around for his phone, then turned quickly back to look up at Sherlock. "Wait, is that a good idea? Are you really feeling all right? You're not dizzy anymore? Maybe a bath, or sit on the bench . . . ."

"I'm fine," Sherlock snapped. He grabbed clean pyjamas, crossed the room and swung the bathroom door shut harder than absolutely necessary. John's combination of concern mixed with anger was exhausting to witness; he needed a few minutes alone. He started the shower, and if he needed to sit down halfway through it, John didn't have to know.

John came in while he was drying off. "You're taking half a dose tonight. Don't even try to argue."

Sherlock accepted the sliced pill from him; John handed him a glass of water and watched him swallow.

"It should be fine, but I want you to take half for a couple days and if it feels abnormal, like your heart is racing or anything unusual, anything at all, you tell me, you understand?"

Sherlock nodded and set the empty glass down on the edge of the sink. John grabbed his arm, his grip several degrees past comfortable. "I'm serious. You tell me. Understand?"

"Yes, I understand." Sherlock pulled his arm away, rubbing at the still-damp skin. He turned away, needing to reassert himself without making John any more upset. Yes, I know I made a mistake, but I am an adult and not an idiot and despite what you may think I do not need a babysitter. He pulled his towel tighter around his waist and reached for his comb. John backed his chair up enough to give him space to move but did not leave the room. Sherlock combed his hair and then added some gel and combed it once more and then ran the comb under the tap so he could rinse most of the gel out again.

He sighed and turned around to face John when it became clear that he wasn't going to leave. He clasped his hands together to still them and leaned back against the sink, but he still towered over John in the wheelchair, which felt like both an unfair and a necessary advantage. "I'm sorry," he said, and looked down at his hands. He'd already said that twice, once in the text message and once in person in the cab; maybe three times would be enough. He kept his head down but watched John through his eyelashes.

John didn't look up at him; he was staring at a spot on the sink, or maybe at Sherlock's hair gel, or possibly not looking at anything at all. Finally he blew out a long breath and said, "All right, really, Sherlock. I can't do this now. Tomorrow. We will talk about this tomorrow. We will talk about everything tomorrow." He left Sherlock alone in the bathroom. Sherlock finished getting ready for bed, taking longer than normal, both because he felt sluggish and because he was afraid of what would happen when he had to face John again.

Surprisingly, John was in his pyjamas already when Sherlock came back to the bedroom. None of the scenarios he'd just run through in his head had involved the two of them going to bed together. Sherlock tossed the clothes he'd been wearing into the dry cleaning pile and said, "Do you want me to sleep on the sofa?" Or he could use the inflatable mattress Mycroft had left. He'd never expected to use it again, but he'd also never expected to have John this angry at him; this quietly blazing rage underpinned with hurt and worry was something he'd never witnessed before, something he never wanted to see again.

John shook his head, a short, precise movement. "I want you next to me. I am going to watch you sleep, because even though you're a fucking arsehole who doesn't ever think about the consequences of your bloody actions, I don't want you to stop breathing in the night."

"I'm not going to stop breathing."

"No, probably not. And I'll be watching if you do and maybe I'll resuscitate you. Most likely I will, unless I don't feel like it."

Sherlock didn't even know how to interpret John's tone, so he took the words at face value. There hadn't been a lot of joking on John's part tonight, anyway. He pulled back the covers on the bed, both sides, while John watched. God, he was still so tired, bone-deep exhaustion underlying an emotional turmoil that was as deep as anything he'd felt in the months since John got hurt. He crawled into the bed, glad that John planned to join him but certain that he would sleep for hours and hours even if he were completely alone.

John glanced at Sherlock, as if unsure if he could be left on his own for even a moment, then shook his head. "Go ahead and sleep if you want. I'll just be a few minutes in the loo."

Sherlock waited, fighting to keep his eyes open even though it was too soon for the amitriptyline to have kicked in and made him sleepy. Finally John emerged and climbed into bed next to him. Rather than lying down, though, John stayed sitting up, propped against several pillows.

"Aren't you going to sleep?" Sherlock asked.

"I'm not tired yet."

"I am." Sherlock slid across the sheets, bringing his pillow with him, and got as close as he could to John without actually lying on top of him.

"I know. Go to sleep," John told him, and settled his hand on Sherlock's wet hair. Sherlock snuggled deeper into the touch, half-expecting rejection but willing to take the risk. John's fingers tightened in Sherlock's curls for a moment, then loosened, and Sherlock relaxed, letting himself drift into sleep with John watching over him.

Chapter Text

Sherlock woke up in almost the same position in which he'd gone to sleep; his back and right shoulder were not appreciative. John looked like he hadn't moved at all, either; he was awake and still sitting up against a couple of pillows, though Sherlock could tell he'd been up at least once in the night, based on the position of his chair next to the bed. Nightmare or just needing the loo: Sherlock didn't want to ask. That was what had triggered these last few horrible days in the first place.

John brushed a curl off Sherlock's forehead and then settled his hand on his cheek, his fingers cool and his touch light. "How're you feeling?" The anger of last night was almost entirely gone from his voice, thankfully, though he definitely did not sound like himself, either. Why is he so worried? Sherlock did a quick check of himself, but he felt fairly normal. Maybe a little groggier than usual but nothing worse; his heart certainly hadn't stopped beating in the night.

"I'm all right." Sherlock pushed himself up, shaking feeling back into the arm he'd been lying on. He expected a little dizziness when he sat up, based on the way he'd felt the last couple of days, but none came. Maybe it really was amitriptyline withdrawal. Not that serious, though, if the half-pill he'd taken last night had been enough to sort him out again.

He slid out of bed and padded to the loo; when he returned John was still in the same position. He climbed back into bed and snugged up close to him again, now that he knew he was welcome. "Did you sleep at all?"

"Some. Mostly I watched you." John still didn't sound right. Tired, uncertain, still so worried. Why?

He rolled onto his side a bit so he could see John's face, feeling the shoulder he'd slept on twinge in resentment at the continued misuse. "I didn't stop breathing."

"No," John acknowledged. "You snored a little." His lips turned up briefly but then he let out an anguished gasp instead of a laugh. "Sherlock. I can't, we can't do this. It's too much. Which of us is leaving?"

Sherlock's whole body went cold all at once. He knew John hadn't been happy with him yesterday, but he didn’t think one lapse on his part would mean the end of everything. "What?"

"Moving out, Sherlock. The flat is all set up for me now, but you were here first and you said you'd never leave. So which of us is going to move out?"

Sherlock pushed himself up on trembling arms and sat back, unwillingly putting some space between them so he could look at John. His mouth had gone dry. Maybe now was when his heart would stop beating; it no longer seemed that important. "Is that what you want?"

John didn't meet his eyes; he was blinking and staring straight ahead, his hands resting on the blanket that covered his legs. "Of course it's not what I want."

"Then why . . . ?"

John didn't respond for a moment, and Sherlock waited, feeling as if not only his body but his whole life was hanging in limbo, waiting to see if John would tip him over the edge. Then John turned his head minutely, just enough to catch Sherlock's gaze with his. "Sherlock. I can't keep you here like this. It's killing me."

"Keep me here?" His apprehension didn't lessen; if anything the added confusion magnified it.

John lifted one hand; Sherlock thought he was going to reach for him but he curled his fingers in the edge of the blanket instead. "I just . . . I know . . . ." John was breathing heavily now, not crying; Sherlock thought he might be closer to hyperventilating. Sherlock moved his right hand closer to him, left it upturned on the bed next to him, but John only tightened his fist in response. "No. I know you don't want this, Sherlock. It's driving you crazy, staying with me now, but you don't have to. You don't have to."

Sherlock exhaled, a rush of relief flooding through him, making him unsteady enough to have to lean back against the pillows. He doesn't actually want to leave. "John, you could not be more mistaken." A little huff of laughter escaped at the end of the sentence, not because he took the conversation lightly but because his relief was too immense to contain.

The look John gave him had too much disbelief and hurt threaded through it to be properly called a glare. "Sherlock, you've been miserable these last few months. I know you have. I thought the meds helped, though. I didn't know you hated them so much you couldn't stand to keep taking them. I don't want to keep making you live a life you hate."

"John. No." Sherlock studied him for a moment, then made an abrupt lunge across the bed to pull him close. "There's nothing about my life—our life—that I hate."

John pushed Sherlock away and gave him another withering look, then bent his head, motioning down at his own legs.

Sherlock swallowed, then acknowledged the obvious. "Okay, yes, there are things I would change if I could, obviously, but there's nothing I can't live with, and the good parts still far, far outweigh the bad. Don't you agree?"

John just exhaled in response, a silent sigh, and Sherlock felt a little worm of panic crop up again. "John, you . . . when you asked about one of us leaving . . . you do still want us to be together, don't you?"

That got a response. John whipped his head up to meet Sherlock's eyes. "Yes, yes, of course I want to be with you, no matter what. But I know you didn't sign up for this."

"I didn't sign up for anything! I'm just here. And I'm staying here. If you'll let me."

John turned toward him and gripped Sherlock's pyjama top in his fists, mashing his face against his chest. "Why? Why would you? I'm—" He pressed himself harder against Sherlock; Sherlock had to shift his weight to keep them both upright. John's voice was muffled but Sherlock could hear him clearly, could feel the shape of the words against his chest. "I can't even walk!"

"John." Sherlock held John's head still against his chest. "You're John. My John. I would always want to be with you, always, no matter what. I don't care if you can walk. Even if we were both completely paralysed, unable to move at all, I'd ask that my bed be pushed up next to yours, so we could lie next to each other and breathe in unison."

John tipped his head up enough to squint one eye at Sherlock. He sniffed. "That's . . . disturbing," he said. "Also sweet, but mostly disturbing."

"Wouldn't you want the same?"

"I don't know." John sniffed again and pushed himself off Sherlock a little, wiping at his eyes. "Are we on life support? Ventilators?"

"John."

John's smile was real but very, very weak. Sherlock didn't know what else he could possibly say or do to convince him, other than continue on as he had been these past few months. He slipped his arm around John's shoulders and settled next to him, so they were both leaning back against the pillows. "Did you stay up all night working yourself across the spectrum from angry at me to worried about me leaving?"

John wiggled into the space under Sherlock's arm, his body still rigid, hardly relaxing beneath Sherlock's touch at all. "It's not like I haven't thought about it before. Ever since we met I've been waiting for you to get bored and leave. It's just . . . intensified lately."

"John, that won't happen. I will never be bored. I will never leave. You have to believe me." Sherlock pressed his lips to John's hair, trying not to think about how hollow John's words made him.

"I believe you mean it right now, it's just hard for me . . . ." John closed his eyes.

Sherlock tightened his arm around him and brought his other hand up, a small offering which John accepted, letting their fingers entwine. The constriction in Sherlock's chest loosened a bit; it seemed John could affect his heart rate as easily as a line of cocaine. "You just have to trust me, all right?" Short of exchanging vows he didn't know what else he could do to convince John of his sincerity.

"I know. I'm trying." John squeezed his fingers and finally leaned a little into Sherlock's embrace, though his next words weren't exactly what Sherlock hoped to hear. "So why did you stop taking your meds? Is getting a decent night's sleep really that much of a hardship for you, or is there some other side effect you haven't been telling me about?"

Sherlock shook his head. "Once I got used to sleeping eight or nine hours at a stretch, it wasn't that bad." He hesitated, then told him the truth. "Until the other night, when you had that bad nightmare. You needed me but I didn't wake up."

John leaned forward a little and turned his head to look at him; Sherlock could see the moment where he understood, and felt a little wrench of guilt for having told him the truth. "You stopped your meds so you wouldn't sleep through my nightmares?"

Sherlock nodded.

He stared at Sherlock for a moment. "So it's my fault."

"No," Sherlock insisted; John's expression dared him to offer a better explanation, but he didn't really have one. "I just wanted to help you, and I didn't think it would make a difference if I stopped the amitriptyline."

"I wish you had told me. I would've warned you about quitting cold turkey, and if you did it anyway at least you might have realised why you felt so rotten. Maybe you wouldn't have thought you needed to get high to compensate." John brought his other hand up, trapping Sherlock's fingers between his palms, and sank back against the pillows again. "You don't understand how scared I was when I left you at that hospital yesterday."

Sherlock took a deep breath, inhaling the scent of John's hair. Of course I understand. Those weeks when John had been in hospital, that first day and night when he had been sedated . . . . "I'm sorry."

John didn't respond to the apology, just stroked the back of Sherlock's hand for a moment and then asked, "What kind of idiot even does cocaine to calm down?"

"I didn't take it to calm down."

"Then why'd you do it?"

"So I could feel more like myself."

"Getting high makes you feel more like yourself?" John's tone still seemed light enough, but with the way they were sitting Sherlock couldn't see his face anymore.

"Sometimes. Yes." He didn't expect John to understand; that was probably for the best.

John paused and let go of Sherlock's hand; Sherlock watched him clench and unclench both fists several times before saying, "I know, I mean, I know you've told me about using before, and other people have told me, but I never thought." He tipped his head and waved both his hands toward Sherlock; Sherlock had no idea what he was trying to communicate. "That's not really you. Not the you I know, at least. That's not my Sherlock. My Sherlock does not . . . ." He stopped, sniffed, tightened his fists in his lap again. "Not since I've known you." He looked down at his hands and then back up suddenly, twisting to look at Sherlock. "Have you?"

Sherlock shook his head. "No."

"Right. Good. That's—" John unclenched his fists and blew out a breath. "But that's what I mean. You don't do this. My Sherlock doesn't do this."

"I'm still your Sherlock."

John put his hands on the mattress and shifted his position on the bed, turning his whole body so he faced Sherlock more fully. He straightened his shoulders and looked up at Sherlock, his features serious. "You can't do it again."

Sherlock didn't answer immediately—he didn't plan to get high again, but he hadn't planned to do it yesterday, either.

John noticed his hesitation. "You didn't even want me to play basketball but I'm supposed to be okay with you going off and hurting yourself like this on purpose?"

I didn't actually hurt myself and it wasn't on purpose. But that wasn't what John wanted to hear and maybe it would be good for him to make a promise, anyway. "I won't do it again."

"I'm serious. If I ever, ever find out you even touched cocaine—or anything else—again . . . ." He shook his head. "That will be it. I mean it. I love you but I will leave."

That's a bit extreme. The thought must have shown on his face, because John grimaced and said, "You could have died. I'd rather walk away than stay and watch you die."

"I wasn't going to—"

"You overdosed, Sherlock."

"I did not! I took exactly the amount I intended."

"And it caused a cardiac event. That's an overdose. I will not watch you kill yourself, even unintentionally."

Sherlock pinched his eyes shut. He could argue the point more, yes, but he knew that John was right in principle if not in every detail of what had happened. "I'm not going to do cocaine again. I promise. Nothing illegal. I didn't even want to yesterday, it just happened. If you're right about the amitriptyline withdrawal—"

"I am."

Sherlock gave a nod of acknowledgement. "Then you don't need to worry. I'm back on it for now, and I know if I want to stop I should do it gradually. There'll be no need for any other pharmaceutical enhancements."

John stared at him and then exhaled, his expression and posture softening. "I believe you. Or at least I believe you mean it, and will try your best. Thank you." He paused, then asked, "So you are going to stay on the amitriptyline?"

Sherlock blinked at him. "I thought you wanted me to."

John shrugged. "I thought it was working for you. But was it? Because it seemed like you improved once you started taking it, while I was at rehab. You certainly were better off than you were while I was in hospital, but since I've been home . . . . I think you're still depressed, Sherlock."

"What? But I'm not . . . ." Admittedly, he'd always had a hard time analysing his own emotional state, but he still wasn't convinced he'd ever been depressed. Being unhappy wasn't the same as being depressed. John should understand that.

"You're avoiding activities you used to enjoy."

"No, I'm not." He paused, knowing that it might be difficult to get John to believe that. "Okay, maybe a little. But only casework. I've been working on the wasp experiment. And I've certainly been enjoying all of our other experiments. That's not depression." Though if he was honest with himself, he knew he should probably stay on the medicine. There had been a marked improvement in his mind-set in the months since he'd started it, and he couldn't attribute it all to having John back at home.

John frowned, teeth worrying at his bottom lip. "I—I don't know, Sherlock. You're just not—you, a lot of the time."

Sherlock let his eyes fall closed and swallowed. He had no solution to offer, no way to cure himself any more than he could make John walk again. He was trying, he was, but sometimes it was simply too overwhelming. Much like this conversation. He squirmed away from John so he could lie down again, stretched out on his side. Maybe John would stop talking and they could just hold each other for a while. He must be tired if he'd been awake most of the night; maybe they could both go back to sleep and start the day over again when they woke up.

John fiddled with Sherlock's hair and then stroked his fingers down past his ear and along the curve of his chin. "I think you should keep taking it, for a while, at least. I think it was helping some. We might want to consider increasing the dosage. We'll see."

"All right." He'd taken it willingly enough last night and had just all but admitted he needed it; why did John still sound so hesitant?

"I also think you need to see someone."

Sherlock opened one eye and looked up at John, decided to wilfully misunderstand him. "I don't need to see someone. You can keep prescribing it for me. Write a script for a higher dosage if you want."

John sighed. "Not just to prescribe meds. I want you to talk to someone."

"I talk to you all the time. I don't need anyone else."

John blinked his eyes closed and then opened them slowly. "Yeah, I think you do, love. I'm not enough. I'm part of the problem. I'm the whole problem, really. You need to talk to someone outside of us."

"You're not a problem, John."

John's hand came to rest on Sherlock's shoulder, rubbing gently. "Please, Sherlock. For me?"

Sherlock forced a sharp breath out through his nose. That is unfair. John knew he couldn't say no when he asked like that. "It won't help."

"Well, we'll see, all right? Give it a try, two or three sessions, see how it goes."

He didn't answer for the space of several long heartbeats, but he knew he would agree in the end. He couldn't promise that he would be comfortable enough not to destroy the therapist the first time they opened their mouth, though.

"Would you rather talk to a man or a woman?" John asked.

Sherlock waved his hand. "That doesn't matter." He considered. "Someone who doesn't know us. Someone you don't know."

John nodded. "All right. I have a session tomorrow. I'll see if Beth can recommend someone for you."

Sherlock didn't respond, just tried to burrow into John's hip, hiding his face. He felt John's hand on his head again, stroking. "I'm sorry, Sherlock. This is hard for me, because I need to make sure you're all right, but I feel horrible about it because it's all my fault in the first place."

Sherlock pulled his face away from John's leg enough to look up at him and say, "How is it your fault?"

John cocked his head, then gestured at himself, waving his hands down his front and over his legs, ending with a flick of his wrist toward his wheelchair.

"But that was my fault, John."

John wrinkled his brow at him, lips quirked in puzzlement.

Sherlock heaved a sigh; he'd never actually said it out loud to John, but surely he knew. There wasn't even any rational way to argue against it: I caused John to fall. That was simply a statement of fact. "If you hadn't followed me out onto that fire escape . . . ." He let the rest of the sentence fade away.

"But, of course I followed you," John said. "What else was I supposed to do?"

"Stay inside? Stay safe?"

"No, Sherlock, that's not what I do, though."

"But if you hadn't—"

John shook his head, seemingly honestly flummoxed. "But I want to follow you. Always."

"You shouldn't."

"Yes, I should. Sherlock, I follow you everywhere. I followed you into this bed two months after we met. And that was clearly your fault. Should we regret that, too?"

"That's not . . . . The two events are hardly comparable." But just as it had a few weeks ago when he'd heard Sarah was pregnant, the thought occurred to Sherlock that John might have been better off if they had never been together.

"Come up here." John tugged at his arm and Sherlock went willingly, sprawling across John's blanketed lap with his head turned up to look at him. John settled his hands on Sherlock's shoulders as if anchoring him in place. "I don't regret following you, ever. Do I regret stepping out onto that fire escape? Hell, yeah. But not following you. I'll never regret that."

"But if you hadn't . . . ." He knew John understood the causality of the situation—why couldn't he see the obvious?

"What? What would've happened? You would've turned around and come back up the stairs to see where I was, and then you would've fallen."

"That might've been better." He'd thought about it often, as useless as such imaginings were.

"No, it wouldn't have. You might've fallen differently—you would have. You've a different body shape and weight, the angle would have been different. You could've landed higher on your neck, got hurt worse. You could've died. Do you have any idea how angry I would be then? Do you want to die with me angry at you?" He tightened his grip on Sherlock's shoulders and Sherlock closed his eyes and tried not to think.

John knew him too well. "Sherlock, please. Get out of your head and listen to me. You can't blame yourself. You can't go on feeling guilty."

Sherlock opened his eyes and sniffed back unshed tears. "I think I can, actually. It's not something I can just wave away. I'll go talk to a counsellor and maybe I'll feel better eventually but I don't think I'll stop blaming myself. I'll just . . . live with it." He tried to huddle in on himself but John held him in place.

"That may be," John said after a while. "But you can at least know that I don't blame you, not at all. Not ever. Okay?"

Sherlock nodded. He stared up at the ceiling for a moment, then shifted to look John in the eye. "But you're an idiot."

John narrowed his eyes; a long second passed during which Sherlock couldn't predict his reaction, and then John smiled and gave a sharp flick to his ear. "You have done far more idiotic things in the past week than I have."

"Mmm." Sherlock rolled over so his face was pressed to John's middle. He got hurt because of me. But he's still here and wants us both to stay. Two very simple sentences; surely Sherlock should be able to reconcile them somehow. "Can we go back to sleep now? You've tired me out with all your talking."

John leaned forward to kiss the top of his head. "No. I think you owe me breakfast now."

"I made you breakfast yesterday."

"Yes, and then you went out and got high and nearly gave both of us heart attacks," John said. "You owe me another breakfast." He pushed Sherlock from his lap so he could throw the blanket off his legs. "If you do a good job with it I'll consider coming back to bed with you afterwards. For sleeping. Watching you all night was exhausting."

"Okay." Sherlock recognised a good deal when he saw one; this particular offer might even be more of a second chance than he deserved. He knew enough not to let it pass him by.

Chapter Text

Sherlock didn't really mind resuming his medication and it did seem to help almost immediately; at least it banished the crushing anxiety and insomnia that had overwhelmed him during the few days he'd been off it. Whether it helped with what may or may not have been depression . . . well, that remains to be seen, doesn't it? He went back to sleeping ridiculously long hours every night. John insisted they were "human hours" but promised to wake Sherlock if he needed him. A few nights later he did just that.

"Dream?" Sherlock was fairly certain he was speaking out loud; he could feel his lips moving against the pillow at least.

"Just hold me," John said, reaching out to clutch at the sleeve of Sherlock's pyjamas. "Don't ask questions."

"All right." Sherlock slid across the half-foot of empty space between them and folded John into his arms, only allowing himself to slip back into sleep once John's heart stopped racing and his breathing slowed.

He was glad John had woken him, but even that display of trust wasn't enough to banish the feeling that he and John weren't quite back to where they should be. He had no real urge to stop his meds or get high again or do anything else John might object to, but he knew it would take John time to truly believe that. Not that John was anything but perfectly civil and even affectionate toward him, but Sherlock could still sense an undercurrent of wariness lurking, ready to ambush them at any moment.

Nearly a week passed and life continued on much as it had been. On Friday John went off to work and Sherlock pottered around the flat until mid-afternoon, then gathered up his phone, his magnifying glass and a long-handled insect net and walked over to the park. He'd spotted several promising wasp nests on Wednesday and was certain today's visit would yield plenty of data; the cherries were done flowering but the apple trees were in full bloom as were several varieties of roses.

He was right to be optimistic; there were wasps everywhere, as well as bees and butterflies, all competing for the best blossoms on a rare, almost-sunny London day. And after an hour or so of observation Sherlock discovered the reason why bee and butterfly pollination was a much more popular field of study than wasp behaviour. He cursed and crushed the offending insect before it could crawl up into his coat sleeve, though not before it had managed to sting him three times, twice on the back of his hand and once on the palm. At least there were no other wasps nearby to swarm him. He briefly considered bringing the dead bug home to see if he could determine what types of pollen it might have collected before it attacked him, but then he rejected the idea. Damn, wasp stings hurt. He kicked the dead bug off the pavement into the mulch around a rosebush and decided to call it a day.

The walk back through the park was much less enjoyable than the walk there. His hand burned and he wished the day weren't quite so beautiful. If it hadn't been nice out he would have been wearing his gloves. He didn't even have the good fortune of timing on his side; John wouldn't be home from work yet when he got back to the flat. Or maybe that is good timing—at least he won't be able to laugh and say he told me so about the wasps.

It was his left hand that had been stung; he didn't realise until he tried to unlock the front door how often he unthinkingly used both hands for simple tasks. He fumbled the door open and then scowled and kicked it shut behind him. Out of habit, he glanced to his right and then looked again in surprise. The lift car was not on the ground floor. Unless Mrs Hudson had gone up to their flat, that could only mean one thing. He hesitated, wondering why John was home already, and then started up the stairs, careful not to touch the railing on his left.

The ribbon of light that usually peeked out from beneath the flat door was absent. At this time of day the sun wouldn't be coming in through the windows—why wouldn't John have turned on the lights if he were home? Sherlock pushed the door open with his uninjured hand, curiosity and a trickle of worry starting to squirm their way into his mind.

John was waiting for him in the sitting room. The lights were off because he'd lit a half-dozen candles; the table by the window was adorned with a white tablecloth and a bottle of champagne. Sherlock had known there were candles stashed in one of the kitchen cabinets but he had no idea they still had that tablecloth. John had bought it five years ago, under the impression that the best way to make his intentions clear to Sherlock was to set up a romantic assignation in their sitting room. It had worked. Sherlock wasn't quite certain why John was re-enacting the evening now, but just the fact that he was made the little cloud of uneasiness he'd been feeling for the past few days start to disperse.

"Hello there, love." John turned his chair away from the half-set table to beam at Sherlock. He waved his hand at the candles and the champagne. "Do you remember this? Our first date."

"Do I remember?" Sherlock raised his eyebrows as he started to struggle out of his coat, trying not to let the heavy wool touch his swollen hand. He had a whole theatre set up in his mind palace where the tape of that evening played on a loop. Although admittedly, at the time, the romantic setting had made less of an impression than the simple revelation that John wanted to be with him.

John grinned at him for a moment before his eyes narrowed and he shifted into examination mode. "What happened to your hand? Did you punch someone?" He tipped his head inquiringly before crossing the room toward Sherlock and Sherlock had to chuckle at the idea of that being John's first guess.

"Who would I punch in the park? With my left hand, no less?"

"I don't know. Maybe someone tried to mug you and you wanted to give them a fighting chance?"

"No punching. It was a wasp, and it didn't give me a fighting chance," Sherlock said and winced as his coat brushed against his hand.

John reached up to help him out of the coat and then clicked on the light so he could inspect Sherlock's hand. He probed at the welt on his palm. "I assume you would tell me if it felt like your throat was closing up?"

"I would. I'm not allergic."

"Mm." John squinted up at him. "Get your watch off, in case it swells even more."

Sherlock did as he was told and then went to get an ice pack from the freezer while John fetched the first aid kit. He settled himself in his armchair with the ice wrapped around his hand and sighed. It had been a long time since John had ministered to him like this. Too long. He let himself get lost in the feeling: the biting cold of the ice against the sharp hot pain of the wasp stings and over it all the sure, competent touch of John's fingers tending to the too-sensitive skin. It was immensely reassuring, even more so than finding John had come home early to surprise him with a romantic dinner.

"This is quite a bit of swelling but I don't see any stingers."

"It was a wasp, John. Only bees leave their stingers in their victims."

"Of course. Did you lecture the wasp and annoy it into stinging you?" John raised his eyebrows and then lifted Sherlock's hand to kiss just above the swollen part of his palm.

Sherlock huffed and pulled his hand away and then winced when he let it drop too heavily into his lap. John didn't attempt to hide his smirk, but he was gentle as he brushed cortisone cream over the stings and then parcelled out paracetamol and an antihistamine.

"You're remarkably compliant today, Sherlock."

"I'm trying to think of a way to claim it wasn't my own fault," he admitted. "Haven't come up with anything yet. I think I'll switch to studying bees, though."

John laughed and dropped another ghost of a kiss over Sherlock's knuckles. "Think you're recovered enough to resume our date?"

"I think so." Sherlock stood up and shook out his arm; his hand still hurt quite a bit but the swelling was starting to go down.

"Go sit at the table and try to keep your hand elevated, hmm? Food should be here any minute." John packed everything neatly back into the first aid kit and then backed away from Sherlock's chair.

"You've ordered Thai, I assume?" John's cooking skills had developed some over the years, but at the time of their first date he'd been too insecure in his culinary ability to risk making anything for Sherlock.

"Of course. And I bought biscuits from the shop on the corner."

Sherlock sat at the table in the sitting room, hand wrapped around a glass of ice water while John rummaged in the kitchen and eventually emerged with a tray holding the biscuits and two empty wine glasses. "Sorry I didn't get everything ready earlier. Wasn't sure what time you'd be home."

"Well, I'd still be out collecting data if it weren't for—" He raised his hand from the glass of ice water; the swelling had subsided except for a small circle around each sting.

John shook his head and pinched his lips together, obviously trying not to laugh. "Sorry. I'm sorry." He seemed as if he might be about to say something more but then the doorbell rang. Sherlock stood to answer it—it was quicker for him to take the stairs than for John to use the lift—but John held up a finger to stop him.

"No, no. Stay there. This is me treating you to a date. I'll get the food." John grabbed his wallet off the table by the door and hit the button for the lift and Sherlock settled back into his chair. He reached for a biscuit and John stuck his hand out to stop the lift door from closing. "Those are for dessert."

"You don't want me drinking champagne on a stomach that's empty except for an antihistamine, do you? I know it's been a while since we've had a proper date, but surely you remember that we're both supposed to stay awake."

"I'll be back up with dinner in two minutes, Sherlock. Less than that. No biscuits." John let the doors close and Sherlock ate one biscuit, arranging the others on the tray so John wouldn't know it was gone.

He couldn't say for sure if the dinner was better than their first date, but it was definitely much more relaxing. Rather than frantically analysing every gesture and expression John made, searching for hidden meaning as to his intentions, and then storing the memories away in case the evening was never to be repeated and this was all he was able to keep of a relationship with John, Sherlock was able to enjoy the conversation and John's company. When they'd finished the meal John finally allowed Sherlock access to the biscuits and Sherlock confessed that he'd eaten one already.

"I know," John said, pouring himself more champagne.

"You did not know."

"Yes, I did. I would know even if you hadn't rearranged the bottom two rows on the tray to hide it. This is not actually our first date, Sherlock. I know you." He lifted his glass in a toast and winked at Sherlock.

Sherlock smiled and leaned back, stretching his legs out beneath the table. He'd limited himself to one glass of champagne but could feel it working with the antihistamine he'd taken, softening his consciousness. "So why is it you're re-creating our first date? It's not our anniversary." Not that they normally celebrated but John had been in rehab for their anniversary anyway.

John shrugged and set down his empty glass. "Just felt like doing something nice for you. For us."

Sherlock narrowed his eyes and tried to deduce John's ulterior motives. "You made me an appointment with a therapist, didn't you?"

"Yeah, er, next Thursday. Ten o'clock, I think?"

"That explains this date then. Soothing your guilty conscience."

"What? No. I planned this even before I made the appointment and I can prove it. Go look in the bedroom."

Sherlock wrinkled his brow, wondering what else John could've arranged for the evening. True, their first date had ended up in the bedroom, but that certainly hadn't required any special planning or preparation. John answered his questioning look with a nod and a wave of his hand, encouraging Sherlock to stand and go investigate for himself.

John followed him down the hall, obviously more than pleased with himself at having successfully surprised Sherlock. Sherlock shook his head in mock exasperation before he stepped into the bedroom and flicked on the light. At the foot of their bed stood a massage table, fully-assembled, all gleaming aluminium legs and black vinyl padding. Oh, well done. An excellent surprise. He turned to look at John, who had paused in the doorway behind him. "You ordered it."

John nodded at him, looking earnest and either slightly shy or slightly tipsy. Maybe both. "There was a nicer-looking wooden one for the same price, but this one had better reviews."

"No, no, it's good." Sherlock crossed the room in three long strides and leaned on the table with his right hand, testing the stability. "It's solid. Should hold up to anything we do to it." He looked over his shoulder and widened his eyes at John, who still lingered in the doorway.

John smiled back across the distance at Sherlock and then joined him in the bedroom. "I know this wasn't part of our first date, but we've talked about it so often that I thought I should go ahead and get it. Get your clothes off, I want you to try it out first."

Sherlock nodded approvingly. "If you want to stay true to the date we can have awkward first-time sex afterwards, if you'd like."

"I don't remember it being awkward."

"Hm. You wouldn't." Don't want John getting too smug, now, do we?

"What? You said I was a natural!"

Sherlock grinned and reached up to unbutton his shirt before remembering that the task was easiest with two hands and while his left hand was functional, using it was still painful.

"Need some help?"

He gave John his best charmingly needy face. John reached out one hand, then drew it back and said, "First say it wasn't awkward the first time we had sex."

Sherlock rolled his eyes. "You were unsure of yourself because you'd never been with a man, I was still half-convinced there was no way you were actually interested in me—for God's sake of course it was awkward! We both improved very quickly, don't worry."

"Hmm. All right, but only because you're injured. Come here." He drew Sherlock down into his lap and Sherlock sank against him, letting John undress him while he relaxed against his chest. When he stood up to shed his trousers and pants he had to remind himself that he did in fact want the massage, despite the temptation to skip right to the end of the date.

John flexed his hands, stretching his fingers and looking over Sherlock as he stood naked in front of him. "I picked up some massage oil on the way home. It's in the kitchen. Hold on a second, I'll go get it."

"Massage oil. Fancy."

"Thought about nicking something from work but figured you would appreciate something nicer instead. I must've smelt fifty bottles in the shop. Felt like a nutter." John nodded at the table. "Get yourself settled while I get it."

Sherlock lay face down on the table, then shouted out to John that he should extinguish the candles they'd left burning. He had a feeling they wouldn't be emerging from the bedroom again until morning.

John returned with the oil, then tugged Sherlock's dressing gown off the hook behind the door; Sherlock winced for a moment until he saw that John managed to get it down without ripping the fabric. "Here, you'll be cold if I do this right and you actually relax." He arranged the gown over most of Sherlock's body and then poured some oil into his cupped hand, waiting for it to warm.

Sherlock could smell the oil, a woody floral scent mixed with citrus and just a hint of honey. "Mm, ylangylang and neroli oil, you do know me well, John."

"Also linden blossom, with a jojoba base. I had no idea about any of it, Sherlock, but it does smell good." He settled his hands on Sherlock's shoulders and then began stroking down from his neck with long, smooth movements.

Apart from his hand, nothing was sore, and Sherlock wouldn't have said he was particularly in need of a massage until John started to touch him. Then he couldn't imagine why he hadn't asked to be touched like this every day. He emptied all the air from his lungs and then allowed it back in slowly, letting John's hands take away the last of the pressure and doubt that had lingered over the past few days.

John worked on his muscles slowly, moving steadily down his body. By the time he reached his waist the arousal Sherlock had felt earlier was completely gone. When John's fingers swept lower it began to return, but Sherlock tamped down the feeling, wanting to enjoy this rejuvenating sensation without anything else interfering. As John made his way down the backs of his thighs and onto his calves Sherlock pulled himself out of the sleepy fog of contentment that was descending and turned his head so John could hear him. "Why are you doing all this tonight?"

John let go of his leg and moved back up to Sherlock's head to stroke his hand firmly through his hair. "I just thought you could do with a little pampering."

Sherlock twisted his head farther, coming up onto his side a little so he could see John's face, trying match the slightly melancholy tone with the words.

John quirked his lips a bit and took his hand back from Sherlock's head. "I know I wasn't very forgiving the other day, even after we talked."

"No, it's all right, John."

"No, it wasn't, but it is now. We're here to take care of each other, right? I like to take care of you. And I can do it again, now, if you'll let me."

"Yes, well, don't skip my feet then." Sherlock understood the seriousness of John's words but he also thought they didn't really need to be said, as long as they were demonstrated.

"Your feet?"

"Mm-hmm." He bent his legs at the knee and wiggled his toes in the air.

"All right," John said. "Roll over then."

Sherlock rolled over and then sat up so he could turn and drop his feet onto John's lap. John started with his right foot, kneading and rolling and pressing, his attention seemingly all focused on what he was doing until he spoke, still without looking up. "You know, I think we might be all right, the two of us. Not perfect, mind you, but then we weren't perfect before, were we?"

Sherlock adjusted his position on the table and pulled the dressing gown around his shoulders. "Speak for yourself."

John did look up at that; Sherlock saw that he couldn't stop his jaw from shifting into a partial smile. He smiled back and then moved his left foot so John could finish up and they could get on with the rest of the date. John stroked his thumbs up along the arch just as Sherlock's phone dinged a text alert notice.

"Ignore it," Sherlock directed, when he saw that John was eyeing the discarded trousers that still held the phone.

"That's Lestrade's alert."

"Ignore it," he repeated, and curled his toes to indicate that John should continue. John hesitated but then returned to the massage. He spent a couple of minutes on the foot, and was finishing up when someone pounded on the door to their flat.

"Sherlock! You bloody well better be home because I need your help right now!"

"Oh, for Christ's sake, really?" John tightened both hands around Sherlock's foot.

"I take it you didn't invite him over this time?" Sherlock asked.

John glowered at him. "No. You stay here. I'll go get rid of Lestrade."

Chapter Text

Sherlock waited three minutes before concluding there was no way John would be able to get rid of Lestrade on his own. He's probably offered to make him tea. He sighed and vaulted lightly off the massage table, then slipped his arms into his dressing gown and tied the belt because he knew John would be upset if he went out to chase Lestrade away without any clothes on.

Lestrade was just inside the door to the flat; he hadn't sat down or made himself comfortable in any way. A good sign—he doesn't plan to stay. John looked over at Sherlock as he entered the room and gave him a half-shrug, as if he were completely helpless and unable to assert himself in the face of Lestrade's intrusion. Sherlock sighed and stalked over to the pair of them. Before he could say a word Lestrade held up a hand and said, "I know I'm interrupting but I really need your help, Sherlock."

"Whatever it is, it can wait until morning, I'm sure."

"I'm pretty sure if we try to keep all the potential witnesses and suspects overnight, we'll end up with an actual murder, which is worse than what we've got now."

"You show up at our flat at seven o'clock on a Friday night for something that's not even a murder?" If he hadn't been so mellow from the massage he would have shouted. Instead he turned his back to Lestrade, reaching out to tug at John's arm. "Come on, it's your turn to try out the table."

"Wha—no, I don't want to know." Lestrade scrubbed his hand through his hair; Sherlock recognised it as one of the gestures he made when he needed a cigarette. "No one's died yet, no, but we've got an attempted poisoning with hundreds of potential victims."

Sherlock hoped Lestrade didn't catch the little twitch his body tried to do to indicate his interest. "Come on, John." The prospect of giving John a full-body massage was every bit as enticing as investigating a large-scale attempted poisoning, even if they promised slightly different sorts of pleasure.

John cleared his throat and looked from Sherlock to Lestrade, as if he honestly didn't know who to choose and Lestrade took his hesitation as a cue to start babbling away about the attempted poisoning.

"Mercy Hospital. Someone used liquid mercury to contaminate multiple dishes being served in the café."

"That's ridiculous." Sherlock turned back to face Lestrade; he couldn't stop himself. "Why would anyone choose liquid mercury as a poison? Mercuric cyanide is much more effective as an ingested toxin."

Lestrade shook his head. "Not something I'm going to worry about at the moment. As far as we know, no one ingested any of it, but we're still testing food. The hospital's on lockdown, everyone's a suspect, no one's sick from the poisoning except it's a hospital so everyone's sick and everyone's panicking. We've got families calling in to check on patients, visitors and doctors and staff all trying to leave and everyone's complaining because they're not allowed to eat anything until we make sure it's not contaminated." Lestrade clutched at his hair again and then shoved both hands into his pockets. "Sherlock, it's a complete cock-up. It's taking all our manpower to keep the scene secure. You've got to help me out. Even just look at the photos I took on my phone, or I can have Donovan send you video if you really won't come to the scene."

Sherlock frowned. It did sound intriguing; even though the culprit sounded like some inept bumbler with a vendetta against the hospital, winnowing down the suspects from such a large, confusing mass of people would be challenging. "We were in the middle of a date, Lestrade."

Lestrade looked from him to John and back again, then over at the remains of dinner sitting on the dressed-up table. A flicker of remorse passed over his face, then he straightened up and met Sherlock's eye. "Last I knew, you two would've considered rushing off together to a ridiculously confusing crime scene to be the perfect date. Have things really changed that much? Because I don't think they have."

Lestrade's words so surprised him that it took Sherlock a moment longer than normal to react; in that time John's hand shot out and grabbed Sherlock's wrist. Sherlock shook him off without a second thought; he was not about to be placated. How is he not as angry as I am right now? Lestrade just insulted us both. And he'd cut far too close to home for Sherlock to let it slide. He stepped closer to Lestrade and used every bit of his height advantage to stare him down, barely aware of John protesting behind him. "How dare you come into our flat and pretend you know what's good for us? You have no idea what the last few months have been like. No idea, and I hope you never do. Get out. Now."

"Sherlock, stop." John's hand was on his arm again. "He's just trying to goad you into helping him, but it's all right. Go on, go to the scene and solve it for them. I'll be here when you get back."

"No. We're in the middle of a date. I'm not leaving you." He stepped back closer to John again.

"I want you to. You've been promising me you'd go back out on cases for weeks, Sherlock."

"But you planned all this for tonight." He waved his hand at the dinner table and then back at the bedroom.

"I know, but you can go, solve the case, and then come back to me later. Remember what you feel like after a case? I want to see you like that again. All brilliant and excited and passionate. It's been too long."

Sherlock looked down at him and swallowed, remembering the feelings John described exactly. John met his eyes, sitting very still and waiting for him to decide. Sherlock was the one fidgeting, unable to stop himself from ghosting his thumbs over the sides of his closed fists. He glanced over at Lestrade, who was clearly listening intently while trying to appear as if he didn't want to intrude on their conversation. When he saw Sherlock looking at him Lestrade spread his hands, a question waiting to be answered, and Sherlock turned back to John, who looked so utterly calm and sure of himself and what he was saying that Sherlock suddenly knew what had to be done. "Come with me."

"Me?"

"Yes, you. Of course, you. Who else is there?" Sherlock felt an unfamiliar twinge of idiocy as he realised that a large part of what had been keeping him from crime scenes was the fear of having to face them without John at his side.

"I—"

Sherlock stared at him, not letting him finish his sentence and John looked down at his legs and then up at Sherlock. "Mercy Hospital?"

"Yes."

John's tongue darted out to wet his bottom lip. "I . . . I could do that." His hands were clenched in his lap; he stretched out his fingers and then settled them on the rims of the chair. "Yeah. I could go with you."

The dread that had built in Sherlock every time he thought about taking a case vanished, replaced immediately by a surge of anticipation. He grinned at John and stepped toward him, letting his hand fall to rest on his shoulder. John covered Sherlock's fingers with his own, didn't meet his eyes. Sherlock thought there might have been a tear or two John was trying to hide, and put himself in between John's chair and Lestrade so Lestrade wouldn't see if that was indeed the case. He waved a hand at Lestrade and said, "Go on ahead. We'll meet you at Mercy."

John squeezed his fingers. "No, we'll ride with you, Greg, and you can tell us everything you know on the way."

Sherlock was so enthused that he didn't even object to John's plan. He grabbed his coat from the hook and started to put it on over his dressing gown but John stopped him with a tilt of his head.

"Clothes, Sherlock," John said, and Sherlock frowned at him. Apparently the decision to finally take a case had inspired John to new levels of assertiveness. Well, maybe not new levels. And Sherlock's response to John's tone of command certainly hadn't changed. He sighed and went back into the bedroom to get dressed.

When he came back Lestrade was clearly impatient to leave, so Sherlock leaned down and gave John a long kiss, trying to make it last at least until Lestrade started grumbling. Disappointingly, all Lestrade said was, "Get it out of your system. We've got work to do."

Sherlock started to pull away from the kiss and John stopped him with a hand at the back of his neck. "Don't get it out of your system," he said, voice low and rough. "Save it up for when we get back." He let go and turned and wheeled away; Sherlock had to pause for a moment to collect himself. I need to take the stairs. He was fairly certain that if he got into the lift with John they would not be emerging any time soon.

Lestrade did not know much about the case, though that didn't prevent him from talking about it for the entire ride. John jotted notes in his battered little notebook, holding it propped against the back of his folded-up wheelchair while Sherlock stared out the window and let the scant details Lestrade provided file themselves away in his head. If he didn't think about it too hard it almost felt like the good old days.

"There are two public eating areas in the hospital," Lestrade said, "but so far we've only found contaminated food in the café."

"I don't know too much about Mercy," John said. "The café is where the staff eats?"

"There were quite a few staff eating there, yes, but also family and visitors. It's bigger than the other dining area they have."

"And none of the patients' in-room food was touched?"

"Not that we've found."

John doodled a circle in his notebook and then crossed it out. "So probably the hospital staff was the target?" He looked at Sherlock for confirmation.

Sherlock shrugged. "Or they just wanted to target as many people as possible. Or they intended to spread the mercury around more but ran out of time. Or—"

"Yeah, we get it, Sherlock," Lestrade interrupted. "Your job is to narrow down the possibilities for us, not think of more."

"Too early for that. Is all the food centrally prepared?"

"Some is, some is brought in from outside, some is prepared as it's ordered. We found traces of mercury in all three types of food."

"So not a kitchen worker."

"Not ruling anything out at this point," Lestrade said. "But it does seem more likely the food was poisoned after it was already in the café."

Before they reached the hospital, Lestrade's phone started buzzing with multiple text messages. "Shit, that's Donovan." He fumbled it out of his pocket, thumbed at it ineffectively while trying not to take his eyes off the road and then handed it back over the seat. "See what she wants, will you?"

John took the phone and Sherlock turned his shoulders and leaned his head back against the car window to watch John as he read the messages.

"They've got their first victim." He must have sensed Sherlock's renewed enthusiasm because he added, "He's not dead, only vomiting."

"How do they know he's vomiting from being poisoned and not from something else? He's in hospital, after all."

John turned the phone around so Sherlock could see the screen. Donovan had sent a very detailed close-up of a pile of regurgitated food with thin strands of silver mercury running through it.

Sherlock tipped the phone so he could see the screen more clearly. "Nice to know Anderson's putting his immense skill set to use. Is that soup?"

"Looks like it," John said, and swiped to the next message. "Sally says he wasn't a patient, just eating in the café."

"Not very observant, to have eaten a bowl of soup laced with mercury. It doesn't exactly blend in with veg and chicken broth." Sherlock settled his head back against the window again and closed his eyes. John and Lestrade kept talking about the case but neither one of them said anything new or useful.

Lestrade was right about one thing—the scene at Mercy was a mess, a complete cock-up. There were dozens of police officers but there were over a hundred witnesses in the café area alone, to say nothing of the rest of the hospital. The exhilaration that had swept over Sherlock as he contemplated a complicated mystery quickly dissipated, replaced by a growing frustration and a sense that he should have been able to solve this already. It should be obvious. Whoever had attempted this so-called crime was an idiot. Liquid mercury was toxic, yes, but it was more dangerous if inhaled than ingested, and there were much more effective and less obvious ways to poison people.

Most of the officers from the Yard had their hands full trying to keep track of the hospital staff who'd been present but who all wanted to either get back to work or go home. Lestrade and John talked to a few of them, soothing their nerves and reassuring them that just because they were being questioned didn't mean they were likely suspects. Sherlock didn't have the patience to bother with that—any employee in this building, medical professional or not, would have been able to find a more sensible and less identifiable form of poison by opening any supply cupboard.

He wandered out of the café, wondering if it were possible the mercury had come from the hospital. Probably not: loose liquid mercury wasn't used for much these days, although a quick check of his phone confirmed that it was still easy enough to buy online. Which meant it was definitely planned ahead of time, but anyone could have done it. Which also meant that the most likely way to solve the case would be to talk to people until someone with a motive turned up. Tedious. Maybe he would take a look in the supply cupboards. Even if the mercury hadn't come from the hospital, poking around a bit might trigger an association that would help him figure out the case.

The cupboards were all secured; he had nothing in his pocket with which to pick the lock, which served to emphasise how long it had been since he'd done any sort of productive casework. A passing nurse opened one of the cabinets when he asked, though the look she gave him first told him he needed to work on his "I haven't been high in nearly a week" expression.

Nothing inside the cupboard had been disturbed, and nothing really spoke to him in regards to the case, either. Bottles of pills lined up neatly behind another locked door on the left, on the right shelves stacked with every type of hand-held medical equipment imaginable. Sherlock took one more careful look at the supplies, though he was sure nothing had been taken by the perpetrator. He found his gaze lingering longer on the rows of medical instruments than on the bottles of drugs. He passed his hand over the stack of tweezers and scissors and reflex hammers and thought about how he really needed to get this growing kink under some sort of control. At least he didn't feel an urge to pocket any of the syringes.

The nurse had been watching him the whole time; did he really look like the sort of person who would steal antibiotics or non-narcotic painkillers? All the good drugs were down the hall in the hospital pharmacy. He sighed and closed the cabinet up, beckoned for the nurse to come lock it for him. No leads there; this was so frustrating. Too many people. He knew the police didn't want anyone to leave the scene but it was just complicating the situation and muddying the evidence.

John was still back in the café; maybe he was making more progress than Sherlock. He slipped his hands into his pockets and strode back into the room, giving the nurse who'd reluctantly helped him his most false smile.

Lestrade had disappeared somewhere, leaving John on his own at the far side of the room, near the cashier's till where some of the contaminated food had been purchased. Two of the café workers were huddled together in front of him. Good choice, John. They're unlikely to have done it but they may have seen something.

Sherlock started across the room and then realised Anderson was also standing with John and the two women. The sight of him suited up in his protective gear swabbing every remaining item of food was almost enough to make Sherlock turn around, but he really had no other leads. Even if John hadn't learned anything useful himself, there was always the chance that Sherlock might be able to figure something out by bouncing ideas off him.

John was speaking to the women, although Sherlock wasn't quite close enough to hear what he said. He must've asked a question, though, because he tilted his face up toward the older woman, pen poised over his notebook as if waiting for her answer. She crossed her arms over her chest and stepped away from him, then turned abruptly to her right and said something to Anderson.

Sherlock stopped a few metres short of the group; he heard John ask a follow-up question about when the woman had arrived at work. Once again she glanced briefly at him and then directed her answer at Anderson, who looked slightly baffled but nodded his head and then bent to take another photo of a bowl full of waxy-looking apples.

Sherlock crossed the remaining distance in two long strides. John looked up at him in surprise and Sherlock tried to smile at him but it came out mostly as a sneer directed at the woman who'd shunned John. "Excuse me," he said to her. "He asked you a question."

The woman's head shot up to look at Sherlock and she took a step back from him. "Sorry, what?"

"He asked you a question."

"I—I answered."

"Sherlock—" John's hand was on his arm but he ignored it.

"No, you answered him," he said to the woman. He waved his hand dismissively toward Anderson, who sputtered something unintelligible. "Dr Watson is the one who asked you about your work schedule."

"I . . . ." The woman looked confusedly from Sherlock to Anderson, gave a very brief glance at John, who was still clutching at Sherlock's sleeve, and then looked back up at Sherlock.

Is this the sort of thing he has to put up with every day? Sherlock could feel the rage bubbling over, partially born of frustration at the case but mostly from anger at the woman ignoring John. "When someone asks you a question, you answer that person. That is just common courtesy. Or didn't you learn about that growing up in Liverpool?" He stepped toward her again and she tried to back up farther but was stopped by the rack full of snack food behind her.

"Sherlock." John tightened his grip on his arm but Sherlock pulled free with a shake. John might think it was polite to let people treat him poorly but Sherlock wasn't about to let that happen.

"No. She was rude to you, John. I won't stand for that."

"It's okay."

"No." He rounded on the woman again. "Just because someone can't stand up doesn't mean you get to ignore him. I know ringing up lunch purchases doesn't require a vast intellect but surely even you can comprehend that."

"Jesus Christ, Sherlock, back off." John didn't reach for him again, though, which was strange, because he could've hauled Sherlock away if he really wanted to. Maybe he knows I'm right. Sherlock launched into the woman one more time, just to make sure he got his point across.

The woman actually backed herself into the display of crisps in her effort to get away from him. "I'm sorry," she said, but she said it to Sherlock, still not looking at John. Seriously—how is she continuing to miss the point? He glanced at John but John was no longer at his side.

Where did he—? Sherlock spun on his heel. John had not gone far; he was over on the other side of Anderson, only now Donovan had joined him as well. John gave her a tight smile and nodded in Sherlock's direction.

Donovan stepped past John and Anderson and raised her chin up at Sherlock. "All right, enough out of you. Come on." Now she had a hand on his coat—why did everyone think they could pull him around by the arm today? He planted his feet and stared down at her; John might be able to overpower him if he tried—maybe—but Donovan could not. She frowned and tugged at his coat and he ripped his arm away from her. She tried to straighten up enough to look him in the eye, which was a lost cause, and then John said, "Sherlock," and Sherlock let his shoulders slump. John raised his eyebrows and tipped his head a fraction of an inch and there was no arguing with that, not in public at least. Damn. He let Donovan lead him away, slightly mollified that she also sent Anderson away from the scene.

Once they were across the room and out of earshot he shrugged out of her grasp again and turned on her, arms crossed as he glared. "Your boss invited me to this crime scene. I don't think it's your role to drag me away from it."

"No, just to keep you from traumatising the witnesses. What the hell, Sherlock?" She mirrored his cross-armed pose.

"I was simply trying to instil a bit of respect for others in her," he said.

Donovan laughed. "Oh, that is rich, coming from you. 'Respect for others'." She shook her head. "Let's go find you an inanimate object to inspect. Maybe there's some vomit we missed. Let John handle the witnesses."

"I was trying to help him. She was completely ignoring him."

"Well, God knows he's used to it."

"Don't be absurd. He's only been in the chair for a few months."

"Yeah, but people have been ignoring him in favour of you for years."

Sherlock opened his mouth in shock but before he could say anything she held up both hands and softened her stance. "No, that was a joke. I'm sorry. I know it's not the same thing. But you do need to back off and let him fight his own battles."

"He's not fighting. He's letting people walk all over him."

"Sherlock, take a look. Does it seem like he's getting walked all over at the moment?" She gestured back over her shoulder, toward where they had left John. The woman Sherlock had yelled at was nowhere in sight, but the one who'd been standing with her was talking to John now, one hip canted toward him, slouched down to put her closer to his height. She was even twirling a piece of her hair in one hand: textbook flirting. Sherlock could hear John laugh as he scribbled something in his notebook.

Sherlock looked away from him and wrinkled his nose at Donovan. "If I hadn't stepped in first, he would've let himself be ignored."

"I doubt that, but even if it is true, it's something he needs to work out on his own. Give him a chance."

He blew out a breath and looked at her. "You know, if I wanted advice from my mother, I'd send her a text." He kicked at the leg of a nearby table. "I should text her, maybe she could help out. She'd be better at sorting through all these godforsaken people. This case." He spun around, taking another look at the room and all the people in it. "There must be something I'm missing." He started to review the little he had to go on. "It's most likely not anyone with a medical or scientific background . . . or maybe it is, but they weren't really trying to kill anyone. But then why—don't walk away from me when I'm talking to you."

Donovan paused and looked back at him. "Sorry, not actually my job to listen to you."

"I thought you were in charge of babysitting me at crime scenes."

"Only when you're a danger to yourself or others."

Sherlock growled his displeasure. "Send John over to talk to me then. I need someone to listen while I think this through."

"He'll be over when he's done flirting." She quirked an eyebrow and then left him standing alone in the middle of the café. Sherlock knew she was trying to provoke him by mentioning John's flirting, but that hadn't bothered Sherlock in years. He liked knowing that even though John could get other people to respond to him he would still choose Sherlock over anyone else. And he trusted John enough to know he wouldn't leave. I wish he would trust me that much, instead of always having the ridiculous fear that I'll get tired of him.

The flirting didn't last long; obviously the woman didn't know anything useful. Sherlock watched John shake her hand and then turn away from her; he couldn't really blame her for the way she watched John's back as he moved across the room toward Sherlock.

He was expecting a reprimand for losing his temper, but John seemed too exasperated with the case to even bother. This is definitely not how tonight was supposed to go. Sherlock was supposed to sweep in here, confident and still relaxed from the massage. They would solve the case immediately and then bask in the gratitude of Lestrade and the rest of the Yard. Sherlock would be brilliant and John would be amazed and they would both be aroused and maybe they would find an empty hospital bed somewhere. Or maybe he'd let me ride him in the chair. But no, instead of praise or sex of any sort, all Sherlock had was Donovan berating him and John flirting with women. Plus no leads on the case.

"I don't think anyone I've talked to knows a thing." John flipped his notebook closed and shoved it into his shirt pocket with a sigh. "And that was a lovely experience with those two ladies. After you ran off the 'no eye contact, he's a cripple' woman I got to talk to her friend. One of those 'do you need someone to take you home and take care of you?' sorts. I'm not sure which I hate more." He shook his head. "Maybe this was a bad idea tonight. I'm sorry I made you take the case."

Sherlock kicked a chair out from a nearby table and dropped into it. "It should be simple. Whoever spread the mercury around is an idiot. There are so many better ways to poison people."

"Yeah," John said. "Try something clear and water-soluble next time. No one's going to eat a big glob of mercury by accident. God, Sherlock, now I'm starting to sound like you, planning the best way to poison people."

"Oh, John! Brilliant!" Sherlock bounced out of the chair. "Yes, you're exactly right!"

"I sound like you?"

"No, what? No one would consume it by accident!"

"That's what I said."

"I know! It's perfect, John! You're perfect! I knew I needed you here for a reason." He leaned down and kissed him; John returned the kiss enthusiastically even though he clearly still hadn't made the connection. Sherlock straightened up and looked around the room. "Come on, where'd they put the person who ate the soup and vomited?"

Chapter Text

Sherlock was right, of course. The man who'd eaten the tainted soup had a wife who'd died three months ago. He was known to the staff for complaining frequently about the quality of the care she was receiving, growing more upset and disgruntled the sicker she became. They hadn't seen him since she'd died, but the time he'd spent in the building while she was ill meant that he'd certainly been familiar enough with the hospital cafe to know how to plant the mercury without being caught on the CCTV cameras.

The suspect was asleep in a bed in the A&E ward; Sherlock didn't need to do more than glance at him to know he had done it, but Lestrade and Donovan tried to insist that he and John stick around while they interviewed him.

"What? No! I found your suspect for you—what's the point of making me talk to him? Of course he did it, Lestrade. He's sleeping, for God's sake! Think about it! Most people wouldn't be able to calmly fall asleep in hospital after being poisoned—they'd be too worried there was a vicious criminal on the loose. But he knows there isn't because he did it himself!"

"Yeah, but why'd he take the poison?" Donovan interjected. "Was he trying to harm himself? Or just cover his tracks by making himself look like a victim?"

"I don't know. And I don't care. I solved your case and now we're leaving. Come on, John."

John shrugged and gave a little placating smile to Donovan before turning toward Sherlock and it was all Sherlock could do not to climb into his lap and start kissing him in the middle of the hallway. It hadn't been that much of a case in the end, no chasing criminals or racing to rescue a kidnap victim or getting the chance to watch John shoot someone, but that didn't lessen the arousal that was flooding him right now.

"Sherlock, you can't leave yet," Lestrade said. "What if we wake him up and discover he's not the perpetrator?"

"He is the perpetrator and we're leaving, Lestrade. Now. John is tired and needs to get home."

"What? I'm not tired. It's only—"

Sherlock whacked John's shoulder with the back of his hand. "John is so tired he doesn't even realise it."

John growled softly at him and Sherlock gave Lestrade his widest smile, shifting slightly to ensure that the bulge in his trousers was obscured by his coat.

Lestrade rolled his eyes. "All right, go home and put him to bed. But if you're wrong . . . ."

"I'm not. Come on." Sherlock grabbed John by the arm and tried to pull him along. John of course shrugged away because he hated to be manhandled in public but sometimes Sherlock just couldn't help it—he needed to touch. He settled for resting his hand on John's shoulder; he could feel his muscles move even through his coat and was quite proud of himself for resisting the urge to drag him into a corner and rip his clothes off.

Once they were settled in a cab headed to Baker Street Sherlock reached into his coat pocket and pulled out the bottle of pills he'd been carrying. He tipped it toward John. "Viagra?"

John glanced over at him, then did a double-take and hissed Sherlock's name. Sherlock readied an excuse in case he wasn't supposed to mention Viagra in public—the cabbie's not paying any attention to us—but John's next words revealed his true concern. "Did you steal that from the hospital?"

"No, of course not. It's your prescription from home." He turned the bottle so John could see the label. "I knew what we'd be doing after we solved the case and figured there's no point in getting home and then having to wait around an hour for it to work."

John grinned and took the bottle from him. "That's what I love about you. Always thinking ahead."

"Of course." He settled back against the seat, pleased with himself and with life in general. He'd forgotten what this felt like, to be high not from cocaine but from the thrill of a solved case, with the prospect of a whole night alone with John stretched out before him.

When they got home, Sherlock let John use the loo first, then took his turn. When he emerged he found John sitting on the bedroom floor in front of the wheelchair. He tried to keep the dismay off his face; John had gone to a physio appointment before work this morning, which usually meant they could skip his normal evening session. "Exercise time?"

"Nope." John popped the footrest off the chair and tossed it aside, then pulled the chair toward him so his legs were stretched out underneath it.

Sherlock narrowed his eyes. "So what are you doing?"

"I thought—" John stopped and took a deep breath, twisting his shoulders so he could face Sherlock directly. "Look, I know you want to have sex in the chair, but I just can't. Not the way you want to, at least. I mean, I could, but it's too—" He shook his head and looked down at his hands and Sherlock stepped toward him.

"John, you don't have to. We don't—"

"No, listen to me. I know how much you enjoyed yourself that day when you sat in the chair and I watched, so I thought even if I don't actually fuck you maybe we could still . . . ." He gestured at the wheelchair and then up at Sherlock.

Sherlock crossed the room so he was standing in front of John, behind the chair. He put his hand out to touch the sleek frame. Yes, he had fantasies of being naked on John's lap while they were both in the chair, but he didn't want to make John do anything that made him uncomfortable. "I had something else planned for you tonight," he said.

John grinned. "Good. I'm looking forward to it. First this." He started to unbutton his shirt and nodded up at Sherlock. "Get your clothes off," he commanded.

"Oh, is that how it's going to be, then?" Sherlock raised his eyebrows but didn't hesitate to shimmy out of his suit and shirt.

"Yep." John patted the seat of the chair, beckoning. "Come on. Sit."

"Are you sure?" Even as he asked he was already discarding his socks and then his pants. He stepped carefully over John and lowered himself into the chair, legs spread to either side.

"Yep. So what's your preference, then? Hand? Mouth? Something from the toy drawer?"

"Anything. Just touch me." He shivered and laid his left hand over his half-hard cock, then twisted around to reach with his right into the drawer of the nightstand. There were several tubes of lubricant but he found the one he wanted by touch and passed it to John.

John chuckled. "So you do have a preference."

"Not really, just—" He slid forward in the chair and lifted his legs, settling them over John's shoulders, knees bent so his feet grazed John's back. He tried not to put too much weight on him until he felt the thick muscles of John's shoulders shift and knew John could support him.

John popped open the tube and coated the first two fingers of his left hand, then leaned toward Sherlock; the hair on Sherlock's legs tried to stand up at the sensation of John's breath ghosting over his skin. John ran his mouth along Sherlock's cock, lips closed, stubble scratching lightly. Sherlock squirmed and sighed and by the time John reached the tip he was hard.

He let his head fall back and braced himself on the arms of the chair. He found himself getting lost almost immediately, overwhelmed by the feel of John's fingers as they teased his arsehole and his bollocks and the wet heat of his mouth on his cock. Given the arousal that had been building since John's offhanded comment had allowed him to solve the case, Sherlock knew he wouldn't last long at this rate, so he made himself focus elsewhere, on the warmth and strength of John's broad shoulders under his thighs, on the slightly rough weave of the fabric-covered seat beneath him, on the cold slick of the lube where it dribbled from John's fingers. He tried to keep each sensation separate in his mind, allowing them to balance each other out, keeping him from being tipped too far in any direction.

He didn't think John was even trying to make him come; he kept his mouth on the tip of his cock rather than swallowing him down, and his fingers in Sherlock's arse were mostly teasing. But then John added a hand to the base of his cock and began to give him short strokes in time with the flick of his tongue and it was too much for Sherlock to withstand. He reached down and stilled John's hand. "Touch yourself, please."

John grunted an affirmative and dropped his right hand down into his own lap, fumbling open his flies. He slipped his hand into the opening of his boxers and took hold of himself. The Viagra he'd taken didn't make him hard on its own; he still needed stimulation, and the lack of functioning nerve pathways meant he didn't get erections as easily as he used to, but—what was the terminology John said the sex counsellor used? —vigorous manual stimulation always seemed to do the job. No light, teasing touches—at first Sherlock had been afraid John would hurt himself without realising it, but by this point they'd experimented enough that they both knew exactly what to do. John pulled at himself, long, fast pulls, lifting his face from Sherlock's crotch occasionally to check on his own progress. Sherlock watched him as well, gazing down between his own legs as he rocked forward into John's mouth.

John hummed something around Sherlock's cock and then slid one of his slickened fingers deeper and the muscles in Sherlock's legs clenched involuntarily. "Stop. Okay, stop, too much." He pushed at John's head with his hands even as his legs did their best to pull him closer.

John gave him a final long suck and slowly drew his fingers away from Sherlock's arse. He grinned up at him. "Sure that's enough?"

"Yes." Sherlock tried to focus. He pulled his legs off John's shoulders and planted his feet on the floor. A deep breath to collect himself and then he could say, "Now it's time to do what I had planned."

John put both hands behind him on the floor and leaned back; the glistening tip of his cock jutted out through the opening of his pants. "Oh, it's time for your plans, is it?"

Sherlock forced himself to look away. "Yes. My plans," he said. It was hard to sound unruffled and authoritative when naked and fully aroused but he had had a lot of practice over the years. "Get in the bed." He stood up from the wheelchair, paused to consider that the height from the floor to the bed was considerable. "You want help?"

"Nope." John reached for the chair. Sherlock stopped him so he could wipe some of the excess lube off the seat and then stepped out of the way to allow John to pull himself up into the chair and then from there to the bed.

He watched while John tugged his trousers and pants off and got situated on the bed, stretched out on his back, cock still semi-hard but not as erect as it had been. Sherlock crawled into the bed next to him and draped himself along his side, leaving enough room to palm himself as he reached over and wrapped his hand around John. Vigorous manual stimulation, yes. Not too much, though, just enough to catch John up to where he'd been a few minutes ago. When they were both sufficiently hard again he rolled on top of him. John moaned and pulled at Sherlock's hair and Sherlock kissed him and then slid down his body, licking and sucking and rubbing everything he encountered. Once he passed his navel he knew John couldn't feel it, or at least he wouldn't until he found the still-sensitive strip on his thigh, but Sherlock wasn't about to let that stop him. A lick of his cock, so light that it probably wouldn't do anything for John but Sherlock liked the taste and he knew John wouldn't object to seeing his tongue sweep away the bead of liquid that had formed at the tip. Then he moved down farther, inching over John's hip and down his thigh, the right one, which did not have any sensation preserved at all. That didn't mean he didn't still want to kiss it and lick it though; the skin was oddly sweat-free and tasted of soap.

John let him continue for less than a minute before he reached down to thread his hand into Sherlock's hair and give a firm tug. "Sherlock."

Sherlock raised his face from John's leg, questioning.

"I know what you're trying to do."

"Do you?" Sherlock had only a vague idea of that himself—this was not what he had planned—but he knew what John meant.

"I'm never going to like it, okay? I can't move my legs, I can't feel them and I don't like it when you touch them. It's not going to change."

"John, if we're going to be together, then I'm going to keep touching you."

"I know. You do touch me. In different ways. And I like most of it. But not my legs. I let you touch them when you have to, and that's fine, but that's it. I am not going to let you turn our bed into another physio session."

Sherlock sat up, crouched over John's knees, and swept his gaze over John's body. "Except there are spots where you do like it," he said, and pressed a single finger to John's left thigh.

John gasped and let his head fall back. "Yes. I do like that."

Sherlock grinned. "Good. Because I really did plan something for you tonight that I think you'll like." He hopped off the bed and rummaged through the pile of clothes he'd discarded until he found his suit jacket. "Here it is." He reached into the inner pocket and withdrew the instrument he'd taken from the hospital's supply cupboard, a thin metal rod with a round, spiked pinwheel about an inch in diameter attached at one end. A Wartenberg wheel, designed to test for nerve damage but widely co-opted for other, more pleasurable purposes. At least he hoped it would be pleasurable; the spikes on the wheel were sharp but everything he'd read about the tool agreed that it could provide varying amounts of pain with little risk of doing any real damage. It had even been mentioned in one of the sex counsellor's brochures, though they hadn't investigated it. How were we to know he'd enjoy that sort of thing?

John lifted his head from the pillow to see what Sherlock held. "Where did you—shit, you stole that from the hospital, didn't you?"

"John. It's worth about five pounds. They aren't going to miss it."

"That doesn't mean it's okay to—oh, never mind. If your mum failed to teach you morals there's no way I'm going to be able to." He dropped his head back down onto the pillow.

"You like my morals," Sherlock said, and climbed back onto the bed so he could straddle John's torso, pinwheel in hand.

"I know I do."

Sherlock held the wheel in his left hand and pressed his right index finger against one of the metal points. "So is this okay?"

John bit at his lip and then nodded. "I can see the potential, yes."

Sherlock grinned. He'd been a bit worried about how John might react, since he knew it hadn't been long since his doctors had been using the same tool on him for legitimate medical reasons—they probably still used it when he went for follow-up visits—but when Sherlock had seen it sitting there in the cupboard at the hospital he hadn't been able to resist.

"Give it to me." John reached to take the wheel from him but Sherlock sat back and held it out of his reach.

"No, I'm going to use it on you. That's the whole point."

"Okay, but I'm going to show you how to use it first."

"Oh, you're the sex toy expert now?"

"No, I'm a doctor. It's a medical instrument."

"Not at the moment, it's not," Sherlock said. He ran the wheel across his own chest, a few inches below the nipple line. It prickled; it wasn't exactly painful, but he didn't really understand the attraction, either.

"Give it to me," John repeated and reached again for the wheel, this time grabbing Sherlock's arm with one hand and the wheel itself with the other. Sherlock moved his other hand to try to pry John's fingers off and John shifted his grip and let go of the wheel, grabbing Sherlock's other wrist and pushing his arms apart. Sherlock shifted on his knees so he wouldn't lose his balance as he was perched over John. It occurred to him that he could definitely win this little wrestling match by standing up; all he had to do was break John's grip for a moment and then jump off the bed. That wouldn't be fair, though, would it? He tried to pull his arms away from John without using the muscles in his legs for leverage and John growled and yanked Sherlock toward him. Sherlock fell onto him but tightened his grip on the pinwheel, which was now trapped in between their chests. The wasp stings on his hand flared at the sudden contact and the cool metal of the wheel bit into his skin. At least the spikes were turned sideways and not digging in. John had released Sherlock's arms when he fell forward; now his right hand was splayed over the bullet wound on John's shoulder. He felt the puckered skin beneath his fingertips as he pushed himself up slightly. "I stole it, therefore I get to use it first," he said and pressed his lips against John's before John had a chance to respond.

John squirmed his shoulders beneath Sherlock and tipped his head a bit to the right and then opened his mouth and Sherlock realised his mistake. John's tongue flicked into Sherlock's mouth, then pulled back, then pushed in again more slowly. Sherlock whimpered and let go of the pinwheel. He could feel John grinning into their kiss but losing was worth it. He brought both hands up to the sides of John's head and threaded his fingers through his hair.

They kissed until John pulled away and retrieved the disputed instrument. "Budge up a bit and let me show you what to do." Sherlock sat up enough to allow John access to his right nipple, which he sucked and nibbled at until it was swollen and red. Just when Sherlock thought it couldn't possibly be any more erect or tender, John gave it a final flick with his tongue and then took the wheel and ran it over the edge of the areola, lightly a couple of times and then once more, harder. Sherlock flinched and gasped.

"Like it?" John looked up expectantly, the wheel held loosely in his grasp, resting against Sherlock's skin.

"Er," Sherlock said. Not really. He could understand in theory how someone might like the sensation but he would much rather be pampered with tenderness, letting a gentle touch gradually build to a frenzied sensuality without ever actually having to experience any pain.

John laughed. "That's fine. You just use it on me, then, hmm? I'll stick to my usual mild-mannered ways with you."

Sherlock took the wheel from him and sat up all the way so he was once more straddling John. He pinched at one of John's nipples a few times with his fingers, then tried the wheel. John's moan and arched back made it clear he was doing it right. He moved his own hips back, felt John's erection still strong against his arse cheeks; his own cock jumped in response. "I want . . . " he said.

"All right, yeah," John replied, and reached for the container that sat on the nightstand, though Sherlock was certain he was still slick enough from when he'd been in the chair. He knelt up enough to drizzle lube onto John anyway, and shifted until he was poised over his cock. John put his hands on Sherlock's hips and Sherlock sank down, shuddering as the tingling pressure of having John in him suffused his whole body. This. This is perfect. John might not have all the sensation he should, but he was clearly enjoying himself and if Sherlock moved the right way he could make John's cock brush his prostate. His eyes fluttered shut and then he opened them so he could pick up the wheel again and add it to the equation. He experimented with the pressure, knowing that John would tell him if he pressed too hard, glad for the chance to practice on his chest before he tried it on his leg with its impaired sense of touch and pain.

John slid his hands up and down on Sherlock's hips and Sherlock began to rock in time with him. When John moved his hand over to slip along Sherlock's cock it disrupted his focus enough that he couldn't keep the motion of the pinwheel from growing erratic.

"Too much?"

"God, no," Sherlock exhaled.

John grinned. "Good. Do you think you could use it—?" He lifted his hand, brushing against Sherlock's hip as he motioned down at his own leg.

Sherlock twisted slightly to the right so he could reach back and use the wheel on John's thigh. He settled his left hand over John's, curving both their fingers around his own cock, and set the pace for them both, stroking, sliding up and down and running the wheel over John's leg lightly at first, then with more determination. It did exactly what he had hoped, giving John the pain that he wanted while allowing Sherlock to know he wasn't actually doing any harm.

"Harder. Sherlock, yes, right there, but harder. Please."

Sherlock shifted more of his weight to the arm holding the wheel and rolled it back and forth in time with his thrusts up and down. He tightened his muscles around John's cock, trying to give him as much stimulation as possible. He could feel his own climax creeping closer, though it wasn't quite imminent; concentrating on using the wheel was distraction enough to hold it at bay.

John ran his free hand over his own nipples, then looked up at Sherlock, pupils huge. "The clamps," he said, and Sherlock made an awkward, messy lunge toward the nightstand, spreading lube and pre-come over John's torso as he searched for the pair John liked best. The ones with the chain. John hadn't been interested in the collar they'd come with but he'd found a way to use the long chain. Sherlock pulled the assembly out of the drawer and dropped it onto John's chest before scrambling back into position, leaving it to John to attach the clamps himself.

John clipped them both on and then pulled the chain that ran between them down, wrapping it around his own hand before he resumed stroking Sherlock.

"Oh, fuck," John groaned at the extra stimulation. "Hurry up, get back on me." Sherlock knew John would be thrusting his hips impatiently if he could; as it was his whole upper body was writhing. He took hold of John's cock and held it still so he could slide back onto it, letting a moan escape as he seated himself all the way. He picked up the pinwheel again and ran it gently over John's thigh; the skin looked irritated, bright red beneath its scattering of golden hair.

"Press it harder, Sherlock. Yes, like that. Keep going, I think I might—"

Sherlock squeezed his arse tight around John and pushed down on the wheel, trusting that it wouldn't break the skin now that he knew how much force to use. He dropped his other hand to caress John's abs, just above the line where he ceased to have feeling. This could work. He could hurt John this way, digging his nails into the uninjured flesh of his torso even as the tool in his hand distanced him from the additional pain John required.

John started to whimper, rocking his shoulders back against the bed as each jerk of his hand on Sherlock's cock pulled at the chain attached to his nipples. Sherlock tried to move with the same rhythm as John's hand. He rumbled John's name, knowing the effect his voice had, and John flicked his eyes up to his face.

"Sherlock." He bit off the word, gasping, and Sherlock dropped the pinwheel and leaned forward, ran both his hands up the sides of John's ribs and over his chest, stopping when his fingers hit the metal clamps. He said John's name, drawing it out, and moved his hips as rapidly as he could, not really caring what the motion did for him, just wanting John to be satisfied. John's fist tightened on Sherlock's cock, making him grunt, and then John let go and yanked Sherlock down toward him, shouting profanities into Sherlock's shoulder. Sherlock wrapped his arms around him and tried not to crush him as John shuddered beneath him; when he had mostly stilled Sherlock untangled their upper halves and sat up.

John's cock was still in him, though he knew it would be softening rapidly. He rose up onto one knee to pull off. Semen and lube dripped everywhere; he ran his hand through the mess to wipe John off a bit and then swept it up over his own cock and groaned. John pushed himself up to his elbows and looked down. "Just . . . let me catch my breath," he said.

"Can't wait," Sherlock said, and pushed John back onto the mattress with one hand. John collapsed, arms outstretched, and smiled up at Sherlock and Sherlock's whole body tensed and tried to turn inside out as he came over the clamps and the chain and the muscles and the scars and the sex-reddened skin that decorated John's chest.

John caught him as he tipped forward, helped him roll to the side before he could make even more of a mess with his own come. Sherlock had to open his mouth to get enough air to breathe; he stayed half-curled up and pressed against the side of John's body for a few moments, then turned onto his back so he could lie next to him. When he tried to straighten his legs the twinge that greeted him reminded him that he was no longer as young as he had been the first time he and John had taken each other in this bed.

"Knees?" John asked, running a finger over Sherlock's creased brow. Sherlock nodded.

"It's because you're too tall." John stretched and slipped an arm around Sherlock's shoulders, clearly content with himself.

"That's ridiculous. Mycroft is taller than me and he's never had knee problems."

"Mycroft never has sex. Your father has bad knees, doesn't he?"

"Good lord, John. What is wrong with you?" Sherlock rolled back onto his side to look at him. "Why are you thinking about my brother and my father?"

John chuckled and flicked Sherlock's bicep. "You brought up Mycroft first."

Sherlock grumbled and trapped John's hand, pinning it to the bed. He closed his eyes and then snapped them open again a moment later. "Damn."

"What's wrong?"

"I forgot I wanted to do something." He sighed and allowed John to pull his hand free.

"What? What more could you possibly have wanted to do?"

"I wanted to see if your toes still curled when you—" He waved a hand over John's groin and the mess on his chest.

"Oh my God, you." John smacked him again and Sherlock gave a shout in protest.

John pushed at Sherlock's chest. "Get up and get something to clean up this mess you made."

Sherlock waved his hand lazily toward John. "There's a box of tissues right next to you. I know you can reach that far."

"No. I want a damp flannel. Slightly warmer than skin temperature. Please."

Sherlock laughed and crawled over John to grab the box of tissues, thoroughly smearing them both with cooling ejaculate as he moved.

"Oh Christ, that is disgusting." John unclipped the clamps from his chest, leaving a trail of stickiness behind.

Sherlock swiped at him with a tissue. "Then I will never do that to you again."

"Oh, yes, you will." John grabbed Sherlock's head with both hands and held him still for a kiss, and Sherlock dropped down on top of him, no longer caring about any mess they might make.

Chapter Text

Sherlock blinked his eyes closed for a moment to collect himself before he pushed open the door to the therapist's office. He had mixed feelings about whether he even needed to be here. After all, he'd gone out on a case with John last week and everything had gone very well. On the other hand, last night John had come home from basketball practice with a plaster covering a small scrape on his knuckle and it had been all Sherlock could do not to fly into a rage and insist he give up the sport. John had sensed his reaction anyway. "Sherlock," he'd said, voice low. "You are not going to overreact to a scratch that barely even bled. Do you understand me?" Then he'd pulled off the plaster as well as his disgustingly sweaty and oddly erotic practice shirt and let Sherlock draw them both a bath.

So, yes, Sherlock knew he still had a few issues he needed to work through. He did not think talking to a counsellor was going to help him do that, though. The last time he'd been to a therapy session it had involved sitting on the floor playing board games while Mummy and Daddy tried to get him to talk to a strange man with an ugly beard. It hadn't ended well. But John was very enthusiastic about the counselling sessions he'd attended over the last few months, and Sherlock had promised him he would try it. It helped to think of it as penance: attend two or three appointments to atone for letting John down by getting high and for scaring him with the trip to A&E.

He checked in with the receptionist and was ushered back into a narrow hallway lined with offices. Too narrow. A wheelchair would barely fit through the hall, never mind through the doors. Weren't there laws about such things now?

The woman he was meant to see had the office at the end of the hall; she was waiting for him with the door open. She gave him a wide, friendly smile which he returned cautiously as he took in her appearance: roughly his age, bland yet tasteful blouse and trousers, brown hair, brown eyes, average height and weight—average, average, average. There were doubtless many things he could deduce from her averageness but letting his guard down to focus on her seemed like too great of a personal risk at the moment.

She introduced herself as Gemma, which didn't strike him as much of a name for a therapist; she should be Helen or Ruth or something more dignified. She could use her last name professionally; that would be more respectable. He sighed and reminded himself that this was the therapist John had chosen for him; he wouldn't have sent Sherlock to someone who wasn't immensely qualified, regardless of her name.

Once inside her office she invited him to choose from several seats and Sherlock picked the armchair closest to the door. It was fairly uncomfortable but it gave him a view of the whole room. She sat down in a chair across from him, rather than behind the desk, which he would've preferred. The desk fronted a full wall of windows, though the drapes were closed most of the way, leaving only a narrow band of grey morning sky visible. He could stare at the wall behind Gemma, though, and appear to be listening; it had a wallpaper covering, creamy white with grey and brown vines and small flowers snaking over it, neutral and institutional but interesting enough that Sherlock could distract himself with the pattern should the need arise.

Gemma had a notepad with a half-sheet of printed paper clipped onto it: whatever John had told her about Sherlock when he made the appointment, he presumed, although their chairs were too far apart for him to see what it said. She glanced down at it for a moment and then folded her hands in her lap on top of the pad. "I spoke briefly with John when he set up the appointment, but we didn't get into specifics. So why don't you tell me why you're here?"

What kind of question is that? It was clear why he was here. Even if she didn't have his history neatly typed on the page in front of her, why did anyone come to an office like this? But he'd promised John he'd at least try to cooperate. He uncurled his fingers from where they had attached themselves to the legs of his trousers and cleared his throat so he could speak. "As you know, John was injured several months ago and—I guess, ah—neither one of us has really had an easy time of it." There. That was it. He spread his hands over his knees to keep them still and looked up at her.

"And?"

He didn't know what else she expected him to say, so he said nothing, and after a moment she looked down at the notes in her lap. "John said you'd been prescribed amitriptyline. Are you still taking it?"

"Yes." He was, except for that one small blip a couple of weeks ago.

"How do you think it's been working?"

Sherlock cleared his throat again and crossed his legs at the ankles; it was very hard to keep from fidgeting. "I think it's been working well, overall." That was even mostly true.

"So it's working well, but you still felt a visit to me was indicated. That's encouraging, actually, Sherlock. Too many people think drugs can cure anything, and are disappointed when they discover that's not true."

Some drugs might be able to cure everything. He shied away from the thought and blurted, "John wanted me to see a therapist."

She raised her eyebrows. "I see. So you don't think you need any help?"

Wrong. He knew he was still a long way from being okay, but that wasn't really the issue. "I don't think being here is likely to help."

"And why is that?"

Because my mind is too complicated for an average person like yourself to have much of an effect on. He knew not to say that, though, plus there was always the creeping suspicion that the emotional part of his brain might be a bit more ordinary than he cared to admit. When he didn't answer she prompted again, "What do you think will help?"

"Time. I think I just need time."

"Perhaps. But perhaps we can speed the process along by talking about it. How about you tell me everything that's happened over the last few months in your own words?"

Tedious. Sherlock leaned back in his uncomfortable seat, crossed his ankles tighter and gripped the arms of the chair so his hands wouldn't be tempted to fidget. He told her. Speaking about it did get easier as he went on, though he still summarised as quickly as he could: John following him onto the rusted fire escape and falling. The endless time in hospital and then at rehab. John coming home to the renovated flat, and how the weeks since then had been a frustrating blend of good and bad.

"On the surface, he seems to be doing very well. He's back at work and physically he's done better than any of his doctors expected, as far as recovering quickly with very few medical complications. But there have been so many times when he's broken down emotionally and I try to help him but—" He shook his head. "I think the biggest problem has been that he's just not comfortable with himself."

"Why do you say that?"

So many reasons. Sherlock exhaled and considered what to tell her. "As part of his physiotherapy he has a set of leg braces and a walking frame that he's supposed to use every day. He's only had them at home for a few days. He hates using them, but not because they're uncomfortable or hard to control, which they are. He thinks they make him look weak, and he doesn't want anyone to see him that way." Mrs Hudson had come upstairs and surprised them the first time he'd tried the braces at home, and John had flushed bright red and would've fallen over if he hadn't been leaning on the frame. Sherlock had needed to jump in and escort her out of the flat, and then John had yelled at him for being rude to her. Yes, he was definitely uncomfortable with himself, and the braces magnified that unease tenfold. Which was unfortunate, because Sherlock's impulse upon seeing John standing up in them was to press himself up against John's back and never let go. He knew it would be a long time before he was allowed to do that, if ever.

"But his reluctance is understandable, don't you think?" Predictably, Gemma was missing the point.

"Yes, but—" It hurts my heart, don't you see? He swallowed. "I don't like seeing him like that. Not weak—I never think he's weak—but ashamed of himself. He shouldn't feel that way around anyone, but especially not around me."

"And you think he does feel that way around you?"

"I know he does. Not all the time, but sometimes."

"And how about you?"

"Sorry, what?"

"How do you feel about John now? Are you comfortable with him?"

"Of course I am. Why wouldn't I be?" He honestly wasn't sure what she might be thinking. Did she imagine he would be embarrassed to be seen with John now? Ridiculous. Sherlock himself had stood out as a freak for far too long to be dissuaded by a few people staring at a man in a wheelchair.

"It's certainly normal to have your feelings about a partner change after a serious illness or injury. His body is different now. That's going to affect you, as well."

"Well, of course. But helping with his physio exercises isn't much of a hardship and we've worked out the sex situation quite satisfactorily, I think." He felt himself starting to blush and quickly continued. "I've never given him any reason to think I wouldn't want to stay with him, but sometimes I catch him looking at me like he's surprised I'm still here. He should know better."

"Have you let him know how you feel? Reassured him?"

"Yes. Of course I have." He tried to keep his usual dismissive tone, but it didn't sound right to his own ears. He swallowed and let his shoulders sink down a bit. "I really have."

"It bothers you that he doesn't believe you."

She must be very highly trained, to read such obvious body language. Why am I even talking to her? He pressed his clenched fist against his chin and reminded himself he was going to cooperate. "Of course it bothers me. He should trust me."

Gemma nodded. "I'm sure he does, but I can also tell you that his reaction is not unusual. He doubtless doesn't like the changes in his own body, so he would expect you to be repulsed as well. And while most people don't leave their partners for purely physical reasons, it's very common for relationships to fail after such a catastrophic injury. Once the initial recovery period is over, they discover that their lives have changed so radically they're no longer the same two people who fell in love."

Sherlock shook his head. "We're still the same people. We haven't changed."

She raised her eyebrows and looked at him, questioning, and he stared back. Is that how normal people honestly think? Can they just start and stop loving each other that easily? He shook his head again and tried not to be offended that she expected him to be like everyone else. "I love him. That's not going to change."

She stared at him for a moment longer and then nodded. "Good. So then let's talk about things that do need to change. You've told me a lot about John, and what it's been like for him over the last few months. What about you?"

He shrugged. "Like I said, I'm still the same."

"But you're here, and you're talking to me, though I can tell that doesn't come naturally to you. Why?"

He held out his hands, palms up. No idea.

"Because while it's admirable that you want to help John recover, I doubt that's what made you come here today."

"I told you. John wanted me to come."

"Why?"

Fine. The truth then. He drew in a deep breath and then let it out slowly and said, "A couple of weeks ago I quit taking my meds for a few days. It wasn't a pleasant experience. I—didn't react well." He leaned forward to adjust the fall of his jacket around him. His shirt was stuck to his back; the feeling of sweat-soaked fabric against his skin made him want to scream.

She waited for him to continue and after a moment he did. "By the third day I couldn't stand it any longer so I went out and got high."

She raised her eyebrows and marked something on her notepad that didn't even look like a word, just a line scratched on the paper. "Do you often get high as a means of coping?"

"Not anymore. Not since I met John. I suspect that was why he was so upset about it."

"That sounds likely. Why did you stop taking your medication?"

He looked down and picked a spot of lint off his trouser leg. "It's complicated."

"Is it?"

Is this session really only half-over? He knew he could refuse to talk if he wanted, but . . . . "When I take the amitriptyline I sleep very deeply. John has been waking up with nightmares but I was sleeping right through them, even though he needed me. So I had to stop taking it."

"That's understandable, if not the wisest thing you could have done."

"I'm not an illogical person, despite what you may think."

"I don't think that at all. You want to take care of John, and will do anything necessary to achieve that goal."

"Yes. Anything to protect him."

"Protect him? Can you protect him from his bad dreams?"

"Well. Comfort him, in that instance."

She nodded. "What else do you need to protect him from?"

Sherlock squinted at her, sensing he had stepped into some sort of psychological trap. "I—he's still capable of protecting himself, I know that."

"I see. But you still have the urge."

"Of course."

"So you're comfortable with John and his body but you also think he needs to be protected."

"No. Not like that."

"Like what?"

"It's just—I can't let him get hurt again."

"You can't let him."

He flicked his eyes over to her for a brief moment and then lowered his gaze to a spot on the floor in front of his own feet. I told her the whole story. She knows exactly what I mean.

She did know. "You think you're responsible for John getting hurt in the first place."

He dipped his head down for a moment and then straightened up where he sat, settling both hands on the arms of the chair. "I am responsible for John getting hurt in the first place."

Another pen scratch on her notepad. "And ever since you've been trying to protect him and make sure he doesn't get hurt again."

He nodded.

"Okay."

"Okay?" Isn't she going to try to tell me it wasn't my fault?

"I can certainly see why you feel that way. And why you feel like you need to protect him now. How does he feel about it?"

Sherlock sniffed and shrugged his shoulders back into the chair. "I suppose he doesn't much care for it. He likes to be independent. Which he is. I'm not trying to control him. And I know he can do things on his own. I'm just trying to look out for him."

"How have you been looking out for him?"

Sherlock paused. He hadn't been able to, that was the problem. That was why he stopped the meds, so at least he'd be able to console John when he had a bad dream. "He hasn't made it easy for me."

"How so?"

"Well, he keeps wanting me to take cases, but I'm so used to having him with me when I work that I don't want to go alone, but I also don't want to risk him getting hurt again. Plus he's insisting on playing basketball, even though all the other players are bigger and younger than he is."

Gemma nodded and looked down at her notepad; at least now she was actually writing words instead of scribbles. "So you haven't worked since he's been hurt?"

"We did go out on one case last week. It was fine, but . . . . I'm terrified that he'll get hurt again." There, he'd admitted he was terrified to a licensed professional. Now can this be over?

"But he didn't get hurt that time."

"No. And we solved the case." One safe and successful outcome did not indicate more would follow, however.

"Were you worried while you were on the case?"

"No. It didn't cross my mind. It wasn't a dangerous situation, though, really. Sometimes they are. You can't predict it. The night he got hurt—I never would've seen that as a dangerous situation until it happened."

"You don't like things you can't predict."

"No." Does anyone?

"So you've found it easier to avoid taking cases than to face the risk of placing John in a possibly dangerous situation."

"Obviously."

"But casework is your livelihood, correct?"

Sherlock shrugged. "It's not necessary, financially, at this point."

"But you enjoy working as a detective."

"Yes. Normally. I did."

"You enjoyed the case last week."

"Yes."

"So what would you do if you didn't go back?"

"I have other interests." He shifted in the chair again, trying to make it more comfortable. "Have you seen my website?"

"No, I'm afraid not."

He pursed his lips at her. "You should take a look. I post the results of some of my ongoing experiments there. I've also published articles in several academic journals, though not recently. I can keep myself busy."

"But casework is what you enjoy the most."

He shrugged again. "People change. Isn't that what you said?" He had enjoyed the case at the hospital, but cases weren't everything.

"But working on cases together, that's a big part of your life with John, isn't it?"

"Yes. It has been."

"The most important part, even?"

"No."

"No?"

"No. It's the most public part, yes. But it's not the essence of our relationship, no. We're still us even without cases."

"And would John agree with that statement?"

"Yes." Of course he would. Wouldn't he? True, John enjoyed writing about their cases online, but he hadn't touched his blog in months, and even after they'd solved the case last week he'd made no move to write it up and post it.

"Would he?"

"John would be fine without casework. He has a job that he enjoys. I don't think solving cases is key to his self-identity."

"But is working with you key to his identity? Publicly helping you and then writing about it for the rest of the world?"

Sherlock didn't answer. The chair was starting to hurt his back. She asks too many questions.

"Do you think he blames himself for keeping you from cases?"

Sherlock closed his eyes. "I don't know what he thinks." The words came out more sharply than he meant them to, but had the intended effect of making her back off a little.

"All right. Say we were able to guarantee that there was no chance of harm coming to either one of you while working on cases. If that were the situation, would you go back to casework regularly?"

"I would." Would John, though? The fact that working with Sherlock was dangerous by its very nature was what attracted him in the first place. This is too hard. John had his own therapist; Sherlock didn't need to sit here and try to work through both their issues. "This is absurd. Cases are dangerous sometimes, at least the interesting ones. I can't change that."

"No. Though you can change how you think about it. That's what you're here for, isn't it?"

"I don't know why I'm here." He pulled his feet up onto the chair and rested his head against his knees. This was useless and frustrating and confusing and he didn't want to be here anymore. How had John survived going to sessions like this every week for the past three months?

Gemma watched him for a few moments but didn't say anything or write anything down. When she did speak again she changed her tactic a bit; he wasn't sure whether to be grateful or to feel manipulated.

"Okay. So obviously having John get hurt has been traumatic for you as well as him. Even though he's adjusted fairly well you feel responsible and are afraid something bad will happen again. Is that a fair summary?"

He grunted and then gave a nod. He tried lifting his head and staring at the wall behind her, but the wallpaper pattern he thought would be soothing was actually rather panic-inducing.

Gemma didn't seem to notice. "I think that's certainly a normal fear for you to have at this point. Not only do you blame yourself, but you were there to see him get hurt and have been at his side ever since, correct?"

"Yes. He didn't—I didn't stay with him at the rehab centre but I was there every day." The last bit of anger he'd felt after John lied to him about the option to stay at rehab had faded away since John had come home; too bad he didn't think the guilt he felt would diminish as well.

"All right, so you've seen every step of his recovery. It was difficult, I'm sure, but you both survived and have stayed together and your relationship is as strong as ever, right?"

"Yes. It is." Even though sometimes John still seemed to have doubts that Sherlock wanted to be there, there was no question in Sherlock's mind that they would be together for the rest of their lives.

"So what would happen if he did get hurt again? Would that change your relationship?"

Sherlock stared at her. "I don't think you quite understand the nature of our work. If he did 'get hurt again' that could easily mean he'd be killed. And yes, that would change the nature of our relationship considerably." He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to keep his voice disdainful enough that the terror he felt at that idea didn't bleed through.

"Hmm. Let's step it back a bit. You mentioned John's been playing basketball. Wheelchair basketball?"

"Obviously."

"And you're afraid he'll hurt himself playing."

He didn't think the scrape on John's knuckle where he'd bumped against another player's chair would count as evidence that he'd already been injured, so he didn't mention it. "The players have to strap themselves in because they ram into each other with so much force that they would fly out of their wheelchairs if they didn't."

"That does sound violent."

"Mm." He didn't trust her when she agreed with him so easily.

"So what would happen if he got hurt playing?"

"He'd be hurt. This is stupid."

"No, it's not. I want you to take a few minutes right now and close your eyes and imagine John getting hurt playing ball. Not a minor injury like a jammed finger. Something serious but realistic—a concussion or a broken wrist, an injury that required medical treatment, something that would interfere with his daily life."

"Why on earth would I want to think of that?"

"Just humour me."

She looked at him expectantly until he put his feet back down on the floor and closed his eyes. He had promised he would cooperate with Gemma, but since there was no possibility that he would voluntarily imagine John getting hurt, pretending to cooperate would have to suffice.

This session had been about what he expected: a useless, painful hour wasted. He'd certainly been much more honest than he'd expected to be, but he didn't think anything Gemma had said to him was likely to help him in any way. And some of what she'd said was simply ridiculous. Why would his love for John change simply because he'd been hurt? There was no difference in the core of their relationship.

He let his head fall to rest on the back of chair. He couldn't open his eyes yet because not enough time had passed and he was supposed to be thinking terrible, pointless thoughts. Which he was, just not the ones Gemma wanted him to. But it was quite irksome that she thought he might be so emotionally superficial as to base his feelings primarily on John's physical abilities. Even if he had been so inclined, the physical changes and challenges weren't as terrible as he feared they would be at first. Other than the actual act of walking, there were very few things that John couldn't do. Honestly, Sherlock could probably count them on one hand, and most of them weren't that essential.

He can't chase after me or any criminals except over relatively open terrain. Sherlock thought he had known London very well, but it was only now that he was aware of how many physical barriers littered the city.

Gemma was presumably still waiting for him to finish imagining John getting horribly maimed, so Sherlock let his thoughts continue, aware that making a list of things John couldn't do would probably be considered a bit not good if anyone else were to know of it.

He can't reach items on high shelves. That had always been the case but it was much more pronounced now. On the one hand, it meant Sherlock had more space to store his personal items, but on the other it meant he had to fetch his own things more often.

He can't get dressed and ready as fast as I can in the morning. Except they'd never exactly been morning people and now John had less cause to complain about Sherlock spending too much time on his hair.

He can't get down on his knees in front of me. He let his eyes flick open. Not what I want to be thinking about right now. And John had certainly proven more than capable of using alternate positions since his injury. But Sherlock couldn't shake the image of John kneeling in front of him. It was doing funny things to his brain, almost as if—Oh.

"Are you all right?"

Sherlock nodded. Gemma must have noticed his elevated breathing rate. "Did you think about it?" she asked.

"No. I did not think about John getting hurt again." He straightened up from the slouching position he'd adopted and smiled at her, sure that the revelation he'd just had must be visible on his face.

She tipped her head and narrowed her eyes at him. "My next step was to talk about how you and John would be able to survive any new injury together, since you've already been through worse, but since we're about out of time and you're clearly not willing to try this exercise with me anyway . . . ." She sighed and folded her hands precisely on top of her notepad. "I'll leave it to you to decide if you want to schedule another session. You're a difficult man to read, Sherlock. Sometimes I feel like you'd rather be anywhere but here but other times you seem willing to participate."

"I'll be back," he told her. He leapt up from the chair and spun toward the office door. "Thank you," he called over his shoulder as he left. "I'll let you know how it goes." He heard her asking him more questions but he was out the door and down the hall, too taken with the idea he'd just had to pause to answer.

Chapter Text

"So tell me again why we're eating at Angelo's?"

Sherlock pushed open the door to the restaurant and stepped inside so he could hold it for John. "Because we like the food and the atmosphere and have a long-standing tradition of eating here?"

"Mm-hm. And you're sure it's not an apology for doing something I haven't found out about yet? You didn't make the therapist cry this morning, did you?"

"Of course not," Sherlock said. "I was exceedingly polite. Is it really so difficult to believe I just want a romantic dinner out with my . . . partner?"

John raised his eyebrows at the word choice and Sherlock tipped his chin down into the collar of his coat to hide a nervous grin. His stomach was so jittery he wasn't even sure if he'd be able to eat anything.

"Okay. I'll believe you, Sherlock. And I won't even be suspicious about how you disappeared for most of the afternoon."

"Good. You shouldn't be." Sherlock stuck his hands back into his coat pockets and looked around the restaurant; there was Angelo, emerging through the doors that led to the kitchen. Sherlock made eye contact with him and Angelo bustled over to greet them.

"Sherlock! John! It's been too long! Why haven't you been here?" Angelo trapped Sherlock in a hug before Sherlock could object and then bent to try to embrace John as well but John stopped him with a well-placed hand to his chest.

Sherlock watched the interaction and briefly wondered if it was another symptom of John being uncomfortable in the wheelchair before deciding he had more immediate concerns. "Did you reserve the back table like I asked?"

John shot Sherlock a glance at that and Sherlock shrugged. Of course I phoned ahead; this is an important night.

"Yes, yes, I have it all ready for you." Angelo winked at him. "Champagne and a candle and everything." Sherlock could feel John's questioning gaze again but was afraid he might give everything away if he looked at him now.

Angelo led them through the tiny restaurant. Sherlock let John go ahead of him; nearly all of the dozen or so tables were full, leaving him barely enough room to manoeuvre his chair. Several people looked up as they passed; Sherlock noted their reactions as a way to distract himself from his nerves. The couple at the table in the corner recognised them from the telly news; the man eating the garlic bread stared at John's wheelchair; the woman coming out of the toilets noticed Sherlock's coat and then his lips. Sherlock glared at all of them.

When they reached the empty table in the back Angelo started to move one of the wooden chairs out of the way but John shook his head. "Leave it," he said. Angelo looked slightly puzzled but did as he asked and John adjusted the chair to his liking and then swung himself smoothly into it. He smiled up at Angelo in thanks and Angelo beamed at them both before rushing off to shout at one of his employees.

Sherlock took off his coat and carefully folded it over the back of the chair before sitting across from John. His back was to the rest of the room, which was perfect; he could focus on John instead of being distracted by any idiocy coming from the other diners.

Their waiter came over almost immediately to light the candle and pour the champagne for them. Sherlock watched John make small talk with him. He's in a good mood, nice and relaxed. Perfect. Maybe this will go well. I'll just let him have a glass or two first.

"Are you ready to order or do you need more time?" the waiter asked.

"We'll have our usual," Sherlock said, without taking his eyes off John.

"Sherlock, we haven't been here in almost six months," John hissed.

Sherlock nodded toward the kitchen. "It's the same chef they've always had, and Angelo knows what we like." He shoved the menus at the waiter. "Go away. Don't come back until our food is ready. There's a reason we asked for a table in the back."

The waiter left as instructed, which pleased Sherlock until he saw the scowl on John's face. No, he can't be upset with me, not tonight. Sherlock took a large sip of his champagne, barely managed to set the glass back down without spilling it, and then smoothed his hands over his suit jacket. He hadn't planned on saying anything until they finished eating but he was so nervous that if he tried to wait he would probably do something terrible and John would be really angry and the night would be ruined. So, now. It has to be now.

He ran his hands through his hair and cleared his throat. He'd been over this in his mind repeatedly since this morning but still didn't know how to say it. Just get it over with. He blinked his eyes shut for a moment, opened them and leaned across the table toward John, elbows resting on the placemat. "John. I love you. You know that, and it hasn't changed. But since this morning I've done a lot of thinking, and we have to admit that there are some things now that you can't do."

No, wrong! He knew he'd said it wrong even before he saw the blend of confusion, anger and panic that crossed John's face. "No, no, no! Hear me out. It's okay, because I can do those things for you. For us."

He swallowed and reached his hands toward John, but John didn’t reach back; his hands were off the table, clenched in his lap. If he'd been sitting in his wheelchair Sherlock was certain he'd be halfway to the front door by now. Instead he just sat back, away from the table and Sherlock, and said in a slow, calm voice, "Sherlock. What are you on about?"

Sherlock exhaled carefully. "This." He reached behind himself to slip his hand into his coat pocket, then stood up from his seat and stepped nimbly around the table. He pushed John's empty wheelchair out of the way; the locked wheels skidded against the floor in protest. Sherlock took one more deep breath and dropped to one knee beside John.

"Sher—" John cocked his head a bit to the side, the confusion in his eyes shifting into a first glimmer of understanding.

"Shh, let me say it," Sherlock said. His hand was sweaty but he didn't drop the ring; he held his palm flat, the plain platinum band displayed across his fingers for John's examination. "John, will you marry me?"

If anything, John's hands clenched tighter in his lap. "Sherlock. You—really?" His voice was much shakier than normal, but also deeper. Sherlock hoped that was a good sign.

"Of course, really."

"I mean. This isn't for a case or anything? It's real?"

"Why would I ask you to marry me for a case, John?"

"I don't know." John's tongue darted out from between his lips. "Stranger things have happened."

"Er, okay. No. This is real." Sherlock was still on one knee, the ring was still sitting in his outstretched palm, and John still hadn't actually answered him. He shifted his weight a little and tried not to look too worried.

"Okay," John said.

"Okay? Is that—?"

"Yes, yes, yes. Yes, Sherlock. Of course. Come here, you idiot. Of course I'll marry you." He reached out and grabbed Sherlock by the shoulders, pulling him forward.

"Wait, wait, the ring." Sherlock closed his fist around it so it wouldn't fall and braced himself against John's pull with his other hand.

"Oh, the ring. I can't believe you actually bought a ring." John let go of him. "Let me see it." He reached for Sherlock's curled fingers but Sherlock didn't open his hand.

"What's wrong with buying a ring?" He dropped his other knee to the floor so he was kneeling in a slightly more comfortable position. The nervousness that had earlier crescendoed and then collapsed into joy was now creeping back as self-consciousness. I thought he'd want a ring.

"Nothing! It's perfect." John paused and swallowed, then met Sherlock’s gaze. "I mean. I thought . . . . We never . . . ."

"I know! That's what I thought, too. But why? What were we thinking?" Sherlock couldn't keep the smile off his face, even if he had wanted to. It was true, he’d never really considered marriage before; why would it be necessary, since he already knew and trusted both John's and his own commitment to their relationship? But this morning it had occurred to him that maybe a public, binding acknowledgement was exactly what they needed. He shook his head, still smiling. "I realised this is the best way to convince you that I love you more than anything and I will never, ever leave you no matter what happens. I promise."

John looked down at him, lip caught between his teeth for a moment before breaking into a wide, easy grin. He waved at Sherlock's closed fist. "Let me see it."

Sherlock opened his hand so John could see the simple, solid band. He'd managed to find the right style and size this afternoon, but there hadn't been time to get it inscribed. Maybe he and John could go back to the jeweller's together before they got married. We're getting married. He swallowed back the undignified sounds that were trying to escape his throat. "Put your hand out. Left hand."

"I know, I know. Sherlock." John's voice cracked and Sherlock looked him in the eye. Were those tears? Those were tears. He wouldn't point it out, though, because he thought he possibly might be crying a little, too.

John held out his hand, palm down, fingers extended. Sherlock could see the already-faded scrape that crossed one knuckle; he stroked his thumb over the injury before slipping the ring onto the next finger. "Your knuckles are deceptively large." He gave the ring a little twist and finally got it to slide down to the base of John's finger.

"It fits." John pulled his hand back and laid it flat on the table, fingers spread.

"Of course it fits. I know how big your fingers are. Please."

"Yes, you know everything about me. I love it. I love you." John reached for Sherlock's shoulder again and Sherlock let himself be pulled up for a long, intimate kiss, aware but unconcerned that there was a restaurant full of people watching them. Eventually John broke the kiss, pushing Sherlock back but keeping his hands on his shoulders. "Holy fuck, I'm engaged to you."

Sherlock sat back on his heels. "It's not really an engagement ring, though. It's more of a wedding band. I hope that's okay, because, erm." Another flare of self-consciousness threatened, making his face heat. He reached over to his coat where it still hung on his chair and slid his hand into the pocket. "I bought myself one, too." He held the matching band up so John could see it.

John laughed. "Of course you did. No, that's perfect, too."

"I assumed you wouldn't want an engagement ring because that would be like me saying you're the bride, and you probably wouldn't like that."

"No, I probably wouldn't. Give it to me."

"This one's mine. It won't fit you—they aren't the same size."

John rolled his eyes and wiggled the fingers of his outstretched hand.

"Oh." Sherlock dropped the ring into John's hand and then held out his own left hand so John could slip it on for him. He'd tried it on for size in the shop this afternoon but it felt different now. He never wore any jewellery beyond his watch but the ring nestled comfortably below his knuckle as if it had always been there.

He said yes. Sherlock inhaled sharply and flicked his gaze from his own hand to John's and then up to John's face. Fiancé. Husband. They weren't words he'd ever thought about before. It's possible I am about to hyperventilate.

John gave his hand a squeeze and grinned and Sherlock felt his heart rate calm to a still excited but not quite as frightening pace.

John looked down at both their hands and said, "Er, do you want to keep wearing them now? I mean, I'd like to, but we're not actually married yet. Are we going to tell everyone right away or try to keep it a secret for now or—"

Sherlock grimaced; John really hadn't noticed, which was hard to believe since he was the one facing the rest of the people in the restaurant. "I think we may have a problem keeping it a secret, since we've just been recorded by at least a half-dozen phones."

John's eyes widened; he pushed Sherlock out of the way so he could glare past him at the rest of the diners. Sherlock took a quick glance over his shoulder; sure enough, there were more than a couple of phones still in use, and everyone he could see was watching the two of them intently.

John raised his chin and used his most commanding voice to announce, "That was a private, intensely personal moment. No one will be posting that online, do you understand me?"

The couple at the table nearest them looked abashed and started clicking on their phones, but Angelo just looked guilty, and a pair of teenaged girls near the front began to quickly gather their belongings to leave. Sherlock groaned. "Too late. It's already been uploaded to YouTube."

John's shoulders went rigid at his words; Sherlock's breath caught at the notion that the moment had been soured. But why? There's nothing for either of us to be ashamed of here. "It's all right. I want everyone to know." He stood up, knees cracking in protest. He took a moment to straighten his suit and then spun smoothly to face the rest of the diners and proclaim, "In case anyone didn't hear, he said 'yes'." His voice faltered on the last word, but it didn't matter because all of the people in the restaurant collectively lost their minds and began to applaud, as if they had just watched a particularly pleasing bit of theatre.

Sherlock stood blinking at the crowded room—Angelo is still filming—until he felt John tugging at his arm. He turned and looked down; the anger and dismay John had shown a moment ago had been replaced with a grin of delight.

John grabbed the wheel of his empty chair and pulled it close again, patted the seat. "Sit." Sherlock sat and John handed him his glass of champagne and lifted his own. They touched them together and drank in unison, and then John leaned toward him, voice low. "We've got the rings already, why don't we just go get married right now? Do you think there's a register office open somewhere?"

Sherlock shook his head. He'd been a little worried that John would think he was being too impulsive, but apparently they were on the same page. "I looked into it this afternoon, but there's a four-week waiting period."

"Oh." John looked down at his hands, tipped the left one so the light from the small candle glinted off his ring. "Could Mycroft maybe—?"

That had been Sherlock's next thought as well. "Probably, but do you want to get him involved?"

John sighed and looked disappointed for a moment, then shrugged. "Maybe that's for the best. We'd never hear the end of it from your mum if we got married and didn't invite her to the wedding."

Sherlock scowled at the thought and flinched when John leaned forward to grab the phone out of Sherlock's jacket pocket.

"What are you—are you going to start taking pictures now?"

John laughed and stabbed his finger a couple of times at the phone's screen.

"Who are you—oh God, no."

"Yes." John hit the call button and shoved the phone at Sherlock, who held his hands up in protest.

"I don't want to—"

"Too bad."

"But a phone call isn't necessary! You can just put it on the blog. Link to the video."

"I will." John smiled; Sherlock could hear the phone ringing. "I will. But first you're telling your mum. We're not letting your parents find out we're getting married via YouTube."

We're getting married. The thought hit him again, brand new and completely natural. He knew marriage wouldn't be a solution to all their problems, but maybe it would help ease some of the emotional turbulence of the last few months, and the formal commitment could mark a new chapter in their lives together. Sherlock took his phone from John's hand and stared at it, watching the screen blur as his eyes filled once more with tears.

Chapter Text

Sherlock hadn't settled on a name for the dog yet, but it had only been a day since John had surprised him with it. He had to admit that he had rarely if ever been caught so thoroughly off-guard. Maybe he should've deduced it when John said he would not be giving him his wedding gift until after they got back from their sex holiday, but since his own gift for John wouldn't be ready until then anyway, he had simply agreed and not given it any further thought. Then yesterday they'd returned from two weeks in Florida and John had given him a dog. A six-month old, two-and-a-half stone English Bulldog that squirmed out of John's arms and barrelled into Sherlock the moment he saw him, covering his shoes with puppy slobber. Sherlock had never received a better gift, even if it had come with a warning that he wasn't to use the dog as an excuse to avoid work.

At some point last night the dog had joined them in bed. Sherlock woke to a squashed snout pressed against his cheek, but it was far too early to get up, even if his body hadn't still been on Miami time. He rolled over and when he opened his eyes again John and the dog were both gone. Probably he was supposed to feel guilty and go find them, but instead he went back to sleep for another hour; it was quite delightful.

When he finally emerged from the bedroom, he found John dressed and sitting in his armchair with his computer on his lap, a cup of coffee on the table next to him and the dog curled up at his feet. Sherlock narrowed his eyes. "Should he be-?"

"It's fine, Sherlock. He's not actually lying on my feet. Also, good morning."

"Yes. Good morning." Sherlock ran his fingers through his tangled hair and bent down for a quick kiss. "Shouldn't married life come with breakfast?"

"There are scones next to the coffeepot."

He stepped behind John's armchair so he could see the laptop screen, wondering why John seemed to be so engrossed in cleaning out his email or checking Facebook. "You're working on the blog."

"Yeah." John took his hands off the keyboard, stretching his fingers. "I figured it was time. I'm sick of people asking when I'm going to start it up again. I thought I would tell everyone we're back from the honeymoon and open for business as far as private cases go—you're still willing, right?"

"Mm-hmm." Sherlock tried to keep his voice neutral. He knew why John had been avoiding the blog for so long, even if John didn't realise it himself. It certainly wasn't because I wasn't taking cases. Over the past five years John had used the blog to chronicle a great deal of their personal lives as well as their work. While he may have eased back into his life fairly well since he'd been hurt, John still didn't like to talk about what happened, but until recently there hadn't been anything else for him to put on the blog. His recovery had put everything else in their lives on hold.

Sherlock leaned against the back of the armchair and John said, "Go away. I'm writing." His voice was friendly but not joking.

Sherlock sniffed but complied, heading into the kitchen; he wanted one of the scones John had mentioned and needed some coffee. He opened the cupboard to get sugar and jam and then turned his head to shout back to John, "Don't mention the holster!"

"I'm not going to put our wedding gifts on the blog, Sherlock."

"Of course you are. The dog, at least, once we give it a name. What else would you put on there?"

"I don't know. I'm trying to sum up almost a year of my life so I can satisfy everyone's curiosity without actually saying too much. It's not easy to write."

"Maybe I should've given you typing lessons, then, instead." He peeked back out into the sitting room so John could see he was joking.

John gave him a glare over his shoulder but then his face crinkled. "I love the holster. Makes me want to go out and shoot someone a little, though. Might've come in handy in Miami."

Sherlock raised an eyebrow. "I planned to have it earlier, but the commission took longer than I expected." It was worth it, though, the way the custom-made leather fit snugly against John's body and couldn't be seen when he was sitting in his wheelchair. "Would've been tough to smuggle your gun onto the plane, anyway."

"I'm sure we could've picked one up in America."

Sherlock smirked. Most of their trip had been a proper sex holiday, full of kitschy tourism and lounging poolside in addition to all the sex. They'd taken side trips to Key West and the Everglades, and then just when Sherlock thought he might be about to get bored they'd stumbled onto a series of murders that the local police hadn't even noticed. It had taken them three days to solve it, and then it was time to go home, and much as he had enjoyed himself Sherlock had been very glad to be back where he could wear his coat again and the cars were on the proper side of the road. Though John's Spanish had improved considerably by the time they left. That was unexpected.

He carried the coffee and scone into the sitting room and flopped down into his chair across from John, who was still typing. The dog perked his floppy ears and heaved himself up and waddled over to sit on Sherlock's feet. Sherlock sipped at his coffee and ate the scone and watched John type until he couldn't stand it anymore. "Want me to proofread for you?"

John looked up from the screen and sighed. "I can't stop you, can I?"

Sherlock smiled and started to bounce out of his seat but remembered the dog at the last minute. He slipped his foot out from beneath the puppy and crossed the space between their chairs. John's wheelchair was convenient, of course, so he folded himself into it with his legs curled beneath him and leaned over to read what John had written.

So I know it's been a while since I've updated this blog, but what can I say? The last eight or so months have been busy, to say the least. And you probably heard that Sherlock and I got married, and just spent a couple of weeks in America on our honeymoon. But now we're back home and everything's settled down again, at least as much as it ever does around here, so I figured it's time for me to start writing again. We're going to start taking cases again, too, so if you have a mystery you need solved, send us a message and we'll get back to you and let you know if we can help.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Sherlock pointed at the screen.

"What?"

"Things don't settle down around here? Is that a criticism of me? I just spent a very relaxed fortnight with you, and you seemed quite content as well." He was teasing. Can't let him write a blog entry without a bit of critique.

"True." John grinned. "How much of the honeymoon do you want me to put in here, anyway?"

"Sex holiday. Call it what it is. Well, sex and crime holiday, but that sounds wrong, doesn't it? Hmm."

"Sherlock. Your mum reads this blog."

"Are you thinking she'll object to the sex or the crime? She paid for the trip; she'll want to know we had a good time."

John sighed again and shifted the computer on his lap so Sherlock couldn't easily see it. "The dog looks thirsty. Why don't you go make sure he has fresh water in his bowl?"

"He's sound asleep," Sherlock protested, but stood up, knowing John wouldn't continue to write if he was looking over his shoulder. "I don't care what you say, but you should mention your arms."

"Sorry, what?"

"Your arms, your shoulders, your chest in general. How good you looked when you were wearing just your swim trunks."

John blinked at him. "No."

Sherlock nodded. "I'll go through my phone and find a good picture to post. Give your readers a visual to go along with your scintillating narrative. They can see how tan you got."

"Sherlock, go away and let me write."

Sherlock moved back to sit in his own chair, tucked his toes under the warm dog again, and picked up his own laptop. A few minutes later and John wrinkled his brow in consternation.

"How did you do that? I'm writing the entry right now, how did you add that photo? Shouldn't you have got the 'another user is editing' message?"

Sherlock shrugged. "Maybe you should learn more about computers, John." He reached to take a casual sip from his coffee mug and was dismayed to find it empty. "You should be glad. Posting a photo of yourself in the chair means you don't have to talk about it—it's just there. Isn't that what you wanted?"

John squinted at him. "I knew sending you to therapy would backfire. Thinking you can psychoanalyse me." He smiled, softening his words. "I would like to be wearing a shirt, at least."

"I'm doing both you and your followers a favour this way."

John shook his head. Sherlock opened up his email to see if he'd missed anything interesting while they were away; he'd checked it on his phone but hadn't bothered to read most of the messages. When he clicked back over to the blog some time later, John had changed the photo to one taken at their wedding, the two of them in their coordinated suits, hands entwined, gazing at each other with frankly sickening expressions on their faces.

"There," John said. "Now I don't need to mention the wheelchair or the wedding. Two birds with one stone. Plus I have clothes on."

Sherlock didn't reply, but he left the blog window open so he could watch as John typed. He was so slow that even the dog got bored waiting; he stood up, stretched his stubby little legs and started to wander around the flat, sniffing everything.

Yeah, so that's our wedding photograph. I know. I didn't think it would ever happen, either. I didn't think it needed to. But I'm glad we did it, even though it seems like nothing has really changed. I mean, I guess there are some legal benefits, but for the most part everything's the same as it's always been. It certainly hasn't solved all of our problems, but maybe it's made them a little bit more bearable. At the very least it's marked the start of something new. I'm not the person I was a year ago, and neither is Sherlock, but who is, really?

"Oh, no, no. Not those!" Sherlock slammed his laptop shut and lunged for the dog before he could do much more than slobber all over one of John's leg braces.

John laughed as he watched Sherlock gather up all the metal and plastic pieces and move them out of the way. "Guess I'm not the only one around here who hates those things."

"Mm." Sherlock wasn't going to point it out, but even though John still complained every time he used the braces, he'd left them jumbled in a heap next to the sofa, in clear view of Mrs Hudson or anyone else who might've entered the flat while they were on holiday. Two months ago he'd been hiding them away after every use. Surely even that small change is progress.

John turned his attention back to his laptop. "Why don't you stop spying on my writing and clean up a little bit around here? There's so much stuff in this room I can barely move."

Sherlock looked around the sitting room, remembering how uncluttered it had been when John had first come home from rehab. It had gradually become more and more crowded over the last few months, and then seemed to have grown exponentially worse while they were away, mostly due to a pile of wrapped boxes stacked haphazardly in front of the fireplace. "Those are our wedding gifts, John."

"Well, they're in the way. Open them up so we can get them out of here."

"I'm not going to open them without you."

"Sherlock, I am right here. Open them while I finish this blog entry and you can read it over before I post it."

Sherlock wasn't sure how they'd even got such a surplus of gifts, considering that the wedding itself had consisted of the purchase of a couple of new outfits, a trip to the register office and then dinner out with his family and a handful of friends. He grimaced and sat down on the floor in front of his chair so he could reach the presents. The dog wandered over and lay down next to him, stumpy tail thumping against his thigh. He knew John had given him the dog so he wouldn't be lonely when John wasn't home, but he wasn't sure how he'd managed to find an animal that would bond with him so quickly.

Most of the boxes contained standard wedding offerings: matching kitchenware, linens, things of that ilk from distant relatives and John's co-workers. Either the gift-givers didn't know them very well or everyone thought he and John needed to keep house better. There's a reason most of them weren't invited to the wedding.

"Don't just open everything up and make a new pile, Sherlock. Write down who gave it to us and then put it away. Otherwise the room will still be cluttered."

Sherlock looked up and scowled at John. "I'm doing the opening. You can do the putting away."

"I'm writing the blog entry that you've been nagging me about for months. Besides, if I put stuff away you won't like how I do it and you'll end up rearranging everything according to some arcane rule of organisation that no one understands."

Sherlock huffed. "Fine. But most of this is going on the top shelves because it's useless and we don't need it. How many toasters can two men possibly use?"

"Guess that depends on whether one of them ever plans to do another experiment on the effects of concentrated heat on mould growth, doesn't it?" John gave him a grin, raising his eyebrows, and Sherlock got caught up in looking at him for a moment; his face was more tanned than it had been since they had first met and more free of worry lines than it had been in nearly a year.

After a moment Sherlock cleared his throat and pulled his gaze away from the stubble that lined John's jaw. "The mould results were pretty clear. I don't think I need to repeat that experiment." He gave an exaggerated sigh and stood up, lifting a box of mixing bowls that one of his cousins had sent. He carried the box into the kitchen and dropped it on the worktop. John would make him move it later, but he needed to have everything open before he could work out an organisational scheme for the new items.

He walked back into the sitting room and nudged at the remaining pile of boxes with his toe. "If we take the whole lot and donate them to a shelter or something would we still be obligated to write thank you notes?"

John made an aggrieved sound. "Donating anything we don't need is fine, but I'll take care of the thank you notes. All you need to do is sign your name."

Sherlock sank back down onto the floor and reached for the next box, which was fairly large and heavy. "Glassware," he announced, and glanced at the handwriting on the envelope of the attached card. "From Sally Donovan. Boring. She could've given us her most complicated murders instead."

"Just open it and stick the card inside the box so we don't forget who gave what," John said without looking away from his computer screen.

"I won't forget," Sherlock said, but tore the foil wrapping paper from the box anyway. He pulled open the sealed flaps on top and glanced inside. As he'd predicted, it was full of an assortment of glassware: pint glasses, tumblers and wine glasses were stacked in rows in half the box, but the other half appeared to be filled with laboratory equipment: beakers, flasks, test tubes. He lifted one of the flasks out from between the cardboard partitions; his initials were engraved on the side of the glass, in between the measurement marks. Okay, I'll give her some credit; that is fairly unique. He picked up a wine glass from the other side; it had John's initials on it. A quick glance at several more of the drinking glasses proved that all of them were engraved with 'JW' while his own initials were on all of the lab supplies. At least one person knows us well. He wouldn't object if John sent Donovan a thank you note.

He opened the rest of the boxes and gift bags and piled everything in the appropriate rooms for John to complain about later. A small stack of envelopes still remained. "Here, you can open this one." He rose up onto his knees and stretched to hand John one of the cards, disturbing the dog in the process.

"Why this one?" John flipped the envelope over, frowning.

Sherlock sighed. "Clearly it's from your basketball mates. Look how they wrote our names." Honestly.

Sherlock watched him open it, amused to see John's cheeks flushing beneath his tan when he saw what was inside the card. What did they—oh. John held up the gift card to the very same sex supply shop they had visited several months ago.

"Did you share our preference for that shop in particular with them?"

John blushed deeper. "No, I guess we're just that obvious. Okay, half the guys who signed this card wrote something along the lines of 'Thought you were already married'."

The card from Mrs Hudson contained a note that she had hired a housekeeping service to clean their flat weekly for the next year. Sherlock thought that overkill but John seemed pleased. On the other hand, John seemed a bit perplexed as to why Lestrade had chosen to give them a gift card to a furniture shop with the stipulation that it be used to purchase a sofa bed.

"Is he planning to sleep here?"

"Oh, God, I hope not, not again," Sherlock said, and tossed Lestrade's card into the pile with the others. He sliced open the next envelope, from his parents; they had included a very substantial cheque which he slipped into the pocket of his dressing gown before John could see all the numbers on it. He had objected enough when they'd paid for the sex holiday.

Sherlock eyed the mess of wrapping paper and ribbon, and then looked at John; he was still typing, though even more slowly than usual, just tweaking a few words here and there. Maybe if Sherlock stalled long enough he'd be done and Sherlock wouldn't have to pick up the rubbish himself. He glanced around for something else to do and spied one more gift, wrapped in plain silver paper, no card attached; it had been pushed to the side so he hadn't seen it earlier. It was roughly the size of a box that would hold a dress shirt but proved much heavier when he lifted it. Who—? He turned the package over and slipped a finger under one perfectly taped seam. Ah, Mycroft.

He pulled off the paper and opened the box; inside was a sturdy ring binder, as thick as his wrist and filled to capacity with paper. The cover was unmarked; Sherlock opened it. The first page was blank except for a note in his brother's handwriting: Nothing remarkably ground-breaking, I'm afraid, but perhaps something will be of interest. Congratulations on your formalisation of sentiment. -Mycroft

Sherlock flipped to the next page and caught his breath. "John." He stood up quickly, dislodging the dog, and crossed the space to John's side, clutching the binder to his chest. "Look at this."

"Hang on. I'm almost done." John's voice was a bit ragged; he didn't look up from his keyboard when he spoke. Sherlock glanced down at the text on the screen, read it and then pretended he hadn't.

I won't say it's been easy or fun, and I wouldn't wish what I've gone through on anyone else, but I'm still here, so that's something. And Sherlock's still here with me. At first that surprised me, but it shouldn't have. It hasn't been easy for him, either, I know, but he's been right at my side every step of the way and I can't express how wonderful that has been. He's watching me type this right now and probably wondering why I'm sniffling so much. Sherlock, shut up, don't say anything when you read this, just know that I wouldn't have survived this past year without you at my side.

Sherlock set the binder on top of John's laptop. "No, look at this. What Mycroft sent." He opened it and turned past Mycroft's inscription to show John the title page.

Summary of Research and Developments in Treatment and Management of Spinal Cord Injury and Related Conditions, compiled by Mycroft Holmes for Dr John Watson and Sherlock Holmes, August 2015

John stared at it, then squinted up at Sherlock. "He—"

"I asked him to, a long time ago," Sherlock recalled. "He said he would look into the research, but I didn't think he'd found—"

Sherlock watched John's face quirk through several emotions before he shook his head and turned the page. "There's nothing to find, nothing guaranteed," he said, and then started to flick through the pages, pausing to read brief snatches here and there. "Oh, but it's not what I thought, this is . . . everything. Little things, big things, everything."

He tilted the binder so Sherlock could see the titles of the research summaries as he flipped past them. Sherlock dropped one hand to rest on John's shoulder, absently massaging the tight muscles he found. John was right; Mycroft had included everything, an immense variety of studies and medical options, ranging from new methods to prevent and treat infections, spasticity and muscle loss to descriptions of clinical trials and new technologies that whispered of possible cures. Some of it he knew John would refuse to even consider—a robotic exoskeleton that required an external battery sounded even more cumbersome than his braces—but there were others that might be promising: implants that stimulated deadened nerves, drugs that could enable nerve fibres to regrow over the injured spinal cord. John lingered on a section that mentioned stem cell research, drawing his finger slowly down the page as he read. His hand was unsteady, though, a slight tremor but clearly visible to Sherlock. When he tried to turn the page he nearly ripped the paper in two.

Sherlock understood. There was no guarantee that John would be able to try any of the treatments, or that they would work if they did. And even successful outcomes tended to be conservative: a small improvement in function rather than a cure for paralysis. John knew that as well as Sherlock did, if not better.

Sherlock swallowed and forced his breathing to slow, then reached over and carefully lifted the binder from John's shaking hands. "We can look at it together later. I think Gladstone needs to go outside now. Let's take him for a walk."

"Gladstone?"

Sherlock shrugged, ignoring the way John's voice almost broke; the name had just popped into his head as he'd spoken. The dog hadn't even moved from his spot on the floor across the room.

After a moment John nodded, shifting his shoulders back and lifting his chin without meeting Sherlock's eyes. "All right. All right."

Sherlock set the binder down on the desk and turned to look at the dog. "Gladstone," he repeated. "Oh! Do you think he'll be like a bloodhound and find dead bodies in the park?"

"Er, maybe some small animal carcasses? Would that be good enough?" John smiled; Sherlock had been trying for a laugh but the smile would do. "Let me publish this to the blog first, then we can go."

Sherlock returned to the bedroom to throw on a suit and then came out to rouse the dog, who went from sleepy to bouncy with no pause in between. He snapped the leash onto his collar and straightened up in time to see John close the laptop and set it aside. He swung himself out of his armchair and into the wheelchair, then looked up at Sherlock. "Okay. I'm ready. Let's go."