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An Absolute Pain

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John was giggling.

John was giggling all the way up the stairs. Judging by the thumping sounds and the exclamations of profanity that followed each, Mike Stamford’s stag party had been a success in terms of alcohol consumption.

This, on the other hand, Sherlock quickly determined, was unlikely to turn out well.

Once John entered the sitting room rather than continuing to his bedroom, a poor result was almost guaranteed.

With a grin to match his giggles, John ineffectually closed the door behind him. When he finally got it – honestly, how difficult was that? – the slam stood a good chance at waking even Mrs. Hudson from her soother-aided sleep.

“I’m going to get blamed for that,” he said, not looking up over the top of his book. “She’s already annoyed about the violin. I haven’t seen my skull in days.”

And there John went, snickering like an adolescent boy. His balance was seriously impaired, worsened by the partial return of his limp. Too much normalcy in his night out, then. That could account for some of the heavy drinking.

“Sherlock,” John said, nearly slurring out the “r” entirely. “Sherlock.”

“Yes, John.”

“Sherlock.”

Sherlock waited.

With exaggerated care, John picked his way to the couch to stand next to him.

Sherlock didn’t look up.

John jabbed him in the forehead, hard and off-centre. “It’s right there, you know.”

Sherlock looked up.

John looked terribly pleased with himself. “Your skull. S’ right there.”

“Yes, John,” Sherlock said slowly. “I am still alive. A fine assessment for any doctor, well done.”

For the first time, John attempted a frown. It didn’t hold. “You shouldn’t be mean when I’m drunk.”

“You shouldn’t be drunk when I’m mean, but you don’t see me complaining.” Yet.

John giggled his way into a hiccup. “I always see you complaining.” That said, he flopped down onto the couch, practically sitting on Sherlock’s legs.

Sherlock adjusted with a huff, left leg lying along the back of the couch, right foot forced onto the floor next to John’s feet. “There isn’t enough room for you.”

Complaining,” John declared. He tried to poke him in the forehead again, but Sherlock blocked with his book.

“You’re on my leg,” Sherlock countered. “Now my leg is going to smell like-” He wrinkled his nose.

“It’s not that bad,” John said. He wasn’t sitting entirely upright. The way he wobbled reminded Sherlock of blood loss and was even less appealing.

Having already utilized his huff and possibly a sigh, Sherlock moved right on to the scoff.

“It’s not,” John insisted. “Compared to three-day-old corpses and, and stuff.”

“But far less interesting.” He made a point of turning the page.

There was a long pause, during which Sherlock absolutely refused to look up at the doubtless depressed expression across John’s face. He wasn’t going to look up until he was certain that expression had gone away.

“Am I boring?” John asked, a plaintive whine.

“Oh god, shut up.” He didn’t mutter under his breath. He muttered well over it, articulately so.

“It’s okay if I am,” John went on. He shifted on the couch, right hand on Sherlock’s left thigh for balance. He leaned a significant portion of his weight there, a painful and unwise decision. “All of Mike’s friends kept asking, but the only stuff that happens in my life, it’s because of you.” He continued much in this vein, but with decreasing intelligibility.

If Sherlock did not intercede in this growing monologue, John would soon enter the irredeemably sad phase of drunkenness. The thought that John might possibly cry – and, worse than even this, that Sherlock might be expected to do something about it – forced him to action.

“John,” he said, interrupting the rambling flow.

“...but they didn’t even, what?”

He could picture John blinking at him. He didn’t need to look up and confirm. He would not look up. This situation could not be in any way improved by visual contact.

“For reasons which defy explanation,” Sherlock began. “No,” he corrected. “Partially because the reasons defy explanation, you have been able to hold my interest for the duration of what, tonight, I must loosely refer to as our friendship.”

For a moment of unreasonable length, Sherlock did not read and John did not speak.

When the silence mounted, he had no choice but to shatter it. “There,” he said, in case John hadn’t understood. “You have now been reassured.”

John neither giggled nor provided audible evidence of tears. A reasonable form of success. He leaned a bit harder on Sherlock’s leg, his face a growing image in Sherlock’s periphery. Through Sherlock’s pyjama bottoms, his hands were warm. Also sticky, presumably.

Sherlock lifted the book. Better.

“You’re funny,” John told him. His voice was thick, but not in the way of tears. Which was good, until Sherlock recognized that tone. It took some placing, seeing as it was never directed at him without layers of condescension, but there it was: fond indulgence.

Sherlock lifted the book higher still.

There was now a hand on his other thigh. Clearly, the book stratagem wasn’t working as well as planned. This was becoming painful.

“John,” he warned.

“Held your interest,” John repeated, leaning forward. His other hand found its way to the arm of the couch behind Sherlock’s head. The lessened weight was an immediate relief.

Sherlock set the book directly against John’s face, an unapologetic, unforgiving hardcover.

John giggled.

“I am going to make your hangover a living hell,” Sherlock swore. No, not thorough enough. He vowed.

John giggled a bit more.

He also appeared to be losing the fight against gravity.

“If you lie down on me, I’m throwing you to the floor,” Sherlock threatened.

“Get the book out of my face,” John answered.

“No.”

“Then tough.”

John settled down on top of him, though “floundered” might have been an equally accurate term. He was heavy, smelled like cheap alcohol, and practically vibrated with mirth.

“Living. Hell,” Sherlock repeated. “Just for that, I’m making no efforts to hydrate you.”

John pushed his head against the book. He mumbled something Sherlock didn’t quite catch between the barrier, the inarticulacy, and John’s apparent interest in the scent of his t-shirt.

“Stop nuzzling,” he chastised. “The cat impression is ridiculous.”

“Catnipman!” John announced, only growing worse about it. “Smell nice.”

Sherlock tried to shift without having anywhere to shift to. “I'm going to use small words: stop. Bothering. Me.”

There was a lengthy silence.

“...sorry.”

No.

Stop that.

Stop being sad.

“John,” Sherlock said. “Never mind. Stop being sad. Right now.”

Making a noise that began with a puff of breath and concluded with sounds which were simply strange, John shook on top of him.

“You had better be laughing,” he warned.

John kept on with this ridiculous shaking business.

Sherlock lifted the book out of the way.

Grin pressed half into Sherlock’s t-shirt, John snickered on breathlessly.

Sherlock refused to give him the satisfaction of a sigh of relief. When he put his hand on the back of John’s head and pressed the man’s face harder against his chest, it was merely an attempt to smoother him to death.

“Smell nice,” John informed him, having survived the attempt on his life.

“Yes, John, that’s what people in clean clothing smell like.”

“S’nice.”

“Shower and change and you can smell like that too. I for one would consider it a favour.”

“For one?”

“My nose for two.”

John giggled for a bit, his ear pressed against Sherlock’s chest. He calmed, signalling this with a low hum. A warm trap of a human being, he was terrible for productivity.

“Off,” Sherlock ordered, his hands motionless.

“Mm.... No.”

“Now.”

“Nuh-uh.”

“If you want to show up at Mike’s wedding dehydrated, light-sensitive and in a strop, by all means, do nothing.”

John made noises. It was theoretically possible he believed himself to be speaking.

“You’ll have to speak up.”

“Doing nothing,” John told him, over-articulating each syllable.

“You’re a terrible doctor.”

“You’re a terrible bed. And. And,” John added, lifting his head unsteadily, “in the morning? I will be a fantastic doctor. And you, you’re still a terrible bed.” Entirely unaware of his tense-shift. It threatened to give Sherlock hives. 

“Like the rest of you, your attempts at cleverness sadly fall short.”

It took John a ridiculous amount of time to catch the second part of the double-insult. Like all stupidity, it was in no way endearing. Neither was the way John swore at him mildly, more like a contented yawn than a curse.

Sherlock would have gone on insulting him if it weren’t for that clump of hair on the back of John’s head sticking up wrong. It annoyed him. He’d known details like these would crop up and irritate his brain. This was why he hadn’t looked. Now he had to put his book down on John’s back and put his hair back the right way.

John hummed a bit.

He went silent after some time, his breaths rank but steady.

“John,” Sherlock whispered.

After awaiting a response for a full minute, he repeated the man’s name at a slightly louder volume.

Still nothing.

Good.

It took quite a bit of prodding and shifting, but Sherlock did ultimately extract himself from beneath his flatmate. He wrinkled his nose and retrieved his book from where it had fallen. On the couch, John slept, carefully positioned onto his side. With an aggrieved sigh that was appreciated by absolutely no one, Sherlock fetched him a bucket, a glass of water and the paracetamol. He positioned these strategically. That done, he pressed his palms together, pressed his index fingers against his lips. Slowly, he began to smile.

He did so love an easy target.

 

 

 

 

 

 

John didn’t so much wake as suffer his way to consciousness. Getting there felt like a journey. A long, strenuous one. The sort that ended with hobbits throwing rings into volcanoes and then having gangrene set in. It hurt and it was not good.

His eyes opened and this too was not good.

He closed them again. This wasn’t much better, but at this point, any kind of better counted.

Slowly, he assembled his plan of attack. Water. Something for his head.

When he found these things on the floor, taking up space nearly within reach, he felt a strange sense of suspicion. It was quickly outweighed by gratitude. He swallowed the pills. He drank the entire glass, forcing himself. He wondered, vaguely, what he was doing on the couch, doing an impression of his flatmate. Still, at least he’d gotten back to the flat.

Eventually, he was able to wobble to his feet and stagger to the loo. When he got there, he realized his trousers were already unzipped. Not the most promising start to the day, but at least Mike had only asked him to sit in the audience for his big day. Him and Sherlock, make that.

Brushing his teeth to the point where he was scrubbing them, John had an odd sort of thought. Not exactly a thought, not so fully formed as a thought. More of a feeling. A sort of hovering sense of dread.

He wondered about the bucket and the water. Had he gotten them for himself...?

He heard a sound from the kitchen. Rather, he felt it as it sliced through his brain. Wincing just a bit, he returned to the kitchen to find, of all things, Sherlock eating breakfast. That sense of something being wrong amplified immediately.

Sherlock glanced up at him, chewing the loudest toast the world had ever known. His expression was remarkably static for all that chewing. Finally, he swallowed.

“Morning,” John said, quiet about it.

“Morning,” Sherlock replied, voice mercifully lowered. Considerate, except, well. If it had been anyone else, John might have called the reply tentative. Unsure. Like Sherlock was waiting for something.

A dozen horrors chased each other through John’s mind, each compounding upon the last. It was like the Twelve Days of Christmas gone terribly, drunkenly wrong.

“About last night,” John began.

“It’s fine,” Sherlock answered immediately. “No harm done.”

John’s questions dried up in his throat.

“Oh,” he said.

“We don’t have to keep talking about it,” Sherlock went on, eyes fixed on his plate. Not even being stuck in a room with Mycroft made him look so on edge and defensive. “You apologized enough last night, so can you just drop it?”

“Oh,” John said again. “Um.”

“Please,” Sherlock added, and oh dear god, what had he done?

“Sherlock, I really am sorry, but I don’t....”

Sherlock bit into his toast and the bloody thing make a crack like a tree being felled. He chewed like a bulldozer. As John spoke, Sherlock looked up, meeting John’s gaze for the first time that morning. Staring him down. Considering. Crunching.

Sherlock swallowed. “You don’t remember,” he said, voice blank.

“Um. No.”

“Oh, good,” his flatmate huffed. “How lovely that the one to escape mental scarring is you. Ignorance suits you nicely. Your usual state, isn’t it?”

“I thought you didn’t want to talk about it,” John attempted, a vague sort of hope.

Sherlock shut his mouth petulantly. The destructive racket of the toast resumed.

All told, it took John roughly two hours to realize what had happened. He racked his brain in the attempt to wring out soggy memories of the previous night. It took painful thought and forced analysis. It even took some slinking around like a guilty thing. It involved excessive paranoia about when, precisely, his fly had come unzipped. Finally, it occurred to him that he knew exactly what could have horrified Sherlock Holmes to this extreme degree:

Absolutely nothing.

Being hungover had never stopped John from yelling before, although perhaps it should have. He refused to be limited, particularly as his hangover wasn’t enough to stop Sherlock from laughing like the complete and utter prat he was. Dressed for Mike’s wedding, he was sitting in his armchair, rosining his bow in a clear threat. As John’s headache had lessened, Sherlock’s tactics had worsened.

“I hate you,” John swore. “I hate you so much.”

“Is your life interesting enough now?” Sherlock asked.

“Yes,” he emphatically confirmed. “It really is.”

Sherlock’s answering smile had to have been designed to terrify. It was calculating and devious and so completely him.

For reasons which defied explanation, John smiled back.