The first thing John notices are the spiders.
There aren’t many of them, though it is a little odd that they all seem to be chasing each other down the stairs as he walks up to the flat. He wouldn’t have noticed if he hadn’t stood on a particularly large one with an audible crunch.
Bemused, he follows the sparse but steady stream of spiders upstairs and through the living room towards the kitchen. (Who knew that there had been quite so many spiders in their flat? Perhaps it was time for a proper spring clean, or maybe even a visit from an exterminator.)
“What the …” John mutters to himself, shaking his head. He’s only been down the shops, and yet, in his brief absence, the kitchen table has been transformed into a makeshift terrarium. Ten toads, each a distinct species, blink up at him from beneath warm lights.
He stares at the toads. The toads stare back.
“Sherlock?!” he calls, without taking his eyes off them. “Sherlock? What’s going on?”
But then he sees a flash of egg-shell white as one of the toads shifts uncomfortably and his stomach runs cold.
“Bloody buggering fuck,” he curses, and lets the Tesco bag crash to the floor. He’s scrabbling in his pocket for his wand and shouting for Sherlock at the top of his lungs even as he approaches the terrarium warily. “SHERLOCK HOLMES YOU GET YOUR ARSE IN HERE RIGHT THIS BLOODY SECOND,” he hollers, in the tone that means he’s Really Not Joking This Time, and starts to banish the toads one by one, hopefully sending them to the nearest marsh. Where Sherlock managed to get his hands on ten individual species of toad within fifteen minutes, John will never know, though he currently has bigger problems on his hands.
“What are you doing?!” Sherlock crows as he finally rounds the corner into the kitchen. “Where’ve the toads gone? Do you realise how difficult it is to get ten distinct species of toad in London?”
John ignores him in favour of scooping the eggs (ten of them, dear God, was he trying to end the world?!) out of the terrarium and on to the counter.
“You can’t do this, Sherlock. You cannot play with things you don’t understand! You don’t know what you’re doing.”
“I beg your pardon, Doctor Watson, I know exactly what I’m doing,” Sherlock huffs, crossing his arms in a sulk. “It’s called experimenting, and I know you’re familiar with the idea, so don’t pretend you don’t know an experiment when you see one.”
“Sherlock, for the last bloody time, you don’t know what you’re dealing with.”
“That is patently untrue, I did plenty of research on the subject.”
“Did you bollocks! You read two books, maybe, and I know, because they were my books in the first place!”
John fishes a bucket out from underneath the sink and cracks the first egg into it. There is a soft plop as a distinctly non-avian embryo falls into it. “Christ,” John breathes. “How long have you been running this little experiment?!”
“A few days,” Sherlock says vaguely, peering into the bucket, obviously fascinated despite himself. “I moved them out here; I thought they might benefit from the sunlight.”
“A few days,” John wheezes disbelief thick in his voice. “You’ve been trying to hatch basilisks in our flat for a few days. Sherlock, do you have any idea what could have happened if they’d hatched?!”
John cracks open another egg and then another still while Sherlock makes distressed noises next to him.
“You can’t honestly believe that those eggs would have hatched into enormous serpents with death-ray vision, John. It’s impossible. Preposterous, even.”
The last egg cracks and slides into the bucket. John places it on the table, pulls out his wand, and sets it on fire. “Careful, John!” Sherlock reprimands, quickly moving another experiment out of harm’s way. John doesn’t care. He’s vibrating with adrenaline and anger and fear. The fire spits pink and purple and green, but the things at the bottom of the bucket don’t appear to be burning. He can see them writhing and twisting in the flames, but they do not change colour, or shape, or lose any mass at all. The flames lick at them tentatively but never seem to touch them at all. John begins to panic.
“Sherlock,” he begins, very slowly, but not at all calmly. “Sherlock, I need to know, right now, whether you understand what you have nearly done.”
Sherlock sniffs indignantly. “The idea that the potential of normal, every-day chicken eggs can be altered by being sat on by normal, every-day toads until they hatch and turned into terrifying serpents seemed unlikely enough to warrant experimentation. I just wanted to check,” he says, imploringly, sounding for all the world like a ten-year old.
“You do not just check these things, Sherlock. You need to start believing me when I tell you things are dangerous, and ESPECIALLY when I tell you that these kinds of experiments are not the kind you can control.”
“I find it hard to believe that any creature can be as bad as all that, John. They’re just animals.”
“No, Sherlock, they’re not. They’re not just animals, they’re monsters. Proper bedtime story, fairytale, nightmare monsters that are vicious and powerful and clever to boot. They are dangerous, Sherlock. Real danger, not the sort of danger that you like to indulge in, chases through back alleys and glancing knives and situations that you can predict and get yourself out of when you want to. I mean, the sort of danger no one can control, magical or not, the kind that puts the entire city, the entire country at risk.”
The fire in the bucket burns out. John peers into it and sighs. The basilisk embryos are still in there, writhing.
“Christ,” he mutters, casting about frantically, trying to figure out what to do. Sherlock takes a peek into the bucket again and has the gall to look pleasantly interested and not the least bit put out that he has nearly unleashed hell on the inhabitants of London, not to mention their flat.
“Fascinating,” he murmurs, and reaches out to poke at one of them with his finger. John grabs his hand and forces it away.
“We need to work out how to get rid of them,” he bites out. “Christ, what you nearly did... ”
“The book seemed to think that they were somehow mortally weak to the crow of a rooster,” Sherlock muses, as if commenting on a pleasantly seasonable weather pattern.
“Oh!” John says, his days of pouring over Care of Magical Creatures books rushing back to him. “OH! Accio Mrs. Hudson’s feather duster,” he cries. The feather duster comes zooming up the stairs, doors slamming shut behind it, and into John’s right hand.
It’s the work of a second to pluck a feather from the duster and the work of a minute to transfigure the feather into a rooster, which John holds awkwardly tucked under the elbow of his right arm so that he can use his left wand hand to prod at it, trying to coax it into crowing.
After a few nerve-wracking moments, the rooster does as it’s bid. At the first sound of the ear-splitting crow, the horrible, twisting things in the bucket let out a terrible, gut-wrenching cry as, writhing and shrivelling, they evaporate into smoke.
“Thank fuck,” John breathes. They both stare at the bucket where the creatures had been until a loud banging knock on their door makes them both jump.
“Sherlock?! John?! What is that racket?!”
“Nothing, Mrs. Hudson,” John calls, fixing Sherlock with a look that he hopes says, This is your fault, you imbecile, and I hope you realise what you nearly just did.
“Sorry, Mrs. Hudson,” Sherlock adds over his shoulder, narrowing his eyes at John defiantly.
“Keep it down, boys, I don’t want the neighbours complaining.”
“Of course, Mrs. Hudson.” They listen until her footsteps are safely downstairs; John banishes the rooster to somewhere in the countryside with a flash of light, an awkward squawk and a few fluttering feathers.
“No more, Sherlock,” he says, as seriously as he possibly can. “No more. Do you hear me? I will snap my wand in half. I will carve that thing out of your skin. I will leave. Don’t ever do anything like that again, not without me, not without asking, not without thinking about the consequences first. Understood?”
Sherlock tilts his chin, obstinate. “You wouldn’t.”
“Try me,” John threatens. “Just you try me, Sherlock Holmes. I told you, I told you at the beginning, I can live without this, and I can live without you. I can, and I will, if I have to. I told you that this was something we could explore, together, and I meant it. Together. This is too dangerous, too uncontrollable, for you to do by yourself.”
Sherlock scoffs at that; in a flash, John has his collar in his fist and is drawing him down forcibly to stare him straight in the eyes. “No. Stop. Stop right there. Magic is not science, Sherlock. It is not predictable. It does not yield to Muggles; it barely yields to Wizards, and that’s what it’s meant for. You cannot control it. I can barely control it, and I am very, very good at it. That goes for everything, from spells to ghosts to magical creatures. This is dangerous, it is unpredictable, and it is the one thing in this world that I am better at than you.”
“Wrong,” Sherlock bites out, wrestling his collar from John’s grip. “You’re wrong.”
“What? How am I wrong? Tell me, explain to me how I can possibly be wrong about this.”
“You’re also better than me at rugby, for instance, though it’s possible that’s just a case of stature and experience.”
John stares at him, slack-jawed and stunned, until a laugh – mad and desperate and painful – spills out of his chest.
Sherlock smiles – a weak thing that hovers tentatively at the corner of his eyes and twitches the corners of his lips just so; his apology is a slight nod of his head and a lowering of his hand, raised in defence.
“Alright,” John says, after the laughter dies down; it has left him wheezing a bit and shaking his head, wondering at the mad thing that is his life these days. “Alright.”
It is even further proof of Sherlock’s repentance that he cleans the bucket by hand, instead of badgering John to just get rid of the mess with a flick of his wand as usual, and later even makes tea. Using the kettle. John kisses the cusp of his ear and they mutually and wordlessly agree to put the whole thing behind them (out of sight but never out of mind) before their dinner arrives.
The Black Days happen less frequently now. Perhaps it’s a coincidence, but John likes to think that he has something to do with it – that somehow, his presence has reduced the frequency with which Sherlock’s moods turn the very air around him to tar.
Still, the drop in frequency does not mean they’ve stopped altogether.
On this particular evening, thick and golden with rare late July heat, John can feel the tar clogging the air before he’s even crossed the threshold. He climbs seventeen stairs to find Sherlock lying spread-eagle on the floor, naked as the day he was born, with the heels of his hands pressed firmly into his eye sockets.
After all these months, John knows better than to try and draw Sherlock out of it. He knows that even if he were to use his fingers to prise Sherlock’s eyes open, he might as well be invisible. He can feel the anguish rolling out from Sherlock’s mind; with each heavy, bristling wave, it pulls at the hairs on his skin like a plaster. John hates these days, these viscid, suffocating days where everything turns to tar, because nothing is better at reinforcing the small, niggling conviction of his own feeble uselessness (the one that he’s usually so good at ignoring) than the sight of Sherlock – his Sherlock – trapped in his own head, unable to bear the slightest sensation but gasping for stimulation all the same.
On this particular evening, John can do nothing, can think of nothing else to do but sigh, set the shopping down in the kitchen, pull his own clothes off, and curl up by Sherlock’s side in his other skin. He stretches out in the patch of golden sunlight as a large, tawny cat and waits.
Later, after the sun has set and the floor has cooled, John is wakened by long, slender fingers sliding into the fur behind his ears. John, whose sleepy mind is still mostly cat, stretches and purrs; the fingers tighten and Sherlock shifts, his limbs coming up and around to clutch at the lynx, who is John, his John, always at his side.
There’s the smallest hint of a whimper as Sherlock presses his face into the lynx’s sun-warmed pelt. Alarmed, John makes to shift back, but as soon as he thinks it, Sherlock’s arms are tight around him, taut and tense as steel cable, and he’s all but gasping, “Don’t, please, stay, stay like this, just for now, please, John,” and he sounds so broken that it hurts, it hurts in John’s stomach where his heart seems to live, so John stays, the lynx purrs his reassurances, and Sherlock’s thanks is another whimper through a mouthful of fur as his arms tighten further and his hands clutch.
The air is still thick and heavy and black around them, but John focuses on the rise and fall of Sherlock’s chest, on matching them with his own breaths, and slowly, slowly, Sherlock’s arms loosen and John can feel the tar receding. The air turns from tar to molasses and then to oil, and for a while, a long long while, they seem to be swimming, floating under water, until the tension finally leaks out of Sherlock’s limbs and he collapses back on the floor, exhausted but cognizant once more.
John is there with him in a split second, lifting the bundle of defeated detective with human arms into a human lap and cradling him there, pushing sweaty hair back from the slack, clammy face that he loves so well.
“John.” Sherlock’s voice is hoarse – John wonders if he was screaming, before – and the name all but tumbles from weary, chapped lips.
“Hullo,” John says softly, smoothing curls back into place. “I lost you for a bit, there, eh?”
Sherlock says nothing in reply, but when his jaw sets, John knows it is not in anger but reluctant fear.
“I’ve told you, Sherlock, remember? You always come back to me – no matter where you go. You always come back, you always will. And if you can’t, I’ll bring you back myself.”
“You really believe that,” Sherlock says, incredulity tugging at his eyebrows. “You really believe you can.”
It is not a question, but John answers him anyway. “I really believe that.”
This time, when John’s name tumbles from Sherlock’s lips, it is nothing short of a prayer.
“Huh.” John looks on in surprise at the silvery weasel that’s just sprung from the tip of his wand and is now gambolling happily about the room.
“John, I wish you would use actual words to describe your thought processes instead of those caveman-like monosyllables you’re so fond of. It’s infuriating to have to decipher what you’re trying to convey from a meaningless grunt.” Sherlock’s words are caustic but his tone is amiable enough, and he’s watching the patronus hungrily.
“Oh, shut up. I thought it might have changed since school, is all,” John says. “They change quite often, for some people. Mine’s always been a weasel, though.”
“Hmmm,” muses Sherlock (causing John to roll his eyes at the blatant double-standard). His eyes follow the weasel closely as it bounds across the room and then suddenly stops, alert and wary. “I was expecting it to bear more resemblance to your Animagus form, actually, if it weren’t actually identical.”
“I think they usually are the same, in most people. Though, to be honest, this is fairly advanced magic – most people won’t actually ever need to perform a patronus, and even fewer become Animagi. I only learned because I’d managed all the prescribed charms-work for seventh year by the end of fifth year and Professor Flitwick didn’t know what else to do with me, and I learned to become an Animagi because I was allowed to stay at Hogwarts over summer to do the groundwork with Professor McGonagall.”
“Hmmm,” Sherlock says again, clearly more interested in watching the silvery, diaphanous weasel grooming itself while curled up on top of a battered copy of Grey’s Anatomy. “And this is meant to chase down the most dangerous creature on the planet?”
“It’s not just meant to, it does. Or it could – perhaps that’s more to the point.”
Looking severely doubtful, Sherlock glances askance between the book open in his lap and the silvery blur oh John's patronus as it dashes about. “It’s so small.”
“I’m sure you’ve heard, Sherlock, that size doesn’t matter?”
Of course, John’s attempt at levity falls on deaf ears. A silver nose twitches (disdainfully, John likes to think) and the weasel leaps from its perch atop Grey’s and comes to settle around John’s neck, warm and soft and solid despite its apparent translucence.
“Are you controlling it?” Sherlock asks, eyeing the wand gripped loosely in John’s left hand.
“Not consciously,” John tells him. With his free hand, he reaches to stroke the top of the weasel’s muzzle; its fur is soft and silken beneath his fingers, its head surprisingly solid.
“Interesting. You can feel it? Can you control it if you try?”
John shrugs and focuses on the slight tug of magic that flows between his wand and the patronus currently posing as a living scarf; the weasel’s head jerks up, alert again. Grinning, John wills it across the room and it goes, bouncing quickly and lightly through the air to curl up in Sherlock’s lap – but instead of the look of gleeful, hungry awe that John has got so used to of late when he demonstrates some spell or other, it’s dismay that falls across Sherlock’s face. His long fingers come up to the weasel, preening itself once more, but instead of stroking it, they pass through its translucent body effortlessly.
“I can’t feel it,” he says, petulant and upset. “I can’t feel anything at all, not really, it’s just a patch of warm air.”
“Huh,” John says again. He smirks at Sherlock’s mutinous glare and wills the weasel back for one last stroke before murmuring a Finite Incantatem that has the weasel disappearing in a wisp of smoke. Sherlock is still sulking, of course, his discontent at being unable to collect data nearly tangible; John rolls his eyes. “You shouldn’t even be able to see it, Sherlock, most Muggles wouldn’t be able to see it.”
“I hate that word,” Sherlock mutters, crossing his arms over his chest and looking for all the world like an oversized toddler in a silk dressing gown. Despite himself, John feels a burst of affection for the infuriating man. He heaves himself out of his armchair and crosses to loom over Sherlock, folded up in the corner of the couch.
“Come on, you great Muggle. I’ve got something else for you to stroke, and I know for a fact you can feel this one.”
Sherlock’s nose wrinkles and once more he is reduced to the abhorred caveman’s monosyllables. “Urgh, John, really? That was poor even by your very negligible standards when it comes to lewd insinuations.”
(The monosyllables never stand much of a chance, of course, and more’s the pity, but John has resigned himself to this fact of life many months ago.)
“Shut up, you prat, and come have a shag.”
Sherlock makes a vaguely disgruntled sound, but he unfolds himself from the couch and follows John to the bedroom readily enough, and where Sherlock is concerned, actions frequently speak more truth than words.
“You know, you don’t always have to be so rude to people. Would it hurt you to be polite, once in a while?”
“Politeness, John, is only a mask that people hide their true feelings behind. In my line of work, politeness can cause more harm than good. Better to shock them out of it, get a real look at them.”
“Some people really are just … polite.”
“An increasingly small number, I assure you. What’s to be gained from false niceties?”
“Friends, Sherlock. Allies. People to stick up for you, watch your back.”
“I don’t need friends, John, I’ve got you.”
“That’s very flattering but I’m only one person, Sherlock. You can have more than one friend.”
“If I ever find myself needing other friends, I shall acquire them. Do you find yourself needing other people very often? Honestly?”
“Well yes, Sherlock. No man is an island.”
“Even though I can provide all the danger and intrigue and, given the recent change in the nature of our relationship, sex, that you need to keep yourself fulfilled? You still need other people?”
“Sherlock... It’s not just a case of keeping yourself fulfilled. It’s a case of having other people to share your life with. I like having other people around. I think you do too, you just don’t like to admit it. What would you do without Mrs. Hudson, or Lestrade, or even Donovan and Anderson. All these people, you get something from them.”
“John Watson, if you ever mention Donovan and Anderson in the same thought process as the word friend again, I shall never speak to you again.”
“Alright, that was pushing it a bit, but don’t you understand what I mean?”
“No, I don’t think so. You are not only fascinating, you make me tea and order food and slip me sleeping pills if you think I’ve been up too long without rest. Yes I know you do it, and I wish you wouldn’t, though I think perhaps sometimes I understand your point. You have a gun and you know how to use it; you also have a wand and you know how to use that, too. What more could I want for? No, I don’t need other people, though if you say you do, then by all means, continue to have them.”
“For heaven’s sake, I’m not suggesting some sort of polygamous relationship, Sherlock, I’m just saying that just because someone is nice to me once in a while doesn’t mean you have to bite their heads off. She was married, you saw her ring. And she was doing her job, she’s a nurse, she’s meant to help people when they’re bleeding.”
“She’s married to an adulterer and she thought she could get her own back by seducing a nice ex-Army doctor to show up her husband the disgraced ex-nurse. And it was barely a scratch. You always insist on seeing good in people, even when it’s barely there at all. I don’t know how you stand it.”
“Well it used to be a lot less depressing, believing the best until proven otherwise, until you were around to divulge it at a moment’s notice. Oh hell, Sherlock, I’m just saying, there’s no need to systematically deconstruct every single person you meet.”
“Fine. I shall try and restrain myself. Are we quite finished? I have an experiment to tend to.”
“You do know I love you, right?”
“So you have told me.”
“Okay. Alright then. Go on, go to your experiment.”
People frequently ask John how he stands it, how he can stand to be around Sherlock all day, every day. People who don’t even know that he spends all night, every night with Sherlock as well – they pull him aside, none-so-subtly, in cafes, on trains, at crime scenes, even once, memorably, on the tube, and they say, in voices that aren’t so much hushed as hissing, “I don’t know how you can stand it, how can you stand him, you must have the patience of a saint.”
John tends to ignore them; he wiggles out of awkward conversations with noncommittal noises and the jerk of his head and twitch of his shoulders that he’s got down to a fine art, the one that seems to mean, “Who me? I’m nothing special,” and “It’s not a big deal,” and “You’re right, it’s awful, I know, I’m sorry, he’s awful,” and “I’m John Watson, I can take anything,” all at once, while actually meaning nothing at all except a quick and easy escape.
He’s not a saint. He isn’t even particularly patient. Sherlock is a nightmare, an actual incubus sent from hell to make everything in John’s life just that one degree more difficult, more painful, more chaotic than is entirely bearable. Even after they start shagging, even after they begin to share a room on a permanent basis, even after John willingly gives him his last secret and hands over his heart, Sherlock is a horror. There are still toes in the breadbin and brains (three of them) in the vegetable crisper and a culture of mould growing at the bottom of John’s favourite mug. Sherlock has made it his mission to trawl through every single one of John’s school books to find the most painful, the most difficult, the most unpleasant spells he can possibly find in teaching material for teenagers and made John demonstrate them at great length. He is demanding and petty and needy and rude, and John usually puts up with it, but even he has his breaking points.
The worst of it is – the absolute worst of it is that Sherlock, for all that he purports to being able to read people like books, never can tell when he’s pushed John over the line, when the bad has (for the time being) outweighed the good by just one gram too many, so he continues to push and nag and beg and whine and John can’t help but listen, and because he is angry he can’t help but retaliate, and more often than not words with sharper edges than he’s entirely comfortable with go flying and Sherlock’s eyes shine in that terrible, cold way that they only do when he’s being cruel to compensate for being hurt.
John hates it; he hates that he lets himself get into a situation where his temper is bound to snap viciously; he hates that Sherlock will push and push and push until he’s there, until it’s too much, until it’s fisticuffs or nothing; he hates the way it makes Sherlock’s eyes shine colder than the moon.
It’s an embarrassingly large amount of time before the strategy occurs to him.
They fight because he snaps, because he will inevitably fling about words that he doesn’t mean and Sherlock, true to form, joins right in to beat him at his own game. John Watson can shout abuse that would make a sailor flinch, if he has mind to – a lynx, however, can’t say a word.
The next time he feels terrifyingly close to lashing out with a surprisingly poisonous tongue, they are on their way home from a case in which a minor miscalculation on Sherlock’s behalf allowed the perpetrator to kill himself before the police could catch him, taking with him all trace of a motive. Sherlock is a whirlwind of polysyllabic abuse, hurling slurs against everything from Anderson’s face to Lestrade’s children and including John’s slowness of comprehension right along in the mix. John, who has just watched a beautiful twenty-three year old shoot himself in the face, is very distinctly not in the mood.
As soon as they set foot in 221B, John stomps to the bedroom and shifts, leaping onto the bed and curling up on his side of it with his paws over his head.
“Honestly, it’s as if you all wander about with your eyes closed and your ears blocked. I don’t know how you bear it, being that stupid all the time, do you even know? Do you even notice how dull it is in your tiny – John?” Sherlock wheels into the bedroom, hands already unbuttoning his shirt, no doubt preparing for the traditional Post-Case Shag (most definitely not happening today, John decides) – but the sight of a large wildcat in the place where John should be stops him short. For a bit, at least.
“Oh, you’re angry with me,” he scoffs. John deigns to acknowledge that deduction with a growl. “You’re angry with me, you’re so angry you could spit, but instead of voicing it you’re hiding inside a cat. Very mature, John. I thought you were braver than this.”
With another growl deep in his throat, John rolls over onto his side, turning his back to the infuriating man in the door, who always manages to look even more devastatingly beautiful than usual when he’s in the middle of an argument.
“Fine,” Sherlock spits, tossing his clothes haphazardly across the floor and pulling on a pair of pyjama bottoms with more force than is strictly needed. “Fine. You just stay like that, John, see if I care. You’ll be bored within fifteen minutes, and you’ll wish you were fighting like a man, instead of hiding like a coward. ” He yanks on a red silk dressing gown and flounces from the room. Inwardly, John rolls his eyes and then, yawning, stretches himself out across the bed. Sherlock, of course, has forgotten that in this form, John is nearly as much cat as he is himself – and even wildcats are fond of naps.
(Later, John is shaken awake by a Sherlock whose wind has visibly fallen from his sails. Sharp features have all but crumbled in on themselves and silver eyes peer at John plaintively through dark hair, and even the usually unruly curls manage to look dejected. Sighing, John shifts back into his normal skin and moves over so that Sherlock can spoon up quietly in front of him. “It wasn’t your fault,” John murmurs into the back of Sherlock’s neck. “It wasn’t your fault.” Sherlock says nothing, but they stay together in the silence until Sherlock’s breathing evens out under the gentle, constant pressure of John’s palm.)
John doesn’t dream of the desert anymore.
When he wakes up in the middle of the night, screaming and gasping for breath, it is never the desert that he’s seeing behind his eyes. Nor is it the dismembered bodies of his friends, or the look on a small desi child’s face before a landmine claims him, or an endless field of poppies floating in a sea of blood.
Sherlock shakes him awake, now, when he is gripped with terror in the middle of the night – impossible to predict, impossible to prevent, impossible to forget. John gasps awake and tries to hide his horror that the face he’s met with when his eyes are open is the same he sees with his eyes closed.
John still dreams of explosions; he still dreams of blood; he still dreams of terror and fear and loss; but the backdrop has shifted from sand and plains and harsh mountains to the streets of London, and every child he watches die, every mangled face he sees, every person he fails to save – they are all Sherlock.
It has become something of a ritual with them. Every Thursday, without fault (barring the occasional necessary interruption for chasing murderers and thieves and serial killers alike) Sherlock whirls in to interrupt whatever John may or may not be doing and drags him bodily, brooking no protest, to the Leaky Cauldron. They both order a pint of Butterbeer (Sherlock having found a new, though slightly less worrying, addiction to the stuff) and sit together in a far corner of the pub and observe.
For the purpose, Sherlock has pestered John into purchasing two sets of standard robes, one in plain, unassuming black (for John) and one in decadent, deep purple (that Sherlock had practically begged for upon sight). John keeps them shrunken down in his back pocket, lest they need to blend in with little forewarning (his protests that deep purple robes were rather more ostentatious than could be advisable for urban camouflage having fallen on deaf ears).
So, every Thursday, they sit in a corner of the Leaky Cauldron and John listens and gently corrects while Sherlock tests his theories and skills, eyes alight and dancing with his new favourite game.
The rules are simple: Sherlock is not allowed to raise his voice nor draw any particular attention to them whatsoever, and he is on no account to speak to anyone that John has not pre-approved. Sherlock thought this rule to be ridiculous until he found himself being threatened with sudden and thorough exsanguination by a very tall, very thirsty looking Vampire who did not take kindly to being ‘deduced’ while ordering his favourite blood cocktail.
Inevitably, as the months fall away, they become regulars, and Hannah (the bubbly barmaid who appears to have taken over old Tom’s post as proprietor of the Inn) begins to draw their drinks before they’ve even arrived, placing a stasis charm over them and reserving their table pre-emptively. John tells her time and again she needn’t go to the trouble, but she laughs it off with a grin and a wink and a pat on his shoulder which, despite the glinting golden ring on her finger, never fails to get Sherlock growling low in his throat about pathetic women throwing themselves after anything with legs. John laughs it off and quizzes Sherlock about the group of Auror-trainees in the corner.
Donavan’s squawk rends the air so sharply it sends a shiver down John’s spine. “What on earth is that?”
John follows the direction of her pointing finger and winces inwardly; she’s pointing at the bit of Sherlock’s midriff that’s been exposed by his shirt riding up as he dangles precariously from the edges of the hole in the ceiling he’s just nearly fallen through.
Donovan, the harpy, is still crowing in some sick kind of glee. “Good lord, the freak has a tattoo,” she snorts. “What was it, some sort of attempt to be cool?”
Sighing, John hurries across the room to catch Sherlock as he lets go of his handhold; they fall to the floor in a bit of heap. Sherlock’s expression as he picks himself up and smoothes his clothes down is smooth as stone, but something in his eyes makes John suddenly uneasy.
“So go on then, freak, what’s the story behind the tattoo? Is it something deeply meaningful? Do you find anything meaningful enough to have it inked into your skin? Or did you just let someone draw on you when you were high?”
Sherlock’s eyes are ice and his voice steel when he replies, though he barely takes the time to give Sally a second glance. “Pardon me if I’m wrong, Sergeant Donovan, but I don’t think that is any of your business. Good day.”
John watches as Sherlock sweeps out of the room in an eddy of coattails and umbrage. He slides his eyes back to Donovan, whose cruel smirk and crossed arms tell him that she doesn’t understand what it means that Sherlock chose not to reply with a scathing remark.
“You know, Sally,” he says quietly as he crosses the room towards the door. “It wouldn’t kill for you to be nice to him. Treat him like a human being once in a while.”
“Why should I? He isn’t human, he’s all but a cyborg.”
“You’re wrong,” John tells her fiercely. “You don’t know how wrong you are, and that’s what makes it even sadder.”
He leaves Sergeant Donovan standing there, surrounded by the debris of the caved in ceiling, and Sherlock never does tell them what he learned about the case before he fell through the evidence.
(In the end, it doesn’t matter, as the killer confesses within an hour of Sherlock crashing through the floor, but John watches him warily for the rest of the evening and though outwardly he is normal enough, there is something lurking behind his eyes that John distinctly does not like.)
“Ravenclaw,” John announces, after just a few moments’ thought. “Of course we’ll never know for sure, but I’m fairly sure you’d have been a Ravenclaw, with your nose stuck in a book and your eyebrows perpetually singed from experimental potions.”
Sherlock hums, sounding unconvinced. “Not Slytherin, then?”
“No, I don’t really think so. Ridiculous clothes aside, you don’t really care for anything material, and you couldn’t give a toss about your reputation, and I know you like manipulating people to do things for you but you’re not out to rule the world. No. Your brother, on the other hand – biggest Slytherin I know.”
At this, Sherlock snorts a pleased laugh. He has John’s coveted copy of Hogwarts: A History open in his lap, caressing the well-loved pages gently with the fingers of his right hand.
“I would have liked to have seen it,” he says; John smiles.
“I wish I could show you it, as it used to be. I’m sure it’s a very different place, now.”
He told Sherlock once that grand buildings didn’t make him uneasy, but Sherlock hadn’t understood what he meant until much later, when he finally realised that John had all but grown up in a castle. And not just any castle, but a castle with a rather dangerous sense of humour. Even if he went back now, many of his professors would be long gone, either killed in the war or by natural-enough causes. The castle would be – must be – different. John doesn’t know how they rebuilt the castle. He wasn’t around when it fell, and when he came back to Britain, he made a concerted effort not to find out. The thought that the portraits might have burnt and the staircases may have crumbled and the towers may have fallen causes him a physical ache in his chest, not unlike what it feels like to lose a particularly good friend.
“Blue has always been a good colour on me,” Sherlock muses, drawing him out of his reverie. “Though I can wear green as well. Yellow would have been unfortunate, though.”
“Yellow is unfortunate for most people,” John agrees, a small smile spreading to replace the frown that had grown on his face while deep in thought about the place he used to call home.
Sherlock smirks, his eyes full of mischief. “So … do you think Lestrade for Hufflepuff, then?”
“Right. Watson! You’re up!”
The highlands in September are not warm, and even though it’s his second year, even though he should be prepared for this, John can’t help but shiver as the wind whips through him.
He’s determined to do this, though. A little cold never hurt anyone, and if it did get too bad, Madam Pomfrey would surely have some potion or other to pour down his throat and fix him right up.
“Alright, Watson, on your broom, then. Here’s your bat and remember – your job is to keep the Chasers from getting anywhere near the Quaffle. Make them duck, make them weave, but keep those bludgers coming at them. You got that? Good. Up you go!”
The ground is firm beneath his feet as John kicks away and then he’s off. It’s exhilarating, this, whizzing around in the air, totally free, the wind thundering past your ears so loud that it’s all you can do to remember to think let alone communicate with the rest of the players.
It’s a bit of a blur, to be honest. He’s dodging and swerving and battering the angry black balls with all his might, thanking every star in the sky as he goes that his Dad taught him how to wield a cricket bat, back when his Dad remembered that there was more to life than what came in a bottle.
When the whistle blows and he falls back to the ground, he’s panting and exhilarated, as if he’d run a mile. Shouldn’t be so exhausting, riding a broomstick about in the air, but he’s worked up such a sweat from battering bludgers as hard as he could that he doesn’t stop to consider it.
“Watson, you’re on! That was fantastic. Are you sure you’ve never done this before?”
John shakes his head; sweat flies from the ends of his shaggy hair and he grimaces, slightly. “No, never. My Dad taught me how to use a cricket bat, though.”
“Well, you’re a proper natural, Watson, but then what else is new? Just remember when we’re up there playing Slytherin, or whoever – you’ve got to keep that weird magic of yours under check, alright? It’s alright in the common room and the locker room, most of the team will just be impressed, but if we’re out on the pitch, or flying, or even just hanging around the other teams, you are utterly normal. Understood?”
“Yeah,” John says, elation slightly deflated. “Understood.”
“Good. Now go on, hit the showers.”
As he trudges up to the showers, John tries hard not to let his shoulders slump. He’s excited, really he is. The first time he saw a Quidditch match he thought it was the most idiotic, dangerous thing he’d ever seen anyone do and he couldn’t wait until he was old enough to try out for the team. They always looked so chummy too, the Quidditch team, spending all their time together regardless of year, lazing around in the good seats in front of the fire, chatting and tossing bits of parchment back and forth and playing riotous matches of Gobstones. It wasn’t that John didn’t have friends, per se, but the boys in his year were a little wary of him ever since he accidentally sent one of them flying into a suit of armour in their first Charms lesson, before he realized his own strength.
Of course he should never have expected anything to be different. Everyone in Gryffindor knows about his weird magic. Sometimes it seems like everyone in Hogwarts knows about it. John heaves a sigh and slumps on the bench in the changing room, closing his eyes and leaning back against the wall to catch hold of himself.
“Oi, Watson, what’s with the long face? Did a Slytherin hex you on the way up? You made the team, where’s the excitement!?”
When he opens his eyes, an outrageously ginger third year is standing in front of him with his hands on his hips, looking playfully murderous, if ever such a thing could exist.
“Sorry, sorry, I’m just …”
“Did Hawksworth mouth off at you? I told him to leave you alone about all that bullshit if you made the team. You know none of us care, right? Or, at least, I don’t, and if anyone says differently I’ll turn their knees inside out for you, though I’m sure you could probably do it yourself.”
“Thanks,” John offers, weakly, a little bit bewildered by this boy’s exuberance. He’s seen him around, of course, usually in the middle of the Quidditch team’s melee, but they’ve never spoken, and John spends most of his time in the library avoiding the common room anyway.
“I’m Charlie, by the way, in case you weren’t already aware. Charlie Weasley.”
“Your brother’s the prefect,” John says, nodding. “I know, I’ve seen you. We’re in the same house.”
“Are we really? I was under the impression that you’d tried to start a house all on your own, for all the time you spend pointedly being not in the common room.”
John blushes and fidgets uncomfortably, but then Charlie grins at him and punches him in the arm.
“You need to relax, Watson, you’re all strung out. You’re on the team, now, mate. We’ve got your back.”
After one last dazzlingly enormous grin, Charlie grabs him from the bench and shoves him toward the shower, chattering the entire way. John lets him, his own smile widening as he goes. When finally he gets up the nerve to crack a joke of his own, Charlie laughs so hard he nearly falls over in front of the entire team.
“You’re alright, Watson,” he says when he’s recovered, clamping a hand on his shoulder. “Go on, get clean, and then we’ll go eat. I hope it’s shepherd’s pie tonight, I could eat a dragon.”
As he stands in the shower and lets the hot water course down over his head, John can’t help but grin to himself, all of his shame and disappointment fading in the face of Charlie’s insistent laughter.
Charlie’s waiting for him when he gets out of the shower and they head back to the Great Hall together, chatting easily. Along the way, Charlie turns a Slytherin girl orange without her noticing and John, scolding, levitates him by the ankle and threatens to throw him to the Whomping Willow.
They are inseparable for the next five years, until Charlie leaves to study dragons in Romania and John makes the decision that will take him away from this world for good. (Or so he thinks, at the time.)
“Are you sure about this?”
It may be a little late to ask, John thinks, frowning down at Sherlock, but he feels he needs to all the same.
“Oh, spare me the questioning,” Sherlock pants, shaking his head vigorously. “You didn’t seem to have a problem stringing me up and gagging me last week, I fail to see the difference here.”
“You got yourself out of those knots almost before I’d even started, Sherlock, you can’t get out of this one.”
“Precisely the point. Will you stop panicking and just do it?”
“You remember the signal?”
“Yes yes yes, S O S in Morse Code with my eyes, come on, John, please, I want you to. Please.”
“Christ. Who knew that all you had to do to get you to ask for anything politely was threaten to incapacitate you?”
“ John !”
It is remarkably satisfying, to have reduced Sherlock Holmes to this wiggly, pleading mess of impatience currently bucking and canting underneath him. John isn’t sure he wants to go through with this. He loves watching Sherlock like this, writhing and begging. Of course, he also likes to see Sherlock incapacitated and helpless and submissive, though he isn’t entirely sure if it’s not mostly because of the way the black leather straps look against his snow white skin.
He should never have let Sherlock anywhere near his very secret, very hidden and very old stash of Wizarding magazines, because this is what comes of giving Sherlock ideas.
Another impatient buck of hips brings him back to the present, where Sherlock is very naked and very hard between John’s thighs, and they have a plan, and Sherlock has been so good for days trying to work up enough points for this favour, and dammit if John isn’t entirely helpless in the face of those demanding eyes.
“Alright, alright already, Merlin, keep your trousers on. Well, no, keep them off – Christ, look, Sherlock, this is dangerous, alright? I have no idea how this spell affects Muggles. For all I know it will shut down all of your muscles, including your heart, so we’re going to start slow. Alright?”
“Fine, just get on with it already..”
“Yeah. Christ. Okay.”
John reaches down with his free hand and palms Sherlock’s cock, hard and leaking and pressed flush against his belly, watching ruefully as Sherlock bites his lip and bucks his hips. It seems a shame, really, but he has promised, and Sherlock has been making him tea for days, which is proof positive in and of itself of just how much he wants this.
After a few more lingering strokes, John holds him in place and positions himself, sinking slowly down until his hips are flush with Sherlock’s, and they’re both panting with the effort of holding still.
“God, Sherlock, you feel so good,” John moans, rolling his neck and his shoulders and shifting slightly. Sherlock gasps and grips his thigh.
“ John,” he groans, “John, please.”
Grinning cheekily, John flexes his muscles, wringing a grunt and a very gratifying buck from the man underneath him. Then, tightening his grip on his wand, he points it at Sherlock’s chest and murmurs, “ Petrificus Totalus ”.
Sherlock’s arms and legs snap together and his eyes fly open. It’s not that John hasn’t researched this thoroughly – he has, of course he has, but the literature has always been a bit unclear when it came to the question of what would happen if you combined the spell with a Muggle and sex simultaneously. The spell is technically designed to freeze non-vital muscles, so breathing, heartbeat, and blinking continue as normal – but John still doesn’t entirely know what to expect when it’s applied in this context.
“Christ,” he breathes, undulating his hips just a touch. He had expected the limbs snapping together and the eyes flying open but he hadn’t expected to feel Sherlock hardening and lengthening impossibly inside him. “Christ, Sherlock, that’s incredible.”
He has to fight his own instincts hard, but instead of giving in and fucking himself into oblivion on that cock without further ado, he leans forward to check Sherlock’s pulse and the rise and fall of his chest. Only when he’s satisfied that Sherlock’s not about to have a heart attack and Sherlock starts to blink “Get on with it, idiot,” in Morse Code (or at least that’s what John assumes he’s trying to blink, he doesn’t get much beyond “Get”) does he let himself go.
John loves this, loves the feeling of Sherlock inside him, loves possessing the evidence of Sherlock’s real, physical desire for him so completely that it’s tinged with pain and soaked in bliss. He rolls his hips and moans at the explosion of sensation as his movement sends Sherlock’s cock skittering over his prostate. Sherlock’s pupils are blown wide with desire, and John can see them flicker as he moves, faster and faster; he can feel Sherlock’s gaze burning his skin as he arches his back, circles his hips, and fists his own cock, stroking in time with the movements of his hips.
He doesn’t quite understand why Sherlock wants it like this – Sherlock, who is usually anything but passive in bed, who is usually a storm of grabby hands and a demanding mouth and a prick like a heat-seeking missile – but he had begged and pleaded for weeks until John agreed, and John is going to make it good if he can, is going to blow Sherlock’s mind and leave him broken and gasping if it’s the last thing he does.
In normal circumstances, John can tell, by now, when Sherlock is getting close to orgasm. His eyes suddenly become as large as lakes, oceans, entire galaxies and his mouth falls open, his head rocks back and his back starts to arch into a nearly impossible position and then he freezes, hovering there on the edge of absolution until it looks actually painful, until his muscles are shaking with the effort of holding himself back – and then finally, he hurtles into oblivion at a speed and with a completeness that is terrifyingly beautiful to watch with a sound that is more like helplessness than anything.
But like this – with Sherlock veritably frozen underneath him – John has to judge it differently. He can see the wideness of Sherlock’s eyes but otherwise, the man is completely still, completely locked into place, completely and utterly trapped at John’s mercy. There is a flush across Sherlock’s cheeks; it has spread there from his chest. John thinks that if Sherlock were not petrified, his chest would be heaving now, gasping for breath around his own wanton moans.
It’s strange, to be fucking himself on Sherlock’s cock as if it were as inanimate as a dildo. It’s strange and more than a little hot. He finds a rhythm, the perfect way to get that rigid cock hitting right where he wants it on every stroke, alternates between rolling his hips around it and lifting them up, fucking up into his own fist, only to slam down again with a cry. Sherlock’s eyes are frantic now and blown so wide that they are almost entirely pupil, but still John waits. He waits, he makes Sherlock wait, until he is right there on that razor sharp edge himself, completely covered in sweat from doing all the work, muscles trembling and clenching, cock straining in his hand, stomach quivering, hand digging into Sherlock’s hip for leverage.
Then, right before he nearly loses himself in his own climax, he manages to gasp Sherlock’s release. “ Finite Incantatem ”.
It is like an eruption, as if all of the sounds, all the breaths and gasps and moans and screams, that Sherlock would have been giving the whole time if he had control of his vocal chords happen at once. His strange, impossibly pale eyes all but roll back in his head and his entire body convulses between John’s thighs and John can feel it, can feel him coming inside him, burst after hot burst of it and it is John’s final undoing.
When John regains conscious thought, Sherlock is still moaning and quivering beneath him and he feels a sharp stab of fear.
“Are you alright?” he tries to say – though it comes out something rather more like “awright?” than an actual English sentence.
Sherlock says nothing, apparently can say nothing but a slightly distorted version of John’s name, but his long fingers are digging into John’s shoulders as if they intend to bury themselves in the mangled flesh there and never come out.
Pushing himself up on one arm, John looks down at Sherlock fondly, pushing a sweaty strand of hair off his forehead.
Sherlock’s response is to let his eyes flutter closed and clutch his fingers tighter.
John’s fingers brush Sherlock’s lips and he smiles, feeling words trying to form themselves there but failing, utterly.
“Shhhhhh,” John says. “Alright.”
He moves to lift himself away from Sherlock’s cock, softening slowly inside him, but Sherlock whimpers and holds him tighter. “Don’t,” he gasps, and John winces, wondering if Sherlock’s fingernails are drawing blood, but he doesn’t move anymore. He brushes kisses across flushed cheekbones and juddering pink lips.
Finally, Sherlock regains enough control over himself to coat his words with coherent sound once more; when he whispers “John”, it is nothing less than an invocation.
John smiles and licks his name from Sherlock’s lips. “Good?”
“John,” Sherlock says once more, prying the fingers of his right hand from John’s shoulder and sliding them up to the nape of John’s neck and into his hair. “ Impossibly good,” he murmurs.
“You looked like you might expire with it,” John teases, but Sherlock’s fingers clutch tight in his hair and John feels another twinge of anxiety.
“I … I think my heart might have stopped,” Sherlock says, and his voice is as fragile as a leaf. “I couldn’t … I. God, John. It was like. There was nothing else, nothing, just you, just you, and then it was like … It was like falling, like exploding, like... If … If I could pick a way to go, John...”
“Don’t say that,” John says, quiet and low, stroking his hands into Sherlock’s hair. “Don’t. Never again, not if it gets you talking like that.”
“ John,” Sherlock says, and his eyes flutter closed again. John kisses him, soft but fierce, until he realises that he is asleep, body unknitting slowly but surely into unconsciousness.
“You mad, mad idiot,” John whispers. “Never again. We are never doing that again.”
With that decision made, he tucks his head into Sherlock’s neck and falls asleep as well, the soft warm weight of Sherlock still oddly comforting inside him.
John will never forget the day he stepped off the Hogwarts Express and into a boat that rowed itself and then looked up to see the castle looming in the distance, a hodgepodge mess of towers and turrets, battlements and crenulations, buttresses and spires. Just as he will never forget the look on his sister’s face as she watched him get on the train or the tension in his father’s eyes earlier that day, he will never forget his first glimpse of the castle that became his home when his real home was denied him.
He loved Hogwarts with the awe and innocence that a child loves its parents. He loved every staircase, every hallway, every cheeky poster and vicious coat of arms. For a castle, it had a rather dry sense of humour, and sometimes John was all but convinced it was speaking to him, teasing him, testing him the way a potential friend does as they try another on for size.
It wasn’t possible not to love Hogwarts. Even the most horrible snotty Slytherin of all would admit to that. But loving something doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for you, or pleasant, or never painful at all.
He loved Hogwarts with all that he had. It made him the man he is today even while he lost track of himself there, and when he left it wasn’t so much heartbreaking as a case of finally remembering how to breathe again.
Leaving Hogwarts was like stepping out from behind the skirts of a loving but overprotective and slightly destructive mother and learning to walk for the first time, alone and unhindered by the cloying presence of expectations, responsibilities, and fear.
John does not regret leaving that world behind, could not regret it if he tried, but sometimes, when he closes his eyes, he is back in front of the Gryffindor fire in his favourite chair. Charlie Weasley is chattering in his ear and Alexander Bell is guffawing loudly next to him as they plan their next Quidditch match against the Hufflepuffs. A set of Gobstones explodes across the room, someone has accidentally turned themselves into a slug, a tray of warm spiced pumpkin juice appears as soon as he thinks he might fancy some, and he is safe and content and young once more.
“You’re tracking me.”
John looks up from his newspaper and sees Sherlock standing in front of him, and his face could give thunderclouds a run for their money.
“Yes,” John says, simply.
“How?” Sherlock’s eyes are tight with badly contained fury. John can guess what he must be thinking; knows only too well the way Sherlock feels about the correlation between surveillance and trust, or the lack of it; can’t bring himself to care.
“I have a map. I’m not going to stop, and you’ll never be able to find it or destroy it, so you might as well give up the fight,” John adds, conversationally, and looks back to his paper.
John doesn’t look at him when he replies. “Because CCTV can only do so much. Because sometimes you frighten me.”
Sherlock doesn’t say anything; John feels the weight of his stare for an impossibly long moment and then hears the fluttering of fabric as Sherlock spins, without explanation, from the room.
The Leaky Cauldron is heaving, which – at five o’clock on a Thursday – John finds rather surprising and unnecessary for what is essentially a dingy pub in the back end of London frequented (literally) by hags and trolls and every sort of sentient creature in between.
John is, frankly, too old for this shit, or at least that’s how he feels as he elbows his way to the bar. He outgrew the busy bar scene pretty much as soon as he outgrew his twenties, but Sherlock, once he sets his mind to do a thing, never lets himself be dissuaded.
This particular evening has seen a rather uncharacteristically quiet Sherlock sit at their traditional corner table, seemingly content just to watch the hustle and bustle while John tries to content himself watching too (but actually spends most of his time lamenting his armchair and a cup of tea).
He is contemplating this cup of tea and maybe a biscuit or five on his way back from the bar when he bumps, very literally, very physically, and very messily, into his childhood.
John is spluttering apologies and trying to mop up the wall of chest he’s spilled two Butterbeers across when a low voice rumbles and chuckles through it: “Well Merlin’s saggy y-fronts, that’s never John Watson.”
Without further ado, John finds himself with his half-empty drinks wrenched free from his hands and pulled into a massive bear hug with the man who used to be a boy, but who now smells like fire and soot and leather. Charlie Weasley is even taller and bigger than he was when they were younger, which John supposes makes sense, as they are grown men now, and Charlie has (presumably) spent most of his life since their days at Hogwarts wrestling with dragons. His face is ruddy with freckles, weather-beaten skin rough across his cheeks and red lips chapped and cracked from the elements.
“Jesus, give a bloke a chance to breathe, mate,” John says, patting him soundly on the back – as old friends do. He can feel Sherlock’s quiet, intense gaze beating down on them like the sun and squirms under it, slightly. Charlie, oblivious to the intent stare of one Consulting Detective, is dragging him back to the bar to buy him another two drinks and a third for himself, and before he knows it, John is making his way back to their table, and introducing the old to the new.
“Charlie, this is Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock, this is Charlie Weasley.”
Sherlock, who is always and forever the same and more quixotic than ever this evening, frowns at Charlie and turns his attention to John, instead. “I wasn’t aware we were expanding our party this evening, John,” he says, coldly. John sighs and scrubs at his forehead.
“Don’t mind him, Charlie,” he says, sitting at the other chair around the table, rather than resuming his previous seat next to Sherlock.
“Oh, it’s alright,” Charlie chuckles, taking a sip of Butterbeer and swiping away the foam with a deft tongue. “I’m not sure we’ve met before, Sherlock, where is it you went to school? Don’t remember seeing you around Hogwarts …”
John squirms a bit in his seat, “Oh, no, Sherlock’s not… ”
“I’m a Muggle,” Sherlock intones loftily, cutting John off. “As you might have known if you’d taken a second to observe and think about what you’d seen, but obviously you are far too absorbed in consuming as much of your fifth drink of the evening as you can in one go to observe properly.”
“ Sherlock,” John groans. “Charlie, sorry, really, there’s no excusing him.”
Of course, Charlie Weasley wasn’t John’s best friend all the way through Hogwarts for nothing. Instead of being affronted, he simply grins and leans back in his chair, blue eyes laughing merrily.
“Muggle, is he? Sounds like he’s some sort of Seer, to me. How’d you know how many I’d had?”
“Obvious, given your relative size and the estimated delay in your reactions. Butterbeer’s not strong but five in such quick succession, this early in the evening, should be about right, I’d say. I don’t need to be clairvoyant to know a great deal about you.”
Charlie’s eyebrows waggle, teasing, and John groans as Sherlock’s eyes narrow in response. “Oh, this was a terrible idea,” he says, but Charlie laughs again and cuts him off.
“Impressive, Mr. Holmes. What else do you think you know about me?”
“Oh for the love of Merlin, Charlie, can you not encourage him?”
“Hush John, think of it as further training,” Sherlock says, flapping a hand at him to shut him up. He eyes Charlie thoughtfully for a minute, then sits back and takes a sip of his drink before launching straight into it. “You’re the second eldest of several siblings. Your parents were not well off, but they were very loving. You played sport at school – undoubtedly that Quidditch nonsense John was so keen to explain to me. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say you were a Seeker, you’ve obviously got keen eyes and quick reflexes, which seems to fit the job description. You work abroad, Eastern Europe I’d say, Romania or Bulgaria, more likely the former, and you have done for years. Mostly, your work is outdoors and in the elements, and you’re not much in civilisation. You spend a significant amount of time still on a broomstick and you work in great and frequent proximity with fire. You’re home for a conference or a meeting of some sort, most likely your bosses, trying to give you a promotion; you’ll deny it, of course, it would likely take you out of the wilderness and bring you back to life in London, something you can no longer stomach the idea of. You knew John at Hogwarts but haven’t seen him since; you were close there, but a year ahead of him, and you ended all contact abruptly when you left. In short –” Sherlock pauses and takes another sip of his drink, wiping the foam away from his slightly sneering lip. “In short, you’re John’s dragon-fighting ex-boyfriend.”
“Phwoar,” Charlie says, eyebrows nearly in his hair. “Are you sure you’re not a Seer? That was incredible, mate.”
Sherlock’s eyes, blown wide with the thrill of deduction, narrow again suspiciously. “What?”
“I said, that was incredible. Right on all accounts. Well, except that I don’t fight dragons, I study ‘em, but still. Amazing, especially for a Muggle.”
“That’s not what people usually say,” Sherlock says, frowning some more, eyes chasing across Charlie as if he is a particularly perplexing puzzle.
“What do people usually say then?” Charlie asks, looking between the increasingly unsettled Sherlock and John, who is only just managing to conceal his slightly nervous laughter.
“Usually people tell him to piss off,” John tells him, succinctly, grinning at the unbidden memories this exchange draws up. “Alright, Sherlock, you’ve done your bit. Can you please be nice, now? My world, my rules, remember?”
Sherlock huffs and crosses his arms petulantly. “Fine. Forgive me, Charlie, for any affront I may have caused you, it was not my intent. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to the bar. John, another?”
“Thanks,” John agrees, watching dubiously as Sherlock trails through the busy pub. Charlie lets out a low whistle and a chuckle, kicking back in his seat.
“Merlin’s beard, John, he’s as feisty as a Chinese Fireball. Where on earth did you find a Muggle like that?”
“I sort of acquired him when I moved back to London, after I was shot. In Afghanistan,” he explains, earning himself another low whistle.
“Heard you were fighting a Muggle war. Didn’t realise it’d gone quite so pearshaped. Sorry to hear that, mate.”
“I didn’t have many fighting years left, to be honest; it wasn’t the end of the world,” John says, deliberately simplifying the facts. He drains his drink, feeling distinctly fidgety and ill at ease. “Look, I’m sorry, about Sherlock. He’s arrogant at the best of times but he’s usually on his best behaviour here. I don’t know what’s got into him.”
“Don’t you?” Charlie quirks an eyebrow and smirks at him. “Your man’s jealous, John; it’s written all over him like bowtruckles on doxy eggs.”
John snorts and rolls his eyes. “Sherlock’s not jealous,” he scoffs, though his stomach lurches slightly at the thought.
“I assure you he is. And why wouldn’t he be? Handsome ex-boyfriend turns up out of the blue, wind-swept and rakish? Course he’s going to be jealous, skinny consumptive thing that he is.” Charlie’s smirk is as dazzling as it used to be; John laughs and swats at him with a rolled up copy of the Prophet.
“Christ, some things never change, do they? Didn’t having your arse handed to you by dragons on a daily basis deflate your ego at least a little bit?”
“Merlin, no, it only served to inflate it to loftier heights,” Charlie chuckles, setting his drink down on the table. “He’s a looker, though, I’ll give you that, Watson, you old niffler. You always did have an eye for them.”
“That may be the vainest thing anyone’s ever said to me,” John says, rolling his eyes. “Which is impressive, considering I live with the vainest man in England.”
“You know me,” Charlie says, winking brazenly. “Nothing changes under the sun.”
“Apparently not. You always were a conceited prick.”
“And with good reason.”
John laughs loudly; they grin at each other and return to their drinks. John takes the moment to let the oddness of the evening sink in a bit as Charlie leans back in his chair, heaving a contented sigh. “So, married to a Muggle, eh?”
“Oh, no, we’re … we’re not married,” John explains, hastily – perhaps a little too hastily. Sherlock, choosing that moment to return to the table, slams the glasses down on the table with a slosh.
“Heaven forbid the thought,” he mutters, his baritone unusually low and scratchy; John looks up at him and sees something odd and dark flash through Sherlock’s silver eyes – something he’s never really seen there before. Before he has the chance to say anything, Sherlock seems to shake himself. The dark shadow disappears, but is replaced by nothing but emptiness.
“I’ll leave you two to your reminiscing, I’m sure you have many inane stories to catch each other up with.”
“Sherlock...” John starts to placate him, but Sherlock shoots him a glare that fixes him in his seat and turns on his heel.
“Bollocks,” John curses, taking a deep gulp of his drink while Charlie watches Sherlock disappearing through the door with a deep smirk. He knocks his glass against John’s with a clang and a low whistle.
“Merlin. Good luck with that one, mate.”
“Christ, I’m going to need it. Jealous, did you say?”
“Green with it.”
Jealousy is not something John ever thought to attribute to Sherlock’s emotional register. The thing is, after that display, John can sort of see what Charlie means.
“Bollocks,” John says again. “For all that he’s a genius, he’s the stupidest man I’ve ever met.”
“Look at you,” Charlie says, smirking over the top of his glass. “You’re arse over tits for that posh bastard, aren’t you?”
“I always did know how to make things difficult for myself,” John admits, sighing heavily. “I suppose I ought to go see if he’s alright. You have no idea how bad it gets when he’s sulking.”
“Go on after him. We’ll catch up some other time.”
Charlie’s grin is easy and untroubled and achingly familiar. For a split second, John flickers in time: He is twelve years old and so achingly glad to have a friend that he feels he could burst into tears; he is fourteen, laughing so hard it hurts because Charlie has accidentally vanished his own nose; he is sixteen, and grinning at the top of a four-posted bed as Charlie collapses beside him, breathless and sweaty and glowing with sex and laughter; he is seventeen, saying goodbye simultaneously to his best friend, his first lover, and the only life he really knew all at once.
Charlie is watching him carefully, a knowing smirk on his lips. “John,” he says, softly, kindly, one friend to the other. “ Go. Go on. Back to where you belong.”
Snapping back to reality, John is thirty-eight once more and so out of place in this room full of witches and wizards and vampires and trolls it’s suddenly unbearable. He nods, smiling ruefully at his oldest friend.
“I never did forget, you know,” he says, sombrely. “Everything you did for me, back then. I could never forget. You were everything, back then, until … well. You know.”
Charlie’s hand grips his, briefly, startlingly tight, but the touch is reassuring in it’s calloused weight. His blue eyes are kind, but sober, no longer dancing with a secret shared joke.
“You’ll always be the one that got away, John Watson,” he says, ruefully. “But go on, now. Before it’s too late.”
“He’s not so much a man, you know,” John says, without really meaning to. “Not so much a man as a force of nature. Like... like gravity, or... or...”
“Like Magic,” Charlie supplies.
“Yes, exactly. Like Magic. As inescapable as Magic.”
“Well then, Watson. You haven’t changed a bit, not even after twenty years as a Muggle. You always were helpless when it came to Magic. You were a bit of an addict.”
“Nothing new under the sun,” John echoes. “I should go. I need to … yeah.” He nods towards the door through which Sherlock had disappeared. “Next time you’re in London, we’ll catch up. It’s been … really, really great to see you, Charlie Weasley.”
“And you, John Watson. It won’t be the last time, I promise.”
He leaves Charlie there, with most of three pints to finish, and trails out into the cold, already fumbling in his pocket for his map. The blot that is Sherlock is moving quickly towards home, far too quickly to be walking – he’s in a cab, then. As if that could stop John from beating him home.
Folding the map up once more, John ducks behind a dumpster and Disapparates with a crack.
Jealous, Charlie had said. Suddenly, John can see it. He hadn’t seen it before, though he should have. He really should have.
A lot of things he’d brushed off before suddenly make sense in his head. The way Sherlock stood in front of him, always, when introducing him to other people. The ever-smaller shirts that rode up at the slightest lift of his long arms, revealing the intricate runes spread across his hipbones. The cold viciousness with which he attacked anyone that even gave John a second glance.
It’s a horrible thing to realise, John thinks, as he sinks down in his chair in front of the fire to await Sherlock’s eventual return from the pub – absolutely horrible to realise that the one person you could not ever do without, even if you tried, doesn’t know it.
Because even though he’s always been the one to say the words, they don’t fall frequently from his lips. “I love you” only covers part of it, anyway. Three little words cannot possibly encompass the fact that to John, Sherlock is more important, more necessary than gravity, than air, than magic.
Sherlock does not put much weight in words. He has been lied to and betrayed one too many times, has spent too much of his life near the nasty underbelly of humanity to place much trust in words. He does not expect vows to be honoured, he does not flinch at verbal abuse, and he can see straight through lies.
John has been saying one thing and doing another. He can see it, now, as Sherlock must be seeing it, and it guts him, utterly.
The front door to the block of flats slams shut; Sherlock’s footsteps stomp up the stairs. John sighs and stands in the middle of the sitting room, shoulders squared and chin up: a soldier facing battle.
“Using magic to beat me here is cheating, John,” Sherlock snarls, before he’s even through the door, before he’s even seen John waiting for him. “How’s Charlie?”
“Fine, I suppose. I didn’t stay, I came after you. That was really very rude, you know, leaving like that. Charlie’s my friend, I hadn’t seen him in twenty years.”
“Well now you have. I don’t see why I should care,” Sherlock mutters, flinging himself on the sofa and shutting his eyes tight against the room, against John.
“Are you jealous?” John asks, though he knows he won’t get the right answer.
“Of that brainless hunk of broom-flying muscle?” Sherlock snorts, loudly, but flings himself over on his side to face the back of the sofa. “Don’t be stupid, John.”
“That’s my friend you’re talking about, Sherlock,” John says, wearily, moving to perch on what little of the sofa remains, in the crook of Sherlock’s curled legs. He places a hand on Sherlock’s hip gently. Sherlock gives an abortive shake to try and dislodge it, but John just grips tighter. “Stop, come on. Look at me. Sherlock, look at me.”
A single eyelid cracks and Sherlock peers out of it moodily. “Hullo,” John says, petting his hip gently. “Sherlock, I don’t know how to say it clearly enough so that you’ll believe me. You seem to have trouble believing what I say, which baffles me because I think that I’ve always been truthful with you.”
“Yes, except for those first few years where you neglected to tell me you’re not human. I should say that qualifies as a lie. Rather a monumental one, in fact.”
“That’s very rude, Sherlock,” John says, slapping his hip gently. “I’m just as human as you are. And yes -” John speaks quickly to interrupt Sherlock’s protests. “You are human. You are not a cyborg. You are not a machine. I know that more than I know anything else; even if no one else knows it, or acknowledges it, even you yourself – I know it.”
He has Sherlock’s attention, now. Some of the tension has slowly leaked out of his long limbs and he is calmer, now, as John strokes a thumb gently across his hipbone.
“I’ve told you I love you. I don’t … there aren’t any more words for it, Sherlock. I am limited here, both by my resources and my own stupidity.”
“You’re hardly stupid, John,” Sherlock mutters, shutting his eyes again (but only briefly, this time).
“No, I am. I am intensely stupid. I thought you knew, I thought you believed me when I said it, I thought you understood how the words are only the tip of the iceberg, and I didn’t realise until it was too late. And now look at you.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, John.”
“Well,” John says, slowly, carefully, fingers pressing gently over the piece of Sherlock’s skin that was forever marked by him, “maybe you’ll see, now that I know, maybe I’ll be better at showing you.”
“Hmph,” is all Sherlock says to that, curling tighter into a ball, closing his eyes once more. Sulking. (Well, it was always unavoidable.) John leans over and brushes a kiss to his cheek.
“I love you,” he murmurs into the hair at Sherlock’s temple. “I love you like gravity, like air, like magic. Some day, hopefully soon, you’ll believe me – that you are just as indispensable to me as I am to you.”
With one more kiss to Sherlock’s ear, he pushes off the sofa and climbs slowly up the stairs to bed. Sherlock does not join him that night, and though he had expected it, it still stings. John spends most of the night listening to the sound of Sherlock pacing below. When Lestrade calls in the morning with a case that is interesting enough to distract Sherlock for an entire week, John breathes a sigh of relief and starts his contingency planning.
For the first time in weeks, it’s really, properly raining, rather than the consistent, pathetic English drizzle that seems to sap John’s energy out through his perpetually damp skin. The sound of the rain against the windows is steady and soothing, easing John gently into a sweet, content lethargy.
The flat is otherwise quiet and dark. Sherlock is in the shower, washing the evidence of the day away. The case had been … hectic, and by the end of it, they were both covered in a strange mix of soot, dirt, blood and sweat. John has been awake for 65 of the past 72 hours and it’s starting to catch up with him.
Sherlock doesn’t turn around when John pushes the door to the shower open. Ever since their argument, that day after the pub and Charlie, it’s been … well, not different, not really, it’s not as if they are ever demonstrative on a regular basis and Sherlock never comes to bed while he’s on a case, but it has been just a bit strange. Strained, maybe. As if there was something hovering that Sherlock couldn’t fully push from his mind; his attention has been uncharacteristically split, even during this beauty of a case, as if there is something he wants to say but can’t find the words.
Without saying anything, John pulls his sodden clothes off and lets them fall in a damp heap to the floor. He steps into the shower behind Sherlock and lets his arms slowly circle the man’s thin waist, one coming up to press a hand against Sherlock’s chest, the other dropping lower to thumb across the runes on Sherlock’s hipbone.
Sherlock’s head falls back and John can see, awkward though it is given their relative heights, that his eyes are closed. John arches to press a kiss to his temple; Sherlock sighs. His right hand covers John’s against his breastbone, his left catches John’s thumb and presses it into the centre of the tattoo.
The sound of the rain and the shower mix until they’re indistinguishable and the two men stand there with their eyes closed and their breaths matched, quiet and solemn, for long uncountable minutes, until a twinge in John’s hip makes him shift uncomfortably.
“You should rest your leg,” Sherlock says, finally; John can feel the rumble of his voice against his own chest. He ghosts a kiss over Sherlock’s shoulder blade and squeezes his right hand.
“You should get out of the shower. I want to show you something.”
Slowly, Sherlock releases John’s hands and turns awkwardly in place. “Don’t you want to sleep? You’re exhausted.”
“No. This is more important.” A slice of a smile is all that John gives him before he brings Sherlock’s palm to his lips and kisses it, slowly. “Get dressed. Alright?”
“Are we going somewhere?”
“You’ll see. Just get dressed.”
Climbing out of the shower, John trails to his room and performs a few spells to scour the grime from his skin. It doesn’t feel quite the same as properly washing with soap, but at least he’s clean.
He’s most of the way through an enormous cup of instant coffee when Sherlock finally comes out, dressed impeccably in a suit that should probably be illegal, skin flushed pink from the heat of the shower and curls still dripping water. John sends a gust of warm air over them to dry them.
“You won’t want wet hair,” he explains, smiling. “Ready to go?”
“It’s the middle of the night, John. Where are we going?”
“You’ll see. Come on.” Abandoning his coffee, John takes Sherlock by the hand and leads him to the sitting room, where some minor adjustments have been made in their absence. “I had the fireplace added to the Floo network while we were out,” John explains; as he speaks, he flicks his wand and a fire appears in the grate. “Here.”
Sherlock eyes the small pot of powder John is holding out to him warily, but takes a pinch of the stuff and, at John’s instruction, throws it into the flames, which leap up and turn an unnatural shade of emerald green.
“Right. Come on.” John steps into the fireplace first; the flames tickle at his legs. Sherlock follows, though his frown betrays his uneasiness at the idea, and John wraps an arm close around his waist. “This … is a bit uncomfortable, just so you’re aware.”
“I’ve learned that most magical means of transportation tend to be at least slightly uncomfortable,” Sherlock sniffs, his hands tightening on John’s coat.
“Well, this is the most uncomfortable of all. Don’t worry if you feel a bit sick. Ready?”
“As I’ll ever be,” Sherlock intones. “I don’t suppose you’ll tell me where we’re going.”
John just grins at him and declares, loudly, “Hogwarts Head Mistress’ Office!”
They start spinning slowly at first, Sherlock now clutching at John’s clothes with both arms, but then faster and faster as suddenly they are squeezed and sucked up the chimney and hurtled, still spinning, still clutching to each other tightly, through the Floo network.
They arrive on the other side in a heap of limbs, coughing and spluttering and, in Sherlock’s case, completely blanched and tinged ever-so-slightly green around the edges.
“John Watson,” a familiar voice says. “Just on time.”
“Hullo, Minerva,” John says, picking himself up before helping Sherlock unsteadily to his feet. “How lovely to see you after all this time. And thank you, for agreeing to see us so late.”
“Oh, nevermind that,” says Minerva McGonagall, who is wrapped in a tartan dressing gown but whose hair is nevertheless pinned perfectly in place. “It was such a lovely surprise to hear from you again, John, and I’m glad to be able to help. And you must be the infamous Mr. Holmes.”
Throughout the necessary pleasantries, Sherlock has been looking about himself in unabashed awe. The office hasn’t changed much since John’s day – though it’s obviously no longer the terrain of the rather eccentric Dumbledore. He assumes the entire thing has been rebuilt to match its former state, but he wouldn’t be able to point out the differences. Now, Sherlock tears his eyes away from the softly snoring portraits of previous headmasters to assess their host.
“You were John’s teacher,” he says. “Transfiguration?”
“Correct,” Minerva says archly, a single eyebrow raised. “And you are his flatmate and partner. Correct?”
“Correct,” John supplies, softly, before Sherlock can open his mouth to reply. Minerva smiles in response, her keen eyes calculating but her smile unchanged.
“Well then. John, Mr. Holmes – I shall leave you to your business. You have the use of the guest lecturer’s quarters, when you’re done, and I’d be glad for you to join us for breakfast in the Great Hall in the morning. John, I trust you’ll find Hogwarts largely unchanged since your time here, though perhaps a little less … playfully malicious – do you think you can find the way?”
“I’m sure we’ll find it, if it’s as unchanged as you say,” John says. “Thank you, Minerva. It’s really … thanks.”
“You always were one of my favourite students,” she says, patting his shoulder gently as she passes. “The pensieve is in the first cupboard on the right. Take care with it; it can be a little distressing. Have a good evening, gentlemen.”
As she leaves, Sherlock opens his mouth to say something but slams it shut again, seeming almost intimidated by the formidable woman. John grins and squeezes his hand before moving to the cupboard and pulling out the stone basin and setting it on a small table in front of two comfortable looking armchairs.
“What are we doing here,” Sherlock asks, quietly, looking around himself again.
“Be patient,” John scolds, pulling a small vial out of his pocket and emptying the silvery contents into the pensieve. He pulls his wand out of his pocket and pokes it until satisfied, then beckons Sherlock closer. “Here, look.” Out of the swirling, silvery depths, a smoke-clad figure rises. He stalks over to a table which tumbles upwards from the surface and sits in front of a microscope.
“That’s me,” Sherlock says, sitting down heavily in the chair next to John’s. “Or, it looks like me.”
“Well, yes. That’s you, as I first remember seeing you.”
Sherlock tears his eyes away from the basin to stare at John. “I don’t … understand.”
“This is a pensieve,” John explains, poking again at the surface of the pensieve with his wand, “And these are my memories.” The figure at the microscope begins to twist and turn into another phantom Sherlock, this time running, his coat flapping about behind him.
Sherlock grasps the armrest, his knuckles turning white. “ John,” he breathes, staring fascinated at the pensieve version of himself.
“I can’t … I don’t have the words to explain myself to you, Sherlock,” John says, quietly, watching Sherlock watch himself. “And I don’t know how to make you trust what I say, other than to show you. I know, or at least I think I know, that you think you’re the one who’s dependent on me, but I … well …” John sighs, tugging at his bottom lip with his teeth. “I think you need to understand what you’ve done to me. For me. I want you to see, really see, because otherwise I don’t know how to prove to you that you’ve … nothing, nothing to worry about, not when it comes to me.”
“John … Listen, it’s … I understand that you don’t … it’s quite alright –”
“No, it’s not alright,” John interrupts. “You’re being an idiot about it; you won’t believe me when I tell you these things, so what I want you to do is see for yourself.”
“I don’t … how? All I see is myself … ”
“Well yes, like this, but in a moment you’re going to actually go into the memories themselves. If you like.”
“You mean … relive them?”
“Sort of. You just sort of … lean forward and look into it properly and you’ll – I think, Minerva explained it to me. You go inside the memories. You can watch them as they happen, sort of like entering a movie of my life. You’ll be able to … feel, sort of, my own emotions. That’s … that’s the point.”
“And you won’t … come with me?”
John shakes his head. “No. I want you to see, to observe, and I don’t want to watch you do it. This is my last attempt, Sherlock. This is the last, the very last piece of me that was mine.”
For a while, Sherlock is silent, contemplative, as the pensieve verison of him flings himself across a couch, stalks around the sitting room, shouts at an unseen person. Then, slowly, he nods, and with one last glance at John, leans forward.
John can tell when it’s happened, when Sherlock’s gone in to the memories, as his hands fly to grip the edges of the basin and his body turns rigid. It was a long shot, really, that this would even work with him, a Muggle, but it seems to be working just fine. Nervous, feeling as though he has been flayed open and left under a microscope, John sits and waits. Time moves differently inside a pensieve, he knows this, but he’s given Sherlock so many memories that he wouldn’t be surprised to be waiting here an hour or more for him to surface again.
The idea had come to him the night they’d seen Charlie, as he lay in bed and contemplated the ceiling, unable to sleep for the sounds of Sherlock pacing the sitting room. He’d sent several owls, trying to locate a pensieve, until someone suggested asking at Hogwarts. Minerva had written back promptly, delighted to hear from him and apparently very willing to help.
He’d chosen the memories carefully but not stingily, spending time in between the lulls of case-related activity siphoning them off into the small collection vial he’d swiped from Sherlock’s Science Kit. They were memories of his childhood, his family, and his time at Hogwarts. Memories of his first lessons, his Quidditch matches, his time with Charlie. Memories of his friends and professors and the cruel words that other children had flung at him. The day his father died, the day decided to leave Magic behind. Going to medical school, joining the army; killing men and healing them. His first night in the Afghan Kush, the first time he watched a friend die, the night the old woman taught him to use Magic without a wand, her cryptic words when he left: “Only what is once broken can be made whole again.” Being shot with a Muggle bullet by men only after his wand. And then – then, a tumble of memories and emotions that are Sherlock and Sherlock alone: seeing him for the first time in the lab at Barts’ and being blown away by the strange, alien creature; being left behind by him only to shoot a man for him just hours later. Running across rooftops and jumping across traffic and feeling alive in a way he hadn’t before, not once, not ever. Their first kiss, their second, the first time they ended up naked and breathless in the hallway after a case; the elation he’d felt at saying the words for the first time, the devastation when he’d seen Sherlock standing on a roof, ready to throw himself off it to his death and for a split second being able to do nothing but think, oh God, oh God, I can’t lose him, I can’t bear it.
After some time, and just as John is beginning to struggle against sleep, Sherlock comes out of it breathless, gasping for air, throwing his head back with his mouth a perfect ‘O’. John jolts into action, pushing him gently backward in the chair even as Sherlock’s hands scrabble for purchase on John’s arms, his chest, his face.
“John, John,” he’s saying, over and over, eyes slightly glazed. John smoothes his hair back from his face.
“Shhhh, Sherlock, I’m here, I’m just here, I’m sorry, sorry.” Maybe it was a bit much, a bit intense for someone as fragile and raw as Sherlock could be, when he allowed himself emotion.
Sherlock’s fingers tighten in John’s hair and draw him closer, his eyes shuttering closed as he pulls John’s forehead against his own.
“My God, John, you … that … I …”
“Shhhhh, Sherlock, shhh. Just, calm, for a minute. Calm down. It’s alright. I’m not going anywhere.”
“No,” Sherlock says, gripping impossibly tighter as John smoothes his own fingers over Sherlock’s face. “You’re not, you’re really not. You love me, you’re not going to leave.”
“Never,” John promises. “Not unless you make me.”
“You said... You said you would leave.”
“And I would,” John agrees, solemnly. “I would leave, if I thought you were going to use me to destroy yourself. It would kill me, but I would do it if it would keep you safe.”
Sherlock’s eyes flicker open and the look he gives John then is painfully appalled. John strokes a thumb over his cheekbone.
“I couldn’t … I couldn’t, John, not without you.”
“Yes, actually,” John says, a little sadly. “I think you could. You have before. You could again.”
“John. John. If you think that, you’re stupider than I thought.”
Slowly, John pulls back and away, dusting a kiss across Sherlock’s forehead as he goes. “Perhaps we’re both stupider than we thought,” he teases, squeezing Sherlock’s hand; Sherlock laughs, a small huff of amusement, though John can see him falling into his own thoughts.
With the tip of his wand, John siphons his memories back into their glass container and then puts the pensieve back in its cupboard. He pulls Sherlock from the chair and guides him with one hand on his elbow towards the door. From the corner of his eye, he sees a flash of brilliant blue and chases it back to Albus Dumbledore’s portrait, in which the man is pretending to sleep (badly) with a smirk on his face.
“Good night, Professor,” he says, softly, as they pass the portrait on their way towards the exit.
“Good night, Mr. Watson. It is so very good to see you back. I always thought you might return.”
“Hmmm,” is all John has to say to that, but he does shoot his old headmaster a smile before they leave the room.
Later, as they lay wrapped around each other in a four-poster bed as a fire crackles in the grate, Sherlock murmurs three words into the nape of John’s neck for the first time, and they warm John’s blood as surely as any spell. John pulls him impossibly closer and they fall asleep breathing each other’s breath, and when John wakes in the morning to the sight of pale Scottish sunlight falling gently across Sherlock’s face, his first thought is that, contrary to all logic, somehow Sherlock seems to belong here, at John’s side in the heart of the most extraordinary place John can think of.