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Past, Present & Future

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January 2015

The holiday season passes quickly and quietly in Baker Street. Neither of them feels any great desire to celebrate this year, so they don't. They eat Chinese takeaway for Christmas dinner and watch crap television on New Year's Eve whilst London reverberates with the sound of fireworks. It's actually one of the more enjoyable Christmas holidays John has experienced.

The new year brings new cases and they are busier than ever before. John finds himself caught up in the excitement just as he was when he first met Sherlock five years ago. Their latest case is straightforward enough - even John can see that - but the men they're dealing with are dangerous, and that makes John wary. Sherlock, on the other hand, is just as reckless as ever, and it comes as no surprise when John leaves work and finds an alarming text from Sherlock waiting for him.

Armed assistance at Simmons' warehouse gratefully received. SH

The message is only a few minutes old, and he hails a cab even as he's cursing Sherlock under his breath.

"Baker Street, quickly," he shouts as he scrambles into the cab. The cabbie seems to sense the urgency and almost certainly breaks the speed limit several times as he rushes John home.

"Wait here," John says, climbing out and dashing up the stairs to his room. He pulls his gun from its hiding place, checks the ammunition, then tucks it into his waistband. He races back downstairs and jumps into the waiting cab, giving the address of the warehouse where their main suspect, Andrew Simmons, does his business.

John tries ringing Sherlock's phone several times while he crosses town, but it goes straight through to voicemail every time. "Damn it, Sherlock!" he hisses under his breath.

He has the cabbie stop just round the corner, shoving a twenty-pound note at him as he jumps out.

"Hey, what about your change?" the cabbie calls after him.

"Keep it!"

John jogs off down the street, his heart thumping in his chest, adrenaline coursing through him. The warehouse is one of several units huddled together on a rather dilapidated industrial estate. They were here just last night, scoping the place out. He should have known Sherlock would be stupid enough to come back by himself. John slips through one of the alleys between the buildings, his fingers just touching the handle of his gun.

Simmons's warehouse is just up ahead, past the next junction, and he hurries onwards. And that's when he hears the gunshots. His heart falters, and then he whips his gun from his waistband, flicks the safety off, and rushes forward. He has no real plan apart from finding Sherlock.

Suddenly, there is a crash from somewhere overhead and his head flies up, just as two figures crash through a window on the top floor and hurtle towards the ground, glass raining down around them.

"Sherlock!" he screams, the sound ripped from him as soon as he recognises that dark coat.

The bodies hit the ground with a thud about thirty feet away, and everything tilts sideways. For a moment he is back at the foot of Bart's, staring blindly at Sherlock's broken body. He thinks he might be sick, even as he forces himself forward.

"Sherlock," he rasps.

There is still no movement from either of the men and as soon as he gets close, he sees Simmons' vacant eyes. John's attention shifts to Sherlock and the blood trickling down over his forehead. He drops to the floor, his knees unable to hold him up any longer, his hand shaking as he reaches out helplessly.

Just as his fingers make contact, Sherlock takes a huge gasping breath and his eyes flutter open.

"Oh God," John breathes, dizzy with relief.

Sherlock tries to sit up instantly and John places a firm hand on his chest, holding him still. "Don't move."

His voice is shaking and tears are welling up in his eyes, but he can't help it.

"John," Sherlock wheezes.

"You're fine."

"I know. Let me up."

John laughs brokenly. "You're not that fine. You just fell out of a third storey window."

"I've had worse," Sherlock jokes weakly and John is torn between laughing hysterically and slapping him.

"You bastard."

"I'm fine," Sherlock says, reaching out to grab John's arm and even though John should be the one reassuring Sherlock, he lets out a harsh breath and sags forward, his head pressed to Sherlock's chest.

"I saw you fall."

"I know," Sherlock whispers, his hand coming to rest on the back of John's head.

"Don't... don't do that again. I already lost him. I couldn't bear it if I lost you as well."

"I'm fine," Sherlock says again, breathlessly, his other arm wrapping around John. "I'm fine, John." He pauses for a moment, then continues. "I might have broken a few ribs though."

John pulls back quickly, brow creased in concern as his hand hovers over Sherlock's ribs.

"Nothing to worry about," Sherlock gets out, his breath warm on John's cheek, and John turns his head to meet those pale blue eyes. Sherlock's expression is softer than he's ever seen it, almost tender, and John raises a gentle hand to the cut on his forehead.

"You scared the hell out of me."

"Sorry," Sherlock breathes, his eyes fluttering closed at the first brush of John's fingers. His breath hitches, and John pulls his hand away.

"Does it hurt?"

"It does now you've stopped touching me."

John goes completely still with surprise and Sherlock's eyes fly open, shock and horror flooding his expression.

"Ignore me," Sherlock chokes out, and he's already trying to sit up before John's doctorly brain kicks in and he forces Sherlock back down again. Sherlock screws his eyes shut, and he looks more pained than he did before.

"Sherlock," John gets out uncertainly.

"It must be concussion," Sherlock cuts in, his voice shrill with what sounds almost like panic. And it's that panic which convinces John that it wasn't just concussion talking. He sits back on his heels heavily, his mind whirling.

"I thought... I mean... you always said..."

Sherlock's eyes shoot open again, scanning John's face quickly before he forces them away to the side. "Lestrade will be here soon," he gets out brusquely. "You don't have to stay."

"Don't be stupid."

Oh God, he's been so blind, so foolish. All this time... Sherlock refuses to meet his eyes, and it's unbearable.

"Sherlock, we need to-"

The wail of sirens interrupts him and a moment later, he hears footfalls coming in on every side.

"Here!" he shouts. "Bring the paramedics."

Lestrade rounds the nearest corner, flanked by a number of officers. His eyes sweep over the scene in one quick movement.

"Is he alright?" he asks John, obviously not trusting Sherlock to tell the truth.

"I'm fine," Sherlock says with a hint of annoyance.

"Probable broken ribs," John gets out, his mouth dry. "Concussion. He needs to be checked over at the hospital."

"I do not-"

John silences him with a fierce look, and Sherlock averts his gaze once more. The paramedics appear and John updates them on what happened as they gently strap a collar around Sherlock's neck as a precaution, then lift him onto a stretcher. John follows them to the ambulance, but Sherlock's strained voice stops him at the doors.

"I'll see you at home."

It's an obvious dismissal and John steps back, stunned, as the paramedics pull the doors shut. Lestrade is talking at him, but he doesn't hear a word. He watches in silence as the ambulance pulls away and turns onto the main road, disappearing quickly out of sight.

*

Sherlock's ribs are strapped in A&E - one broken, three bruised, he was lucky - and after his forehead has been checked and cleaned up, he is allowed to go home.

"Do you have someone to pick you up?" the nurse asks.

Sherlock goes through his choices. "Yes." He gives her Lestrade's contact details and she hurries off to call him, no doubt eager to free up his bed.

Lestrade turns up an hour later, worried eyes flicking over Sherlock, even as he tries to cover with a smile. "You're not going near tall buildings anymore, alright?"

Sherlock just gives him an exasperated look and rises gingerly to his feet, a sudden twinge of pain in his torso making his breath rush out.

"Are you sure you're allowed to leave?" Lestrade says with concern, taking a step towards him.

"I'm fine," Sherlock says for about the twentieth time.

Lestrade frowns, but stands back to let him through the door. It's slow going with Sherlock's sore ribs, but they eventually get to Lestrade's car and Sherlock lowers himself into the passenger seat as carefully as he can.

"Home then?" Lestrade asks pointedly, and Sherlock throws his head back against the seat's headrest.

"I need a place to stay," he says weakly.

"What the hell happened?" Lestrade gets out. "John was acting really strangely before he left."

"It's nothing."

Lestrade makes a noise of discontent but apparently decides to leave it for now, because he starts the car and, once they get underway, it's obvious they are heading out to the suburbs and not towards Baker Street.

Lestrade gets Sherlock settled on the sofa in his living room and reheats leftovers for the both of them. Sherlock picks at the shepherd's pie, but between the painkillers and the faint panic in his chest, he feels too queasy to eat much. He just wants to hide away, but Lestrade is never going to allow that. As soon as he's finished eating, he puts his plate to one side and folds his arms across his chest, focusing his steady gaze on Sherlock.

"Now, are you going to tell me what happened?"

"You're not a very good nurse," Sherlock says. "I'm supposed to be 'taking it easy'."

"If you wanted nursing, you should've gone home to John."

Sherlock winces and turns away. He hears Lestrade let out a huff of annoyance.

"It's personal."

"Well, yeah, I kind of figured that," Lestrade says sarcastically. "What did you say?"

"Why do you assume it was me?" Sherlock retorts and Lestrade just raises an eyebrow at him.

"So, what did you say to make him look so- Oh."

Sherlock searches Lestrade's expression quizzically as he cuts himself off. Lestrade meets his eyes, the lines of his face softening.

"You finally told him then?"

Sherlock is stunned for a moment, and then he hangs his head, the fight gone as he remembers the look on John's face.

"Not in so many words."

"Jeez." Lestrade exhales noisily. "I was starting to think you were never going to say anything, what with, well, everything that's happened."

"How did you know?" Sherlock asks quietly.

"I've seen the way you look at him. And the way you were around him and Marcus... Well, it was obvious, to me at least."

"And to Marcus," Sherlock adds, raising his head once more.

"Marcus knew?"

"Yes. He told me so the day he died."

Lestrade shakes his head in amazement.

"So what are you going to do?"

"I don't know!" Sherlock bites out agitatedly. This is all so far out of his comfort zone.

"Hiding isn't going to do anyone much good, you realise. You need to talk to John."

"Don't be ridiculous."

Lestrade raises an eyebrow, giving him an assessing look. "Never took you for a coward, Sherlock."

Sherlock says nothing, staring off to one side. The thought of talking it through with John makes his chest tight with dread.

"Look," Lestrade continues softly, "You can stay here tonight, while you get your head together, but tomorrow you have to go home."

Sherlock doesn't reply, lost in thoughts of how John might greet him, now that he has ruined their friendship.

Not long after that, Lestrade forces him upstairs to one of the spare rooms to get some proper rest, and Sherlock spends hours in a restless half-sleep, kept awake by the pain in his ribs and the agitation of his thoughts.

*

John spends the morning in a sort of restless anticipation. Lestrade sent him a text first thing to say that Sherlock would be home later, and John is half dreading it. He still can't make any sense of his confused thoughts beyond a vague sort of bewilderment.

When he hears the door close downstairs and the hesitant tread of an injured person (emotionally injured as well, maybe), John sits up very straight in his chair, whilst still trying to look calm and relaxed. Slowly, slowly, Sherlock climbs the stairs and finally reaches the door, stepping hesitantly across the threshold.

"Hello," John forces out awkwardly, as Sherlock lowers himself carefully to the sofa.

"Hello."

"How are you feeling?" John can't help asking (ribs clearly hurting, forehead almost completely healed).

"Fine. Thank you."

They fall into a tense silence that makes John shift in his seat. Sherlock won't look at him and he looks so uncomfortable John can't stand it.

"Look, we need to talk about this."

Sherlock closes his eyes and lets out a sigh. He looks exhausted and broken, but John knows they can't just pretend nothing happened. With this thought in mind, John forces himself to talk.

"I don't... I don't know how-" He clears his throat in embarrassment. "How serious this is. For you."

Sherlock's penetrating gaze stops him in his fumbling. "How many people do you suppose I've ever had feelings for before?" he asks sharply.

"I... I have no idea."

"One," Sherlock snaps. "Just one before. So I think you can see I'm not the type to have superficial crushes."

"I thought as much," John says hesitantly, and then before he can stop himself, he asks: "What happened? Before?"

"Considering I haven't seen him in ten years, I think you can probably guess," Sherlock grits out. He's clearly getting himself worked up and John doesn't know what to do. He's feeling an increasingly strong urge to run away, but he knows if he does, he could lose Sherlock forever. He scrubs a hand across his face and takes a fortifying breath.

"Sherlock, I... You're my best friend, you know that."

As if he knows what's coming (he probably does), Sherlock's eyes flutter closed, as if he's preparing himself for the pain. John forces himself to continue.

"And I care about you. When I watched you fall yesterday - I thought - I realised that I don't know what I'd do without you." He swallows hard. "I lost you once before and it was, frankly, awful."

Sherlock still hasn't opened his eyes.

"But... I care about you as a friend. Only as a friend. I'm so sorry if-"

"You've said enough," Sherlock cuts in, finally opening his eyes again, a desperate tone in his voice. "I know. I've always know. And I never... expected anything." He lets out a low, pained whine. "I would have been quite happy for you never to find out."

John wonders yet again how he could have been so blind.

"I understand if you'd prefer me to move out," Sherlock continues in a tight voice.

"I don't want you to move out," John interrupts in a firm tone. "We're both grown ups. This doesn't have to change anything."

Sherlock laughs bitterly. "It already has. And it will continue to do so."

"I don't-"

"You won't be able to stop thinking about it, questioning everything I've ever done."

Too late for that, John thinks. "Do you want to leave?" he says instead.

"Maybe," Sherlock admits.

"Well then, that'll be your decision, not mine."

Sherlock finally meets his eyes, blue eyes filled with unfamiliar uncertainty. He looks like a man desperately in need of reassurance.

"Good luck finding someone else to put up with thumbs in the fridge, though," he teases, hoping to dispel some of the tension.

"They're vital to an experiment I'm planning," Sherlock protests, though with none of his usual haughtiness.

"What is it, an experiment in rotting flesh?"

"Yes," Sherlock answers.

"Of course it is," John murmurs, smiling softly.

His eyes meet Sherlock's again and he wishes he could just tell him that everything was going to be normal again in no time, but he can't because he's still trying to wrap his head around the whole thing. There are a million questions running through his head, things he can never ask Sherlock, but about which he is painfully curious. He pushes the thoughts aside, determined to set Sherlock at ease.

"Come on, take your coat off and I'll put the kettle on. When was the last time you had some painkillers?"

"First thing this morning," Sherlock says, slipping out of his coat in a series of stilted movements, his face creasing in pain.

"Definitely time for some more."

John steps forward and takes Sherlock's coat, his fingers just grazing Sherlock's and causing Sherlock to jerk his hand back as if burnt. He tries to make it seem natural as he settles back against the sofa cushions. "Thank you. Tea would be lovely."

"Don't think I'm waiting on you hand on foot," John jokes.

"Wouldn't dream of it."

John laughs and moves to hang Sherlock's coat, before slipping through to the kitchen to make tea. When he returns, he finds that Sherlock has fallen asleep and he smiles fondly, returning to his own seat with his mug and the newspaper.

*

Sherlock wakes to the dim light of late afternoon and levers himself up, the pain in his ribs a sudden, persistent ache now that he is awake again. He looks around in confusion and spots John slumped in his chair, asleep. Sherlock manages to get himself to his feet and makes his way through to his bedroom as quietly as he can. John looked just as exhausted as he did earlier, a sure clue that the matter of Sherlock's feelings was more perturbing than he'd let on. That isn't something Sherlock wants to dwell on now, though.

He's in desperate need of a shower so he goes through into the bathroom, taking his clothes off with only some difficulty. He unwinds the bandages strapping his ribs and throws them on the counter, before stepping into the bath and under the warm spray. He sinks to the bottom of the bath, letting the water fall on his head and back, washing away a couple of days' worth of dirt and tension.

When he's done, he climbs out and dries as best he can and slips back through to his room. He gets partially dressed, and then has to address the problem of restrapping his chest. It's not going to be easy to do, and in fact the nurse had told him not to try it by himself, although he's tempted. He's not completely idiotic, though, so he knows he's left with only one choice.

Sherlock walks through to the living room, feeling (ridiculously) more naked without his shirt than he did wearing nothing but a sheet in Buckingham Palace. John is still sleeping, his head resting on his hand.

"John."

Light sleeper that he is, John starts awake instantly and does a double-take when he sees Sherlock standing in front of him half-naked. His eyes linger visibly on the bruises that are just starting to turn from dark purple to blue-green and his expression softens with compassion.

"I need your help," Sherlock explains. "I'm unable to redo the bandages myself. If you'd rather not-"

"Don't be stupid," John cuts in, already getting to his feet. He clears his throat awkwardly and waves Sherlock forward.

"Let's, err, go to the bathroom."

Sherlock leads the way and perches on the edge of the bath as John prepares the bandages. John has patched him up more times than he can count in recent years, yet Sherlock's revelation hangs over them, making what is quite a regular occurrence at 221b fraught with tension.

"Alright then," John says unnecessarily as he moves closer. He meets Sherlock's eyes, hands outstretched, and Sherlock nods, holding his arms out to one side.

John presses gentle fingers to Sherlock's ribs and Sherlock flushes with the memory of his words from yesterday.

"Only one broken?" John asks.

"Yes," Sherlock answers in a strained voice. "Apparently I should count myself lucky."

"You should."

John reaches for the bandages and unravels the end, before reaching behind Sherlock to loop the first strip around his middle. It's all Sherlock can do to keep still and keep his breathing even; it seems that John knowing his feelings has had a strange effect on his desire, pushing it to the fore even more, harder to control for the fact that he has been hiding it for so long.

His breath hitches with discomfort as the bandages tighten around his ribs.

"Tell me if it's too much," John says, absorbed in his work and oblivious to Sherlock's (inappropriate) torment. "They need to be as tight as you can bear."

Sherlock doesn't trust himself to speak, and when John glances up, he forces himself to nod. John gives him a reassuring smile and goes back to work.

John finally fastens the bandage and sits back with a noise of contentment. Sherlock lets out a shaky breath, trying to bring himself back to something like calm.

"Thank you," he croaks out.

John looks at him then, really looks at him, and he's no fool, he can see what reaction his simple touch has caused. Sherlock can feel the redness in his cheeks spreading down his neck, to his chest. John's eyes widen ever so slightly and Sherlock forces himself to unsteady feet.

"Thank you," he repeats, fleeing the bathroom to the safety of his room. He drops onto his bed and twists his hands in his hair in frustration. If it wasn't bad enough that his mouth ran away from him and got him into this mess in the first place, now his body is betraying him even further, and he doesn't know how to regain control. How on earth can he salvage what remains of their friendship if he can't reign in his emotions? Maybe moving out will be his only option, but even as he considers it, his chest feels hollow. He can't leave but he's too afraid to stay, and he's never felt so lost.