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The Most Luminous of People

Chapter Text

Sherlock Holmes isn’t sure about John Watson right away. That in and of itself is unusual, as he typically forms instantaneous, and negative, opinions about everyone he meets. The truth is, Sherlock is so engaged in his work when Stamford brings John to meet that him that he fails to register his presence almost entirely until John offers him the use of his phone.

It’s a nice gesture, and of course plenty of people are nice, that doesn’t esteem them one bit in Sherlock’s mind. But it brings John to Sherlock’s notice, and Sherlock finds him a fascinating collection of data and, moreover, not immediately detestable. Which is an improvement over everyone else he’s considered sharing his flat with. He might be tolerable. More than tolerable, he might be actually useful.

Might be, he’s ordinary, almost extraordinarily ordinary like he’s trying very hard to be as ordinary as possible, but there’s the tan on the back of his neck, and his ears perk up when there’s a sudden noise and he always looks you directly in the eye, even when your eyes are darting about like they’re scanning a computer screen that’s fixed to the inside of your skull, which tends to put people off…

That’s a new thought, and Sherlock likes new things. There are so few of them. The flatmate idea was a mere experiment and it hadn’t occurred to him that he might find one that was both good company and competent to help him with his work. They’ll have to do something about that limp, though.

Sherlock Holmes is 75% sure about John Watson when he asks him if he wants to see some terrible things and the man all but bolts out the door after him. This number slowly rises when John is openly admiring of his deduction skills (80%), tells his brother to go hang (85%), comes at the call of danger (90%), and manages to keep up on a rather hair-raising foot chase through the darkened streets of London (95%).

The way John had stood up to Mycroft, really quite impressive, Sherlock would pay a lot of money to have been able to watch that, not a shred of fear in him or a moment of hesitation in refusing to spy on Sherlock, pity he didn’t know about the bugs Mycroft was constantly planting in the flat, it had really just been a test of his brother’s new companion, but brilliant response none the less…

When John Watson calmly shoots and kills a man for threatening Sherlock’s life and then cheerfully needles Sherlock about his stupidity for it only minutes later, happily agreeing to a late dinner out after all that, Sherlock Holmes is surer of him than he ever has been of anything in his life.

 

When Sherlock first realizes his complete and utter dependence on John, it’s a bit of a shock.

It happened so slowly like when you put a frog in cold water and turn up the heat gradually and it doesn’t notice it’s being boiled alive until it’s far too late…

At first living with him is mainly a novelty, but Sherlock comes to find the regularity and precision of his activities (when they are not being interrupted by Sherlock himself) fascinating, and almost as soothing as a the ticking of a clock. When left to his own devices, John rises at approximately the same hour everyday, he makes tea and toast and reads the paper. He goes out, he does chores, he watches telly, he goes to bed. It’s all very consistent and, somehow, pleasant. Sherlock enjoys the background of hum of John’s simple routine almost as much as he enjoys disrupting it.

He’s a soldier, he likes structure and order, can’t stand the messes Sherlock leaves everywhere except Sherlock’s own bedroom, but won’t say a word because he also likes chaos and danger and the two things manage to coexist in 221B as long as they are both there and that’s why John feels so at home, routine and mundane constantly being blown to shreds by cases and experiments like in a war zone but with biscuits…

It benefits Sherlock in more direct ways as well, having someone about to keep food in the house, make tea, do laundry, and generally remind him to eat and sleep. John seems to like having someone to take care of, though he grumbles about it and Sherlock’s spectacular laziness when not intrigued by a case. Which is patently ridiculous. Sherlock isn’t lazy at all. He works very hard, but only on things that deserve it. The decomposition rate of human fingers does; the dusting does not.

Having John with him on cases is invaluable, although Sherlock would never admit it. The combination of medical expertise, military training, unswerving loyalty, and bravery bordering on the suicidal is mind-bogglingly convenient. John’s well-developed sense of morals is handy to consult, and infinitely superior than having to keep some in his own head all the time – it’s like having a portable conscience he can ditch when it gets annoying. A one-man army in a hideous jumper.

Not to mention the praise, the admiration combined with the gentle ribbing and attempts to deflate Sherlock’s ego which manage somehow to feel like still more praise, he’s a constant audience which is what Sherlock needs more than air and never grudging in his acknowledgement or resentful or jealous like so many others, just full of quiet amazement sometimes hidden behind cheeky criticism, but never very well, it’s better than cocaine…

The benefit of John that Sherlock least expected, however, is his sheer likability, friendliness, and ability to function among normal people and do a decent impression of one of them. People like John. Pretty much everyone likes John. People don’t like Sherlock, and they tend not trust an arrogant, unlikable man with no friends, no matter how many times he ends up being right. But if John likes Sherlock, maybe Sherlock is okay after all. Sure, he’s eccentric, but he must be all right if John trusts him.  

Of course John’s the furthest thing from normal, well, not as far as Sherlock but almost and in a different direction, and he’s learned to hide it and only bring it out when it’s needed and Sherlock should be taking lessons from him, because deceiving plainness like that could be very helpful indeed…

It’s amazing, the difference in the way Sherlock is treated when John is around, even if he’s just standing there, small and unassuming, with his hands folded behind his back, taking things in quietly. John apologizes for Sherlock, John gets people to give him things they wouldn’t otherwise, John warns him when he’s being Not Good. John makes the whole confusingly loud and jarring world of social interactions so much more simple, and when he finds himself deferring to John for the third time in a day on how to respond to another human being, he realises what has happened.

He’s found someone he simply can’t do without. It’s enough to make his blood run cold. He doesn’t know if he can conceal it. John is more observant than Sherlock likes to give him credit for, and has already begun to figure out things about Sherlock most people never do.

“One day,” John remarks casually in the taxi back home from the scene of a particularly vicious double homicide, “You will have to tell me exactly what it is you did to Sally.”

“Excuse me?” Sherlock is deeply surprised, both by the comment and the fact that John has managed to arrive at such a conclusion.

Why can John always surprise him, he’s dull and predictable but Sherlock’s never completely sure what he’s going to do next, even when he’s plotted out his most likely moves and words with such accuracy that John sometimes wonders if the man can read his mind, but then he goes and reads Sherlock’s instead and it’s all very startling…

“What on earth makes you think I did anything to her?”

“Her sheer level of abhorrence for you. It’s quite strong. And highly specific.”

“Anderson abhors me as much if not more. Think I ate his mother?”

John laughs. “Anderson is a terrible person who hates anything he doesn’t understand, which is pretty much everything, and is afraid of people who are smarter than him, which is pretty much everyone. Whereas Sally Donovan is actually a decent human being, and, in general, quite nice. She only hates you. So, what did you do to her?”

Sherlock is impressed, despite himself. It’s a decent deduction and, unfortunately, an accurate one. He’s not particularly proud of the incident, but John deserves his cookie for figuring it out. He likes to encourage higher level reasoning in his friend, even when it becomes personally awkward.

John’s been learning, he’s been watching him, he’ll have to be very careful now, he knows Sherlock’s methods and is using them on him and starting to know him very well indeed, and Sherlock isn’t sure if being known is quite such a good idea but it seems too late to stop it now…

Sherlock sighs theatrically. “Very well. Quite a few years back, before I began my official association with the Yard and Sally was in a very different department, I encountered her during a private investigation of a string of antique thefts. She was just starting out in the force, and I thought she would be the easiest officer to talk into giving me information on their lead suspect. So I used my talents to flatter her…”

“Oh God, Charming Sherlock,” John says, as if that is a distinct individual. “Charming Sherlock should be illegal. With the dimples and the cheekbones and the voice. You can make straight men go weak at the knees and lesbians re-file their paperwork under hetero with Charming Sherlock. It worked, I assume?”

If Sherlock were a weaker man, he would have blushed at this frank description of his highly-effective sex appeal, but he is not and does not.

John’s seen him turn it on and off like a light switch and it disturbs him, particularly when Sherlock pours out his tears like a faucet and then yanks the spigot shut again, and he wonders how John can ever believe anything he says after those performances, or can he always tell if Sherlock is shamming him or not, because he never lets on if he can…

“Of course it worked. I got the information, then she asked me back to her place. She’s never been short on confidence.”

“So…what happened?” John asks, suspicion starting to edge into his tone.

Sherlock has the good grace to look at least a little ashamed of himself. “Well, as far as women went I had never…” He clears his throat. “It seemed like a nice opportunity for an experiment, as she made it clear she only wanted a one-night stand.”

“An experiment. Christ. So basically, she went to bed with Charming Sherlock and woke up with Sociopathic Sherlock.” John clearly disapproves.

“Not…exactly…” Sherlock admits with reluctance. “The illusion became a bit harder to maintain as things progressed, and the experiment quickly proved exactly why women had never entered into my activities and it all got a bit…Not Good…rather fast. And then I noticed a couple of case files on her kitchen table and scribbled some notes for her on them, which was not well received either. Honestly, I never expected to see her again, but then she got assigned to Lestrade’s division and…here we are.”

John puts two fingers to the bridge of his nose, his worse-than-I-thought expression. “So, in summation, the problem is not that you fucked Sally as Charming Sherlock and then didn’t call her back. The problem is that you seduced Sally as Charming Sherlock, turned into Sociopathic Sherlock halfway through, completely failed to fuck her, and then showed her up professionally on your way out the door. Correct?”

“To be fair, she said some rather unkind things in the moment…” Sherlock says weakly.

John gives him a look. He’s disappointed, and it makes Sherlock defensive.

He hadn’t meant to hurt her, she’d wanted a bit of fun and as long as he gave it to her did it matter that it was just an experiment to him, it wasn’t like she’d expected to settle down in Surrey and have babies and it wasn’t his fault it hadn’t gone right, he’d had incomplete data and solving her cases was meant as an apology, not to throw it in her face…

“Well, you wanted to know.”

“I suppose I did,” John admits with a rueful smile. “So girls are definitely out for you, then?”

“Married to my work, John. Remember?”

“Ah, of course. How could I forget?”

John winks at him, and Sherlock gets the feeling that John does not believe him for an instant. Frankly, he’s starting to have doubts himself.

Because somehow John and his work had become the same thing and it was starting to get confusing in his head, because he couldn’t do the work without John any longer, so what did that make John and what did that make him and did it really matter anymore so long as the work gets done and John doesn’t leave…

Chapter Text

It isn’t as though Sherlock hadn’t thought John was objectively attractive from the start. He is, in a rather unobtrusive way, and that had been noted along with his limp and his military service and the cut and colour of his hair. But Sherlock had been done with attempts at sex for a long time when they met, and certainly wasn’t looking for anything in the way of that from his flatmate when he proposed they move in together, even after he discovered the man was moderately intelligent and a crack shot.

Still, Sherlock does find himself studying John, for more than just the usual data to tell him about a person and predict his actions. He’s riveted by John’s self-contained movements, his placid demeanour, apt to be broken at the most unexpected moments by a vicious and blinding righteous anger, and most of all his face.

That face. They are the same age, nearly, and while John hardly looks old, his face is so much more weathered and lined than Sherlock’s. Sherlock’s face is smooth and pale and angular, boyish, like a teenager who grew tall too fast and didn’t put on enough weight or a sculpture in marble. John’s, though still young in many ways, is crinkly and a bit worn and full of stories he doesn’t tell, and some very dark things behind his smile. But it is also kind and cheerful and unfailingly open, at least around Sherlock, and Sherlock can’t seem to stop thinking about it.

And all of that would be completely fine except at some point Sherlock notices that he can’t seem to stop thinking about the rest of him either.

Blue eyes that can be any shade from a that of a thundercloud to slate to almost the colour of Sherlock’s favourite dressing gown, and that delicious scar he’s only caught a glimpse of that reminds him of a map of London organically grown on his flatmate’s skin, a compact build on which hangs a small but powerful body…

He’s not a stranger to lust, and has never had trouble dispatching such thoughts before. And of course, lust is all it is, because it couldn’t possibly be anything else. It shouldn’t be this hard to get over. But then again, he’s never had the embodiment of his lust living in his home and sharing his bathroom before, either. It is, above all other things, maddeningly distracting.

John is lounging around the flat in his ghastly striped dressing gown, the terry cloth one he wraps around himself after a shower in lieu of a towel. He’s reading the paper innocently and waiting for his hair to air-dry. It should be illegal, Sherlock thinks, gripping a blank microscope slide hard enough to break it. He sucks the blood from his finger vindictively and glowers at the back of John’s head.

He shouldn’t have to deal with this, it’s been so long and all he wants is to be able to work in peace without having sex unintentionally dangled in front him, particularly by a happily straight man, and maybe a quick wank is the answer to get it out of his system, but given the state of things that feels a little too close to indulging so he grits his teeth…

Parading through the flat like that, all soft and warm and damp, pink from the bath, hair tousled, the scent of plain soap and the Inecto lotion John got into the habit of using in the desert and his spicily mellow aftershave trailing after him. It’s obscene really, how is anyone expected to focus like this? Sitting around completely naked under his robe, not even wearing pants. Is this really acceptable behaviour for a flatmate? It seems vaguely lewd.

Sherlock tears his eyes away from John’s head and goes back to his microscope.

“Anything on today?” John asks absently.

Sherlock growls irritably, not even interested in forming sentences.

“Fine, if that’s how you want it, I’ll check.” John reaches for his laptop, robe falling away from his legs just a tad and revealing a well-contoured calf.

“Can’t you get dressed first?” Sherlock snaps, his gaze fixed on the shapely leg again his will.

He’s got freckles on his legs, and some small scars, and if he stays still maybe Sherlock can figure out which are from the war and which are from falling off his bicycle when he was nine, though they are all of equal importance in the running catalogue of facts about John from which nothing is ever deleted…

“Tetchy today, are we? Well, I figure I might as well see if we have any cases worth getting dressed for. Otherwise I might not even bother, it’s not like I have plans.” John grins. He’s worked out that his state of undress is annoying Sherlock but seems to have come to completely the wrong conclusion as to why. Good.

“God in heaven,” Sherlock intones despairingly.

“You’re the one who likes to laze about wearing nothing but a sheet. A sheet if I'm lucky. A robe is practically street clothes in comparison.”

John in a sheet, John in one of the sheets off Sherlock’s bed, John in Sherlock’s bed, John wearing nothing but…

Sherlock abandons the microscope, along with the comparison of algae types in different London park ponds. Concentration is clearly going to be impossible this morning. He glares pointedly at the laptop. “Well?”

“Oh fine.” John goes through his inbox and makes a face. “There’s something from Seb.”

Seb, his old friend who was always and really nothing more than an enemy, even when they shared a need and a secret, but an enemy it’s better to keep track of, even though Sherlock wouldn’t mind it so terribly if Seb was quietly run over in the tube and ended up splattered across three stations…

“Is it interesting?”

“Maybe. Missing girls from the secretarial pool. Well, not missing, they keep quitting suddenly but it’s becoming a pattern. He thinks they’re being threatened or something. And he’ll pay plenty as usual. Going to take it?”

Sherlock rolls his eyes. “No. Call me when they start turning up in the morgue.”

He expects a reprimand from John for that, but he just chuckles. “Good.”

Now Sherlock is interested. “Why good? You usually get frustrated when I turn down cases that might actually pay.”

“Yeah, but I really hate that guy.”

“Seb? You hate Seb? You barely know him.” This is proving to be most enlightening. John does not typically make strong statements of dislike about people he doesn’t know well. He’s very even-keeled, liking and likeable in general. At least to a point, and then he gets very unlikeable indeed, which is far more fun as far as Sherlock is concerned. But that point usually involves someone trying to kill someone else. Sherlock tries to recall if Seb has done anything to John in the three times they’ve met and draws a blank.

“I don’t need to know him. He’s a git. And a bully. We don’t need his money.”

Sherlock cocks an eyebrow. “You’re spot on there, but I’m surprised you were able to deduce so much after such brief interaction.”

“Is that a compliment? But it doesn’t take any deduction, the way he talks to you is more than enough to get my hackles up. Add to that the fact that you clearly despise him and that’s all I need to know. Plus everything about him screams arsehole.”

Sherlock gives a private little smile, pleased.

John doesn’t like when people talk about Sherlock badly, John gets angry and does foolish things because of it, John’s allowed to tease Sherlock and call him an idiot and a prat and worse because in John’s mouth those words sound like…

He does hate Seb. Hates him with the cold, lasting hatred and ancient loathing of someone you’ve known seemingly forever and just can’t get entirely out of your life, possibly because you know just a little too much about each other. He changes the topic. “Anything else?”

“Lost puppies and unfaithful spouses, I’m afraid. That clinches it – no work, it’s a Sunday. Not getting dressed.”

“John…”

Sunday, Sherlock. Have you no respect for a lazy Sunday? Maybe I’ll spend the whole thing starkers in front of the telly.”

He knows John is baiting him, clearly, but Sherlock panics.

John naked on the sofa, his sofa, stretched out, every blonde hair on his body catching the afternoon light, soft in a pose of relaxation yet hard in just the right

John laughs at him, misunderstanding his expression again. “Oh, calm down. As it happens I don’t actually fancy sitting around with my tackle out all day, so I am going to get dressed. After I finish the crossword.”

 

 

Sherlock begins to recognize in himself strange behaviours that in anyone else he would ascribe to jealousy or sentiment. He decides handle this by ignoring his inexplicable desire to rid the world of John’s endless stream of plain jane girlfriends, his constant use of John’s things without even a decent excuse, and his persistent need to talk to John even when he is apparently not in the room, city, or even country. He supposes he could go back to talking to his skull when John is away, but he prefers to talk to John. Besides, he doesn’t always notice when John is gone.

Using John’s things is like using John, like getting to be him for a little while, like appropriating ownership over him just a tiny bit every time Sherlock drinks from his tea mug or steals a piece of clothing to use as a rag to mop up an experiment or sends an email from his phone, putting his name and fingerprints and DNA all over John’s possessions…

None of these, of course, indicate anything about Sherlock’s feelings, they are simply things that happen and Sherlock works better when they do, so reasons behind them don’t matter. Any partner of his would do better to focus on cases than girls, the work was far more important. He would go through the things of anyone who lived with him, it only makes sense to know as much as possible about who you were living with. And sometimes using someone else’s computer or phone is just more practical.

Assuming Sherlock can get his little lust problem squared away, there is nothing alarming about any of it.

One afternoon John walks in the door and heads straight for the kitchen, but stops abruptly as he passes Sherlock in the sitting room. “Is that my computer?” he demands, motioning to the laptop upon which Sherlock is typing rapidly. “Sherlock, we talked about this!”

“Closer,” Sherlock says tersely, without looking up.

“I just changed the password again!”

“Yes, well, FUCKOFFSHERLOCKYOUTWAT, while colourful, is neither cryptographically challenging nor physiologically accurate.”

How pleasing that John would use his name even in an attempt to keep him out, how lovely that it’s all a game or else he would have picked a random string of numbers and letters that might actually baffle someone, Sherlock wonders what the new password will be, whatever it is it will be designed just for him…

John sighs. “Oh, suit yourself. I’m peaky.” He starts for the kitchen again and then pauses, narrowing his eyes. “Wait. My laptop was upstairs on my bed. Yours was on the table. Explain to me how mine was closer.”

The truth was it hadn’t been closer, and Sherlock is caught off guard for a moment.

“So, were you going through my files or just trying to annoy me?” John continues. “Because your computer is about ten times better than mine, so if you want to swap I’m all for it.”

Neither, actually. Sherlock does, of course go through John’s computer files religiously but always when John isn’t home. They are generally a mixture of financial records, in-progress blog posts, and no more porn than is considered usual for a single man of his age. John clears his browser history often, but not very well, at least not for someone with Sherlock’s talents.

Sherlock finds pornography tiresome and repetitive and John’s choices are always vanilla and hetero without a kink to be found in them, not even a threesome, so much so that Sherlock has to wonder if that’s actually his taste or if it’s intentionally selected for the appearance of normality like so much about him, like he’s trying to convince himself most of all…

He has absolutely no answer for John beyond the undercurrent of unspeakable thoughts which now seems to run constantly in his brain. Thankfully, there is another distraction.

Sherlock shuts the laptop and sniffs the air loudly, standing up and approaching John.

“What?” John says, thrown.

“You’ve had sex!” Sherlock says, almost accusingly.

"Why would you think that?” John is defensive, even though he must know he’s already lost.

“You’ve showered.”

“Yes, I told you I was going to the fitness club. I showered there. After I exercised. As one does.”

Sherlock sniffs again, looking faintly nauseated. “You’d better have another. You reek of sex, I can smell it all over you.”

He can smell her all over John, a woman, someone common, another one not worth John’s time, not worth John’s affection…

John rolls his eyes. “You know most people wouldn’t put up with this shite, but fine. Not that it’s any of your business, but yes, I just had sex and it was spectacular.”

Spectacular, of course John would be spectacular, with his strong hands and his gentle manner and his small but rugged body, well muscled and neither to thin nor too heavy…

“No, it wasn’t,” Sherlock says dismissively, returning to his chair and reaching for the laptop again. John is faster and snatches it up, turning and stalking up the stairs.

“Who was she?” Sherlock calls after him.

“Piss off.” The door to John’s room slams.

Sherlock is a bit surprised at this development, given that he usually knows when John has someone on the go. Who could she be, why hide her so carefully? She must be someone John really likes and he’s afraid Sherlock will scare her off. Or perhaps she’s just a shag and he’s ashamed of himself over it. The latter option seems more likely, given the time of day and that John would be in a better mood if he had been with someone he actually liked, but Sherlock can’t stop himself from thinking the worst.

John’s going to fall in love and give his heart away and he won’t be able to get it back and he’ll leave Sherlock and fade out of his life like he was never here but it won’t ever be the same as it was before, John with his honest face and stubborn morality and the little packet of vile ketchup crisps he likes in the afternoons…

Sherlock tries to put the brakes on this line of thought, of the irrational fear that grips him, but fails utterly. He can’t quite convince himself that this is just about sex anymore, but he doesn’t understand what it is about. He suspects John could explain it to him, but knows that asking him is a very bad idea.

Chapter Text

Things might have gone on this in manner indefinitely, Sherlock hiding his confused feelings behind his natural eccentricity and John either misinterpreting his behaviour or deliberately choosing not to notice, if it hadn’t been for a kidnapping. It’s a young girl, and they can determine no motive, but they track the abductor to an out-of-the-way industrial complex on the outskirts of London.

They enter the condemned building warily, shining torches into the dark corners, weapons at the ready. “Blimey, what is that smell?” John gags.

“This used to be an abattoir. Things linger. Plus a fair bit of mould and quite a few dead rats, I’d imagine.” Sherlock bends down to examine the slime on the floor. “They went this way.”

John follows him through several twists and turns, shivering. “Something feels wrong about this,” he comments.

He should listen to John, he’s got a sixth sense about these things, he’s been on a battlefield and knows when there are things waiting in the shadows…

“A seven-year-old girl has been kidnapped, would you expect it to feel right? No, shut up, listen!”

Together they hold their breath and can just barely make out a child’s voice echoing in the dark, coming from some distance away. “Help me. Is anyone there?” Followed by sobs. John opens his mouth to answer, but Sherlock slaps a gloved hand over it.

“Don’t be an idiot!” he hisses, and John nods, understanding. Anyone in the building would have heard. They follow the sound to a tunnel, dark and curving away from them. “Please, I just want my mommy, oh please let me go home…

Sherlock can see John physically restraining himself from calling out to her, with difficulty.

“You stand guard here,” Sherlock says. “I’ll go.”

“No, other way,” John tells him firmly.

“But I—”

“Would you in any way describe yourself as good with children, Sherlock? Particularly terrified ones?”

He has a point. “Fine, you go.”

John likes children, and they like him, they think he’s funny and he always knows what to say to them and doesn’t usually make them cry within three sentences like Sherlock does, what if he wants some of his own, Harry’s not likely to give him nieces and nephews and John would hardly want Sherlock around any kids he cares for, he doesn’t even want him around strange ones…

John nods briskly and creeps away from him, into the shadows. Sherlock puts his back to the wall and scans around him with the torch. He can still hear the voice calling, pitifully, “Hello? Please help me. I want to go home.”  He shifts his weight, wishing he could hear John and on edge from the sheer expanse of darkness around him. It’s been just a little bit too long, and Sherlock is about to go after John when he hears the familiar voice bellow, “Sherlock, run! It’s a trap! Get out of here!”

Sherlock bolts toward the sound, blindly careening through the tunnel until he spills out into a large room. He doesn’t have a chance to absorb his surroundings, but hears the scrabble of fighting and John’s voice say, “Oh, for fuck’s sake I meant run away –” before blackness takes him.

 

 

Sherlock wakes to pain. His arms are bound to something above his head, feet barely reaching the floor, so he is stretched out to his full length. It’s very cold and dark, but he manages to figure out that he’s on the old killing floor, hands tied to one of the massive hooks they used to hang dead cows from. There is no sign of his captor, nor of John. He calls John’s name experimentally a few times and gets only echoes back. He tests his bonds, but can see no means of escape.

The pain is kind of enjoyable, like being pushed beyond what you think you can take and Sherlock is curious about how much he actually can endure, how long he’ll last, and does this count as torture because he’s always rather wanted to be tortured just to see what it’s like, which he knows is Not Good but so many wonderful things are…

He tries not to think about what might have happened to John. Captivity is agony and boredom, even after only a few minutes and he’s much more likely to lose it from the boredom than from the pain and cold. He has to do something to keep calm, keep sane, keep his mind active. He shivers involuntarily in the frigid air and begins to talk to John, who is not there but is really always there.

John never leaves him, he’s a bright spot in the universe now and Sherlock can always find him even when he doesn’t know where he is, he exists in a mental space that Sherlock has carved out for him and his physical location is no longer relevant and he could go to the other side of the solar system and Sherlock would still be able to see him…

He tells John about the different methods of slaughtering cows, and how each one results in slightly varying hormone levels in the meat. He tells him about all the kinds of meat cleavers and butcher knives, and the subtly different nature of the marks they leave on a body. He instructs him on weaponry of all sorts, how to tell a killer’s state of mind by the depth of a knife wound, how to tell a crime of passion from a premeditated one by the condition of someone’s fingernails,  and the names of every poisonous plant that can be grown successfully in England without the aid of a greenhouse.

Sherlock talks for hours and hours in the dark, telling John everything he can think about anything having to do with crime and deduction. It’s easy to imagine John is just there out of sight in a shadow, taking it in, murmuring “incredible!” now and then, and occasionally mocking him for his obsession with tobacco ash and the unique impressions of different brands of boots while still making it clear he finds it all terribly impressive.

Remarkable, truly remarkable,  John says affectionately in his head, because it’s more important to remember the scientific name for water hemlock than to work out how to avoid of dying of hypothermia, you crazed berk…

And then Sherlock runs out of things to list. He knows there is plenty more, but his brain is going a bit funny and it’s so cold and he’s very thirsty and he should probably stop talking. But if he stops talking John will go away he’ll be alone again. So he starts talking to John about John.

How his right dimple is three millimetres higher than his left. How his hands shake when he makes coffee but never do when they hold a gun. He lists every item of clothing John owns in order of how much he hates it. He admits he threw away John’s cane when he wasn’t looking, even though John thinks it’s still stashed at the back of the hall cupboard, and that he bins the milk sometimes just to see how long it will take John to go buy more.

It takes him almost as much time to run out of things about John as it did to run out of things about detection, and he has no idea how long it’s been but he knows he will pass out and die very soon, and that he is no longer totally in control of himself. That makes it okay to say things, things he’s had running through his noisy subconscious for months now. Even though he can barely manage a hoarse whisper, and isn’t sure he’s even still speaking at all some of the time.

“John, I like it when you go from being the most harmless person anyone could imagine to a deadly weapon without any warning in-between, and I like it when you stretch out in your chair with your shoes off and pretend to read the paper when you’re really daydreaming about something that I can’t guess at and it’s so maddening that I can’t always get inside your head and I like that too.

“I like that you follow me and chide me and laugh at me but never desert me and that it’s okay that I’m a bit Not Good and that you kill for me and that I’m the centre of your universe even though you would never, ever admit it. But I hate that you’d die for me and the thought that you might have already done so, and I hate that I have all these thoughts about you because I know it can’t ever really mean anything outside my own head, but I wish that you were here right now to see me die, John, because at least I’d have that to take with me when I go…”

Sherlock can feel himself about to slip into unconsciousness and struggles to keep talking, because it’s very important he say these things to John even if he’s just imaginary at the moment. Then he realises he’s no longer alone.

A strong, scruffy looking man is a few metres in front of him, looking jumpy but determined. “John… Is that your friend?” he says.

Sherlock nods, out of words.

“I had a friend once. My brother. You might remember him. You had him hanged.”

Sherlock flips through his mental catalogue of past cases with difficulty. “Preveich. Anton?”

“Oh, good, you remember. I’d hate for you to go to your death not understanding why.”

“He raped three women and killed the last one,” Sherlock croaks. “I’m not going to apologise for it.”

“He was sick!” the man shouts. “He needed help, I tried to get it for him but you got him the rope instead!”

“Where’s John?” Sherlock demands weakly. “And the girl, Cara, where is she? At least tell someone so they can find her!”

The man turns away from him and paces, clearly nervous now that it’s time to finish the job. He could have just left Sherlock hanging until he died. He needs the personal revenge, but clearly hasn’t done this before. Good, he might still make a mistake. “The girl was never missing, I paid off her mum to report it and the crying was a recording. She’s probably at home having her tea by now. Your friend is fine, I have him locked up. My business is with you and I’ll let him go after.  I’m not a monster.”

“Might want to be careful when you do…” Sherlock observes, smiling to himself at the thought of the damage John would inflict. It would be like trying to let a housecat out of a carrier and discovering you had an angry leopard in there instead. Too bad he wouldn’t get to see it.

John’s reliability and steadiness were some of his best qualities, but Sherlock’s absolute favourite thing in the world was when John shed all that like a coat and turned into a fierce and frightening stranger, a dangerous creature, someone quite foreign to the mild person he walked around as most of the time, and knowing that person existed inside John all the time, day and night and lived in his flat, when everyone else thought he was just a quiet, easy-going man was infinitely more thrilling than if he was always like that…

“You’d better hurry up,” Sherlock continues. “I’m about to go from exposure and I haven’t felt my arms in hours. If you want to kill me yourself, you don’t have long.”

“God, you’re just as much of a heartless bastard as ever you were,” the man says angrily. “You can’t even bring yourself to care about your own death, can you? How do you even have a friend at all?”

“Stranger things have happened,” remarks a voice from the shadows to the left of them both. “Sherlock, you all right?” John asks very, very, evenly.

The swell of joy that fills Sherlock’s chest in that moment is nothing short of indecent, but he just nods solemnly.

“How the fuck did you get out?” the man exclaims, pulling out a gun. He’s smart enough not to aim for John, who he can’t see properly in the dark, and instead points it directly at Sherlock’s forehead. “Still, doesn’t matter, Sherlock Holmes is a dead man. I’d rather leave you out of this, so just stay where you are and it’ll all be over soon. I’ll hurt you if I have to, though.”

John suddenly, quicker than a flash, is behind the man, with a long, jagged bit of metal pointed at his throat.

“If you pull that trigger,” he says in a voice as calm and deadly as the rumble of a tsunami building in the distance, “if you touch one hair on his head, I will flay the flesh from your bones one strip at a time and hold each one up before your eyes as you die. And I’m a damn good doctor, so I can make that take very long time.”

Sherlock shivers at this pronouncement, a chill of pure pleasure. If those are the last words he hears before he dies he will go to his grave a happy man.

John is blazing, John is made of fire, John looks like he swallowed a string of fairy lights and they are shooting back out of his fingers, John is the most luminous creature he’s ever seen in his life, how could it have escaped his notice for so long…

The man laughs, nastily. “All that is fine, but your friend will still be dead. Are you faster than a trigger? Faster than a bullet?”

Almost before the words are fully out of his mouth, without even a second’s hesitation, John plunges the metal through his throat, twisting and cutting in one smooth movement. It is sickening and elegant at the same time, as blood spurts from the man’s carotid and splatters his own, surprised face as well as John’s grim one.

“Looks like,” he mutters, as the man and the gun both fall to the ground. John pays neither one of them any mind, but rushes over to Sherlock and begins to untie him.

Sherlock slumps bonelessly, circulation and strength long gone. “My God, you’re beautiful,” he murmurs incoherently as John’s strong arms catch him and ease him down. “Do you have any idea what you look like right now?”

Covered in blood, blood he shed for Sherlock, splattered artistically like an expressionist painting, glowing brilliantly from every exposed bit of skin, John deserves to be hung in a museum, a museum only Sherlock was allowed to visit…

“A maniac, I’d imagine,” John replies. “Don’t try to talk, okay? You’re very dehydrated.” His fingernails are shredded down to the quick, fingertips torn and bloody, knuckles raw. Wherever he was, he must have clawed his way out. To find Sherlock. Another swell of happiness fills Sherlock’s chest.

“No, no, you don’t understand,” Sherlock tries again, fuzzily. “It’s like Christmas and campfires and starlight all in your hair, like a nuclear bomb and an exploding sun inside your chest, and you’re so fucking warm.”

“You’re delirious,” John tells him, and puts his arms around his friend and lets Sherlock burrow into his torso, wrapping his coat around them both as Sherlock shivers deeply and tries not to scream as blood painfully attempts to force its way back into his arms and shoulders.

“I know,” Sherlock agrees, feeling rather cheerful about the whole thing now, his voice muffled by fabric. “But it’s quite nice.”

He feels John’s lips in his hair, unconsciously, he’s sure, but that’s quite nice too. “Well, just hang on. Help is on the way.”

Lestrade, his men, and the ambulance are only a few minutes away and it’s not long before Sherlock is wrapped up in shock blankets and being tended to. He doesn’t have the energy to keep his eyes open, but he keeps a death grip on John while he talks to the Detective Inspector. Both assume he is unconscious.

“Christ, John,” Lestrade exclaims, surveying the scene and the corpse with the throat all but torn out, most of his blood slowly congealing around him. “You couldn’t have just hit him over the head or something?”

“He had Sherlock tied to a hook with his hands over his head in an unheated building without food or water for 36 hours, and was about to execute him.” John answers darkly. “You’ll forgive me if I say the thought honestly didn’t occur to me.”

“Fair point,” the DI concedes. He pauses. “You’re forgetting about the part where he also locked you up in an unheated building for 36 hours and you had to dig out the crumbling brickwork with your house keys and fingernails.”

“I wasn’t tied and standing, I had some food on me, I’m not –”

“Sherlock?” Lestrade finishes for him.

John doesn’t answer.

“I’ve known Sherlock a long time,” the DI observes. “Longer than you, if you don’t mind me saying, though not near as well, I’m sure. I’ve seen him in some pretty bad places, but nothing quite so bad as when he thinks something is going to happen to you. And the reverse. You both go half mad.”

“Greg,” John begins tiredly, but the older man cuts in.

“You two are in a dangerous business, and Sherlock’s never been the safest of individuals. This is going to keep happening, and someday one or both of you isn’t going to come away from it alive. You really ought to get it sorted between you.”

“Excuse me?” John sounds incredulous.

“You heard me. I know a thing about missed chances, and if you don’t and something happens you’ll never be able to live with yourself. Nor would he. I’d hate to see that happen to you boys, okay?”

“I –” John begins to protest but stops, sounding weary. “Thanks, Greg. I’ll think about it.”

“Go on, go with him. I can get your statement later, when you’re both feeling better. I’m sure there won’t be any problems, given the circumstances, just try…to be a little less messy next time. Someone might think it was personal.”

Now that was a fascinating conversation, Sherlock thinks blearily. He’s not sure what it means, exactly, but maybe he’ll be able to figure it out when he’s had some rest. He’s still got a hold of John as they load him in the ambulance, and he tugs at John’s sleeve, and whispers, “This is twice now. It’s starting to be a habit with you.”

John looks confused briefly, then works it out. “Killing people?”

“For me.”

“Yeah, I think you’re a bad influence.”

“Well, you don’t have to get me a birthday present. This will do fine.”

That was better than a hundred birthdays and Christmasses and Bonfire Nights, which he just likes for the fireworks, but now he lives with a firework who knows exactly when to go off and will point himself at anything that threatens Sherlock, and Sherlock likes to watch the destruction being wreaked on his behalf, even though he shouldn’t enjoy it as much as he does…

John looks torn between being appalled and giggling hysterically, and settles on a slightly disapproving chuckle. “You should sleep. We’ll be at A&E soon. I’ll be right here.”

Chapter Text

After that incident, despite the handy excuse of being very deeply in shock for most of it, Sherlock is unable to pretend that the way he thinks and feels about John is mere lust or fascination or even strong affection for a trusty comrade. The problem is, he has no frame of reference for exactly what it is that he’s feeling.

Sherlock has begun to stare intently at John whenever he thinks John isn’t looking at him. The man seems to have developed a permanent glowing aura around him, sometimes brighter, sometimes dimmer, but Sherlock can see it even when he closes his eyes. It hasn’t gone away since that day. It’s not that it was never there before, but more like Sherlock hadn’t been able to see it until then. Because now it seems such a vital part of John’s persona that Sherlock can’t imagine him without it.

He carefully asks Mrs. Hudson one day if she’s noticed a sort of halo around John.

“Only after I’ve had my evening soother,” she tells him, giving him a concerned look and a pat on the arm.

Was he always burning this bright, must have done, he’s still the same John as he ever was, but how can someone stand to be that lit up all the time, how does he sleep, is it ever dark behind his eyes like it is behind Sherlock’s…

It slowly dawns on Sherlock that for the first time he is experiencing what it is to want someone. And that he has been for some time, he just didn’t know what it was before. It’s…unsettling to say the least. Not that he’s never wanted before, that would be ridiculous. But that was the wanting of an act or a sensation or of simple relief; the person involved was largely irrelevant. But now the person is the point of it all, and the other wants are only expressions of the need for that person. He’s never encountered anything like it.

At uni, Seb had always been good for a reliable fuck, despite his annoying insistence that it wasn’t bent so long as they didn’t have a “proper” shag, and the hatred between them served as a spark which, if not akin to love, at least did a passable nod to passion.

It was less complicated than the deeply closeted underclassmen who sometimes sought him out and tended towards the clingy and unstable.  At least he and Seb had known where they stood and exactly what they wanted out of the whole thing. But eventually Seb’s bullying and proclamations of his essential heterosexuality began to wear thin, and Sherlock had found his interest in hurried encounters and being sucked off behind the gymnasium late at night waning.

Of course he’d done his own share of that during his junkie days, sometimes from sheer need for gratification, sometimes in exchange for drugs, but there’d been nothing more serious than that and precious little at all since, even including the odd experiment. Not once in all that time had he found himself openly, hopelessly desirous of another human being for their own sake.

It isn’t that he wants to fuck John.

Oh, God, how he wants to fuck John, he wants to crawl inside of him and try him on like a new suit of clothes that’s been tailored just for him and calculate mathematically every possible way their bodies could physically fit together and then try them out in order and rate them by mutual satisfaction level…

It’s that he wants John, for his very own, in every possible way one human being can want another.

To possess, to inhabit, to wear on a chain around his neck and press between the pages of a book and keep safe forever where only Sherlock can look at him and no one else can ever have or touch him and he’ll always stay perfect and beautiful and good like he is now...

He wants that magnificent incandescence that is flowing out of every pore of John’s skin within himself, to push back the blackness that is constantly threatening to overtake him. Sherlock is made of darkness and shadows and deep blue ice, but John is made of supernovae and magma and dry desert winds.

When hot wind meets cold ice, what happens, will he end up as a puddle, destroyed, melted away forever, nothing left or will he just be saved from freezing over entirely and becoming unreachable like he nearly was before, trapped in the frigid supercomputer of his own mind…

These new thoughts startle Sherlock, as if they come from someone else and are inserting themselves fully formed into his brain. He is aware that some of them might even be Not Good, but they are so intense and alluring and completely irresistible that he can’t bring himself to care. He is fascinated by these ideas, turning them over in his head, playing with them like shiny toys and watching how they reflect the light.

He knows these are not the kind of thoughts you can simply keep in your head and look at once in awhile and never act on. These are the kind of thoughts that draw you in, that get stronger and more urgent the more you entertain them and that, eventually, demand action. The problem is, Sherlock has absolutely no idea what to do about them.

In the end, however, it’s not left up to him. One afternoon a few weeks after the gristly conclusion of the abattoir case Sherlock is, if he’s honest with himself, daydreaming on the sofa, sprawled out on his back, when he realises John is standing before him, talking to him and looking serious.

“Pardon?” Sherlock says, trying to disperse his thoughts enough to focus on his friend.

John exsanguinating Sherlock’s attempted killer with a look of rage so terrible and justified that Sherlock had thought looking into it might burn his face off and he would have been fine with that, really, so long as it was the last thing he ever saw…

John looks annoyed. “I said, ever since you got out of hospital, you’ve been staring at me like you’re about to make a meal out of me. Should I be concerned for my safety, or do you just have too much time on your hands?”

Sherlock freezes. He thought he’d been more subtle than that. He swallows. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, John.”

“I’m sure you don’t,” John replies, dryly. He decides to try another tack. “I’ve been thinking…since the abattoir… maybe there are some things we need to…sort.”

Sherlock arches an eyebrow, remembering the overheard conversation with Lestrade that now is starting to make sense to him.

He does go half mad when John’s in danger, but John wasn’t meant to know that, nor about any of the million other things they might need to get sorted, so how does Lestrade know about them, that git…

“Do you…maybe feel like that’s true?” John hazards.

Sherlock nods warily, wondering if this is a trap.

“Christ, Sherlock, don’t make this difficult for me! You’re the one who’s been undressing me with your eyes every time I turn around for the past month.” John’s turned a funny shade of pink and Sherlock can’t tell if he’s embarrassed or angry.

“I’m…sorry?” Sherlock offers, lost.

John makes a sound of complete frustration. “Fine, you’re a tactile learner, we’ll just have to do this another way...” Then he does literally the last thing Sherlock expects. He flops gently down on the sofa on his stomach, square on top of Sherlock, so that John’s head is just at the level Sherlock’s collarbone. John rests his chin lightly on Sherlock’s sternum and looks up at him. “Worked it out yet, genius?”

Sherlock stiffens. “I…um…”

“How about this: good or not good?” John, so confident a moment ago is starting to look uncertain.

“Good,” Sherlock says hurriedly. “I think…good.”

John’s body pressed against his, so casually intimate, so warm against his chest, starting to shine brighter now, the whole room is aglow, what must it look like from through the window, and he does want to make a meal out of John, many meals, and to undress him with more than just his gaze…

John smiles at that, all crinkles and stardust around his eyes, and pushes himself up on his elbows so their faces are just a few inches apart. Slowly, giving Sherlock plenty of time to object, he puts his lips to his friend’s and presses them together, slipping his tongue into Sherlock’s suddenly open mouth and gently caressing Sherlock’s own with it, tasting him, sliding over him as softly as warm waves lapping the shore of some tropical sea.

Sherlock wonders briefly if this is what it feels like when the sun explodes in your mouth, too stricken even to respond properly, just losing himself in the flavour of their mingling saliva and the feel of John’s slightly chapped lips on his.  

And his smell, like wood smoke and wool and the second pot of tea when he’s reused the leaves and gunpowder and blood pumping through his veins so close that Sherlock can feel the coppery taste of it pulsing in his own mouth…

John pulls away gently, too soon but not before he’s left Sherlock’s brain in the state of a Sunday pudding. “Good or not good?”

Oh.” Sherlock breathes, stunned. “I…good.”

John smiles at his reaction. “Are you okay?”

“Kissing isn’t really…wasn’t really ever much of a part of my… activities… not that kind of kissing, anyway. That was…very different than anything I’ve done before.”

Hard and angry and perfunctory and horny and dominating and shameful kisses all featured more or less but never sweet or tender or slow or sensuous or promising or caring or warm and certainly not all those things at once…

John cocks his head, and makes a move to get up. Sherlock follows his lead and they sit cross-legged on the couch, facing each other.

“Sherlock, I know this is kind of an awkward question, but considering…” John clears his throat. “Are you… I mean, you have…um… you’re not a…?” He’s a gratifying shade of bright red now.

“That depends on your definition,” Sherlock replies primly, resorting to clinical terms to hide his embarrassment. “Various kinds of sexual contact, yes, but nothing penetrative or that would be termed intercourse, with either gender.”

No proper shagging, that was too personal, too close to meaning something, too dangerous, and maybe he’d resented it at first but now he’s glad he doesn’t have that memory with Seb or some junkie whose name he didn’t know to haunt him, when none of it had mattered anyway…

John looks like Sherlock just hit him over the head with the Cluedo board, but holds it together admirably. “Oh. Well. Thank you for telling me. Me neither. Er. I mean, yes, with women, of course, obviously, but not…um. Yeah. Well. We can learn…with each other. I mean, um, if you want to.”

Sherlock’s eyes widen. If he wants to.

He wants to do nothing but lose himself inside of John, to have John fill him up with his blazing radiance and burn away all the darkness inside of him until he is reduced to a little pile of ash that John can sweep up and keep in his pocket or scatter in the winds as he chooses...

John misinterprets his expression. “Oh, God, Sherlock, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean, we don’t have to… I mean, I just thought we should talk about it…”

Sherlock shakes his head, going very still, overwhelmed, unable to find the right words to make John understand, and John is getting upset and he’s going to go away now.

He’ll be gone and there will never be another chance and the light will dim and Sherlock will never know what it’s like to live at the centre of a supernova or be wrapped up in fairy lights or own a tame thunderstorm…

John is getting up to leave, he’s hurt and humiliated and Sherlock still can’t move and he’s going to walk out that door and never come back.

Somehow, Sherlock manages to shoot out one hand and grab John’s wrist like an iron manacle. “Wait,” he gasps, as if he’s been held underwater without oxygen for too long. “Please, John. I just… it’s all a bit much.”

John takes a deep breath and sits back down, slowly. “Can you tell me?”

Sherlock doesn’t trust himself to speak or move again yet, but gives an almost imperceptible nod.

“In your own time. When you’re ready.”

Sherlock is motionless and silent for a long time, collecting his thoughts, then they all come out very quickly, in much more of a tumble than he intends, things he’s had running through his head but never thought would come out of his mouth.

“I don’t know what I’m like, John. With someone. Back at uni it was all hurried wanking and sucking each other off and pretending no one knew and it didn’t mean a thing, and since then it’s been my work. I think I might be horrible at it. I think I might be terrifying, if I let myself go to that place with you.”

John’s expression softens. “What do you mean?”

Sherlock shudders involuntarily. “I’ll want you forever, and I’ll never want anyone else to have you or look at you or touch you, ever, as long as you are alive. I’ll be jealous and possessive and petty and unreasonable, and I think I would hurt you rather a lot, and often, and not care about it as much as I should. I’ll take everything you can give me and still demand more, even if it’s too much. I wouldn’t let you go even if you wanted to and if you tried to leave I would hunt you down and lock you up so you could never do that again. I’ll take you apart piece by piece just to see what makes you tick, turn you inside out to see what you’re made out of, and maybe never put you back together again. I’ll be callous and cruel and dangerous and I think I might end up destroying you…”

John is silent for a moment, taking all that in. At last he says calmly, “So…just like now, then, but with sex.”

Now it’s Sherlock’s turn to be hurt, but John grabs his hand and laughs gently at him and somehow that makes it better. “Sherlock, I know you already, remember? I live with you. You don’t think I would have tried to start anything if I hadn’t already thought about all this? You’ll be a fucking nightmare and I’ll love every minute of it. It’s what we do.”

Before Sherlock can respond, John leans forward and starts kissing him again, and Sherlock’s brain goes blissfully bright for awhile, like the sun on a snowfield at the solstice, until somehow they are back with John on top of Sherlock, draped comfortably across his torso, using Sherlock’s breastbone as a pillow while he plays idly with his curls.            

And it has to be a dream, it has to be, because that is the only way he could possibly be laying on the sofa with that sandy blonde head resting on his dove grey shirt and steady hands trailing against his scalp and the taste of his best friend still in his mouth…

Sherlock doesn’t want to move or speak, but he feels he should make one last effort to warn John about what he’s getting into. “I don’t believe in love, you know. And I don’t have a heart. I think that might be a problem. ”

Love is just chemicals, he can name them one by one, diagram them on a chalkboard, detail what causes them and what physical effect they have on the human body and how to trigger them and how imitate them and how to get rid of them so whatever it is he’s feeling now can’t be love because love is just a magic trick and this is so very real…

John gives him a patient look and puts his ear to Sherlock’s chest. “Nope, you do. I can hear it and everything.”

“No, I have a four chambered muscle that pumps blood and oxygen through my circulatory system. You’ve got the heart, a great big one, and it’s hot like the sun and glows like an aquarium of fireflies.”

John smiles fondly at his unexpected poetry, although Sherlock doesn’t think it’s poetry, it’s just the only way he can think of to explain it. John cranes his neck and kisses Sherlock in the tender spot right where his jaw meets his throat, the pulse point. “Well, then I probably have enough heart for both of us.”

Sherlock feels reassured by that, even though he knows it doesn’t really make sense. He tentatively puts one arm on John’s back and is surprised when John kind of curves his body up into it, making a low noise of contentment that he’s never heard before.

“What happens now?” he asks John.

“What do you want to happen?”

He wants to rip off John’s clothes and bend him over the coffee table and die inside of him and he wants John to hold him down and ravish his body until he’s screaming for release and he wants them to stay exactly like this for years and years with the brightness of a thousand suns curled up on his chest in a questionable cardigan, like a fire opal wrapped up in brown paper and only he knows what’s really inside…

 “Everything,” he says at last, and John somehow understands completely.