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John is told later that Murray collapsed after carrying him over a mile through the blazing desert heat back to the welcoming arms of the nearest American Forward Operating Base, weapon completely inaccessible and hanging across his back.  John’s only point of focus was the blood dripping from his fingers, flinging drops on Murray’s back and leaving a trail in the dust that any idiot could follow.

Fortunately they didn’t.

The antiseptic reek of the hospital should have been a relief, then, assurance that he was safe, protected, but when he feels the thick pad of gauze on his shoulder and weakness in his fingers, panic spirals in his stomach until he’s shaking, shivering under the thin blanket.

He doesn’t stop trembling for weeks, a miasma of fear and uncertainty threatening to swallow him whole as he fights off infection and the knowledge that the nerve damage in his right arm has obliterated his career. It isn’t until he reaches the grey drizzle of a fall evening in London that he feels safe, and it isn’t until he meets Sherlock Holmes, all six-foot one, gangly smart-arse of him, that his hand stops the annoying tremor that’s plagued him since he woke up in hospital.

The phantom pain and weakness in his leg is gone the next night in a flood of adrenaline and shared adventure, and Sherlock’s smile lights the night like a million stars.

He said in his blog that nothing happens to him. But this—this could be the start of something.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………….

John knows better than most that it only takes an instant for a situation that’s perfectly under control to go tits up.

Like when he and Sherlock are chasing a smuggler from a warehouse and John is clattering down the fire escape after Sherlock as always—nothing different there, he’s been on Sherlock’s heels for months now—he misses a step and half-slides, half-tumbles down the remaining stairs and ends up in a crumpled heap at the bottom. He thinks everything is fine until he tries to get up and the lancing pain in his ankle causes him to flop back down on the ground with a groan. Sherlock can get his man all on his own; John’s not going anywhere for a while.

“Jesus, John, you okay?” Sally Donovan says, and her upside-down face, leaning over his, is full of concern.

“Ow,” John says. “Not particularly, but not dying. Just my ankle.”

Sally shakes her head and reaches down to haul John up, drapes his arm over her shoulders and half-walks, half-carries him back around toward the flashing lights of the police cars out front.

“You really don’t have to do that. Really.” She really doesn’t. John shifts uneasily, but he knows Sally is just being helpful.

 She tuts as she walks. “Of course I will. Besides, he didn’t even pause—Sherlock I mean. Not even for a look back to be sure you were okay.”

“He probably knew from the angle of the fall that I wasn’t going to be hurt badly. I know he seems thoughtless but he’s incredibly good at prioritizing. My ankle isn’t as important as getting Lamont.” John huffs a breath when he tries to put a tiny bit of weight on his ankle and the pain makes him see red. Christ, he hates being carried; a too-vivid reminder of helplessness under the desert sun.

Sally looks dubious as John sits down on the kerb and waits. “If you say so. But if you need help round the flat for a few days just give me a shout, yeah? I know His Nibs isn’t going to be much use.”

John smiles. For all that he finds the animosity between Sally and Sherlock annoying and ridiculous, he likes Sally, and her offer is warming. “Thanks,” he says. “But Sherlock may surprise you.”

And he does, even surprises John, in the quiet efficiency with which he helps John bandage up his blackened and swollen ankle, the almost nonchalant way he brings John tea and biscuits and occasionally, when he remembers, books and the newspaper.  Other than these occasional outbursts of thoughtfulness Sherlock doesn’t really act any differently, but John sometimes catches Sherlock looking at him pensively, lips twitching like he wants to say something, but he never does. It drives John round the bend.

“Is something bothering you?” John asks two days later.

“No?” Sherlock says, and the lilt at the end of the word makes John narrow his eyes and watch carefully as Sherlock busies himself with papers at the edge of the desk.

“Seriously, Sherlock, you’ve been acting like I’m about to jump up and bite you. What’s going on?”

“I should have stopped,” Sherlock says suddenly. “I should have come back for you.”

John blinks in surprise. “What on Earth for? I was fine. Am fine.”

“You are, but I realize I should have at least made certain you were okay. I keep thinking about what may have happened had you not been, though from the trajectory and speed of your fall I’d determined you were likely to only have a broken ankle, which I was right about as it turned out, but I couldn’t stop envisioning...alternate scenarios.”

John chuckles at the confirmation of Sherlock’s risk calculations, affection warming his heart. He often wonders about his place with Sherlock, awkward assumptions about dates aside, and it’s really… satisfying, in its way, to know that Sherlock feels as much of a pull as he does, that strange sense of the inevitable John felt the very first moment they met.

Sherlock’s ears are a bit pink and his brow is wrinkled as he tries to sort out exactly what he’s feeling, and John surprises himself by smoothing the creases with his thumb and tries to ignore Sherlock’s wide eyes at the gesture. “It’s called friendship, you idiot,” he says, brushing aside anything else that might be lurking behind their mutual regard to declare that one, unequivocal truth. “So be a good friend and go get us a curry; I’m starving.”

Sherlock looks almost relieved for a moment before he flashes a quick smile and tosses a menu in John’s lap. “Your fall didn’t affect your fingers or your voice, so order one yourself. They do deliver, after all.” With that, Sherlock flops back down into his chair with a smirk and picks up his book.

“Ponce,” John says, and tosses a cushion at him. He’s perfect, really. And the trouble is that John knows it.

……………………………………………………………………………………………..

“Don’t you dare,” John croaks, and his voice is barely above a whisper.

Lestrade gives him an indulgent smile that’s tinged with sadness. Distantly, John wonders how he must look right now.

“It’s been, what, six days? How long since you’ve eaten?”

“About…six days?”

“Jesus Christ. I better hide those guys away or Sherlock really will kill them.” Lestrade maneuvers so he can get his arms under John’s shoulders and knees, straightens and lifts John with a groan. “You can’t be more than ten stone, I swear.”

“Then why are you complaining?”

Lestrade laughs. “Because I’d bet you were more than eleven when they snagged you. Have you had anything to drink, even?”

“Off and on.” John tries not to let his head droop against Lestrade’s shoulder like a swooning heroine; that really would just be the last indignity. He stinks, he’s filthy, and he could sleep for a week. Lestrade picks his way across some debris in the hallway of the abandoned house John had been kept in this past week, prisoner of one of London’s more proactive criminals who had found opportunity in John’s position as Sherlock’s blogger and friend. Fortunately, John thinks, they’d just wanted money for his safe return, not to truly hurt him, though they did their fair share of that by simple neglect.

“John!” Sherlock calls as he jogs up from the side of the house, breathless, and grasps John’s hand. “You look like hell.”

“Sherlock!” Lestrade chides, puffing from exertion, but John just chuckles, weak and broken, Sherlock’s hand wrapped around his a comfort, lovely and safe and warm.

“Of course I do. Six days, eh? Is that a new record for getting myself lost?” Lestrade sits John down on a gurney at the back of an ambulance, and the medics busy themselves trying to take his vital signs. The soft covering feels so nice after so long on the hard basement floor that John can feel himself relax into it and close his eyes.  “I lost the scarf you bought me, fell off somewhere. Sorry.”

Sherlock laughs, a broken, bitter sound. “You’re ridiculous. Six days is … inexcuseable,” Sherlock says, and John pops his eyes open in shock, suddenly aware Sherlock is still holding his hand.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

When John regains consciousness again, it’s because he’s being rattled about, and he opens his mouth on a protest just as he can feel himself lifted from the gurney and into a proper hospital bed.

“Stop fighting it, John, it’s okay, I promise.” A voice, warm and familiar, soothes him back down from the impending panic and he slowly opens his eyes to see Sarah Sawyer, brown eyes wide and smiling, staring back at him.

“You shouldn’t—“ John starts, because she really shouldn’t, it is  a bit unorthodox to be allowed to treat a friend in casualty, after all.

“ Of course I shouldn’t,” she says briskly, and steps out of the way so a nurse can sort and arrange his various tubes. “But your guard dog wouldn’t let anyone else near you, once he’d seen me here. Does he bite?” She adds playfully, and John tilts his head to the side to look past Sarah’s coat, finding Sherlock folded up into a plastic chair, knees to chin and staring with narrowed eyes. His knuckles are white where they’re laced together across his shins.

“I’m not going to die, Sherlock,” John says. “Just dehydrated and need food. How did you even manage to get in here, anyway?”

Sherlock merely twitches his lips in a frown and settles more deeply into his coat collar.

“Leaving Sherlock’s powers of bullying aside for the moment, you also have a concussion,” Sarah says, “which you received from a blow to the head you conveniently forgot to mention earlier when Inspector Lestrade found you.”

“Details.”

“Important ones.” Sarah smoothes down the blanket and pats John’s arm. “Be a good boy and let us do our work. Another day, two at the most, and you’ll be back out causing mayhem and saving the world. Promise.”

“Thanks,” John says. It really is too bad things hadn’t worked out between them, he thinks distantly. She is so very lovely.

“Anytime. And you—“ Sarah rounds on Sherlock. “Aren’t to encourage him to misbehave, understand?”

“For God’s sake, he’s a doctor. He’s at least somewhat qualified to make some decisions about his own welfare,” Sherlock snaps.

John makes a protesting noise and Sarah just rolls her eyes. “You’re welcome. I’ll check on you tomorrow.” She pokes at the monitor by his bedside, smiles at him once more, and leaves.

The door settles closed and the room is completely silent but for the low hum and steady beat of the pulse-oximeter.  Sherlock is still sitting, curled in on himself, and John wonders why he won’t come nearer.

“This is getting to be right depressing,” John finally says. “At some point they’re going to name a wing after us.” Sherlock doesn’t respond, simply stares with burning eyes, and John casts about for something else, because the room is suddenly tense and he’s just not ready. Not ready for Sherlock’s post-case drop, not ready for his pouts, not ready to be his emotional minder. “Get me that blanket?” he says, and Sherlock glances to the thin blanket folded over a chair by the head of John’s bed and slowly stands, crosses the room and silently spreads it over the bed.  As John automatically reaches for the edge to straighten it, Sherlock reaches out and gently traces the skin around the IV port embedded in John’s sallow, papery skin.

“This is … unbearable,” Sherlock starts, and John’s heart speeds up, beating in time with the chiming  monitors and John’s cursing them all to shut up, just shut up already, when Sherlock finally raises his eyes to John’s and John stops breathing, just for an instant, as time shifts and warps around them, a shimmering bubble keeping the moment suspended until Sherlock folds his fingers around John’s hand, raises it for a light brush of his lips, and lets go.

“Never again,” he says, and the moment vanishes with the slam of the door behind him.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

John finally feels better about a week later, a week of rest and excellent cooking by Mrs. Hudson and Lestrade (he’s shocked at that, but grateful), and, most surprisingly, Anthea, who drops off a massive dish of aubergine parmigiana  and leaves without saying a word. It’s still hot, and John dives in with the sort of enthusiasm he hasn’t felt for food in years.

Sherlock isn’t home to share the bounty. He’s been away for the last two days at least, but John isn’t completely surprised. The first few days home were awkward, to put the best spin on it. John is a bit flummoxed; Sherlock had never been so demonstrative as he was in the hospital, almost as if, well, as if he had feelings for John, and of course, of course the entire week had been full  of incredible stress and fear and panic. John isn’t going to press the issue simply because of that, no matter that his heart beats faster when Sherlock looms over him on some pretext or other, no matter what he thinks he may have seen in Sherlock’s gaze when he told him never again.

He finishes eating and clears up, then realizes he should at some point do some laundry. Sherlock could probably use some too, and as he’s not been home John decides he’ll just do it for him. It’s not the first time Sherlock’s run himself into the ground for weeks and suddenly was out of clean pants. John sighs as he walks down the hallway, disgusted with himself and how weak he is. He throws open Sherlock’s door,  flicks on the light, and stops dead.

Stacks of papers, maps, piles of string and old cups litter every flat surface except one side of the unmade bed. It’s absolutely astounding. Sherlock’s bedroom is usually neat as a pin, but this is a complete tip. John lifts a few of the papers and is shocked when he realizes they all concern his disappearance, then he sits down abruptly when it finally hits him what he’s looking at.

The remains of the incident room Sherlock set up for his disappearance.

John skims the papers on the bed, copies of witness statements, lists of employees of rail stations and tube stations, bus drivers and taxi drivers. Maps of London with x’s and lines squiggled and redrawn multiple times. The entire record of Sherlock’s investigation, torn down from the walls and dumped in a haphazard array in his bedroom.

And one, carefully folded brown and cream striped scarf, the one that John lost the night he was kidnapped, the one Sherlock gave John for Christmas, tucked up under the pillow. John pulls it out, holds it up to his nose. It smells like Sherlock’s shampoo.

John folds the scarf with shaking hands and puts it back where it was. He backs out of the room, carefully closes the door and walks through the kitchen, deposits the laundry basket on the table without really thinking about it, and drops heavily into his chair.

He’s not really thought about the six days he was away. He’s been trying hard to ignore it, actually, and been doing a bang up job of it, too, thanks to Sherlock’s tidying up. But now that he’s looking he can see the tiny pinholes, scratched wallpaper, and bare swathes of wall that Sherlock had used, boundaries of their normal pinup spaces well exceeded. John stands, wanders along the walls with his hands outstretched, fingers catching rough on tiny bits of broken plaster well through the sitting room, the hall, and into the kitchen before he stops and leans against the worktop.

His scarf, hidden away in Sherlock’s bed. Not as a piece of evidence, either, but almost a … a security blanket and John’s imagining Sherlock snuggling with his scarf, perhaps smelling it for traces of John’s scent and Jesus Christ, what is he going to do now?

He grabs his mobile and dials. “Mike? Care to meet down the pub?”

Mike does care to, and they stake out a couple of seats at the bar. John’s not sure he can look Mike in the face and talk about any of this, and they’re both two pints and a lot of conversation about rugby down before John gathers up the courage to finally voice the tiny spark of hope he’s formed in his heart.

“Christ, Mike, I think he’s in love with me,” John says, then drops his forehead on the bar.

Mike takes a long swallow of beer, then eyes John a bit more closely. “What the hell makes you think that? He’s not … I mean, not that I don’t like the bloke, I mean, I do, but really. Sherlock? You sure you don’t still have concussion issues?”

John rocks his head back and forth against the cool wood. “No, it’s not that.” John feels just this side of pleasantly pissed, just enough beer to loosen his tongue. “He bought me this scarf, last Christmas. Nothing expensive, nothing posh. Just … a scarf, but I wore it all the time, you know?” John lifts his head to watch Stamford nod slowly with beer-induced wisdom. “Yeah, well, I lost it, the night I was taken. Thought it was gone forever. But Sherlock found it.”

Stamford’s eyebrows pull together. “Well, that’s good, isn’t it?”

“I found it in his room. Under his pillow.”

“Oh.”

“I think he’s been sleeping with it. It even smells like him. And not just that, he tore down the entire investigation, all the maps and things, and stashed it all in piles in his bedroom. I think so I wouldn’t see it.”

“Jesus.”

“So now what?”

Mike gives him an incredulous look. “You’re asking me?”

“Yeah.”

Mike pauses, lips pursed and deep in thought for a moment. John finishes his beer and signals for another round.

“Look, I’m not the resident Sherlock expert around here,” Mike says. “Do you want him to be in love with you?”

John considers, remembers the warm curl of satisfaction of being with him on a case, their easy camaraderie, congenial teasing and stalwart mutual defense. A quicksilver mind and eyes to match. Beautiful broad shoulders and an arse that a man might die for.

“Yes.” John takes another deep drink. He’s going to need it, because even considering giving any sort of emotional hostage to Sherlock Holmes might be the most dangerous thing he’s ever done.

“Then my advice is to drink more beer and see how it looks in the morning.”

So John does, trying to calm the whirl of his thoughts – does he, does he not, and how does he even begin this conversation? – and Mike ends up with an arm around his waist, hauling him down the pavement toward the flat.

“I can walk—“ John starts, but Mike only tightens his hold.

“Like the blazes you can. Shut up and let me help you.”

 When they finally reach Baker Street the sitting room lights are full on and illuminate the pavement below. Sherlock is obviously home, his tall shadow passing in front of the windows. John shakes off Mike’s arm and tries to straighten up. If he doesn’t have the courage now, when will he?

“I’m going for it,” he says, and trips up the stairs and falls against the door.

“Not tonight you’re not,” Mike says, and hauls him back upright. “Told you, see how it looks in the morning. Go straight upstairs, no stops on the way.”

 John unlocks the door, staggers up the seventeen steps to the sitting room, stops against Mike’s probably better judgement and listens at the door for a moment to the sounds of Sherlock scraping away on his violin, a screeching, awful, horrible cacophony that John usually loathes but tonight finds comforting, and he smiles all the way up to his room and until he falls asleep.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

In the morning, it turns out, things look pretty damn good in spite of John’s splitting headache.

There’s fresh tea, and fresh milk, a solitary cheese pastry and Sherlock Holmes swanning about the flat in pajama pants and open dressing gown, chest bare and pale in the weak morning light.

“A bit soon after hospital for that sort of carousing, isn’t it?” Sherlock says, leaning over John as he sits at the table and making an attempt to swipe John’s pastry. John sees it coming and tries to slap his hand back. He underestimates Sherlock’s lightning reflexes, though, and Sherlock expertly dodges and has John’s wrist in an iron grip in an instant.

John forgets how to breathe, the mood shifting from playful to charged in an instant, the quiet hush of the morning settling around them, neither saying a word until Sherlock finally looks up from his study of their joined hands, eyes wide and almost unsure.

“You’ve been in my room,” Sherlock says.

John doesn’t see how he can deny it, not to this man. “Yes.”

“You found your scarf.”

“Yes.”

Sherlock relaxes his grip just a touch, enough that the fingers around John’s wrist feel more like a caress than a deterrent. “Then I take it that your general inebriation last night combined with your disastrous attempts to not stare at me this morning mean you have somehow come to some conclusion about … it.” Sherlock glances to the side, and John wonders if Sherlock can feel the pulse racing under his fingertips.

“It’s a capital mistake to theorize before one has data,” John says, parroting one of Sherlock’s favorite sayings back at him as he tries to take his arm back. Instead of letting go, though, Sherlock keeps his grip on John’s wrist and drifts closer until he looms over John in his chair. It’s one thing to fantasize, it’s another entirely to potentially have a beautiful, mad genius within his grasp, but Sherlock is right there, the taut expanse of his stomach tantalizingly close and John licks his lip with anticipation.

“I would be willing to help you test your hypothesis,” Sherlock purrs, and that’s all it takes for John to give in, pull Sherlock in until Sherlock straddles him in the chair, settling his weight on John’s lap and his mouth against John’s and Christ, Sherlock’s lips are wet and warm and the world tilts sideways for a moment.

The chair creaks and cracks as Sherlock shifts, tries to mould himself closer to John’s body, and John decides they had better relocate if this is to go as far as he hopes.  He doesn’t even think about what he’s about to do, simply murmurs “wrap your arms round my neck,” hooks his hands under Sherlock’s arse and stands with a bit of difficulty, holding Sherlock’s slim, reedy body wrapped around his.

“You hate this when people do it to you,” Sherlock says with a breathless laugh.

“Yeah, well, they aren’t carrying me off for a good shag,” John replies, and presses a kiss to Sherlock’s neck. Christ, they need to get moving before John loses his grip on him. “Where to?”

“Sofa,” Sherlock says between kissing John’s cheeks, his jaw, his ears, and John sort of half-walks, half-staggers to the sofa where he collapses with Sherlock straddling his lap, still kissing him eagerly and grinding against him. John groans at the pressure, pushes Sherlock’s dressing gown out of the way and kisses down Sherlock’s shoulder to his bicep, to the soft, silky skin of the inside of his elbow.  Sherlock’s eyes flutter closed when John presses his tongue against the pulsepoint in his wrist, and his head drops back entirely when John sucks a long finger into his mouth.

“I wasn’t sure you would want—” Sherlock starts, and John releases his finger, presses a kiss to the center of his palm.

“Have done a while. Didn’t think you would. Not my area, remember?” Sherlock’s hands are calloused, covered in yellowed acid burns and tiny abrasions, and John kisses each and every spot, evidence of a brilliant mind’s work. “So what changed your mind?”

Sherlock shudders. “When I realized—when six days went by and I realized I may never see you again. That I could… fail. And the price of that failure was unbearable.”

John stops at that, cups his hands around Sherlock’s face and holds him fast. “I thought of you every day. How certain I was you’d find me. And how when I saw you I’d  eventually work up the courage to do this.” John pulls him in, kisses him fully, deeply, catching Sherlock’s lower lip between his and sucking lightly, peppering tiny kisses at the corners of his mouth. It may still be a bit dangerous to welcome Sherlock into the deeper parts of his heart, the tight dark recesses he usually keeps locked away, but Sherlock does own a set of lockpicks, after all. 

Sherlock hums, a pleased little sound, and brushes his nose along John’s cheek. “There’s quite a bit more you can do, if you like,” Sherlock says, and John shivers, caresses the top of Sherlock’s thighs, presses his thumbs into the crease of his groin. The buzz of mutual pleasure spurs John on, makes him rock under Sherlock’s arse and fiddle with strings and waistband until John can touch and stroke silky skin and pull each of Sherlock’s gasps and moans into his mouth, sweet and heady.  Sherlock’s cock is hot and heavy-hard in his hand, his own cock presses insistently at the crease of Sherlock’s arse through his pyjamas, and John should stop and strip them down, get them naked and slick and close but he can’t, he couldn’t stop now if he tried.  Sherlock’s tongue is maddening on his earlobe, his breath is hot against John’s neck, and a filthy, whispered “Oh, oh, God, yes, I’m coming, fuck,” in his ear is enough to send John over too, sparks flying behind his eyelids.

They catch their breath for a moment, foreheads pressed together and chuckling quietly. John’s legs are sticky and his shirt is sweaty and covered in Sherlock’s come and he thinks his heart might burst from the joy of it.

“You implied earlier you don’t mind being carried off for a shag,” Sherlock murmurs. “I think I could oblige you.”

“Don’t even think about it,” John growls, but Sherlock pulls up his pyjamas and hops off of John’s lap, ducks forward and drags John to the edge of the sofa by the legs and stuffs his hands under John’s arse. John wiggles and squirms and laughs as Sherlock curses and crouches, and finally, once John stops struggling and helps a little, lifts him from the sofa, his legs wrapped around Sherlock’s hips and arms around his neck. They pause and Sherlock grins brightly.

“The stairs to your room shouldn’t be too difficult to navigate,” he says, and takes one stuttering, unstable step toward the door.

“This had better be the best shag of my life,” John says in mock threat, and tightens his grip on Sherlock’s neck and shoulders and ducks his head as Sherlock carries him from the room, Sherlock’s hands tight on his body. John buries a smile against his shoulder. Perhaps being carried every so often isn’t the worst thing to happen to him, after all.