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Master and Hound

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A giraffe’s heart weighs 22 pounds.

It must feel so heavy.

Sherlock dreams about holding it. Cupped in his hands.

*

He remembers when John came home with a ring in his pocket.

“She’ll say yes.”

John had not even acted surprised, or offended. He had raised his eyebrows. Cocked his head hopefully to side. He’d said, “Really?”

Sherlock watches John and he wonders how he possibly could have imagined otherwise. John’s mouth twitches with a small smile as he waits for Sherlock to say more, frozen in the doorway with the thrill of expectant possibility. He thinks that Sherlock can see the word yes in her hair dye and jewelry and choice of her shoes, he thinks that Sherlock has broken down uncertainty to certainty the way he would a crime scene. But he hasn’t. He doesn’t need to.

John looks magnificent, even though it is rainy and his clothes are damp and he’s keeping a ring box in his breast pocket.

Sherlock tries to smile. “Of course.”

*

It had seemed easy, in the beginning. He hadn’t even realised it had been happening. He’d never felt anything like it before.

He’d thought, quite foolishly, that he was just making a friend.

It was stupid of him, to have been so willfully blind. He is Sherlock Holmes. He does not do anything by halves.

*

It happens after a case. Grueling, three days long, killer destroyed the bodies by covering them in hydrochloric acid. In the cab back to Baker Street, Sherlock is talking about a similar murderer he dealt with back in University when John slumps against his side and falls asleep on his shoulder.

Sherlock goes quiet; he stares. He spends the rest of the evening running up the meter, demanding the cabbie drive in circles so that John doesn’t have to wake up.

*

Sherlock gives John his coat at a crime scene once, and Lestrade raises his eyebrows. Sherlock glares so heavily at him and makes such a show of his next deductions that no one ever says anything about it.

*

God, it hurts when people say it. They’re teasing at a future that sits on the end of a string, but Sherlock cannot pull on it, no matter how much he wants to.

We’re not a couple, we’re not together, I’m not gay, I’m not his date.

Sherlock never says anything. If he did, they’d surely see it on his face. They’d stare at them both, their mouths would open. Sherlock would close his eyes against them and they would know.

*

Her name is Mary. She is pretty and smart and quiet, and when John introduces her Sherlock can almost feel that it’s all over.

They do not move like a couple in love. There is no tandem or symbiosis, but there is an unwinding and rewinding as they talk, like they are two knots tied to the same string. She has a bit of blue paint on the back of her neck and in her hair that tells Sherlock she’s been repainting her living room. The expensive perfume she’s wearing and earrings that she can’t afford – the woman’s repainting her own flat, she’s not about to go around buying diamonds – speak of a lost ex-lover. Dead, probably. Likely a car accident, since she and John walked here in lieu of taking a cab in spite of the threat of rain.

Sherlock wonders why this would put her and John on the same string, but he quashes those thoughts because they sound like something that is too alarmingly close to the word ‘hope’.

She and John make pasta together, and they chat as they do so. Sherlock is nasty to Mary and Mary calls him amazing. And that, then – John looks to Mary with fondness and Sherlock knows that this is different.

Perhaps he should find it interesting, that one of the main characteristics of John’s most favored partner is a high tolerance for Sherlock Holmes. But he doesn’t. Instead, he sews his own mouth shut with red thread and refrains from shooting more holes in the wall.

*

She does not tag along on cases, she does not intrude when Sherlock doesn’t want her to, she willingly relinquishes dates as long as she’s promised to be told the thrilling story firsthand, before it’s put up on John’s blog. She’s hideously perfect. Sherlock cannot even come up with a reasonable excuse for him to complain.

This gives John the wrong idea. “Do you finally like one of my dates?” He sounds so pathetically hopeful. He sounds prepared to change everything, as long as he has the reassurance that it wouldn’t change anything. Oh, John.

Sherlock turns the page of the textbook he’s reading and he does not look up. He’s afraid of what he’d be betraying if he did. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

*

It feels so obvious. It’s not in the wrinkles of his clothes or the colour of his teeth or even hiding in his nail beds, but it might as well be. Sherlock never thought he would be so hideously obvious in his life, thought he’d learned how to cover his tracks when he learned how to trace them and shut down his weaknesses when he deemed them illogical. But not anymore. He has veins and arteries staining his cuffs. John understands emotions. Perhaps he can see it even more clearly. It would make sense.

He can’t, of course. And trying to tell him would be like turning the sea backwards. Sherlock’s thankful for that, at least. Small miracles.

*

He finds himself trying to look more attractive. Unconsciously preening. He thinks John might find it endearing if he reads mystery novels, so he reads mystery novels, but always skips to the end by chapter three to see if he’s right. He usually is. That, or the book is written by someone incredibly simple-minded.

John never catches him at it. Sherlock feels stupid, hoping that he will, but he hopes. Sometimes he rearranges the cushions around him, lies the book on his chest, and feigns sleeping. John could come cover him with a blanket. Perhaps his own coat, filled with body heat.

Sherlock knows he’s being sentimental but he can’t stop it. It’s like an itch in the lower portion of his spine. There’s a constant threat of being watched and perhaps if he can catch his audience at just the right moment—

“You read these?”

“Read what?”

“My detective novels.”

“A bit,” Sherlock says, with an air of not caring. “When I’m bored.”

He hates himself. He hates it.

*

The loneliest whale in the world sings at a frequency of 52 Hertz. None of the other whales can hear him. He has sung without being heard for over twenty-two years. There is nothing wrong with him. Since his discovery, he has grown and matured. He swims in the Northern Pacific.

Other whales sing in a range from 15 Hertz to 25. Their hearts are seven tons. The creatures with the heaviest hearts in the world are known to travel in pairs. They make conversation.

If you listen to the 52 Hertz whale, he sounds like a siren.

*

“I’ve no idea how you can possibly stand it.”

“Stand what?”

Sherlock is curled up in a petulant ball on the sofa, John in the kitchen. He enters the living room carrying tea and the paper, the latter folded up neat and square beneath his arm. Sherlock curls his toes against the leather and pretends he has not heard John, because he regrets what he’s just said already.

“Stand what, Sherlock?”

“I—” And he’s so close, he’s just there, he could say it, if he wanted—

“Sentiment,” he says instead.

“Ah.” John sits down.

As much as he fears it, he dreams every day that John will figure it out. Or that someone else will figure it out and take John by his elbow and explain in no uncertain terms the horrifying things he has accidentally done. He does not know what would happen if John knew, but he assumes it would be better than this. The ache of waiting. The dull pain of knowing that when he leaves, their relationship will not rip but unravel, steadily until Sherlock could not take it, throbbing with the shallow force of being alone.

“I don’t understand,” he manages to say. It is the bravest he will ever be. “I’d never marry, myself.”

“No?”

“It’d bias my judgment.”

John’s eyebrows settle low on his face and his mouth stretches into a tight-lipped smile, his arms crossed in front of his chest. He looks, for all the world, like he feels sorry.

He sits down. He hands Sherlock his tea.

Ah, yes, John Watson. Believe the lie. The great Sherlock Holmes knows absolutely nothing about love.

“Sometimes it’s not even about sentiment, honestly.”

And that’s it, John does it, stops the gears turning once again, right when Sherlock least expects it, because that is what John does, often, without noticing. It’s amazing that he doesn’t consider himself to be remarkable. He glows, and he hides it under jumpers.

“It’s just—sometimes it’s not about… meeting someone once and knowing you’re destined to spend the rest of your life with them. It doesn’t actually work like that. It’s about… mutual goals, meeting the right person at the right time. That sort of thing.”

You met me, Sherlock thinks, fast as a reflex, and he wants to bury himself beneath meters of sand, so he can’t breathe, so he can’t think, so all he can taste is hot granules of rock. You met me when you were a soldier without a warzone. You were going to kill yourself. You met me and you knew. You must have known. I knew.

Please.

He hates pleading. He almost sneers at himself and John misreads the distaste on his face.

“I know, I—it’s not something I expected you to understand.” He takes his tea back, their hands touching briefly. He balances the cup on his knee and he opens up his paper.

*

John has a mole on his right wrist that Sherlock likes, although he will never say so.

*

He wants children. That’s the rub, Sherlock’s known it from the beginning. John may like to run around London after criminals and Sherlock’s long coat but in the end he wants children, he wants small hands holding onto his finger, he wants to quell nightmares and slay monsters and give piggyback rides that will make his back ache at night. Maybe, just maybe, Sherlock will play a role in this new life as the central figure of a few watered down bedtime stories.

The cruelest knife is that he’d make an excellent father. So charming and patient and strong and kind, and a good listener, the way every father should be.

*

John’s nipples are sensitive. Sherlock can tell from the way they stick out through his shirt when it’s cold. It’s often hard to notice because he keeps his arms crossed so often, or wears jackets that cover it, but Sherlock notices because Sherlock notices everything.

It makes his mouth water. God, it makes his mouth water.

*

Sometimes, after cases, instead of joining him back to Baker Street, John goes to Mary’s. He says, “you’re not hungry, are you?” and “it’s just that I’ve already texted her” and “I knew you wouldn’t mind” before hailing himself a cab a climbing in, already smiling. Sherlock will stand on the curb and watch until the cab turns a corner, or grows so small he can no longer see it.

In those moments, right before it disappears, Sherlock says things. Small things. The protests. The things he wonders might hold John back, the things that won’t. The things he could never bring himself to say. They skitter out of his lips before he can stop them.

He walks home. He thinks about the things that he used to imagine might happen after the rush of a case, adrenaline still thrumming through them after being chased by armed thieves and heartless murderers, giggling against the wall of their entryway. He thinks of where the excess energy may have gone, eventually, he thinks of the hurried, excited things he may have said if the walls ever came down long enough for them to snog on the stairs. Finally, messily. Hearts still racing and minds still half hazy as they’d thrust against each other. It had seemed inevitable, or at least possible. He’d figured it would only be a matter of time. He’d figured that perhaps they’d had forever.

Now, he’s left exhausted and empty. They don’t even laugh out the dying nerves over takeaway.

Sherlock does not pretend to be so naïve as not to know what John is doing. He does not pretend he does not realise who has won.

*

“Italian, or Indian?”

“You know it doesn’t matter to me.”

“Yes it does, you big wanker. Don’t think I don’t catch you sneaking food.”

“Really, John, don’t be such a child.”

“Ah, you thought you had me fooled, didn’t you? But I know.”

“Know what?”

“That you’re human.”

It is the smallest things that he will miss the most.

*

Whenever John comes in late, tripping slightly on the stairs due to drunkenness, Sherlock hopes that it’s a fight. Relationship-ending differences, something, anything. He doesn’t even care if it has nothing to do with him, he just wants it to be over. He is wishing for John’s unhappiness and he does not even care.

It’s raining tonight. Sherlock tries not to look up when John walks in but of course he does, and John is wet and he is smiling. His lips have a smear of transferred lipstick on them. He smells like perfume, under the rain.

He likes to see John sopping. It appeals to him, in a sickeningly fascinating way. His hair dripping, plastered to his head, three shades darker than usual, droplets of water sliding down his face and dropping gently off the charming curve of his nose.

John stumbles, manages four or five steps forward before falling in a whirl of limbs onto the sofa. He says ‘oops’ and giggles, impossibly endearing, and rights himself. It drives a hole through Sherlock’s heart. He’s watching. He’s riveted to him. John’s wet clothes make soft, straining sounds against the leather as he moves and the only thought in Sherlock’s head is that it’s probably going to stain. Small imprints of John’s wet body, forever on their couch.

Sherlock’s limbs move on their own volition, but they do as though operated by a very clumsy puppeteer. All the same, Sherlock propels himself to John without even being aware of it. He sits at John’s feet, prepared to rest his head on John’s knee. He’s in love with him.

“Have a good night, then?” Sherlock suggests, reaching up to John’s shoulders and attempting to help him out of his coat. He receives no help at all, however, and gives up rather quickly, letting his hands fall instead to the soaked material of John’s jeans. The only light in the living room comes filtered from the kitchen, and from the desk lamp, by the window. It’s dark, where they’re sitting. Almost grey.

“I’m going to marry her,” John says very quietly, hiccupping.

Sherlock’s grip on John’s thighs tightens for half a second. “Good,” he manages, slipping it through the trapped words in his clogged throat. He can’t look at John, can’t look anywhere. He stares at a crease in the material of John’s shirt, near his waistline.

John’s clumsy fingers thread into his hair, tilting his head upwards. Their eyes would meet but John’s gaze is hazy. It searches Sherlock’s face. “You think so?”

Sherlock’s fingers move up to cling at the sides of John’s shirt, near his abdomen, pulling. “Yes.” And because that’s not enough he forces his eyes closed and says, “You’ve had much more pedestrian girlfriends. And she’s of a higher than average intelligence.”

He feels swallowed by the things he is not saying.

“I’ll ask her, then.” Was that resolve, or a challenge? “In a few days. After her mother’s birthday party.”

“You won’t even remember this in the morning.” John’s hand still hasn’t left his hair. Sherlock swallows, and tries not to look at him with longing. “But it’s—it’s a brilliant idea.”

John’s fingers reach out and touch Sherlock’s lower lip. Sherlock sighs over them. His fingers around John’s shirt form fists.

“Do you,” John says, fingers feather-light, having to sound out the words through slurring them, “Sherlock, do—”

“You should get out of these clothes and go to bed,” Sherlock says, matter-of-fact, because he can’t take it anymore, not this and John and the easy temptation to take what he wanted. John’s drunk and it’s late and Sherlock need to stop being ridiculous. It’s ending. It’s ending and he needs to let it end.

He claps his hands as he stands up, as if the sharp sound will break the moment. It almost does. John stays seated on the sofa, slumped low against the back, looking up at Sherlock with his mouth open.

“Come on, get up!” He does not offer his hand down when John reaches out obviously to take it. He crosses his arms in front of his chest, instead.

He stays where he is as he listens to John climb the stairs to his room, still as a statue, because this is the way he holds himself together. He is afraid of what will happen when he moves.

*

Extinction of species is talked about but never fully considered. “Save the lemur”, “save the snow leopard”, “save the blue whale”. But they will fall and die, as they do, it’s inevitable. The Hawaiian honeycreeper, native to only one place as it is, is slowly dying of avian flu. The disease is carried from bird to bird by mosquitos. They’re also falling victim to invasive species. They’re yellow. Their beaks are curved.

It must be odd, to be a member of a dying species. The last of one thing. The animals don’t know, of course, but it must be difficult, scrambling about and coming into contact with other birds but never yours.

Carefully, carefully. What if the honeycreepers knew? Flew about in pairs, in groups, trying to repopulate their species. Held onto to each other. Maybe the last two sat next to each other, one watching the other go, desperate to prevent the inevitable but completely unaware as to how.

*

John leaves him puzzles for when he gets bored. Sherlock thinks that John might have just as much fun coming up with them as Sherlock does solving them, even though Sherlock does not like to admit that solving them is fun.

John knows, of course. He knows because Sherlock will sit in his pajamas, the bottoms rolled up to his knees, pen in his hand all morning, if that’s what it takes. Sometimes it takes longer, and that’s when you can tell that John is satisfied because he goes about his business with a small smirk under his features. That’s always so infuriating. John, with his smirk and all his buttons done up.

The puzzles were interesting. His favorite was to cut up recent stories about boring murders, sentence by sentence, and mix them up, omitting pieces and blacking out names. Sherlock was to reassemble them into their original manifestations, or, better yet, create a new, more interesting murder out of the details and then solve it. Sherlock would tell John his answer and John would listen, as intrigued as if it were a real case, and it made Sherlock want to forget it all and kiss him. To tie his hands behind his back and fuck him roughly into the sofa, crying out broken and high with every thrust. Everything about how he knows John coils him tighter, like a spring that’s ready to release or snap but is determined to do neither.

*

“She’ll say yes.”

“Really?”

A pause. Sherlock thinks, anyone would say yes. She would be daft, not to say yes.

“Of course.”

*

Sherlock cuts himself shaving the next morning. It is the first time that has happened in over thirteen years.

*

“How do I look?” John straightens his tie. Sherlock would think John was asking his reflection, but their eyes meet in the mirror. John wants to look wonderful.

The ring is in the front left pocket of his trousers. Sherlock has been tracking its movements around the flat since its appearance, his attention drawn to it like a beacon. Weddings and lighthouses, that’s what he thinks about.

Sherlock cannot lie. He breathes it. “Brilliant.”

John smiles with half his mouth, eyebrows raising. He’s not used to a compliment. He turns around over his shoulder to look at Sherlock straight on. “What,” he says, “I emit light?”

He looks brilliant. He looks brilliant. Sherlock wants to cross the room and pins John’s hands above his head and take him apart piece by piece until neither of them can remember English.

“Yes.”

John’s off-put, but he nods.

“Thank you.”

*

John does not come home that night. That’s all he needs to know.

*

It’s the worst in the world, knowing like that. He wishes he didn’t have to look when John came home, he wishes that he didn’t know without looking. He thinks about it, morbidly fascinated, wondering if Mary’s thin fingers pushed John’s thighs apart before she licked kisses onto John’s cock, if John felt satisfied when he pushed into her and she moaned and squirmed, if they had sex in bed or on every surface of the flat, every table and countertop.

Thinking about it almost makes him ill. He wants John on his stomach, scrambling for purchase. He wants pound into John until he’s almost sobbing from the pleasure of it, using all the resolve in the world to keep himself from saying “did Mary do this?” with every thrust.

He wants. He’s recovered from addiction before, he’s used to it. John is something he cannot have. Instead of what he wants, John does not come home, and Sherlock is left, knowing.

*

Sherlock plays his violin. He’s said he likes to do so while he’s thinking, but now, he’s not thinking about anything at all.

“Sherlock, I—”

Sherlock increases his volume and forcefulness in order to play over him, a section from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Winter. The death of things. John will not recognize it at all.

“Things—they won’t… they won’t change. Not really.”

Sherlock does not look at him. He can’t.

“Have a nice life, John.”

*

He wants to beg him to stay. He wants to throw himself to his knees and grasp at the leg of his trousers, he wants to tie him to the wall like a dog on a lead until everything is Bit not good, Sherlock, but it doesn’t matter because his eyes are dark with lust and they’re kissing in the kitchen and he wants him back, he wants him. He wants to tear Mary limb from limb, he wants to leave her stranded at the top of a tall building, he wants to take his emotions and tie a heavy weight to them and have them drowned loudly at the bottom of the Thames. When Mary sees him she smiles and promises not to come between them, but the both of them know that she already has.

“I do love him, you know,” she says. Sherlock feels as though he has been transported into another body, he seems to have forgotten how all of his parts work. Perhaps the body that he has been moved to is one of a mourning father, because that’s who he feels like. Pale and lost, with too large hands.

*

“You’ll be the best man, then?”

“Of course.”

He considers deleting the date of the wedding and flying to Russia to solve a case. He’s sorely tempted. But if Sherlock was one to give in to temptation, he would have likely been out of this mess a long time ago.

*

He starts losing his hair. He tries to catch it between his fingers, to hold it into his head. He can’t. It collects in clumps, it clogs the drain of the shower, it creates a puddle of water that washes over his feet and refuses to run away.

He knows he needs to clean it out, that he should pick something up to take care of it before the water stops running out altogether, but he cannot bring himself to go. He doesn’t like responsibilities, or housework. It is something that John would have done.

*

The truth clings to him like disease.

He doesn’t love you, he doesn’t love you, he doesn’t love you.

*

Trees spend their lives alone, surrounded by beings just like them. That might be a comfort, at least. People always say to see the forest for the trees but when you walk around touching individual trunks it’s almost important to see the trees for the forest.

I suppose that somewhere, far below where anyone can see, there are tree roots that tangle. That must be nice, like holding hands.

There are no mammals that reproduce asexually. There are no mammals that spend their lives alone.

*

His life feels full of raw panic, he can feel the synapses firing. He’s watching grains of sand slip through the cracks in his fingers and he wants to hold the entire ocean, and all the beaches, even all the children in them and the brightly colored plastic shovels that they’ve left behind. They will yell about them in the car on the way home.

*

Molly knows.

“Sherlock—”

“I forbid you to say anything.”

She strokes her own fingers as if picking apart invisible bread.

Everyone knows, really. Everyone knows.

“I just—”

He stands up so abruptly that he knocks his stool over, and it’s only the shock of the clatter and the way that Molly jumps back that keeps Sherlock from hurling a petri dish across the room. “For the love of God you insufferable woman, the last thing in the world that I need is your pity!”

His voice cracks on the second-to-last syllable, and when he sags back, he wishes he hadn’t knocked his stool over. Molly supports him with a hand on his back, and suddenly Sherlock cannot stay there any longer.

“Don’t say that everything is going to be alright.”

“I wasn’t going to.” She reaches down and picks up Sherlock’s stool for him; she puts two firm hands on his shoulders and coaxes him back into it. “I know how you feel, you know.”

Sherlock musters up a hollow laugh. “I bet you think I deserve it.”

Molly steps away, and does not touch him. Sherlock is grateful for it, though he is not quite sure if he wants her to leave. “Nobody deserves it, Sherlock.”

 *

He shuts his bedroom door behind him and fishes John's cane out from the deep recesses of his closet. There, on the floor, just for a moment, he allows himself to come undone.

 *

He used to feel high and mighty and wonderful, with John nipping around at his heels. Master and hound. Sometimes it felt as though John may have loved him. Adoring and unconditional, the way a dog would be.

Now, of course, he knows he was being ridiculous. If anyone is on a lead, it’s him, tongue lolling out and covered in fleas and laying trophies of dead vermin at John’s feet, because he doesn’t know how to say it any other way.

*

He skips John’s stag night. He doesn’t think he could stand it. The chatter, the babble. Alcohol and half-naked women. Worst of all would be having to face the realisation that the real outsider in John’s life is Sherlock himself, not Mary, that Mary fits in perfectly with the portrait of John that the rest of his life creates. The rugby partners, army mates, fellow doctors. Sherlock does not want to be faced with the admittance that he is a lopsided corner in the periphery of John’s life, not when Sherlock had somehow allowed himself to scrap everything and rebuild his world with John at its center. Foolishness. A symptom of utterly pathetic foolishness.

John shows up at Baker Street around one in the morning. Sherlock cannot quite hide how happy he is to see him. “Aren’t you supposed to be celebrating your last night as a ‘free man’?”

“For future reference,” he says, and he sounds a bit drunk, “I am too bloody old for stag parties.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Sherlock says, and it’s true, because even though he sounds like he’s joking he has not forgotten a single thing that John has told him since the day that they met.

They have leftover Indian around three in the morning and they don’t talk much. John challenges Sherlock to a game of chess and fails spectacularly, and around 4:30 they open a bottle of wine.

Nothing happens. John falls asleep on the sofa, and Sherlock covers him with a blanket and says goodbye.

*

He’d thought that they would at least die together. He wishes that they could have died together.

*

John leaves, but he would come back running if Sherlock needed him. He thinks he would. Sherlock has mastered the art of manipulation. He drafts texts constantly, simply toying with the idea – Triple murder, Nottingham. Has the potential not to be boring and Apparently there are reports of a giant rat and Potentially related robberies all across London, could be dangerous –

But more often than those he writes things like Come to dinner and I wouldn’t mind spending my evening ignoring another one of your Bond films and I miss having someone complaining about the feet in the fridge – but those he deletes immediately, and then wastes more time brooding about how sentimentality, and his inability to shut himself off.

He knows he can bring John back, but he won’t. He’s not sure why. He wonders if maybe it’s a matter of pride, if he’s waiting. He wonders if he’s afraid of being wrong.

Ultimately, Sherlock knows that this is for the best. That in the end, this will cause him the least amount of pain.

*

He jumps every time his text alert sounds. It makes him feel all the more foolish when the message is from Lestrade, or Mycroft.

*

He bullies his way onto his next case, and whenever anyone tries to speak to him he snarls as opposed to bothering to actually answer. If the murmurs become surly, if their topic turns to nostalgia for days when Sherlock had a handler, he does not hear them.

He stays up for four days straight and his malnourishment betrays itself in the way his hands shake as he trails a pale index finger across road maps of London. The skull does not remind him to feed himself, does not push him into a chair with two firm hands on his shoulders and threaten to force feed him crackers with an underlying softness in his eyes. The skull doesn’t say anything. Sherlock convinces himself that he likes it better this way. He prefers not being bossed around. He mutters this to himself as he works, saying it again, and again, and again, and again.

On the fifth day, he jumps out after the culprit from behind a skip and has his arms around his neck when he feels someone else grabbing him from behind. A miscalculation. No one was to be coming to his rescue with steady hands and a gun.

They blindfold him and they bind his hands, they stick a gag in his mouth for good measure. Sherlock tries to send a text from inside his coat pocket before they can take his phone from him, but he’s not cognizant enough to be sure that he managed.

He is planning is daring escape when he’s thrown headfirst into a freezing cold river. Naturally, naturally. He hates how dependent his body has become on food and sleep for functioning. Had he been more used to the deprivation, he would have been able to deduce where he was going.

For a moment, for long moments where he cannot even figure out which way is up, he thinks that he is going to die. He does not think it will be that bad. He thinks that John will read about it in the papers, that’s how he’ll find out.

But his body finds the surface, he works his hands free and can pull out his gag, shove away the blindfold. He is frigid and thinking in half-formed thoughts but his survival instinct propels him forward, kicks him towards safety as he rides the current downstream. His heartbeat is in his throat in a panic.

He’s shaking when he pulls himself to the shore, fingers grasping listlessly at little stones. His coat is heavy and cold around him but he does not have the strength to shrug it off, he simply shivers. His stomach tries to empty itself but it’s just bile, and at that point, Sherlock manages to weakly laugh.

Strong hands under his arms. A warm body. Fingers pressing against his chest as a man holds him. “John—”

He’d come after all. He knew he would come. He knew.

*

He sits dripping water onto the floor of the New Scotland Yard. He is compliant, for once, while he is debriefed. Neither he nor Lestrade mention what he’d said.

*

Lestrade drives him back to the flat in a cruiser. Sherlock watches London out the window so he does not need to see the way Lestrade looks at him.

Before he gets out, Lestrade reaches across and puts his hand on Sherlock’s arm. Sherlock turns to him. Neither of them say anything, and then Sherlock shrugs away.

Back in the flat, he washes his battered body with scalding water. More hair goes down the drain. He uses enough water that it sloshes over the shower’s bottom and floods the bathroom floor, and he doesn’t even bother. He doesn’t have the energy to bother.

*

He collapses asleep on the sofa still half-hoping that John will find him. John will come and cover him with another blanket. John will have heard and he’ll be so angry, he’ll be furious, he’ll be relieved and he will kneel by Sherlock and pet his hair until he fell back asleep and then clean up the flat as he rested. Sherlock would wake up with tea by his head and three bowls full of scrambled eggs, and John would sit there with a determined look on his face as Sherlock ate, hand drifting over to hold Sherlock’s fingers so as to help his weak body feed itself.

He falls asleep imagining he can feel John’s breath against his neck.

*

There was a rumor for a while that when flies fall in love, their memories were rewired to know nothing but each other. When one died, or was lost, the other would forget everything it knew.

Flies crash regularly into windows, over and over. They do not fall in love. This rumor is not true, though when flies get lost it is easy to believe that they won’t find each other.

*

When he was young, he would hide in the hall closet and wait for someone to come and find him, between the coats. He liked this hiding place because if he listened, he could hear the conversation, count the hours down until the exact moment they noticed he was missing, listen to the panicked phone calls, if they were made.

Of course, they never were. He was never noticed. In the evenings, when it was time for him to go to bed, just when he started hoping again that someone would realise he was gone, Mycroft would open the doors and scoop him into his arms. Sherlock would bury his face in Mycroft’s neck and cling to him, even after Mycroft had lowered him into bed.

He hates feeling like a child again. He hates that no one’s coming.

*

He wishes there were places in the flat that John had not touched. He wishes he could take solace somewhere in his home without remembering that John had been there; he sees John’s hands everywhere. Curved around teacups, resting on doorknobs. Sherlock can see his wrists. They weren’t weathered like his hands. They were soft, and quiet, and there was a clean line where the tan from Afghanistan stopped, slowly fading. For a while, Sherlock had thought that the new color of his skin could signify a new life for him. For them. But it’s just skin cells. Melanin.

Every single cell in the body is replaced every seven years. In 350 weeks, the person he will be will have forgotten John. His presence will be less than memory. It will not be there.

But now—

His fingertips dragging against the back of his chair, drumming themselves on the desk table, the palms rubbing themselves along the spines on the bookshelf. They were like shadows, but worse, because they took up space, because Sherlock has to move around to avoid them.

And then Sherlock can feel those hands on his own body, gentle and fleeting, warm and weathered. A reassuring tap on his shoulder, the smooth back pressed against his forehead as if feeling for a fever. He was, sincerely, a good doctor.

They are everywhere. Running up his sides, clasped around his bleeding calf, digging into his shoulder blades to relieve tension. Heavy, heavy, his entire body would be so heavy, pressed up against his. And then places that John had never touched, and then, and then.

*

The thing is, if given leave to re-live his life thousands and thousands of times, he wouldn’t change a moment of it. Just in case.

*

They invite him over for dinner three times. The first, he outright refuses. The second, he ignores the texts before finally writing John off with “case, call later.” The third, John shows up at his door and says “Jesus Christ, Sherlock, you have to come with me. I haven’t seen you in bloody weeks.”

He’s still in his dressing gown. He looks moodily around, trying to find some excuse not to go. He taps his right index finger against the frame of the door.

“Sherlock, I—come on, was it that you wanted to get rid of me?”

It’s a joke that fails to sound like one because the truth does such a bad job of hiding underneath. Sherlock breaks out of his reluctant reverie to stare at John, at the tongue in his mouth, the dip of skin beneath his nose. It’s called the philtrum. The arrow behind Cupid’s bow. It doesn’t serve any purpose. The Greeks believed it to be erotic. Sherlock’s hands shake because suddenly he feels like the pieces of his body are separating away in seven pieces. They threaten to float out of the flat, and catch fire.

“No—” he says. His voice breaks.

John watches, expectant. They go.

*

Dinner is normal, though it feels heavy. At the end of it, Sherlock hugs John, and his hand lingers a moment too long, fingers pressed firmly into the small of his back. He buries his nose in John’s hair, and then his shoulder.

*

He shows up in the doorway five weeks later like a specter from another life. Pale enough, too. Sherlock’s reading. It’s an old medical tome, speculating about blood transfusions before they knew about differing blood types.

“We can’t have children.”

Sherlock stops observing John out of his peripherals and gives him his full attention.

“It’s, we—I can’t have children.”

Sherlock stares. John looks washed out like a pair of faded jeans and he’s looking at Sherlock as if waiting to be reassembled.

“Well, that’s hardly the only—”

“Christ, Sherlock, don’t be so noble.”

Sherlock actually smirks. He looks back down at his book. He’s forgotten the paragraph he stopped at. He can’t stop smiling. The twisted kind, like every bone in his body has turned black and there’s nothing he can do about it. “Says you, of all people.”

*

He’s right, of course. He’s right because he is Sherlock Holmes, and he is never wrong.

*

One night, when John has bullied his way back in Sherlock’s life in the subtle way that only he knows how to manage, they pull each other around a sharp corner to hide in an alley. They’re back to the way it should be, running around London after criminals. They collide against each other in a haste to press against the brick. John steps back, but not far enough, because he’s tempted, and they watch each other catch their breaths, chests heaving. Their eye contact does not break.

They stand. They wait.

Gunfire, and they snap to attention. Sherlock does not even have time to hope that perhaps an end is inevitable. They wind down streets at breakneck speed after murderers and stay exactly as they are. Suspended, waiting for each other, neither going.

John returns to Mary. He only occasionally stays for Chinese.

Sherlock waits for the unwinding of the string. He still cannot be sure if it is coming.

*

He wonders if he will have another chance. He wonders, if given it, if anything would change. If it would ever happen. Could ever happen.

Most of the time, however, he does not wonder. It’s too much to think about. He spends afternoons reassembling pieces of shattered bones. He likes these puzzles. Femurs of people mingling with the skulls of dogs. It’s almost like a puzzle that John would have given him, but not quite.

*

Sometimes he thinks he will never see him again. Every time he sees John he wants to etch him into his memory, just in case this time is the last time.

*

It’s like leaving a tropical island. Like turning around to watch through the small, square plane window as it disappears.

It’s a quiet ache, more than anything, radio static on a rainy night with the stereo turned down to its quietest setting. Hearts are encased inside of the chest and they don’t stretch outwards, they’re protected by ribs and muscle and skin and holding hearts is for giraffes and cadavers. We can open our windows but we can’t get closer. It’s the ring of light that stretches just outside light bulbs, the sound a coat makes as it slides off over cotton and lands on the floor. Hair brushed the wrong way. Seeing someone in Tesco and mistaking them for somebody else. When you’re at a bookstore and a child tugs on your trouser leg thinking that you’re their father. Car accidents in Spring. Being unable to find sure footing on an icy street, watching old movies of buildings collapsing played backwards, staring at paradise as it flies away from you, and thinking:

                Weren’t you lucky you found me?

                Weren’t you lucky you found me?