John waves it off as 'just a headache' for two days. Sherlock allows him the deception; he doesn't voice the things he observes in his bond-mate during that time: the slightly glassy eyes, the way he sweats in his sleep as the fever he won’t admit to spikes, the periods of vacant staring, and most important, the spikes of emotion that stab into him at random intervals. He doesn't think John's even aware of them. He doesn’t think John has noticed the way Sherlock reacts every time it happens, with barely muffled sounds of pain and wincing, and that worries him. John doesn’t have his powers of observation, but he does notice things. He always notices things about Sherlock.
He doesn’t even seem to notice Sherlock’s worry about all this, and that’s the strangest thing of all, considering how deep in each other’s heads they are.
The next day finds them at Scotland Yard doing paperwork, in Lestrade's office despite the DI's protests. Sherlock hadn't been able to come up with a workable excuse fast enough to forestall John saying ok to Lestrade's text asking them to come in. That in itself is a sign that something worrisome is going on.
And now John is staring at nothing, his pen poised over the form he's supposed to be filling out. Sherlock has been watching him for five minutes, and he hasn’t moved once.
"John, you all right?" Greg asks.
"Hmm? Oh, yeah, just a bit of a headache." And he promptly zones out again.
Sherlock stops watching John to look at Greg, who is staring at John with wide eyes. Sherlock feels his worry and concern, refracted and amplified through John. John seems totally unaware of it. He must not be aware of it, or else he would be doing more to fix it. John always does something to fix it, when someone he cares about is worrying.
Sherlock finally manages to catch Greg's eye and give him a look. A 'send us home' look. A look that no one would ever call ‘pleading,’ at least not to his face.
"Right." Greg stands and takes the form John had been staring at. "I think that's good for today, lads. Now get out of my hair."
John startles and looks up. "We're through already?"
Greg nods and makes a shooing motion.
Sherlock watches John as he slowly gets to his feet. Greg is clearly trying not to let the worry show, and John still seems oblivious. That cannot possibly be good. Sherlock can see it, he can feel it, why doesn’t John notice it?
John follows after Sherlock with a vague goodbye to Greg. Before they're five feet from his office, Sherlock has his hand clasped reassuringly around the back of John's neck. He hears the sigh of relief that John releases at his touch, and Sherlock lets a sense of concern permeate his mind, flowing along their connection to John.
"It's just a headache," John murmurs, as they come to a halt in front of the lifts. So he’s feeling that, at least.
"Like hell it is," Sherlock replies, nearly conversational but for the underlying fierceness.
"Can we talk about this at home?"
Sherlock takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. He nods once. He doesn't remove his hand from John's neck, and John doesn't ask him to.
John leans heavily against Sherlock in the taxi, all the way back to Baker St. Sherlock doesn't comment. He does his best to build a cocoon around John, to keep him insulated from the world for a bit, the way John used to do for him. From the way John spends most of the trip with his eyes shut, a nearly perpetual look of pain on his face, Sherlock surmises it doesn't work very well. He’ll have to get John to show him how, when he’s better.
He helps John up the stairs to the flat, takes his jacket from him, and guides him to his chair.
After a moment, John opens his eyes and looks up at him.
"It's not just a headache." There's no need to make it a question.
"No," John confirms, his voice tired, hoarse, and low. "I feel like shit."
Sherlock makes a hmm-ing sound. "Tea?"
"Sure, just give me a minute."
Sherlock snorts and goes into the kitchen.
After John drinks the tea--made by Sherlock!--Sherlock bundles him into pyjamas, gives him two paracetamol and gives him the choice of the sofa or bed.
Wisely, John chooses the bed.
Things are a bit confused over the next few days.
Sherlock spends the rest of that day watching over John, researching his symptoms online--Google and WebMD both tell him it's cancer and/or a brain tumor, helpfully enough--and trying to formulate a plan of action. Mostly, he comes up with: lots of fluids, paracetamol and various other remedies for symptoms as they occur, and rest. Hope it doesn’t turn out to be anything worse than some sort of flu and that they don’t have to go to A&E. Sherlock is pretty sure John is like every other doctor on the planet in that he’s probably a horrid patient. And neither of their memories of being in hospital are particularly pleasant (though Sherlock doesn’t remember a lot of the last time; he was unconscious and inside John for most of it, after all).
John spends most of the day under the duvet on their bed shivering and dozing.
After Sherlock gives in and crawls in next to him, late that night, John spends the rest of the night clinging to him and shivering or pushing him away and sweating.
Neither of them gets much sleep.
When Sherlock first wakes up the next morning, he thinks he's caught what John has. He's freezing, his head is pounding, and everything aches. It takes him a long time, lying there next to John, tangled together, to figure out he isn't actually sick, he's just feeling what John is feeling physically as well as mentally.
He tries to separate himself from John, and it takes a long time. This doesn't bode well.
Sherlock spends the day telling himself he feels fine and wandering around the flat in a daze. He tries to work on his current experiment, and ends up setting fire to a batch of dead flies. He has to douse it with the tea he’d made for John. The tea was stone cold, though, and he’d obviously never managed to get it to John, so he sets the kettle back on to boil and actually manages to get a mug to John before it cools this time. He puts too much milk and sugar in, and John winces when he sips it, rasps a half-lucid ‘thank you’ and collapses back against the pillows. He’s asleep again before Sherlock even leaves the room. He tries to fix something for John to eat later in the day, and forgets about it halfway through, wandering off to doze on the sofa for a while. When he wakes up, John is slumped over the kitchen table nibbling at a piece of toast and sipping at a glass of water, and Sherlock has to drag him back to bed. They both sleep for a while after that.
John wants soup. He is insisting upon soup, he keeps croaking over and over that he requires soup, whenever Sherlock is within earshot.
At least he’s starting to feel better, Sherlock reasons. His fever has come down, though it hasn’t broken entirely yet. John is feeling just better enough to be restless with it, and Sherlock will promise him anything to keep him resting in bed so he doesn’t make himself worse before he truly gets better.
Mrs Hudson is out with Mrs Turner and her married ones at the moment, something about a birthday lunch, so it’s up to Sherlock to acquire soup. And to make that soup for John, since John still isn’t up to getting out of bed and making it himself. If he finds out Sherlock is doing all of this, he’ll probably try to insist on getting up and doing it himself, so Sherlock must be crafty about making it, too.
If only he didn’t feel so awful. John may be feeling a bit better, but he hasn’t managed to get control of his empathy back; he’s still spiking wildly, projecting all over the place. So far, Sherlock has managed to keep the random emotions erupting from John like solar flares mostly contained to himself, but it’s hard, and exhausting. And it hurts. It makes him ache, mentally and physically. He’s doing his best, though, and trying to keep it from John because he knows that the lack of control will only make John feel worse, make him feel guilty, though surely there’s nothing he can do about it. Sherlock isn’t sure John is even aware it’s happening--he thinks perhaps not, as John hasn’t been apologizing for it--and he makes a note to speak with John about it once he’s recovered, so they can work out something for the next time one of them is sick.
Sherlock stumbles a bit as he walks the few blocks to the Tesco Express. His equilibrium is off; he’s fairly sure that John’s must be too, or would be if he had got out of bed for anything other than using the bathroom in the past several days.
It’s been ages since he’s been in this particular shop, and he really hopes the sunglasses, the scarf, and John’s jacket (it fits, but poorly) make him unrecognizable enough that he won’t be reminded that he’s been banned for life. He doesn’t have the energy to walk over to the Waitrose on Marylebone High Street.
He doesn’t much like Waitrose, anyway.
Sherlock wanders through the shop a few times, getting his bearings. He picks up a packet of Cadbury Caramel biscuits because they look good. On second thought, he picks up a couple of other packets of biscuits as well. Never hurts to have some variety. He picks up bread and milk, and carrots. He’s about to pay for everything and leave when he remembers he’s supposed to be getting soup, so he goes back for that. He knows he should be irritated by this lack of focus, but he’s too tired for more than a passing note of annoyance.
Sherlock picks out three tins of condensed soup. He knows it’s not very good soup, but he remembers when he was a boy, and had been sick, all he’d wanted was this condensed soup, with its preservatives and salt. He’s not sure why. He remembers that he’d insisted Mycroft make him soup when he was sick. He wouldn’t let anyone else do it.
Cook had kept condensed soup on hand for those occasions. Normally she wouldn’t be caught dead with condensed soup in her pantry, but Sherlock had refused to eat anything else when sick, and Mycroft was a fairly hopeless cook as a young man. So she’d given in and kept it on hand (Sherlock is fairly certain Mother had something to do with that). Mycroft could handle mixing soup and water and heating it up, with supervision.
Sherlock has to shake his head to dislodge the memories, and the strange, sad feeling they leave behind.
He almost blacks out when he touches the chip and PIN machine at the checkout.
It hurts. It stabs into his mind, a thousand images all vying to be seen, all at once, and they’re all there, right there, right in front of him, screaming at him. Sherlock pulls his hand back with a hiss and stares at the machine. It’s telling him that his payment method is invalid now, and Sherlock stares at it for a long moment and thinks, oh, so this is what John has to deal with.
He understands now, why John hates these machines so much. They don’t seem to get along with John, with his peculiarities. And apparently they don’t like Sherlock much either, though he can only do these things because of John.
Sherlock chucks all his things back into his basket and backs away from the machine, getting back into line to be checked out by one of the idiots behind the counter. He takes a deep breath and schools his face into pleasantness, and makes it through without anyone realizing who he is and kicking him out of the shop.
The sun is bright when he emerges with his two bags and heads back up the street to the flat. It makes his headache worse, even with the sunglasses.
The trip has exhausted him, far beyond what he would expect, far beyond reason. He trudges back home in the sunshine and the pleasant weather, oblivious to it all. Sherlock opens one of the tins and prepares to heat up some soup for John, contemplating stealing a few spoonsful for himself.
Cooking is simple chemistry, he thinks as he stares at the gently bubbling soup, willing it to heat faster. Somehow, he manages not to burn it, and John is delighted when Sherlock comes into their room with it.
Sherlock shouldn’t want to experiment on John.
He sits in the corner of the room, observing John and making notes for hours; he’s not sure how long. He’s not sure his notes will be coherent later, but he can’t seem to stop making them. A lot of them are variations on ‘why are you so interesting’, a question he’d thought he’d long since given up trying to answer.
He’s caught in a recursive loop, repeating the same thoughts over and over. It should be driving him insane, but instead he finds it comforting. Everything is a confused jumble, and he can’t find his way out. Sherlock can’t separate himself from John, from the confusion of his delirium, from the spiking emotions that jab at him constantly. Eventually he crawls into bed with John.
And he doesn’t want to separate himself, either. Sherlock finds himself wishing he could crawl into John’s head, into his body, and wallow there, in his germs, in his mind. He wants John’s germs, he wants John.
John turns over restlessly in his arms, pushing him feebly away. “Go ‘way, Sherlock,” he mutters.
Sherlock only burrows closer. Everything is a mess in his head, confusion and want and desire, all jumbled up and tangled with John, and the only thing he can concentrate on is being as close to John as possible in this moment.
He makes a sound of protest as he tightens his grip on John.
“Oh my god, Sherlock, I feel like shit. Go have a wank in the shower like normal people do when their spouse is sick.”
John turns over and pulls the covers up to his ears, ignoring Sherlock completely after his declaration and soon sinking back into a restless doze.
Sherlock lays in bed for a long time in shock. Spouse? What the hell did John mean by ‘spouse’? Does he think of Sherlock as his spouse? Does he want Sherlock to be his spouse?
Confused and still wrapped up in his own thoughts, Sherlock drags himself into the shower and does as John had told him.
It doesn’t help. As far as orgasms go, it’s almost entirely unsatisfactory, perfunctory at best and leaves him feeling lonely and even more out of sorts than he was before. He tries to read for a while afterwards, to leave John in peace, and ends up spending most of the evening sitting in the corner of their room watching John sleep instead.
Up is down, day is night, Sherlock’s internal sense of time is off. John’s is as well, at least as far as Sherlock can tell.
The good news, though, is that John’s fever has broken. He’s lucid again, or at least lucid enough to complain about everything. Sherlock takes it as much in stride as he can manage, he’s just happy that John is feeling better, not least because he can think straight again.
“Hm?” John looks up from where he’s camped out in his armchair, staring listlessly at the telly. He’s feeling much better, but he’s still grey around the edges and has next to zero energy.
Sherlock has been pacing for a while now, trying to settle his thoughts, but he can’t get past what John said the other day. He can’t decide if John was referring to Sherlock as his spouse, or if John wants Sherlock to be his spouse, or if it meant absolutely nothing at all and Sherlock is over-thinking far more than usual.
It’s hard to tell sometimes, when it’s about John. There are too many feelings there, too much in his head.
He keeps pacing for a few minutes, until John prompts him with, “Sherlock, you all right?”
“I have a question, John.”
“Okay, out with it then, you’re starting to make my headache come back with all the fussing you’re doing.”
“I do not fuss, John.”
John smiles at him but doesn’t speak.
“You called me your spouse, John.” He pauses, and then adds, “I think.”
It’s not like Sherlock to pause or say something so uncertain, and he can hear it in his own voice, the uncertainty, the hesitation. He hates it.
John blinks at him; he must hear it as well. After a moment of blinking, he waves Sherlock over, and Sherlock crosses the room to him immediately, kneeling at John’s feet and dropping his head into John’s lap. John’s fingers immediately thread into his hair, and Sherlock sighs into the contact. It’s comforting, it’s familiar and it grounds him.
“I’m not sure exactly what I said, Sherlock. I was pretty out of it for a while there.”
“Do you want me to be your spouse, John?” Sherlock tries to keep his fingers from tightening around John’s ankle, where they’ve wrapped themselves. He takes deep breaths and closes his eyes.
John feels warm and safe in his head. Tired, yes, and still not altogether well, but his presence is calm and soothing like it usually is. It feels nothing at all like how John has felt during the majority of his sickness, spiky and hot and unpleasant. Sherlock feels as though a weight has been lifted off of his chest, and he feels it as his body relaxes into John’s. John keeps threading his fingers through Sherlock’s hair, scratching gently at his scalp, massaging behind his ears and at his temples, touch gentle and sure and adding another element of relaxation to his soothing state of mind.
“Sherlock, I’ve thought of you as my spouse for a long time. I... didn’t think you’d want anything to do with marriage.”
He can feel John’s shrug. He can feel that this isn’t a big deal to John, and he can feel the truth of it. John does think of Sherlock as his spouse, and he’s completely unconcerned with the logistics of it, with a piece of paper or how the world thinks of them. All that matters is that John considers himself Sherlock’s, and Sherlock his, and they’re in it for the long run.
“Do you want to get married?” John asks after a few minutes.
Sherlock shrugs. “I don’t know.”
“We can if you want, if that’s important to you, you know. But I don’t need it. You’re stuck with me.”
Sherlock can feel John’s smile; he hides his own responding smile against John’s knee.
“You can think of me as your spouse as well, you know. I’d like it, if you do.”
Sherlock lifts his head. John is smiling softly at him, and Sherlock is struck again by the depth of John’s devotion to him, despite his flaws, despite everything. The evidence is there, that John really means what he says so often, but Sherlock has always had a hard time believing it. Looking up at John, it seems just a little bit easier to believe, for once.
“I’d like that, too, John.”