John nearly stumbled across the threshold of the inn, dragging their two bags inside and out of the rain. Behind him through the door, Sherlock could see the dark, obscuring downpour that had settled over Westcliffe. Night was nearly upon the small rural village, and it was long past time that they found somewhere to retire. Sherlock reached to hold the door open for John, who responded with a weary glance of appreciation.
For three days, nearly nonstop, they'd tracked the leads of their latest case. The suspect, responsible for a triple homicide back in London, had lured them on a wild goose chase through seven different towns, leaving bodies in his wake at every turn. Anticipating his movements was exhilarating, but towards the end even Sherlock just wanted to be done with it. Things thankfully ended in impressive fashion when John ran down the murderer in a nearby wooded preserve and performed a spectacular sliding tackle that took out the criminal's legs from under him. Sherlock quickly caught up and found John pinning him to the ground, gun in hand, and sporting a triumphant grin. The local police force soon arrived and took the suspect into custody.
The adrenaline was long gone, though, and John now appeared fatigued beyond belief. As he shook the raindrops from his coat, Sherlock couldn't help but assess John's condition. Tired lines underscored the heavy cast to his eyes, the contour of his shoulders sagged noticeably, and his usual herculean patience was frayed to the point of breaking. John was exhausted; there was no doubt about it.
Truth be told, Sherlock felt just as tired as John, although that was hardly a new development. For most of his life he'd suffered from periodic sleeping difficulties, but over the last several months chronic insomnia had evolved into an ever-present affliction. Over the years the condition's intensity regularly flared and receded, but his current bout was worse than any other he'd ever experienced.
John thought him resistant to weariness in some ambiguously superhuman way, not quite aware of his ongoing struggles. It was true enough, no occasion, when he had a case to distract him and boundless adrenaline flooded his system. In between the work, Sherlock spent his nights back home in an aggravated daze, alternately attempting to sleep and becoming increasingly frustrated as it continued to elude him. On the rare nights he could fall asleep, it proved fitful and short-lived.
The excitement of a case was no longer enough to ward off the consequences of so little sleep. His senses, already significantly dulled, grew increasingly impeded every day. He wasn't ignorant enough to not notice it. If he didn't find a solution soon, his cognitive functions would further degrade into utter uselessness. It was ponderous problem with no obvious answer. Without his mind, what was he good for?
John left the bags and approached the low front desk where the rotund innkeeper flipped through a copy of the evening newspaper.
"Hello, we'd like a room, please. Two beds," John requested.
The innkeeper looked up and laughed drily. "Sorry, lads, but our rooms with two beds are all booked up." He lifted the paper and pointed to the headline. "Annual barley festival all this week, you see."
"What, in this weather?" Sherlock scoffed. He glanced around the quaint reception area, noting with disdain how poorly his eyes focused on anything more than ten feet away from him. It was as if viewing the world through a malfunctioning lens.
The innkeeper shrugged. "The festival's been held here for three hundred years. A little rain won't scare anyone."
"Two single rooms, then," John said in an exasperated tone.
"Nearly clean out of those, too, but I'll see what we have available," the innkeeper offered. He moved to the registry and began scanning through the reservations. After a moment he jabbed his finger down on the paper, looking up with hope. "Ah! Mr. and Mrs. Farthing never checked in. Their room's fair game. Only one bed, though."
John glanced back at Sherlock, then out the window at the rainy night. "Shall we try somewhere else?"
Sherlock shrugged indifferently. Either way, he wouldn't be sleeping tonight.
"All the other inns are full up with tourists, as well," the innkeeper advised. "Can't guarantee they'll have any openings."
"Fine, we'll take the room," John replied, handing over his card.
Bed sharing wasn't an entirely novel experience for them, and when they entered the room no comment was made about the singular bed. It was a cozy suite, clearly decorated and arranged to appeal to married couples.
John dropped their bags on the floor, removing his coat and tossing it on one of the nearby chairs. Without a word, he rummaged through one of the bags until he found his pyjamas and toothbrush, then disappeared into the bathroom.
Sherlock sank down into the other chair in the room. He was tired almost to the point of physical pain. He rubbed the heels of his hands into his eyes, silently cursing his insomnia. It was a frustrating invisible wall between fatigue and relief, one he hadn't yet figured out how to breach. Tonight would be another long night. He knew he would be better served to spend it reading or researching rather than wasting his time lying in the bed.
John emerged from the bathroom in a t-shirt and pyjama bottoms, hand closed around something in a tight fist. He drew closer to where Sherlock sat, then opened his fingers and presented two small white pills.
"I hear you pacing most nights," John noted. "You've not slept well recently."
More like not at all. Sherlock rolled his eyes at the offering. "Soporifics? I don't need sleeping pills, John."
"You're not sitting up all night. I can see how exhausted you are."
John was becoming eerily observant about Sherlock's intentions, these days. He got the details wrong, most of the time, but he always seemed to know when something wasn't right.
"I'm not taking sleeping pills. My brain's already fuzzy enough. I don't need to impair it further," Sherlock retorted, annoyed.
John frowned dourly, then removed one of the pills with his free hand. "Fine. One, then."
For some reason, John was particularly stubborn when it came to issues regarding Sherlock's health. Arguing with him would quickly devolve into a shouting match unless Sherlock defused the situation right now. In a display of compromise, he took the pill from John and made a show of popping it into his mouth. It was simple enough to palm the medication and pretend he had swallowed it.
John flashed a brief, satisfied smile. "The bed, not the chair," he warned.
Sherlock rose from his seat, gathered his things, then went into the bathroom. Once the door was shut, he carefully ground the pill down to a fine chalky dust and scattered the remnants into the bin. John would never know.
When Sherlock came out of the bathroom, the lights in the room were out and John was already in bed. The only light was a faint luminescence emanating from the window, where the rain still pattered incessantly. He moved to the empty side of the bed, drawing back the covers.
He paused, looking at the back of John's head where it creased into the pillow. He was on his side and turned away from Sherlock. A quick observation of his breathing rate informed him that John was already in a deep slumber. Unsurprising, considering how tired he had been. Sherlock envied how easily he fell asleep.
Sherlock finally got into the bed, tugging up the covers over himself. The smooth sheets were already warm from John's residual heat. He stretched out briefly to feel the full extent of it, then settled down and resigned himself to another restless night. If he had to lay here, at least he had his own personal heat source in the bed with him. John was generally a quiet sleeper, excepting the occasions he had nightmares that Sherlock heard all the way from downstairs.
He turned on his side, angling himself toward John. From this close, he could distinctly smell what he had come to classify as John's post-case scent. He usually only detected it in the cab as they returned home, or when John swept past him to turn in after a particularly grueling day out. It was primarily a mixture of the aromas of all the places they'd been together; in this case, the damp of a country rainstorm, a cloying aura of several varieties of low-lying local plants, and a distinctive hint of muddy pastures filled with autumn rot. Underneath was John's unique earthy scent, strong and grounding. An edge of faded adrenaline testified to his excitement from the day's events. Tonight, the added smell of soap and toothpaste supplied a domestic touch. Combined, it was the perfect olfactory representation of their life together, and one of Sherlock's favorite scents.
John's breathing came softly, covers rising and falling gently with each inhalation. His steady tempo effortlessly guided Sherlock, who soon found his own breathing rate slowing to match John's. He felt a drowsiness taking hold, and he distantly wondered how warm John's core body temperature would feel in comparison to the sheets. Perhaps he should formulate an experiment to chart how effectively the heat was retained. A fascinating project.
Gradually, the racing thoughts and obscure musings that normally plagued Sherlock's mind settled in yield to John's steady presence. He barely noticed as the world slowly fell to darkness.
The next thing Sherlock knew, he was awakened by movement as a weight lifted off the bed. He flexed his hands, feeling the soft sheets of the warm spot, now vacated, beneath his fingers. He hummed a complaint into his pillow, wishing for the return of the heated mass that had been next to him.
The door to the bathroom clicked shut sharply, and Sherlock's eyes snapped open. It required a moment for his mind to register the morning sunlight streaming through the window.
Sherlock immediately shot up in the bed, shocked.
He'd fallen asleep.
And stayed asleep.
One hand still rested in the indentation where John had lain. Sherlock retracted it, confused as to how he had managed to resolve his insomnia so effortlessly. But it was true; the bedside clock confirmed that he'd slept for nearly eight hours straight.
More importantly, his mind felt astoundingly clear for the first time in weeks. He glanced around the room, testing his newly corrected eyesight.
The door to the bathroom creaked open and John reentered the room. Despite his disheveled hair, his eyes were alert and bright. John paused when he saw Sherlock upright, then smiled.
"See? Aren't you glad you took the sleeping pill?" John asked. "You look far more rested."
Sherlock stared at him for a moment, then nodded vaguely. Rested? He felt positively reborn. Weeks and weeks of torturously frustrating attempts, and he'd fallen asleep without even trying. His mind buzzed with theories, struggling to reconcile the outcome with the data. The only statistically relevant change was John's presence. Ergo, it must be posited that John was the differentiating factor.
"Oh, and one other thing," John said, crouching to dig through his bag. "I don't care how bored you get, Sherlock, but you need to keep your hands to yourself while I'm trying to sleep. I'm an involuntary lab specimen often enough when awake, and I don't need more cause to wonder whether you've drugged me again."
"Don't be silly, John," Sherlock replied. "I only drug you when it's relevant to a case. We've just finished one."
John narrowed his eyes, watching Sherlock as if he didn't quite believe him. This was another area in which John's instincts were sharpening, and rightly so. Sherlock hardly ever drugged him during the down time between cases, but he had certainly run his share of behavioral and cognitive tests on an oblivious John. He had extensive notes buried somewhere in his bedroom to prove it.
"Well," said John, breaking his accusatory glare as he pulled out his jeans. "Best get going. The train for London leaves in two hours. I'm ready to get home to Baker Street."
Sherlock pondered where he sat, eyeing John. Ideas sprouted in his mind like mushrooms after a rainstorm. "Hmm, yes. I've got loads of work to do, after all."
As any scientist knew, the true test in validating a hypothesis was to reliably replicate the results. Sherlock strongly suspected that John was the source of his newfound ability to sleep, but he was determined to rule out all possible extraneous variables. If John truly was the cause, careful planning would be required to successfully integrate him into Sherlock’s sleeping practices.
He was refreshed by the one night’s sleep at the inn in Westcliffe, but weeks of sleep deprivation couldn’t be resolved so quickly. Soon after they arrived back at Baker Street, Sherlock felt the familiar weariness sink back into him. He needed another good night’s rest, and soon, if he was to remain functional. The symptoms were abated, but it was only a matter of time until they returned in force.
For the first few days, he set about recreating the experience at the inn as fully as possible in his bedroom. Heating, lighting, humidity, background noise – everything he could possible think of. Sherlock procured identical sheets, and acquired a mattress topper and pillows that precisely matched everything from that night. Nature was even on his side, for once, as a persistent rain fell that adequately simulated the weather from before.
Once everything was set, Sherlock conducted dozens of tests so see if the environment was sufficient to help him sleep. No matter what he tried, however, nothing seemed to work.
He stuffed a weighted pillow in the bed next to him, hoping the mass would successfully serve as a surrogate for John. It didn’t help, so Sherlock dug around in his cupboard until he found one of the three jumpers he’d liberated from John’s room and wrapped it around the pillow. When that failed, he added an electric blanket around everything to replicate John’s bodily warmth. Still, he was unable to sleep. The resulting conglomeration was a dismal substitute for John.
After four days, he was at wit’s end with frustration. There was only one avenue left to explore, and that was John himself.
The main problem to consider was John’s privacy about his room and belongings. Sherlock rarely entered the upstairs bedroom when John was at home, and if he suddenly began popping in it would seem very suspicious. He couldn’t ask John directly to allow him to sleep there, as consensual bed sharing with another male was a practice John would consider outside normal behavior and therefore uncomfortably taboo. Experience told Sherlock that John would respond defensively and reject him outright if he brought it up so bluntly. It was best that he find an alternate avenue to trick John into allowing him to sleep in the same bed.
Before embarking on such a delicate errand, however, there was one last strategy Sherlock was willing to try. He received the opportunity to do so the very next evening.
He sat at the sitting room table in his dressing gown, browsing lazily on his laptop for potential schemes to which John might easily fall victim.
“I’m off to Natasha’s,” John told him lightly, pulling on his coat near the doorway. He glanced over at Sherlock to see if he was listening.
Sherlock furrowed his brow, not bothering to look up. Natasha. Natasha? Oh, of course. That had to be the name of John’s latest lady friend. A pang of annoyance tightened in his chest. Why couldn’t John just stay here? Sherlock flicked his eyes up at him and made an ambiguous sound. John always seemed to interpret that noise to mean whatever he wanted to hear.
“Right. See you, then,” John replied with mild irritation. He hefted a medium-sized bag off the floor and over his shoulder.
The movement suddenly caught Sherlock’s attention. The bag had enough room for a single day’s worth of clothing, plus whatever toiletries John might need for the evening. He was staying overnight at this Natasha woman’s place. Which meant John would be gone at least until mid-day tomorrow, and his room would be empty.
“See you,” Sherlock said with a sarcastic flare of his eyebrows and a bitter grin.
John twisted his expression, confused briefly by the sentiment behind the statement. Nevertheless, he simply sighed and departed down the stairs.
Sherlock watched from the window until John hailed and entered a cab. The vehicle pulled away, and he shut the curtain. It was time to put his theory to rest, once and for all.
Rocketing up the stairs with impressive speed, he halted abruptly before the closed bedroom door. Sherlock carefully reached out, turning the handle slowly and pushing it open. He glanced cautiously into the empty room in the unlikely event John had set any protective measures against possible intruders. Unsurprisingly, there were none. He wasn’t Sherlock, after all. Still, it never hurt to check.
Sherlock flitted inside and silently closed the door behind him. The room was dark and painfully tidy, as usual.
John didn’t own a great many things, but those he considered most important were stored carefully in a box in the back of the cupboard. A sentimental fellow, John. When he was away for extended periods, Sherlock often spent a significant amount of time poring over everything – photos and souvenirs from his tours in Afghanistan, postcards and letters from friends and family, and even some old certificates and prized coursework from his time at university. Most of it was functionally useless. Sherlock sometimes thought that if he looked at John’s mementos long enough, he might be able to fully decipher what made John so very… John.
Over time, other things began appearing in the box. Newspaper clippings of cases they’d worked on together. Brochures and pamphlets from significant landmarks they’d visited in the course of their investigations. An array of grainy printed photos, obviously taken with John’s phone, of various crime scenes and other locations. Sherlock usually stood somewhere in the frame of each, pacing or crouching or inspecting one object or another. John seemed to enjoy taking pictures of him in the midst of deep thinking spells, though Sherlock couldn’t fathom why.
In the dark silence of the room, Sherlock peeled back the neatly-made bedclothes and slid between the sheets. Perhaps, if he was lucky, his insomnia could be defeated simply by John’s scent and the nearness of things that belonged to him. If that was the case, Sherlock would be able to sleep while John was out of the flat. Such an arrangement would be far easier to manage without drawing suspicion.
John’s bed was chilly and the sheets were tucked too tightly. Sherlock kicked at them until they were sufficiently loosened, grumbling at the weak amount of heat generated by the friction. He tugged at the covers, flipping onto his stomach and drawing them close around him like a cocoon. Sandwiched between the pillow and blankets, the lingering scent of John flooded his senses. Sherlock’s muscles slowly relaxed, and he practically melted into the mattress.
Sherlock laid there for several hours, trying and trying to let sleep take him. He remained in drowsy half-doze, mind erratically jumping between disconnected and unwanted thoughts. The atomic numbers and individual properties of the noble gases. The most efficient ways to clean bloodstains from silk. An alphabetical index of all species classified under genus marmota.
Insufferable. He extended an arm along the surface of the sheets, touching the side of the bed where John obviously slept. The ramblings in his brain slowed, then quieted, as he focused on the sensations under his fingertips. This was where John lay every night when they were home. Sherlock imagined him curled up there, looking and feeling identical to the perfect memory he retained from the night at the inn. His head on the pillow, warmth radiating out from his resting body. The way he breathed. The way he just… existed. As if it wasn’t anything remarkable. As if he didn’t know how effortlessly he inhabited the thoughts of others.
Sherlock's thoughts suddenly shattered when the door banged open. The overheard lights instantly flicked on with painful brightness. Sherlock tensed where he lay, caught as a deer in headlights. He hadn’t heard anything from downstairs. How hadn’t he heard anything?
John breezed into the room, flinging his bag against the cupboard door in a huff of aggravation. He placed his hands on his hips, then casually glanced around. When he spotted Sherlock lying in his bed, John physically startled. “Jesus Christ!”
“What are you doing here?” Sherlock asked abruptly.
John blinked rapidly in surprise, eyes wide. He opened and closed his mouth, thrown off by the question. “Er… it’s my room, Sherlock. I think the more relevant question is what are you doing here?”
They stared at one another for a few seconds. It was sufficient time for Sherlock to read what had happened via John’s body language and clothing. He’d obviously arrived at Natasha’s fully expecting to spend the night. John had felt slightly uncomfortable there at first but after a few glasses of wine he’d relaxed a bit. At some point within the next ninety minutes, Natasha had initiated a massive row. As they'd been seeing one another for less than two weeks, it was almost certainly the traditional maiden argument about John's work and priorities; namely, all the time he spent with Sherlock. She must've been particularly spiteful in her commentary, because John grew upset and had ended things right then and there, taking his belongings and returning home.
John still watched him, waiting for an explanation. Sherlock immediately identified the most suitable defense in this situation: fragility. John was compassionate and always ready to help those he perceived as weak or damaged. Sherlock adopted his best mimicry of pained confusion. Perhaps John would think he was ailing.
Unimpressed, John raised an eyebrow and sighed. He wasn’t buying it. “No need for theatrics, Sherlock. If you need something, just ask.”
Need something. Sherlock dropped his false expression and frowned. Maybe John would capitulate if he just told him what he needed? No, there remained a significant risk that John would become uncomfortable and unilaterally reject the idea. Then where would Sherlock be? Still sleepless, and living with an angry, affronted blogger. Who owned a handgun. No, thank you.
Sherlock looked away. “I couldn’t sleep,” he remarked quietly.
“You’re still not sleeping?” John asked, an edge of worry invading his tone. His demeanor transformed into his professional medical persona, critically examining Sherlock from where he stood. “Let me see if I can find any pills.”
John left the room, and Sherlock sank further into the bed. More sleeping pills? This could work. Yes, this could be perfect, if he played it right. He listened as John fumbled around in the bathroom next door, carefully plotting his next crucial moves.
When John returned he carried a small plastic prescription bottle. He opened the lid and poured out two pills into his hand. They were blue and elongated.
Sherlock accepted them, poking at the pills with a finger. He glanced up at John. “You don’t have the ones from last time? Those worked.”
John sighed, then muttered something about seeing if he could find them. He left the room again.
Clasping the pills tight in his hand, Sherlock crept from the bed as quietly as he could manage. He padded across the floor, avoiding all the creaky spots he’d memorized, then bent and flung the pills behind the radiator.
By the time John returned, Sherlock lay in the bed performing the best impression of sleep he’d ever pulled off in his life. The hand that had been holding the pills was slightly outstretched and open, suggesting that he’d taken them and quickly succumbed to their soporific effect.
It was now or never. Sherlock listened, eyes shut, as John shifted slightly, clearly indecisive about whether he should wake Sherlock and force him to go downstairs. He waited, waited... then heard John kick off his shoes onto the floor. John shuffled around with his bag, shut off the ceiling light, then left to go to the bathroom next door.
Fifteen minutes later, as Sherlock sustained the illusion of sleep, John returned and quietly clambered into the bed with the familiar aromas of soap and toothpaste. Sherlock heard him sigh softly as he dropped flat against his pillow.
John finally settled to stillness, and Sherlock smiled in the dark.
He woke with a small start, mind wrapped in a lingering veil of drowsiness. The spectrum of light coming through the window coupled with the time of year told Sherlock it was still night. And, mercifully, he had managed to fall asleep once again.
Awareness of his body kicked in, and immediately something felt odd. Sherlock glanced down in the dimness to inspect the foreign, heated mass between his arms.
What he saw unequivocally confirmed his propensity to grab hold of John as he slept, which might be an inconvenient and disconcerting trait if it wasn’t so incredibly comfortable. He had one arm snug across John’s chest and around his side, and the other inexplicably buried underneath him. It took a moment to recognize the pressure along one of his thighs was, in fact, because it was woven between John’s legs. Sherlock almost entirely enclosed him in a cage of limbs. But, in a strange deviation from predicted behavior, John’s unconscious self didn’t seem to mind.
John lay mostly on his back, head tilted towards Sherlock. He felt shockingly solid and real between Sherlock’s arms, which was an absolutely ridiculous observation because of course John was real. Why did it seem so unexpected? Sherlock could feel every shallow rise and fall of John’s chest and sense his heart where it beat a steady rhythm against his bicep. Normal signs of life, with nothing of concern to note. And yet, Sherlock’s mind circled uselessly in a loop of confused awe over this verification of the obvious.
John shifted in his sleep. Sherlock stiffened as he began moving of his own accord, turning inward until he was completely on his side. Pliant and relaxed, John folded against him as if it was the most natural position in the world. His face settled level with Sherlock’s collar bone. He was so warm, and Sherlock couldn’t help but immediately file away his observations about his temperature and weight and a thousand other infinitesimal details.
Other people saw John as this stoic being, a steadfast mountain resisting Sherlock’s gale. But if any symbolic comparison to a state of matter ought to be made, Sherlock would name him water. Stronger than stone, as water was nearly unbreakable. More resilient and patient, too, as no matter how you mangled and changed it, water would always coalesce back into to its natural liquid state. No matter if it took a dozen years, or fifty, it would just patiently recollect itself until the transgression was wiped away.
It was fitting, too, as a perfect complement to Sherlock’s dry and often brittle nature. John formed himself to all the cracks and textures, filling in new gaps as he encountered them and leaving Sherlock with a sense of wholeness. Without any effort on John's part, he was always exactly what Sherlock needed him to be.
Even now, he unconsciously fit himself next to Sherlock, molding and settling against his body. John drew a slow, deep breath and exhaled a warm puff onto Sherlock’s chest.
He suddenly let out a soft laugh in his sleep, mouth curving into a smile. Sherlock wondered what he was dreaming about. John's arm twitched briefly, then moved into a slow slide toward him. He gently pushed his hand along the curve of Sherlock’s ribs, encasing him in a return embrace. John nudged his head inward, brushing his forehead against his shoulder.
All at once, John’s usefulness as a sleep aid seemed curiously less important. An odd tingling gathered in Sherlock's chest, and he guessed with relative certainty that his dopamine levels were rising. For some reason his body deeply enjoyed holding John so close. He found himself unaccountably pleased that it was him, not that Natasha woman, who got to experience John this way tonight. Why hadn’t he thought to do this with John long ago?
Ah, that's right. Because, as much as Sleepy John was stimulated by it, Awake John would not react so favorably.
It was time he put his full energy into placing himself in John's bed every night. Regardless of what must be done, it would be worth it to experience this regularly.
Sherlock let himself fall back into an untroubled sleep.
In the morning, Sherlock opened his eyes to find himself alone in John’s bed. He was still on his side, arms outstretched, and buried under the duvet. The compression pattern in the bedding indicated that John had stayed pressed against him through the remainder of the night. It also suggested that John had woken up in that position, which meant he was now fully aware of their proclivity to cuddle together while asleep in the same bed.
Despite that, Sherlock felt unbelievably good. Better than he had in a long time. He rolled onto his back, sorting out his impressive catalogue of observations. A truly staggering amount, and almost entirely about John.
Downstairs, he found John standing silently in the kitchen. He leaned against the counter in his pyjamas, mug of tea in hand, wearing an odd faraway expression. It was his typical look of mild distress. Sherlock was very familiar with it.
When John finally noticed Sherlock’s presence, his eyes flicked up then quickly back down. He raised his tea and took a long sip. Based on his body language, John was evidently experiencing internal conflict over what had happened the previous night.
“Good morning,” Sherlock greeted. He, for one, felt immensely refreshed. There was a second mug of tea steaming on the table, and he gladly picked it up. He glanced over the several cultures lining the table that he’d left to grow overnight.
“Er… morning,” John responded curtly. It appeared he wasn’t going to be very talkative this morning.
Sherlock sat on the chair and pulled one of his samples under the microscope. He set down the mug and fiddled with the dials, drawing the bacteria into focus. John remained quiet, but through his (rather excellent) peripheral vision Sherlock detected John watching him. He didn’t move, barely even blinked, for several minutes. Sherlock could almost literally hear the grinding of rusty gears turning in John’s mind.
A strange urge to get up and touch John struck him, but he suppressed it with a flash of annoyance. His flawed physical self would do anything to reclaim the feelings from the night before. Ghostly recollections passed through Sherlock’s mind, fingers tingling with the lost warmth of John. Sherlock remembered how pliant and yielding he felt, how easily John reached out to connect. And there he now stood, not five feet away, nonchalantly sipping at his tea. How was it possible that one person could be so maddening?
“Could you not do that?” Sherlock asked abruptly, sitting up straighter and looking directly at him.
“Do what?” John replied, lifting his mug to his face again. At least this time he maintained eye contact. He seemed to be settling back into his old self.
Not be you, Sherlock almost answered without thinking. He wanted to tell John to stop being a distraction, but honestly the effect wouldn’t go away even if John left the room. Or the flat. Or the country.
John just stood there, watching, waiting, being. His eyebrows slowly drew together in an inquisitive line. “Do what, Sherlock?” he repeated.
“Stand there,” Sherlock explained smoothly, indicating the window. “You’re blocking the light.”
John rolled his eyes and set his empty mug into the sink. He brushed past as he departed from the room, and Sherlock spent the next hour pretending the brief nearness hadn’t summoned a wave of goosebumps.
That afternoon, John brought home a bottle of prescription sleeping pills and handed them to Sherlock with a deliberate glance.
From that point, finding a way back into John’s bed became an all-consuming project for Sherlock.
That very night, he enacted his first exploratory attempt. While John was out during the day he had crept upstairs and placed his phone underneath the bed. Sherlock patiently waited for an hour after John had gone to bed for the night, then made his way upstairs.
He pushed open John’s door and entered the pitch black. The wedge of light from outside provided enough light that he could see John, eyes stern and disapproving, looking up at him where he laid.
“I think my phone is here somewhere,” Sherlock announced.
John sighed and sat up, then pointed to the overhead light switch. Sherlock pressed it, dousing the room in light. Wincing from the brightness, John shaded his eyes with one hand. “Where did you last see it?”
He shrugged, and they began searching the room. Rather, John searched the room. Sherlock deliberately poked around areas that did not contain the phone while pointedly avoiding staring at John in his pyjamas and snug t-shirt.
“Ah!” John said, crouching next to the bed. He pulled out the phone from under it and stood, holding the device out to Sherlock.
“Thank you,” he responded, walking over and taking it. Sherlock sat on the side of the bed, swiping through the screens and pretending to check for texts.
“Miss anything important?” John asked.
Sherlock hummed noncommittally, absorbed in his phone.
John let him sit there for a few minutes, until he finally cleared his throat. “I do need to get to sleep, Sherlock,” he reminded him.
“Oh, right,” Sherlock answered distractedly.
“I’m going to have to ask you to leave, then,” he clarified.
Sherlock stood, turning to face John directly. His hair was ruffled, and Sherlock inexplicably wanted to reach out and smooth it down.
John’s eyes shifted away. He was feeling uncomfortable. “Well. Good night,” he said.
He hadn’t quite expected an invitation, but Sherlock had held out hope that John would at least appear indifferent to whether he stayed or not. It was disappointing, but confirmed that John would resist any further opportunities for bed sharing.
Sherlock maintained his persistence in visiting John's room late at night, hoping that he would find some critical opportunity he could leverage to his advantage. First, he came to bother John by asking for more sleeping pills. John told him he was on the maximum dosage already and that he wouldn’t provide any more, although the next day he left a new bottle on the kitchen table for Sherlock.
Then, he came to suggest that John might, in fact, suffer from sleep apnea and probably would need someone to observe him overnight to be sure. John requested that Sherlock stop attempting to diagnose a doctor because he obviously had no experience in patient care, and besides that displayed a terrible bedside manner.
After several tries, it became apparent that infiltrating enemy territory was not going to pan out as hoped. Sherlock instead turned to possible ways of forcing John to sleep outside his fortress of a room.
At first he tried to keep John out as late as possible on false errands and useless excursions. He hoped to tire John to the point of falling asleep downstairs, but Sherlock quickly learned that John had, over the course of their time together, developed an unexpected level of stamina for staying awake. With Sherlock's depleted energy reserves, John could now quite easily match his resilience.
He briefly considered getting John drunk, but quickly calculated John's alcohol tolerance to exceed what the average pub-going male would consider casual. John would grow suspicious if Sherlock suddenly encouraged hard-drinking habits. Besides, drunkenness would make John unpredictable and potentially more difficult to manipulate. Then there was the possibility of faking illness so that John would feel obligated to care for him, but John's medical expertise and familiarity with Sherlock's health made that a long shot as well.
Knowing a viable cure to his problem was so incredibly close at hand and yet impossibly far had a negative impact on his insomnia. Sherlock's body, starved of sleep, began to regularly fail him. Every time he found himself sitting next to John on the couch or leaning against him at Scotland Yard, his body automatically attempted to shut down and fall into a strange hypnotic half-coma. John grew concerned after the first few incidents and suggested Sherlock reduce his dosage of medication.
Three weeks since he’d last had a full night’s sleep, Sherlock was becoming desperate. He was now down to his most frantic plans, all of which were incredibly dangerous and unlikely to succeed more than once.
A fake illness wouldn’t work, so perhaps he should purposefully infect himself with an actual disease? Nothing permanently damaging or disfiguring, but an episode of strep throat or gastroenteritis wouldn’t be amiss. Knowing John's overcautious nature, though, he'd probably try to check Sherlock into a hospital where he'd be pumped full of all sorts of mind-numbing medications.
Another potential idea would be to start using cocaine, again. Sherlock hadn’t felt the need to use it since John came, but it could serve a useful purpose if need be. When John discovered the habit, he would undoubtedly ensure Sherlock safely detoxed. The only real downside was that it would utterly destroy the trust between them. Sherlock wasn’t sure he wanted to trade that for a short-term gain.
Then there was the option to damage the flat and force them to go to a hotel again. The most feasible type of damage would be an ‘accidental’ explosion or pest infestation, which would lead the authorities to declare the building unfit to live in for a time. He could pre-arrange everything at the hotel in advance to ensure they were forced to share a bed again. The idea seemed promising, until Sherlock realized that it would lead to undue financial stress on Mrs. Hudson. She didn’t deserve that, even if it meant Sherlock didn’t sleep.
Finally, it came down to Sherlock's last idea. One that was tried and true, even though the long-term viability was questionable. He decided to turn John's own compassion against himself and slip him a heavy dose of the tranquilizers he'd procured for Sherlock's insomnia. He needed relief badly, and drugging John was guaranteed to get him results.
Sherlock carefully kept an eye on John all the next day, making sure he didn't imbibe in any alcohol or other substances that would cause a dangerous reaction if mixed with the medication.
That evening, he crushed several pills and carefully meted out a precise amount tailored to John's weight and metabolism. Sherlock bagged the dosage and carried it into the kitchen, where two empty mugs waited. He dumped the powder into one, and turned on the kettle.
Sherlock made tea only occasionally, but it was a common enough event that John didn't think twice when he brought a mug out to him. A boring actor babbled on the television in some trite drama program, but John was only half listening as he flipped through a newspaper on the coffee table. Sherlock silently left the drugged concoction next to him, then retreated to the table with his own mug to observe from behind the screen of his laptop.
John downed it over the course of twelve minutes, just shy of his average speed in the evening. He wasn't one to allow tea to turn cold.
Fifteen minutes of bated breath later, Sherlock began to notice the first signs of the sedative starting to work. John blinked an unnatural number of times, staring hard at the newspaper as his vision blurred. He sighed after a few more minutes, then folded it away and settled back on the couch to watch the television.
He didn't move much after that. Sherlock kept an eye on him, watching for nearly an hour as John blinked periodically and a glazed look gradually overtook his expression. John's breathing rate drop markedly, and Sherlock was almost certain he was approaching sleep when his brow suddenly furrowed lightly. He lifted a weak hand in front of his face, squinting at it in confusion for several minutes.
“Sher…Sherlock…” John said drowsily, glancing up as best he could. “Did… did you… drug me?”
Damn, but he was getting quicker at figuring these things out. Sherlock stood up, casually approaching the couch. “Yes, John.”
The muscle relaxant present in the medication disallowed John from physically responding to any relevant degree, but Sherlock noticed his hand shudder briefly as it slumped back to his side. John’s eyes were very unfocused. “What…?” he asked, slow and thick.
“Just a minor tranquilizer. You’ll be fine.”
“You… bloody…" John slurred feebly, eyes sliding shut.
It was too late. John stilled, becoming an unconscious mass on the couch. Sherlock grabbed the remote and shut off the television.
John looked very different from when he was genuinely asleep. There were no subtle twitches or dynamic breathing, and his face was loose and pale. For all intents and purposes, he was dead to the world.
It took some maneuvering to shift John so that he was lying horizontally along the couch. Completely unconscious, he was decidedly heavier than Sherlock would have expected. Sherlock noted immediately that he didn’t like how limp John felt, like a rag doll. He moved easily when enough force was applied, though, and soon he was positioned to Sherlock's satisfaction.
He turned John on his side, facing inward, and slid between him and the back of the couch. Sherlock was more than ready to finally sleep, but as he settled onto the cushion and drew an arm around John a profound sense of uneasiness exceeded any relief. John was warm against him, but there was something fundamentally wrong with the situation.
Nevertheless, Sherlock closed his eyes and willed himself to fall asleep. There was none of the comfort of his previous nights with John, though, and sleep eluded him. Time drifted along slowly, and try as he might the usual drowsiness refused to settle over him. All he could focus on was how slackened and inanimate John seemed. What was wrong with him? He had exactly what he wanted. What he'd waited for weeks to get back.
Sherlock opened his eyes. This was different. It was not even remotely the same. John was entirely too still, the only movement his shallow, anesthetized breathing pattern. The responsiveness wasn’t there, and for something so trivial it bothered Sherlock greatly. He missed how John reacted to him when they genuinely spent the night together, the way they naturally nestled against each other. John didn't fit him, like this. He was a prop, and nothing more.
This wasn't working. Sighing in regretful defeat, Sherlock sat up on the couch. With his departure John sagged further against the cushion, tensionless. He looked pitiful, and Sherlock felt a sudden stab of self-loathing for doing this to him.
“It may have been a poor decision to drug you,” he told John’s unconscious body.
He got up, leaving John on his side. It would be the safest position for him to recover from the medication.
Sherlock retreated to his room in whirlwind of frustration. Inside, he slammed the door and began pacing with frenetic disappointment. It should have worked. Superficially, the scenario was perfectly engineered to match all the basic criteria his body required for sleep. It was almost insulting that his careful plan was derailed by so insidious a reason as emotional disturbance. John was perfectly fine and would recover without any problem. So, why did it so blatantly disturb Sherlock to see him that way?
Perhaps it was because he was manipulating John for his own personal reasons and not simply to collect data to solve a case. But that didn't make any sense; achieving regular sleep would allow him to work effectively, and therefore resolve more cases and capture more criminals in the long run. The equation was perfectly sound in theory, but in practice there seemed to be a critical component missing.
Truthfully, even if it had worked he couldn't logically keep drugging John on a continuous basis. There had to be another solution, but nothing stood out. Sherlock spent the rest of the night in a pensive brooding mood, occupying himself by collating his alkaline earth metal collection.
Shortly after dawn, a loud thump resounded from the sitting room. Sherlock immediately jumped up and launched out of his room.
Out by the sofa, John was crumpled on the floor. He’d obviously fallen off the cushion, arms gathered underneath him and in the process of slowly lifting himself up. His ability to move seemed to be functioning normally. Sherlock reached out to help him.
John looked dazed and quite confused once he was upright and leaning against the couch. “Ugh,” he moaned, rubbing at his eyes.
“Are you all right?” Sherlock asked him.
John blinked briefly at the floor, then looked up at Sherlock. His head bobbed as he struggled to keep it level. “I don’t know. What happened?”
Retrograde amnesia. It was a common side effect of such a powerful tranquilizer. Sherlock didn't answer, waiting and watching to see how John reacted. He appeared physiologically stable and rapidly recovering his cognitive functions.
Suspicion dawned in John’s expression. A full two minutes faster than usual, in a case like this. “Did you give me something again?” he asked with narrowed eyes.
Sherlock glanced away. “Hmm?”
“I know when I’ve been given a sedative, Sherlock. A heavy one, too, seeing as I can’t remember anything from last night,” John deduced. Despite himself, Sherlock experienced a mild thrill of pride at John's astuteness.
“It was an important opportunity for research.”
“You can’t just casually drug me because you’re bored," John replied, growing angry. "It’s dangerous and irresponsible.”
“I’m quite experienced in calculating proper dosages for you, John.”
He snorted a derisive laugh. “What exactly did you do to me?”
“Nothing extraordinary," Sherlock mollified in a tedious tone. "You took the tranquilizer and passed out rather quickly. I recorded your vital signs a few times and let you sleep it off.”
“You couldn’t tell me beforehand?” John asked distrustfully.
“That would have ruined the results. Part of the goal was to see if someone as wary as you would notice if you’d been given something.”
Skepticism was written all over his face. “That doesn't sound like the most scientific of studies."
Sherlock shrugged. "It was very informative."
John glared at Sherlock for a moment before grabbing onto the end of the couch and pushing himself up. “Don't you dare give me any food or drink for a while. In fact, don't go into the kitchen at all,” he threatened. Still wobbly, he rose to a standing position and rubbed at his face again. “Christ. I’m going to bed.”
Sherlock watched John haul himself up the stairs. He was left alone in the sitting room, distantly wondering what he was supposed to do now.
Sherlock paced in his bedroom. It was a month since he was last in John’s bed. The failed experiment with tranquilizing John had left him discouraged and rightfully dejected. He was terribly tired, complete with frayed nerves, a blunted mind, and sanity beginning to crack. Sherlock looked at his bed, which by all accounts wasn’t too different from John’s. The only meaningful variation was its contents.
He glanced over at the prescription bottle of sleeping pills on the nightstand. It had come to this, at last. Two final options.
Sherlock could deign to voluntarily take the medication and hope that his body learned to sleep regularly and, eventually, on its own. That end result was not guaranteed, however, and he would effectively be crippling the most vital part of himself. He'd tested the effects of such soporifics on several occasions, and it always left him with a cloudy and unobservant mind. He wouldn't be able to work. He wouldn't be able to do anything useful. But, in the face of insanity and enforced hospitalization, it might just be preferable.
The other choice was to go take exactly what he wanted. He would explain it to John, if need be, and run the risk of his refusal. Either way, he was to the point of not caring. Let John do what he wanted, let him become enraged and insulted and whatever else he deemed it necessary to feel. It didn't matter. Sherlock just wanted this to end, to finally sleep and shut down the pain of the waking world.
To hell with it.
He left his room and pattered up the stairs as quietly as possible. It was very late, and John would almost certainly be in the midst of a REM cycle. At the top of the landing, Sherlock gently pushed the door open and slipped into the darkness. He went round the bed to the unoccupied side, avoiding the creaky spots perfectly even though he couldn’t see.
Sherlock stopped and listened. He could hear John’s breaths, slow and relaxed. He was still asleep. Sherlock carefully pulled up the covers and got in the bed. The sheets were heated with the familiar warmth of John, and he settled down to enjoy it.
It seemed the movement of the mattress was sufficient to wake John, because he suddenly jolted. After a moment, a loose sigh escaped into the dark air. “Sherlock, what are you doing?”
He pressed his head against the pillow, oddly thankful that his night vision wasn't in effect and he couldn't see John. It would make this easier. “I need to sleep here.”
The mattress dipped a bit, and Sherlock presumed John had risen up to face him. “Did you take your sleeping pills? I don’t remember where-“
“No,” Sherlock said firmly. His fingers grasped onto the fabric of the duvet as if it could anchor him to the bed. “I need to sleep here.”
“You’re not sleeping in my bed,” John informed him coolly. He didn’t sound pleased.
“Unfortunately for you, that’s what’s going to happen.”
“There’s a little thing called common courtesy,” John warned. “Tell me what’s going on or get back downstairs.”
“I have insomnia."
He could almost hear John rolling his eyes. “Yes, I’ve noticed. That’s what the pills were for.”
Sherlock drew a tight breath. “I haven’t taken the pills,” he admitted sourly.
“Well, there’s your problem, then.”
“No, John," he said, scrunching his eyes shut. "I haven’t taken them. Ever. Since you first gave them to me in Westcliffe. You know I don’t use medication that dulls my senses.”
“What? You said they were working…”
“It’s not the pills, it’s you,” Sherlock said, biting off the words. Time to put everything on the table. “I’ve tested it every way I know how, and I’ve verified that sharing a bed with you is the only way I can fall asleep.”
There was a stretch of silence that lasted so long Sherlock began to wonder whether John was actually going to answer or simply remain mute for the rest of his life.
“How- how does that work?” John asked finally, carefully balancing his tone.
Good, this was good. No sign of enragement yet. “I don’t know why, precisely, but I think your natural circadian rhythm sort of realigns mine. It’s relaxing to have you near, and I just follow your lead.”
“Is that what this whole affair has been about? And why you were in my bed that last time?”
Sherlock tugged the covers closer around himself. “No. You surprised me. I thought I could suffice with an environment that reminded me of you. It worked out in the end, though.”
“And… and the…” he trailed off. Sherlock easily pictured the blush that was undoubtedly spreading across John’s face.
“I believe my touching you was an unconscious, automatic response. I didn’t do it intentionally. I don’t think you did, either.”
John was quiet again. Did he even know he had reached out in turn?
“Why didn’t you just tell me from the beginning?” John inquired. “You don’t usually have trouble asking for exactly what you want.”
“I expected you would say no.”
“That’s never stopped you before.”
It was Sherlock’s turn to be silent as he considered it. John was right. Why had he been so deterred from asking? He did things all the time that upset John. Including drugging him, recently. Somehow, those actions didn't seem to carry the same weight or importance. Asking for something like this, something he actually needed and wanted, was far more personal.
The sheets shifted, and Sherlock felt a warm hand settle on top of his underneath the covers.
“You were afraid of rejection,” John noted softly. He sounded closer. “Interesting.”
“Can I stay?” Sherlock asked, raw and uncomfortable. It was an unfamiliar sensation, and he didn’t like it all that much.
John shifted indecisively and sighed.
“It’s beneficial for you, too,” he offered. “I know you still get nightmares. You sleep better for several nights after I’ve been here with you. Tell me I’m wrong, John.”
The hand curled around his palm.
“All right. Tonight, all right,” John said. “We’ll deal with this in the morning.”
They settled back down in the dark, John on his back and Sherlock on his front. Their hands remained together, hidden under the covers. Sherlock kept his eyes open until his night vision developed enough for him to make out John's outline next to him. As his curiosity grew, he slowly slid his fingers down to John’s wrist.
His pulse was elevated. John was anxious.
Sherlock fell asleep wondering how long it had been since John realized he wanted this, too.
He drifted back to wakefulness with the feeling of warm breath on his neck.
Everything was still and subdued. Peaceful, even. The sun must be just approaching the horizon, because the light from the window was low and tinted a deep orange. Sherlock shifted against the pillow, coming into contact with short hair that tickled his nose.
He opened his eyes slowly and found the side of John's head almost entirely filling his vision. Sherlock nudged in a bit closer, then breathed in against him. The comforting scent of home and contentment washed through him.
It struck Sherlock with calm clarity that he didn't need a box like the one John kept in the back of his cupboard. He didn't need small objects and papers to remind him of happiness. Sherlock had a living embodiment with him every single day, everywhere he went. When he looked at John, he was looking at all of his favorite memories wrapped up in one single smiling doctor.
Sherlock flexed his muscles, gaining a sense of his body. He was splayed halfway over John, who was still on his back. Their arms tangled around one another, once again, although the distinct heat on Sherlock’s back told him that John had pushed a hand up under his shirt. The familiar rush of dopamine soaked through him, and he knew this could quite easily become his favorite part of any day.
He raised up a bit and glanced down at the rumpled covers. Yes, he was definitely smothering John the entire way down. It was a strange sight in the light of day.
John pulled at him in his sleep, grunting in displeasure and trying to get Sherlock to lie back on top of him. Sherlock obliged, settling down and placing his head next to John’s again. John sighed contentedly, a long exhalation that Sherlock felt along his whole body, then tilted his head until it was resting against Sherlock’s forehead.
In that moment, Sherlock experienced a startlingly strong sense of yearning. He wanted this far more badly than he'd ever wanted anything. More than a good serial murderer, more than he wanted Mycroft to evaporate every time he saw him. He wanted to hold onto John every day, every night, and be allowed to do it without question or reservation. He wanted to have John near and not let him go, to continue touching him until he discovered whether there was some finite end to this excruciating, insatiable need.
But he knew what would happen when John awoke. He would tell Sherlock that it wasn't to happen again, that Sherlock needed proper medication and couldn't use him as a sleep aid any longer. John knew everything, now, and it would be impossible for Sherlock to trick him any longer. He'd paid dearly to have this one night, but somehow the price-to-outcome comparison didn't seem as unbalanced as it should.
He closed his eyes and spent the next ten minutes firmly implanting every detail, every slight observation and sensation, into his permanent memory. John peacefully continued breathing under him, untroubled. With enough focused meditation and hypnotic exercises, Sherlock might be able to recall it realistically enough to convince himself he was back here with John after he was declared permanently ostracized.
Task completed, Sherlock knew there was no point in prolonging things. Still, it inexplicably took another few minutes to force himself to speak.
“John,” he said softly into the other man's hair.
Clearly recognizing his voice, John smiled lightly.
“Wake up, John,” Sherlock said again, sliding an arm down his side.
Eyes fluttering open, John shifted underneath him. He drew a sleepy breath and flexed his hands. His body gradually filled with tension, and Sherlock knew he was regaining awareness. John's fingers slid slowly along the skin of his back, then froze abruptly. Realizing he had one hand buried under Sherlock’s shirt, John quickly pulled it out.
John didn't say anything, though. Sherlock stayed in the same position, waiting and observing his reactions from an angle. They were intimately close, pressed against one another, heads touching.
The tension escaped from John, finally, as he let out a long sigh and loosened. John seemed to give in, purposefully wrapping himself closer and leaning into Sherlock. The arm against Sherlock's back moved slowly, affectionately. This close, it was easy to feel John’s heart rate increasing.
John closed his eyes, sliding his hands to rest over Sherlock's shoulder blades. Sherlock remained perfectly still as he attempted to process how impossibly better this felt than before. Sensing John voluntarily holding onto him was unfathomably, incalculably better.
"We'd better put a stop to this now,” John said quietly, “before it becomes a bad habit."
Bewilderment flared through Sherlock. He shifted finally, rising up on his forearms to better see John. He looked sleep-tousled against the pillow, cheeks touched with pink. "A bad habit?"
"Yes, Sherlock." John's face reddened further. He was self-conscious about the circumstance.
Sherlock blinked in confusion, taking in their relative positions. "We obviously both enjoy it. I don't see a problem."
“We shouldn’t, though,” John replied, and this time there was a sad edge to his voice.
“Because… because, Sherlock.”
He laughed briefly. “Not the most convincing argument I’ve ever heard.”
There was no humor in John’s eyes. "Most people would consider this... a bit too familiar," he said uneasily, shifting under Sherlock's weight.
John rolled his eyes as if Sherlock didn’t understand a very basic concept. “Male friends don’t normally do this sort of thing with one another.”
Sherlock shrugged. “Who cares what people normally do? It's not as if the entirety of the world is watching, John. It's just us."
"I... how can I explain this?” John pleaded to the ceiling. He turned his eyes back to Sherlock. “I don't even do this with my girlfriends. Not until I've known them for a while."
Whatever sort of argument John was attempting to make, it was falling very flat. "You've known me longer than any of them," Sherlock reasoned.
"Yes, but... it's just... not..."
John struggled to coherently communicate his problem. Sherlock shook his head and decided to intercede. At least it would speed things up. "Besides, you're far more 'familiar' with me than any of those women. Shall I list some examples for you?"
"No, there's no need-"
"You touch me an average of 4.6 times per day. You regularly grab or hold my hand to get my attention, even when vocally alerting me is an available option. You don’t think anything of sharing a bed at a hotel. You stand roughly 5 inches closer to me than anyone else and respond to my texts nearly two minutes faster. Your blood pressure, respiration, and heart rate all incrementally increase when I enter the room. When faced with a choice between accompanying me out on an investigation or spending time with your woman of the week, you always, always choose me. Then there's all the medical care. You express an excessive level of concern over even the most basic of injuries, going so far as to ignore your own until I am seen to. You become irritable when you are not my primary caregiver and much prefer to administer any required treatments or medications yourself. And this is all quite public, if you'll recall. So tell me, John, what's the difference?"
John grew quiet, face flushing further in embarrassment. He looked away.
Sherlock leaned closer, trying to get an actual response out of him. "I don't see any. Do you?"
John’s eyes flicked back to meet Sherlock’s. He was upset. The hands on Sherlock’s back suddenly slid up to his head, and John pressed in for a hard kiss. It was fast and unexpected, and it left Sherlock staring in shock.
When John pulled back, his eyes were soft and sorrowful. "It's different, Sherlock. It's different because... because for me, it means something. It means something beyond friendship, and I don't want to go down that road with you. Not if it's something you can't return. Or won't."
"John,” he whispered. A thousand thoughts careened through his head.
John forced a small smile. "I don't blame you for being... you. Some doors are best left closed, though, and I’ve tried to maintain that boundary. But lately you've been knocking rather loudly.” He closed his eyes, drawing a difficult breath, then reopened them. “Please don't tempt me to open that door. Not if it's something you don't want, because it would be very hard for me to close it again."
Sherlock watched him critically, judging what was truly going on. For John, this seemed to be an issue of on or off, yes or no, black and white. He framed it in his mind as being stuck between these two states, middling on the fence and waiting for confirmation that he would be welcome on the other side. Sherlock tried to comprehend the odd perspective, comparing it with his own. It wasn't about yes or no, as John assumed. It was about how much.
"Stupid,” Sherlock muttered, shaking his head.
“What?” John asked, crestfallen.
“You. Isn't it obvious? The evidence is there, laid out to see. I realize we think very differently, but I honestly believed it to be apparent.”
John frowned, unsure what Sherlock was getting at.
Sherlock brought a hand up to the side of John’s face. John tilted his head, eyes widening as he correctly interpreted the gesture to be affectionate. “I've already chosen you, John. I chose you long ago.”
John's expression lightened, but he looked even more confused than before. “What… does that mean, exactly?”
"I chose you for the long-term. I need you with me, and I always will. Haven't you noticed how differently I treat you?" Sherlock inquired. Honestly, John could be so frustratingly dense sometimes. "You say you wouldn't share a bed with just any new woman. Well, I wouldn't do this with anyone but you, full stop."
"Long-term?" John asked, hung up on the word.
“I've anticipated from the beginning that we would remain together for the rest of our lives, although it’s taken me far longer to understand in what capacity that would be,” he explained. His eyes moved to the hand near John's ear. His fingers threaded into the soft blond hair. “You’re in my mind, now. All the time. Everywhere, in everything I do. I can’t get you out, and I wouldn’t want to remove you even if I could. I want to touch you every time I see you. This is a new area for me, and I’m finding internal analysis to be very difficult. Perhaps you can interpret it, John?”
“You’re the detective. You tell me,” he said quietly, eyes locked on Sherlock.
Sherlock thought about it, dissociating his description and judging it as if someone else had said it. “I’m exhibiting signs of deep infatuation," he concluded.
John smiled, warmth returning to his features. He looked so very surprised, yet pleased and inviting. Without thinking, Sherlock tentatively dipped his head toward John, who met him halfway for a slow kiss. John slid his fingers around the sides of his head, guiding him until they were perfectly slotted together. The cracks in the floodgate in Sherlock's brain grew until they shattered completely, rushing chemicals through him in a wave of positive reinforcement. Sherlock immediately felt his list of things he wanted to do with John expand with frightening speed.
John broke off, sucking in a steadying breath.
"What is it you want?" John asked in his ear.
"You," Sherlock told him, breath caught in his throat. “I'll take whatever you're willing to give me, because anything at all from you is better than whatever I could receive from anyone else. There’s no competition. It’s you or no one, and if given a choice I’d much rather have you.”
“You already do,” John whispered.
But John didn't move to kiss him again. Rather, he gently slid and tugged Sherlock so that they lay side by side, folded into a close and intimate embrace. Sherlock was confused briefly as John brought his arms around him, until he considered John's words. This, for him, meant something extraordinarily substantial. And now he was doing it of his own accord, by conscious choice. As obvious as John's physiological clues had been, knowing he chose Sherlock, in return, was incalculably staggering. They simply held on, sharing in the underlying meaning until the sunlight coming through the window was strong and bright.
A sliver of doubt lingered, though, that required resolution. Apparently, it was critical that Sherlock confirm that John's perceptions matched his own in such an important situation. "Are we together, now?" Sherlock asked cautiously, tilting his head up to look at him.
John laughed, a hearty and comforting sound. "Yes, I would think so."
"And I can sleep here?"
"We can sleep anywhere you want, whenever you need it," John affirmed, smoothing a hand protectively along Sherlock's back. "I'd like to get you back on a regular sleeping schedule."
"That shouldn't be too difficult. We already know you're a terrific soporific," Sherlock mused.
"Don't tell me you're just interested for my medicinal benefits," he replied with a teasing smile.
"Don't be ridiculous," Sherlock scoffed. "You're my match, John. My complement. When I'm without you, I don't feel right. I don't feel whole." He found John's eyes with his own, reinforcing the indisputable nature of his conclusion.
"That makes two of us," John sighed in response, soft and equally certain.