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For the next few weeks, neither of them budge. Sherlock makes no move to contact John, partly out of pride and partly because he’s angry. Underneath that anger, though, lies something else. The dangerous thing. The thing he’d rather ignore. The problem - as Sherlock, at nearing middle-age has slowly come to find out - is that ignoring feelings, moods, sentiments; it’s not as easy as it once was. Where John, especially, is concerned, he finds it difficult to shove his emotions in a black box with a lock in a dark room of his mind palace. He did try, though.

The first time he realised that he was irreversibly in love with John Watson, he was standing atop St Bart’s and it was too late to do a thing about it. He still had some kind of hope, though, call it blind optimism, and it kept him going for the following two years. Every situation he found himself in was successfully navigated only thanks to the belief that he had to make it through and make it back. He never considered the fact that John wouldn’t be his to have when he did eventually make it. When he thinks about it now, he realises how stupid he was for thinking that John wouldn’t move on. He never belonged to him in the first place, so move on isn’t quite the right term but, for the life of him, Sherlock can’t come up with a better one to fit the situation. Where issues of partner-friend-companion-colleague-John are concerned, conventional words and phrases do seem to elude him.

When he came back and there was suddenly Mary and anger and then wedding and best man/friend, Sherlock tried his very hardest to lock John up in that black box. For a month after the wedding, he didn’t contact John (not that John ever attempted to reach out to him first - a very sore point, to this day). He holed himself away, planning and organising and pushing deep, deep down. He should have known from the start that the whole exercise was futile. He’d managed it with Redbeard, but even those demons weren’t truly buried.

Now, though, he’s learning. Love hurts and sometimes, the hurt has to be felt in order to be managed. This revelation is how he’s come to be sat on the couch at five thirty on a Wednesday afternoon breathing deeply with his eyes closed, allowing himself to just feel. It should probably be easier, he knows, but he’s out of practice, what with a lifetime of suppressing behind him. Ironically, he has Eurus, his repressed-secret-sister, to thank for his newfound embracing of matters of the heart.

What he feels now, though, is initially so sharp that he almost backs out, but he reminds himself to forge ahead. Something tight and claustrophobic enters his belly and work its way up to his throat, constricting it. Something that, at the very root of it, says, “He doesn’t love you, he doesn’t love you, he doesn’t love you.” Because that’s surely why John is behaving the way he is. He can’t even tell Sherlock about his body art because he doesn’t care for him the same way that Sherlock does. John is a closed book to him. Sherlock has deduced some things, stuff about his past with Harry and his parents and the men he slept with in the army, but John has never shared any of it with him. He’s never even met any of John’s relatives.

John, on the other hand, has a kind of all-access pass to Sherlock’s life. He knows Sherlock’s family, a lot of his past, and more of his wounds than Sherlock is comfortable with anyone knowing, even John. The biggest thing he has, though, is Sherlock’s very heart. Through loving John, Sherlock has learnt to be soft and vulnerable and open. He has learnt that sentiment is not a chemical defect and that caring can be an advantage (but only sometimes). If Sherlock had a tattoo, John would definitely know about it. Not only did John not bother to mention that he’d gone and gotten himself a tattoo sometime during their acquaintance, he also refuses to tell him what it means. In fact, he’s actively against Sherlock’s inquisition. Sherlock understands, of course he does, about boundaries - John taught him all about those, too. This, however, isn’t a boundary issue. This, to Sherlock, is more personal. This is a heart issue.

Sherlock stands from the couch, done with self-exploration for the day. The conclusion is that he supposes he can’t fault John for not loving him back, but he doesn’t have to be glad of it.

He’s allowed to feel angry and hurt and yes, even betrayed. He’s granting himself the permission nobody ever granted him.


Exactly three weeks and five days after their argument, John phones Sherlock. He doesn’t answer. John doesn’t leave a voicemail.


Two days later, John phones again. Sherlock doesn’t answer. There’s a brief voicemail. Hi, just wondering - but Sherlock stops it there. He can’t stomach niceties and small talk in a normal context, but it just feels hateful now.


Three days after that, Sherlock receives a text.


So you’re just not going to call me back, is that it?

Sherlock deletes it, albeit after reading it fourteen times.


Later that night, John texts again.


This is childish. If you want to talk, let me know. If not, I’ll be waiting anyway.


A whopping six weeks pass without Sherlock speaking to John.

Sherlock wonders who he’s hurting more - John or himself. He remembers when Mycroft used to chide him about cutting off his nose to spite his face and concludes it’s probably himself.