The first time it happens, we’re out on a case, and it’s just business as usual – Sherlock is being himself, upsetting the witness with an insensitive remark, and before I know it the annoyed man (huge, bulky, borderline choleric) has him by the collar of his coat, shaking him and shouting profanities in his face.
This is nothing that hasn’t happened before, and normally Sherlock takes incidents like this in stride, staying calm and disentangling himself from whoever it is that he’s offended while giving some kind of half-arsed apology, and then just carries on.
Now, however, he freezes, his eyes going wide and unfocused, all the colour draining from his cheeks. He looks absolutely terrified.
I’m at his side in an instant, pushing myself between the two of them and thus forcing the attacker to let go, but I barely register the man shoving me and barking at me to fuck off – I’m looking at Sherlock.
He’s shaking and there are tiny beads of sweat on his forehead and above his upper lip. His mouth is moving as if he was attempting to speak, but no sound comes out.
I take his arm and pull him with me, out of the man’s house and into the street, ignoring the frustrated yells that follow us.
“Come on,” I tell him and raise my hand to hail a cab. “We’re going home.”
“It’s nothing, John. I’ve not been feeling well. It’s all better now.”
We spent the short ride to Baker Street in silence, him huddled up in his coat and staring out of the window, and now that we’re back in our flat, he seems to have calmed down enough to talk. To snap at me, to be more precise.
“John. It’s alright. Please stop worrying.”
His tone tells me that it’s no use pressing on, so I shrug and go to the kitchen to make tea. He’ll come around eventually.
“Well then. Suit yourself.”
I hear him sigh.
“John. I’m sorry.”
I smile to myself – it’s still so new to hear him say sorry. Even after everything we’ve been through, Sherlock is not exactly what you’d call boyfriend material, but he’s trying – I’ll give him that.
When I return to the living-room with two steaming mugs of Earl Grey, he steps towards me and takes one, bending down to kiss my cheek.
“Thank you,” he says.
I grin at his rueful expression and sit down on the sofa, patting the seat next to me to get him to join me. He does and puts his arm around my shoulders. I lean back against him and sip my tea, trying to relax, but deep down inside I can’t shake the feeling that something’s wrong.
The second time it happens, it’s the middle of the night. He’s asleep on the sofa and I’m sitting at the kitchen table to finish a story for the blog, typing away in the small island of light provided by my laptop screen.
I’m tired and looking forward to going to sleep, too, already wondering whether I should wake him to get him to join me in his bed or just let him sleep in the living-room. I‘ve gotten used to him being there beside me at night, but I’m afraid he might not be able to fall back asleep after being woken and moved to the bedroom.
“No,” he mutters, and at first I think he’s talking to me, but then I realise he’s still fast asleep.
I wait to see if he’s going to say more, but he stays silent. Maybe a vivid dream.
I flick through my notes and write another paragraph.
I jump when his voice rings through the quiet flat a second time.
“Ngghhhh! NO! St--- stop!”
I’m on my feet and on my way to the living-room before I realise I’ve gotten up from my chair, and his next desperate moan makes my blood run cold.
“Nnnn… No… John…”
I kneel down beside him to put my hand on his chest. His heart is beating fast, stuttering against my palm as if it wanted to burst out of his body, and his arms and legs are twitching under the blanket he’s draped over himself.
“Sherlock, hey… wake up.”
I joggle his shoulder to rouse him as gently as possible, not wanting to upset him any further.
He whines softly and throws his head to the side, his eyeballs moving rapidly behind his closed lids, and now there are suddenly tears trickling out of the corners of his eyes, running down his temples and disappearing in his hair.
“No, not this--- please, don’t!”
I shake him with more force, and his eyes fly open and he gulps in a large breath of air, immediately curling up on himself and scrambling to the far end of the sofa, away from me.
“No!” he repeats, his chest heaving, his legs tangled in the blanket. “Get away from me!”
He’s panicking, shocking me with a hoarse sob that speaks of utter, excruciating distress.
I get up slowly, holding out my hands in a placating gesture.
“It’s me, Sherlock. You had a nightmare.”
I nod, taking a careful step towards him.
“Yes. I’m here, love. It wasn’t real.”
He’s breathing heavily, looking around himself as if he was seeing the room for the first time, and then his eyes find mine again, clear and focused at last.
I sigh and sit down on the edge of the sofa, still mindful not to crowd in on him.
“You don’t have to be sorry. Are you okay?”
He licks his lips and rubs his hands across his wet face.
“Yes. Thank you for waking me.”
“What did you dream about?”
“I… don’t remember.”
I don’t need Sherlock’s gift of deduction to be able to tell that this is a lie, but I don’t urge him to tell me the truth, because I already know that he won't.
“Is it okay if I touch you?” I ask instead, and when he nods, I shuffle closer to put my arms around him and hold him tight.
He smells of sleep and sweat, but when he presses himself against me and exhales against my neck, I put my face in his hair and kiss his scalp. I want him close, so close.
“You’re safe, my love. I’ll keep you safe,” I mumble and rock him back and forth a little. “I’ll protect you, Sherlock.”
He sniffs, his hands tightening their grip on my back. He doesn’t reply.
The third time is the worst time.
It’s been half a year since he returned to me, and by now we’ve managed to fall into some sort of relationship routine – surprisingly, not that much has changed.
Dinners at Angelo’s are dates now, and sometimes cab rides are spent snogging in the middle of the backseat until the driver shouts at us to Oi!, get a room, and sometimes his hand strays to the small of my back when we’re out investigating and a pretty woman gives me a smile that he deems a touch too broad, but apart from that we’re still the same.
Case work, bickering, chasing after a bad guy, takeaway, tea, repeat.
We’ve moved to his bedroom, although I sometimes think Mrs Hudson would prefer it if we used mine instead – some mornings, especially after our more passionate nights, when I greet her on the threshold of her flat on my way out, she looks at the ceiling in a pointed way, asking me whether I slept alright. Ah, good Mrs Hudson.
When it comes to sex, we haven’t tried anything more than what we did that first night – it’s good like that, and it was weird enough to get used to each other again after his long absence, even without adding anything new to our encounters. I’ve never done it with a man. He’s never done it, period. I’m satisfied as it is.
Which doesn’t mean that I’m not curious.
It’s Saturday evening and we just got back from the most tedious case – lots of blood, lying suspects, and then Sherlock threw a tantrum because Anderson and Donovan irritated him by breathing while he tried to make a deduction. I’m knackered.
All I want is a hot shower, some Vietnamese in front of the telly, a cup of tea, and an early night.
I get the shower, or half of it, because the moment I’m completely lathered up and about to rinse, he steps inside the bath with me, his long body folding itself around me from behind, his mouth on my neck, and who said anything about dinner or tea or…?
“Hey,” he rumbles right into my ear. “Hmmm…”
Wet, warm, soft Sherlock is something I could never resist, and the slow ache of arousal spreading through my lower half while we wash him as well leaves me feeling lightheaded when we’re finished.
“John,” he murmurs and captures my lips in a long, slow kiss, his hands running up and down my back, skimming the top of my buttocks with each tantalising stroke. “I want it tonight…”
I shiver at the sound of his voice. He doesn’t have to ask – I’d probably jump him anywhere, anytime. He’d only have to snap his fingers and I’d be there.
“I’ll give you anything you want, Sherlock,” I whisper back.
He bites down on my bottom lip until it hurts a little, then soothes the spot with gentle licks.
“I want all of you,” he breathes, and oh, now I get it.
I cup his arse in my hands, squeezing the firm muscles and enjoying his smooth, wet skin under my palms.
"How?" I ask.
He stares at me, his eyes already dark and blazing with that wanting look he always gets when we're together like this.
“You inside of me.”
My breathing accelerates and I pull him closer, getting on my toes and pressing my whole front against his, and the room vibrates with twin moans when our cocks slide against each other.
I move one hand between his buttocks and draw him in for another kiss with the other, and he shudders and opens his legs a little to give me better access.
"Oh," he pants when I use my middle finger to brush his opening, and I press down and feel the little puckered ring twitch under my touch.
I've done this before, with women, and although it didn't happen very often, I've got a basic idea of what needs to go where and when, and as far as I remember, preparation is key.
We kiss for a while and I tease him a bit more, and he whimpers into my mouth and rocks himself against my finger.
"Good?" I ask.
"Yes," he groans.
I suck his upper lip into my mouth and then let it go with a smacking sound, and he smiles at me when I pull back to look at his face.
He’s the most beautiful man in the world, and he’s all mine.
"Turn around," I tell him, and when he does, I push him gently against the wall and kiss the scarred skin of his back.
He leans his forehead against the tiles and hums lowly, offering himself to me with a small wiggle of his hips.
"You're so sexy," I murmur against his hot skin, my hands sliding along his arms from shoulders to wrists, and when I'm there, I grab his hands and pull them up above his head to pin them against the wall while I push my groin against his arse.
"Oh God," I gasp when my cock slips into his crack, and I thrust upwards a few times to feel his heat along the length of me.
“Nnghh, Sherlock… I can’t wait to be inside you... I want you, oh God...” I growl against the back of his head.
He moans and starts to shake, and I kiss the nape of his neck and smile into his wet hair because I love giving him pleasure, and then I take a closer look at his profile, which is standing out sharply against the cream-coloured tiles, and realise that he's not moaning with passion.
I let go of him right away, but he just stays in exactly the same position, his arms raised above his head, his chest heaving with silent sobs, his eyes squeezed shut and his mouth contorted in a grimace of pain.
"Sherlock," I repeat.
I don't know what to do. A terrible suspicion is lurking in the back of my mind, but I refuse to acknowledge it yet.
It can't be.
He doesn't react right away, but after a few seconds he just slides down the wall and comes to rest at the bottom of the bath, slumped in on himself and hiding his face in his hands.
"No," comes his muffled whisper. "I’m sorry."
Somehow I manage to get him out of the bath to towel him down and wrap him in his dressing gown – he’s like a heavy, life-size puppet of himself, not responding to my touch or the sound of my voice, just crying and shivering and staring into the middle distance with a look of terror in his kaleidoscope eyes.
“Come on, Sherlock, you have to help me a little here,” I tell him, my teeth clenched against the effort of holding him up, but he doesn’t react.
I drag him to the bedroom and sit him down on the edge of the bed, and he stays there, swaying slightly from left to right, while I put on my pyjamas and quickly dry my hair with my own dressing gown. I won't leave him alone now, not even to nip back into the bathroom to get a towel for myself.
“Sherlock,” I then say and kneel down in front of him, making myself small to not intimidate him. “Please look at me. Come on.”
He shakes his head.
“Can’t,” he says, his breath hitching when another sob rocks through him.
“You can,” I say and take his cold hands in mine, and I guess it’s a start that he doesn’t pull them away.
He presses his lips together and shakes his head again.
“Sherlock, I want to share the pain with you. You can tell me. I want to know. Please, let me make it better.”
I’m desperate, but trying not to show it. He’s slipped away from me, and I need him back.
We remain in this position for a while, me rubbing his fingers to warm them and him worrying his bottom lip between his teeth.
What’s going on in your head? Tell me, my love.
“You don’t understand!” he suddenly bursts out, sounding angry, and I flinch, fighting the urge to move backwards and away from him. “I’m broken. You deserve better!”
I swallow, telling my pounding heart to calm down.
“I don’t want anything else, Sherlock. No one else. No one could be better than you.”
He laughs, and it sounds hysterical.
“Do you want to know what they did to me, John? Do you really? I’ll tell you! They took my clothes away and bound me and put me on a hook, and then they flogged me to within an inch of my life, striking again and again and again until my blood was pooling at my feet, but that wasn’t enough, no… I stayed in my mind palace while they did it, my transport screaming in pain, but my mind safely locked up in your room, looking at you, talking to you…”
I stare at him in horror, cold sweat breaking out all over my skin. He’s talking faster and faster, tears streaming down his cheeks, snot running from his nose.
“Then he came to me and everything turned black. »You’re such a pretty boy.« His stinking breath on my back, so revolting… »I love it when it’s slippery with blood… You’ll bleed a little more before the night is over.« I’d never begged them to stop before, but then I begged, I cried… No, please, don’t… He took it from me, John, the treasure that was yours, and he tore me up inside and he grunted like a pig when he filled me with his filthy come, and it was supposed to be you, you, you…”
His eyes meet mine, finally, and he moans as if in physical pain.
“Mycroft put me in hospital, and I healed, and he didn't leave me with a disease, so I thought I could just forget it and come back to you… And I wanted you to take it, but I can’t now… I thought I could, but--- I’m too dirty… I’m sorry!”
He’s apologising for being raped. Oh God, Sherlock.
“Love,” I choke out, willing myself not to break down, and pull him down towards me.
He comes to rest halfway in my lap and I wrap my arms around him to hold him tight, tight, tight.
“I love you, I love you…” I whisper against his temple. “I love you so much.”
Inside of me, so many different feelings are fighting for the upper hand – unspeakable pain and despair, red-hot anger and the desire to fight, hurt, kill… and also so, so much shame.
The night he came back to me, all I thought about was how I had suffered without him, falling at his feet to have him pick me up and put me back together again, and never once did I ask myself what it was that he had to go through in those two years.
When I saw what they’d done to his back, I got an inkling, but he never wanted to talk about it, and I just succumbed to his silence – that was nice and easy, right, John?
I should have asked more, I should have shown him that I see and acknowledge what he did for me, for all of us. I just assumed he was still the old Sherlock and that everything was going to go back to how it was before he left.
Why didn’t I ask? Why didn’t I force him to tell me what it is that makes him unable to defend himself when a random lunatic grabs his collar? Why didn’t I ask him about his nightmares? Why didn’t I?
“You’re not dirty, Sherlock… It’s not your fault.” I talk to him and kiss his head, not sure if it will do any good, but I need to try and let him know that I’d never leave him, no matter what. “I love you; I’ll keep you with me, always…”
“John,” he whines, sounding like a scared child, and I squeeze his shoulders and caress his back, feeling the ridges of the scars under the silky fabric of his dressing gown. “John, I’m weak, a burden… I wanted to be normal, but now I’ll never be…”
“If you’re weak, I’ll be the strong one, Sherlock… I’ll carry you; I’d do anything for you… It’s going to be alright, I promise… Trust me, please.”
Please believe me.
I use my sleeve to wipe his face, and he snuffles and puts his hand on my cheek. I can’t help but turn my head and press my lips against his palm, trying to tell him with my kiss that it’s okay, that I love him, always will, that I worship him, that he’s beautiful, flawless, unblemished to me.
“What if I’ll never be able to---“ he starts, but I interrupt him before he can finish.
“Then we’ll never do it. And it will be alright. Even if there could be no more sex at all, Sherlock, it would be alright. I love you. I want you. But your body doesn’t have to play a part in that if it can’t.”
He closes his eyes for a moment.
“Thank you,” he murmurs when he opens them again. “I’m sorry. I’ll try.”
“No, no, Sherlock – no more apologies, okay? No more. I’m sorry I didn’t see it earlier. I should have. I should have been there for you. Please forgive me---”
My voice breaks, but I don’t allow the tears to come. I’ll never cry like that again. It’s his pain.
“I love you, John,” he says, his fingers brushing my jaw so tenderly, and my heart breaks.
You went to hell for me, and only now do I realise that you’re still there.
I’ll walk the rest of the way by your side.