He is four when he discovers it, and the world is a colourful chaos, an endless source of distraction.
It’s in his parents’ bedroom, neatly folded, on the armchair in front of the window. It’s a silk scarf.
The material is purple and soft, and it feels like water running through his fingers when William lets his little hands glide over it. Cool and smooth, soothing him as he tries to escape a brutal reality that’s overwhelming him in so many ways, with all its tiny details screaming at him, demanding to be seen. William grows to love the scarf.
One day, he nicks it from the bedroom, hides it under his little shirt and runs.
He runs to grandfather’s beehives, sits down in the grass and closes his eyes, listening to the buzzing of the bees on their way home in the evening sun, smelling the wild carnations in the meadows and grandfather’s honey. He brings the scarf to his nose and smells it, presses it against his lips, lets his little tongue dart out and taste it, and for an instant the voices in his head are silent.
He does it again, whenever the house is screaming at him, when every closed drawer, every grain of dust and every beam of light want to be examined and won’t leave him alone until he has uncovered every mystery lying beneath. He buries his face in Mummy’s scarf, and, just like that, he can smell carnations and honey and hear bees in the evening sun, even if there aren’t any.
He is thirteen and his mind is imploding, his body is changing, his blood is singing in his veins. He doesn’t know what to do with himself.
He knows what the other boys are talking about. He knows who has already had his first kiss, who has stolen money and who has stolen chewing gum, he even knows who’s eaten the last piece of chocolate cake after dinner, and they hate him for it. They don’t understand that he isn’t particularly keen on knowing those things, that he never wanted to be showered with boring details and useless information and unpleasant secrets. He just can’t help it, and it terrifies him.
When he comes home for the holidays, he searches every inch of the house for the silk scarf, wants to smell it and taste it and feel it, just once, even though he’s too old and way too smart to be looking for this kind of comfort, and he knows he will feel worthless and guilty afterwards.
He doesn’t find it.
He runs out to on the meadows to smell carnations and listen to the bees instead, and then he even eats a spoonful of grandfather’s honey, but it isn’t right. It doesn’t help.
He is sixteen when a boy from the dormitory across the corridor offers him a cigarette.
He isn’t sure why he accepts it. The boy lights it for him, and together they smoke in silence, hiding behind the fountain in the school yard. William coughs in spite of himself and finds it disgusting. The boy laughs at him, lights another cigarette, takes a pull on it before handing it to him. William can sense him on his tongue, can taste the saltiness of his saliva in his mouth, and he decides that he likes the taste of it better than the smoking itself.
The boy is pretty. He has soft, dark hair, skin like golden honey, brown eyes that sparkle with mischievous delight when he sees William approaching him. They smoke together every afternoon, and in those minutes, William can focus. When he’s smoking, he can breathe properly (which is pleasantly ironic since he is inhaling something that’s seeking to destroy his lungs), and everything seems a bit more bearable.
They never talk more than necessary. It’ an unspoken agreement.
Sometimes the boy strokes William’s temple with his thumb, runs his fingers through his riot of curls, whispering how beautiful it is. Sometimes William touches him, just a little, just to find out if this small patch of skin on his neck could possibly smell like honey, if his hand could feel like silk in his own.
Sometimes they kiss, sharing smoke and breath and swallowing down the sound of each other’s breathing before returning to their classes.
The boy finishes school that year. The day he leaves, they share one last cigarette. William doesn’t bother to find out his name.
He is nineteen and university is terrifying.
William sits through his lectures with his best impression of stoicism, insane amounts of strong black coffee and a feeling of profound hatred for everyone around him. Chemistry is mind-numbingly simple. People are indescribably idiotic. Weak and cruel and slaves of their most primal instincts, or so it seems.
He smokes, still, although he does it alone now. He feels the warm, familiarly bitter puff of smoke on his tongue, and sometimes he imagines the taste of the boy’s lips on his own. Mostly, though, he blows the smoke out of the window and watches it swirl, feels the tension vacate his muscles and lets his hateful, dull world shrink until nothing is left save for the smoke dissolving in front of him.
When he has finished smoking, he washes the taste away with stale coffee and waits for the emptiness in his head to start screaming again.
He is twenty-two when he finds something more effective than caffeine and nicotine to stifle the voices that keep telling him the world is too dull and chaotic for him to exist in it.
It starts more or less by accident, with a man following him on his way home after a party he never really wanted to attend. William doesn’t appreciate people sneaking about behind him, so he pins the stranger against the wall in an alleyway, prepared to do whatever it takes for him to leave him in peace.
However, things don’t turn out the way he expects.
They end up in William’s flat, kissing and tearing wildly at each other’s clothes. The stranger fucks him half-clothed on his unmade bed, holding him down with both hands on the back of his neck, taking what he needs without wasting a thought on William beneath him, which is very efficient. William comes all over his own shabby cotton sheets, imagining skin like honey and a smell of carnations and the taste of purple silk on his tongue as his release slowly dries, leaving ugly stains all over his bed.
“Do you want some?” asks the stranger, afterwards, when their lying there in the mess they’ve made, not touching. He pulls a tiny, innocent looking plastic bag out of the trousers he’s still wearing, along with a spoon and a clean syringe.
That night, William discovers cocaine and learns that there’s a way to make the endless data around him a little less brutal and dull and predictable.
Cocaine makes his world deliciously cloudy, foreign and interesting, though reassuringly familiar at the same time. It softens the edges of his razor sharp mind, slows his whirling brain down and makes him forget how afraid he is. Cocaine burns him. He crumbles into dust, and it is glorious.
The drugs don’t have any demands. They don’t want to be understood or unravelled. All they want is to claim William’s body and gradually consume it, but then, his body has never really been a part of him. It’s not a bad deal.
He is twenty-five when he decides that he’s going to be dead by twenty-six. His transport may still be functional, on the inside, however, he is no longer alive. At least that’s what it feels like.
He sleeps every few days, when his vision is getting blurred and his heart is stuttering, and he eats around three times a week. He needs energy to find hiding places. People apparently care enough to be looking for him. He cannot fathom why. He just plays along in this macabre little game of hide and seek that temporarily gives him purpose.
He occasionally shares a mattress or a sandwich or a needle with a man who calls himself Kimmie and who tends to appear wherever William is, way too frequently for it to be coincidental.
“Why are you following me?” he asks, one day, in the attic of an abandoned house somewhere near a harbour, while dissolving his next dose on a teaspoon.
“Because,” Kimmie says, rubbing at the bright blue haematomas and inflamed puncture marks all over his arms, “I really want to fuck you before I fucking kill myself.”
William shoots up the cocaine and waits for the world to slow down. He takes a huge gulp of air, feels the rattling of his brain stop. The lifeless items around him stop shooting him accusing glances and he hates himself a little less for what he’s doing and what he’s about to do.
“Okay,” he says and lets Kimmie undress him, lets him stroke his back and shove his fingers into him and fuck him on the filthy mattress. When it’s over and he is even dirtier than before, he kisses the man, biting at his mouth like he wants to devour him, and he nearly tastes soft lips and sees honey-coloured skin, but that’s only because he’s high as a kite. He smokes a cigarette afterwards and decides that death can’t come soon enough.
A few days later, he wakes up with a needle still in his arm, and with his head full of swirling smoke that nauseates him. The dirty mattress he’s lying on smells like grandfather’s honey and his skin feels exactly like Mummy’s silk scarf when he runs his fingertips over his temples, and when he blinks in the remorseless sunlight that’s piercing right through his skull and watches it turn into the tender evening sun as he slowly loses consciousness, William knows he’s dying.
His brain is silent. The world is deliciously white and blank and just plainly wonderful, and of course it’s all ruined when he awakes in a hospital bed with Mycroft by his side, who is looking down at him like he’s just complete and utter scum.
William would really rather be dead than himself.
“Sherlock,” he says, with an air of finality, decidedly not shaking the hand that’s outstretched towards him. He is twenty-eight, and the world is neither more interesting nor less frightening, but right now he’s concentrating on details, which means he’s so numb inside that he can’t be arsed to care.
The DI they have referred him to stares at him in confusion. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Sherlock rolls his eyes at him. “It’s my name,” he drawls. “Stop wasting my time. What do we know about the victim’s clothing habits? Body hygiene? Make-up?”
The DI fumbles with his paperwork. “Your brother sent… I mean, I have a copy of your ID card here, it says your name is…”
“I can give you your murderer’s age and profession, possibly his name, if you let me take a look at the woman’s wardrobe. Do you want my help or not?”
“Yes, well,” says the DI helplessly and hands over the case files.
Sherlock solves the murder within half an hour. He gives the DI his number and steals his badge in return. He determines that he deserves it.
Back at his flat, he slumps onto the sofa, takes the badge out of his pocket and presses it against his cheek, feels the smooth, cold metal melt through his skin and mingle with his blood. It rushes through his arteria facialis and spreads in his capillaries, prickling coolly under his skin. His thoughts are muffled for a minute or two, with his eyes closed and the metal bleeding through his skin like a cold burn mark, making the colours drain away and leaving him enveloped in blissful darkness.
The DI’s name is Lestrade. He calls whenever his imbecilic squad is completely clueless, and then he eyes Sherlock in a mixture of fascination and pity while he examines, observes, deduces. Sherlock chases murderers through darkened alleys, throws himself off bridges and dives into the sewers to secure evidence. He never gets used to the rush of adrenaline, but he begins to crave it like oxygen.
Lestrade lets him steal his badge every single time, and every time it feels a little less like silk on his cheek.
He is thirty-three and the world has become an even more mind-numbingly boring place, when John Watson walks into a lab at St. Bart’s hospital.
John is short and unassuming, and his infinite strength practically radiates from him. He wears jumpers and cheap button-downs, has a fondness for terrible action movies and the most delightfully macabre sense of humour. He kills a man for Sherlock, cleans up after him, saves him from stranglers and poisoners and boredom, forces him to eat regularly and sometimes prevents him from being too cruel.
They share the adrenaline in their veins, at least that’s what Sherlock likes to imagine when they slump against a wall or an item of furniture or each other, panting and gasping in relief. They share tea in the afternoons and coffee in the mornings. They share fear and excitement and danger, but they never share a cigarette.
John keeps him on track whenever there’s not enough input, or too much of it. He is there when the sensory overload becomes too much for Sherlock to function. He is also there to prevent him from tearing himself apart when the world is so dull and predictable and hateful that he feels like his brain is going to destroy him from the inside.
John makes it alright, just by being himself, just by looking at Sherlock in awe and admiration like Sherlock deserves to be looked at like that.
Sherlock falls in love without realising it, and when it hits him that he has never been more willing to actually die for anyone, he is already about to throw himself off a building.
He is thirty-seven when he leaves John’s wedding early, and he is still thirty-seven when he comes home from hospital after having been shot.
Both times, he makes his way home on his own, wrapping his coat around himself, turning his collar up and breathing in the too cold air. Both times, he returns to an empty flat with an empty sitting room and an empty chair, and he briefly contemplates finding someone or something. Someone to fuck or something to get high on after the wedding. More morphine when there’s a hole ripped through his body. Or just anything, anything to muffle the dull ache in his chest that doesn’t make any sense and has been there long before the bullet wound.
In the end, he undresses and crawls in his bed, presses himself into the mattress and buries his face in his pillow, and it doesn’t smell like comfort or honey or carnations or purple silk at all.
It smells like John Watson instead, which is the biggest cruelty his subconscious mind could possibly come up with. He can smell John’s sweat, he can sense him on his lips. He can feel his silvery hair that would run through his fingers like the coolest, clearest, most precious liquid in the world if he ever were to touch it, and he finds himself unable to close his eyes.
He is forty when John returns to him.
“It’s an illusion. All of it. She is,” John tells him, sitting in his chair at Baker Street over a cup of tea Sherlock has prepared for him. They have sorted out an awful lot of paperwork at the yard today, and John is not ready to go home. He’s never quite ready to face the woman he’s supposed to love, these days.
“I shouldn’t have married her,” John says hesitantly. “I know that now. I shouldn’t have let her ruin me like that. I think there’s barely anything left of me.”
Sherlock watches him in the last rays of golden sunlight that are falling through the windows, and finds that John isn’t ruined at all. He is perfect. Disillusioned, wounded, hopeless and perfect.
“Stay, John,” Sherlock says, digging his nails into his own thigh. “Stay at home.”
And, miraculously, John does.
He is forty-three when they conclude their two hundred and forty-second chase after a murderer through London, and it is precisely then, back at their flat, that their eyes lock for one instant too long. Their hearts throb in unison, synchronously pumping adrenaline through their bodies, and later Sherlock will be unable to remember how it happened that they found each other somewhere in the middle.
John kisses him. Kisses him deeply and passionately, like his lips are sweet and in some way desirable, like Sherlock is worth it.
“Oh God,” John breathes against his lips, “Sherlock, can I... please. Please.”
Sherlock doesn’t know what John is begging for, but he is going to give it to him, whatever it is.
“Yes,” he says. “Take it, take everything, it’s yours.”
John takes him to bed, lays him down on the crisp white linen sheets, undresses him gently. He kisses Sherlock’s nose and his chest and his belly, the flushed skin on the insides of his thighs. And when John is inside him, whispering how brilliant Sherlock is, how beautiful, how loved, Sherlock closes his eyes and lets endorphins rush through his body, feels them shoot up his veins, setting him on fire without burning him to ashes.
John’s skin is tanned and scarred, wrinkled in certain places, not smooth or sweet like honey, and the golden hair all over his body is not silky and cool, and it doesn’t run through Sherlock’s fingers like water. John’s kisses taste like tea with too much milk and too strong coffee, like home. His breath is warm and damp, and Sherlock swallows it down, trying to savour it, although it feels nothing like honey his tongue, and it doesn’t smell like carnations, obviously, but it keeps John alive, so Sherlock figures it will do the same with him.
If Sherlock were to die tomorrow, he would die knowing how it feels to become one with John, and it’s enough.
It’s better than honey and wild carnations and the bees in the evening sun, so much better than purple silk or smoke or cocaine. Sherlock’s blood is singing in his ears, his pulse is throbbing in his throat and his skin is on fire, and he doesn’t want it to stop.
Sherlock is standing on a meadow, listening to the sound of busy insects doing their work, breathing in the scent of freshly mown grass and marguerites.
The bees collecting nectar are his, the cool silk on his skin is not purple and the man next to him is his husband with whom he rarely shares adrenaline these days. He shares everything else with him instead. Coffee in the morning and tea in the afternoon, his mind and his body, the jar of exquisite acacia honey in the fridge and the pile of stolen police badges in his sock drawer, the delicate silk scarves John wraps around Sherlock’s neck before they go out.
He is sixty-eight and he hasn’t smoked a cigarette in twelve years and eight months.
He is holding a warm, callused hand in his own and listens attentively to the tiny metallic sound of his wedding ring grazing an identical one as the man beside him turns to face him. John smiles, smiles so brightly that his impossibly blue eyes are sparkling like the evening sky even though it’s still morning, and if the world wants to implode right now, it will be alright, because Sherlock is whole.