Sherlock Holmes has recently grown aware that the problem must be one of language.
He and John Watson clearly speak different versions of English. Must do. It's the only logical explanation.
When Sherlock explores this hypothesis in retrospect, it becomes still more clear to him that a linguistic barrier must be the answer. He will test it just as soon as he can come up with an effective rubric. It accounts for so very many instances when the Doctor went shocked and blinking, cutting his sentences into little one-word clips, when what Sherlock had been saying was undoubtedly normalby anyone's standards. Questions of abnormality having barely entered his consciousness. There is a difference between saying to someone, "May I please tattoo my name with this x-acto and this pot of ink somewhere on your back, anywhere you like really, to prove that I own you," and saying to someone...
Well, the entire conversation about condoms, for example. That was the day after the kissing. The day after Sherlock had ordered John out of their flat.
The kissing had stayed kissing for half an hour, which to Sherlock--who was documenting every shift and nuance--wasn't surprising in the least, but he sees how possibly it could have been. He could stay in that in-between land for hours if allowed, just tasting, marveling that his tongue is inside someone's mouth, and that they don't object. It feels like a benevolent invasion, now that he thinks it over, and John was right: invading is really the ultimate when it comes to a bloodrush, a surge of adrenaline the likes of which he's constantly seeking. He liked it tremendously with previous boyfriends, and with John it's like being allowed inside his actual head, he is so very present, which is miraculous. So it had stayed kissing for what might have been thought rather a long period. Then there was a strangled noise from John, who pulled him off the sofa onto their floor, and it was rather more than kissing, and technically could have involved a condom or two, if they were being careful, but Sherlock can't recall ever giving head with johnnies entering the picture, though it would certainly be interesting and he's game to try provided it's for an experiment and not the usual practice.
The next day, John had been smiling stupidly at everything.
No, not stupidly, as a matter of fact. John isn't much stupider than most people, and rather better than some. Just absently. Non-specific smiling. It didn't bother Sherlock, though lack of specificity generally does. He'd rather liked it. It was something new about John to catalog, and Sherlock likes nothing better than cataloging things about Dr. John Watson. Like the very recent fact that John sleeps curled on his side like a little boy, turning onto his back if any sand-swept and brilliantly toxic gunfire visions disturb him. Sherlock knew that he ought to be fonder of John for smiling stupidly all the late morning than he was fond of him for rolling onto his back when he dreamt about deserts. But he wasn't. He still isn't. He hoards them both equally, the way he does every other specific.
That afternoon John sat at the kitchen table, which was covered in questionable items and dusty papers but with a little space cleared for tea, sipping PG Tips, making out a list for the corner store. Sherlock could see it from where he sat with his laptop resting on a box of frozen sheep embryos as they thawed. He hadn't yet told John about the sheep embryos, but they were of absolute necessity to him, and anyway it was more fun letting John find things himself. The list for the trip down to the Tesco read, in the most endearingly medical handwriting Sherlock could ever recall seeing:
Then John started tapping his biro on the table with an amused, delighted lift to his mouth.
"Suppose I'd better put condoms on this list, eh?"
Sherlock coolly finished typing his sentence. It was an email to a client in Wales. But she hadn't included the right information, so he was demanding to know what breed of dog her accountant owned, large or small, because people--ordinary people--think about things like their dogs when they are buying new flats with embezzled funds.
John's eyebrows went a bit...well, crushed was too strong a word. His face is so very wonderfully rumpled, however. So not crushed, but certainly deflated.
"No, I'll have whatever sorts of sex you like, looking forward to it, but you needn't bother buying condoms. Waste of money."
John leaned forward with his elbows on the table, almost upsetting his tea, looking very trained-medical-professional all of a sudden.
"They are not a waste of money."
Sherlock smirks, ducking his chin slightly. "Well, I'm not very likely to get you pregnant, am I, with or without a johnny? Let's think this through a bit better. I'm a freak, yes, but I do possess a very typical male reproductive system, that I can promise you. I'm not biologically freakish. The reverse being equally true, or so I assume, I can't see why you'd want to mess with the things, it would be a complete waste of time, and anyway they're--"
It occurred at this moment to Sherlock that they were speaking at cross-purposes, just a bit. Because Sherlock had been very airily joking in tone, but the doctor--instead of seeming more and more understanding, nodding or perhaps smiling again like he was before--was actually looking more and more exasperated, his eyebrows darkening, so they'd somewhere lost track of one another, and therefore--
"Oh," said Sherlock, all in a rush, as he does when he's discovered the key to something. "Is that what you thought? No, it's fine, it's entirely fine. I promise, I can even show you the paperwork, I'm clean as a whistle, I had to have every lab test possible done six months ago when a corpse in the morgue exploded, and I haven't been with anyone since then."
And that statement really ought to have solved the problem.
Sherlock thinks more carefully on the subject. Yes, that all ought to have been fine. It's a language issue, has to be.
Because John in fact had winced, very charmingly, and then opened one eye as if looking at Sherlock was very much like staring into the sun, and then passed his tongue over his lips, and then stuck the end of the biro in his mouth.
"Okay," said John.
Pausing, apparently, not knowing quite where to start.
"Sherlock," said John.
Sherlock waited. He typed another sentence.
"Did the corpse explode due to any particular--no, no, strike that, Sherlock, never tell me why the corpse exploded. All right? Not even if I ask about it. Don't tell me, ever, not for as long as I know you. Got it?"
For the rest of your life, then. Check. Nodding, Sherlock tried to count the number of separate expressions John had just passed through. Nine, he thought. No, ten, counting the blinking. He'd never seen a human face so expressive, so clear. It made his heart swell, every time he watched it, the ease with which John Watson could be spread open and read. He wanted to pin him down like a butterfly on a card and simply watch, for months. For years. Forever.
Bad idea, he thought.
"So," said John.
Obviously as puzzled as was humanly possible. But that made no sense.
Running through what he'd just said for discrepancies, logical errors, fallacies, paradoxes, blind ends, Sherlock finally identified the conundrum and wondered why he was being so slow this morning. Did being with John make him slower than usual?
"Oh, of course. Yes, well, obviously with previous partners, I did use condoms. Not that there were so very many. Five, but yes, I see why that confused you, and anyway there were condoms before, always, and then the--"
"Exploding corpse," John said with his eyes tight shut.
"--Correct, and then nil, and now you. So there isn't a problem, it's fine."
At this point, well satisfied, Sherlock had gone back to typing. He had skipped saying And I always used fresh needles, every single time. He was very proud of himself for that omission, it was the sort of thing which could slip out all too easily and ruin everything. People don't like knowing about his drugs, though he can't fathom why. His drugs have nothing to do with their health, after all. Their health remains quite unaffected by them. There had been that particularly horrid cock-up when Lestrade had found him without much of a pulse, and from the way the idiot had reacted, you'd think it had been his heart that--
"Sherlock," said John, sounding as if this entire conversation was steadily weakening his system.
"And what about me?"
"Mmm, yes. There you are."
"No, what about me?"
"Well, what about you?"
"I could...have something. For the sake of argument."
"Oh, but that's different. If you have something, I want it too."
And this is what Sherlock is still struggling to comprehend, why that statement in particular, which was really a harmless fact, dangerous only to Sherlock even in theoretical potential and never to other people, why should this offhand remark cause John's elbow to finally hit the tea mug and send it onto the kitchen floor with a smash. It wasn't a potentially unwelcome declaration of undying possession, and it wasn't even approaching what he wanted to say that morning, which was You must swear on your life never to leave me and never to stop looking at me the way you looked at me this morning, like I'm some sort of extraterrestrial miracle, because if I have to go back to the way it was yesterday, without having you, I will get a very long, very sharp, very, very Japanese knife, and I will--no, he hadn't said that. Nothing of the kind. Only I want it too. Which ought to be fine.
John looked down at the broken tea mug and thought about getting a rag, but he didn't. Instead, he stood up, and came round to Sherlock's side of the table. He set himself up between Sherlock's knees, leaning against the table and what he didn't know were thawing sheep embryos, looking very, very serious.
"You want it too."
"Good, you were listening."
"So for the sake of argument, if I had syphilis, you'd enjoy sharing it."
"That's only a matter of a round of penicillin."
"Okay. Right-o, sorry, forgot you were a genius for a moment, my fault. If for the sake of argument I was riddled with AIDS, you'd want yourself a helping of it?"
"You aren't, but for the sake of argument, yes."
"Sherlock, that's insane," his friend John said in a slightly pleading voice. "Why?"
"It's not insane, it's practical. We'd have a better shot at living the same amount of time."
John's mouth went rather numb-looking. His eyes did that fluttering thing again, ending up with one shut tighter than the other, and from closer up Sherlock could see the place on John's neck where he'd bitten him the day before, and of course Sherlock only wanted to live as long as this man. Of course. He needed this fellow and no other, this particular ex-Army doctor with the very unfashionable jumpers, the one who smelled a bit like Chai tea at the crook of his elbow. If he fell into the Thames or got trapped in a house fire or fell off a bloody bridge, Sherlock would go too. Sherlock had now counted thirteen separate new expressions on John's face in the last six seconds, and he loved all of them, and he hated John's hand for covering up two and a half of them, but then he didn't hate John's hand the way he hated other things. Not a bit, actually, he simply wanted to move John's hand so it no longer impeded his view, and if John Watson had caught malaria, or dysentery, or cholera somewhere, Sherlock would want it too. John probably didn't want Sherlock to make it all quite this obvious, though, the detective had thought. It was probably similar to item number thirteen on Sherlock's Not Fine list.
13. (dependent upon whether or not we have the same blood types) We could go to hospital and get ourselves hooked up to a transfusion machine, and exchange all the blood in my system for all the blood in your system and vice versa. Preferably on the anniversary of something significant, and we had better be awake the whole time. Then I will have all of your blood and you'll have all of mine, and it'll be lovely.
That really would be lovely, Sherlock thought, but best not to inquire.
"Why isn't that okay?" Sherlock asked instead, growing anxious. "Hell, John, you don't have HIV, I'd have seen the meds, deduced it from countless signs by now. Why isn't that fine? Are you--"
"I'm completely clean, the Army does loads of tests, and I haven't been with anyone either."
It's too much, Sherlock had thought. I'm too much. I thought I would be, too. I can't let it out like this, he'll leave and everything will go much, much too bright again and I'll lose my mind. Or he'll try to leave and I'll do something cracked like finding a John-sized glass case with a lock to it. What would a normal human being say? What would Lestrade say?
"Fine, get the condoms, it'll be safer," Sherlock said.
John coughed. "We're both clean, we don't need them. That's established. You do realize that you've just required our relationship to be completely exclusive, by the way."
Things went a bit white after that. John hadn't meant anything by it, of course, was only being thorough and sweetly dogmatic, in fact, but everything went white all the same. And that was worse than too many colours. The detective shuddered ever so slightly, adjusting. Like an explosion, like a fucking supernova, Sherlock had been presented with a second problem of language. Because it hadn't once occurred to Sherlock that it could be anything but completely exclusive. And by the cast of John's mouth, he suspected that it showed.
"Oh, Jesus," John had said softly. "I'm...so sorry. Of course I don't want, but I didn't know that you--"
"I'm off," Sherlock had managed to say, diving out of the chair.
"No, stop. Sherlock, come back here. I'm an idiot. I never--"
"I know you are, everyone is."
"Well, I ought to know a bit better than them."
"The, um, the post must have come by now, I'll--"
"Just popping out for a bit of air, won't be a moment--"
"The, I need patches, and you're out of brown sugar, I'll just be--"
"Sherlock, stop moving this instant."
Sherlock hadn't meant to stop at all, but John grabbed him by one long arm, half in and half out of his coat, and had whirled him against the door, and had kissed him like he was giving mouth to mouth resuscitation. It felt that like, as a matter of fact. Like Sherlock had been dying, floating off into a horrible white cloud, and then all at once he was coming back. His coat was falling off one shoulder and the forearm trying to grab at more of John Watson was impeded by it, but everything was still getting better. The white cloud was receding. John's hair was very soft, and his shoulders very solid, and everything very small, and very determined for all that he was so small, and now that Sherlock could breathe again, he didn't have the first idea what to say.
John stopped kissing him and looked up at his face. He really was remarkably tiny for being such an enormous presence.
"You get to have all of me, provided you don't blow up any more corpses. Deal?"
How did he know I blew it up?
Sherlock nodded desperately. That was a very fair deal, remarkably fair, and anyway if he didn't get all of John, he would kill whoever got pieces of John, so really this was better for both of them. "Yes, yes, I can--yes. Everything?"
"Because I do mean absolutely everything."
"I, yes. Thought as much, actually. What you see is what you get."
"What about the--"
"Stop talking about condoms," John had ordered before kissing him again. "Start talking about the sorts of sex you'd like to have this very instant."
Language, Sherlock had thought as his coat fell to the floor. And then, I am going to have to solve this scientifically.
Not all that long afterward, Sherlock has composed a series of test questions. These are subdivided into three groups, each group containing ten individual tests. There is a control group, naturally, of things which are so normal that Sherlock has in fact heard other people saying them, composed of utterly banal queries. Questions along the lines of "Do you prefer whole milk, or skimmed?" The secondary set of inquiries he's written down are similar in form, content, and intention to the Fine list. And the final ten are based firmly within the scope of the Not Fine list.
This time it is a Monday morning, and John is curled in a chair reading the international section of the newspaper and frowning every time he encounters the words WMD, reasonable doubt, or former U. S. President George W. Bush. The series of unconscious frowns make him look older than he is in fact. But Sherlock is absurdly compelled by how aged John seems to be at times, how very calm and weathered he is. Like a harrowed saint or a silent poet or an American cowboy. The taller man's heart flutters ever so slightly when John frowns even harder and rubs at his pale eyebrows with the heel of his hand, knowing in an instant that John just read the words timetable for withdrawal. It could not possibly please Sherlock any more, knowing this about John.
He also, as of five o'clock this morning when John was still sleeping, looked through John's army paperwork. Their blood types match, both of them A-. They will likely never go to hospital and switch it all, but it's so unspeakably nice to think that they could.
Sherlock tents his fingers. The air this morning is auspicious. Time to start the experiment, and with the control group.
"Do you prefer whole milk, or skimmed?"
John looks up from his newspaper, reaches out for a sip of his tea. "Sorry?"
"Do you prefer whole milk, or skimmed?"
"What have you done?"
Sherlock is reclining in his favorite non-posture on the sofa, feeling very happy and boneless. They solved a fantastic case yesterday, assassinations and gang warfare and cover-ups and one pretty cracking car chase while someone was holding a knife to his throat and John was driving, and he's thus remarkably relaxed. But now he's also a bit muddled, and so drops his head to the side to glance at John, his hands losing their architectural pose.
"What do you mean, what have I done?"
"You heard me. Confess. There is milk in the fridge, and I happen to know it's whole milk, because I bought it. I bought it because you never buy milk. Buying milk for you would be like. Well. Probably like most people feel about being pursued by timberwolves. I also bought it because I prefer whole milk. In my black tea, or cereal, but not in my coffee, and never in green tea, of course, goes without saying. You know I bought it, you saw me put it in the fridge. You never miss a trick. Therefore you know that I prefer whole milk. And so I say again. What have you done."
Sherlock brushes a hand through his hair. He hasn't done a thing to the milk, of course. But admitting that would taint the results of the...already rather bollocksed study.
"Is the milk radioactive? Riddled with botulism? Replaced with glue? What have you done to it?"
John won't look up from his tea and paper when he repeats this question, and that is...that is just so bloody beautiful. Blinking, Sherlock finds that he can only smile. He has just been outplayed. Expertly outplayed, and it feels wonderful, it really might as well be Christmas, except that Christmas comes once a year and outplaying Sherlock comes perhaps once every three to four years after Mycroft is discounted, the smug bastard. Sherlock feels like laughing, feels it creeping up from his ribs to his lips. So very few people ever dare to challenge him, possibly fearing that he might tie them up for days and have his way with them. With John, that danger is obviously...rendered a moot point. Sherlock can tie John up and have his way with him for days anytime he wants, he's beginning to quietly, rapturously, tremblingly suspect, and so outplaying the detective is not risky. It's fun.
Meanwhile, thinks Sherlock, that was a spectacular failure of the English language.
"Bull semen," Sherlock lies, grinning lazily. "It's an experiment."
"You complete prat," this earns him. "Since when?"
"Don't fuss so. Only an hour ago."
"Oh. Right. Lucky thing for you I felt like jasmine this morning."
How does one conduct an experiment in which one's control group is destined to fail comprehensively? Sherlock wonders. Bugger.
Keep calm and carry on, then.
Sherlock waits for a minute and a half exactly before striking again. Culled from Group Two, he asks mildly, "I'm going to need to borrow you in a moment. I want to see whether I can bring you off solely by fucking you. Do you mind?"
"Nearly through here, news is all dreadful, anyway. Don't know why I read the stuff."
That provokes a fit of deep, quiet chuckles that soon renders the detective sprawled even less symmetrically upon the furniture. He can't recall a madder conversation. There has probably never been one. This man is brilliant, this oh-so-normal-looking doctor fellow, this man is like talking to a slot machine. No matter what Sherlock tries, he gets a response he never predicted, in fact the only thing he can safely say at this point is that the experiment in identifying the linguistic geography of their particular communication barrier is a staggering failure and that he does not give a flying toss about it. Sherlock pulls his knees into his chest and grins as wide as he can, wrapping his arms around them, curled into a giddy ball. This man is like no one else in the history of human speech. And god, Sherlock hasn't been bored in days now.
One more for good measure? Then cap this off as a total waste of scientific inquiry?
"When I met you at Bart's that afternoon, I wanted to open up your skull and see inside."
John looks up, smiles back at him. "That's more or less what it felt like, yep. So no regrets there. Well done, you."
Sherlock can't be bothered to keep balanced on the sofa any longer, and so he slides off of it, laughing like a five-year-old.
"You know what, though?" John adds. "Sherlock. Christ, what's gotten into you? Sherlock, you know what I remember thinking?"
"What?" Sherlock asks, calming a little. He very much wants to know.
"I thought it ought to bother me more."
"Well, at least you were right about that much."
Nearly in tears, Sherlock tries very hard to get a hold of himself. His hand is over his breast as if he's trying to keep the laughter in. It really can't be dignified, laughing this hard. But John Watson is clearly insane, and that is hilarious. It's also a marvelous thing to have found out--that Sherlock might be a high-functioning sociopath, but his flatmate John Watson is mad as a hatter.
"Hey, you can giggle," John says fondly, snapping the paper edge. "It isn't as if it's a crime scene."
Wrong, thinks Sherlock.
And then collapses laughing all over again.
The next day someone throws a poisonous gas bomb at New Scotland Yard. Three people are injured and no one is killed, which makes John happy, and also pleases Sherlock aesthetically, though he doesn't show it much. Murder is interesting, death is always interesting, but bombing is simply messy. It's embarrassing, really, what criminals are willing to do these days, how low they will sink. Sherlock once read of a killer who murdered a former colleague with an ice pick to the spine, so that the evidence would melt away, and Sherlock wanted to shake that man's hand. Before arresting him, of course.
Finding the bomber requires nine hours before they corner him, in a very nice upper-story flat near St. James's, holed up with an enormous knife and a pair of grenades. The Yard isn't there yet, of course. A spectacular fight ensues, after which the following things can be said of a previously very fine flat indeed:
A grenade went off in the dining room. Pieces of mahogany and blue china and ivory-coloured wall are everywhere. There is another grenade, its pin still intact, which rolled under the red striped sofa in the next room.
An enormous glass table is quite broken, shattered really, and there is an unconscious bomber in the middle of it.
Sherlock smells like a grenade went off very near to him, and he is covered in plaster dust, but otherwise intact.
John is very nearly intact, but a piece of glass from the table is stuck into his shoulder, right through his thin coat, and he is now in the act of pulling it out again. Not even wincing very much.
"There are moments," breathes Sherlock, "when it's all I can do not to eat you."
Then he pauses. For the next 1.46 seconds, Sherlock's mind is occupied with:
It must be the adrenaline, idiot, god you're such an idiot, there are currently twenty-six items on the Not Fine list, and there you go and blurt out number twenty-one in the middle of a crime scene, it's the way his hands move when he's fighting, isn't it, all quiet elbows and god when he holds that gun it's like the thing is part of his arm, it's brilliant, he's brilliant, the stillness he gets, it's magical, it looks like he's sitting on a mountaintop having a cup of tea, and just what about number twenty-one did you imagine he wanted to hear, and now you'll never be able to see that stillness he gets ever again, you won't, who in his right mind is going to trail about after a man who vaguely wants to have bits of him for supper, only the bits he won't miss, because you'd run out otherwise, but the point is that normal people want to do things like go out for dim sum and then a film and god it's so very very hateful, hateful, all of that, and how busily they're all going so many places and all the places themselves so dull, deadly dull, and none of them like John look at that, how still and peaceful and not-busy he is, how small and how silent deep within himself and he'll never understand what happens when you try to go silent but maybe if he stayed long enough, you might learn a bit of the knack of it but now he won't, of course, because you've decided it's a good idea to tell him you suppose him edible, you fucking idiot, idiot, idiot.
"Oh, god, yes," John mutters, throwing the piece of glass to the carpeting and crushing his mouth against Sherlock's.
Sherlock thinks his own mouth was probably open before John even reached it, but he can't be certain, because he was still coming off the edge of nearly a second and a half of raw panic. The lack of accurate recall only disturbs him for a moment, however. He's fisting his hands in John's coat, everything teeth and tongues and heat and yes, and John needs to be closer, and Jesus the doctor tastes the way pastry shops smell but without the sugar, just warm and good and alive, and what with the grip he has on John's jacket, there isn't any space between them, but there's far too much space between them, and then he can't twist the black fabric any longer because this coat needs to come off.
He steps away. It feels like an amputation.
"Don't, stop--no, why are you stopping?"
Tearing John's coat off takes 2.35 seconds, and it's too long.
"You look like a fucking crime scene," Sherlock breathes.
Stopping with the coat is a bad idea. He rips the black button-down John's wearing off his shoulders and reveals the trickle of blood and the little cut like a mouth on top of his shoulder.
Very much like a mouth. Only redder.
Fuck it, Sherlock thinks, and dips his head.
"You look like a crime scene too," John gasps.
The detective smiles, blood on his lips and everything absolutely stunning. Apparently having a gash laved with Sherlock's tongue is not the dealbreaker. Or so it seems, because one hand is on Sherlock's slim waist and the other is kneading fiercely into his hair.
"I love crime scenes," Sherlock interrupts mouthing at John's injury to say. It seems very important that John understand. "John, I love them."
"I think I--god--might love crime scenes myself. What exactly are you--"
"Saliva is a natural antiseptic."
"I, yes. Right. That's true, actually," John hisses.
"You taste brilliant. Oh, you taste like thunderstorms and bread with salted butter and copper coins."
"You can taste thunderstorms?"
"Haven't you ever smelled a thunderstorm?"
"You mean electricity?"
"Shut up, shut up, like this."
This time when Sherlock's tongue slides into John's mouth, John starts sinking to the floor, which is really an excellent idea, in Sherlock's opinion. An utterly cracking idea, and so is the fact that Sherlock has lost his coat and the thundercloud-coloured shirt is now being pulled from his shoulders, and the way John's blood tastes with John's saliva involved reminds Sherlock of an eight hundred quid bottle of white Burgundy Mycroft once gave him after he'd refused a knighthood for the second time. There are minerals, and bits of apple, and lingering acid, and some sort of butter, he can't decide whether Irish or French. If Sherlock can think of a scientific way of bottling it, he is going to try it out. He gets John's belt open.
"This is a bad idea," John says, already shoving a hand into Sherlock's trousers and shivering at the growling sound Sherlock makes against his lips.
Sherlock grins, just about as wide as he can without interrupting the kissing. Kissing John, he is more convinced every time, is almost better than the sex. He feels just as inside John kissing him as he does when he's actually inside John.
"Of course it's a bad idea, that's why we're doing it."
"Oh, right. Well spotted."
"That man is quite unconscious?"
"An hour at least," John reports.
"Thanks for the compliment, John, but given the circumstances, I might not be up for quite that impressive a--"
"Sherlock. Take. Off. Your clothes."
Sherlock laughs, and it's mad. All of this is mad. But in the mad world they seem to have created, Sherlock isn't a freak at all. He's quite normal here. And it's breathtaking.
There's vaseline in his coat pocket and it's only lip balm, but that's just manufacturers being modest about how very many uses their product has. And now they're past the talk of condoms, it turns out that John is exactly the same about sex as he is everything else: clean and bright and open and warm and not overly fastidious. Which is good, because Sherlock is finding himself unable to waste any valuable time here. Normally he will experiment with foreplay until John looks ready to either shake to pieces or slap him, but this is different. He can taste John's blood on his tongue, and he needs to be closer. All he ever feels when he sees John is closer, but this time is so otherworldly and anyway John doesn't want him to wait, by the looks of him, all flushed and his straw-coloured hair a mess and his eyes glowing within the tender little crows' feet.
He pushes home, and both of them gasp, and then John winces.
"No, you're brilliant, god you're good, I think there's a piece of shrapnel under my back."
"Do you want me to--"
"If you don't move, I am going to bloody well scream."
So he does move, and not hesitantly either. Just as even and as pure and as deep as he can, and Sherlock is a musician, so he's quite good at this part. He's hoping for five minutes, but when two have gone by and he sets his mouth over the tiny slash in John's shoulder again, and just ever so kindly presses his tongue into the cut, and John makes that sound again, the one like he's dying, and so unabashedly thrilled about it...
His eyes fly open because he can't help but watch this unfold, can't help but need to prove it to himself. In general, just now, he'd be completely riveted by the scar tissue on John's left shoulder. It looks like a map of something Sherlock is still trying to identify properly, only after an earthquake has cracked it apart, but painted into his skin out of minor chords and clear petrie dish culture, and it's astonishing that it all happened so perfectly. That John was shot, and so is in England. Sherlock probably shouldn't be quite so happy about the bullet wound business as he is, and he knows that part is best left unsaid. Sometimes, it's a struggle. Not just now, however, not under the circumstances of glass shards and the tiny slash which isn't bleeding any longer.
Not with a brand new scar to think about.
Sherlock's mouth is still open over that beautiful wound when John does scream. And because there might be neighbours he clamps his hand over John's lips, dragging his own teeth over unhurt skin as he shudders and thinking that if he had told himself six months ago about this night, before meeting John, he would never have been able to believe a single word.
He can't quite believe it even now, as it's ending.
They think about dressing and getting up, calling the Yard. But they don't. Not quite yet. Sherlock is sprawled half atop John feeling like if he moves, it'll be tantamount to peeling off his own eyelids, and John isn't objecting so far. He'll object all too soon, but Sherlock retained enough sense to slide the two of them off the shrapnel, which was a piece of coffee urn, and so they're relatively comfortable, with Sherlock's curls mashing up against John's neck.
"So you're a vampire," John says fondly. "Suspected as much."
Sherlock is absolutely appalled.
"Wrong," he says emphatically, vehemently, tracing John's ribs with his fingertips.
"Hey, I was only taking the piss. With, you know, the--"
"Vampires want to turn normal people into people like them. I don't ever want you to be like me, I want you to stay just exactly as you are, do you hear me, not a bit like me, because that would be the absolute worst nightmare I can imagine. You being like me."
Language, thinks Sherlock. What a mess language is. Nothing like sex. At least if he can't understand me, he'll never...understand me. That's something.
John thinks about this statement, smoothing Sherlock's hair down over and over again. It's nice, like being petted. Like Sherlock is a cat, which is lovely, as cats are wonderful and far superior to vampires. John seems to like his hair.
"You're right. I was, um. Mistaken. Well, you can't blame me for being fooled, look at you."
"Oh, let me guess," Sherlock drawls nastily, utterly disgusted, "I'm tall, I'm raven-haired, I'm pale--"
"No, that has nothing to do with it. Dimples."
"Vampires have the best dimples. Simple fact. Everyone knows it."
Sherlock lifts his head to look up at John. "Are you out of your mind?"
"Smile at me. The one where you're shamming at being regular and you want someone to let you in their flat or hand you their mobile or lend you a tenner."
Sherlock smiles. The dazzling one.
"Yep, god yes. There they are. That was where I made my mistake, you see, was with the dimples. Christ, those are well done."
The oddest sensation takes place on Sherlock's face, which he thinks consists of the false smile slipping off because an actual smile is approaching. This, to his knowledge, is completely unprecedented. His face has no idea how to accomplish such a weird switching of tracks, though it's happening without his permission. And for at least a passing moment, he knows that he looks like he belongs in an asylum. It's a split second after John starts laughing helplessly that the transformation finishes, and there is a real smile on Sherlock's face instead of the Normal People Smile. John kisses his hairline. Still laughing.
"How horrid. You're making fun of me," Sherlock observes, settling his head back down.
"Has that ever happened to you before? Sham smiling and then smiling?"
"I've never seen a human face do that before."
"It was like watching two people behind one set of eyes, you're barking mad, you know that, don't you? You're wired wrong."
"You like me, though."
"Of course you do. I'm a marvel."
"God, I do," John says, breathing hard and grinning into Sherlock's hair. "I bloody well do. You're amazing."
Not so very long after, Sherlock finds John in a skip.
Sitting in hospital, waiting by John's bed in a bad plastic chair to be told they can go home, Sherlock thinks over the past several days. He needs to fit events and feelings and thought processes into their proper slots, make better sense of what took place. Run a diagnostic on his hard drive. If he doesn't, very likely his brain is going to vibrate clean out of his head with the stress of it all.
For instance, he is a man capable of withstanding a great many things which normal people find intolerable. Sleeplessness and hunger, for instance, he rather likes. They sharpen his mind, and the empty stomach is like an anchor, reminding him to keep pure and focused and clear-headed. He didn't sleep for the two days he was looking for John, and he didn't eat either. Those weren't hardships. But nevertheless those two days were the worst of his life, and that was in spite of having a problem, and an exciting problem no less, a case to work on. With John missing, everything went back to the way it was before John was around. No one to stand next to him while all the details of the world howled in his face, and no one to distract him from the howling of the world inside his head either.
And if Sherlock had been subjected to a single day more of it, he might have crawled out of his own skin.
That all makes perfect sense. To be expected, really, he supposes. He wants John, needs John, cannot tolerate the world without John. It's entirely selfish, and that's quite in character. Fine.
But what in hell was the other feeling, the sensation of knowing John was hurting, it was like a constant shrieking in his own ears, for completely unselfish reasons. Almost charitable ones. At least, he imagines that this is what charity might feel like, to a freak. Even when he is being ruthless with himself, as he always is.
And neither was it a useful discovery to learn that when you are in sympathy with the victim, when you are imagining what might be happening to that person, you are less effective. Less quick, less brilliant, less aware. It made him guilty to the point of nausea as it was happening, and then he had been in a completely different part of London when Donovan shot the bastard he was mulling over torturing to death. She was in Spitalfields. And he was in Norwood, following the lead which ultimately led him to the skip.
He's not going to get quite as much trouble out of Donovan in future, Sherlock thinks. Because when he'd finally found John in the skip, and he tried to wake him up, Donovan looked at him very hard until suddenly she wouldn't look at him anymore at all, and told all the other police to fuck off and do something useful while staring right at Anderson. That was...unexpected. And Lestrade would probably have been more surprised by that if he hadn't been on the phone with 999. But he missed it. He also missed the exchange between Sherlock and Donovan just as the ambulance was pulling up.
"It should have been me," Sherlock said cuttingly.
"Yeah, maybe," she admitted, her voice weirdly gentle. "But it wouldn't have been self-defense if it was you, now would it. And hey...at least I didn't let John down. I'd thought you'd like that bit."
Sherlock walked away. She might have added, under her breath, "Nor let you down, come to it." But as he didn't care, it didn't occur to him to find out for certain.
In hospital, in A&E and now in a ward, John looks all wrong. His colours are lost under bad florescent lighting. His colours are already muted enough without help. Now he looks like a silent film, and Sherlock hates it. And he's greyer anyhow, because of the drugs, and how long he'd been trapped in a bloody waste bin, and he looks far smaller than he actually is in a hospital bed, Sherlock really just can't be expected to stand how small he looks and how tired, just a double set of bags under his eyes and his skin pale as paper under the slight desert tan. John is clean now, and he's fine, he won't suffer any ultimate effects from this ordeal, but Sherlock is convinced that they're probably ruined anyhow. He feels ruined. He feels worse than that.
After waiting what seems months, and Sherlock cannot tolerate waiting, they arrive home. It's all rather a muddle.
He's hoping they end up twined in bed like a figure eight within minutes. Not doing a thing, just resting, just breathing, which perhaps isn't as boring as he supposed. But John can't walk very well yet, he's simply too tired, and so he falls onto the sofa instead of going to either of their bedrooms.
Sherlock looks down at him, horrified.
His colours are still all wrong. Sherlock can't quite understand John's colours anyway, but these aren't right. It's as if they never left A&E, as if they'll both carry the stain of bad lighting around with them forever, as if bad lighting can infect you. Maybe it can, Sherlock thinks. And there was a song playing as they left the ward earlier which carried on into the lift, an instrumental version of one of those very orchestral Beatles themes, and it's running round and round in Sherlock's head like a police siren. Sherlock thinks, wincing, smash it.
It's still there, though. At the edge of his consciousness. And he knows the lyrics, so they're playing too. Sherlock has never before loathed being able to think along two tracks at once, but he does now. The fact that he very much likes the song, when he wants it gone, adds insult to injury. Sherlock takes his coat and muffler off, leaves them thrown over a chair, turns back to the sofa and its occupant.
When John moves even the slightest bit, he flinches, and that is so very wrong, Sherlock thinks. Is there nothing warm in the world?
The warmest thing he can think of on earth he's discovered thus far is John's belly when he's wearing a jumper, and he's wearing one now, so Sherlock slumps to his knees by the sofa and puts his head on it. It's just as warm as it ought to be, too. At least John knows how to properly do things, at least John is a constant, at least John can be a fucking fixed point in this wretched circus, and John's the one hurt, and that's possibly the saddest thing Sherlock has ever thought about.
When people actually cry, in real life, is it voluntary like standing, or involuntary like heartbeats, or a combination like blinking or breathing? Sherlock wonders. Because he's forgetting how to breathe for some reason.
"I don't know what I would have done," he says softly.
John's eyes blink open. He focuses down his torso, looking at Sherlock. The breathing is only getting harder. John shouldn't be the only warm thing Sherlock can hold onto right now, John should be free to recover without Sherlock taking things from him, John should not be a walking charity, it's not right that his stomach is the only warm thing in the world and Sherlock can't bear to move off of it. John pushes his fingers very sweetly into Sherlock's hair, and he shudders. They're bottomless, the pair of them, except that John is always giving and Sherlock will never get enough. He can see himself as a marvel with some pride, and see himself as a freak without hurting too terribly, but he's not used to being the villain. It's repulsive. He's repulsive. And that bloody song is still humming along the edges of his thoughts. It's all infuriating. This is only happening because of that utter bastard, everything was fine before.
"How dare he touch you. Drug you, shut you up in the dark. How dare he steal from me. I would have drowned that son of a bitch like a bag of kittens."
John just listens, his fingers in Sherlock's hair.
"That is, supposing I'd lived through it, but I don't think I would. I don't think people can feel like that and survive it. I only had a bit of it, you were alive, but you aren't supposed to leave me. You aren't meant to leave me, ever, and you did. It wasn't your fault. But I couldn't stand it."
He still can't stand it, and he can't even stand to remember it. When did breathing grow this difficult? Is this what crying is like?
If so, crying is awful.
"It's all over, can't you see that? We could dance round it forever, but the point is that you're like--like some kind of bloody pacemaker, and if anyone so much as looks at you in future, I will hurt them."
John smiles ever so slightly. "Bit not good."
There is nothing good inside Sherlock, he realizes. Nothing. Because that came from the bottom of his heart, and even still it's wrong somehow. He meant every word of it like a gift. And it's still bloody wrong. And that song is still playing. Then it occurs to him that this is what John is for. It might not be fair that he's the one with the warm stomach who can tell when things are good, but he did promise to explain about the good continuum on a case by case basis.
"What would be better?" he asks.
Because he has no idea.
John looks as judicious as he can, under the circumstances. He rubs his thumb a little into the skin at the line of Sherlock's hair. "Dunno. How about you love me?"
Oh, god, wrong.
Sherlock shakes his head very hard against the wool with his throat clenching against nothing and his heart hammering and his brain flying in seven thousand different directions. That song. That song is still playing. It won't stop playing.
Smash the song.
It does smash, and now it's fragmented into both itself and other interwoven parts of the album. Pieces of it are playing non-continuously. It's all out of order. He'd prefer to be electrocuted just now than hear another word of it, and he's been electrocuted before. Twice.
"Right," says John on a bit of a sigh. "Okay. Why not?"
"Because that isn't new information," he says miserably.
That isn't it, not exactly, it's only a piece of it, but he doesn't want to say the whole reason. The whole reason is quite long. And he has no idea what's fine anymore. Nothing that's coming out of his mouth appears to mean what he thinks it does.
"Well," John says, clearing his throat a bit as if he's reached a decision. "Fine, then. I love you. How's that?"
It's absolutely devastating.
Sherlock flinches like he's been slapped, and yes, this is probably what crying is like. It turns out to be involuntary, which is scientifically interesting, and legitimately new information. He decides that if his entire face is buried in John's belly, that might keep him from passing out, so he does just that, while he thinks:
Why in hell would you ever suggest I say that to you (yellow lorry slow), and now of all times, I couldn't say it, I just couldn't, not exactly because I would have been repeating old information, though surely you must know how I feel by now if you don't have the tiniest little mind in all of England (I never give you my number), not really because of that, but because you're meant to say those particular words when you're happy, aren't you (soon we'll be away from here), when something happens that's wonderful, that's when you should say it, when you're flying (one two three four five six seven), and I know I never quite bothered even then (and in the middle of the celebrations, I break down), but fucking Donovan has been of more use to you in the last week than I have (boy, you're gonna carry that weight), I've been next to worthless, and anyway if I love you, particularly if I tell you about it today of all days (all the money's gone, nowhere to go), then you'll be getting thrown into skips for the rest of your life (any jobber got the sack), why say something like that on a day this horrifying, not a thing about today is worth marking in that fashion, you idiot (and in the middle of negotiations, you break down), why are you such an idiot, and how can you love me when you're the one with the warmth and I'm the one sucking it out of you like a leech, and anyway I already told you I love crime scenes (I only give you my situation), I love crime scenes, John, remember when I said that (and in the middle of investigations, I break down), on that perfectly wonderful day (carry that weight a long time), on that day I could never have imagined even if I tried, and I'm a genius with the imagination of a god, John, and you still were something I never expected, and I still never expect you (once there was a way to get back homeward), and you were a crime scene, remember (you never give me your money), don't you recall how you were a crime scene and I tasted you and you were perfect, and didn't you bloody well hear a word I said? (all good children go to heaven) Didn't you hear me?
Language, thinks Sherlock, in the very depths of exhaustion. Sod the entire English language. Get it out, get it out.
Sherlock wants very badly to say something to John, in light of recent announcements. But it's devastating to learn that language is entirely useless. The very idea of having words in his mouth disgusts him, and he feels emptier than anyone with this wicked a maelstrom inside him should do, and so, Sherlock thinks as he tugs up John's jumper and gets a mouthful of soft skin, John is going to have to be closer. Otherwise something terrible will happen.
He'd have stopped there if John had objected. But he'd only arched towards him marginally, as if he wasn't thinking about it, and so that's all right. Everything's all right now, he'll get these blasted trousers open and have John in his mouth and never have to worry about the rest of it ever again. And least this is something he knows to be fine, and he doesn't want anything back from it either. Just John here, alive, and something real on his tongue other than words.
And it's just as wonderful as he thinks it will be. But only for a moment, because orgasms are like death. So of course, John's are no different. They happen sudden, and swift, and one at a time.
After, he goes into the bathroom and looks in the mirror for ten minutes, trying to recall what it felt like to be him four days ago. He can't.
Sherlock comes out again and changes the sheets on his bed, because high time that happened and now the pair of them have been gone for so long, they're a dusty business. He can't think where his spare set might be, and can't be bothered either, so he gets John's out of the cupboard at the top of the stairs. He wonders if they'll fit his bed. They do. When he's finished, he goes back to the sofa and slides one wiry arm under John's shoulders and the other under his knees.
"You're calling it a night," he announces quietly.
John is completely unconscious again, and he so receives no reply. Marvelous. He carries him into the bedroom where the coverlet is already pulled down.
He gets them undressed and settled to his liking, and then he crawls into bed himself and switches the light off. He lies on his back perfectly still, with his fingertips tented up by his lips in the dark. The song is gone. It went away when John finished, with his hand wildly mussing Sherlock's hair. The surface level, the top layer of Sherlock's brain, is quiet again. Underneath it's another matter, he knows, but he's not about to delve any deeper tonight. He'll steeple his fingertips and live forever in this upper story, with John next to him and the sheets all smelling of army doctor.
"Hmm?" he says.
"I don't know how I got here," the sleepy, affectionate voice continues. "And I know I'm short. But if you ever pick me up again, I'll bloody well kill you."
Sherlock smiles into the dark. A real smile, and one nobody will ever see, he's happy to know. There are generally between nineteen and thirty items on the Not Fine list at any given instant. But the last one never changes. At times, it is number twenty-three, or at times, like now, it is number twenty-seven. But it's always the final one, and the one he's most convinced he should never ever say:
27. If I were dying already, really dying, of disease or poison or a gunshot wound, or an explosion, and there were seconds left, and nothing anyone could do, I'd want you to kill me. It would be the best end to any life of all time. I'd want you to be the only thing amazing enough to end me, and I'd want to give it to you.
Mulling over dying isn't a bit sad to Sherlock, and he knows that's where he goes wrong with most people. Being dead would be so peaceful, he supposes, and anyway it happens to everyone. It's what people do. The rest of it, the interim between being born and being quiet--that's the part he pictures when people say hell.
"You're too far away over there," John adds.
Sherlock sighs, and untents his fingers, and moves over.
Sherlock holds a small eulogy for the English language the next day. He celebrates the life and death of English by saying to John, "Good morning," which he never says on principle, because he think it's asinine, because you can't tell yet, can you? John looks at him like he's an asylum inmate, and that's fine. He's simply not going to be bothered about it anymore.
He goes on with the work he also loves, the saving grace he first married. John feels better, so he goes too. He sees all of it right beside Sherlock, the murders and the robberies and the loves and revenges and the thick smear of greed over the world. They try to stop people doing harm.
It's an endless task.
It's something to do.
So there are cases, and they are wonderful.
There is John, and he is wonderful.
There are the times between cases, and they are not wonderful.
But John is still there even when the cases aren't, so that's something.
English being dead to him, Sherlock doesn't even feel guilty that when he finally does mention to John that he loves him, he throws it on the floor between them like the end of a spent fag. He drawls it out in his most arch, bored, disdainful manner because John is nagging him about humanism again, and it's infuriating. He's so irritated that John wants him feel about strangers, about victims, which makes no sense. He feels about one person already, and that's quite enough to be going on with. He doesn't want to feel like this about strangers, it would be excruciating. So he says the word love in the identical tone he uses when he says the word idiot, and he knows it. He doesn't care. John goes quiet and thoughtful, so maybe that was a mistake, but Sherlock doesn't mind the angle his head cocks to a bit, because John has a little cleft in his chin, and now Sherlock can see it better. John deserves this, anyway. For wanting to hear something that monumental on the Last of the Skip Days, all but the title of which has been erased from the hard drive.
They keep at it. The gruesome cases, and the three-am biryanis, and the kitchen experiments, and the hungry sex.
I never needed English in the first place, Sherlock thinks triumphantly.
Then there is a stretch of six entire days of being bored.
Nothing is happening, nothing that happened before counts, nothing will ever happen again. All the colours are gone, all of them, the whiteness is back, and the whiteness is worse, the whiteness will finally kill him one of these days, Sherlock imagines. He can't see a thing like this. He can't see the eggplant colour of his favourite shirt, whether a curry's going to be any good, how many times a pedestrian's garment has been washed, whether something is pink or actually salmon, he can't see his violin patina and he can't see John's hair. Losing the colour dishwater is the final straw, as it happens. At last, in a desperate bid for action, something to shake the white off and wake him up again, because he's sinking into the lower levels where the howling din lives and he knows it, Sherlock types on The Science of Deduction website:
If any of you pathetic lot out there who like to send me threatening revenge notes are actually possessed of a pair of bollocks, now is a good time, as I haven't anything on.
The next three days are bloody marvelous.
Sherlock is nearly poisoned twice, once when John is present, and he throws John's ravioli away for good measure. He is shot at three times, and on each occasion, John shoots back. They catch everyone who dares to come after them, catch them with elegance and ruthless efficiency, and Sherlock is glowing like a Christmas tree. A car tries to run him down, but he rolls over the boot and John shoots the tire. Once an actual, honest-to-god poisoned dart lands in an advert for a punk concert pasted to the wall Sherlock is leaning against, which leads to a spectacular chase down the Embankment into the docks.
When things settle a bit, John grows suspicious. On a Friday night in their flat just as the sun is beginning to sink.
"Hard to believe that many people wanted to kill you just now, and you claim none of it was connected," he points out.
Sherlock is barely listening. The whiteness is gone and he is managing splendidly. He is writing an article, in fact, about the psychology of guessing people's account passwords. The wisdom of posting it is debatable, but at least he's included a guideline for making them indecipherable and still memorable. John has his own computer in his lap over on the sofa, likewise typing away.
Sherlock registers he's being spoken to.
"You can't really find it surprising that people want to kill me, can you?" he smirks.
"Not that part," John owns. "The dry spells and sudden floods part."
"Maybe it had something to do with forces I can't understand. Phases of the moon," Sherlock says innocently. Typing dates of birth of admired historical figures, when mixed with vivid images, can be random and yet memorable enough to--
"You could understand the moon's phases if you bothered, and no, I don't think all those chaps trying to kill you were werewolves."
Ten minutes later, John slams Sherlock's laptop closed.
It's so unprecedented that he can't make a sound. There John stands, right up against his crossed legs where he sits in his chair, holding his own laptop open in Sherlock's face. It's The Science of Deduction, of course. And the challenge he offered. John is so angry that he looks calm, as he does when he's holding a gun. How angry is that, precisely? Sherlock tries to calculate it for a moment. But he's prevented.
"What in bloody fuck do you think you're about?" John growls at him.
"Don't," Sherlock warns sharply. "I needed it, needed to move, to be able to think."
"In order to be able to think, you invited a gang of paroled criminals to engage in open war, the field of battle being Westminster? Are you off your fucking head, Sherlock?"
"Don't get a strop on, I never meant to--"
"Of course you never meant it to go badly, never meant any harm by it, never spared a thought at all, really. I can't even...right. So that's what life is to you, then. That's what it's worth. It's just a chess piece to you, isn't it. My life, everyone else's, I know they're separate categories, but they're still just little bits of wood for you to play with, you completely arse about face bastard. Me, a scrap of wood worth retaining for the time being, and everyone else all pawns. Then there's your life, and that's just the queen, I suppose, still a game piece, god knows you don't give a damn about it the way normal people do. So here I go round and round with you in these matches--what am I, a knight? Bishop? Tell me sometime. And then. What, Sherlock? I'm meant to read a notice like this without being a bit gutted? It's utterly sick, the sheer number of things you didn't think about before posting this. Did it ever occur to you that your little open season on Sherlock Holmes announcement might end with you dead?"
Sherlock closes his eyes. He can't answer that one, it'll be taken wrong, because yes--that occurred to him.
"My god. You're a fucking lunatic," John breathes.
"And you're a complete idiot," Sherlock snarls back. "You know I'm like this, you just never bothered to think I might always be like this. But I will be."
"Is it all to prove you're clever? Is that all it is? Fine, you're the cleverest sodding man alive, are you happy? I'll write it in the blog. All right? Are you through now? Is it about being clever?"
"Sometimes," he whispers.
"Is it about being brave?"
"It's about risk, then, and also about being clever."
"It's about being bored."
"And the rest of the world can go hang."
"Something like that. No. I'd not have wanted that, no one was hurt."
"No one was hurt by accident."
"If you truly think that, you're as stupid as all the rest of them," Sherlock snaps. "Are you as stupid as the rest of them? Because you've been giving me the impression that you're ever so slightly above the common herd. Exactly five people weren't hurt, and it wasn't an accident, none of it was an accident."
John touches his tongue to his lower lip, still staggeringly furious. It's like watching National Geographic, Sherlock thinks, when something very small and furry and soft suddenly seems made of teeth.
"Right. This is going to go on, then. This sort of thing."
"Sherlock, do you want me to get killed by some nutter you sent to gaol ten years ago when you were at uni?"
"I'd die first."
"Do you want to die?"
"Not at the moment."
John takes a deep breath at this.
"Sherlock," he says, "why can't you just be content without mayhem for as long as six days? Do you want me to have to watch you die?"
Now, that, thinks Sherlock, would be very interesting.
"If I was dying, I'd want you there, but not the way you mean it," Sherlock says. "Don't keep at me like this any longer, it's useless, you'll never understand it, English doesn't work. This is horrible."
"What's horrible is knowing that you'd prefer I stay angry than to waste the smallest particle of energy explaining yourself."
"It won't make any sense to you."
"You won't be bothered."
"You won't understand."
"And my not understanding is worse than you getting yourself murdered?"
"Yes," Sherlock snaps on his way out the door and down the stairs.
He walks for a very long time. Or at least, it feels that way. He's forgotten his coat, but it's a mild enough evening when all is considered, everything getting warmer by the day, and anyway he doesn't feel the cold the way normal people do. Doesn't feel a thing the way normal people do. He walks north, over the York Bridge and into Regent's Park. There are beginning to be buds on the trees high above him, and the roses no longer look like sad little shrubs. He skirts the edge of the boating lake full of grey birds and greyer statues. Sherlock keeps going. He finds a bench under a massive weeping willow, or maybe it finds him, as he wasn't looking for anything in particular. He sits down, wondering whether this communicating business could possibly be any more tiring. An old woman twenty yards away is feeding popcorn to pigeons, and Sherlock wonders if that's a good idea for the birds. Possibly not.
It's relatively quiet in his head at the moment, but that's temporary. So he thinks over what he should bring back to John by way of apology for being who he is. It's something useful to do.
He's rejected flowers, take-out, a new mobile that isn't John's sister's, and the sort of jumper that makes John look like a veteran with a stunningly beautiful scar on his left shoulder under the fall of wool, and not a pastry lump, when John sits down next to him. Slides under his arm a bit, really. Clearly Sherlock was followed. He thinks back. Yes, from the moment he crossed Baker Street, actually, he simply didn't allow it to register because John is not a threat.
"All right?" says John.
Sherlock can't quite answer. Even though it's merely a figure of speech.
"I went the wrong way about that," John amends.
The detective swallows, shifts his grip on the park bench. It's true, but he's probably not meant to agree.
"You can agree with me, you know. I'm not that devious."
Sherlock nods very subtly. John's right. He isn't.
"The thing is, I wasn't asking you the right question, and I'd like to mend that. So. You're ready?"
"For your one proper question?"
"Oh, get it over with," Sherlock moans dramatically.
"What's it like in your brain, when it gets so bad that you pull these stunts? What's going on in there?"
Shaking his head, Sherlock feels a bitter smile lifting one corner of his mouth. "You don't want to know that."
John folds his hands together. He's not wearing a coat either, and he snugs a bit closer under Sherlock's arm. His hair isn't blond and it isn't brown, and it's lovely. John has type A- blood. John sleeps curled up like a cat before the sands blow through his mind. John smells like every warm thing in the world Sherlock has ever yet encountered, every good thing, but mostly of spiced tea, especially at pulse points. John is indispensable. John is too curious for his own good.
"Try me," John suggests.
"Not to mince words, but what you're proposing frightens me half to death."
"You're not frightened of anything."
"No? You're very unobservant for a doctor, and the best of them are none too observant as it is. It won't work, I tell you. You don't speak my language."
"All right. If I can tell you what frightens you, will you try?"
"I'll take that bet," Sherlock says viciously. "I'll even tell you what you're about to say, save you the trouble, you think I'm frightened because once I've explained and you understand, you'll be afraid of me and you'll leave. Wrong."
"Right. Only an idiot would think that. I think that if you try to explain it, for the first time in your life, and to me, and it doesn't work, you'll be devastated."
Sherlock turns his head, tilts his face down to look at John. John's eyes aren't blue, and they aren't green, and they aren't hazel. His brow is furrowed just now, and he's five foot seven, and the dip in the flesh just under his nose tastes more like him than almost anywhere else, and Sherlock finds all of this terrifying at the moment. Because John is right.
"Go on," John says quietly. "I'm very understanding. It's a talent of mine, like right and wrong. I'm sorry I raked you over coals backwards like that, and not more sensibly, but you're an impossibility. I want to strangle you sometimes. You're a walking paradox. Help me understand. You're a genius, so I know you can do it."
Sherlock's mouth parts slightly.
"Don't look like that, Sherlock, take your time about it. Okay? Just. Breathe a bit, then tell me."
So Sherlock thinks over ways to say it, watching the old woman poison the pigeons with corn. It doesn't seem likely to go well, but he might as well enter the fray with a battle plan.
Microwaves infuriate me.
When all the colours go away, it's just white, and then I can't see your hair.
Everything in the world except you would do well by being burnt to a crisp.
I'm incredible, and if I'm not being incredible constantly, I'm merely a sociopath who likes to think about dying.
It's like Chinese water torture.
It's like reading a map in Serbian when all you know is English.
It's a constant battle.
I get so tired sometimes, and I never show it, because it's not the sort of tired you feel in that sense, the never knowing what's right.
Then he understands a way he might say it. It has nothing to do with microwaves, and everything to do with John Watson.
"You won't like what I'm about to do to you, but I need to...hurt you slightly if you're going to understand it," Sherlock sighs. "I never intended even to try this, I'd given it up, but you want me to, yes? You're sure?"
John doesn't even blink. "Absolutely sure. Do your worst."
"You're certifiably mad, you know that, don't you?" Sherlock asks coolly, resting his hand to the side of John's head, his elbow on the back of the bench rail. "You're wired wrong."
"I've seen worse."
"Fine, then--and I'm here the whole time, right here, stop me if it's too much." Sherlock wants to close his eyes, but he doesn't. He'll keep them trained on John, make certain that John is all right, that he is listening. "Picture a firefight in Afghanistan. You're in the middle of it, John, just bullets flying and tanks being hit with mortar shells and people screaming. Dark sounds, terrible sounds. A score of people are screaming--some are angry, and some are frightened, and some are dying. Some are wounded, some are killing. Some adults, some women, some children, all in pain, and you can't understand a word, it's all in Dari and Pashto. They're right in your ears, all screaming for different reasons. There are explosions surrounding you to the point that you can't tell where one ends and another begins, and the heat is excruciating, and your ears are ringing, would be shrieking if the screaming stopped. But the screaming doesn't stop, and the firefight only crawls closer, and you can't move. You're trapped, in the middle of it. Can you picture it? Are you picturing it, really picturing it?"
"Yes," John says softly, his eyes wide and his hand steady.
"So you go into your head, don't you? Deep down, where it's quiet? You're there now, aren't you, just from my describing it?"
John nods. It makes his hair brush into Sherlock's fingertips. Sherlock does shut his eyelids now, and for a simple enough reason. He can't keep them open any longer.
"What if what was inside your head was worse than what was outside?"
His eyes are closed because he can't see what John looks like, failing to understand this. He can't. It will decimate him when John can't comprehend what he's saying, the minute John says Have you tried lithium? Sherlock will have a very strong desire to spread his arms and fall off the top of the Eye. So he doesn't look. He feels John's face with his fingertips. So far, it's still. Very still. So far, he's rapt. For the moment.
"What if it was never quiet anywhere? And then, what if you weren't you at all--what if you were clever, really clever, the cleverest person you can imagine, and you felt all of it straight through to the bone, and you couldn't stop being clever or go quiet, what if you had to stay where the screaming was for all time?"
"I'd go insane," John says.
"Well, that's what it feels like."
"All the time?"
"No. But sometimes. When I'm bored. Perhaps...bored might not be the proper term. Then, I mean."
Another quiet falls. Sherlock can hardly bear to breathe any longer.
"For god's sake, look at me, you mad wanker," John requests.
Sherlock opens his eyes. John doesn't look a bit confused, as it happens. He's not smiling, as he does when he's puzzled and ashamed of it. He's not frowning either, as he does when he's puzzled by something more serious and isn't bothering to be ashamed. He looks just the way he does when he understands something perfectly. His thin brows up and his lips quite even and all of him so quiet and so calm.
"You've been a comprehensive prick, and as a result I've been rather beastly," John remarks. "I don't. Just. If you can't tell me something, then can't you at least tell me that you can't tell me? And then I'll fish it out somehow?"
Sherlock thinks it over. He's so relieved that this seems to have worked, he can feel his skin tingling. As if it had been wrapped too tight a moment ago, and now it fits him.
"I think I can manage that."
"And then," John continues, "when you feel this way, might we first try...alternatives to your usual death wish?"
"Dunno. Firing range."
"Doesn't always suffice."
"Annoying your brother."
"How am I meant to want to have sex with you when I can't even see you? I can't see a thing when it gets like that, even you're a blank. That's what I was trying to get back."
"Pretty visual, your libido, isn't it?"
"I'm a man. I'm not biologically freakish. Do pay attention."
"Fuck it, then," John says with a shrug. "We'll risk our lives, prove we're clever. Suited us down to the ground so far."
The woman feeding the pigeons and likely ruining their diets glances in their direction just as Sherlock leans down and kisses John like he's some kind of poison antidote. He's never kissed anyone in a public park, so far as he can recall. Not because he'd have objected, but possibly because they might have done. Seb certainly would have, what with the upper class homosexual-so-long-as-it-suits-me attitude, and the aspirations-to-a-trophy-wife secrecy. That disgusted Sherlock, but not quite so much as it hurt his feelings. And he does have them. Feelings, that is. Sherlock is legendary, he's a walking marvel, people should want to kiss him in public parks. They should initiate that sort of thing. He'd have forgiven Seb for being bisexual, but he can't quite pardon him for being a hypocrite. So he's not opposed to trying it out, no, god no, it's fine, very very fine, he's never minded the notion of sending his tongue between someone's teeth on a green knoll not far from the boating lake. And it's what John would call fine as well, to be sure, and thank god for that.
But what's truly miraculous just now is that John has apparently resurrected an entire dead language. Sherlock doesn't stop kissing him, his mouth is too warm, but he does smile over John's lips. Then something even happier drifts to the surface, and he breathes out half of a silent laugh.
"What on earth are you giggling over this time?" John demands to know, one hand on Sherlock's thigh and one at the back of his white neck.
"Nothing. You're a very good doctor. Very, very good, better than you realize. Stop interrogating me, we're kissing now."
"I'm not a bit interrogating you, and anyway. We're only scrapping this way out of sheer affection. If you get yourself murdered, I'll kill you. Yes? Watch me."
"Perfect," Sherlock gasps. "God, that's perfect, and you don't even know why. You're perfect. Do shut up. I've never gotten off with anyone in Regent's Park before."
So they kiss until they decide they're through. It takes rather a long time on Sherlock's end. The sun is very nearly down, and bobbies are about to be eying them suspiciously. It's all quite decadent, and public, and altogether thrilling.
But John doesn't seem to mind in the slightest.
It's exactly one fortnight later when Sherlock makes a severe miscalculation.
John is with the Yard on the ground floor of the dry goods warehouse. He's with D.I. Geoff Lestrade, of whom Sherlock is frankly rather fond these days, and with Anderson, the horrid prat, and with Donovan, at whom Sherlock now winks. She never winks back, hasn't once done, she rolls her eyes at him. But he can tell that she means well by it. And she smiles when he isn't looking, he can see her in car mirrors, though he suspects that she knows he can see her in car mirrors. So that's something, and she didn't let John down, after all, did she? All of those people--along with most of the criminals in question--remain below. Sherlock, several dozen steps ahead of everyone, is on the first floor. He's cornered the man they are truly after, the leader of the band of filth. He's nabbed a very elusive criminal indeed. One with shining gold teeth and a name like a spat curse. Kratides. And then something very exciting, very interesting, and very unlucky happens.
The man called Kratides, guilty of running a sex slavery ring on the banks of the Thames, has a machete somehow. He uses it.
It slices through the top of Sherlock's thigh like it's sweeping through grass. And Sherlock falls.
Just like grass does.
He thinks, I saw hay being cut once, in the countryside, and it looked like I just did. Not so red, though. And anyhow, even apart from the red, straw doesn't create puddles this way.
Everything fades a bit then.
The concrete is improbably cold. Sherlock tries to shout out for help, but realizes that he's not very good at it, not having had any practice. He never calls for help. Never. He'd supposed it beneath him all this time. So making his voice work when the pain is cutting through his body and his eyes are hid behind a curtain of sparks proves difficult. Sherlock wonders what the term bleeding out means to a doctor, and next wonders if that's what he's doing. It's very difficult to make enough sound when the top of your thigh or perhaps the bottom of your pelvis is slashed open, but if he's bleeding out, John would want to know theoretically. Being a medical man.
He really ought to try shouting again. Seeing as all this cutting business might have to do with his femoral artery. He does try, but finds it impossible by this time.
His phone is on his uninjured side, though. Perfect. Even though he's shaking, fast losing the strength in his fingers, he gets it out. The right message. Everything important, that is. Everything he wants known about who he's turned into in the past few months.
First floor, being murdered.
You were the best part of it.
Sherlock awakens in hospital.
Many different things hurt him, he realizes. They hurt severely. And that's through a great deal of painkiller.
His leg, for starters. That feels very badly damaged. His head. His head is second. Maybe even vying for first. His head is full of spider's silk.
Sunday morning yellow lorry any jobber magic feeling.
That's not right. He tries again.
One sweet dream once there was a way came true today to get back homeward.
Lord, no. That's all bollocksed.
Nothing is firing properly. And when he moves...
Sherlock looks down and sees a hospital gown. And a massive pack of gauzy bandaging around his upper thigh.
Why is that there?
No one else is in this hospital room. It's small, true, but still oddly empty. It's also a very dull beige. He'd ask Mycroft if the gift of privacy was his doing, as usual, but of course he hasn't the slightest idea where his mobile has got to. That's an equally uncomfortable sensation, like having his mouth taped shut. There's one window, with blinds drawn. A standing curtain alongside the bed, but he can see the door anyhow. Private rooms are expensive. Mycroft, then. Sherlock is glad he made that deduction. Otherwise he might as well be the last person on earth, for all this eerie silence.
His throat is parched nearly closed. That's wrong too, because he has an IV drip attached to his arm. When he sees it, and sees what sorts of bags are hanging there, he realizes two things. First, he is very lucky to be alive. Second, he lost a very great deal of blood and now is being subjected to a transfusion. Obviously, that's why his salivary glands are lagging. Needles piercing his arm are an all too familiar sensation, but he doesn't dwell on that part. He can't. That's a terrible loop, a level of hell.
Too late now, though. The detective stares at the metal in his forearm anyhow. He shivers.
Sherlock fights not to feel as if this is all disgusting. He can bear to be immobilized, but not by means of his own weakness. He can bear to be hurt, but this is different. He can't even move. And of course he can bear to be treated in hospital, that has happened more times than he can reasonably number. (Fifteen times now, Sherlock corrects himself. Ruthless as ever.) But it's revolting to suppose that bits of him now belong to another person entirely, that what's beneath his skin is alien, it sends his head skipping like a rock over a flat pond, it's repulsive.
When the door pushes open, Sherlock forces his pale eyes open a bit wider.
The first thing he notices is that John seems to be talking. The bags beneath his eyes have doubled up again, and he's paler than normal, but he's very calm, and obviously taking some care to explain what's happened, and it's unfortunate really that Sherlock seems to have lost English again, as they were growing so adept at it. John's brow furrows. He's so patently tired that even the cleft in his chin looks cut deeper. He's wearing scrubs for trousers and a white cotton t-shirt. He reaches for Sherlock's wrist and sets his fingers over the pulse point, checking his watch at the same time.
The second thing Sherlock notices is that John has a little piece of white cotton taped to his left arm.
It can't be.
Maybe it can.
It's too good for the likes of him. It's an actual, honest to god dream come true.
"Right. There we are," John says, and it's the first thing Sherlock manages to register properly. "Your pulse is much stronger. Thank Christ."
Sherlock glances back at the transfusion bag and then at John's arm again.
"There was a terrible accident on the M4," John explains. "Jackknifed petrol truck on the motorway. Dreadful business, nothing to do with us, of course. They'd run through all the A negative, though."
Raising an eyebrow, Sherlock asks a question.
"Three pints, actually, but they gave me back enough of the plasma to--have you any idea how big an idiot you are? Can you actually speak yet? Good. Shut up. You lost--I thought you were. Jesus, Sherlock, that was the worst thing you could have possibly done to me...and a machete? What next, a fucking broadsword? And alone? You couldn't wait two buggering minutes for--and that text message. Screaming never did occur to you? I swear to Christ, for a genius, you are the biggest moron ever born. I'm through with this. Really. Just. I'm done. You'll walk without any trouble, we think, you're very lucky and had a fine surgeon, I know him slightly, but--Sherlock, sorry, why in bloody hell are you smiling like an entire psych ward at me? I haven't the patience."
"Sorry," Sherlock whispers. "It's just such a wonderful day. It's Christmas, it's just...better than anything."
John's kindly face is beginning to resemble a much-folded piece of scrap paper, and it's the most stunning thing Sherlock has ever seen. The doctor sighs, and tries to work this out. It's a struggle, though, and he's in a bit of a strop again, and Sherlock doesn't blame him for not understanding. Sherlock can't stop smiling either, however. It's all too utterly lovely. Suddenly, just as John's beginning to glare in profound and sheepish annoyance, John glances along Sherlock's line of sight and finds his own arm.
One corner of Sherlock's lips quirks up still higher.
"Happy about the blood transfusion?"
Sherlock nods. This is spectacular. How did he end up here? He never expected it to go this well, his life, the way all the pieces fit together now.
John rubs his hands over his face and sits on the bedside further from the machete gash. He reaches for a water glass and Sherlock obligingly sips from it. Sherlock suspects he's probably smiling all the while, because John looks like he wants to shake him, but that can't be helped.
"Let me get this right. You nearly died. You sent me a text whilst you were almost-dying, so. Almost a sweet text, really. Very nearly touching. Not quite, but. No, never mind. Anyway, I've proof of it. Concrete proof. And now I gave you blood, and you're a kid at the seashore."
Shrugging, Sherlock grins again. "Take some of mine."
"You can have some of mine back."
"Sherlock, that is precisely the opposite of the point."
"I don't mind. John, I don't. It's a present."
John tucks away a piece of black hair which he clearly found to be impeding his view of Sherlock's expression. "Let me explain this to you. My blood, which I spent time and effort producing, is in my veins. And yours. Your blood, on the other hand, is largely to be found on the first floor of a warehouse. Which is your fault. Spilled all over the concrete, you see. You absolutely incorrigible tosser. Wasted blood everywhere. Scared me half to death."
"I know. I'm sorry, take some of mine back."
John blinks, fighting not to smile himself. "You're completely high, aren't you?"
Pondering the question, Sherlock cannot find this accusation to be true. It takes more drugs than this to get him completely high. But if he says something ridiculous or Not Fine, as he suspects he's already doing, maybe being high would be a good excuse.
"Yes, but that doesn't matter, I've thought it over for ages and this is perfect. I'll give you some."
"Just a little."
"I don't want a unit of morphine-laced vampire blood, thanks all the same."
"I'm not a vampire," Sherlock says before he realizes John is joking, his lips still quivering with the barely suppressed smile. "All right, fine, I'm a vampire, I'll just...regenerate it, won't I? I can't be killed like this. So take a bit."
"You need your blood."
"Just a syringe full. Take it. Can't you understand, it's such a wonderful day," Sherlock laughs.
"You," John says very carefully and fondly, his thinner lips against Sherlock's wide ones, "are hereby officially declared clinically insane by a medical professional. And stop giggling, it's a hospital ward."
Sherlock does stop, but only because John is kissing him. The idea that John is kissing Sherlock and he has John's blood at the same time is downright magical. Nothing will ever be better than this, he expects, objectively speaking it's too much to hope for. Nothing possibly could top having John's blood while John's kissing him. But John is very unpredictable, after all, and they lead dangerous lives. Maybe one day something will surpass even this moment. Sherlock never expected the rest of it, so it's reasonable to assume he'll never see the next incredible thing coming either.
"Just a tiny little injection. Say you'll think about it."
"I'll think about it when you aren't high as a kite." John is kissing his eyelids now, and it's all so peaceful. Everything quiet for once, and everything warm. "Even though it would be of no medical value whatever. Is this you being romantic?"
"It's a reasonable hypothesis," Sherlock agrees.
"Right. Should have seen that one coming. You being romantic is...quite terrifying."
"You react well to stress. You're reacting well now."
"Thank you. Anything else you'd like to tell me while you're hopped up on opium derivatives?"
"There was a song that wouldn't stop, and I tried smashing it, but then you made it go away."
John blinks, tucks the sheet in more neatly. "You're welcome."
"English was broken, but you fixed it."
"That's impossible. And nonsense. Impossible nonsense, but--not surprisingly--I think I know what you mean."
"You'll want my blood later, you'll see." Sherlock's eyes are fluttering shut again. He's very happy and very, very tired. "You'll want a bit of it, anyway. I'm amazing. Just look at me."
"Yes, well. You are admittedly amazing. And very beautiful under most circumstances. But you look like a crime scene currently. In fact."
That's all to the good, though. You love crime scenes, thinks Sherlock.
He's no longer worried about whether or not this might be wishful thinking, either. John Watson has a scar on his shoulder that's a map of something, and one day Sherlock Holmes will work out what it is. John Watson looks ten years younger when he smiles. John Watson can shoot a gun like it grew out the end of his arm. John Watson knows when things are good, and he's the one gave him the blood in the first place, so it must be fine, everything's fine. It's almost as if someone understands him. And better than that, it's exactly as if someone is finally trying. If John Watson was a bit bigger, Sherlock thinks hazily, then he'd be proportionately more good and more warm as well, that's simply science, and then no one overseas would ever have shot at him because they'd have seen what he was at a distance, and they couldn't have done it. Thank god he is so small. And they missed it. Or he might never have come to London.
"You love crime scenes," Sherlock smiles, feeling fingers brush his face as he drifts off again.
"God, yes," he hears last of all. "I bloody well do, don't I?"