Despite the harsh sound of his laboured breathing, Sherlock can still hear them arguing from the sofa where he’s currently lying, unable to move.
“He’s a junkie, John, he’ll always be one, now come home before he takes you down with him.” Mary’s tone of voice is low, dangerous. She’s had enough.
“I’m a doctor. I’ll stay with him through the come down and the withdrawal, make sure he’s okay,” John says, his voice just as calm, just as deadly.
“Then why don’t you take him to a bloody hospital? There are loads of doctors there, John. Loads,” she spits. Sherlock can hear her fingering the doorknob and his heart skips a beat. If she leaves, John will go with her. Like in the graveyard.
Did that happen?
“He needs me, Mary,” John says, and Sherlock’s heart skips another beat, because John says it like it’s enough. Like it’s the only thing required for him to stay here.
“No, John. He needs a hospital. He needs rehab. He needs a bloody life, is what he needs!” The doorknob’s click is loud and ominous. He knows what will happen next.
“He needs me, Mary,” replies John. He heaves an exasperated sigh, and Sherlock would be able to picture his expression if his brain wasn’t starting to fill with static. “He’s my best friend.”
Sherlock’s heart skips again. He starts to wonder if it’s really the emotional upheaval causing it. It could be the drugs, after all.
“And I’m your pregnant wife!” comes tearing up the stairs, stabbing into the tender flesh behind Sherlock’s eyes. The front door slams. That’s it, then.
He whimpers into the pillows and prepares himself for a long night alone. Alone. The thought makes his breathing even harsher, his heart still undecided about whether it wants to speed up or slow down. The resulting confused, erratic rhythm tears at his chest and threatens to burst out. He focuses on vainly trying to convince it to follow a regular rhythm.
He nearly jumps out of his skin when he feels a warm hand on his arm.
“Hey, shh. It’s ok,” says John, and for a moment Sherlock wonders if he’s back in his mind palace. But no, his curly hair is still stuck to his forehead in matted, sweaty clumps, and John’s face has a distinct lack of moustache. He opens his mouth to speak, but speaking would require letting out all of his precious air, so the words refuse to come out. John crouches down beside him, and Sherlock closes his mouth in frustration as John continues to stroke up and down his arm, his other hand gently holding his wrist.
They stay like that for a few minutes as Sherlock’s heart settles on slowing down, and it’s only then that John looks worried. Belatedly, Sherlock realizes that John’s other hand has been taking his pulse the whole time. He knows he’s unaware of his body now, but he’s done this before. In a few moments, he will be all too aware of it, and that’s when the nightmare will begin.
John reaches up to softly touch his neck, and it takes Sherlock much too long to realize he’s trying to find a stronger pulse. There’s a hysterical moment when he wants to suggest he try for his femoral artery.
“Sherlock, your pulse is incredibly low. I thought you mostly took sympathetic agonists?” The concern is evident in John’s voice now, and Sherlock can see him frantically trying to recall the list he had read on the plane. He manages to force the words past his teeth, which seem to have decided that violently grinding together is the best course of action.
“And antagonists. So that I wouldn’t get too –,” he breaks off, folding nearly in two on the sofa as he feels thousands of insects materialise in his skin, crawling through it, his eyes, his hair, his brain. He’s dimly aware that he’s shaking.
“Sherlock!” John cries out, and Sherlock forces his eyes open, forces his mind away from the horrors in his flesh, and looks up at him.
“Holmes! You had me terrified for a moment. Are you quite back?” John asks, gently rubbing circles on his forehead with a damp cloth.
“Yes, of course, John, where would I have gone?” Sherlock huffs, all of his usual snark back in his tone. John looks down at him, clearly confused, and that’s when Sherlock realizes. John has a moustache. John has a waistcoat. John has a pocket watch.
He wonders how it’s even possible for him to remain here when he knows it’s not real.
“Are you quite all right, Holmes?” John – Watson – is starting to look very concerned, and the cloth stops moving, some of the water delicately dripping down his face. Watson looks around, then lowers his voice.
“Mrs. Hudson is at home, she may come up to our rooms at any moment. She seems very open-minded, but even then I would not risk it, Holmes.”
Sherlock groans. Of course, how could he be so stupid? He’s going to out himself to John and the whole neighbourhood and have them all killed.
In his mind.
This isn’t real. He must be going mad.
He turns back to Watson. “Of course, I’m so –,” he begins, but Watson puts a soft finger on his lips before speaking himself.
“You must never apologize for how you feel, Sherlock,” he whispers, and the way he says Sherlock, the way the syllables form almost lovingly on his tongue, the reverence in his tone, all lead Sherlock to a single, inescapable conclusion: Watson loves him.
Sherlock reaches up and lets himself run his fingers across Watson’s face. Watson leans into his touch, and Sherlock slowly glides his fingers to the back of Watson’s neck, pulling his face slowly towards him. Watson smiles softly, and sinks to his knees so that his face is on the same level as Sherlock’s. Sherlock feels his moustache tickle his philtrum as Watson’s lips touch his own, their mouths fitting together perfectly. Watson reaches his hand up towards Sherlock’s face as Sherlock closes his eyes, deepening the kiss.
A sharp, stinging pain in his cheek forces them open again.
“Sherlock! Christ, SHERLOCK!”
Sherlock raises his hand and rubs the spot on his cheek where John has just slapped him, and becomes aware of his shouting. When John glances down and sees his eyes open, his relief crashes over Sherlock like a wave.
“Oh my god, Sherlock, your heart stopped. Your heart slowed down enough that it stopped.” The words tumble out of his mouth as if he’s unable to stop them. Sherlock thinks he probably can’t.
“I can’t even think of which drug did this. There were so many, so many, Sherlock, I’m not a pharmacist, I don’t know all of the interactions…” John is rambling, and Sherlock is starting to get angry. There was a reason he took them all. There was a reason he took them in that particular order. His heart, in the end, is being perfectly cooperative.
“Have you ever taken this much before!? We might need to get you to a hospital, fuck, Sherlock, you nearly died, you did die, how could you –,” he claps his hands over his mouth in horror just as Sherlock grits out, “It doesn’t matter, John.”
John drops to his knees next to him and takes his hand tightly in his own. Sherlock looks down at their joined hands and wonders if he’s already returned to his mind palace. It’s only a matter of time until his heart stops again, anyway.
“Sherlock, of course it matters. Of course it… I can’t lose you again, Sherlock. I can’t,” and he says it with such sincerity in his eyes that the next words tumble out of Sherlock’s mouth with as little control as John’s did. He had wanted to spare John the pain of seeing him like this, of seeing him die, but John’s here. He’s witnessing it. And he’s in pain. Sherlock is gripped with the overwhelming need to tell him the truth.
“I was going to die anyway, but I couldn’t go back to that cellar, to the torture…”
He trails off when he sees the look on John’s face. He feels another wave of ants start crawling around his ankles and closes his eyes, willing them away. He needs to explain this. If this ordeal has taught him anything, it’s that he owes John the truth.
“I... thought you were going on a mission for MI6?” John asks tentatively, clearly not knowing what to believe anymore. Sherlock forces the crawling away and opens his eyes.
“Sherlock?” comes a terrified whisper. John is no longer holding his hand, because Watson can’t do that.
“John?” he asks, a cracked whisper emerging from his throat. At least the ants are gone.
Watson takes one look at him, then gets up and walks away from the sofa. Sherlock feels the room go cold as he realizes that no matter where he is, John will leave him. John will always walk away. John will –
“Hush, darling. I just went to lock the door,” Watson whispers, his moustache tickling Sherlock’s cheek as he presses a soft kiss there. “I’m here, I’m right here, I’ll always be here…”
Sherlock summons all of his strength and pushes himself up to a sitting position so he can throw his arms around Watson.
Watson’s arms hold him up, ever the strong soldier. Sherlock slumps into his hold and revels in the feeling of John all around him. Watson gently presses his mouth to Sherlock’s, and Sherlock immediately presses back. He lets his lips part as Watson’s tongue strokes across his upper lip and he breathes in Watson’s air, tasting him. Their tongues swirl delicately against each other as Sherlock lets out a quiet moan that Watson immediately swallows. He pulls away, making Sherlock whimper for more.
“Mrs. Hudson is still downstairs, you know,” Watson says sadly. He squeezes Sherlock tighter. “Oh, Sherlock…”
And there it is again. The reverence with which his name is spoken twists Sherlock’s heart, because this is Watson, not John, and John would never speak his name with such love. He lets himself bask in its warmth as he buries his face in Watson’s neck.
Watson strokes his back as Sherlock lets himself cry, overwhelmed by the day’s events, until Watson lifts his head and drops a soft kiss on his forehead, this time, and Sherlock wrenches himself away with a cry of, “It’s not real it’s not real it’s not real –“
“No, no, no, please, please, Sherlock, you can’t leave…”
Sherlock takes in a gasping breath of air through the pounding in his chest, making John stumble off him and nearly fall off the sofa in surprise. His panting is harsher now, painful, the air tearing through his chest as he gasps it in. If he’s about to die, he needs to tell John. John has to know.
His panting is making it impossible to speak, but John has tears in his eyes, and, “The mission in Serbia was to be fatal.”
It’s almost as if his body just wanted him to tell the truth. His gasping breaths slow to a rapid panting, then to something resembling normality. The ants are gone, but he knows perfectly well that they may return at any moment. He comes back to himself when a dull thud reaches his ears.
John is on his knees at his side, looking at him like he’s never seen him before.
“When you got on that plane, you were going to die?”
Sherlock nods wearily.
“I was never going to see you again?”
Sherlock nods again.
“You did that to protect… Mary?”
Sherlock lets out a painful bark of laughter. “Oh, John, you so disappoint me sometimes,” he spits. No matter what Watson says, the real John is completely oblivious. He doesn’t know what he’d been thinking, telling him the truth. An OD can only get one so far in their thought processes. He lets his head flop back onto the pillows and waits for Watson to return for him.
John’s voice is quiet. “You did that to protect me?”
There’s an undertone of hope in that statement, and Sherlock turns his head towards him, bewildered.
“Of course I did, John. Of course,” he whispers. There’s a long pause during which neither of them breathes, and then John speaks.
“Never do it again.” It’s so quiet Sherlock isn’t quite sure he’s heard it.
“Never. Do it. Again.” John says, and now his tone is dangerous, warning.
Sherlock knows it’s probably an unwise question to ask, but then, he’s never much cared for social convention. “Why not, John?”
There’s a flash of something unreadable on John’s face, and then he says, “I can’t lose you, Sherlock.”
Sherlock observes every feature on John’s face, trying to see why. Watson may say one thing, but of course, he’s in Sherlock’s mind and is just saying what Sherlock wants him to say. John is a different story. John exists. John is his own person. And Sherlock has absolutely no control over what he says.
Which is what makes John’s next statement that much more surprising.
“I love you, Sherlock.”
And this time, he hears it. The same worshipful tone, the same loving syllables, the way his name is spoken as if it was the only name that would ever matter. There’s a flash, and Watson is standing by his side, holding his hand, a beautiful grin lighting up his face.
And then he’s gone, leaving only John in his wake.
“You… what?” Sherlock says, stunned.
Instead of answering, John pushes him until there’s enough room on the sofa for both of them and slots in in front of Sherlock so that they’re facing each other.
He holds Sherlock through the shaking, the formication, the anxiety, the exhaustion, the cravings.
He holds Sherlock all night.
Because there’s two of them.
There’s always two of them.