Fandom: Sherlock (BBC)
Warnings: Mentions of violence and some description of an unpleasant corpse, though no graphic description.
Summary: In the aftermath of the Great Game, Sherlock finds himself with a new weakness. John is both the cause and the cure.
Author's Notes: Written for birddi for sherlockbbc's Make Me a Monday post. Unbeta'ed, unplanned, and rattled off during a boring class. That's my excuse for any mistakes. I'm not sure if I quite hit the stride of your prompt, birddi, but hopefully it's close. I also chickened out on the porn. Oops. Title from the Snow Patrol song of the same name.
Everything happens an arm’s length away.
It’s like the air is suddenly made of ballistics gel, and everything, movement, light, sound, crawls along at a glacial pace. He can see John’s last ditch attempt before it happens, can feel the sniper’s laser on his head before Moriarty (Jim, Jim from IT, Molly’s Jim, gay Jim, insignificant overlooked brilliant terrible wonderful bloody murderous Jim) can force a screech through the coagulated air to scrape down his ears. The lights on the vest (he cheats, lights them up even when the game has been won, picks people for sheer shock value, it’s too hard to think of John as just a victim, just a puzzle, just normal collateral damage) blink like a mockery, burning his eyes. The gun weighs a hundred pounds in his hand and it’s not heavy enough, it’s paper, it will crumple the instant he shoots and doesn’t change a thing.
The impact of his knee on the tile is a welcome jolt, reminding his fingers how to work at the fastenings of the vest. He’s not fast enough, he can’t move, everything is so slow. And he flings the vest away in an ungraceful arc and half-heartedly runs after Moriarty-Jim, pretends there’s something he can do about the fact John was kidnapped and strapped to a sodding bomb, and if Moriarty hadn’t left them, they’d both be a smoking crater, he’s brilliant but not brilliant enough, he’d missed it, missed it, and John might have died back there, right in front of him, the only kind of hero, kind of friend, he’s ever known, gone, just gone, all because he'd...
He doesn’t last long. He has to come back, has to see John standing...well, crouching...and living and breathing and free of explosives. The gun barrel is cool against his face. John is making jokes (a man who can joke through walls of air at death that just barely missed) and he laughs because he always does for John. He wonders if that’s why there’s something cold and shuddering in the pit of his stomach.
They haven’t touched. John had flung his arm around Moriarty’s throat, Jim had laid hands on John sometime, had to have armed the vest himself, symbolic, and the closest the two of them have come is a gun length, the width of a semtex vest, his fingers fumbling at the catches, slow and useless.
John hits him with a full-body tackle just as the world blooms into white fire.
Bit of smoke inhalation, a few cuts and bruises, but he’s basically fine. John’s shoulder is broken, along the three ribs, and the burns on his legs will scar permanently. The nurses soon give up on keeping him out after visiting hours, and let him curl up in the worn, uncomfortable chair in John’s room without bothering him much. He’s quiet and doesn’t upset John and might be connected to someone powerful; they leave well enough alone.
“Sherlock, you need to go home,” John tells him. They’ve started weaning him off his drug cocktail, and he’s more alert than he has been in days. “You need to get some sleep.”
He doesn’t dignify that with a response. He’s trained his body to get by on very little. The chair is an abomination against furniture, but light in terms of penances. He’s not leaving.
John frowns at him. “How are you not climbing the walls? I know what they put me on, and people on that do a lot of sleeping and a little bit of rambling and not much else. Aren’t you bored?”
He does hate the sickly green walls and the harsh florescent lights and the hatefully unfashionable rose-colored upholstery. He hates the kind nurse who coos over John and brings him paper cups of tea and tells him John is a fighter, he’ll be right as rain soon. He knows exactly who and what John is, and none of this is right, and he despises the awful tea that John never put on to brew, never put hand to pour, never complained over because Sherlock is a lazy bastard and if he wants tea he should make it himself, even as he passes over the mug and peers over at whatever Sherlock’s working on.
John isn’t fond of the experiments, but only because they crowd up the food space. It’s three in the morning, and this fact is very important just this minute.
“No,” he says, and it’s like his voice has forgotten how words sound. John’s frown gets a little deeper.
“Are you on something?” John asks, and Sherlock curls deeper in his chair. He could be. Stealing a bit from here or there would be child’s play. But he isn’t. Penance again, and he can’t risk the nurses (or worse, Mycroft) catching wise and chucking him out. John taps his thumb against the blanket.
“All right, I believe you,” he says, even though Sherlock didn’t answer the question. “Still, you look miserable. I’ll be fine for a night, you can go home.”
“They’re putting new panes in the windows,” he says. “Mrs. Hudson tidied, we’ll never find anything. She’s probably taken the skull again.”
“Clarence,” John corrects, because he thinks he’s funny.
“I’ve told you, in life, the skull was named Madeline.”
“And in its new life with us, its name is Clarence.”
It’s all wrong, the setting, the faint wheeze in John’s chest, the complicated bit of kindling posing as a chair, but Sherlock talks about missing skulls and nicking Lestrade’s pen and pretends it’s fine, it’s all fine.
John is discharged, tender and limping, easing carefully around the flat and taking cautious breaths. Ribs heal slowly. Lestrade calls twice, and Sherlock sends him information based on grainy mobile pictures and frighteningly inefficient lines of questioning, and it takes three times as long as normal and isn’t nearly as exciting.
“Get out,” John says on a Wednesday morning. Sherlock freezes. He’d been waiting for this, but there hasn’t been any preamble, any build. John sighs heavily.
“I never thought I’d say this, but you’ve done an excellent job taking care of me the past few days, and I appreciate that. But you’re driving yourself mad. I’m perfectly capable of wiling away mindless hours in front of the television; you aren’t. Go solve something, run around for a bit. Get out of the flat for a few hours, at least. I can manage.”
Panic claws up Sherlock’s throat like something living, a paralyzing fear he hasn’t felt since he was just a child. It plays out like a film in his head, bright colors and photographic memories, standing at the window and watching John walk away. Every time, something explodes. The last time, he was glad when John turned, hands stuffed in his pockets, walking away from home. He’d been glad.
“It’s fine,” he says numbly, vaguely proud the words are audible and make a bit of sense.
“It’s not fine. Besides, I have a broken shoulder, which means you get to get the shopping.” John grins like he’s won something. Sherlock shudders involuntarily.
“It’s not that bad,” John says jovially, and taps the back of Sherlock’s hand with the back of his fingers. Sherlock trembles and sinks down beside the sofa.
“It’s not that bad,” John repeats, and his hand is a warm, living weight on Sherlock’s shoulder. “Go on, I’ll be here when you get back.”
Sherlock stops himself from asking, “Promise?” just in time.
“Sherlock!” John hisses. “What the hell are you doing?”
Sherlock lies very still, curled as tight and compact as he can make himself. He’s at the foot of the bed. There’s plenty of room.
“Oh, for...” John grumbles. “Sherlock. I know you’re not asleep. Explain or get out.”
I can’t hear you breathing downstairs.
“I couldn’t sleep.”
“So you’re...never mind, I’m expecting actual sense to be made here. Rookie mistake. Are you actually comfortable down there?”
No, but I can keep one hand on your feet without you noticing, which is good enough.
“Liar,” John returns promptly. There is a pause. “Oh, get up here for god’s sake. You’d better be still, trying to sleep with these ribs is bad enough without jostling.”
Sherlock lies like a statue until John falls asleep, then turns, pressing two fingers lightly against the pulse in John’s wrist. He counts heartbeats until sleep takes him.
He’s already a liability. You’re making him more of a target. -M.H.
As if Sherlock didn’t know. As if he wasn’t aware of what he was doing, what was wrong with him, as if he didn’t realize he was displaying this crippling wound as obviously as if he had to walk with a cane now.
John quirks an eyebrow at him over his notebook and Sherlock shoves the phone deep in his pocket, brushing against John’s arm when he says it’s nothing, it’s time to go.
John is gone.
Sherlock tears the blankets off the bed nonsensically, making it even more obvious he’s not there. His side of the bed is cool, he’s been gone for a couple of hours at least, he’s gone, a pair of shoes is missing from the neat line in the closet, his jacket is off its peg, he’s gone, Sherlock had just fallen asleep for a little while, but now John is gone, gone, gone.
The room is going dark and fuzzy on the edges and he dimly registers his lungs are burning when he hears his name, repeated sharply again and again while two blessedly familiar hands turn him around.
“Sherlock!” John barks. “Sherlock, take a breath. I’m right here, it’s all right. Just breathe, all right? That’s good. Come here, we’re going to sit down, okay? That’s it. It’s all right. Hey. I just went out to run a couple of errands. You were sound asleep, I thought I’d get back before you woke up. And I have my phone.”
When John walks away, the world goes up in flames. He’d been glad, glad to be alone, and that’s when John had been strapped into an explosives vest. It was his fault.
“Sherlock,” John says, gentler. “Sherlock.”
He wraps his arms around Sherlock and holds him. Sherlock matches their breaths, trying to make his heart beat to the rhythm in John’s chest.
It happens once at a crime scene. Sherlock turns around and John has vanished, isn’t where he was standing two minutes ago. Lestrade pauses mid- mediocre observation.
“Sherlock? Everything all right?”
It’s not all right, John is supposed to be six inches away from that faint mark in the dust, and instead he’s not even in the room. Lestrade grasps his elbow.
“Sherlock. Do you need something? Glass of water? You can sit down a minute, I know this is a bloody one, I won’t think less of you for it.”
“Looks to me like butchery,” John says from the doorway, a fresh pair of latex gloves on his hands. He strips one off and slips his hand into Sherlock’s, lacing their fingers together and squeezing. “Whoever did it had a background in anatomy. Look, all the cuts are made along the major muscle groups, the joints. As if the body were dissected.”
Lestrade glances down at the body, then back to where Sherlock is gripping John’s hand like a lifeline.
“I see,” he says, and doesn’t mention a thing.
The cab ride home is utterly silent. Sherlock finds his fingers on the edge of John’s coat, and John quietly takes his hand again. He stares out the window and won’t meet Sherlock’s eyes. Sherlock thinks of sleeping next to him and eating across the table from him and answering his questions and listening to his grumbling and knowing, bone deep, this is a man who would both kill and die for him. He thinks about Mycroft’s warnings and former flatmates and the world’s only consulting criminal, presumed at large. He thinks about swimming pools and semtex and being left alone.
John holds his hand up the stairs and into the sitting room. They sit on the sofa; there’s no more shame to be had, the connections were too obvious, John knows, so he keeps hold of the fingers laced through his. John angles to face him.
“I know better than anyone what this is like,” he says quietly, and Sherlock tries to shrink away. John holds him fast, grip sure and unyielding. “If it were anybody but you, I’d be bundling you off to my therapist. It’s you, though, and I don’t think she’s equipped to handle you. Nobody is. But you did more for me than she ever did, so I’ll do my best to return the favor.”
“Are you going to leave?” It’s the only question in the world that matters. If John leaves, it might as well be over. There’s no reason for him to stay, but if he does, Sherlock just might have a chance.
John blinks, nonplussed. “Why would I do that?”
Why wouldn’t he do that? “I got you kidnapped. Twice. The first time was bad, but the second, I...”
“Ah, yes, about that.” John taps the fingers of his free hand against his lip. “Sherlock Holmes, if you ever arrange to meet known criminal masterminds without informing pertinent people...I’m one of those people, either Lestrade or your brother is another...I will be forced to break something over your head. It was bloody stupid, and I can’t help you if I don’t know where you are. Are we agreed?”
I can’t help you if I don’t know where you are. Had he even been afraid? Does he have the nightmares of being burned alive while Sherlock watches, of watching Sherlock press the detonator himself, of stepping out and saying, “There are no such things as heroes. I choose him.” His hands are warm and alive and strong and generous and Sherlock has never, ever deserved them. Panic is swarming in his chest again, tempered with the heavy, unshakable knowledge that John Watson will eventually walk away from him and never come back. He’ll fall apart that day and no one will come for him, no one will put him back together, and no one will care. It will be his fault just like everything else was.
“And it’s not your fault,” John continues, as if all of it is reasonable and negotiable. “Your part in it was moronic, but he would have taken me anyway, eventually. It was lucky for us you had the gun. All in all, it could have been worse.”
Sherlock chokes on that, on every image of John burning alive, riddled with bullets, leaving him behind without ever looking back. John’s grip moves to his upper arms.
“Look at me, Sherlock. I’m here. I’m not leaving, not by choice, and anybody who tries to force me is going to have a hard time of it. It’s not your fault. We both lived. It’s going to be all right.”
“Some of the local boys tried to drown me once,” Sherlock says. “Not with intent to kill, I don’t think; it was just funny to watch me come up gasping and crying. I couldn’t breathe and blacked out, which scared them off. Mycroft pulled me out.”
John still looks placid and calm, the only tell a wrinkle between his eyebrows. He’s angry, and trying to hide it. Sherlock wonders if John would avenge him, given the chance.
“I’m a very good swimmer now,” he goes on. “When...when do the nightmares go away?”
“I don’t know,” John says softly. “Mine haven’t, not entirely, not yet. But it does get better.”
“I don’t want you to leave,” Sherlock says in nearly a whisper, some kind of secret. He means leave my sight, leave my presence, leave me alone. It feels like drowning. John laces their fingers together again.
“I’m not going anywhere. Whatever you need.”
John holds his hand in cabs and crossing streets, walking to and from crime scenes. Donovan makes snide remarks. John asks her sweetly how Anderson is doing. Lestrade takes John aside and murmurs something in his ear that Sherlock will never be privy to, and nods sharply at them both before continuing to not mention their new habit.
John shares his bed. Somehow it’s much more comfortable than Sherlock’s; the sheets are always clean, washed down to a softness that doesn’t come with threadcount, and the blankets drape better and it’s always warm. Sometimes, there are nightmares, and Sherlock wakes up with a minute jolt and rolls closer to feel John breathing. John wakes up screaming some nights, and Sherlock learns not to touch him, to lie there and wait. John stops apologizing and just comes back to bed.
John tests him. They can’t be together every waking moment, and John takes care to inform Sherlock where he will be and for how long. Short separations (tea, paying the rent) warrant a touch of hands after. Long separations (the grocery, work, pub night) end in a hug. It’s not something Sherlock would have ever thought he’d need, let alone enjoy, but wrapping his arms around John and chasing the smells of where he’s been and listening to him either laugh or grumble that Sherlock could do the shopping himself once in a blue moon becomes as much luxury as necessity.
John doesn’t leave. There are arguments and awkward moments and uncomfortable silences and differences over food and telly, and John doesn’t leave. Sherlock is, if possible, stranger and more broken than before, and John acts as if it really is all fine. He never pulls away or demands more space. The protests against their romantic status have stopped completely.
John also spends more time with him than anyone else, which is kind, but after a few months of what Sherlock is privately labeling “John therapy,” it is also curious.
“Would you like to have sex?”
John puts down the bite of fried rice before it reaches his mouth. “I beg your pardon?”
“Sex. Would you like to have it?”
“Is this a hypothetical, general question, or a specific, immediate one?”
“Bit of both, I should imagine,” Sherlock says, and stirs his lo mein. John puts his own carton down entirely.
“Why do you ask?”
“It’s been some time since you’ve had a romantic partner,” Sherlock says, very reasonably. “You spend almost all of your time with me. I wondered.”
“You wondered if I was missing sex, or if I wanted to have sex with you?”
Generalities be damned, if John doesn’t have sex with him, he can make plans for celibacy, because Sherlock is capable of forgoing sexual activity, but he is not capable of sharing. He can be diplomatic when he needs to be, though, so he says, “Both.”
“Oh god,” John breathes, and rubs his hands over his face. “Listen, Sherlock, I appreciate the gesture, but there’s really no need. I’m fine. You don’t have to...accommodate me.”
A more promising response than Sherlock had dared hope. He decides to press the advantage.
“Have you had sex with a man? I know you prefer women, but I’d be surprised if you’d never experimented. It doesn’t really matter, of course; slight difference in mechanics, but essentially the same.”
John swallows hard. “What are my chances of successfully pretending this conversation never happened?”
Sherlock smiles, predatory. “Nil.”
“Chances of evading the question?”
John sighs. “I experimented at uni and had a brief affair in the army with a man named Charles Murray. I like women better as a general rule.”
Thank god there is nothing generic about the two of them. Sherlock abandons his noodles (which is sort of a shame, because they are his favorite) and crawls across the carpet to John’s chair.
“Oh god,” John says again, sounding distressed. “Sherlock...”
“I’d really like to take you to bed,” he replies, and deftly takes one of John’s nerveless fingers into his mouth. John makes a gratifying noise.
“You don’t have to do this,” John says, babbling slightly. “It’s not important. I’m not going to leave, I don’t mind that everyone in London assumes we’re gay, I said I’d do whatever you needed and I meant it, it’s fine, you don’t...”
Sherlock pulls off his finger with a slight pop. “I’m not doing this because I feel obligated, I actually am gay, and the fact you are willing to say no for my sake is one of the alarmingly numerous reasons I’m inclined to do this in the first place. I do actually enjoy sex, it’s people I can’t stand. You are the exception. Can we go to bed now?”
John stares at him, panting slightly, before hauling him into a rough, possessive kiss. “Yes,” he hisses, and bites down on Sherlock’s lower lip. It’s like opening a floodgate. The bedroom is suddenly miles away and there’s no time to get there. Sherlock pulls John out of the chair and onto the floor, kissing hot and fast and sloppy. They’re breathing the same air, and Sherlock will have John’s fingerprints all over him, and when John’s hand wraps around him, it isn’t long before the world blooms into white fire.
“No. But metaphorically, yes.”
“You are never allowed to watch Lord of the Rings again. Your jumpers.”
“You may have one.”
“Defeats the purpose, it will stop smelling like you. Your laptop.”
“Definitely not. And stop hacking my passwords.”
John’s hand cards through Sherlock’s curls while Sherlock catalogues the things that are his, things he can keep.
“I don’t think I actually have a choice on that one.”
“Yes. On the condition I can still sleep in it.”
“As if I’d want it otherwise. That ridiculous pipe.”
“I wouldn’t want to tempt your progress against smoking. Oh, don’t look at me like that.”
“It was a stupid gift.”
“It’s a nice pipe.”
“You don’t smoke.”
“Neither do you, ostensibly. Fine. You can have the pipe. But you may only smoke it outdoors, after you’ve turned fifty, and you are obligated to wear tweed when you do.”
John laughs. The sound rumbles through his chest and into Sherlock’s jaw, fills him up in forgotten, empty places.
“Of course,” he says. “Of course.”