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10 April 2012 @ 07:09 pm
Fic: Waltzing Along (Sherlock, John Watson & Sherlock Holmes)  
Title: Waltzing Along
Fandom/Characters: Sherlock, John Watson & Sherlock Holmes (more than an ampersand if you dig for it...)
Rated: PG-13 (some "language," but not much else)
Word count: 6700+
Spoilers: s2 (it is a post-Reichenbach, after all)
Summary: one in an already long, long, long line of post-Reichenbach fics, but I really needed to get it out of my system: vignettes from a year in the life of John Watson, not very dramatic, kind of mundane...but always full of Sherlock. A little tiny nod to the Conan Doyle canon, plus! John grows a beard.

Title from the James song (and I really wish someone would make a vid set to this...)

John comes back to Baker Street.

Of course he comes back.

Once the initial trauma--there’s that word that Ella loved so much cropping up again and again, trauma, which insulted his sensibilities as a man, a soldier, and a doctor; but she kept on insisting it was accurate, so: very well, trauma--had subsided into a very normal, very average sort of numb depression, John packed up his overnight bag, bid Harry’s guest room a not-so-fond farewell, and returned to his home.

Their home.

Without a sense of ceremony, John deposited the day’s post--he assumed Mrs. Hudson has been so kind as to collect it daily and stack it on the mantelpiece, and was quickly proven correct when catching sight of a teetering pile of letters and postcards--and headed to the kitchen. Mrs. Hudson had also left her mark there, washing up the dishes, cleaning out the fridge so that it resembled a proper bachelor flat’s fridge--nothing but brown sauce and mustard and a bottle of Grolsch; boring, John heard echoing in his mind, and those experiments will all have to be started again, which is of great bother to me and a sad display of futility on your part--and textbooks and assorted journals stacked neatly to one side.

John briefly wondered what it would feel like to douse the kitchen in kerosene and light it ablaze.

In a voice like a pot-de-creme, rich and dense and delicious to the point of near inedibility, Sherlock spoke again: Oh, you’re angry with me.

And out loud, John murmured for the empty flat to hear: “Yes. Yes, you insensitive twat, I am angry with you.”

Then he flipped off the switch and headed up the stairs for bed.

He had breakfast in Mrs. Hudson’s flat the next day. She made far too much food--eggs, beans, bacon, tomatoes, some sort of dense bread laced with raisins and walnuts--and John ate a good portion of it, grateful for her chatter and her company.

“Going back to work then?” she asked

“Afraid so. To the clinic, not...fighting crime and all that foolishness. I think I’ll give that up for now.” Mrs. Hudson smiled and poured more tea for both of them.

“What will we do with all this peace and quiet?” she asked mournfully, despite her graveside frustrations about guns and messes and noise.

“Perhaps you and I should start a criminal syndicate. That might be enough to bring Sherlock back.”

Mrs. Hudson laughed, putting her hand over John’s and squeezing it lovingly. “If he could sort out my sad attempts at romance from my perfume and foil under my nails, can you imagine how soon he’d have me shipped off to prison? I may give him more fight than Mr. Hudson, God rest him, but not much.”

John considered, for about the fiftieth time since he’d met Mrs. Hudson nearly two years ago, asking her about Mr. Hudson, the murderer executed by the state of Florida, but for the 51st time, he let it be. Instead he said, “Well, then, I suppose I’d be doomed to fail if you couldn’t help me pull it off.”

Mrs. Hudson’s face grew serious, and she said, “That brother of his, Mycroft, was by. Paid rent for the year. Didn’t think you’d like it much, but it was a bank draft in my name, so...what could I do?”

Trying his best to hide a scowl, John gave her hand a return squeeze and said, “Nothing. Mycroft will have his way. It’s best to let him. Of course, he probably bugged the place while he was here. I’ll have to ask Lestrade in to have a look around.” John didn’t add that he was well aware that Lestrade would be an easy read if Mycroft had already gotten to him and asked for “cooperation.”

But then again, who was there to spy on or listen to? After all, Sherlock only answered in the safety of John’s own head.

After working a 14-hour shift at the clinic, John dropped into his chair and flipped on the television. He supposed he should figure out what to eat for dinner, takeout or delivery, but for now, he was content to be off his feet, fiddling with the remote and turning channels more slowly and reasonably than his former roommate had ever let him.

John wasn’t sure why he ended up deciding on Forrest Gump. He’d seen it ages ago. Went to it with a date, actually, or so he assumed since he didn’t remember a significant 30-minute bit in the middle when Forrest headed to Vietnam. As he paged through menus and kicked off his shoes, he found himself half-listening to Forrest and Bubba’s burgeoning friendship and half-longing, half-resenting the convenience of forming a friendship with a slow-top. “Hear that?” John said, settling on pizza delivery. “I almost wished you’d been an idiot. If we were to be doomed to the same kind of tragedy,” waving the menu at the screen as Bubba died in Forrest’s arms, “it would’ve made the year leading up to this less bloody aggravating. That’s for sure.”

Sherlock had no reply to that. John imagined he was tremendously resentful of having to watch the sentimental claptrap in the first place.

While waiting for the food to arrive, the timeline of the film had transitioned to the 1970s, and another scene caught John unawares: Jenny teetering on the balcony of a high-rise apartment, contemplating suicide. Despite knowing full well it was a movie, and not a very good movie at that, John felt his breath catch in his throat. Though the scene lasted only seconds, it seemed to go on for an eternity.

Jenny elected life and strode out the door to the strident, intoxicated strain of The Doors.

The bell rang, giving John an unpleasant jolt.

As he headed down the stairs to pay the deliveryman, John switched off the telly, determined to read the paper for the rest of the evening.

In order to fill the flat with sound other than silence, the telly, or his own voice speaking to Sherlock--perfectly normal, according to Ella, all part of the process of mourning--John rediscovered the music of Robbie Williams. He’d had a girlfriend who had been nearly obsessed, hopping from arena show to arena show, enthusing about showmanship and musical talent (John had teased her that it must be hard to see all that when the man was mostly naked and dripping in sweat all the time--what was her name? Margaret? Melly?). John had never thought much about him, but upon dusting off some CDs John discovered the one man in England whose ego and tone-deaf social interactions could match those of his departed friend.

Of course, Sherlock likely would have found Robbie, a man who described his bed as being full of takeaways and fantasies of easy lays, vulgar beyond telling. But John liked to imagine what the strains of “She’s the One” would have sounded like as interpreted through Sherlock’s violin, even if he were compelled to play it because of John’s persistent nagging. And John could have pointed out to Sherlock that the bit about having too much life running through his veins going to waste sounded very familiar.

Sherlock’s bedroom was a mother’s dream. John observed this when he finally gathered the courage and emotional wherewithal to step through its doorway. Where Sherlock had left his indelible mark of controlled, methodical, often repulsive chaos throughout the common areas, his bedroom was immaculate. For a moment, John considered what that may mean in the impenetrable metaphor of Sherlock’s Mind Palace, but left it be after finding himself with clever, snide things to say and no one to say them to.

The bed was, as ever, large and tidy (Why would it be untidy? The stupid arse never slept there unless unceremoniously deposited in it). In the corner, John spied the curio cabinet in the corner filled with oddities and books. It had always stirred his curiosity, but due to Sherlock’s annoying ability to sense--not sense, John! Deduce! I’m a consulting detective, not an empath, Sherlock’s voice protested angrily; in reply, John said, conversationally, “Oh, there you are again. Out annoying someone else, were you?”--where John had been throughout the flat, he had left it alone.

Knowing no scolding disguised as deduction would be forthcoming, at least outside of his own mind, John tentatively made his way to it, opened the latch, and began to gently examine the various figurines and foreign coins and volumes of Dante and Marcus Aurelius.

In between the musty old books, a shinier vinyl gleam caught John’s eye. He nudged the top volume to discover his own face looking back at him.

It was John’s expired passport, the photo a helpful reminder that once upon a time, his hair was not sprinkled with white, and there wasn’t a permanent crease between his eyes from squinting into the unforgiving sun or into, under, and around bodies. Amongst the few customs stamps, Sherlock’s elegant but rushed penmanship swam. Not notes about what John had been doing at each destination, as he first supposed when the words jumped into focus, but varied observations made during their day-to-day life together. “Fixation on groceries?” A bulleted list of emotions John displayed when talking to or about Mycroft. John’s birthday date scratched out, then written in again (which was odd, as it was right there on the identification portion). John’s frustrated question to him at the B&B near Baskerville, “Why would you listen to me? I’m just your friend,” embellished with a great big illuminated “W.” A list of John’s favorite Pick and Mix sweets and crisps. No rhyme or reason, but nonetheless, all meticulous and true in a way that made John’s skin feel two sizes too small.

Marvelous. Horrible.

And what this filched piece of John’s personal life, hidden away at the heart of Sherlock’s gleaming, orderly bedroom, tattooed with Sherlock’s own theories and feelings and reluctant bursts of sentimentalism said about that damn Mind Palace metaphor was enough to push John out of Sherlock’s bedroom and close the door. Firmly.

John hadn’t realized how long it had been since he’d last seen Molly Hooper. Months at least. (Was it three months now since the funeral?) Long enough for her to have cut a sizable portion of her hair clean off. John, meanwhile, had conceded ground to a full beard, which he had grown more out of initial laziness than intent. They ran into each other in a coffee shop between St. Bart’s and the clinic, she buying a scone and a tea, him an indiscriminately selected sandwich.

“Oh. Hello.” John said as she turned with her purchases.

She responded by nearly dropping her drink, then dropping her sweet. “Oh...” she said in reply.

“Don’t worry; I’ve got it.” John purchased her another one, along with the sandwich about which he was already having second thoughts.

As he handed the second scone to her, John caught her looking at him in a searching, focused way that reminded him of Sherlock. It was an expression he’d rarely seen her wear, though it looked natural enough when paired with her lab coat. If he’d been a more egocentric man, John would have assumed she was giving him a look-over. But seeing as how she had always fancied Sherlock, somehow John couldn’t imagine that Molly had room for that much variability in her type of bloke. So Moriarty and I are the same kind of “bloke;” flattering, Sherlock said, disdain and disappointment in equal measures.

Nonetheless, as Molly smiled shyly, he considered saying to her, “I fancied him too. Maybe not the way you did, but I understand. Maybe you want to come back to the flat and we can talk about how much we miss Sherlock, how much we loved him and wanted to be with him despite what a thoughtless arse he was most of the time. And then we can get off. Maybe that will help.”

A lot of maybes, there. Instead, John settled for saying, “You’ve cut your hair; looks nice,”

Molly thanked him and, with her eyes still intently focused on his face, asked if he was still working with Lestrade, though he imagined she knew full well he hadn’t talked to DI Lestrade in months and months (not about work anyway; they’d had an outing or two, regular guys out for a pint, never ever talking about Sherlock, though John could tell Greg wanted to). John shared that he’d been working at a clinic not far from here, handing out Zpacks and diagnosing the occasional VD, which made Molly laugh nervously. It was the closest John came to propositioning her, which, John thought to himself, was not remotely promising for his chances of getting back in the dating game anytime soon.

John was halfway embroiled in that thought when he felt Molly’s hand on his arm. “You know he was mad about you, don’t you? I’d known him for three years before you turned up in his life, and he’d never seemed half so fond of anybody, living or dead, as he is of you.”

Thoughts of shagging, or lack of it, evaporated, and John found himself unexpectedly struck with an overwhelming wave of any number of emotions, too many to sort out. He subtly steadied himself against the pick-up counter and tried to put together a reply that wasn’t “Then why did he leave me? I hate it here without him. Look at me; I’ve grown a beard.”

Instead, he sighed and said, “I wish...” John tried to expand on the theme but found he couldn’t.

Molly nodded as though he’d said an entire speech and said, with a mysterious sort of tone in her voice, “I do too.” Then she said, “You look tired, Dr. Watson.”

“I am,” John said without self-pity or resentment, though it was difficult. “But...it’s getting better. Uh, I appreciate that you didn’t ask how I was getting on, by the way. That makes you unique.”

A thin smile wavered, then fell, on her lovely face. “Well, I best be getting along. Thanks for...this,” Molly said, gesturing with the scone, running him over with her eyes one more time.

Nodding and smiling--though finding himself letting it falter and fade quickly as Molly had moments ago--John replied, “You’re welcome. Anytime. See you around, I suppose?” The rest about inviting her back to the flat died unspoken in his mind. As well it should, he thought.

Molly nodded, then shook her head a bit and quickly passed by him to exit the shop.

It wasn’t until John was walking in the door of the clinic that Molly’s mix of past and present tense struck him.

Looking at him as though she were taking notes, preparing a report.

People give themselves away in the very smallest of ways.

John curled his lip, closed the door of his office and said, “You always treated her as though she was an idiot. Maybe she is one. Maybe it was that sentimentality you dislike so much. Maybe you should quit stopping by altogether if you’re going to be a constant bother.”

You do what you like, John. But think. Really think.

“Oh, you think.” John snapped. “Sod off.”

After his shift was over, John instead chose to dedicate his brain power to his waning libido, ignoring the smug Typical that purred in his ears.

The truth of the matter was, he’d been decidedly less interested in sex the past three months. Even “self-abuse,” as the Australian chaplain stationed with his unit over in Afghanistan would have winkingly called it, was a rare occurrence. In fact, John left most of his occasional morning stiffies unattended. Like other things--regular emotions, relationships--they simply faded away if ignored for long enough.

“I’m not his date.” “We’re not a couple.” Despite all those protests, John supposed he and Sherlock must have had something going on, something that he, a dull, regular sort of fellow, couldn’t recognize because he was so fixed on wanting to have proper sex with women. Now, without his best friend, his partner-in-crime (well, that’s a funny way of putting it, John thought; perhaps “partner-in-preventing-crime” should be added to the dictionary...)... it just seemed a bother. Perhaps Sherlock was his conductor of light, or whatever rubbish thing Sherlock said to him in the churchyard at Dartmoor--before he locked him in a lab and terrified him, by the bye--in that respect.

Though John was relatively confident he’d done fine in getting along with women--better, in fact--before he and Sherlock became an item.

“That’s right, an item,” John said, flipping through the next three patient files in his closet of an office. “And if you ever come back from this holiday you’re on, I tell you what I’ll do: I’ll shock the world and force you to divorce your work. Then I’ll learn how to be into sex with men, just for you. Not sure what you like, but I imagine we can muddle through somehow. You’ve never had a problem telling me what to do before.”

Sherlock had no reply for that either. John imagined he was nearly as contemptuous about this line of logic as he was about John forcing him to watch Forrest Gump that evening three months ago.

Or perhaps he was mulling it over. John hasn’t lied to Irene Adler: he really didn’t know about Sherlock at all, in that respect.

Life went on. John worked, mostly. Kept the beard because he had a sneaking suspicion Sherlock would have hated it, would have made annoyed references to it the way he did blog titles and girlfriends.

Ella began to show more concern that John still talked to Sherlock on occasion--or perhaps her concern was related to the fact that he was not forthcoming about the turn of events in topics--so he stopped seeing her.

“Besides,” John said as he washed up one night, “I know you’re not here. What’s it matter if I talk to you? I’m not going to become a necromancer and try and bring you back from the dead...tempting as that may be. Lord, I can’t imagine you walking the Earth possessed by evil spirits. Perhaps that would be like a spiritual reversal of polarity, and you’d be kind and polite and thoughtful.”

Switching tracks, John continued, “Do you think it’s odd we never hugged much? At all, really. Seems strange to refer to someone as your best friend and not be able to remember a time when... you know, that wasn’t you stripping explosives off me. We shook hands once. Remember that? The first time we looked at this flat together. Doesn’t that seem formal now?”

John set his dish towel down and took in a cleansing breath.

Mrs. Hudson asked if he wanted help packing up Sherlock’s clothes for charity; John found himself shaking his head mutely. He’d never considered that chore, if he was honest with himself. It wasn’t that he was keeping a shrine--at least not intentionally; it was hard to tell without a therapist to ask open-ended questions--but...they were Sherlock’s things. One set of principles seemed to dictate throwing out fetid beakers of bodily fluids and morgue scraps; another set suggested that wiping all of Sherlock’s existence from the flat was another matter entirely.

After Mrs. Hudson left, a dish full of stew the only sign she’d been there at all, John stood outside the closed door of Sherlock’s bedroom for ten minutes, paralyzed by indecision.

In the end, he elected to sit on Sherlock’s sulking couch and have what Mrs. Hudson would have termed “a bit of a cry.”

A few weeks later, on a rainy, miserable day, John found himself in a familiar scene, walking up to Speedy’s to find Mycroft Holmes, a more-disgusted-than-usual expression on his face as he smoked a cigarette under an umbrella.

“If you’re going to commit to this whole cloak-and-dagger bit, why don’t you hide behind a large section of the Times? Suppose that would be difficult with the umbrella.” John found himself proud of his even, cool tone, when what he really wanted was to push Mycroft down into the nearest murky puddle and break his umbrella for good measure.

Mycroft looked exhausted in a way that managed to creep out from under his usual supercilious presentation and polish; John felt a momentary twinge of empathy, which Mycroft clearly recognized somewhere in his expression. “John, always a pleasure,” he said smoothly, ignoring John’s attempts at humor. “Don’t suppose you could see your way to spare 15 minutes?”

“Oh, for you, Mycroft, anything.” John opened the door to Speedy’s; Mycroft walked through without making eye contact.

As always, there was a file. Determined to make it as difficult as possible, John set his fingertips at the table’s edge, made no motion to open it and said “Well?”

“I thought it important for you to learn of this before your beloved newspapers begin shrieking it on every street corner: an arm and torso belonging to the late James Moriarty washed up near Dover early this morning. DNA, which up until now seemed to have been entirely destroyed, will prove that Moriarty was responsible for the death of a young man named Carl Powers, as well as several other unsolved, rather elegant murders from around that time period.”

If Mycroft wished for, or expected, surprise, then, John hoped bitterly, he was sorely disappointed. “No more Richard Brook?”

“Not long after the torso and arm washed ashore, some evidence arrived at Scotland Yard making it clear that Richard Brook was a well-drawn fabrication.” Mycroft paused, no doubt setting the stage for yet another of his dramatic reveals. “In news I expect is related, Irene Adler was the bearer of said materials. Were you aw...”

“What?” John realized he had shouted; Mycroft made one of his posh, embarrassed expressions, and John politely kept the thought, “Fuck off,” to himself. “She was dead. You told me she was dead.”

“Apparently not.”

“You’re taking that well for the bloke who had her done in.”

“Lower your voice, John. And no, I did not have her... as you said. This confirms you hadn’t any idea.”

“No. Christ, no.” John fumed. Of course. Of course. Couldn’t let the natural progression of crime and punishment play out, could you, Sherlock? All for a pretty face and a nasty, clever brain? We’ll see who calls who “typical” now, John thought angrily.

Mycroft continued as though they’d been conversing calmly and pleasantly. “She signed off on the evidence. Led us to a few ‘associates’ of Moriarty’s while she was at it. One a professional assassin who had some very incriminating negatives at what he thought was his safe house.”

John looked down at the file, then back at Mycroft, who cocked a meticulous eyebrow in return.

There were a series of photos. John on the way into and out of Baker Street. John with Sherlock in a cab. John on the street in front of St. Bart’s. Then there were a few pages of text in dense Cyrillic alphabet.

“Our cryptographers determined this was an order to assassinate you the day...well, the day.” For the first time, Mycroft met John’s eye, not without some reluctance.

Fighting off a bit of panic, John asked, “And Irene Adler had all this? Offered it up with no demands for money or protection or a winged pegasus?”

“Apparently so. Then she slipped out of Scotland Yard three hours later, as though she’d never been there. Surveillance footage from the building entirely erased, of course.”

John pointed a finger at Mycroft, steadied his voice, and said “You owe me this much: you keep That Woman the hell away from me. If She turns up at Baker Street or the clinic or in my bloody nightmares, I will come down to your idiotic club for old, fat spies and make the most embarrassing scene you can possibly imagine.”

Mycroft displayed his best imitation of a smile. “Normally you’re such a fan of the ladies, John. I’m shocked. You’ve made numerous passes at my assistant.”

John knew he should ease back and acknowledge the attempt at humor, but fury and agitation won the day. “Well, I’m not a fan of Her. Sherlock may have been. For all I know, he swooped in and rescued Her himself...”

“Oh, of that I have no doubt,”

Continuing as though he hadn’t been interrupted, John gritted, “...but She’s a nuisance, not to mention a cold-blooded...whatever...She...just keep Her away.”

Mycroft narrowed his eyes, calculating what all this meant in his reptilian, Machiavellian brain, then said, “Very well. We’ll do what we can to ensure she doesn’t pay you any unexpected visits. But I have a feeling that her task is now complete, and she will retreat back into relative anonymity.”


“Surely you don’t think she’d unmask herself of her own volition. Someone must have compelled her. Someone to whom she owed a favor.”

It was John’s turn to narrow his eyes. “You can’t be serious. You can’t be.”

As though he wasn’t speaking of his brother rising from the grave after nine months of being declared dead, Mycroft rose from the table, took the file, and said coolly, “Why wouldn’t I be serious? After all, one person has already been resurrected this week. What’s another?”

John entered the apartment with the full intention of taking Sherlock’s room apart and finding confirmation that he had, in fact, saved Irene Adler from certain doom. But when he reached Sherlock’s bedroom door and placed his hand on the knob, he paused, listening to his own labored, angry breathing.

“If it turns out all of this mess was simply because you were protecting me...” John let the sentence echo out through the flat, felt the impact of the words. He thought about Sherlock’s agitated, head-scratching with the handgun at the pool; Sherlock’s genuine concern at the scene of The Cabbie’s shooting; Sherlock’s voice at the other end of that phone line, thick with tears.

John tried again. “...in league with Her? The person you couldn’t even call by name? I...” But again, he found it difficult to finish the sentence. Power, knowledge, association with Moriarty... of course Irene’s continued existence would be useful, particularly if Moriarty wrote her off for dead.

Frustrated and defeated, John slammed his palm into the door and shouted, “Well, you’re wrong, and I don’t care. I’m half-tempted to dig up your body and throw it off the roof of St. Bart’s a second time. Because I might want it, but you’re not alive. I saw you. I...”

John paused and put his hand down. Then he found himself cocking his head at the door.

He was thinking. Really thinking.

That night, John didn’t sleep a wink. In the morning, he walked into a barber favored by former military and said, “I’d like a shave, please. The whole beard...I want it off.”

Then for three months, nothing happened. Mycroft sent Mrs. Hudson another bank draft via courier. Irene Adler never showed up. Neither did Sherlock.

Hope was a funny thing, John thought to himself. Just as everything had begun to seem clear, the likelihood of a miracle died hour by hour, day by day. He wouldn’t have said it was as painful as burying Sherlock... but at times, it came close.

John was still glad he’d shaved the beard. Sherlock would have been right to tease him about it.

It was a Wednesday. An ordinary, run-of-the-mill Wednesday with the usual busy foot traffic of children with ear infections and pensioners fighting arthritis and pneumonia. The hours were beginning to make John feel as he may as well have arthritis too. He was dragging himself home, thinking about the curry takeaway in the bag dangling from his hand and a footie match on the telly.

Which is why, when he opened the door to the first floor, it took a moment for him to realize what was wrong, out-of-place, causing the hair on the back of his neck to stand alert.

The smell of cigarette smoke wafting down the stairs.

He stood motionless for a moment, taking air in slowly through his nose to confirm and reconfirm the odor. Then, slowly and methodically, John removed a length of heavy pipe from the umbrella stand. He’d placed it there not long after returning from the incident at the pool and had never removed it; if Sherlock knew of its presence--which he most certainly had, because he knew everything, probably noticed that John smelled like a bit of dust and damp, took skin samples, and deduced it at 3:00 a.m. while the rest of the decent world slept--he’d never breathed a word about it.

With his back pressed to the banister, John slid up the stairs one methodical step at a time, careful to avoid the “creakers”--the fourth and the seventh, Sherlock had been kind enough to inform him one evening when he was surprised by one of Sherlock’s homeless blokes slipping into their living room unnoticed.

John felt surprisingly calm for someone who was about to bludgeon another human being.

Before stepping onto the landing, he took a final deep, quiet breath in, then opened the door and moved his head so that he could see into the living room.

The man standing between the living room and the kitchen had close-cropped dark hair and a well-tailored peacoat. John hovered uncertainly for a moment, the pipe in rest position against his thigh. If it weren’t for the short style of the haircut and the fact that Sherlock’s coat had been thrown out at John’s request, he would almost mistake the man about to get his skull cracked for...

As John set his second foot on the landing, the man turned, cigarette dangling from his right hand.

John’s first instinct was to ask the man brusquely, “When did you start up with smoking again? I thought we agreed you were doing really well.”

John’s second instinct was to set the pipe down. Rather suddenly.

Almost as though he and John had agreed to meet each other empty-handed, Sherlock placed his cigarette in the Buckingham Palace ashtray he had dug out of one drawer or another. Then he put his arms at his sides and said in an unsteady, troubled tone that reminded John vaguely of the evening at the pool: “John.”

John felt his face and neck flush uncomfortably as nausea swept through him. He put a hand on the wall to steady himself and, when Sherlock took a step forward, said, “I...I think I’m going to be sick.”

Sherlock looked confused and took another step forward. In response, John staggered, and his consciousness blinked out.

He awoke to the sensation of icy water running in rivulets down the back of his neck, and a dishcloth that smelled overpoweringly like it should have been thrown out months ago being pressed to his forehead. John inhaled sharply and found the next smell to greet him was that of cigarette, still clinging to Sherlock’s personage, who was leaned over him like an ostrich at yoga.

Feeling heavy and clumsy and still a bit nauseous, John lifted his left arm and batted Sherlock’s ministrations away, slurring “Leave off. Get off.” in a tone he hoped was angry instead of feeble and drunk-sounding.

Sherlock sat back, facing John, resting against John’s chair. John took a moment or two to try and wipe off the chilled, foul water from the nape of his neck, then rested his forehead against his knees. He concentrated on taking in breaths and releasing them. He did not want to hyperventilate or pass out again or do any other ridiculous Regency-era heroine-type thing. One unmasculine display was enough for the evening.

When he looked up, he found Sherlock looking back, resting his idiotic backside on his heels, his features and body placid, but for the tension around his eyes.

“Well,” John began, “you’d best tell me everything now. And start from the beginning.”

The litany of countries visited, criminals and administrators uprooted, had been going on for nearly two hours. Sherlock took care to give each player a name, then list off the individual’s defining features, characteristics, and relationship to Moriarty. Despite Sherlock’s usual impatient tendencies, he did not rush over his words or sound dismissive. John remained, for the most part, silent, interrupting only twice--once, at the very start, when Sherlock told him of Moriarty’s self-administered gunshot.

“Well, then. Wasn’t expecting that.” John said, unable to keep tremor out of his voice.

“I must admit I wasn’t either,” Sherlock replied, and John could tell from his expression that it still smarted.

The second time was when Sherlock attempted, with a bit of creative revision, to eliminate Irene Adler from the picture. Sherlock finished telling about his final plan to condemn James Moriarty to the ignominy of being headless and guilty, leaving evidence with the simpletons at Scotland Yard, and John said, more to the carpet than to Sherlock, “Mycroft came by. A few months ago, in fact. Said Irene Adler was still alive. Said Irene Adler was the one who swung by Scotland Yard out of the goodness of her heart to turn over evidence.”

Silence ticked by. John was surprised his angry staring wasn’t burning a hole into the floor. He wished it was. Still Sherlock said nothing in reply. Unable to contain his temper, John looked up, seething, and snapped, “Nothing clever or snide to say? Something like, ‘John, I do wish you’d ask a question instead of implying. It’s ever so middle-class.’”

After a slight inhalation, Sherlock said, “Been working on that mimicry of my voice for a while?”

“I’ve had little else to do.”

“I’ve never said ‘ever so’ in my life.”

“That’s the beauty of the imitation; makes it an original creation.”

They exchanged brief smiles. John felt his heart break and break and break again.

“I knew she could serve a purpose under the right circumstances. And...she adds an element of uncertainty to the world.” Sherlock’s hesitation made John feel venomous, hot under the collar, and all too aware that Irene’s charges of jealousy in the distant-seeming past were likely accurate. As though reading his mind, Sherlock followed, “I have no ability to change the way you...feel, but I do wish, ever so much, that you would refrain from comparing the...relationship...you and I have with my very reluctant business transactions with her.”

John found himself trying to quiet his desire to ask if she and Sherlock had slept together, or if she’d done her version of sex on him, whips and restraints and drugs and choking and power plays.

None of his business, really. What did it matter? Please don’t let Sherlock see that I have this question, John thought, sensing that it was already likely to be far too late for such hopes.

After muttering “relationship” with a dash of vinegar in his voice, John blurted (and very tellingly, but fuck it all at this point), “I don’t trust her. I don’t like her. She can’t stop by for tea to show you what wonderful new narcotics she has rustled up to make pliant sex slaves out of us all. The three of us aren’t going to have a pint and reminisce about the bloody awful time when we were all under Moriarty’s thumb.”

“Interesting,” was Sherlock’s only reply.

John couldn’t resist, no matter how much he wanted to, and his voice came out pinched and hateful: “What’s ‘interesting?’”

“She said she liked you a great deal. Thought you were ‘charming, with your surprising volatility and your antiquated notions of sexuality.’”

John made a fist. Clenching his hand did not seem to stop the sensation that he had a gaping chest wound however. As he watched Sherlock register the hurt in his expression, John said, “Please don’t ever, ever quote her to me, about me again.”

Sherlock opened his mouth, the soft look about his eyes suggesting he might make a go at an apology. Instead, he closed his mouth, drew a breath in through his nose, and said, “Very well.”

Then, as though nothing so intense or emotionally exhausting had taken place, he continued wrapping up the long narrative of how he, Sherlock Holmes, had faked his own death in order to save the world (his world) and clear his name.

It was impressive and exciting, naturally, despite the fact that John felt as though his ribs had been pried apart with a crowbar.

When John opened his eyes, it was not quite daybreak, but was clearing the dark of the night. One of the lamps was on, providing a feeble light to the flat, and it took John a moment to determine why his neck and back were pinched and hurting.

He’d fallen asleep sitting on the floor, propped against Sherlock’s chair. Beside him, Sherlock was at rest, head lolling uncomfortably on the seat of John’s chair.

All at once, John’s heart began to pick up speed, to the point his pulse was hammering uncomfortably in his ears. He felt as though he should be angry with Sherlock... but instead, he was now absurdly, debilitatingly grateful. Grateful and relieved. There Sherlock was: a little thinner, somewhat tan, meticulous but for the odd creases in his shirt (of course sorting out a massive international conspiracy which threatened the life and limb of those closest to him wouldn’t stop him from wearing silk... of course it wouldn’t).

At rest, peaceful, a state in which John had rarely seen his friend.

Well, there was the time at St. Bart’s, 13 months ago. Though that was hardly peaceful.

Sherlock opened his eyes groggily and focused on John’s face. The expression Sherlock found there was somewhat alarming, because he leaned forward, hand out, saying “John” again in that warm-yet-anxious tone.

It was like having a pin pulled on a grenade.

John put an arm out stiffly and said “Don’t...please just...don’t.” That was followed by a prodigious amount of weeping, hard, painful weeping that seemed like it was never going to wear itself out, regardless of how John’s ribs and throat and eyes and all of him ached. He buried his face in his hands as though he were a schoolboy again.

Finally, John reached a point of exhaustion; unfortunately, it came with a side of hiccups, which rattled him into sighing, “Damn it,” under his breath. A moment or two later, John felt the cool press of a drinking glass against his wrist. Moving his hands so that he could see the glass and Sherlock’s pant leg, John said, “Cheers,” took the glass and drank the contents in four grateful gulps. And while John drank, Sherlock set one cautious hand on the top of John’s head, awkwardly tousling John’s hair.

Wishing he could say something, but finding he simply didn’t have it in him, John settled for sighing deeply and resting his head against Sherlock’s shin.

They stayed that way for minutes, possibly a quarter of an hour, until Sherlock said, “You all right?”

John nodded, face still pressed to Sherlock.

Sherlock patted John’s shoulder, then groused, “Anything in? I’m famished.”
kopernik: sherlock a fine pairkopernik on April 11th, 2012 04:46 am (UTC)
Your John is charming, Jess.

I enjoyed every word.
Jingledunce: Sherlock Nerves of Steeljesshelga on April 11th, 2012 12:34 pm (UTC)
Awww, thanks, L.! I think you'll be the one person to read this at LJ.