Chapter 3 – Dawn
Lestrade wasn't exactly happy to be forced to wait outside. But he was the commanding officer and therefore had to take the lead over his crew together with the chief of the salvage team from the fire department. The two men were standing between a waiting ambulance and a small lorry which was loaded with all kinds of rescue tools. They had started the search at the beginning of dawn, when there was just enough daylight that it wouldn't be too risky for the people who went inside. The weather had remained stable; it had even warmed up a bit. On closer inspection, the damage to the building wasn't as severe as originally expected. The ground level, in particular, was mostly intact and relatively easy accessible. The blueprints had shown several cooling chambers on that floor and hopefully John was locked in one of those. Due to the structure of these rooms - no windows, thick walls and massive steel doors - it was unlikely that they had collapsed entirely. Besides, the insulating purpose of a cooling chamber does work the other way round as well, so it wouldn't have been too cold in there during the night - another point that would increase John's chances of survival, given that he was indeed in one of them. The team had been inside for nearly an hour now. They had checked two rooms so far, both empty.
Lestrade stepped nervously from one foot to the other, gripping the radio hard. With the other hand he took his mobile from his pocket, checking for calls or messages. Nothing. He had tried to call Sherlock a few times in order to keep him informed about the search, but the detective hadn't answered. Lestrade was worried about his condition. He didn't like the thought of Sherlock being in Baker Street on his own. He would have preferred him staying in hospital overnight but he knew the man couldn't be forced. Lestrade just hoped that the watchful eye of Sherlock's brother would prevent him from doing something stupid.
"Sir!" the voice of Sergeant Donovan, who had volunteered immediately to accompany the rescue party, came through the radio. She sounded excited. And happy.
"I'm listening," Lestrade replied. Soon a huge grin spread over his face. In the background over the radio he heard the raspy, tired but very alive voice of John Watson "Is Sherlock ok?".
"We've got him," Donovan said.
When John climbed up the stairs to their flat he realized how exhausted he was. The adrenaline had begun to wear off and the physical strains of his captivity were starting to show. He felt dizzy and tired. Violent shivers ran down his spine. John cursed; he shouldn't have left the blanket the paramedics gave him in Greg's car. The DI had wanted to come in with him, just to make sure that he and Sherlock were alright, but John had declined. The paramedics were almost furious as John insisted on being taken home instead of to the hospital, which certainly would have been reasonable with a mild case of hypothermia and slight dehydration. But John decided he would be fine without further observation. He was a doctor after all. John was extremely worried. From what Greg had told him, Sherlock had had a kind of a breakdown and he desperately wanted to see him. Still, the 17 stairs proven to be challenging.
John thought of the last time he had climbed up these stairs – it felt like ages though it was only a few hours ago; but those hours had changed everything. The last time he had climbed these stairs, he had come back from the long walk he took after his fight with Sherlock. He had made a decision back then.
Dusk was already falling when Sherlock heard John's soft footsteps on the stairs. He put the violin away as the other man entered the room. John had calmed down; he didn't look as defeated anymore, still sad but also resolved. Sherlock wasn't sure what to make of John's demeanour. Both men looked at each other for a moment.
"Sherlock, we need…"
"I'm sorry!" Sherlock interrupted hastily. "Please, listen for a moment." He had thought about what to say to John and he was desperate to show his friend that he meant it.
"I'm sorry about today. I shouldn't have sent you away to investigate when I already had an idea about what happened. And I'm sorry if my behaviour made you uncomfortable. I understand now, that you felt humiliated by my actions. I am sorry for that too. I promise that this will not happen again."
Sherlock was actually a bit proud of his little speech. He had chosen his words with care, hoping that he had covered most of the reasons why John was angry with him.
John looked irritated at first but finally relaxed a little. He was glad that Sherlock had apologized; that was very rare for him. Maybe that's why his words sounded a bit prepared. After all, he knew his friend well enough to see the honesty in Sherlock's eyes.
"Right. Thank you, Sherlock. Thank you for apologizing."
John sat down, an earnest expression still on his face. "We need to talk," he said.
"About what? I apologized. I mean it, John. Really."
"It's ok Sherlock, I believe you. And I am fine with it," John smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes. He looked sad and Sherlock didn't like the way John looked at him.
"I had some time to think," John continued "and I came to a conclusion."
Sherlock frowned, not quite sure what John was getting at. "A conclusion about what?"
John took a deep breath and looked Sherlock in the eyes. "I am going to leave Baker Street."
Wait, what? For a moment Sherlock was speechless. "NO!" he yelled, jumping out of his seat.
John was a bit surprised by this sudden reaction. "Sherlock…"
"That's ridiculous John! I've just said sorry and you said it's ok! Why do you want to leave?" he looked at John in disbelief. "I am sorry John, I truly am. I know, I've not been quite myself lately, but I will come to it. I promise. Please stay, don't leave."
What surprised John most was not only the absolute honesty but also a kind of desperation within his friend's words and posture. Sherlock looked anxious and insecure – something John has hardly ever seen in the man before.
"Sherlock, it's not about this particular fight," he said gently as if trying not to scare him away. "But has it ever occurred to you, that this might not work anymore?"
"This? You mean…" Sherlock's voice was almost a whisper, his distress clearly audible.
John considered his words carefully as he began to speak. "What I mean is us two, living and working together. You've been avoiding me. You've been avoiding me for some time now. I suppose you didn't even notice it, so I probably shouldn't have gotten so angry with you."
"John…" Sherlock began but John held up his hand to stop him.
"Please let me finish," he said. "Sherlock, you were away for almost two years. You had to work alone the whole time, in your manner, with your methods and at your pace. You're just not used to having somebody around anymore. And, well, it's quite obvious that you don't need me. I'm sad about it, but I don't want to blame you. Your exile changed you."
"No, John! No, no, no!" Sherlock paced the room, ruffling desperately through his hair and mumbling again and again. "Wrong. This is wrong. No, you got it wrong."
John looked puzzled. This was not the reaction he had expected. Sherlock had gone pale, his breathing was fast. He seemed to be on the edge of a panic attack.
"Sherlock," he said in a soothing tone. "I'm not going to abandon you or anything. But I don't want to stick around and follow you like a lost puppy. I don't want to force my presence on you when I just slow you down and annoy you. That hurts me. Don't you understand?"
Sherlock said nothing, just continued pacing. John wasn't even sure whether he had heard him properly.
"I'm not going to abandon you," John repeated. "You're still my friend. But I think, maybe we need some space from another."
"No John! NO!" Sherlock finally yelled in desperation. "You got it wrong! You got it completely wrong!"
John stepped forward and grabbed Sherlock's wrist firmly to stop his mad running. "Sherlock, calm down, please," he said. "Tell me. Tell me what's wrong."
"Sentiment," Sherlock said.
"Sentiment?"John asked. Sherlock just nodded. "Care to elaborate?"
Sherlock took a deep breath and looked John into the eyes. "You're right. I have been avoiding you… a bit… in the last couple of days… maybe weeks. But you're absolutely wrong; it has nothing to do with me not wanting you around anymore. I do want you to be around."
"OK, you are avoiding me but want me around at the same time?" John asked frowning.
"Sherlock, that doesn't make any sense."
"My motives… my motives for wandering off alone and spending my time away is a result of… of an experiment."
"Yes, I… I needed to test something. If the lack of your presence with me or my work has an influence on the… on the disturbing feelings I have recently experienced when around you. I estimated a reasonable distance could help to improve my state." After a moment in which nobody said a word Sherlock added "But I'm afraid it didn't work out."
John stared at Sherlock dumbfounded. Did he just…? Was this a…?
"I was just so, confused, I… I thought… it would go away … I thought with some distance …" Sherlock stumbled over the words he wanted to say. He looked down on John's hand grasping his arm. With his other hand Sherlock carefully loosened John grip but didn't let go of his hand. On the contrary, Sherlock took John's hand in his and stroked little circles with his thumb.
"I… I don't know…" he started again, not looking up, just staring at their hands. "I just don't know what to do or how to say it."
John stared at Sherlock. He felt the warmth of Sherlock's hand in his own and the pleasant feeling of Sherlock stroking it. John's stomach made a strange flip.
"Sherlock, look at me," he said with a raspy voice.
The other man hesitated a moment but finally looked up. Then John saw the deep emotions within his friend's eyes. Confusion, desperation, fear and … love. Suddenly everything made sense, Sherlock's strange behavior, his ongoing absence and pretended indifference. He had obviously tried to deal with his emotions in a very Sherlockian way – avoiding their source instead of facing the situation.
The brief moment both men stood there just looking into each other's eyes and holding hands somehow felt like an eternity. The silence was finally interrupted by the beep of Sherlock's phone indicating an incoming text message.
"It's from Billy," Sherlock said, after he had pulled the device from his pocket. "They found the gang's bolt hole. They're in one of the buildings at the abandoned wholesale market in Brompton."
"Good," John said, relieved about the distraction. "I'll text the address to Lestrade and then we can go."
Sherlock hesitated, unsure how to proceed. "But…"
John saw the battle Sherlock fought with himself. He wanted to solve the case and this was the final information he needed. On the other hand, he seemed afraid that this might be the only chance he got.
Sherlock's hand was still in his and it surprised him a little how natural it felt. John smiled and gave Sherlock's hand a little squeeze. "Come on, let's catch some bad guys. We'll talk later, I promise."
Sherlock stirred in his sleep. It wasn't a really deep sleep, more a light slumber; the kind of state between sleeping and waking where you are aware that you are dreaming but not awake enough to control anything. Sherlock went through his conversation with John again and again, trying to change the events, to make them stay in the flat. But they always leave. We'll talk later, John had promised. We'll talk later. Sherlock sobbed. He could still feel John's cold hand stroking his cheek. Wait! That hadn't happened! John hadn't stroked his cheek and his hand hadn't been cold at all!
"Sherlock," somebody whispered.
Sherlock groaned and began fidgeting. This was developing into a nightmare. He felt hot, his hair was plastered against his sweaty forehead, his shirt clung to his body.
"Sherlock, wake up!" John said.
Sherlock jolted upwards, wincing at the pain that shot through his rib cage and gasping for air.
Sherlock's eyes snapped open. Beside him, sitting on the edge of his mattress, was John, with a very worried expression on his face. John!
John is alive!
But wait, he'd seen the building explode. John had been inside. John… John is dead. He must be hallucinating. Sherlock's breathing sped up, he felt light-headed and nauseous once again. Black dots began dancing in front of eyes and his ears were ringing.
"Shhhhhh, Sherlock," John said. He stretched out his arm and carefully stroked Sherlock's cheek, then cupped his face completely in his hands. "Breathe Sherlock! Breathe. Easy, in… and out… in… and out."
They sat there for a while; John in- and exhaling slowly and audibly forcing Sherlock to mimic his breathing pattern. Sherlock finally took one of John's hands into his, searching for the pulse. There it was, strong and steady - the rhythmic thumping beneath his fingertips, a simple reassurance as Sherlock slowly began to drift back into reality.
John is alive.
"John," he whispered.
Sherlock looked at John who now carefully stroked over the stitched wound on Sherlock's temple and frowning, still worried apparently. John was pale; his hands were cold, his skin raw as well as his lips which also had a slight blue color. And he was shivering. Though John tried to suppress it, Sherlock could still see the tremors running through his friend's body. He'd been in the building the whole night, Sherlock suddenly realized.
"Shouldn't you be in hospital?" Sherlock asked, now very much worried himself.
"No, you're not."
"I wanted… I needed to check on you."
"No you're not."
"I am now."
John smiled at Sherlock, who hadn't let go of his hand, his fingers still on John's pulse point. The worries about Sherlock's condition had proven to be a distraction from his own exhausted body. But now as the shivering began once again, John thought about those nice warm jumpers he had in his room. A hot cup of tea would probably do them both good as well. But his attempt to rise was interrupted instantly.
"DON'T!" Sherlock said, almost panicking again, grabbing John's wrist harder to stop him from moving away. "Don't go. Stay! Please!"
Sherlock's face still showed the terror he'd gone through the night before. Just like the fear John had felt while being locked in a crumbling building, not knowing what had happened, if he would make it out and if Sherlock was still alive ("Please, god, please! He can't be dead! I can't lose him again."). John swallowed hard against the lump in his throat and nodded, suppressing a shudder that wasn't from the cold. Sherlock took off the coat he was still wearing and put it around John, guiding him to lie down. John instantly started to relax under the warm shelter of Sherlock's coat and his eyelids began to droop. Sherlock felt his own exhaustion catching up with him. He huddled close to his friend and covered them both with his blanket.
"Rest," Sherlock said softly.
"You too," John whispered.
Sherlock woke up several hours later from a dreamless sleep. The room around him was dim. Dawn, he thought at first but soon noticed that the light wasn't quite right nor did the noises outside fit the estimated time of day. Sherlock glanced towards the clock on the wall he was currently facing; 5:20pm, late afternoon then, daylight was almost gone but Sherlock still felt sleepy. As he tried to turn over a dull ache in his chest reminded him of his injuries. Suddenly the events of the past two days came rushing back to him. He gasped as adrenaline was pumped through his body making his head pound.
John! John is… alive.
A warm body was pressed against his back and an arm slung around his waist. In addition he felt a steady breathing that was tickling his neck. Carefully Sherlock turned over, gritting his teeth as he put pressure on his bruised ribs. But the pain was manageable and almost forgotten as soon as he looked into John's face.
John is alive.
The other man was still sleeping. His features were relaxed; the stress of the recent events didn't show. He had regained a normal color and, as Sherlock carefully took John's hands, he was relieved to find them warm. John was still wrapped in Sherlock's coat and Sherlock smiled at the sight. He looked absolutely adorable. He wouldn't have minded just looking at his friend for hours, guarding his restful sleep, but John finally opened his eyes as well. Both their eyes were roaming over each other, observing their condition, reassuring themselves that the other was ok. Soon Sherlock began to feel restless. He thought about the events of the previous evening, especially their conversation in the living room. Hundreds of thoughts and questions were running through his mind. He was about to say something when John halted him.
"Shhhhh," he whispered putting a finger on Sherlock's lips. "Don't talk. Let me try something."
John caressed Sherlock's lips with his thumb, moving his finger gently over his cheekbone. Then he leaned forward and carefully pressed his lips onto Sherlock's. The kiss was shy at first, just their lips brushing together. Slowly John began to kiss other parts of Sherlock's face: the tip of his nose, his cheeks, the corner of his mouth and then his lips again. Sherlock was so stunned from the sensation he felt of John's skin on his own that he was barely able to move. Slowly and tenderly John brushed his tongue over Sherlock's lips encouraging him to open his mouth slightly, granting access. Their tongues danced around each other's - gently first but the kiss became deeper and deeper as Sherlock finally began to respond. He cupped John's face and fell into the pace of their kissing, nibbling on the other man's lips, exploring his mouth, tangling his tongue with his. The feeling of passion and happiness made a moan escape Sherlock's lips. John smiled. While their hands were ruffling through each other's hair, their kissing continued until they were both almost breathless.
Sherlock snuggled deeper under the blanket shuffling closer to John who was instantly putting his arms around him. Their foreheads touched and they looked at each other for a long time, telling each other with looks what they weren't able to say with words.
I thought I'd lost you.
I'm still here.
Don't leave me.
I won't. Never.
Finally their eyes began to drift shut. Feeling safe and loved they slept soundly in each other's arms until the dawning of a new day.
- The End -