Disclaimer: I still do not own Sherlock.
AN: This was originally going to take place six weeks later but when I started to write it, I decided it would be better if it picked up again straight away. Dedicated to PrincessNala, thanks again!
Votes: friendship, 29; slash, 25; either, 14; none, 0. You may read this as either friendship or pre-slash depending on your preference.
I continue to be amazed by the response to BANG/M is for Moriarty, I really hope this lives up to your expectations.
Sherlock is half in the plastic chair beside him, half leaning forwards so that his arms, shoulders and head are on the bed, chest rising and falling slowly. One arm is tucked beneath his torso - that will hurt later – one is flung across John's own chest to where the doctor's wrist is laid, holding it loosely as though trying to reassure himself that John's heart is still beating.
John lies deliberately still to avoid disturbing Sherlock; it should feel odd, he thinks, that it's Sherlock's wellbeing he finds himself concerned for, even though John is the one in the hospital bed. But it's so rare to see the detective slumber so unguardedly; even after some of their most lengthy and trying cases John doesn't think he has ever seen Sherlock completely exhausted, completely give himself over to sleep.
John knows what the past two weeks must have been like for Sherlock; he denies himself food and rest at the best of times when he's concentrating – now, with the biggest puzzle he as ever faced...it's probably a wonder he's survived it. John wishes this were an exaggeration.
As he lies here, with Sherlock's arm draped across his chest midway through the act of checking his pulse, John lets the waves of emotion wash over him properly for the first time, feeling them without the pounding distraction of danger and adrenalin. It's overwhelming, and his chest feels like it's being physically constricted, but he breathes deeply and lets himself absorb it, trying to tell himself that it's better to face them now than push them away.
Fear still tingles in his spine, not listening when he reassures himself that Moriarty is gone, he's finished – he'll be lucky if he ever walks again even if he does come back this side of a prison cell. But his gloating face – his chuckle – as he told John about Sarah won't go away. John knows it will never go away; even when – if – it fades from his waking moments, his dreams, of sand and blood and gunfire, will find a place for it. He cannot escape his nightmares.
Sarah...he aches with guilt just thinking her name, knowing she should not have been involved, she never deserved this.
If anything is going to make him want to leave Sherlock, walk away from this lifestyle and never look back – this would be it. This should be it. He should, right now, be planning how to tell Sherlock that he's moving out – the moment he leaves the hospital, he ought to begin searching for somewhere else to live. Perhaps a new flat-share – maybe even away from London. Somewhere cheap, quiet, and safe at least most of the time...
But even now, even after everything that's happened – Moriarty, the bomb, the kidnapping, drugs, Sarah...the thought of leaving repulses him. Terrifies him. Suffocates him. The very idea of returning to his old life – a life of boredom and limping and hand tremors...of endless nightmares and endless grey hours of nothing when he wakes, alone, of blank blog pages and therapists...he can't do it. He knows without doubt that sensible as it would be, and insane as staying is, he can't do it. He can't leave knowing full well that it would destroy him – he has nothing to go back to.
And in any case, he thinks with almost wry amusement, how did Sherlock ever manage to survive without someone around to remind him to eat and sleep and generally take basic care of himself?
Yet after this – will Sherlock want him to stay? Suddenly John is nervous and uncertain. He wonders vaguely what his therapist would say if she found out the prospect of a life of safety frightens him more than a life of non-stop danger.
Will Sherlock want him around? Is he a weakness to Sherlock now, a liability? Is that how Sherlock will see it? Will the detective conclude that John simply slows him down, and tell him to go?
Would John be able to, even if he did?
John already knows that the answer is no.
But maybe...he feels foolish and optimistic to the point of naivety just thinking it...but maybe now it's over...will they be able to just go back? To how things were – simple as life with Sherlock Holmes is ever likely to get?
He looks at Sherlock, sees the dark shadows under his eyes, standing out vividly on his pale, exhausted face; he looks at the small round puncture marks on his own arm; he thinks of Sarah, and the look on Sherlock's face when he found him...
Of course not. John wishes it were that easy.
For a brief, guilt ridden moment, he longs for the cocaine again. To be plunged into the euphoric oblivion of the drugs and disappear inside their effect, so just for a while he needn't think of the future...but he quickly banishes the craving forcefully. If he gives in, if he admits ...he will not let Moriarty win.
'Doctor Watson?' A voice breaks into his thoughts and he turns his head towards the door. Seeing the doctor, he quickly glances towards Sherlock and makes a shushing gesture; Doctor Fircroft smiles.
'Hasn't left your side,' she mouths silently, checking John's vitals and fiving him the thumbs up, 'how are you feeling?'
'Stiff. Tired,' John replies in a hoarse whisper; Fircroft hands him a glass of water, which he gratefully accepts, 'alive.'
'You're very lucky,' Fircroft tells him quietly; she asks him a list of the usual questions about his date of birth, his sister's name, and who the Prime Minister is, before pronouncing him 'mending' and glancing towards Sherlock as she leaves once more. 'Make sure he eats something when he wakes up.'
John nods with a small smile and sinks back into his pillow, drifting slowly into sleep once more, welcoming its warmth and ignorance, and praying it will be dreamless.
By the time he opens his eyes again, Sherlock has gone; for an instant, John is concerned, not knowing where he might have got to or what he might be doing – who he might try to confront – then he feels a stab of loneliness. Perhaps it's because of his dark solitude after Moriarty's kidnap, but he doesn't like being alone in this unfamiliar, empty room.
Except it isn't empty.
A politely false cough alerts John to the man's presence; leaning against the far wall with his hands clasped neatly over the handle of his umbrella, is Mycroft Holmes.
'Sherlock has gone to buy himself a coffee, I believe,' Mycroft informs John smoothly, 'he was most irritated to discover he had dozed off, and none of the nurses would fetch it for him.'
'Mycroft,' is about all John can mange, uncertain as to the reason for the elder Holmes's presence here.
'Good to see you awake, John,' he says in response, seeming unperturbed by John's reaction to him. 'Now,' he pushes himself off the wall and takes a step towards John, 'Sherlock does not know that I'm here, and I would rather it remained that way; I think I am right in saying that he wouldn't be pleased to discover that in the few moments of absence he has allowed himself, I was able to enter without his knowledge.'
'Why is that?' Asks John, shifting so he is sat further upright and regarding Mycroft with a frown on his face.
'Because if I can gain unnoticed access, anyone can. Or, perhaps not anyone, but certainly someone undesirable could make themselves known.'
John's blood runs cold.
'I thought –'
'Oh, not Moriarty; I happen to know precisely where is at this very moment, and you may rest assured that it is nowhere near here, nor is it likely to be. However, for all his rationalising, Sherlock's love of the dramatic can lead to him...overreacting, sometimes. I'm sure you understand.'
John finds he has to force himself to be polite; never quite sure how to take Mycroft Holmes, the veiled almost-insult of his friend irks him.
'So why are you here?'
'Ah, yes. My apologies, John, I digress.' He pauses, and regards John with a cool, calculating look to rival Sherlock's; all of the intellectual intensity and depth, none of the energy and passion of his younger brother. So similar; so different. 'I wanted to make you aware of proceedings while you were...incapacitated. You understand, I am sure, that Sherlock applied every ounce of his time and energy to the task of solving the puzzles to find you? It took a great deal of effort to make him so much as eat enough that he did not collapse.'
'I know,' says John a little guiltily, nevertheless surprised at what in anyone else's control would have been an unnervingly urgent tone, 'I've worked cases with him, I know what he's like –'
'Not this time, Doctor Watson. This time was different; I saw him, you didn't. You will have to take my word for it. I have never observed Sherlock being so very focused as he was to rescuing you.'
'He was willing to die for you, John.' There is a quiet earnestness in Mycroft's voice, an unfamiliar visible sign of genuine concern in his eyes that makes John fall silent for a moment, the sentence hanging heavily in the air.
'The game –' John begins 'even with the taxi driver, he –'
'No, John. You. It was not the game. I do not believe he even saw it entirely as a game anymore. He was willing to risk his life, to lay it down, for you.'
'I – why are you telling me this?' John asks, nonplussed. He feels even more guilty than ever at the thought of Sherlock putting himself in danger for him – he knew already, of course, that Sherlock was all along in as much, if not more, danger than him, but something about the way Mycroft tells him so...significantly...changes things. A small part of him feels oddly warm at this confirmation of Sherlock caring, but it's a part he instantly pushes away.
'I felt you ought to be made aware,' says Mycroft meaningfully, 'Sherlock so often fails to let his own – ah – softer side be seen.'
A noise at the doorway interrupts before John can reply, and both men look around to see Sherlock entering with a polystyrene cup of steaming coffee in his hand. His face does not move when he spots Mycroft, but the briefest flash of surprise and annoyance passes across his eyes, as well as something close to – but no – fear?
'What are you doing here, Mycroft?' Demands Sherlock, starting forwards and retaking his seat beside John's bed.
'Merely offering my condolences to Doctor Watson,' Mycroft replies solemnly, inclining his head towards John, 'and to inform you that the problem is being taken care of.' Moriarty's name need not be mentioned. They know who he is referring to.
'Thank you,' Sherlock replies stiffly, as though the words have been forced from him.
'My pleasure. Now, I really must be going; John, do make sure Sherlock eats a full meal before too long, and Sherlock, remember that you are both injured and in need of rest. Get well soon.' He addresses the last sentence to neither of them specifically and nods his goodbye to them both before he leaves. Sherlock watches him go until he is out of sight, and listens carefully until he's out of earshot.
'What did he really want?' He directs at john, scrutinising him with a slight frown on his face.
'Nothing. Pretty much what he said – and telling me to make sure you took care of yourself.'
'How dull,' John suspects this is an automatic response from Sherlock, and doesn't reply. There's a comfortable pause for a long while before Sherlock breaks the silence once more. 'I'm – err – glad you're awake,' he says.
'Yeah, me too,' says John, 'thanks.' Then quietly, awkwardly, 'and – thanks – I mean – you know –'
'Don't thank me.' Sherlock interrupts sharply, staring at his coffee as though it has offended him somehow.
Sherlock doesn't reply. He can't look at John, won't face what he knows, he knows is coming, any second now.
'Don't thank me,' he repeats slowly, 'it was my fault in the first place.'
'What? No, it wasn't, Sherlock –' suddenly Sherlock looks much smaller than usual, his shoulders are hunched and his icy eyes are dull, as though a light has been switched off behind them, a fire has been extinguished, smothering the dazzling energy that normally emanates from him.
'It was me he was playing with. These games, they were all aimed at me – you were just caught in the crossfire, and Sarah –'
'Sherlock, for God's sake, this wasn't. Your. Fault.' But Sherlock doesn't appear to hear him.
'I won't blame you if you leave.'
He doesn't look up. This is the bit he has been dreading, when John will tell him he has had enough, that he wants out, he wants Sherlock's gone – that he hates him for what has happened. He won't even look at John's face to deduce the answer before it's given, wanting that illogical, tiny glimmer of hope he can cling to until he actually hears the words.
'I'm not leaving, Sherlock.' Sherlock raises his head incredulously,
'You don't need to spare my feelings, John. I can manage perfectly well without you, you have no obligation to –'
'I'm not staying because I think I should, Sherlock, I'm staying because I want to. I'm not even staying for you. I'll go mad if I have to go back to what it was like before.'
A long silence follows his words, in which John watches Sherlock and Sherlock studies John, a slight crease between his eyebrows. Slowly, a small, unconscious smile unfurls itself on his face, barely perceivable.
'You're an idiot.'
John smiles tiredly, relieved.
'Practically everybody is.'
Over the next few days John is sure that Sherlock never leaves the hospital, and comes to the conclusion that his constant presence is permitted by either Mycroft's influence or the hospital staff choosing to turn a blind eye. Never once does he see Sherlock sleep, though he can't account for the periods of his own rest, and his flatmate is definitely drinking considerably more caffeine than advisable. When John brings it up, Sherlock abruptly dismisses his words - though he has eaten, which is something.
John is finally discharged on the fourth afternoon, and it's with a great sense of relief that he and Sherlock walk back through the door of 221B Baker Street – John for the first time since leaving to see Sarah fifteen days ago.
It feels like he's been away years, so much has happened, even though little seems to have changed save for a large map covered in coloured lines criss-crossing around London, laid on the table. Sherlock quickly folds this roughly and stuffs it out of sight.
John takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly, basking in the sudden warmth that comes from knowing he has returned home, no matter what events have occurred while he's been away, it's good – comforting – to find himself back in familiar territory.
He gives Mrs Hudson a genuine smile when she comes in to greet them, feeling odd, as though his muscles have almost forgotten how to do it – Mrs Hudson is tearful as she hugs them both, patting him clumsily on the back and assuring them of how happy she is that they are both here.
'Always knew he'd find you,' she tells John, nodding at Sherlock, whose smile has become a little fixed, 'nothing's going to stop the pair of you; it's really not decent the way you run around all the time!' She beams, and declines John's offer to stay, 'no, no, I'll not keep you. You get settled back in, sort yourselves out now. Oh, I am so pleased you're alright!' She kisses them on their cheeks and hurries out, still smiling to herself.
'Sit,' John orders Sherlock once she's gone; Sherlock raises his eyebrows as John points to his grey chair. 'I'm going to make us a proper meal, and are you are going to eat every last bit of it, and then you're going to have a proper, full night's sleep, with no caffeine until tomorrow, okay?'
'You've just got out of hospital, I hardly think –'
Sherlock huffs and throws himself back into the armchair, folding his arms.
'Delirious. Stay here.'
John shoots Sherlock a glance as he enters the kitchen but doesn't reply. He throws away the remains of the risotto in the fridge and scours the cupboards for some decent food – typically (although he thinks he can probably let Sherlock off this time) there isn't much, but he's got used to working with that. Checking – with one of those nagging feelings that this really would be a very good reason for a sane person to look for a new flat – that there are no body parts in the oven, he switches it on to heat up, and with a heavy metallic clang places a saucepan on the hob.
He can hear Sherlock moving around in the living room behind him, ruffling papers and probably already looking for something to occupy himself; John's grateful that they can slip into at least a skeleton of their previous lives again so quickly, but prays Sherlock won't find anything too interesting yet – at least before the pair of them have had a good meal.
He flicks the hob on and a circle of little bluish flames jump up around the metal plate – then they grow suddenly, moving up the side of the pan, engulfing it, leaping upwards and outwards – John yelps and starts backwards, crashing into the table behind him so that with a clatter and a bolt of pain up his back, he blinks and the fire is gone, replaced once more by the normal, tiny flames he would expect. He breathes heavily, staring at the spot where, momentarily, the blaze had been burning.
'John?' Comes Sherlock's voice, poking his head into the kitchen. His eyes travel quickly over John's stricken face, his wide eyes and heaving chest, to the place where John is still staring. 'Are you alright?'
'Fine,' says John, tearing his eyes away, 'I'm fine. I just – just burnt myself, that's all.' Sherlock frowns. 'Honestly Sherlock, I'm fine.'
Sherlock leaves, looking sceptical, and John slumps, leaning his hands on the worktop and hanging his head with his eyes closed. Nothing, it was nothing...another hallucination, it'll take time for the long term effects to wear off completely – the drugs, coupled with injuries and exhaustion...it's only to be expected, it'll go away eventually...
Sherlock knows. He knew the moment he entered the kitchen; John's face, his eyes, his breathing, staring at the flames under the pan...he knows. John is still hallucinating; Sherlock even has a pretty good idea what he might have seen, but that isn't what's important. The fact is, John has not recovered, and Sherlock must keep an extra close eye out for any changes in his behaviour – any suggestions of something wrong...this is Sherlock's fault in the first place, so it's his responsibility to clean up the mess.
He has to admit that he feels better on a stomach full of John's cooking, but as far as his friend's other piece of advice goes...Sherlock simply cannot or will not compose his mind to sleep. John left for bed forty minutes ago after making Sherlock promise to get at least a few hours rest overnight and probably knowing he wouldn't regardless.
There is just too much to think about, to analyse, to sort through. He feels as the case is ongoing, it doesn't seem finished yet, and so his mind will not pause for long enough to contemplate sleep. He sits in his chair with his elbows on his knees, hangs together as though in prayer, long fingers against his lips, staring unfocused into the distance.
Mycroft is 'dealing' with Moriarty, whatever that means. Sherlock feels a twinge of regret at having let the consulting criminal live, yet at the same time he knows there would be at least some hesitation in wiping out such a brilliant mind.
Or there would have been. Before this – before John.
John is strangely...well. Sherlock expected worse, but he supposes he should be learning by now that John is not always as he appears to be – Sherlock respects him for that. It's what makes him interesting. But he is still affected, even though Sherlock has a hard time entirely defining the extent of the effect. Certainly he is traumatised, and grieving, but he genuinely doesn't seem to blame Sherlock...anomalous. People usually do. Another of John's interesting characteristics.
His experiences have left their mark though, the continued hallucinations are only further proof of that. Sherlock is uncertain whether emotional trauma or the after effects of the drugs play a larger part in this, though he expects – or rather, hopes – it will be temporary whatever the main cause.
The drugs...now that is where Sherlock becomes most lost.
His mind is wandering as aimlessly as his ever can, picking up loose threads of thought and linking them together in almost random ways, going over and over situations over which he has no control, considering events he cannot predict, or prevent, or cause – in short, this train of thought is useless.
And it's at this point Sherlock would usually crave the assistance of something to focus his thoughts, drive them down some more desirable pathway, or just take him out of them completely, but he is already wearing two nicotine patches.
The thought of anything stronger – the thought of cocaine, hidden in the flat, untouched for a long time now – makes him feel sick.
It shouldn't, he tells himself. It's a stupid, irrational response; why should their use on John in any way impact of the effect they have on him, or how he sees them? Why this sudden repulsion for something he once wanted so much? True, he hasn't used in a while, but it's a useful net to keep, to have them accessible should the need ever arrive...
John wakes to the sound of breaking glass with a gasp and sits up. For a moment he thinks he sees Sarah stood at the foot of his bed, but he blinks and she is gone, a remnant of either his dreams or the drugs, he doesn't know which.
He listens for just long enough to establish that Sherlock is definitely moving around in the kitchen, it is not his imagination, and curses as he pushes the covers back and climbs out of bed, padding down to where Sherlock is and getting colder with every step. He already longs for the warm comfort of his quilt again, but enters the kitchen still blinking back sleep and squinting in the glaring light.
Sherlock is stood by the sink, with the tap turned on full so it blasts loudly into the metal.
'What are you doing?' John asks exasperatedly,
'Nothing. Go back to bed,' Sherlock replies without looking around.
'I heard something breaking,'
'It was nothing. I dropped a glass. Go to sleep, it'll do you good. That's what you keep telling me isn't it?'
'Well then maybe you might like to follow the advice,' John tells Sherlock tiredly, reaching over and turning the tap off. He catches sight of the broken shards in the sink, the smaller pieces of which have already been washed down the plughole along with whatever was in the container. 'What was that?' John asks, pointing.
John sighs, 'I can see what it was,'
'Well then why did you ask?' Sherlock moves away, turning his back on John and seeming to inspect something on the opposite wall.
'I was hoping you would tell me,'
'I'm seeing that now,' John retorts testily, hands on his hips as he speaks to the back of Sherlock's head.
'I meant asking a question you already know the answer to. Why not just confront me if that's what you intended to do?'
'Don't avoid the issue,' John demands firmly, while Sherlock still refuses to look at him.
'I would have thought you'd approve,' says Sherlock, 'of my getting rid of them. I hardly think it befitting of a doctor –'
'I do approve, of you throwing out the drugs. It's the reason for the sudden change I'm interested in.'
'Surely you can figure it out,' Sherlock's tone is bitter and almost – almost – self-deprecating as he walks to the living room and collapses back into his armchair. John sits slowly in the red one.
'You still blame yourself?' John asks, 'Sherlock, I –'
'Wrong,' Sherlock says automatically, 'self pity is boring and useless. It won't help anyone.'
'Doesn't mean you can't feel it; bit like that caring lark, really,' John adds meaningfully, 'and I didn't say you were being self pitying.'
'Same difference,' replies Sherlock, reaching apparently absent-mindedly for his violin and perching it on his shoulder, plucking at the strings randomly with a frown creasing his features. John watches him carefully even as Sherlock makes it very obvious that he's trying to ignore his flatmate. The doctor is completely unsure what to say...he never would have really thought Sherlock would be affected to this extent – in anyone else it wouldn't surprise him, but in Sherlock it's...unnerving.
Especially when he, John, is the reason for it.
'Sherlock, really; I don't blame you. Nobody blames you –' Sherlock scoffs loudly and gives John a disparaging look, '- well, nobody with any sense.' John amends himself steadily, 'It was Moriarty who did it, and it was his fault, not yours –'
'Have you not been listening to Donovan? I enjoy this. Isn't that –?'
'No, it isn't. Enjoying the puzzle a crime presents is not the same as enjoying the crime itself, and whether you do or not, you're still not the person who committed them. You could have become Moriarty any time you liked, any time you were bored, and you would never have to wait for a case again. You haven't. What can you deduce from that?'
Sherlock is silent. John swallows; his next question he would never dare ask anyone else, and he knows it's low, but he can't think how else to get through to his friend.
'Did you enjoy the thought of Moriarty threatening me –' he falters and swallows, '– killing me?' Sherlock looks momentarily stricken, his eyes flashing dangerously as he jerks his head slightly in a tight shake to the negative; the Holmes equivalent of a vehement denial.
'Well then,' John pushes himself from the chair, 'point proven. Get some sleep, Sherlock.'
But Sherlock cannot sleep; his mind will still not stop racing even after John has left and he is sat in complete silence other than the quiet, wavering notes of his violin, which is failing spectacularly at the task of being any help at all. He is just beginning to doze by the time John comes down in the morning, bright sunlight filtering through the windows – now fixed, courtesy of Mrs Hudson.
'Did you actually sleep at all?' John asks exasperatedly; Sherlock shakes his head, 'did you even try?' No response, and John runs a hand over his face in frustration, 'you don't even have a case, Sherlock, you have no excuse for denying yourself sleep,' still nothing, 'are you being deliberately difficult? Do even care that lack of sleep will affect your ability to think properly? It's not going to help anything –'
'Did I say I hadn't tried?' Sherlock snaps, looking up at John for the first time so the doctor sees the faint dark shadows under his eyes; John sighs and his irritation drains away, replaced by genuine concern. By the look of distaste on Sherlock's face, the former would have been more welcome.
'Have you thought about...I don't know, sleeping tablets or something?' He regrets it as soon as he's spoken – even before Sherlock fixes him with such a scathing expression he wants to disappear into the cushions of the chair and never re-emerge. He rallies again quickly though, and returns to his argument doggedly. 'They might actually help – just get one night's proper sleep, you haven't had one in a fortnight – and no, collapsing out of exhaustion in a hospital chair four days ago does not count. You need to have a real rest in a real bed.'
'I fail to see why the location is important,' Sherlock replies dismissively,
'You need to be comfortable. And you need rest, I don't care what you think –'
'I'm not taking sleeping pills, they dull my brain.'
'Have you ever tried them?'
'Then how do you know?'
'Oh, please John. Don't insult your own intelligence by trying that argument with me, I'm at least thirty years too old for it to work.'
'Please, Sherlock – it's one night, they won't affect you for long, and you don't need to be on alert at the moment, you don't have a case, you don't have anything you need to be doing.' John knows his pleas are failing though, knows Sherlock will never take the pills – willingly, at least.
'No.' Sherlock replies shortly, and John stands up. Perhaps he will have another go after breakfast.
'Just...at least try, okay Sherlock?'
By that evening, a plan has formed in John's mind. It's a terrible plan, but it's a plan nonetheless, and he can't think what else to do, reluctantly convincing himself that it is his only option. In reality, he probably knows from the moment the idea comes into his head that it is doomed to failure.
Trying desperately not to look too suspicious, and hoping in vain that Sherlock is too distracted to notice at any rate, he puts the mug of tea beside the detective where he sits with his eyes seemingly glued to the microscope on the kitchen table.
He hasn't even made it to the sofa with his own drink before he hears the splash of something liquid in the sink and the definite sounds of Sherlock rooting through the cupboards to find a new teabag for himself.
'Nice try, John,' he calls through, sounding, to John's surprise, amused more than irritated, 'though a bit predictable if you don't mind me saying so – sleeping pills in my tea? Please.' At this, he leans through and raises an eyebrow at his flatmate,
'How did you know?' Asks John indignantly,
'I didn't, I was merely testing a hypothesis. And you just confirmed my suspicions – do try to be a little more subtle in future.'
'I'll keep that in mind,' John replies as Sherlock comes through to the living room carrying a fresh drink. John winces at the sight of the shadows under his eyes. 'I wouldn't have to if you would accept that even you need some rest every now and then – especially now.'
'Haven't we already had this conversation?' Sherlock huffs moodily, sounding bored.
'Yes. And we're going to keep having it until you start sleeping,'
'If your intention is to bore me into it, please continue,'
'Careful, I might take you up on that if you carry on refusing –'
'I never said I was refusing to. Just because I'm not, doesn't mean it's because I won't.'
The silence that follows his words is distinctly awkward – Sherlock looks the closest to embarrassed John has ever seen him, and John simply doesn't know what to say, knowing that for Sherlock to admit that he can't, rather than won't, do something, he must be sincere.
After letting it drag on for much too long, John switches on the TV and chooses a deliberately tedious channel so mind-numbing he almost backs out on this hastily constructed Plan B straight away, thinking that if it doesn't send Sherlock to sleep – nothing will. He soon finds, though, that his own eyelids grow heavy much faster than Sherlock's, and they drift closed to sound of his flatmate complaining loudly about the stupidity of people on reality television shows.
Sherlock is either awake before him in the morning, or hasn't slept at all. Judging by the ever-darkening smudges beneath his eyes, the latter conclusion is the correct one.
John finds it increasingly difficult to keep his silence during the next two weeks, but by some miracle he manages it, and the subject of Sherlock's continued insomnia is carefully avoided, even though the only time the detective seems to be getting any rest is when he literally collapses from exhaustion. It only serves to add to John's concern that Sherlock is taking an unusual interest in his welfare, asking at least twice a day how he is – when John turns the question back on his flatmate, all he receives in reply is a terse 'I'm fine, stop worrying, John.'
On the seventeenth night since John's failed sleeping-pill plot, he lies awake and stares into the darkness, unable to shake the niggling feeling that something is wrong. The silence pounds at his ears, and the flat seems strangely empty without the sound of Sherlock scraping noisily at his violin – John checks the clock. Just past midnight...he daren't hope the lack of what, on good days, could be called music and on bad, eardrum torture, means that Sherlock is finally sleeping. But if not sleeping and not playing the violin, what could he be doing at this time?
After having prayed, so many times before, that Sherlock will leave the violin alone for just one night, John finds he's become so accustomed to it that he can't sleep in its absence...how ironic, that now Sherlock might finally have at least almost a full night's rest, John can't get a wink...
He dozes off eventually though, into dreams of muffled noise and twisted, contorting images he can't place and doesn't remember when he wakes, somewhat later than normal.
Plodding groggily into the living room he spots Sherlock sat in his armchair, long fingers curled loosely around the neck of the violin, which is trailing to the floor, apparently forgotten. Sherlock doesn't move when John enters. His eyes have a glazed look about them and he's staring ahead seemingly at nothing, a frown creasing his brow and his lips slightly parted in thought. John coughs awkwardly to announce his presence.
'John,' Sherlock jerks as though he has only just noticed his flatmate – John tries to hide his concern at this fact – and turns to look at him, 'what are you doing up?'
'It's nine in the morning,' John answers slowly, now peering intently at Sherlock, who looks momentarily puzzled, then waves a hand airily to dismiss the subject, springing to his feet with surprising energy.
'I was thinking. Must have lost track of time.'
'Sherlock – have you been sat there all night? Again?'
Sherlock shrugs, 'probably.'
'For God's sake –'
'Oh, leave it John! What business is it of yours where I sleep?'
'You didn't sleep, that's the point. And I'm getting sick of having this conversation –'
'Good. Let's stop then.'
'You –' John begins, then stops himself and shakes his head. The outcome will only be the same as every other time he's tried to have this discussion with Sherlock – he will air the same arguments, trying all the while to think of a way of phrasing it that will mean his friend might actually listen, and Sherlock will ignore every word he says. He shakes his head. 'I'm going out.'
'Where?' Sherlock asks immediately; John raises his eyebrows.
'You just got up.'
'We're out of cereal,' says John, though he actually has no idea whether they are or not, it's just an excuse to get out, and perhaps come up with a new plan for dealing with Sherlock. Sherlock pauses, sounding slightly hesitant when he finally speaks.
'I'll come with you.'
'You what?' John laughs disbelievingly, 'You want to go shopping?'
'It's dull here. Might be something interesting...'
'At the supermarket? If you're so eager, you can go yourself, I'll stay here.' John is still smirking, despite the same lurking feeling of unease that last night's silence gave him. He makes as if to sit down, but Sherlock shakes his head.
'No, we can go together.'
'I don't think so,' John chuckles, lowering himself into his chair, still watching Sherlock. 'I'm not getting dragged around Tesco's by you...'
'Oh, don't be stupid, I need to pick something up for an experiment anyway.'
John opens his mouth to ask why Sherlock doesn't simply send him for it, as he usually would, then thinks better of it and remains quiet. A strange thought has just occurred to him...he should have noticed before now, he thinks, but with Sherlock refusing all cases brought to his attention and John not back at work yet, neither of them have really had much to do...it hasn't seemed unusual before now...just a by-product of the fact neither of them have anything outside the flat to occupy them, that's all...but Sherlock has barely left his side since they returned home.
Is it deliberate? John wonders – what...is Sherlock keeping an eye on him? Or is he being paranoid? Why would Sherlock need to – or think he would need to – but he can't be...trying to protect him? From what? Moriarty is...wherever Mycroft has put him, most of his henchmen have already been rounded up, John's hallucinations are gradually fading away...yes, there are things, people, little tiny triggers that momentarily set John's heart racing, split seconds of fear, but they're nothing, he's had this before, he knows what danger is and he's hardly jumping at every movement.
Sherlock though – no, Sherlock wouldn't. It would be irrational, unhelpful, irrelevant...that sort of thing just wouldn't affect Sherlock, he wouldn't let it.
And yet, the sleeping...the drugs...the awkward, frequent queries after John's wellbeing...and Mycroft, in the hospital...
...he wouldn't be pleased to discover that in the few moments of absence he has allowed himself, I was able to enter without his knowledge...for all his rationalising, Sherlock's love of the dramatic can lead to him...overreacting, sometimes...He was willing to risk his life, to lay it down, for you...
Frowning, John swallows his doubts and speaks up.
'I'll be fine, you know, Sherlock.'
'Of course you will,' Sherlock replies, sounding affronted, 'I never suggested otherwise.'
'You don't need to –' At that moment, Sherlock's mobile decides to go off and the detective rummages in his pocket for it, evidently pleased at the distraction until he reads the text, rolls his eyes and replaces the phone without sending a reply.
'Lestrade,' he says, in answer to John's questioning look. 'Come on, I thought you wanted to go shopping?' He grabs his coat and slings it around his shoulders before throwing John's at him. Other than raising his hands so it doesn't hit him in the face, John doesn't move.
'Well?' He asks,
John sighs loudly, 'Lestrade. Has he got a case?'
'Identity fraud, boring.'
'More boring than shopping?' Sherlock sniffs distastefully as he winds his scarf around his neck,
'I've already told him I'm not his sniffer dog. I thought you wanted a break anyway?'
'You need a case – any case, I don't care how dull it is, just take it. Even if the only amusement you get out of it is an opportunity to call Lestrade an idiot, you need to do something.'
Sherlock shakes his head. He doesn't know why he feels like this, and he hates it – there's a constant, horrible squirming in his stomach that makes him even less inclined to eat than normal – his usually slim frame is now distinctly angular, and it only seems to intensify whenever John is out of sight. It's like a mixture of guilt and fear, two things that until recently Sherlock was sure he couldn't feel – and they won't go away, no matter how hard he tries to delete them.
It's a stupid, unfounded apprehension, ridiculous...he should be able to dismiss it, but he can't. He's never been one for doubting himself or for playing with useless 'what ifs', there's just no point, but he can't help it.
What ifJohn wakes up and decides he's had enough? What if John leaves, once and for all? What if John really does hate him after everything that's happened – and why does he, Sherlock, care? What if Moriarty were to somehow escape – what if Sherlock heard nothing of it until John disappeared again? What if some of Moriarty's henchmen are still out there, what if watching John isn't enough – what if they decide to target Mrs Hudson instead?
What if Sherlock were to take another case and something were to happen to John, if he got hurt or simply woke up to the fact that he'd be so much better off without Sherlock...what...what if...what if John had been killed?
No. No, no, no, NO. That hasn't happened, it isn't going to happen, Sherlock won't let it.
'Even Lestrade could solve this one on his own,' Sherlock manages to say eventually, not a trace of his inner turmoil showing on his face, 'actually, even Anderson probably could.'
'Are you sure about that?' John asks, his lips twitching into an involuntary smile as Sherlock's expression lightens slightly. If he can just get Sherlock interested in a case again, perhaps...if he's doing something, maybe he'll end up so tired he can't help but sleep? Perhaps getting back into solving a puzzle will settle his mind into a more normal routine? John can only hope.
'Well, no, perhaps not quite that simple.' Sherlock replies, surprised not for the first time by how easy it is to joke with John – at the same time as the little bubble of warmth this thought causes, his anxiety only increases. He cannot lose John. He will not.
'Just – hear him out, okay? You never know, it might end up more complicated than you think.'
'I doubt it.' Sherlock says, but he pulls out his phone to text Lestrade all the same.
'So what do you want me to do about it?' Asks Sherlock irritably, passing the files Lestrade hands him to John, who shuffles through them with half an eye still focused on his flatmate.
'Find out his real identity for a start,' Lestrade's looks somewhere between disgruntled and concerned – John notes the small frown on the DI's face as he watches Sherlock. Sherlock either doesn't see or – more, likely, John thinks – simply ignores it.
'Oh, but surely you can do that, you've managed to get this much all by yourselves...' Sherlock spares a wryly amused sideways glance towards John, who rolls his eyes, nevertheless pleased at the familiar condescension in Sherlock's tone. Lestrade sighs loudly.
'Apart from what's there, we haven't got a clue,' he admits, 'we know a handful of his aliases, we've got a vague description – very vague, the CCTV is practically useless – we know he's involved in at least four identity fraud cases, five blackmail – couple of robberies too probably –'
'And now you're thinking murder as well?' John asks, looking up from the files.
'Yes. And God knows what else...only other person I know of this elusive is –' he breaks off suddenly, eyes darting uncertainly between John and Sherlock before clearing his throat and continuing. 'Well, I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out to be connected back to him anyway...'
'Milverton, Smith, Stapleton, Garrideb - all his assumed names?' Sherlock says, his air of boredom fast waning away.
'Some of them,' Lestrade replies, 'but those are just the ones we've been able to tie to him; like I said, God only knows what else he's been involved in that we can't link him to.'
'God only?' Sherlock smirks, a familiar fire glittering in his eyes, 'oh, I wouldn't go that far.'
John smiles at the sight of Sherlock sat half buried amidst a clutter of photographs, files and newspaper reports. It's five AM, and perhaps this continuation of his flatmate's insomnia should worry the doctor, but it doesn't – at least he's actually occupied. John would far rather Sherlock was awake in order to complete a task than awake purely because he physically couldn't sleep.
He's been working on this for three days now, pouring over every single detail of every case that their mysterious fraudster has been implicated in; John has been able to do very little to help beyond looking up specific facts at Sherlock's request, and making sure that the detective has a permanent supply of food and drink of some form within arm's reach – though most of it has been ignored.
'Anything?' John asks tentatively, picking his way carefully across the room towards his chair, trying not to dislodge any of the teetering stacks of paper lest he ruin whatever organisation Sherlock has assigned to them. Sherlock doesn't reply straight way, instead frowning intently at a single sheet of text for at least a minute before so much as acknowledging John's presence. When he does speak, it isn't to answer John's question.
'What are you doing up?' Says Sherlock in a tone of mild surprise; John can literally feel Sherlock's gaze as it flicks over him as though checking for a visible explanation, and raises his eyebrows at the detective.
'Yeah, you're one to talk. Have you found anything or not?'
'Altogether there are probably about a dozen names given in connection to these cases –' he gestures vaguely at the surrounding case records – 'all for the same man. Chances are his real name is somewhere among them.'
'What makes you say that?' John asks, noting the rather pleased expression on Sherlock's face.
'They all make mistakes John; even Moriarty did,' he replies meaningfully.
'So you expect him to have been caught out at some point?' John peers at the closest newspaper articles, trying to read them upside down and quickly skate over the momentary tension Moriarty's name causes.
'Possibly...' Sherlock scribbles something in his notebook and throws the paper he took it from over his shoulder, grabbing another one – maybe not so much of a careful system, then.
'How are you going to know which one it is?'
'Oh, very good, John,' Sherlock smiles with approval, 'always asking the right questions – by looking for inconsistencies. Frequency of use. Background.'
They lapse into silence once more, John perusing those papers he is certain Sherlock has already discarded and Sherlock reading through what seems like every file or article present, sometimes tossing them aside with nothing more than a frustrated sigh, sometimes taking notes, and never speaking.
'So what was it then?' John breaks the silence suddenly,
'What?' Sherlock glances up irritably, his concentration on the work before him unwavering.
'Moriarty's mistake; what was it, in the end?' The subject of Moriarty has, for the most part, been avoided by the pair of them – unintentionally, John assures himself, though he knows better than to believe it. He doesn't know much beyond Moriarty's own accounts of what happened while he was being held captive.
'Were they,' Sherlock corrects, his frown momentarily softening as he reads something that apparently constitutes progress.
'Were they. Three. Plural.' John isn't sure whether the tension in Sherlock's voice is due to annoyance at being interrupted or reluctance to discuss the topic; assuming the former, he presses on.
'Challenging me,' replies Sherlock, a sly smirk working its way onto his face. He pauses now, and glances up at John as the smirk morphs into a typically Holmes micro-smile, 'challenging you.'
John opens his mouth to answer, but finds he has nothing to say. He settles for clearing his throat instead, and prompting Sherlock, who has stopped speaking as well, to continue.
'And the third?'
This time, Sherlock looks up properly and fixes John with a fierce, unsettling gaze – it's only a moment before his expression is carefully blank once more, but it's long enough for John to catch a glimpse of what Mycroft meant at the hospital.
'Threatening you,' he says quietly, lowering his eyes again slowly.
'Oh,' is all John can manage in response. He struggles to find something more to add, completely unsure how to take such a remark from his flatmate but...flattered is not the right word, but he cannot think of another one.
John starts at Sherlock's exclamation, looking over to see him scanning through his own scribbles with a triumphant gleam in his eyes.
'Have you got him?'
'Kenneth Evans, it has to be! Obvious!' He leans over suddenly, knocking aside stacks of notes and grabbing for his laptop, typing frantically.
'How do you know?'
'It's used the least but – there! General background is much more extensive but he has no credit cards, no bank accounts – nothing – under that name. Probably thought that was clever...if he doesn't use it, it won't get noticed...burying his true identity under false ones – just makes it all the more conspicuous of course, but the effort was there.' His tone is almost one of approval, and John resists the urge to roll his eyes, checking his watch.
'Well, Lestrade –'
'Lestrade won't be able to do anything,' Sherlock snaps his laptop shut and leaps to his feet; he stumbles, dizzy from the sudden movement, but rights himself quickly, 'there's no real evidence for a warrant.'
'And you have a plan to get some?'
'Of course,' Sherlock says, 'he's bound to have slipped up – there'll be something at his house.' John shakes his head – the purposeful look on Sherlock's face makes him uneasy.
'You're going there, aren't you?'
'Excellent deduction,' is his flatmate's reply, tinged with sarcasm, but John is undeterred.
'How are you planning on getting in?' John asks carefully,
'Oh, well I thought I would just walk up and ask him politely if I could have a look around, but I don't think that would work out too well, do you?'
'You aren't breaking in.' It isn't a question, and Sherlock scoffs irritably,
'Of course I am! How else am I supposed to find the necessary evidence? No cover story would allow me the appropriate freedom to search his house and I've already told you, there isn't enough for a warrant, Lestrade won't be able to do anything.'
'Sherlock, you can't go breaking into his house! Even if you do find the evidence, it wouldn't be permissible anyway –'
'I am aware of that – I just need to find out if it's there. Then I can work on a way to point Lestrade towards it.' His tone offers no room for argument as he rummages in a drawer of the desk, evidently in search of something.
'What if you get caught?'
'I'm not just talking about the police – what if he catches you? You've seen more of those files than I have, you know how dangerous he is –'
'He won't catch me.' Sherlock states simply, finally extracting something that looks suspiciously like a lock-picking kit from the drawer and checking for its completion. John hesitates, then swallows, pinching the bridge of his nose and mentally berating himself for what he's about to say. Damn Sherlock.
'You at least can't go on your own.'
The effect of this sentence is instantaneous – Sherlock straightens immediately and fixes John with an angry expression as he slams the lock-picking kit loudly into the table.
'I most certainly can,'
'You are not coming – you'll get in the way.'
'No, I won't.'
'I'm not taking you.'
'I'm not a child, Sherlock – you aren't going alone. If you don't take me with you, I'll call Lestrade and follow anyway. Your choice.'
'No,' Sherlock replies shortly,
'Y – look, I'm not having this argument! I'm coming with you whether you like it or not.'
Sherlock sighs and opens his mouth as though to argue, then closes it, knowing that John will do exactly what he threatens. He can't be doing with Lestrade's interference at this stage, but John...there's a tight feeling in Sherlock's chest at the thought of being caught now that there wasn't before, and he's sure that it's connected to John's proposed presence there. But if John insists...he would far rather trust himself with his flatmate's protection than the fools at Scotland Yard.
'It'll be dangerous,' he warns eventually.
'It always is.'
It's evening, and getting dark, by the time John and Sherlock approach Evans's house. They have been watching it for a good half an hour to ensure its emptiness and seen no movement within, no lights or twitching curtains, so – after a final, short-lived argument over John's involvement – they edge towards the building.
John's heart is in his throat. The back of his neck prickles as though he is being watched and every sound that reaches his ears seems to tell of being caught – the loud singing of a drunk somewhere in the distance is someone shouting for them to stop, the slow swerve of a car into a drive further up the street is the police, or Evans returning. Their feet echo deafeningly against the pavement even though they are hardly making a sound, treading carefully down the side of the building now, in the narrow space between wall and fence. Sherlock's breathing is far too loud, John's doubly so.
And yet – and yet – he is perfectly calm. Because this, this, is why he doesn't limp anymore, this is why his hand stopped trembling...this is why he stays, for the risk, the adrenalin – all of it. He knows it's dangerous and stupid – but he's too far in now to ever back out again.
Sherlock freezes suddenly and John follows suit, finding himself holding his breath. Sherlock glances around, squinting in the half light and straining his ears for any sound of someone within the house. He shouldn't have brought John – he can do this perfectly well on his own, and what if – no, no, that's not helpful, delete it. He knows what he is looking for, knows that Evans is bound to have made some sort of mistake, some careless error that will lead to his downfall. He could get it himself. He doesn't need John here.
But that presence behind him, that second pair of footsteps that he can hear following his every move and the knowledge that even now John is tensed and ready to do whatever needs to be done...the backup...the – whatever John is, is...reassuring.
They move, painfully slowly, into Evans's back garden, still with no sign of him or anyone else. But they have no idea when he might be back – it occurs to Sherlock that it might have been better to organise his absence or at least watch the place for a few days to get an idea of the man's habits, but he ignores the thought. They are here now.
Sherlock's eyes sweep the garden intently before he moves to the kitchen window and pulls out the lock-picking kit, setting to work with an air of professional calm and ease at the task, concentrating fully on it while John watches beside him.
The seconds drag on agonisingly. Minutes pass, and John shifts uncomfortably where he stands, ignoring the prodding of his conscience. They're doing this for good reason; they're trying to catch a criminal...his ears strain to pick up any sound, welcome or no, and he stays poised to move if needs be.
He hears a click, and Sherlock flashes him a triumphant smile as he slides the tools back into his pocket, easing the window open. Relief floods through both of them when it doesn't creak, and a space just large enough for Sherlock to slither through with a grace that makes him look unnervingly practiced at this opens.
John scrambles through with considerably less ease, but manages it relatively quietly, scowling when Sherlock smirks at his efforts to extract himself from the gap without making too much noise. Once inside, he straightens and they both stop once more, to listen. They whole thing has happened without either needing to speak.
Something creaks. John's hand flies to his waistband and closes on the barrel of his gun automatically. Sherlock nods.
'He's here?' John mouths; Sherlock frowns. Another creak. Someone moving outside the kitchen door – moving carefully, slowly – trying not to be heard. Someone who knows they are here.
'He's here,' Sherlock confirms, looking caught between concern and exhilaration. John gestures to the window silently, but before Sherlock can even consider his answer the door swings open violently – it catches Sherlock hard on the shoulder and he is knocked off balance momentarily, but rallies immediately and brings a hand down on Evans's forearm – the gun held clutched in his hand clatters to the floor and Evans brings his other hand round, face contorted with rage – Sherlock ducks the punch and lands his own on Evans's ribcage.
John struggles to take aim as they move, too cautious to shoot lest he hit Sherlock, who now manages to slam Evans back into the wall, but Evans lunges forwards and the heel of his palm collides with Sherlock's face, sending him reeling back onto the floor – his head hits the hard tile and he is disorientated, struggling dizzily to stand as Evans tries to grab his gun from the floor – John fires on reflex to stop him but Evans is too quick and dodges. The movement takes him too far away to reach the gun, though, and he looks around for an alternative weapon, his closing his fist on the handle of a knife protruding from the wooden rack on the side.
He keeps himself close to Sherlock, who is still only semi-conscious from a combination of the blow and his sheer exhaustion, knowing that John dare not fire while there is a chance of injuring his friend.
'You two,' says Evans slowly, 'really need to learn when to leave well enough alone.' John doesn't reply. Sherlock is moving, unbeknownst to Evans, whose attention is on John. He inches his hand along the floor towards Evans's discarded weapon, and for a moment John can't move, transported back to being Moriarty's captive – himself where Sherlock is now, Moriarty between them, and Sherlock in John's current place...
Evans moves too fast for John to react, taking advantage of John's momentary distraction and stepping deftly over Sherlock's outstretched arm, crouching and pressing the edge of the knife against Sherlock's neck. Sherlock freezes. So does John.
'Drop the gun, Doctor Watson. Now.'
John hesitates, so Evans presses the knife harder to emphasise his point – John complies.
'Good. Now, move –' Sherlock jerks his head back and twists himself free of Evans's grasp, earning a thin red cut along his throat for his trouble, but it's shallow and he hardly notices – John, weapon-less now, darts forward to help and Evans brandishes the knife wildly – searing pain rockets along John's arm and he clutches at it, dizzied. Sherlock scuttles along the floor and brings the butt of the gun down on the back of Evans's head; the man drops like a rock, unconscious, and Sherlock pays him no heed as he rushes towards John, grabbing his injured arm and examining it.
'I told you not to come – is it alright? How bad is it?'
'It's nothing, Sherlock, it's just a scratch,' he pulls his arm away and watches Sherlock's face carefully. Evans lies, out cold, on the floor. The window is still thrown open. John retrieves his gun from the ground.
'So – where was this evidence we needed? And then I suggest we leave. Quickly.'
'John.' Sherlock doesn't move. The expression on his face is...odd. Relief? Worry? Realisation? 'I warned you it would be dangerous.'
'Yes, you did,' John replies succinctly, casting a cool eye over his injury dismissively and feeling, bizarrely, more normal than he has for the past two weeks. 'And here I am.'
'Yes,' says Sherlock eventually, 'here you are,' his lips twitch and he finds himself smiling involuntarily.
Because it's fine. It's all fine.
AN: Good Lord I did not expect it to be that long...well, I hope you enjoyed it. And I hope that ending was okay...
Virtual pipe and deerstalker to everyone who spotted the canon references.