"We're catching bullets in our teeth,
Its hard to do but they're so sweet,
And if they take a couple out,
We try to work things out.
We're catching bullets with our
Heads and hearts and all the darkest parts of us.
It's strange to find such lights
In such endless night."
"Bullets" by Tunng
It's easy to wake up in the morning. John dresses and goes to the chilly kitchen for breakfast before he remembers. Staring at the kettle, he remembers, just like that.
"Keep calm and carry on," he says to himself softly, hopping a little from foot to foot because the floor is too cold for his bare feet.
When his toast is done and his tea is steeping, he sits at their shared desk. His laptop is out, since Sherlock's been using it more and more lately, no surprises there. It's practically their laptop anyway. For just a moment, he considers changing his password, then shrugs off the idea; Sherlock will guess it anyway. He always does.
Taking a bite of toast, John opens up the web browser to update his blog. First, though, he automatically checks his email, just a habit he acquired in the military when waiting for some sort of correspondence from Harry or his parents.
There's an email from an address that reads as "blocked", with the subject "Just a little gift, Doctor". Instinct tells him to wait before opening it, to find Sherlock because it feels like Moriarty, but curiosity gets the better of him. He doesn't want to see Sherlock just yet anyway. So he clicks. Opens it.
I thought you might appreciate this. You can watch it over and over (as I know you will) and think of how much of a lie it is. We both know he doesn't love you. He's not even capable of it. If he was, though, I think we can assume that he would love someone far more his equal. Tell me, did you see the look in his eyes when he thought that you were me? That one of the few people who hasn't left him (and we know why that is, don't we?) had actually fooled him? Did you see it, that little look when he thought you were a criminal genius? That look is the closest he will ever come to actually loving you, and he thought you were me.
There's a video embedded, then it continues.
This is what he really meant. This is the truth of it all, though I don't need to tell you that.
Another embedded video.
John clicks on the play button on the first video. The quality is decent, though it seems like the zoom has been taken to its limit. And there, right on his screen in a little more than a profile view, is Sherlock. He's shaking, he looks mad, and in a second, he speaks.
"I hate Sarah, John..." John watches, unable to look away throughout the whole speech. Every word carves away a tiny piece of him until there's nothing left. He's empty. Totally numb. And then it ends on their lips, just about to meet, pauses on that single, horrible moment. John scrolls down a little to cover up the image. Curious and maybe a little masochistic, he clicks on the second video.
It's all audio, but it's infinitely more disturbing.
"It's all your fault, you see. You make me hate people just a little more than before. The most ridiculous thing, though, is that you don't even realize it. I absolutely loathe the things you do. I have so much reason to hate you. You're a prize fool, John Watson, the most incredible imbecile I've ever met. You're just so completely ignorant, so amazingly stupid! It's revolting. I'm disgusted by it. By you. Sometimes I want to throw up with how much I hate you. It makes me ill just to think about you, let alone speak to you. Don't think for a moment that I won't destroy you like him. I'll ruin you, John Watson, I'll ruin you. There's no use in denying it."
This makes the breath coming to his lungs shake, his hands clench, his chest collapse. It's true, it's all there in his words, in Sherlock's own voice, all of the things he meant to say. He can't ignore it, not when it's said like that, in that tone that makes it sound like everything and nothing's wrong. It sounds too much like truth in Sherlock's voice.
It takes a moment to remember that he has to keep going. Sure, his flatmate, the flatmate who might have a heart but probably doesn't, absolutely loathes everything about him. Yes, sure, he somehow managed to make John love-no, not love, something else-him even so. But John's a bloody Englishman and he isn't going to wallow in his misery. No, he'll keep a stiff upper lip and keep right on going. That's what he does, that's what a soldier does, that's what a doctor does, and that's exactly what he's going to do. No one will ever know what he's thinking, that he can already feel himself fragmenting underneath it all. No one will know but him.
After swallowing any remaining emotion, John shuts down the computer, then stands, drinking his tea, and starts looking for Sherlock. Lestrade wants to see them today, but first, Sherlock should know that Moriarty's alive for sure and what he's sent. A video can be power, John knows, and Sherlock should be warned. Regardless of how much he doesn't want him to see the instrument designed for his destruction.
John knocks on the door to Sherlock's bedroom. There's no answer. He knocks harder, louder. Nothing. He tries the handle. Locked, so he puts his cup down on the table, then pitches his shoulder against it, finally getting the damn thing open.
And there he is.
Sherlock's laying on the bed, on his back with his hands folded beneath his head. "You couldn't text?" he asks.
John shakes his head, saying, "No, I will not text you if you're in the same flat as me. Now get up. And if you put my towel back in the bathroom and hang it up, I might even make you tea. We have a day ahead of us, in case you haven't realized." Sherlock looks at John's towel, in a crumpled heap next to his wet (and expensive, if he knows anything about labels) clothes. John hopes he gets mildew in them or something, just to teach him to hang his wet things up. Like John's towel.
"Fine, fine. I suppose you'll tell me what Moriarty's done after?" The way he knows what John isn't saying doesn't really shake him too much. He watches, sighing, as Sherlock swings his long legs over the side of the bed as he gets to his feet. He's in his pajamas still, but he still manages to look like he means business.
A shred of dignity is found. "Yes. Now go hang up my towel before it grows mould." He actually does put a kettle on for Sherlock, but that's really more out of habit than anything else. And no, he isn't going to think about anything, he very much isn't going to let his mind wander as he waits for the kettle to boil. No, he's just going to concentrate on making tea. Just tea.
Sherlock opens the fridge. "What has he done?"
"Laptop," John says. Then, "He really is an arrogant sod, isn't he?"
"Psychopaths often are." A chair scrapes the floor as Sherlock sits down at the desk. "What am I to look for?" He sounds tired, annoyed, but it's an act.
"My email. I know you know my password." John gets out the milk and sugar, preparing the tea the way Sherlock likes it, also known as sweet milk with a tea bag in it. A bit disgusting, but it fits, in a strange sort of way. Inexplicably tired, he brings it over to Sherlock, then sits in his chair to wait.
A couple of minutes later, Sherlock's finished both videos. It had been all John could do to ignore the words coming from the speakers, but he had managed to not react. Then Sherlock nods thoughtfully for a second and gets up to sit in his usual chair.
"This puts things in a different light. I hadn't thought he'd record it. Obviously, he's talented at manipulating audio samples. We can assume that this isn't the only altered version he's made." Sherlock steeples his fingers, thinking, then looks up at John. His eyes have that spark that means there's something to be solved. "Shall we pay a visit to the Yard?"
John nods. "Get dressed first. As much as they'd all like to see you in your jimjams, it's not very professional." Sherlock quirks a smile, then goes to his room.
John wonders just when, if ever, he'll feel human again.
On the cab ride over, John asks the question that's his immediate concern: "How much are we telling them about what happened last night?"
"I would prefer it if we didn't say anything about what Moriarty made me say or just how we gained the upper hand. As you said, people will talk, and in this case, I'd rather they didn't." He's deliberately looking out the window, so John can't find the answer in his face; he's confused.
"In this case?"
"Well, because all of it was fabricated, they'd just be mislead. They might think there's more to us than there is, and there's no benefit in giving them that idea. Not at this time." It becomes clear then: he's just something there to be convenient. His purpose depends on what Sherlock needs at the moment. He knows it to be true, but it still stings. So he'll misdirect, try to find something else to be upset by, though, admittedly, he hits a little too close to the truth. It's one of those things they've mutually agreed not to speak too much about, but it tumbles from his lips in lieu of the fight he'd like to pick.
"So, it's fine for people to think we're sleeping together as long as they don't think there's anything more to it than that?"
Sherlock looks at him sternly. "There's a difference between letting people jump to their own conclusions and providing them with incorrect ones. Not until it helps solve a case will I confirm their rumors." He has no idea what possible case that might be, but it'll damn him, whatever it is.
"I think you have intimacy issues." It's completely honest of course, but also a bit too obvious because Sherlock wears his issues with intimacy on his sleeves, always has.
"And you have trust issues. At least mine won't affect anyone but myself." There's a hint of coldness about the last bit, but John might be imagining it.
"Quoting my therapist. Very mature."
Of course, Sherlock sulks for the rest of the ride, but then, John's stewing in his anger and his desperation, so he really has no right to judge.
Lestrade pulls them into his cubicle as soon as he lays his eyes on them, almost as if he's trying to keep others from seeing them. It makes John suspicious, and he's right to be so.
"What can you tell me about this?" Lestrade hisses, clicking something on his computer.
"John. It's all your fault, you see. You make me hate people just a little more than before. I was never meant to have a heart. You probably thought that I'm not a complete monster. You thought I developed some long-lost sense of empathy, didn't you? You're wrong. I could kill everyone, absolutely everyone and it wouldn't mean a thing to me, because they're nothing, nothing at all." He stops the recording.
"Care to tell me what this is about? This morning, the entire homicide department got an email with this clip. Donovan thinks this is reason enough to arrest you, and more than half of the boys agree. The others aren't surprised. So tell me why I shouldn't put you in cuffs right now."
"I didn't say it," Sherlock says lightly.
Lestrade glares. "Oh really? Because we all agree that it sounds like your voice. We had an analyst compare it to a recording we have of you, and she said it's certainly a match. This is you. You said this, now you've got five seconds to prove to me that you're not a complete psychopath."
"Sociopath, Lestrade. Really, I've told you-"
"I don't give a damn what the specifics are! I care about the fact that on this recording, you sound like someone who's just a breath away from committing cold-blooded murder." Sherlock stares for a moment. John's thinking of a way to work him out of it, but there aren't many options. He takes the simplest, a partial explanation
"Look," he begins, earning a warning look from Sherlock, "this isn't what it sounds like. The sample's been edited. By Moriarty, or someone who works for him. You know as well as I do that Sherlock's not a killer. Otherwise, we wouldn't be talking at your desk; we'd be in an interrogation room."
Lestrade looks around for a second, then back at them, a tired, worried expression clouding his face. "I believe you, John, but that's not enough. I need proof."
"We don't have any," Sherlock says quickly. "Do you really need me to do your job for you?" Ordinarily, this would be a rhetorical question followed by an of course you do, but this time, Sherlock merely frowns and leans back in his chair, like he's waiting for Lestrade to do something. It's not right, but then, John knows what he isn't saying and why.
The Detective Inspector sighs. "Sherlock. I can't do anything about this if you don't help me. Give me something."
"I have nothing to offer on the subject." John watches as Lestrade glares at him, like he's trying to telepathically convince him to tell what he knows. Sherlock, of course, is immune to such things.
"Go home and don't let anyone see you leave. There's nothing for me to do with you, not until I've got the order to bring you in. Go, Sherlock." He and John get up to leave, keeping their heads low. "Not you, John. You're staying." John looks at the detective, sees he means business, then looks at his flatmate, sees he means murder. Metaphorical murder, but the message is clear: silence. As Sherlock slinks away, he sits and wonders the best way to not say anything.
"Why me?" he asks finally.
"Because you'll do what's best for him, even if he won't. You'll do what he needs to have done, not necessarily what he wants to be done."
John involuntarily clenches his jaw. "I won't tell you anything that could be damaging. To him or me." It's more of a question than an assertion, he notes with embarrassment. In his pocket, his phone buzzes. A text.
Quite to-the-point. The strange thing is, John isn't actually sure what's really more loyal: keeping his secret or keeping him out of trouble. He might be in the early stages of agreeing with Lestrade, and that's a bit disconcerting.
"John. I know you know what's going on. Just tell me. This isn't the kind of thing I can just push away. I need you to tell me why it sounds like Sherlock is going to kill someone." John's phone buzzes again.
There's no reason to tell him. Ignore him. Remember who buys your milk. SH.
John rolls his eyes, sending back quickly: I buy the milk. You're too lazy to go to the Tesco.
"I know he's telling you not to tell me," Lestrade says quickly, "but don't let him get in the way of saving his arse. Let me help him."
"I can't just tell you everything, not when he specifically told me not to." John knows he needs to give more information, but he pauses first before he reluctantly adds, "I will say this: Moriarty is a delusional psychopath. He's insane, and he'll do everything he can to destroy Sherlock while still keeping him alive. He's more than willing to do whatever it takes. He's creative and just enough of a madman to do some truly horrible things. What you need to know, though, is that he's manipulative, and that's all this is. Manipulation. He wants everyone Sherlock knows to push him away."
Lestrade looks at him for a moment, assessing. "What happened at the pool last night?" It's not the tone of a detective inspector; it's the tone of a parent. Soft, worried. Genuinely concerned. It's enough to make John want to tell him anything, enough to convince him that it's safe, that it's okay.
"Fine. But first let me say, there's nothing more to any of it than Sherlock's acting talents. I don't know how much you've seen of it, but he's quite convincing when he needs to be."
"Oh, I know. It's eerie." Lestrade's look tells him that he's maybe not had the best experience where all of that's concerned.
"Yes. Well. He made use of his abilities last night." John offers an explanatory look. "We weren't in a good place, you see. Just when we thought we were in the clear, Moriarty pops back up again. He had these snipers, understand, and there's not much you can do with a red dot on your forehead. So there we were, standing opposite him with a vest of gelignite between us and the madman. Sherlock had a gun on him, mine, actually, but there was no way out of it. We were all going to go up in flames. But then Moriarty gives him an ultimatum: shoot me and he'll let Sherlock go." Lestrade winces here. "He had this, this mad thing. He told Sherlock that he'd let him take me with him, dead or alive after shooting me, if Sherlock would 'tell me how he really feels' first. I suppose that's when it got all bollocksed up."
"So, Moriarty thought that you and Sherlock...?" He raises his eyebrows slightly to convey his meaning. John's glad he doesn't put it in words.
"Apparently. And that's how all of this shite with the recording happened."
"I don't understand," Lestrade says, narrowing his eyes. "How did you go from guns and gelignite to Sherlock saying he wants to kill everyone?"
"That's not what he said." It's not enough, so he offers, "In context, it made more sense."
John bites his lip, then says, "Well, Sherlock played to Moriarty's delusion." It's a second before Lestrade gets what he means, and then he looks more confused than before. John understands that feeling completely.
Eyes narrowed, Lestrade says, "I'm still not sure how Sherlock confessing his undying love for you could sound like him wanting to kill people."
It's not like he intended to do it in the first place, but John realizes that the only way to avoid the embarrassing predicament of explaining it all for himself is to show Lestrade the video. One of the last things he wants to do. It's clear though that that's the only to get out of really reliving it all.
"Can I access my email from your computer? It'll explain everything." The detective nods, hands over his keyboard, turns the screen towards him. In seconds, John's opening the email. "This is from Moriarty," he clarifies, afraid that trying to downplay the bit at the beginning will only convince Lestrade that it's true, so he doesn't mention it. He turns the screen back and presses the play button, immediately thinking of all sorts of unrelated things to distract himself. Like global warming. And WikiLeaks. And bad American telly.
When it ends, Lestrade leans back in his swivel chair and looks at John for a long, long while.
After too many anxious minutes, the detective says, "That clears a whole lot up." John locks his jaw. "I take it that it was after all of this that Sherlock threw in that it's all an act?"
"Can I be honest with you?"
"I know that Sherlock's pretty distant. He's got some issues. I don't know what they are, but I've known him for more five years and not once have I seen him with someone as long as he's been with you. He's kept you around, and I know that's for a reason. Somewhere in there, even if it's three sizes too small, Sherlock has a heart, and that heart cares about you. I don't know entirely in what way, I don't think anyone does, even him, but I think he's terrified you'll leave and he'll be on his own again. He's gotten used to having you around, likes it even, from what I've seen." Lestrade sighs, like he's uncomfortable with what he's going to say next.
John doesn't want to find out what it is, so he starts speaking. "I don't know-"
"John. Have you watched this?" Lestrade shakes his head, negating his question. "Of course you have, you were there. The point is, if this is Sherlock acting, he better quit consulting and get himself on the West End. I know this is personal and awkward, but I think you need to talk to him. You're obviously...distraught, and I know he is, so why don't you two talk it out? Have a row or go to a pub and get pissed or something? I'm not an agony uncle; I don't know how to help you with this. You need to deal with it on your own."
John blinks long to clear his head, then forces a small smile. "Well, thank you for your advice. Is there anything else you need me for?" John stands, feeling a little guilty at how harsh he sounds. He gives a small apologetic look.
"No. I suppose not," Lestrade says evenly, chewing over it.
"Good. And I trust you won't share that video with anyone else?"
"No. I don't think it's really pertinent to our investigation, do you?"
John gives him a respectful nod and leaves, wondering at the damage he may have caused trying to do something right.
He can't go home, not right away, but there's nowhere else, really. Not Sarah, not until he's figured out what the bloody hell he's going to say to her. Not Harry, he's not ready to deal with all of that yet. And who else is there, really? Bill? More of an acquaintance, really. Clara? Too awkward. No, there's no one to seek out, no place to go.
John wanders the streets for a long time. Just walks around aimlessly in the chilly air, waiting for something to find him. When that becomes too depressing, he finds a tube station and hops on the Circle Line, just letting it take him around in loop after loop. Somehow, it keeps his mind busy enough for him not to think he's falling apart, but only for a little while. There's only so much he can do to fight off his own thoughts.
Then he watches passengers. At first, he's startled by a surprisingly troubled-looking man, but then he realizes he's staring at a window, catching his own reflection. It's better, though, to watch other people rather than think about his own problems or, even worse, go home and face them. Well, face him.
Some time into the afternoon, he gets off at the Baker Street station and heads back to the flat. He doesn't want to, but he also doesn't want to be too obvious about the fact that he's avoiding Sherlock. Well, not so much avoiding him as avoiding thinking about him. Either way, he knows that he'll be found out, since Sherlock's just shy of omnipotent. It really makes things difficult in situations like this.
When John opens the door, he doesn't see Sherlock at first. There's an odd mixture of relief and worry that swirls up in him before it's quelled by a deep baritone coming from the direction of the sofa.
"I know Lestrade didn't keep you that long."
John moves further into the room and sees Sherlock curled up on the couch, under his coat for warmth.
"Not Sarah's, no, you're far too much of a creature of guilt to speak to her just yet. Still not on good enough terms with Harry to pop over for a chat. And despite your deplorable friendliness with her, I know you're not actually any sort of mates with Sally Donovan, but you wouldn't insult me by spending time with Anderson. Where, then, have you been?"
John glares. "You know perfectly well where I've been, and even if you didn't, you're sounding like a wife. The bad sort, who reads all of your text messages and sniffs your laundry for perfume."
"I was more looking for an explanation of your unnatural length of time spent on the Underground rather than comparisons to your sister's failed marriage." An obvious jab, of course. He should have expected it.
"Have you called anyone about the windows yet?"
Sherlock's little frown of displeasure shows his distaste for the abrupt subject change. "No. Who would I call about the windows? Besides, that has nothing to do with your little sulk."
"You could try calling Mrs. Hudson. Our landlady. I mean, really, it's freezing in here."
"Why don't you do it? You're the one who likes all of that domestic business."
"I don't like it, you just refuse to do it."
The stare each other down for a moment, then Sherlock rolls his eyes and scoffs. "Anyway, are you going to offer an explanation for your theatrics?"
"My theatrics? My theatrics?" John imagines he's quite red in the face now, but he doesn't care a whit; he's contemplating grievous bodily harm. "I don't think you want to get me started on theatrics."
Then, clearly a warning, Sherlock grinds out, "I thought we weren't going to speak about it."
John pauses for a moment, grave realization stilling his tongue.
This is it. The rubicon. The point at which two possible futures exist: the one in which he goes back to talking about the windows and the one in which he damns himself completely. This is where he should stop. This is where he should take a step back and never wander into this sort of dangerous territory again. That's what's safest, most stable.
Thing is, John's never been so good at self-preservation.
Bracing himself, he says, "Obviously, that's a terrible idea. We're probably both suffering from sort of post-traumatic stress anyway, and not talking about it is completely ridiculous." Sherlock's eyes are wide, threatened. "I don't care if you have issues dealing with your emotions, this isn't something I'm just going to push off and ignore. We have to confront it; Moriarty's out there and he's plotting and even I can see that his goal right now is to drive us apart. Why should we give him what he wants?"
"His goal isn't to drive us apart; it's to make me suffer." It's quiet, practically under his breath. He's uncomfortable.
John crosses his arms. "He seems to think those are the same thing, and I'm not about to let either happen." Sherlock seems to relax incrementally. "That said, I think we need to get some things in order, figure out how we're going to proceed. Just a few things to look at. Facts, if that makes it easier for you."
"With the premise of analyzing data, the proper distance-"
"With all due respect, Sherlock, fuck your proper distance." The profanity, of course, manages to stun him for a second. "That's not how it's going to work. This isn't about objectivity; this is about catharsis. First, I'll give you a few facts, and then we'll go from there."
Sherlock doesn't move.
"Fact one: Moriarty kidnapped me to get to you. Fact two: as you know, I would die if that would mean he would as well. Fact three:-" his voice falters just barely "-I would die if that would mean you would live. Fact four: you would rather kill me yourself than watch me die slowly." Sherlock makes a choked noise as if he's about to speak, but John doesn't let him. "Fact five: you're an unnaturally talented actor. Fact six: you snogged me-"
Sherlock, making a face, bursts in with, "I would hardly call it that! I was simply trying to put on a convincing performance, which necessitated that I kiss-"
"A snog by any other name is still frenching, Sherlock. There was tongue and there was bodily contact and it lasted longer than is proper, so let's not be naive. Now. Fact seven: I snogged you back. Fact eight-"
"What point are you trying to make?" Sherlock looks obstinate and just a touch despairing. It's enough to make John stop, as much as he's loathe to.
John shrugs noncommittally. "What point do you think I'm trying to make? You are, after all, the detective."
Sherlock doesn't say anything, like he's truly at a loss for words, but it's clear he's not about to end this line of conversation.
"I'll admit it. I'm human. Not only that, I'm a human with some measure of emotional intelligence, but I'm not a casual sort of man, Sherlock. There are some things I can't be indifferent about. Snogging men is one of those things. So let me say that I can't just brush off last night, even if I might want to. Two days ago, I would have laughed at the idea of it all, but now...now, I just..." John looks down at his hands. Wills them to pull the words back into his mouth or even just put back together the shattered mess of their...partnership.
"You just what?" Sherlock softly prompts. It's out of character, that sort of timidity, and it's enough to give him back his courage.
John looks at him with something like defiance, something like a dare. "I just want it to have not been a lie. I want you to have meant it all." He sighs, aware that he might be looking at the end. "So this is it. This is what it comes down to. This is the line in the sand. Now it's all up to you."
It would have been easier, he thinks, if Sherlock had just calmly said something about being married to his work, or even if he'd yelled it at him. No, he just sits there, his face a mask of apathy. Completely still. Blank. Maybe he's trying to work it all out. Maybe he's disturbed or annoyed. Either way, his silence is too much to bear.
"Look, I see how it is." Despite all of his training, everything, John's mind is repeating one word: retreat, retreat, retreat. "I'm going to go for now. I'll come back so you can decide if you're going to throw me out." He backs away, cautiously at first, still waiting for a reaction. After a second, it's clear he's not getting one, then he all but runs from the flat. Down the stairs, through the door, outside. John gasps in the cool air, wondering why he can't breathe suddenly. His hands aren't shaking at all, but that makes him more nervous than anything else. The whole thing is a mess. It's all gone terribly pear-shaped, and far too quickly. John's fight-or-flight response has always been more of a fight response, but here he is, running away. Like some sort of dirty coward-
His phone buzzes.
John pulls it out of his pocket, wondering why it's still buzzing, but then the display tells him: Call from Sherlock.
Sherlock never calls. He doesn't like anything that personal, doesn't like having to actually talk to someone to get what he wants. But he's calling. It's there, right there on his phone, right in front of him.
Against his better judgement, John answers, but he doesn't say anything, just holds the phone to his ear nervously.
"Come back." It's little more than a whisper.
The line goes dead.
John takes the stairs in pairs, leaping up them like he's possessed. There's the possibility that Sherlock just wants to tell him to move out, but that doesn't fit with the fact that he called, at least that's what he tells himself because he must. He has to. Still, he pauses when he gets his hand on the door knob. It's a little too much of an open-ended question for him to just barge in, so he goes quietly, pushes the door open a little slower than normal. Steps inside. His chest is either too small or his lungs have collapsed or maybe his blood is flowing backwards because there's something horribly wrong with how he's feeling.
And there he is.
Sherlock, calm as ever, still on the couch, curled up. He looks oddly small for someone with such ridiculously long limbs. Maybe that's the expression on his face, like he's lost something, or realized that he never had it. He's not meant to look this way. This isn't the sort of madness he's supposed to embody.
John can only look at him.
"What do I do?" Sherlock asks softly. "I never made room in my brain for figuring out how to have interpersonal relationships, not anything like this." It almost makes too much sense that he wouldn't have done so, but it makes John wonder just how much experience he has, if he actually has any at all. "I know how to compliment someone to make them do something I want and I know how to convince someone that I'm not interested in them. I even know how to pretend that I don't know how to feel anything about another person. But I don't know what to do next."
"That makes two of us." John runs a hand through his hair nervously, pausing to think. "So, um, what, exactly, are you saying?" Sherlock looks away, at the floor. Like there's something incredibly interesting going on between the wooden boards.
"I didn't mean to tell the truth last night."
That hits him harder than any blow he's taken.
Sherlock lifts his head, a look of uncertainty out of place on his face. "Can we skip this conversation? It's...difficult. I don't know what to say." The look in Sherlock's eyes, a sort of pleading insanity, makes John want to comply. He's not ready to talk about it yet, either, in any case. There's too much he hasn't figured out for himself yet.
"Then what? What comes after?"
"I don't know," Sherlock says honestly. "I thought you might know. You've had more experience in this area."
John lets out a half-laugh. "No. No, I have absolutely no experience in this. I know how to date a woman, I know how to ask her out for coffee or dinner. I don't know what to do here. I mean, we live together and you're, well, a man. There's nothing to compare to."
"Is it really different because I'm not a woman?" Sherlock seems almost nervous, and underneath his words is the unspoken question: Is that a bad thing? Both are good questions, and he doesn't really know the answer to either.
"I'm not sure. I've never...I've only been with women before. I can't say." He bites his lip nervously. "I should mind it more than I do, though. I don't exactly remember complaining last night."
There's an awkward silence.
"I can't stand not knowing what's going to happen," Sherlock says softly, almost to himself.
"I don't know if this is really working." John shifts his weight. "The talking, I mean."
Sherlock stands and moves towards him, seeming to be analyzing something. "It was easier when I had a gun in my hand. We're men of action, not words. Can this evenwork if we're not about to die?"
"I don't know," John confesses. "I suppose it's a good thing danger seems to find us." He cracks a little smile, but Sherlock seems to be too deep in thought to be amused. He's somewhere else in his mind. It's a familiar expression, the one he usually gets just before he makes some sort of breakthrough. The gears are whirring, it's just a matter of time...
Sherlock looks at him dead-on with some sort of bizarre intensity. "This, right now, is your chance to change your mind and decide not to do this."
"I'm not going to take it," John says, a little confused, but firm.
"Good." Sherlock reaches for him, grabs him by his shirt and his neck. Before John can thank any sort of higher power, Sherlock is pressing their mouths together. John takes just a moment to breathe in the oddly comforting scent of parchment and London air and formaldehyde before easing his tongue into Sherlock's mouth. It's in the heady rush of perfect and never stop that he latches on first to his collar, then slides his fingers up to Sherlock's firm jaw, wanting to memorize his face by touch.
His thumbs tracing over prominent cheekbones, John can't help but sigh into the kiss. Without the adrenaline and need and rawness, it's still almost too much to comprehend. Except he knows. John knows that Sherlock, master of silent communication, is trying to breathe the words and feelings he can't say into his mouth. Words like sorry and safe and please and love, it's all perfectly clear to his mind, to his lips, to his soul. Maybe it's a bad thing that Sherlock seems to have a direct connection to the very core of him, but feeling his skin, tasting his thoughts, it's nothing short of brilliant. The fact that they're both just a mess of angles and problems and danger doesn't matter, not if all of their jagged edges are fitting together like this. Like they're parts of a split whole.
John's lost himself. Not in that sort of cheesy way, but in that he has absolutely no idea where the person he used to be is. In his place is someone who seems to have confused Sherlock (Sherlock Holmes, flatmate and resident genius) with the oxygen he used to breathe. There's really nothing more in him now than this overwhelming feeling like this is everything, just everything in the entire world. Sherlock making him check his sanity at the door, Sherlock holding onto him, Sherlock trying to find himself somewhere in John's mouth. It's an accident, a mistake, and it's utterly beautiful.
Sherlock pulls away for almost a second, then falls into him again. He tries again, getting as far as the corner of John's mouth. The third time, he actually manages to get an inch between them and keeps it, pressing their foreheads together.
"I should have told you a thousand times that I-that I...you know." And John does know - he knows that there's really not a word big enough to fit all of the feeling in. "Don't ever leave me," he whispers, twisting against him with some emotion John can't quite name.
"I don't think I could, even if I wanted to."
Sherlock stills, calms in response.
John isn't sure why, but he continues, saying, "It isn't right, I don't think, to be like this. I don't think it's right to actually need you." He frowns a little, not sure he's really saying quite what he means. "This feels dangerous." There's no other way to convey that he feels like whatever it is between them could make worlds perish and stars bleed and oceans freeze. They're some sort of spinning, barely-contained inferno now, and he isn't sure what it'll take to make them spiral out of control.
Sherlock presses his lips to John's cheekbone; it's not a kiss, more like he just wants to be sure he's there. "I wasn't lying when I said I'd ruin you. I'll have you forever or not at all, and it's already too late for the latter. I don't really want to hurt you, but I never learned how to love gently. I never learned at all." It comes to him that maybe Sherlock needs him more than John will ever need him in return. Sherlock is the sort of person to go forth with everything, his whole body and soul, but John's not whole to begin with. He can't compete. That means it's likely to end in bitter ashes and sorrow, but for some reason, he's fine with that.
"I can't shake the feeling that you'll be the one who's broken." Because John needs him too much and it's still not enough, but the end isn't now and they haven't fallen apart yet. There might be a time to hold themselves together and wonder at how something can hurt so much without leaving a mark, but now they have an eternity to relish it all and forge good memories that they might wound themselves with later. There's a tinge of predestination in the air, but it's impossible to tell what sort it is, doom or glory.
"You might be right." Sherlock's voice is too empty, like maybe he knows it, feels it all too.
So John kisses him softly on the mouth and simply says, "We're here. Now. That's enough."
And when they kiss again, it's like everything lost has been found, all of the empty, lonely places inside of them have been filled and like somewhere far, far beyond them, something big and miraculous and frighteningly meant to be is falling into place. In that moment, they are terrifyingly alive. For just that one, single moment, John's completely certain they're destined for something enormous and entirely extraordinary.
"Whatever they say,
Your soul's unbreakable.
During the struggle, they will pull us down,
But please, please, let's use this chance to turn things around,
And tonight we can truly say:
'Together we're invincible.'"
"Invincible" by Muse