It all started in the hospital where they were recovering from injuries sustained in the wake of their encounter with Moriarty. The nature of their injuries had resulted in their separation: Sherlock was in the musculoskeletal ward, while John was in trauma and acute. No amount of begging or meddling – from Sherlock and Mycroft respectively – had been enough to change the personnel's mind. Sherlock could not share a room with his flatmate; it was counterproductive to have their doctors run from one ward to the other just because he was bored and lonely. Since they had become flatmates, Sherlock and John had never spent so much time away from each other and Sherlock was the one most affected by the separation. Mostly because John was unconscious and therefore unaware of the estrangement, but also because he was bored, he was restless and he was in horrible pain. However, despite the two fractures in his right leg, he didn't want to risk taking the offered morphine, pain made his mind sharp.
Mycroft was a frequent visitor, which would have irked Sherlock more if his brother hadn't been a constant source of reliable updates on John's recovery. On one glorious evening, Mycroft came bearing gifts: the news that John was no longer unconscious and a brand new mobile phone.
"Both your phones were destroyed when the building collapsed, so I got you and John new ones. Use them well," he said and with one small nod, he was gone.
Immediately, Sherlock tore open the small box and sighed with relief when his fingers found their usual position on the brand new BlackBerry. The familiar sound it made when it opened had the same effect on him as a beautifully played symphony and, almost buzzing with excitement by the prospect of being reconnected with the world, he shifted against his mountain of pillows and opened a new text message.
Mycroft says you are awake. Welcome back.
He didn't really expect an answer; John was probably extremely weak, tired and on painkillers. To pass the time, he opened the Internet browser and started reading the sensational news of the last few days, searching for crimes he could solve from his hospital bed. It wasn't long before his phone beeped to announce he had received a new text message.
Mycroft told me about your condition, how are you holding up? Are you terrorising the nurses? Please don't terrorise the nurses!
Sherlock huffed slightly, but his fingers were soon running dexterously on the small keyboard.
I am doing no such thing. The tea is terrible, come and make me some.
He could easily imagine that two floors down, an ex army doctor with a bandage around his head was torn between laughter and indignation. He imagined the fingers – skilful when sewing a man up, but so clumsy when technology was involved – slowly hitting the too small keys.
According to Mycroft, you will be well enough for a wheelchair soon. You make me tea, then.
Sherlock grimaced at the thought of the wheelchair. As much as he wanted to see John, he wasn't keen on circulating in a hospital-issued chair as large as a small country. However, he knew he was going to throw himself in the chair as soon as it was offered, but meanwhile he could settle for the mean of conversation Mycroft had provided.
How are you feeling? he texted back.
Sore and woozy. You?
Sore and bored. The phone helps.
It was nice of your brother. He also brought me chocolates. I offered him one and it made me laugh, I thought of you.
Sherlock smirked at his phone. Mycroft hadn't brought him any chocolate, a smart and tactical move. Not only would Sherlock have ignored them, he would have teased his brother mercilessly about his diet.
I think he likes you better than me.
When the text message exchange had started, Sherlock had stopped reading the news and he was now staring at his phone while waiting for a response from John. A response that wasn't coming. He waited ten more minutes before sending another text.
Fifteen minutes later, his phone hadn't made a peep.
He shouldn't have worried – he didn't want to be worried – but even if his rational brain was telling him that John was fine, that he had probably fallen asleep and that he needed to sleep in order to heal, some very small part of him kept thinking that something was wrong. Blaming his paranoia on the recent events involving Moriarty strapping a semtex vest to his friend, he decided to use his new phone to call the trauma and acute ward to ask a nurse to check on John. Several minutes later, she confirmed that he was indeed sleeping and, feeling relieved, he could return to his reading.
A few hours later, he was busy writing an email to Lestrade in which he demanded more information on the double murder that had happened the day before. He was explaining how easy it would be for him to solve the case if only he knew a little more about the victim's recent travels outside the country when his phone beeped.
Sorry, fell asleep.
For God's sake Sherlock, don't harass my nurses!
I didn't. How are you?
Still sore. Still woozy. How about you?
Bored. Hoping to solve a case, if Lestrade will let me.
He will, if he knows what's good for him.
Sherlock let out a low chuckle and, once again, he wished he were sharing a room with John instead of being stuck here by himself. The wheelchair didn't seem so bad anymore, but he still wasn't allowed to use one. He wanted to see his friend, his observation skills were only useful when he could actually observe and he wouldn't truly know how John was doing until he was allowed to see him.
Despite the fact that he missed his friend's presence, there was one thing Sherlock didn't look forward to. John would want to talk about what had happened at the pool. He wasn't a Holmes; he didn't ignore unpleasant feelings, he needed to dissect them. Eventually, Sherlock realised that he was holding a communication device that could facilitate the discussion; surely it would be easier without John's dark blue eyes trying to rip open his skull to see what he was feeling.
Did Moriarty hurt you after he kidnapped you?
Can't this wait?
No. He imagined John sighing in his hospital bed, running a tired hand on his face and through his hair— no, not his hair, his head was bandaged.
He didn't hurt me. They didn't catch him, did they?
No. Mycroft is trying to locate him, but as long as Moriarty doesn't want to be found, I doubt he will succeed.
You should have run when you had the chance, then there would only be one of us stuck in a hospital bed.
Don't be absurd. If I had run, you would be dead. He hesitated for a very long time before typing the rest of the message. It was the first time someone offered to do something like that for me.
The problem with communicating with text messages was the absence of tone and intonation. Sherlock couldn't detect if John's last message had been serious, sarcastic or even meant as a joke. He was still pondering when he received another message from John.
I'm glad we're both alive. I don't know what I would have done if I had been the only one to survive.
Something cold ran down Sherlock's spine as he read John's message. He had put in words what Sherlock hadn't been able to stop thinking about since they had been rescued from the pool.
Afterwards, they changed the subject to talk about lighter and more pleasant things, like the flowers they had received (John had received more), the cards they had received (John had received more), the sweets people had brought (John had received more) and the fact that people in general preferred John.
During the following day, Sherlock's doctor gave him permission to use one of the very big hospital wheelchairs, one of those with the high back in case he had to be lowered down because of a sudden blood pressure drop. Sherlock didn't even complain when a nurse had to help him get into the chair, he didn't care that the monstrosity was almost impossible to control, he didn't care that he was sweating heavily even before he reached the elevator. Very soon, he was sitting in John's room and finally he felt right.
He spent most of his time in his flatmate's room, only leaving when he had to see his doctor, had physical therapy or was thrown out by a nurse. There was still some texting, mostly Sherlock demanding John came to his room to make him tea and John threatening to draw kittens on his cast if he didn't stop being a git.
Eventually, they were released from the hospital, but Sherlock still had to go as an outpatient for physiotherapy. Nonetheless, both men were relieved when they entered 221b Baker Street. John made them tea, which made Sherlock look incredibly smug. Later, when he was napping on the sofa, John retaliated by drawing the face of a kitten on his cast.
Following their release from the hospital, they fell into some kind of routine made of takeaway cartons, tea, laptops, DVDs, cold cases (courtesy of Lestrade), pillows, moody staring contests (between Sherlock and the kitten on his cast), and mobile phones. Even if they both spent most of their time in the flat, they were still texting each other, mostly in the evening when John was upstairs in his bedroom. It was part of their habits, Sherlock would usually send the first text, demanding John came down immediately to fetch a pillow, a blanket, Sherlock's laptop, the jar of jam, a fluffier pillow or John's laptop (among others). No matter how annoyed he was, John would always answer.
You are the laziest person I know. And you can actually walk, so get off your arse and fetch your own bloody laptop.
I can't, I'm busy working on a case. It's important!
Well I can't, I'm busy trying to sleep. Sleep is important.
Inevitably, Sherlock would make some noise and sigh dramatically, both loud enough for John to hear from his room. Inevitably, John would smile, but stay in his bed.
I tried to get up and my pillow fell on the floor. Bring me a new pillow.
Your arms are like extremely long tentacles. Pick up your pillow and leave me alone.
They did this every night, Sherlock always texting back until John told him to stop or stopped answering because he had fallen asleep. It was their way of saying goodnight and, after a while, neither thought about it anymore, it was the natural thing to do. Eventually, days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months. John went back to work three days a week, Sherlock's leg healed, the cast came off and they could resume their old habits of visiting crime scenes and running after criminals. However, the late night texting never ceased.
Is there more of your risotto? Sherlock asked one night after a particularly tiring case that had them climbing narrow stairs and running across rooftops. He was tired, his leg hurt, his stomach was grumbling unpleasantly and he wished John had stayed in the living room with him to keep him company.
In the fridge. Please eat all of it, you need food after the night we had.
Extracting himself from the sofa, Sherlock heated up the rest of the risotto in the microwave and brought it to his room with his phone. His bed was more comfortable than the sofa and he let out a satisfied sigh when he stretched his long legs in front of him.
I'm eating now, I know it will make you happy.
It does. Promise me you'll get some sleep once you're done with the risotto.
I might. I know you can't sleep because you're thinking of the case. You think it will make a good blog entry.
You're right. Any suggestions?
Care to share them?
If you use the word 'swish' to talk about my cloak again, I may have to throttle you with it.
Even from downstairs, Sherlock could hear John's burst of laughter.
Your cloak? Really? Shall I call you Batman from now on?
Sherlock's eyes narrowed as he checked the last sent message. He could still hear John giggling softly upstairs and he rolled his eyes before typing his response.
My coat. I will throttle you with my coat. I was distracted by your inappropriate use of the word 'swish'.
If you say so, Batman.
Don't make me come up there.
John was laughing again, the joyful sound making its way down the stairs and into Sherlock's bedroom. A small smile pulled at the consulting detective's lips as he swallowed another mouthful of risotto. Even if John was laughing at the silliest things, Sherlock never tired of hearing the sound. It had been one of the things crossing his mind after he had shot the semtex vest, when he had lost sight of John and hadn't been sure if he had survived the blow. He had thought about John's laugh, about the possibility of ever hearing it again. His thoughts were disrupted by a new text message.
If you murder me in my sleep, I think Lestrade owes Donovan 50 pounds.
Let's not give her the occasion to gloat, then.
Indeed, let's not. I'm really knackered, I'm going to sleep. Goodnight Sherlock.
Goodnight John, thank you for the risotto.
My pleasure. I'll make some again if you promise to eat it.
Go to bed, Sherlock.
I am in bed. Go to sleep, John.
I am trying to. This annoying beeping sound is keeping me awake.
I am quite certain the beeping will cease if you stop texting me.
Do you always need to have the last word?
Sherlock put the empty risotto dish on his nightstand and turned off the light before rolling to his side. His phone was still in the bed and he watched as the screen dimmed, then shut down. Running a finger on the new device, he tried to block the unpleasant images he could easily ignore during the day, but that always came back during the night. Images of semtex, water, blood and John's lifeless eyes. It was easier when he could see his flatmate; one look was enough to confirm that he was alive and well. However, when John retreated to his bedroom and stopped texting, there was no proof he was still breathing. Eventually, his exhausted body couldn't stand to stay awake anymore and he fell asleep, but, as it was the case since the events at the pool, it wasn't a relaxing sleep and the tension in his shoulders remained.
Other than the late night texting, some changes had taken place in Sherlock and John's behaviour towards each other. Small changes, so small that neither could precisely pinpoint the moment when it had occurred. There was a lot more touching happening between them: a hand on a shoulder, fingers brushing, one helping the other in or out of his coat or other similar small gestures. It was nothing breathtaking, nothing life changing, but once they noticed the new proximity was there, it was all fine, the natural progression of their close friendship. Sherlock liked those small touches, he interpreted them as further proof that John was alive, that his skin was warm, that he was breathing.
Their next case had them running from church to church looking for clues. A murderer was killing priests and circling their bodies with strange religious symbols. It took four days for Sherlock to solve the puzzle and eventually, it ended with a wild chase across the streets of London. In the end, John managed to tackle the murderer and a violent struggle ensued, but the perpetrator was taller and stronger, and John ended up being thrown over a railing and into the cold water of the Thames. While Lestrade handcuffed the murderer, Sherlock ran to the shore and arrived just in time to see John shakily getting out of the water. Sherlock's heart had been pounding and it felt like he had been holding his breath since he had seen John disappear over the railing. Without thinking, he threw himself at the doctor and hugged him tightly. Shivering, John awkwardly patted his friend's back.
"I'm fine, Sherlock. You can let go, I'm alright," he said in what he hoped was a soothing voice.
John's teeth were chattering uncontrollably and, in an attempt to warm him up, Sherlock unbuttoned his long coat and wrapped it around John, keeping him close. He couldn't say anything; he was petrified. For a few seconds, it had been the pool all over again: he couldn't see John, he knew he was possibly (probably?) hurt and all he wanted was to get to him and make sure he was safe. Even now that the trembling man was pressed securely against his chest, he had difficulties regulating his breathing. It wasn't clear who was comforting whom; John's hand was still rubbing soothing circles on Sherlock's back under the warm coat while whispering "I'm alright, you're alright," and Sherlock held on to him like he was about to vanish. They stayed in that position for a long time, until Lestrade was done with the arrest and came to make sure John wasn't hurt. The interruption shook them out of their trance-like state and, after assuring Lestrade that John was as well as he could be following a dive in the Thames, they made their way to the main road to find a cab, Sherlock insisting John wear his coat.
Back in their flat, Sherlock ordered Chinese food while John was taking an extremely hot shower. They enjoyed a nice meal while discussing the case, the television blabbering softly in the background. It was peaceful, almost domestic, but Sherlock felt restless and he was fidgeting more than usual. When John asked him what was wrong, he brushed it off with a wave of his hand, telling him that everything was fine and that he was merely thinking about the case. Eventually, John started stifling yawns behind his hand and when he announced that he was going to bed, Sherlock hummed in acknowledgement. As soon as John was upstairs, Sherlock shot out of his usual chair and hurried to his bedroom, closing the door silently behind him. He took out his phone and started typing feverishly. When the message was written, he listened to the noises upstairs. Once John had brushed his teeth, had changed into his pyjama and had gotten into bed, Sherlock hit the send button.
You can't do this.
Risk your life for petty criminals.
I told you, I'm fine. It was just a little bit of cold water, we have survived much worst.
You're not dying.
I know I'm not dying, it was nothing. And I'm a doctor, remember?
I mean, you are not dying. Ever. You're not allowed to.
Look, I'm coming downstairs and we can discuss this.
Sherlock could hear John's mattress creaking upstairs, sign that he was getting up and was about to come down the stairs. He hurriedly typed his response.
More creaking from John's mattress, but no sound of door opening or feet descending the stairs. John had returned to bed.
All right, I'm not coming down. Look, I know how it feels, when I woke up in the hospital and you weren't there, but Mycroft was… I was terrified. I thought you had died and that he had come to tell me. I told you in the hospital: I don't know what I would have done if you had died. We live a dangerous life, it's normal to worry.
The message had been long to arrive and when it did, Sherlock was pacing nervously in his bedroom. He read the text quickly, torn between the need to smile and frown - not the most flattering facial expression. Of course, John knew what Sherlock was feeling; John was used to caring, he was used to worrying about people he cared about.
I don't like it.
I don't either. It feels like your ribcage was smashed, your lungs crushed and your heart twisted. But it's worth it, isn't it?
Of course it was, John was right. The crimes, the chase, the puzzles, the thrills, the exaltation, the game and John's eyes when Sherlock made a particularly clever deduction. Worry had never been a factor in his occupation before, perhaps it came with John. Now that John was part of his job, part of his life, he would have to learn how to deal with the worry, the smashed ribcage, the crushed lungs and the twisted heart once in a while.
You're worth it, he typed before he was even aware of it. Then, with a slight shake of his head, he erased the message and started again.
It's worth it.
I knew you'd agree. Just know that you're not alone, all right? And if it can make you feel any better, I promise I will try my best not to die until you allow me to do so.
Sherlock let out a small chuckle and was about to type his response when he received a new text message.
Seriously, are you alright?
Of course I am.
You sure you don't want me to come down? I feel slightly ridiculous.
I prefer to text.
Yeah, I know you do. Just… try not to die too, ok?
Do you want to talk some more?
Anything you want to talk about?
There was something else on Sherlock's mind, something he didn't understand, something he thought John might be able to shine some light on, but he didn't know how to describe it in words.
I think I may be thinking about you more than is healthy, he wrote, but wasn't satisfied, so he erased everything and started over.
Even when you're there, it's not enough, he wrote and he was about to hit the send button, but he read the message again and had second thoughts. What he wanted to express could not successfully be put into words, at least not by him. Flinging himself on the bed in frustration, he erased the sentence and wrote a new message.
Your next blog entry. I want to make sure you got all of my deductions right so your telling doesn't sound like one of those movies you're fond of.
All right, I'm listening.
After that, Sherlock started showering John with texts about the last case, pointing out the essential elements that had led to his deductions. After the third reminder about the importance of sticking to facts, his phone remained silent. By now, Sherlock knew it was ineffective to send John multiple messages containing his name in various states of capitalization with different sets of punctuation. Instead, he slid under the covers and spent about thirty minutes twisting and turning around in his bed before getting up and silently making his way up the stairs. He stopped at John's closed door and listened carefully. When he wasn't having nightmares, John was a very silent sleeper and it took a few minutes before Sherlock could confirm that the man on the other side of the door was alive and sleeping peacefully. Feeling relieved, he turned around and returned to his own bed where he fell asleep with one hand curled around his phone.
Every passing day, John was getting more confused and it was all Sherlock's fault. It had taken him a few weeks to get used to his new flatmate. In many ways his first opinion had been correct: Sherlock was quite mad, arrogant and rude. He was also likeable and charming. Before the encounter with Moriarty, all those traits had cohabited peacefully in the man (as peacefully as can be when Sherlock Holmes is involved). However, since the incident, John felt like he was sharing a flat with two men and suddenly it was like being in one of those comic books he had read as a child. During the day, Sherlock was still rude, arrogant, acerbic, harsh, childish and brusque, albeit brilliant. He was still taking him along on cases, playing the violin at all hours and leaving unsanitary things in the refrigerator. On the other hand, every evening after John had retired to his bedroom for the night, the pleasant side of Sherlock emerged.
Every time John thought about it, he had to laugh: his flatmate turning into someone else at night? A werewolf was probably involved somehow. It was almost as precise as a Swiss watch: John would go up the stairs, brush his teeth, change into his pyjama and lay down under the covers. Then, his mobile phone would beep. In his texts, Sherlock was kind, caring, likeable, concerned, pleasant, and he even had a sense of humour. John really enjoyed their late night conversations, he looked forward to them and was sometimes going to bed even if he wasn't the least bit tired, just so Sherlock would text him. He had to be careful, even if it was tempting to run up the stairs at 19h, it would look extremely suspicious and he didn't want to spook Sherlock, forcing him to cease their exchanges in the process.
In the months they had lived together, John had often wondered what was going on – other than deductions – in his flatmate's brilliant mind. Since the texting had begun, he felt like he had a special access to some of those hidden thoughts and he couldn't get enough. When he was texting, Sherlock wasn't completely averting discussions about feelings, even when those feelings had nothing to do with murder motives. Yet, he seemed reluctant to have to discussions without mobile phones involved. Sherlock had declined every single one of his offers to have their conversations face to face and John had tried not to push the matter too much, but he longed to hear those kind words spoken in Sherlock's attractive voice.
If he was honest with himself, he had to admit he had a small crush on the only consulting detective in the world. If he was really honest with himself, he had to admit it was much more than that. He tried to ignore it, tried to pretend his heart wasn't beating faster because of a soft touch of fingers, that the flutters in his stomach weren't caused by the two undone buttons of a deep purple shirt exposing a long slender neck. He tried to convince himself that he wasn't re-reading their text conversations because they made him smile and filled him with endorphins, but out of boredom during lunch hours at the surgery. However, as soon as he managed to convince himself that there wasn't anything other than friendship between him and his flatmate, Sherlock would sneak up behind him in the kitchen and grab whatever John had been trying to reach on the highest shelf, pressing his body against the smaller man's back in the process. Or any small gesture of the sort. If John was really, really honest with himself, his attraction for Sherlock was getting harder and harder to ignore.
That's why he wasn't that angry when he received a call from Harry's doctor saying his sister was suffering from acute pancreatitis and had been hospitalised. He wasn't surprised, his alcoholic sister had been wreaking havoc on her body for years and her pancreas was no exception. Immediately, John started making arrangements to spend a couple of days with her. Once his train tickets were bought, he took his old army bag out of the cupboard and started packing various items of clothing and toiletry while Sherlock, leaning on the doorway, watched him in silence.
"I know what you're thinking," John said. "That she's a horrible sister and that I'm enabling her by giving her the attention she craves."
"Is that what I'm thinking?" Sherlock asked while raising an eyebrow.
"I'll only be gone for a couple of days, please don't do anything stupid," John begged and Sherlock didn't answer. He turned around and went to the living room where he slumped down on the sofa and curled up, facing the black leather back and sulking. When John said goodbye, he barely acknowledged him and continued to stare at the back of the sofa.
After a long day in the hospital, John entered Harry's empty flat and leaned against the door, closing his eyes and taking a few deep breaths. Harry's state was serious, but it wouldn't be fatal and once the doctor had administered morphine and controlled the pain, she had spent most of the day drifting in and out of sleep bubbles. The hours during which she had been sleeping had been peaceful and he had spent his time watching daytime television or discussing prognostics with her doctor. However, when she had been awake, she had been highly unpleasant and every time she had opened her mouth, John had been reminded why they weren't in contact more frequently. As soon as the visiting hours had been over, he had returned to her flat for a few hours of peace and quiet.
After two cups of strong tea and a shower to scrub the scent of hospital off his skin, he sat on the sofa with his legs folded under him. He was skipping from channel to channel lazily, but his mind wasn't into it. The flat was too quiet; he missed the noise of the violin and the strange undefined sounds coming from the kitchen. Hell, he missed Sherlock criticizing his blog entries or his choice of book. He didn't hesitate long before flicking his phone open and, for the first time, initiating the late night texts.
Is our flat still intact?
Sherlock's answer came extremely quickly, it couldn't have been quicker if he had had his phone in hand waiting for John's text.
It is for now. How are you?
Knackered. If Harry weren't sick, I would have hit her with her chart. You?
Bored. Lestrade won't answer my texts anymore.
How many did you send?
Are you being vague on purpose so I'll stop questioning you?
John laughed and grabbed the heavy blanket that had been thrown on the armrest of the sofa and wrapped it around his shoulder in an attempt to feel as warm in body as he felt in heart. He was about to write a response, but Sherlock was quicker.
How is Harry?
Physically? She'll be fine. She's on morphine for the pain and they aren't feeding her anything so her bowels can rest.
Do they know what caused it?
Everyone knows what caused it. Do you know what mnemonic device we used in uni to remember the common causes of pancreatitis? 'I get smashed'.
What do the letters stand for?
If you guess, I'll bring you a gift. I'll give you one hint: the first E stands for ethanol.
When are you coming home?
Idiopathic, gallstone, ethanol, trauma, steroids, mumps (or other viruses), autoimmune disease, scorpion/snake sting, hypercalcemia/hyperlipidemia/hypothermia, endoscopic retrograde cholangio pancreatography, drugs.
It would have been impressive if it hadn't obviously been googled.
Congratulations Mr. Detective, I crown thee Google King.
What will you bring me?
Be patient. I should go to bed, I want to be in the hospital early tomorrow morning.
Is it quiet over there? It's quiet here.
It's so quiet it's creepy. I miss you.
He was feeling particularly bold. Perhaps that's why Sherlock preferred to text; it was easier to say things usually left unsaid. When the answer didn't come as quickly as usual, John wondered if he had gone too far, but as usual the reply came and his grin was so wide he could actually see the top of his cheeks.
I miss you too.
I'm going to bed now.
If you text me when you're close to London, there will be food waiting for you when you arrive.
You're my favourite flatmate. Goodnight Sherlock.
Back in London, the only consulting detective in the world was laying on the couch and using one of John's jumpers as a pillow, but only because it was closer than his actual pillow. It was, in no way, a sentimental gesture. At least, that's what Sherlock had told the skull when it had looked at him with its judgemental empty orbits.
You're my favourite flatmate. Goodnight Sherlock.
Smiling tenderly at his phone screen, he typed out a response.
Goodnight John. I love you.
For a long time, he stared at the small black letters. The words had practically written themselves, but he wasn't that surprised to see them on the screen. It seemed obvious now that he was reading them; of course he loved John. It had taken a while to recognise it; what he felt for his friend didn't look at all like anything he had ever seen around him, but there weren't any better fitting words. He loved John. Did John love Sherlock? Unwanted love declarations were unsettling, he had gotten a few of those along the years and he didn't want to embarrass John or cause him any sort of discomfort. He finally decided to erase the last part of his message. For now.
It had been a long couple of days without John. Sherlock had gotten used to the other man's presence over the last few months and he found it was rather difficult to go back to his solitary ways. He had tried talking to the skull, but apparently the skull was angry with him for having been neglected since John had moved in. Then, Sherlock had hoped to busy his mind with a case, but Lestrade had ignored his multiple texts. Repeatedly. He had played the violin and sulked, often picking up his mobile phone to text John, but changing his mind every time. Something wasn't right; John wasn't home. Of course, he had texted him more times than he could count when he had been out, but on those occasions he had had something important to ask, something he had needed done, there had always been a precise goal. Texting John just to ask how he was doing, that was new territory. Luckily, John had initiated the conversation, putting an end to his mental debate.
The next day, John texted Sherlock to let him know he expected to be dropped off at the flat in the following forty minutes. Immediately, Sherlock changed out of his pyjama and into one of his usual suits. Soon after, he ran out the door and towards John's favourite Indian restaurant. He ordered a small amount of everything to make sure he got what John wanted to eat. There was way too much food for the two of them, but he knew John would be more than happy to bring the leftovers to work. John, John, John… When had he started behaving according to what would make John happy? It was an interesting thought, but he didn't have time to linger on it, there was food to carry back home and a table to clear.
He was grabbing two plates from the cupboard when he heard the familiar steps on the outdoor stairs. John! The door opened and he heard Mrs. Hudson come out of her flat to greet her returning tenant. They chatted for a few minutes while Sherlock was growing impatient and the food was getting colder. Even from upstairs, he could detect that John was tired and his voice was strained as he politely answered their landlady's questions about his sister's condition. Eventually, just as Sherlock was considering throwing the jealous skull at Mrs. Hudson, he heard John ascending the stairs leading to their flat. He opened the door, his nose twitched and a large smile lit up his face.
"Indian? You really are my favourite flatmate!"
"Obviously," he stated as he walked towards John to grab his bag, put it on the floor and help him shrug off his coat. "Welcome home," he added.
"It's good to be home," John replied as both men made their way to the kitchen and sat at the table Sherlock had made the effort to clear of most experiments.
John talked about Harry, about the hospital, about the discussions they had had and those John had tried to have without success. He explained how the alcohol had been a constant presence between them, always part of their conversations without ever being mentioned. He told Sherlock about the tenderness he had felt towards his sister while she had been sleeping, heavily contrasting with the bitterness he had felt every time she had opened her mouth. Sherlock listened. To every single word coming out of his friend's mouth. He even ate some of the food, but only when John was glaring menacingly at him for too long.
Once John was done getting the most unpleasant events of the last two days off his chest, they ate in companionable silence, both enjoying the warm feeling only 'home' could bring. Sherlock hadn't left, of course, but John was part of Baker Street and of what constituted 'home' and it was good to have him back. Sherlock was thinking about John and home when, without any warning, John seemed to startle himself and Sherlock shot him a puzzled look.
"I just thought about something!" John cried. "I get smashed! You found the meaning of the mnemonic device, even if you cheated."
"You never said I couldn't Google it," Sherlock said petulantly.
"I know I didn't. It's why I brought you something."
Sherlock's eyes widened in surprise. He had thought John had been joking, he had even laughed when he had received the text message promising a gift.
"You really brought me something? Is it from the hospital's morgue?"
"Of course not. It's in my coat pocket, you can go get it if you want," he said shyly. "It's silly, really. I didn't have a lot of time, but I really wanted to get you something and I was out of the hospital because I needed some air and to get away from Harry when I saw that little shop with all sorts of knitwear. At first, I wanted to buy a jumper, you know, because you like to make fun of mine and then I could have made fun of yours, but I saw those and I thought you might like them. It's alright if you don't, I won't be offended."
While John babbled nervously, Sherlock quickly got up and started searching his flatmate's coat pockets. In one of them, there was small soft package carefully wrapped in tissue paper. Delicately, he unwrapped it to find three pairs of socks. He picked up the first pair, it was dark grey and incredibly light.
"Those are made from bamboo fibre," John explained, "they're supposed to be good for people running around a lot, so of course I thought of you."
Sherlock inspected the grey pair of socks meticulously, rubbing the material between two fingers and weighting them in his upturned palm. Once he was satisfied with his observation, he carefully placed them on the table to examine the second pair. They were black, were also made of very light material – cashmere, his brain provided – and felt amazingly soft to the touch.
"Those are cashmere," John said, "they're supposed to keep your feet warm without suffocating them."
Sherlock used the same care and attention in his observation of the second pair of socks as he had for the bamboo one. He hadn't said a word since he had opened the package and John was getting more nervous with every word he spoke to describe the gift. After a minute, the second pair of socks joined the first one on the table and Sherlock turned his attention to the last one. They were a very nice shade of navy blue and had obviously been hand knitted with very thick wool.
"That last pair is for the very cold winter nights when we stay in. I thought they would go well with your pyjama bottoms. I know your feet get cold sometimes because you keep sitting on them or putting them under my laptop if I leave it opened on the sofa. But like I said, you don't have to wear them, it's just a silly present because I told you I would get you something…"
Sherlock put the last pair of socks on the table before changing his mind and picking them all up again. He didn't know what to say; he was so grateful and delighted that John had entered a shop for him, that he had obviously taken his time to choose something fitting, something useful. He felt like his limbic system was wearing the knitted pair of socks, warmth was spreading through his whole body.
"John…" he started, but he had to stop. He didn't know how to say what he wanted to say, but he needed John to know how good his gesture was. He needed to communicate the warmth he felt, but he didn't know how, other than… oh!
"It's quite late and you've had a long couple of days. Perhaps you should go to bed," he said tentatively.
At first, John looked hurt, but Sherlock looked at him with such longing that he quickly understood what was going on. He nodded curtly in agreement and started putting the leftovers in the fridge while Sherlock continued to hold his socks while standing in the middle of the kitchen, looking rather absurd. Once John was done cleaning up, he picked up his bag and got up the stairs while wishing his flatmate a very fake sounding goodnight. None of them really believed John was going to sleep.
As soon as he heard John moving around in the bathroom, Sherlock retired to his own room with his gift and changed back into his pyjama. It took him a while to decide what pair of socks he wanted to try first. He eliminated the bamboo grey pair; he would keep them for an occasion that involved running, climbing and jumping. He finally decided to wear the knitted ones because John had said they would look good with his pyjama bottoms and he was right. Satisfied, he wriggled his toes and slumped on his bed with his phone. He listened to the sounds coming from upstairs and when it was obvious that John was in bed, Sherlock texted him.
No one has ever put so much thought in choosing a gift for me.
You like them, then?
They are wonderful. Thank you.
Well, you're wonderful. I don't think you were told often enough.
A few times. Mostly after removing bullets from bodies.
Have I ever told you?
I don't think you have.
Sherlock's phone didn't beep again in response and he looked at it quizzically, as if it could offer him some answers regarding John's silence. He was still staring at his phone when he heard a soft knock on his bedroom door and his heart missed a beat. He shot his door a pleading look; he couldn't do this. As if obeying his wishes, it remained closed.
Come to the door. You don't have to open it.
Slowly, he walked to the door. From what he could see through the crack, John was sitting on the floor. He kneeled beside the wooden piece separating them and waited.
"Please, Sherlock," John whispered, "I need you to say it. I need to hear it."
Sherlock swallowed hard and opened his mouth, but no sound came out. He closed his eyes and attempted to steady his heart or, at least, slow his breathing. John was still sitting on the other side of the door, waiting. He clutched his phone in his hand and took a few deep breaths, which seemed to help.
"You're wonderful," he whispered back and, on the other side, he could hear John let out a sigh.
"I've missed you so much when I was away. I kept thinking about things I wanted to tell you and I'm so used to having you beside me, I actually turned to talk to you and you weren't there. I felt ridiculous, I just wanted to come back."
"I've missed you too," Sherlock replied, his voice barely audible.
It felt strange to speak those words out loud, but it wasn't as uncomfortable as he had anticipated.
"Am I freaking you out?" John asked and Sherlock smiled softly.
"No, it's… good," he replied.
"I may be about to freak you out then," John said and Sherlock could hear him take a deep breath. "I think I love you."
"You think you do?" he asked as he squeezed his phone tighter.
"Yeah," John whispered and Sherlock frowned. John thought he loved him, that was most definitely good, very good in fact, but it would have been even better if he had been certain. Surely there were ways to find out: questions to ask or tests to perform.
"Will you let me know when you find out?" he asked because he couldn't think of anything else to say. From the other side of the door, he could hear John muttering something that sounded a lot like "oh, hell" but he wasn't sure.
"If you open your door, I think I can find out for sure," John said and Sherlock didn't respond. He knew he was about to open the door, John had asked him to and he was willing to open any door John asked him to open. Yet, he couldn't help but hesitate. On the other side, there was an ex-army doctor who thought he loved him and if that wasn't a good enough reason to open the door, nothing was. John thought he loved him, what if he opened the door and suddenly John realised Sherlock wasn't loveable? While he was arguing with himself (he had never face a worthier debate opponent), his phone beeped and he looked at the screen to read John's message. It was some kind of puzzling code.
"John? What does it mean?" Sherlock asked.
"Open the door, you idiot," John said and there were clearly some traces of laughter in his playful tone.
Sherlock knew he was going to open the door eventually, so he decided not to delay the inevitable. John had called him an idiot. John thought he loved him and he wanted to find out. John wanted him to open the door. In one quick movement, Sherlock unfolded himself from the floor and he saw John's shadow moving on the other side of the door. Slowly, he opened the door and faced his flatmate, his friend, his John.
"Hello," John said with a smile.
"Hello," Sherlock replied and there was an implied question mark at the end of his salutation.
John took a step towards Sherlock and, instinctively, Sherlock took a step towards John. His breath caught in his throat when John raised his hands to put them delicately on both sides of his throat.
"It means I want to kiss you," John whispered and, from Sherlock's point of view, it seemed like a very good idea. He lowered his head so John would have better access to his lips and pressed one of his hands to John's lower back. Nervously, the smaller man licked his lips, the teasing tip of his tongue making a very brief and tempting appearance, and before Sherlock could make another move, John closed the small distance between them and kissed the only consulting detective in the world.
Said detective really enjoyed being kissed by John. His lips were warm, slightly moist, supple, and knew exactly what they were doing. In an instant, John's hands were in Sherlock's hair, pulling him closer, and when his tongue made another appearance, Sherlock let out a contented sigh that sounded almost like a moan and John broke the kiss, laughing earnestly.
"I confirm: I do love you," he said while grinning, his smile reflected on Sherlock's face. "God help me, I love you," he added before Sherlock shut him up with another kiss.
Later that night, they were sitting together on the sofa. Sherlock was leaning against the armrest and John was sitting between his legs. The detective was enjoying the freedom to touch, kiss, smell and taste every available inch of John's skin and was carefully cataloguing the resulting noises escaping his lips. John's eyes were closed and his head was tilted to the side in an attempt to expose more skin to his flatmate's lips. The view from Sherlock's place was quite beautiful: John's torso hugged tightly by his long and pale arms, their legs entwined and John's old grey sweatpants almost disappearing between Sherlock's impossibly long legs clad in thin grey cotton. On the other end of the sofa, John's bare feet being lazily rubbed by Sherlock's feet still wearing the new pair of knitted socks. He smiled while looking at his extremely warm gift and made sure John was distracted before taking his phone out of his pocket and typing a quick text message.
I love you.