Disclaimer : Sherlock belongs to MM. Conan Doyle, Moffat, Gatiss and probably a few others - in his case, I'd advise collective baby-sitting.

A/N : Inspired by a prompt on the sherlock_bbc kinkmeme asking for a French!speaking Sherlock, written as a gift for Callensei and posted in two parts. Set at the end of TBB, after Sherlock's release of John and Sarah and his last interview with Dimmock. The French has been kept minimal and subtitled!

Pardon my French

In water, one sees one's own face,

But drinking wine, one sees a friend's heart.

French proverb

It all begins with a closed case. When John and Sherlock –

But wait. Much as paradoxes make glittering incipits, they hardly render unto Caesar what is due to her – that is, apart from the ever-lagging rent and a suitable domestic tag. Let us, then, up our introductory ante : it all begins with a closed case iand/i Mrs Hudson's California punch, which has the colour of sangria and the vim of a thousand suns on the brink of Armageddon — and contributed to the late Hudson's downfall when he agreed to « a little pick-me-up after your hard day's work, dear » on the very evening he had planned some homework. For it takes some reflection to swing down a chopper on your wife's head when she's offering you a choice of three, and by the time Mr Hudson had girded his loins and revised his scope, Mrs Hudson's was safely locked in the pantry and Sherlock, with the assistance of LA's Major Crime Division, was putting an end to his rather amateur rendering of Jack Torrance.

It says a lot for Mrs Hudson's faith in male stamina that she takes up the very same punch upon seeing that dear John has brought his young lady home after a little outing. Sadly, circumstances independent of everyone's will make it impossible for John to test his resilience to Bacardi 151 before the morning-end of night, when his companion is no longer Doctor Sarah Sawyer.

The case is closed, yet there is something ajar in John's soul, spacing out his steps as he climbs the stairs, uncertain if he should direct them to his bed and snatch a few hours' rest or follow Sherlock into their common room. Yes, something is at odds here, something is flawed – lacking – some degree of happiness. This is so different from the previous case, when they had giggled at a scene crime and spent their first evening racing each other through duck salad while deducing their future quarrels from the way John held his chopsticks. Back then, he had basked in Sherlock's merciless innocence in the face of matters of death and life; had childishly, selfishly reached out for a share in Sherlock's delight since it washed away so much in John himself that was neither young nor unsordid when it came to survival.

And he had been foolish enough to believe that life with Sherlock would be – not an all-day feast of slapsticks and chopsticks, to be sure, but – why, yes, this joy, excitement, call it synched survival or shared resolution ? Instead, what he feels tonight is anger, mooring him apart from Sarah and Sherlock. Immediate anger at himself for failing to save the day again, anger at Sarah's parting words when she untucked herself from his curved arm (« I'll just go home, John » - making it clear that home is the safe place where he is not) and, more than anything else, hard reluctant anger at Sherlock for bringing on most of the resolution iwithout him/i.

« Hungry ? » Sherlock asks, coat in hand. His lips twitch in what John has come to recognize as Sherlock smiling out to him, just as lesser mortals call or cry out to their friends, and he, Sherlock's friend, finds his anger suddenly abating. The word has sparked off an echo, reaching back to their not-so-distanced past and first ebullient celebration.

Ah well. Perhaps there's still time for a little ebullience, now that John feels less like the butt of the case.

« Starving. Hmm, there's always the Chinese takeaway – oh god, that sounded like a daft pun. And – there's – » But of course Sherlock has seen the two glasses, filled and left untouched on the cluttered kitchen cabinet. John hesitates, then grabs them carefully before he sets back to the living-room. « I'm parched. Join me for a drink ? »

Sherlock does not answer. He is peering at John as the latter steps over to the sofa and coffee table, turning his back to the kitchen space and the two trays laden with plates and forks, lowering the glasses onto the tabletop.

« I might. »

Twenty-five minutes later, John's spirits have sufficiently mended for him to extend a stockinged toe, stroke the belly of the carafe now keeping the coffee table under its dominion, and declare it officially half-full.

« Oh, that dull old quandary » Sherlock retorts, and proceeds as per habit to prove John wrong by filling their glasses. Needless to say, the punch has shown itself worthy of its name by knocking John's inner Esculapes flat out cold before he could so much hiss « concussion » or « empty stomachs ».

« W'should – really – have toast of a thought » John says, quafffing his drink. The punch is glowing like red firelight against Sherlock's pale face as he presses the glass lazily to his mouth under John's mesmerized eyes. Most of the men he's known drink fast and furiously, slapping the alcohol into their veins, and there's Harry in her cups, a memory too sharp for comfort. But Sherlock drinks with slow, sensual fervor, sucking at the rhum with a faint buzz of approval until he lets the glass tumble into his lap and raises his eyes to John.

« Oui » Sherlock answers, enunciating the word with a clarity that John's mind, its receiving end, is far from emulating. « iMais alors, je veux que ce soit à toi./i »

« Er ? » John mutters. He knows the language – that is, he knows the language has a name he knows – and that, it seems, is the best of his present knowledge. « Wha' d'you say ? »

Instead of answering, Sherlock leans brusquely forward, catching John's face between his hands. John stills. His memory is not so clouded that he has forgotten how Sherlock kept his face in a vice-like grip not long ago while he urged John to remember a painted wall. But tonight's hold merely cups his face, slim fingertips resting on his temples as Sherlock carries on earnestly – « J'ai eu peur, tu sais » – and all John can do is stare back in helpless wonder. « Quand je suis rentré et que tu n'étais plus là. Peur qu'ils t'aient fait du mal. J'aurais dû avoir peur pour elle aussi, logiquement, mais non. Toi d'abord. Toi surtout. »

« Please » John says in a wisp of breath, because this is unbearable, this strange angular language raised between them yet rippling with tantalizing intimacy, « please, Sherlock, tell me what it is. ».

But Sherlock's head is keeling forward, as if jolted by an invisible string, and John's chest tightens at the sight. Under the tangle of hair half-obscuring his face, a voice comes out — fainter, oddly younger. « Je ne savais pas que je tenais si fort à toi » Sherlock murmurs, and one of his hands falls on John's parted legs, sealing a patch of warmth to the curve of John's thigh.

John moistens his lips, but Sherlock's hand is already sliding off as he lets gravity pull him back to his end of the couch.

« It's French » John whispers. « You were — speaking French to me ? »

But Sherlock is no longer in a hearing condition.

Looking at his mouth, half-open and limber in sleep, John realizes how different it looks when Sherlock's eyes are closed. The eyes draw all of John's notice when Sherlock addresses him in the day, cold, clear-cut peepholes into a genius's mind, brimming with nerves and resolve. Yet hide these eyes, and Sherlock's mouth, sucking in the night air with a soft noise, exposes him at his most naked – life made unguarded flesh.

Letting slip unguarded words – for John.

He drags himself up, lifts Sherlock's feet and tucks them carefully under the sofa cushions. His head is a blotch of thrumming pain, and he knows, even as he reaches out to the light switch, that he has not a mortal's chance to remember what he heard tonight.

He also knows, from tonight's adventures, that ciphers can be solved.

[ Oui, mais alors je veux que ce soit à toi : Yes, but then it's you I want to toast.

J'ai eu peur, tu sais » : I was frightened, you know.

Quand je suis rentré et que tu n'étais plus là. Si peur qu'ils t'aient fait du mal. J'aurais dû avoir peur pour elle aussi, logiquement, mais non. Toi, d'abord. Toi surtout. : When I came back and saw you were not here. So frightened they'd hurt you. Logically, I should have feared for her, too, but no. You first. You more than anyone else.

Je ne savais pas que je tenais si fort à toi : I didn't know you were so important to me.]

Morning brings back England with a vengeance – that bruised light, John thinks, particular to English winters, an article he came to miss sorely in his Afghani days and cannot quite dissociate from the homely smell of English tea nor from Sherlock as he pours it for himself, standing (predictably) in the light and pinning down the last clues in his very English clipped drawl.

« Nine million pounds... jade... Dragon den... railway... »

The English words slide into John's understanding, making ideal sense as they pave the way to the end of the case. Paving a way for Sherlock to leave John well behind, never once looking at him across the yellow earthenware teapot (the carafe is nowhere to be seen). The more Sherlock translates and enlightens, the more distant his voice sounds to John, grounded to his table end by a brain-splicing migraine. Such a far cry from last night's cryptic boyish plea.

It is maddening, and John will be damned if he suffers this any further. So he waits until 221B has shooed them out into the first passing cab and, when it appears that Sherlock has no more to say, flings himself into the gap.

« Never knew you could speak French, by the way. »

It's not as if he had never taken a giant's leap before, catching up with Sherlock.

« Oh. »

... at times, that is, when Sherlock graciously allowed himself to be caught with. John spares a flicker of warmth for Molly Hooper and soldiers on.

« Well, yeah. You spoke it to me, yesterday night. When we – when we shared. That drink. You know. I remember it quite well. Don't you ? »

There. The leap has been leapt (though it feels in retrospect like a bunch of lame little jumps) and Sherlock is turning his face from the car window and its movable feast of London sights. For one shared second, Sherlock's face becomes as individual as each of the nameless humans left aside by the cab, alive with an emotion John cannot name – some quiet unquiet demand that could be fear, or trust – before it shutters itself out and back to the glass, so that all John can see is Sherlock's reflection laid over the myriad shades of London.

« Really ? No, I can't say I remember any of it. Care to tell me what I said ? »

And the rest is silence, except – yes he cares, and yes he will. Not now, but he will. John Watson is not a man to let a challenge slip unanswered, not when it comes to him in such vivid circumstances. As the cab swerves to a halt before the bank and they go their separate ways, Sherlock to dazzle a young woman and he to cash a check, John is already planning his next move.

To begin with, he bides his time.

Something he is quite good at, better than Sherlock who did not have a war to tutor him in the art of waiting out inaction. John never told anyone about his novice days at the Helmand base, but he remembers how he loitered among the little adobe houses, gazing at the chalk-white hills propped against a stony sky, hour upon hour, until each depressed breath felt like sandpaper to his lungs and he was ready to scream them raw.

The trick, he learnt of the first old trouper to take pity on him, was in duplicity. Chequer your time and mind neatly, colour each square in turn with a task you can focus on, and at the same time keep your mind one square ahead, blankly alert – so that when the fighting comes to square off the game, it finds you a fighter.

Very well then. John makes toast, boards his bus, hands out winter flu jabs liberally, comes home, makes tea, joins some of the Yarders for a bitter and a game of darts, grins at Lestrade before shooting the bullseye eight times running, comes home. And squares things with Sarah by taking her out to bury their first date properly. Sarah insists on the local Pret a Manger and John feels a tweak of guilt, but this beautiful woman is already saying « friend », is saying « colleague » to him in no uncertain tones he eats his French roll easily enough.

Sherlock no longer says anything to him. Sherlock is hibernating in his own private mindscape, where « Mmmmm » appears to be the long and the short of native communication. He lies in the lap of the couch – itheir/i couch, John catches himself thinking (and cuffs himself mentally for keeping at least a whole row ahead) – entranched behind a rustling wall of graphs and charts, and answers « Mmmmm » when asked what they are about. John is sorely tempted to dose Sherlock's tea with blended scotch, but remembers the Hippocratic oath and takes it out on the darts.

He watches, instead, for though he does not know in what hour his fight will come, he is a fair-minded man and will do nothing to trigger it forth. And come it does, one early January night, when Sherlock turns out to have been studying hypothermia iin vivo/i with a few experiments in mind. One of which consists in immersing himself in the Serpentine at regular intervals with a mouth thermometer and nothing much else on. The venture, fortunately, is brought to an early finish when Sherlock finds a swan already experimenting on his premises and proceeds to shoo him away : in the sound and fury that ensue, he has barely the time to grab his coat and run before a gaggle of night guardians converge upon him.

It is not quite eleven when John, focusing on his telly square, notices a sneezing Sherlock, barefoot at the door and peering at a mouth thermometer with a scowl.

John says « Bed » instinctly and innocently. Then snatches the thermometer from his flatmate's hands. « 38. All right, get undercover and I'll bring you some paracetamol. And hot fluid. And then, you can perhaps explain why you thought it advisable to take a midnight constitutional in the buff. »

« Make it a grog » is Sherlock's raucous answer as he heads to his room. « Mummy always said it clears the head overnight. It's the bloody bird's fault, anyway. It tried to bite me. And it squealed. »

« I don't think – »

« When do you ever ? Grog » Sherlock croaks sharply, closing the door between them.

John purses his lips, takes a glance at the thermometer, another at the closed door, and steps into the hall.

Zero Hour.