AN/ I'm sorry this took so long to get posted; the reasons are uninteresting and related to that irritant that is real life, but I am sorry. Hope the concluding chapter is enough of a offer of forgiveness =]
Reference made to 'The Three Garridebs' for those familiar with Holmesian canon.
These Lines of Lightening
"What are you looking at?" Sherlock finally gives up any pretence of reading the article he's found in one of John's medical journals, rifling through the printed pages, sporting various expressions of disdain, a litany of Wrong. Wrong. Wrong, and even if that's not spoken aloud then it's obvious in the way he rolls his eyes, tuts, mutters under his breath. He looks over to catch the doctor's eyes, meeting his gaze boldly, defensively, the paper on toxicology drooping down as though he's just forgotten it was in his hand. Well? His eyes ask, Out with it.
John realises too late that he's been staring at his flatmate again.
He can't help it; really he can't – stopping himself from falling down feverish warrens of thought, chasing what grabs him, resplendent like thorns that dig until they're subcutaneous, embedded in his flesh. Sherlock is almost lunar today, the daylight through the curtains a sustaining porcelain over his arms, his aura captivating in its ethereal qualities; patches lowering, a penumbra in the margins, the undefined raven of an undeveloped photo that's just been shot in a flash of pearling white, the metallic lustre smoothed and unruffled, untouched by the way Sherlock's brow creases faintly as he reads, scanning the pages with condescension.
I love him, John thinks, the realisation not sudden, more like the building of some masterpiece, stroke by stroke, with layers and layers of memory, of sensory evidence, fine brushes of horsehair gently adding detail, highlights, shade, the side of his subject where the sunrise hits directly and the dusk is cast behind. Internally this makes so much sense, is perfect in its conviction and performance.
John wants to know what the skin of Sherlock's hands is like against the toughened tanned flesh of his own, wants to know what it's like to be the sole focus of his raw untamed attention even for a second, his silver melting white-hot, wants to know where he has to touch to unravel the detective completely, what will make him smoulder and blaze and burn, Sherlock illuminating the two of them as they lie together, curved like parentheses in the obscuring dark with the glow of his aura like an eclipse.
Yet while this is what he wants, John knows the world doesn't work like that. That now is not the time to examine these feelings, both men unsteady on this ground, both too cynical, distrusting, both too flawed. Now is not the time to be in love.
But John's braved harder wars than this, needs this relationship to stay generic, simple, because he's not sure if either of them are yet ready to handle the implications of anything else. So he locks away his thoughts for the moment, drives them into a box then stuffs them away on the dusty top shelf of his psyche where he can't subconsciously reach, and finally looks back at Sherlock.
"Sorry." he says "Just staring into space"
They're arguing again, and John wonders whether Sherlock's kisses would burn as much as his words, before he's back to his snarling fury – a pent up week of chasing and dead-ends and near fatalities, his motors running on caffeine and catnaps, and Sherlock's put his foot in it again, said the wrong thing, and instead of letting it go, John's bitten hard and left teeth marks, claws out, and from the box they've opened tumbles out every screaming disappointment, every disapproval. John's the one shouting, raised tones crashing down like stomping feet, but Sherlock can give as good, waving his hands, a conductor to his frustrations, theatrical to the last, snapping with short cruel phrases.
"God, that's your problem John. You expect everyone to live up to your precious idiotic standards without bothering to understand the circumstances – "
"That man had a gun to your head, all because of your damn ego, Sherlock! Because you didn't tell anyone where you were bounding off to."
"I had it under control"
"You were five seconds away from a bullet in your brain. Bloody hell, would it kill you to let someone in for once?"
"I could ask you the same thing!"
John stops, scrunches up his face in a buttoned up question and throws out more words to keep the silence from forming.
"What the hell do you mean by that? You're the one who swans off without telling anyone, thinking he can exist in his own little bubble when people on the outside actually give a damn about your well-being, you just horde all your secrets like a fucking child..."
"I'm not the only one who keeps secrets, John."
There's something in the way he spits out his name that makes the doctor freeze, words lodged in his Adam's apple, flexing the hand he had held clenched at his sides.
"I'm not keeping any secrets from you"
Sherlock sneers with an expression constructed to border contempt, and it splits through John, a sharp blade through his ribcage, it drains him icy, and the silver surges in a disjointed tempo like smashed glass, the light off, imperfect, decried from what it was before, soiled and impure with the tint of rage.
"Oh, please", is all the detective says, and that's enough for John to breathe out hard, unwilling to talk, uncomfortable with the way Sherlock's staring at him like he's trying to take him apart when he's not a bloody puzzle, he's a person, and he's not made of cogs or machinery or data that Sherlock could understand. He wants to repeat his former statement, but they both know he'd be lying.
Sherlock is cool and icy, silver shimmering like a needle, a guillotine before it slashes down, and the silence is almost unbearable.
There is the reverberation of two gunshots, compacting the air, the weapon recoiling back, bullets gaining momentum, kinetic energy, following the slight curve of a parabolic arc, and everything slows down.
Something hurts. A burning sensation on his thigh, a smell of sulphur in the small room.
He's back in Afghanistan again. Hypervigiliant, senses on full-alert; his muscles tensed, breathing too fast, heartbeat arrhythmic, it's near evening and the ground is cooling as his fingers dig grooves into coarse sand, and the pain, the pain swallows him, erupts, there's systolic shock, and he can't move his hands, and there's someone nearby calling out his name.
"John! John, are you alright?"
Sherlock repeats his name twice, repeating the phrases over again for clarity – "John, for God's sake, answer me!" – and John's too busy trying to force an answer out of lips dislocated from his brain – Not Afghanistan, Not Afghanistan, he's not there anymore, he's back, Sherlock remember? Sherlock... He examines the walls in order to ground himself back to the present, the back room of a closed up restaurant, boarded window slats that bar the light out and the dust in, a film of grease over terracotta damask wallpaper, a stench of must, mixed in with bleach and plastic. There's a stain on the floor, and John doesn't want to know it's history.
London. Three and a half thousand miles from Afghanistan. London. With Sherlock. Home. Safe.
"Did it hit you? John, did it hit you?" Sherlock's saying his name again, needing reassurance, as though he's frightened, yet Sherlock's never frightened, is never out of control, and the way he's saying that name, that short word of one syllable, the way he's wording it means something more, something neither are quite ready to address yet.
"It didn't get me Sherlock..." John murmurs, but Sherlock's not listening, is sitting him down on a nearby chair, hands roaming over cloth checking for the trauma he's expecting, panicked, his pigmentation all wrong; withdrawn, fraying at the edging, the creaking broken spine akin to a book with a snapped back, bent too far, glittering like a shattered windscreen, too much pressure exerted, ragged.
There's a gun in his hand he's disarmed from the unconscious man on the ground, and it's almost as though if a bullet slammed out of the barrel it would just go through him, this pale ghostly man who for the first time looks rattled, who has pulled a knife out from somewhere, his colours pulsing strangely, in a manner not quite their own, slitting open the fabric of John's jeans, expecting an entry wound, expecting the bleak ripped hole, glancing off bone, fragmenting into shrapnel that deflects elsewhere, propagating through arteries and causing excess damage, expecting so much with so many ramifications but none of it delivering.
"It's just a graze" he says disbelieving, fingers fluttering, tracing above the bloody red furrow that's cauterized with the heat, the black surrounding of powder burn but nothing that can't be bandaged up, nothing that's fatal. Sherlock huffs out one of those relieved hysterical laughs, where there is an absence of humour but he's laughed anyway just to release some of the tension, running a hand through thick black curls dampened with sweat, the knife still clutched in his hand like an extension of his fingers.
John cracks a smile, needing to break up this moment, unconsciously shying away from the glaring light of the complications of this; Sherlock Holmes, his lips pressed taut, glanced off emotions that are scraped together and held back with a leash of self-control that's slipping from his grasp, the lights in his eyes dimmed enough so that something else that was smothered back down can creep to the edges like the curling up corners of burning paper; Sherlock Holmes, who has been made this way, who has been made to tremble and shake, by one action that forces a reaction, who is not yet in love, but who is learning the lessons of it, the things that don't fit in with his ideology.
Sherlock Holmes, who is not ready for this reveal. The bones over his heart newborn and still knitting together, these uninitiated feelings he does not yet categorise, understand, the emotions that today grabbed him without even leaving a mark on his skin.
The two of them are leaning in close but not so close that the metronome of their heartbeats can be heard in the silence, not close enough, and maybe that will come in time if they go the right roads, their feet each making separate smeared footprints for the same steps.
"The Yard rumour mill would have a field day if they were here" John jokes, "Walking in on you trying to rip my jeans off."
Sherlock laughs, and that was John's intention. There is a quiet now, before the return to the fray, vaulting the trenches into No-Man's Land. And in the fractal lull, the space like the split second the shutter of a camera takes to redo the shot, in that quiet John notices something else, as the silver before him bandages itself up, cracks of moonlight moulding themselves fresher skin, weaving over gaps where it's flaked and weakened; there is a new colour in the midst of it.
It's faint, so faint John almost misses it; a quiet unassuming gold that's beginning to thread through the silver, a warm flare like the tip where the candle burns brightest, bronze pools that sink into copper, the liquid rippling at the barriers like a corrugated roof with the sun striking off metal, the bold strong shade that could barricade itself into a carapace, the sharp light of a swinging sword that caresses the place where it sides with the silver, slots into grooves that have been already carved for it.
And in that moment, John wonders where that colour comes from.
The trouble with this gift of John's, his ability, his talent, whatever it's title is apart from a bloody nuisance at times, is that rarely, once in a blue moon, although he relies upon it like an extra sense, doesn't doubt the input because he's had no reason to, sometimes it can be wrong.
Later, John will curse himself for not seeing it, yet there was nothing, no indication that there was anything untoward, and even Sherlock was fooled – but that's not the point, because it's John's responsibility to keep the detective safe, to know when something is dangerous, and this time, when it really mattered, he failed.
The man flounces into the room, shy grin, self-conscious wave ("Sherlock, this is my boyfriend, Jim"), his teeth wide and white in the lab light, constantly moving, touching, as though nervous, the great performer ("Did you like the touch with the underwear?", he'll ask with a cheeky smile later by the side of a swimming pool).
John casts a glance at his aura, and notes what he was expecting; a fizzy sort of orange, a bit like a hyperactive cocktail of too bright tinctures all merging in an excitable mess, a nervy crackling ultramarine, the orange stopping partway as though the effect is unacceptable, assuming a yellow stain that's under lit only to show it up to be a little grimier than if it were clean, overcompensating with a citrous agitation.
Extravagant, he recalls thinking vaguely at the time, but it's nothing special, nothing to get worked up about – even though that harmless man slips his number under the Petri-dish, an invitation, a forward declaration of interest, and it's not harmless enough to stop John being rubbed the wrong way, seeing the china column of Sherlock's throat exposed in it's drapery of starched collar, thinking Mine, seeing the soft skin of his wrist, the pulse beneath the outer layers, seeing the lambent glow around him, not merciful or pure but his nonetheless.
John is wrong about Jim. Gay Jim, who works down in IT, with the V neck shirt and the effeminate mannerisms, and the mobile number tucked under a container of blood samples. Gay Jim with his smiles and his screaming oranges and vivid over-active shades and his starstruck routine.
Gay Jim who played both of them.
Jim Moriarty. Hi!, he'll introduce himself to Sherlock in an hours time.
But for the moment, it's just John being stuffed into a Semtex coat at gunpoint, and the surveyor of it all comes in with his hands in his pockets, cheerily whistling, to study his latest prize, the final pip, the bait that'll be present at the encore of the charade with the man he's had so much fun playing this game with, looking John over like something he's bought. There's something in his eyes, an intensity, the smile as though he knows his punchline is hilarious and is only waiting till the end of the joke to share it with everyone else, and John's breath catches like air has solidified and is stuck in his throat.
There's no aura around Jim Moriarty at all.
And more than the expression from a face that could act out more characters than the one the man was born with, replete with secrets, beaming with a smile that's twisted, a plastic doll with a printed on expression, the twinkle in their eyes painted on unnaturally; more than the way that Jim can fake his aura, intentionally or just as a by-product of his acting the parts, mislead John, keep hidden from him the internal workings that John has always been privy to; more than the weight of explosives over his shoulders, the cold clammy tension of his body under his shirt and the god-awful parka, that terrifies John.
Moriarty should be battle-smoke. Imperfect clouds of rain-dashed blue or even electric smears of mauve, other veneers catching the failed non-starters, a dash of amethyst, ghost white, a red like a blood clot, John would even see the orange back. But nothing? No-one has no colour, no one is so utterly surrounded by a blank void, an empty space where stars are extinguished. It's not even black, because even that is backlit to make it visible, is complimented by other flecks of colour. It's nothing, a complete lack, an absence, like he's missing something vital, a soul, a heart, something to make him recognisably human.
It scares him. Destabilises the stoic unmoving front he's holding up, the controllable things that are slipping, about to fall, pulled into the orbit and swallowed by the nothingness, taking him apart piece by piece while that madman just grins.
For the first time, John's not so sure Sherlock can get them out of this one.
They survive. Like they always do. That episode is something John does not want to think upon, so he strolls the peripheries instead. The red blinking dots are just the brake lights on cars. The oscillations on water that distort the image of falling bodies like the blur on the back of a spoon are just when it's been raining too hard and his foot has shattered a murky puddle. The shudder of an explosion he hears is just Sherlock shooting the walls again. That's all, he tells himself. That's all.
He has bad dreams the first few weeks after, but little changes. Except that's a lie. Things moved around while John wasn't sparing them a thought, subtle, behind his back. These moments that pass sluggishly, still half deaf with the ringing that still reverberates like bells in lonely halls, a jalopy stuttering forward blinded by smoke and dust and ash, these moments betray all their insecurities in a harsh spotlight, shows them all up for the fragile men they are.
John limps with real injury, and Sherlock is dark-eyed, skirting round his flatmate, flicking his gaze across to him as though he'll start shouting any moment. They've both been reborn in this trial of fire, only the skin doesn't fit yet, is uncomfortable, not worn in, and they haven't got the hang of how all their limbs work.
There are ways to deal with things like this. Emotions that are too big to grasp, moments that peel and hammer at the foundations of a structure that before was stable, arrogant in the belief it could survive any strike of lightening.
So John makes endless cups of tea and complains to Sherlock about body parts, because that's what's needed, and the anger the detective is waiting for never comes, and he doesn't obviously expect this. He wants something, wants to speak something aloud, and John can see his mouth imagining how the words shape up, a sentence, a statement, the shattering of some block of sheet ice that is hiding in plain sight. But the winter ice is still too thick, and neither of them are strong enough in the wake of Moriarty to break it down, so John makes more tea, and Sherlock shoots the walls, and chases through the back-alleys and doesn't stop running, with John still behind him like an imperfect shadow, and they both wait till spring.
"I'm sorry" Sherlock murmurs one day, so quiet the words are almost a hum. The syllables slide off his tongue with great effort. John glances up from the pages of a newspaper that he is not reading, clearing his throat, feeling too loud, intrusive.
The world outside is too noisy, thumping music battering walls, and the air conditioning in 221c croaks with a rusted curse. But in here, with his friend coiled like a comma on the sofa, – his aura like the sighting of the moon in daytime, something untouchable, startling in its prevalence – there is something in the quiet that immerses him, floods in over his head.
"Pardon?" John asks, guardedly, question lilting, stiltedly curious, almost tentative, like he's not after anything, but isn't everyone always after something, even if they don't know what they want just yet. He fiddles with the fridges of the newspaper, meets eyes that today are more blue than green, like the strip of sun slanting off the skin of the ocean. The gold that has been present as a constant for the last few weeks is calm compared to the nervous waves of gun metal grey that roll and smash like the tidal break.
Sherlock looks at him, eyes snapping up to John's face from where he's just been absorbed elsewhere.
"I'm sorry" he repeats, as though this is something John needs to understand, a door to a room where few have tread that he needs to open, and the words he says, the apology, is genuine and unpolished, riddled with a misplaced emotion that takes on all the forms of guilt.
"What for?" John asks, and Sherlock snorts, dissatisfied, rolls his eyes and gesticulates with his hands, and there's the memento of frustration in his actions.
"What do you think, John?" he snaps, "Moriarty" The name spoken like a curse, like a swearword, something so foul it's reverent, like when a child says a bad word that they've been told never to repeat, and there's that thrill of danger as they do anyway. Moriarty, and it brings back everything they both tried to block off, the white chipped tile and the fire and the consulting criminal that's still out there, and next time it wont just be a warning, next time it might kill them, and John's not sure that even that would stop Sherlock from conceding to the game.
This is the moment, although John can't bookmark it because he never recorded the signs. All he knows is that the tone of Sherlock's voice touches him, a jolt at the base of his chest, and this moment is like the first crack on an icy plane, the splintering of a glassy shield.
"You aren't to blame for any of this – " he starts, but the detective cuts him off.
"Of course I am" Sherlock snarls, standing up from his seat, pacing, his motions caged, tense, and John can see it all, his colours flashing, carnal and violent, half attacking themselves and half turned inward, polychromatic, saturating his tone, his expression. Splintering out and splitting up, like a collision of two opposing factions in a war, like the war John was part of, is part of, this battleground, his conquered land that he can call his own, and god, he doesn't want to die for someone else's fight, but he would die for Sherlock, and it's not someone else's battle anymore, it's his because there is no scenario where he would not fight by the side of this man. "Your association with me put you in danger, and I should have known that he would use you at the Pool, and I didn't... I didn't think... I didn't..."
"Sherlock" John is up now, and the two of them are standing before each other with the point of no return far back in the past, and he clenches his fist in a habit he used to have when he was younger, except he used to do a lot of things in his youth that just wont work now, that need new tactics. "You're an idiot"
John gives a smile he couldn't remember before, a fond thing, and if this was the time he'd reach out, cup Sherlock's face with his hand, stroke pale skin with his thumb. "You are an idiot" he repeats "You might be able to tell... I don't know, the state of a marriage by a wedding ring, or where someone has been by the dirt on their shoes... but none of that in any way detracts from how monumentally stupid you are if you blame yourself for any of this, ok? This isn't your fault. Put that massive brain of yours into gear.."
"But you are not safe" Sherlock stresses.
John shrugs "I know." And then, another one of those smiles. "But that would be incredibly dull, don't you think?"
It's hesitant, like a foreign custom he has not quite managed, but when a trace of the smile flourishes across the detective's face, he gives a hum in the back of his throat, a smoothness coming back to his features, pleased although not sure why.
"I'll always be there Sherlock, if you want me" John says, and that smile surges wider, if only for a moment before it's an emotion quite different.
"Of course, John" he murmurs, and they're standing too close again, closer than before, with not enough space to separate them, and the room has had all the air sucked out, and John's forgotten how to breathe as he watches Sherlock's dilated pupils and the adamantine seething undulations around him that follow inwards like a nautilus shell.
The glorious burning ambience of the man he loves and the golden touch of something new, eroded by time and life and sand but emerging out the other end to glow brighter, the two shades touching, joining, like the twin serpents entwined around the caduceus, moving into each other, an ouroboros, provisional and irresolute at first, then strengthening; obsidian sparks with a dancing seamless white, and then the grounded yellows like desert sand and honey shade and burnished comforting browns that dapple into something a little threatening if provoked, a defensive shade that's crushed down all it's barriers for this moment, a hint of something special that ascends it to a metallic splendour.
He can't be sure, but he thinks that the gold that alleviates the silver, that compliments it and makes it shine ever brighter, might be from him.
And then Sherlock tilts forward and kisses him, and suddenly John's not thinking at all, the room falling away, and there aren't words for this, because they aren't needed, there aren't thoughts for this, because they aren't wanted. Sherlock's lips are uncoordinated at first, but pliant, and then when they are emboldened by the fact that John isn't pulling away, is leaning in to gain more access, they push harder, demand more, devour, take. And John gives, choking down disbelief and just letting this happen, then stands his ground and requests, increases the rhythm, takes the lead for Sherlock to follow, conquers in the unspoken language of tongues and teeth, the two auras around both of them touching at every point, bleeding together to make something better, something that's perfect.
And the fine line of space they've made between them is the one safe place with just the two of them, the whole world bathed in light, a clap of thunder before the one split second where the entire sky is lit up to the horizon, Sherlock's hand on his waist, John's fingers twisted into his hair, retaining contact.
It's just an introduction. They have forever to learn.
"What are you looking at?" the detective asks after one kiss of the many they've practised, when John has spared a glance at the man's aura with the part of his brain that's still active with some form of thought, watching the nautilus spirals of metallic grey and the darkened satin sheen yellow, the places where they fit, spin off only to join again.
"Something beautiful" John replies softly, and neither of them need to say any more.