Disclaimer: I do not own Sherlock in any legal, physical, moral or horticultural sense. Just to be clear.
Warnings: For the fic as a whole; violence, torture, swearing, extreme angst, and slash. For this chapter, just swearing and angst and slight slashiness.
Set post-TGG so spoilers for up until that point. First attempt at a Sherlock fic. Aah; nerves, terror, sweaty palms, etc. Be gentle, kind readers.
John Watson was never a sound sleeper. Growing up, he can recall the long nights of insomnia, stretching on forever the way the time does in childhood. Then his tour in Afghanistan quickly impressed upon him the importance of sleeping lightly, of staying alert to danger even while resting, and of waking instantly. And since his return, the nightmares that plagued him put paid to any thoughts of blissful slumber. The Afghanistan flashbacks subsided since he moved in with Sherlock, but recent weeks have presented him with a whole new host of bad dreams.
The dreams are never exactly the same, but they share certain key features. Sometimes he and Sherlock are back at the pool, only this time they don't get away. This time the bomb does detonate and John watches the world explode, Moriarty laughing in the background. That's the one that wakes him up gasping or choking.
The others do not take place in the pool. In the others, they are in random places; Sarah's surgery, or the British Museum, or even John's own bedroom. And in these ones, John cannot move, cannot speak, cannot close his eyes. And Moriarty is hurting Sherlock.
These are the dreams that John wakes up from without a sound. He lies rigid in bed, fists clenched, teeth clamped together, terrified.
After a nightmare, John can rarely get back to sleep. He gets up to make tea, or attempts to read, or simply stares up at the ceiling. He tries to strategise in these dead hours; to think of how to protect them from Moriarty, how to anticipate his next move. He has no doubt that Moriarty is coming back, the only question is when. And John knows it's up to him to be ready. John has nothing but respect for Lestrade and the rest of the force, but he knows they're out of their depth. He is in awe of Mycroft's long reach and extensive surveillance, but he doesn't believe in it. On a rational level, John tells himself his distrust is a reaction to the pool incident, when neither the Yard or Mycroft were there to help. On a private, very irrational, level, John knows that there isn't a person in the world he trusts with the security of Sherlock.
Least of all Sherlock himself.
John has never met a man he thinks more of than Sherlock, but the consulting detective's total blind spot to the danger Moriarty presents scares the shit out of him. To give Sherlock credit, the pool seemed to have stripped him of at least some illusions about his arch-nemesis. But John sees a certain restlessness in Sherlock as he paces about the flat; has noticed the way Sherlock tilts his head to look behind him at certain crime scenes, as if hoping to catch a glimpse of someone watching him.
Sherlock does not want Moriarty to hurt him, John knows that. But he cannot stop being fascinated by his enemy and John fears where that fascination might lead.
He brings it up, every now and again. Sherlock tends to be either irreverent or dismissive.
"I have no intention to go out looking for Jim. I'd prefer not to suffer another six hour long lecture from Mycroft on risk seeking behaviour. I swear, the man reads one A-Level psychology textbook and suddenly he thinks he's Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi."
John knows better than to fall into the trap of asking who Mih- who that is, and presses on.
"But you still want to know where he is, what he's doing."
"Yes John, I believe it makes sense to keep tabs on a man who's so clearly keeping tabs on me."
Sherlock never says 'us' when he talks about Moriarty being a threat. He only emphasises that Moriarty is after him. John knows that's his way of refusing to acknowledge how Moriarty targeted John the last time. In a weird way, John thinks, he might also be trying to protect John's feelings by pretending John isn't in the firing line. He wonders if that comforts Sherlock. It doesn't comfort him.
"Are you scared?" John asks once, in a particularly unguarded moment. Sherlock fixes him with his patented piercing gaze but he does John the service of not forcing him to elaborate.
"Of Jim? No."
"Why not?" John says, hoping he sounds casual. As though there's any fooling Sherlock.
"I'm more intelligent than him," Sherlock says, shrugging.
Even in his anxiety, John can't help but roll his eyes. "How do you know?"
"I deduced it," Sherlock says and he wiggles his eyebrows at John in a way that seems so comically out of place that it makes John laugh, and drop the subject. Which, he reflects later, was probably the point.
They only have one real argument about it. It begins when John dozes off while he and Sherlock are watching television one night and wakes to find himself alone. It's half-ten at night and John can't think of a single reason Sherlock would need to leave. He searches the flat with growing panic, hitting redial on his phone in the hope Sherlock will decide to pick up. Just as he is grabbing his shoes and heading out the door to look for him, Sherlock appears in the doorway, looking pleased with himself.
"Look what I got-" he starts to announce, then finds himself pushed up against the wall.
"Where the fuck were you?" John shouts, not even bothering to temper the rage and fear still coursing through his body.
A normal person might shove John away, or object, or demand an explanation but John sees that Sherlock understands it all in less than a second and somehow that makes he even angrier, because if Sherlock can deduce John's thought process so easily now, then why did he disappear like that?
"John-" Sherlock's voice is gentle.
"No!" John spits and hears the catch in his own voice. "You don't- you don't do that-"
"John," Sherlock says again, still calm. "You're hurting me."
"Good!" John says and then comes abruptly to his senses, and lets Sherlock go. "Shit, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean-".
"Understandable," Sherlock says briskly, dusting himself off. "You felt concern upon discovering my absence. Misplaced concern I might add, if you had taken a few seconds to consider the likelihood of Jim managing to infiltrate our flat and remove me from under your nose without waking you or making some kind of mess you might have saved yourself a little worry."
"I didn't... I didn't think he'd taken you. I thought you'd-"
"You thought I'd gone out looking for him," Sherlock says and something indefinable flashes behind his eyes. "Sheer idiocy. Again, if you'd taken even half a second to engage your brain, you might have realised how stupid that idea was."
John feels his blood rising again.
"Don't mock me, Sherlock. I don't know what that man might be capable of making you do."
"Making me do?" Sherlock sneers. "I can assure you, I consider myself above petty manipulation, especially from the likes of Jim-"
"Stop calling him Jim!" John shouts. "He's not your friend, he's not your arch-nemesis, he's a fucking psychopath who wants you dead!"
"What do you want from me, John?" Sherlock says, as close to irate as he ever gets. "You want me to lock myself in my room? Hire Anderson to stand guard outside the flat? Stop being a detective and give up my whole life on the off chance that a consulting criminal might jump out of an alleyway and say boo?"
"I want you to take this seriously!" John yells.
"You think I don't take this seriously? You think I don't understand the threat Moriarty poses? You think I haven't considered all the ways he could hurt me?" Sherlock's face is very pale and intent and he doesn't meet John's eyes when he says: "Or... or hurt you."
John deflates, all the fight leaving him. He takes a deep breath, then another, then takes a proper look at Sherlock and the bag he's been holding since he came in.
"Why did you go out?"
Sherlock gives a lopsided smile and produces a packet.
"You bought popcorn?"
"You were complaining that we never have popcorn when we watch a film together. So I went to the corner shop."
"But you hate popcorn."
"I do." Sherlock shrugs and finally looks John in the eye. And John can't be angry anymore.
"Mycroft had his eye on me the whole time," Sherlock says at last and John nods.
"And I'm not going to stop saying 'Jim'," Sherlock adds, defiantly.
"It's okay. I know why you do it. Like using Voldemort's proper name."
"What?" Sherlock says and then his face creases in disgust. "Oh. Those ridiculous magical books you made me read. Do you know John, that septet was riddled with so many internal inconsistencies that it's a wonder Harry Potter wasn't killed by the weight of his own crumbling narrative."
"Says the man who stayed up all night to finish the series." John says, grinning.
"I never leave anything incomplete," Sherlock sniffs. "Now, are we going to make this infernal popcorn or not?"
The argument was the most serious Sherlock ever was on the subject, and John didn't probe further. He kept his fears to himself, nursing them in the long black of sleepless nights. He turned all of the possibilities over in his mind, tried all the different solutions in all the possible combinations. There was one stone of his psyche, however, that he left resolutely unturned. John deliberately glossed over thoughts of why exactly he felt so strongly about protecting Sherlock. Or felt so strongly about Sherlock in general. They were just friends, as John liked to mentally underline. Good friends. Partners in deduction. Flatmates. Comrades. John had plenty of mates in the army like that. He'd go out of his way to protect any one of them, Sherlock was no different. And if sometimes he looked at Sherlock a little too long, or held his breath when Sherlock accidentally brushed up against him; well, that didn't mean anything. Neither did his recent break up with Sarah. He just wanted to get her out of Moriarty's firing line, that was all. And if Sherlock seemed in an unusually good mood on receiving the news, well John was sure he was reading too much into things. He didn't care whether Sherlock was happy about him and Sarah anyway. So it was all fine.
John was good at keeping these reassurances at the forefront of his mind, which is why, nine weeks to the day after the pool incident, waking up to find Sherlock sliding into his bed slightly wrongfoots him. In the early days of moving in with Sherlock, he may have had one or two dreams of this kind but he put them down to the disorientation of a new flat. Besides, he was sure experts always said that sex dreams were really about death or your career or something. Still, as easy as it was to be blasé about those dreams, the reality of Sherlock appearing next to him is harder to be brush off.
John blinks away sleep and turns to Sherlock, entirely uncertain of his next move when his soldier instincts kick in and he realises that something is very very wrong. He already has an inkling of what's happening from the tension in Sherlock's body even before Sherlock presses his hand over John's mouth and whispers in his ear:
John's body is conditioned enough by his army training to go into survival mode even as his mind struggles to comprehend. The first feeling is numbness. Then a flash of incredulity that Sherlock took the time to sneak across to John's room rather than utilising his one chance at escape. Then, finally, abject terror.
John nods at Sherlock to signal his understanding and the man takes his hand from John's mouth.
"My pistol-" John whispers and then stops, because his pistol is in the living room, under the couch cushion, where he left it last night when he got up to make tea and wanted to be armed.
"Not here," he whispers, defeated and Sherlock tightens his lips. His face is impressively blank but John knows this man, knows him more than anyone he's ever known in his life and John sees now that Sherlock was lying when he said he wasn't scared of Moriarty. Sherlock is just as scared as John, and in that moment John makes a solemn promise to get Sherlock out of this or die trying.
"We could-" Sherlock starts to say but stops abruptly. The door handle is starting to turn. Both men freeze as the door swings open, slowly, like in a horror film, to reveal Moriarty standing framed in the doorway. And John prays that it's not actually happening, that he's stuck in one of his nightmares again, that he'll wake at any moment; but the sudden clutch of Sherlock's hand on his arm tells him that it's real, real, real.
Hopefully that came off okay. Please leave a review if you feel like it; it will be read with an almost frightening degree of eagerness.