thanks: to angearia and quinara, the WORLD'S MOST PATIENT BETAS, who have spent many an hour poking at this story and making it not suck. They are amazing. Any errors herein are my own. Thanks also to automaticdoor (my dear Hotson) and bobthemole for providing insta-feedback when I was all nervous. You're all wonderful.
- Rainer Maria Rilke, "Premonition"
"You're worse than Mycroft," John says as he attempts to juggle bags, cane, and doorknob.
Sherlock, still gazing fixedly at the ceiling, feigns nonchalance. "I feel very special."
"I'm sure you do." John is disturbed that he can tell Sherlock is feigning anything. He's also losing patience with Sherlock's pale attempts to look like he's been lying in state the entire afternoon instead of tailing John in a fairly conspicuous manner.
Having balanced the cane against the door jamb, John manages to carry the shopping into the kitchen and get the perishables put away. Mrs. Hudson did away with the head while they were in hospital and there's almost enough room to fit everything comfortably alongside the inedible contents of the fridge. Briefly, John savors the novelty. Then his body reminds him of its existence and he sits down, somewhat hard, on the chair in the kitchen.
"What gave me away?" Sherlock's voice drifts in from the living room.
"Same as the last two times," John tells him, and adds mildly, "You could at least give me a hand with things on the way home."
The rest of the kitchen isn't doing as well as the fridge. Looking towards the sink, John can see that dishes are already starting to pile up, despite what felt like hours of dishwashing last night. There's just enough free room on the kitchen table for elbows, and maybe a saucer. John leans forward and rests his head in his hands.
When he was in Afghanistan, he'd lived for the promise of moments like these – putting away the shopping, doing the washing up, settling down in some place that wasn't dirt and sun and combat. Two out of three, on the last – that's not bad. But as it's turned out, John Watson settles poorly. Four weeks on from Moriarty and the pool, he's getting restless again.
Sherlock is, of course, not helping. John gets up to check on him, and finds him turned in against the sofa, wrapped tightly in his wrinkled dressing gown. "Ribs hurting?" A nod. "Too cold?" Another nod. His forehead is warm and damp to the touch. "If you'd stay off your feet, you wouldn't feel so ill. I'm sure you'd be well to get back to your stalking in no time."
"It's not stalking. And I'm f—" A flurry of coughs interrupts him. John puts a hand on Sherlock's shoulder tentatively; he leaves it there until the tension in his friend's shoulders subsides. Then he takes the afghan bunched up at the end of the sofa and pulls it over Sherlock.
There's nothing he can do to convince Sherlock they're safe, because they're not, and nothing he can do to convince Sherlock that he can protect himself, apparently. Still, the world goes on around them. There is shopping to be done, an evening with Sarah here and there, and soon he'll be starting back with his part-time work at the clinic. Sherlock can't follow him everywhere.
"You have pneumonia," John reminds him. "And three broken ribs. While I realize this is a foreign concept, you're supposed to be resting."
"I'm bored," Sherlock's voice rumbles from beneath the afghan.
John looks at him and smiles sadly. "No. You're not."
Sherlock spends most of his recovery on the sofa, obsessively watching the news and combing through foreign newspapers. He condescends to speak to Mycroft on the phone at one point, but refuses to see anyone but John and Mrs. Hudson. Lestrade manages one half-hearted drugs bust, with little to show for it; Sherlock won't take any cases. It sets John on edge. The tremor in his hand returns.
He thinks about setting an appointment with his therapist every now and then, but those moments pass before he can summon the energy to do anything. Everything has begun to slip into mind numbing routine.
One night, John looks over from his chair to see Sherlock illuminated in the blue glow of the television, sound asleep. Not even the shrill young man serenading them on X Factor disturbs him. In the months they've lived together, John's only seen Sherlock asleep a handful of times, most of them the product of involuntary collapse after the culmination of a case. Sherlock's face is softer in sleep, his eyelashes long and dark against pale cheeks. He's drooling slightly on the Union Jack.
John's not sure what this means – Sherlock sleeping, himself watching. After a while, he turns off the telly, and he resettles the afghan over Sherlock's shoulders. It isn't enough, but it's what he can do.
He makes his way upstairs in the dark.
After his flirtation with death, Sarah abruptly decides it's time to take their relationship to the next level. Every time John enters her flat, it's like moving from restless slumber into a delicious sensory delirium. Nothing smells like sulphur, the refrigerator is full of milk that's not gone off, and the loo paper is soft and plentiful. And then there's Sarah, whose scent and flavor and feel are delicious and singular. In the morning, they talk about work and other inconsequential things over breakfast, and he re-enters the world with a profound sense of wellbeing that lasts at least until he gets to the clinic.
He's not in love with Sarah, but he does love many things about her: her calm certainty, her quick laugh, running his fingers through her long red hair. Sometimes he plaits it clumsily, like he used to do for Harry before she got old enough to do for herself. Sarah leaves it that way a while to humor him, but always brushes her hair out and pulls it back neatly after she dresses. He loves that about her, too.
The first time it happens, he shrugs it off; he's getting older, and Sarah enjoys herself, and that's what's important, after all. But it happens again, and again, and soon he finds that he can't even get off by himself; every time he gets close, the world feels like it's closing in, and—
"Look," Sarah says, the last time, after he crawls back up her body to lie beside her. "I like what you do for me. But you don't have to do anything you don't want to. You don't need—"
It's dark (Sarah likes it dark) and John can't see her. Her cheek is dry, though, when he cups her face in his hand; that's good. He kisses her.
She pulls away. "Tell me what it's— Did he—"
"No, no," he tells her, because somehow they both know exactly whom and what she's talking about. "I just— I can't lose control. It gets overwhelming. I can't even—"
Sarah rolls away from him, in towards the wall, and his hand trails across her collarbone and the curve of her breast. He moves closer to her, holds her; his mouth almost touches the back of her neck. "It's fine, John," she says after a while. "I know."
Working with Sherlock has taught John that everyone has secrets. It's taught him a lot of things he doesn't want to know.
Sherlock went back to work weeks ago, and by now the novelty has worn off even for Lestrade. He looks wary when John ducks under his umbrella outside the crime scene, carrying a damp shopping bag. "Lunch? How kind of you."
It's past one in the morning. "Evidence," John replies. Sherlock's been digging in the skip round the back. "It's some kind of trading card game, there's a whole box of them."
Lestrade has opened the bag. "But what would a woman in her sixties be doing with Yu-Gi-Oh! cards?" He catches John's eye and sighs. "I have a son, all right. Don't you start in on me. What does Sherlock expect me to do with these?"
John lifts his hands in the universal sign of surrender. "Haven't the foggiest."
It's a long night for both of them. Sherlock, on the other hand, seems to be having an excellent time.
On the Friday after the case is closed, John realizes that Sherlock's moved back onto the sofa. He comes home early in the afternoon with the newest Dan Brown novel to find Sherlock lying on his stomach, head on the cushion, pale bare feet dangling over the side. He's been wearing the same dressing gown for days, although the pajamas do seem to rotate out. The afghan – its burnt orange and chartreuse stripes are unmistakeable – has also taken up residence: it's draped haphazardly across Sherlock's back like he's forgotten it's there.
John drops the book in his chair before he goes into the kitchen to fill up the kettle. Before he's set foot over the threshold, Sherlock is already winding himself up.
"Pointless, inaccurate drivel—"
"Sarah likes them," John answers, getting out a mug. Sherlock's entirely right about the books, but half the fun is Sherlock's indignation. He wonders if he should rent the film they made; it would probably give Sherlock an aneurysm.
"Sarah," says Sherlock, with the tone he usually reserves for his archenemy. "If you rent that DVD, I will find experimental use for your new trainers."
"That's not a very good threat." He plugs in the kettle. "I've had to replace them twice over. You're slipping."
Sherlock doesn't respond, which is disappointing. When John returns to the living room, he finds that Sherlock has drifted off despite the bright sunlight streaming into the room. He's lying on his stomach, which must still pain him a little, but he looks more relaxed than John has seen him in months. It's only then that John starts to do some deduction of his own. The abandoned tea cup on the floor, empty box of nicotine patches below the sofa, a monograph on blood coagulation: none of these things are unusual for Sherlock, but John tidied up and ferreted the trash out from under all the furniture and in between the police reports earlier this week. Most significant is the presence of the afghan — John hasn't seen the afghan in months.
Suspicious, he thinks, as he nibbles on a chocolate digestive and turns his attention to the first chapter of TheLostSymbol. Exposure to Sherlock has dampened his enjoyment of mystery novels somewhat, but this one is still engrossing.
Around page 39, Sherlock mutters something and turns over; the afghan falls to the floor.
Around page 58, John looks up again, his eyes catching on the pale slice of skin where Sherlock's t-shirt's ridden up. He goes back to his book hastily once he realizes he's staring. But after he catches himself doing it for the third time, he sets the book down, using the receipt to hold his place, and retrieves the afghan. Sherlock's eyelids flutter as John settles it over him, but he doesn't stir.
John is midway through the book and night is falling when Lestrade shows up at their door. And then the game is on again.
"Nice try," says Harry, looking at TheEssentialDykestoWatchOutFor. "You know, we don't all shop at the lesbian bookstore these days. I even read a Cormac McCarthy novel once."
"Buck up, or it's Barbara Cartland for you next time," John retorts, unruffled.
His sister wrinkles her nose. She looks tired. They're the only ones in the lounge just now; it's big and making an effort not to look institutional. This isn't Harry's first time in rehab, but John thinks she's really trying to make a go of it this time – doing it for herself, and not for Clara. He doesn't think Clara even knows she's here.
Reflexively, his hand goes to the pocket where he keeps his phone, and Harry's eyes flicker with amusement. "I thought you turned that thing off."
"I did. Sherlock can live without me for an hour." The first day he'd put his mobile on vibrate. That was a mistake. Sherlock seems perturbed by the fact that there's any time of John's day during which he is unassailable.
"I bet he's texted you twenty times. Five quid."
John rolls his eyes. "Harry."
"And how is Sarah?" She winks.
At this, he tenses up. "She's fine. Just fine."
"Oooh, trouble in paradise," Harry murmurs, but then her tone changes. "Really? I'm sorry, John. I'm just–"
"No, it's fine." It wasn't. Actually. "Anyway, I've got to go, I'm sorry. Time's up, you know, and–"
Harry is smirking again, and he realizes that his hand's back at his pocket. "Go on, you. See you Thursday."
He squeezes her hand on the way out. When Sherlock's not skulking in his normal place outside the clinic, he checks his messages and finds a string of them culminating with Sherlock in hospital.
"Should have let your phone ring," he crows when John arrives at the A&E. The wound's not serious, but it's a painful one: the knife slipped up under Sherlock's arm and narrowly avoided causing nerve damage. He'll have a nasty scar, and won't be able to move his arm properly until the stitches come out.
John rubs his face. "Can we save the triumphant chastisement for later?"
"Hardly triumphant. McPhee is still at large." Sherlock looks surprisingly cheerful for someone who's recently been stabbed. "Text Lestrade for me, will you?"
"You just texted me twenty-six times."
"Only eight after the stabbing and five since I arrived here. It's extremely tedious with only one hand."
John sighs and holds his hand out for the phone.
He still turns the ringer off on Thursday. There are some battles Sherlock will never win.
The night after they catch McPhee in the act, John has one of the dreams; he hasn't had one in a while, not since Sherlock was back on his feet and dragging them around London at all hours in fear for their lives. It takes a while for his heart and lungs to slow after he startles awake.
He's known all along that this wasn't a panacea, the excitement, that even with his life in motion things would follow him around, catch up with him someday. But that hadn't stopped him from hoping. Someday, he thinks, he may dream of the pool, and not Palmer's face as he slipped away, or Thomas's eyes lying open and unseeing, already beginning to coat with the drifting sands. But it's too fresh. He can't touch it.
Briefly, John wonders what Sherlock dreams of. If he dreams.
"The light in your room is much better," Sherlock says calmly the first time John finds him sprawled out over his bed with crime scene photos. It's not the first time Sherlock has come into his room, but John made it clear very early on that severed limbs stopped at the threshold, which Sherlock, surprisingly, has respected. To be fair, there are no actual body parts in his room now. Just photos.
"I have to sleep in here," John points out.
"Not right now." Somehow, Sherlock always manages to sound reasonable, when he's crossing unwritten boundaries in some new and awful way. "You are, in fact, diverging from your usual post-work routine of a chocolate digestive, a cup of tea, and some poorly written popular novel invariably recommended or lent to you by Sarah—"
"I don't have a routine." He can't remember the last time he was actually able to sit down after work with tea and one of Sarah's books. Maybe the last Harry Potter. He recalls it fondly. "And Sarah is not exactly inclined toward lending me books at the moment, in case you've not written that one to your hard drive."
Sherlock goes back to looking at the photos without comment.
"No more crime scene photos in there," John calls over his shoulder as he heads downstairs to plug in the kettle. "I mean it, Sherlock. Find something less gory."
There's no reply, but he wasn't expecting one.
The first night John finds Sherlock asleep on his bed, Sherlock looks like a man who has tried very hard not to fall asleep. His head is pillowed on the chemistry textbook at an awkward angle, and one of his arms is hanging off the side in a manner that suggests an uncomfortable loss of circulation. John stands in the doorway for a while and considers his options. This has gone a little too far. Sherlock can't sleep on every surface in the flat. He has a bedroom, at least in theory.
John makes his way carefully down the stairs, and pauses in front of the door in the hall. He's never seen Sherlock's bedroom, not even the door open, in the seven months they've lived together, and he half expects the door to be booby-trapped. But the door swings inward at a touch.
Whatever he was expecting, it wasn't this.
Every inch of the walls, the ceiling, and some of the furniture is tacked with papers and photos and evidence bags, sometimes sloppily and sometimes with careful precision. Lines of string connect many of the papers, but not all; most are covered in furious yellow highlighting and post-it notes. Even the windows have been papered over. John doesn't need to look to know what they are, though. It's Moriarty.
John has managed to put it out of his mind, mostly. If Sherlock wasn't going to bring it up, neither was he. Of course, it would have been very unlike Sherlock to let something like this go. But John had hoped. He had wanted Moriarty to disappear into thin air. Maybe with a wave of Mycroft's umbrella or not-Anthea's magic fingers. But he is out there. The most recent clipping is two days old.
Back in John's bedroom, Sherlock is still asleep. He starts awake when John lifts his arm back onto the bed. "Shh. It's all right."
Sherlock stares at John as he takes away the chemistry textbook. "John?" He sounds unsettled and alert.
"Go back to sleep." John takes off Sherlock's shoes as well. It's still his bed.
"Are you sure?"
John pauses in the doorway. "I'm sure."
The sofa is more comfortable than he expected. It is strange to be the one wrapped up in the afghan. It smells like Sherlock.
The next morning, he wakes up to find Sherlock poring over crime scene photos at the desk as though nothing's happened. Maybe nothing has.
John tries hard not to look at the door to Sherlock's bedroom, but he knows he's not fooling either of them.
Autumn has long been John's favorite time of year, and this is his first back home in several years. "Time to bring out the scarves again," he says contentedly one morning over his Weetabix, which Sherlock acknowledges only with a blank stare.
It's also John's birthday, the first week of October. His sister takes him out to lunch, and gives him this year's aran. "Perfect," he declares, squishing the wool between forefinger and thumb: it's springy and scratchy, just waiting for him to wear it in.
"You are so predictable," Harry says, stirring her iced tea with its long spoon. "Someday I'm going to get you mittens. Just to shake things up."
"Shut it," he replies affectionately. "Anyway, I understand we've got another thing to toast."
"Sixty days," she acknowledges. They clink glasses just as the waiter arrives with Harry's salad.
The conversation drifts toward less consequential things, like Harry's new client who wants some kind of improbably cantilevered balcony that goes against every London building code. When John gets up to leave, she squeezes his hand. Then she grins. "A full hour and no texts? Must be someone's birthday."
When he arrives home, Mrs. Hudson gives him his own afghan. It's puce and fuchsia and looks rather vile, but John thanks her profusely anyway. He folds it neatly across the end of his bed .
He doesn't expect Sherlock to remember his birthday, or acknowledge it, but at the end of the day, he finds the most recent Michael Crichton novel tucked under his pillow.
John clambers down the stairs and waves the book in Sherlock's face. "You hate these. You think they're absolute rubbish."
Sherlock regards him with some exasperation; the book has come between Sherlock and what looks like an ear in an advanced state of decay. "They are."
John sighs, defeated. "Where are they?"
"Back of the cupboard next to the fridge."
It takes him five minutes to find them hiding behind a large bottle of what appears to be power-steering fluid.
"Excellent," says Sherlock. "Also, we're out of milk."
Sarah gives him the same Michael Crichton novel the next day as a conciliatory gesture, and Sherlock's plan becomes clear. Nevertheless, it's a good day at the office and John comes home early to find there's a case, though an absurdly simple one: they solve it by the end of the night. He hasn't tried for a while, but he attempts a quick wank in the shower while he's washing off the river sludge. So close and then— he finds himself sitting in the shower tray attempting to breathe. He is in the shower. He is safe in the flat, or as safe as he can be with Moriarty still abroad. He can barely feel the water pelting his skin.
After a while, Sherlock shouts through the bathroom door. "You've used up the hot water."
John shakes his head, realizes the water's indeed gone cold and he's shivering. "Sorry," he says, and he knows his voice isn't steady but it's the best he can do. Sherlock doesn't press him.
As a doctor, he knows this happens to a lot of people. And when it had first— after he'd come back from Afghanistan— he'd talked to Emma, and she'd said it was normal. Like the tremor, it had gone away very quickly after he took up residence in 221B. He felt alive. He felt real. He was in control of things again.
He's not in control anymore.
He startles awake to find Sherlock whispering his name softly. "Sherlock?" he asks in turn, but Sherlock doesn't answer, just lies down beside him. The bed is very small, and John has to scoot over to make room. "What– why? What's going on?"
Sherlock doesn't respond. John wonders if he's dreaming, but when he reaches over and pokes Sherlock, his flatmate is disconcertingly solid and twitches under the assault. "Stop it," he says at last. "You're not dreaming. Go back to sleep."
"All right then," John grumbles. He should probably be objecting, but he's too tired and his main source of irritation is being pressed against the sloping attic wall. They lie there, back to back, and John drops off to sleep before he hears Sherlock's breathing slow. When he wakes up, there's bright sunlight streaming across the bed, and Sherlock is downstairs; John can hear him rummaging around below him in the other bedroom.
It's Sunday and John doesn't have to work. He closes his eyes and sleeps dreamlessly for another hour.