The last thing John expects to happen when they get back from the pool, laughing and exhilarated at having cheated death, cheated Moriarty, is for Sherlock to kiss him.
It's not an unwelcome surprise; quite the opposite, in fact. Sherlock's mouth is warm and he tastes of coffee and chlorine, and he kisses like he's dying. John is backed up against the table, Sherlock's hands digging into his back, pulling at his shirt, and soon Sherlock, fully clothed, has him completely naked and is kneeling in front of him, pressing kisses along his hip. John stumbles back and somehow they manoeuvre themselves so that John is sitting on the table, and Sherlock is –
John's heels dig into Sherlock's back and he opens his mouth to apologise but what actually comes out is "Jesus fuck, Sherlock" and Sherlock grins and hums around him and John's back is arching and his hands are fisting in Sherlock's hair, his hair has never looked so beautiful, John thinks, and then Sherlock curls his tongue and John is falling over the edge into -
He is in a hospital bed.
The smell of hospitals is ingrained in John's nose. He knows most people can't stand it, but to him it's just another everyday smell, like exhaust fumes or cigarette smoke. And to be honest, John thinks, the disinfected, sterile smell of a hospital could hardly compare with the stench of the half-pickled human ears Sherlock had recently -
John sits up in a panic, feels the IV drip in his arm pulling as he moves. He looks around; he's in a private room, probably courtesy of Mycroft, he thinks drily, and it's the early hours of the morning. He tries to reach down to the chart on the end of his bed, to see how often he's being monitored, and when someone will come round again, when he can talk to someone who'll tell him what's going on. His ribs ache and his head is throbbing. Even raising himself on his arms requires an exorbitant amount of effort, and after a few moments he gives up. He's sure someone will come soon.
John must fall asleep, because the next thing he's aware of is waking up again.
It's dark, which surprises him, but he rationalises that the dull light he thought was morning must have been twilight. He is aware of a presence next to the bed, and as he turns and takes in his visitor's profile, he breathes a sigh of relief.
His flatmate is sitting in a chair that John hadn't realised was there. He is holding a book loosely in his hands, staring down at it so that his hair covers his eyes. He might be asleep.
"Sherlock?" John speaks a little louder this time, but Sherlock doesn't respond. Definitely asleep, then.
John suddenly remembers his dream from earlier - it must have been a dream, surely, because he now clearly remembers being taken away from the pool in an ambulance, he has not yet been back to the flat - and is suffused with a bone-deep, crushing embarrassment he has not felt since the time Harry caught him having a wank in his room. John coughs, realises that this might wake Sherlock and tries to swallow it. Eyes watering, he clears his throat as quietly as he can, breathing deeply and staring at the ceiling until he feels the raging red blush on his cheeks begin to subside.
With a jolt, John realises that Sherlock will probably figure out that John has - has what? Had a sex dream about him? Subconsciously lusted after him? Both? - dreamt about him. If not now, then at some point in the future. John can just see him innocuously bringing it up in the middle of dinner.
Better to get the whole conversation over with now, John decides, and avoid further embarrassment.
"Sherlock," he says, and his voice is raspy and unused. "Sherlock, I - just before, well, earlier tonight, really, I, um. Well. I had a dream about you." Even as the words come out of his mouth, John curses himself for how ridiculous they sound. "I - Jesus. Listen. I care about you. You're fantastic, and brilliant, and just ... I don't know how people don't just fall completely in love with you - well, I do, actually, because you're maddening. And frustrating, and your fascination with severed body parts really isn't healthy, but I love you, you mad fucking bastard, and -"
John hazards a look over at Sherlock. The detective is still sitting in the same position, head bowed, hair covering his face. John holds his breath.
He holds it until Sherlock looks up, puts a hand on John's arm, and says in a voice that is not his own, "John."
John frowns. That's not Sherlock's voice, it sounds like ...
John blinks as he wakes up, and squints into the bright, sunlit room. He's still in hospital. Right. Good. He must have fallen asleep while he was talking to Sherlock. He wonders how much of their interaction he dreamed and how much was real.
Harry says his name again, her hand resting on his arm. "How are you feeling, John?"
"Like a bloody train wreck," John answers. His head is killing him and the IV is itchy and uncomfortable.
Harry laughs, nervously, quietly. "You don't look much better."
"Thanks," John grumbles. "I love you too." He jerks his head slightly; anything else seems like too much effort. "Give us a kiss, then."
Harry leans over and kisses his cheek. "I've been waiting to see you all morning," she says. "They wouldn't let me in until that other man left."
Harry frowns. "No, not him. Tall bugger. Wearing a suit. Not much hair."
"I guess," shrugs Harry.
"So you didn't see Sherlock?" Too late, John realises how he sounds. Like some sort of lovelorn teenager. Oops.
"N-no, I didn't," his sister says, guardedly. She has only met John's flatmate once, and they didn't taken much of a shine to each other. John can understand her reluctance to talk about him.
"Do you know when he'll be back?" John asks. "Last question, I promise, then we can stop talking about him," he adds quickly, seeing the look on Harry's face.
"I- I'm sure he'll be along later," Harry says soothingly. "He's probably, um, resting."
"Right. Fine. Good." John shifts around in the bed, trying to find a position that's even a little bit comfortable. It occurs to him that he has no idea how long it's been since he and Sherlock escaped the pool - were rescued from it, he corrects himself, remembering Lestrade's grey, harried face amongst the rubble.
"What day is it?"
"It's Thursday," Harry replies. "You've been in and out of consciousness for about ten hours or so, they said."
"That can't be right. We were at the pool at midnight on Wednesday and it's been at least a day since - "
Harry shakes her head. "They found you at about two o'clock this morning, brought you in as soon as they could dig you out. Whatever you two were up to, you made a hell of a mess. They found me in your phone, I've been waiting ever since they brought you in. I guess tall buggers in suits get preference over family members."
An important thought is beginning to form in John's brain. Something - someone very important that he hasn't asked about yet. His brain is sluggish, and instead of doing what he wants, it keeps going back to the feel of Sherlock's skin under his fingers, Sherlock's smile against his pubic bone, like a burn, like a promise ...
"Moriarty," he manages.
"Who?" Harry looks confused.
"The man at the pool," John explains, frantic. How could he have forgotten? What if he's still out there? What if he's come for John? What if he's come for Sherlock?
Harry makes a face. "They didn't find anyone else at the pool," she says. "At least, not that I know of. I did ask."
John breathes out shakily and looks at the ceiling. "That's alright. I'll ask Mycroft. I'm sure he'll be back."
Harry squeezes his arm. "I'll let you rest. I'll be back later, alright? Bring you some grapes or something."
John manages to turn his head and smile at her. He's never felt so tired before. "That'd be nice."
Sherlock comes back when John is half asleep, and crawls onto the bed next to him. John is lying on his side, trying to get comfortable. Sherlock doesn't speak, but for some reason it's the most natural thing in the world for Sherlock to wrap his arms around John's waist and hold him until they both drift off again.
When John wakes again, his head is much clearer, but Sherlock is gone.
He feels strong enough to try the sitting up business again, and manages it with moderate success. Propped against the pillows, John is able to look around his room properly. He's in Bart's, he realises, and in a grim sort of way it cheers him to think that Sherlock is in the building somewhere, flogging a corpse until John is well enough to entertain him again.
There is a small pile of gifts on the table next to his bed. Intrigued, John manages to reach over and examine them. There's a bunch of grapes, presumably from Harry; a crossword book from Mrs. Hudson; a bunch of slightly wilted flowers wrapped in cellophane, attached to which is a pink Post-It note reading 'Get well soon! From Molly'. There is also a very simple card from Sarah, saying that she looks forward to seeing him again.
There's nothing from Sherlock.
Well, let's be honest here, John, he's not exactly the best at sentimentality, or emotions in general. Just be happy with what you've got.
John pushes his gifts around a bit more and discovers that Mrs Hudson has kindly left him a pen, as well.
He settles in with some grapes and a crossword and waits for Sherlock to come back.
After a few days, and a few more night-time visits and half-sleeping embraces, John is discharged. Sarah brings him some clothes that aren't covered in dust and blood, and Molly pops up to say goodbye before he leaves. John texts Sherlock to let him know that he's on his way back, but doesn't get a reply. Must be busy with some experiment or other.
John gets a ride back to Baker St with Sarah. She is quieter than usual, afraid to laugh or to make jokes. As they park outside the flat, John suggests that he and Sherlock come round for a drink to celebrate his recovery, and Sarah looks as if she might cry.
"Oh, come on, I'm not that bad," John laughs, and Sarah swallows heavily.
"I know you're not," she says, and he kisses her. She smells of lavender and hand sanitizer and she doesn't kiss back.
"Is everything - alright?"
"John," she says, and he already knows what's coming. "I think we should just... hold off. For a while. Just while you settle back into everything. I don't want to - I mean, I don't want you to feel that I'm - intruding, or ..."
John leans against the passenger seat. "It's fine, Sarah." He smiles at her, and squeezes her hand. "It's all fine."
She kisses his cheek. "You'd better get inside before I change my mind."
John climbs out of the car and waves fondly as Sarah pulls out and drives away. He's not nearly as sad about the end of their relationship as he'd thought. He turns and walks up to the door of the flat.
His limp is back. Damn.
John attempts to rationalise this sudden discovery as he struggles to open the door while standing on one leg. Must be the shock of the pool debacle. Sherlock said it was psychosomatic - he'd asked his therapist what that meant, because he was too embarrassed to ask Sherlock - so it was probably just the shock. That must be it.
There's a more pressing problem at hand: there's no way he's going to be able to get up the stairs. He'll have to get Sherlock to come down with his crutch - it's still sitting up in the flat somewhere, just in case. He didn't think he'd ever need it again.
John hobbles into the foyer and calls out for Sherlock.
Damn and fuck.
John's stomach drops as he remembers what Harry said - they didn't find anyone else at the pool. A cold, sneaking feeling of dread fills his gut. Moriarty might still be out there - Sherlock might be -
His thoughts are interrupted by Mrs. Hudson, who appears from her own flat. John must look terrible, because she takes one look at him and makes that face, the one that John associates with a mother looking at a scraped knee.
"Oh, John, dear," she says. "Come in and have a cuppa."
"Yeah," John finds himself saying. "Yeah, thanks."
Mrs. Hudson's kitchen looks exactly as John expects it to, right down to the grandchildren's finger paintings stuck to the fridge. Mrs Hudson bustles about, keeping up a constant stream of sentences that John only half pays attention to. He sits at the wooden table, staring at a particularly garish floral teacup, and worries about Sherlock. He's probably gone after Moriarty on his own, the daft git, that would be just like him. He's been ... different ... since the pool. There's no telling what he might do.
" ... and of course it was a terrible shock, the poor dear, and you as well in the hospital in the state you were in, I was worried sick, the pair of you, what sort of stunt that was I don't know, have a biscuit, dear, just this once, not your housekeeper you know ..."
John smiles and nods and eats a biscuit and doesn't listen.
John learns two things in his afternoon with Mrs. Hudson: the woman seems incapable of taking a breath, and she keeps a hospital-issued crutch behind her bedroom door just in case her hip plays up. He promises to give it back to her once he finds his own.
The flat is empty when John finally makes it up the stairs. He sits stiffly on the sofa and types out a text to Sherlock.
Where are you? Was looking forward to seeing you.
Don't do anything stupid.
There's a horrible smell coming from the fridge. Ordering in some dinner tonight, then. John orders a pizza (no anchovies, he's allergic; no olives, Sherlock hates them) and doesn't move from his seat. Sherlock can deal with whatever it is when he gets home. He closes his eyes - just for a moment, he tells himself, just til dinner gets here - and when he's next aware of his surroundings, when he's somewhere between waking and sleeping, he can hear Sherlock pottering around in the kitchen, and he smiles.
Sherlock kneels next to John, and John's not quite sure how he got all the way across the room so quickly or so quietly, but he's not complaining. Especially not when Sherlock plants a gentle kiss at the point where John's cheek becomes his ear, and John can feel him smiling against the skin.
John's phone goes off and he wakes with a start. It's a text, not from a number he recognises. Sherlock's nowhere to be seen again, and John wishes he would stop disappearing without telling anyone. The chill dread in the bottom of his stomach is back, and he remembers Moriarty's voice echoing around the pool building, his calmness as he faced Sherlock, the way he laughed in the earpiece as he listened to John reciting his words ...
I must speak with you most urgently.
There is a car outside.
"Who the hell ..." John wonders aloud, before his brain makes the connection. Mycroft. Of course. The man is incapable of just ringing up.
With a loud sigh, John gets to his feet and makes his way - slowly, painstakingly - down the stairs. There is indeed a car outside the flat; it's shiny and black and not at all conspicuous. The CCTV cameras are still pointing at it. Mycroft must be losing his touch.
John climbs into the car - he even has to open the door himself - and begins to speak before any of its occupants have a chance. "This better not take very long, I've got dinner on the way."
Mycroft is in the front seat. He's not driving - John wonders if either of the Holmes brothers know how - but he doesn't look round when he speaks, preferring to stare straight ahead. "Pleased you could join me, John. I don't mean to trouble you, but this is a rather delicate matter." Mycroft has the curious ability to sound as if he is lifting each of his words with gloved hands, inspecting them and carefully dropping them into place as he speaks.
"Any particular reason why you couldn't just ring me?"
"I'm afraid I can't divulge anything until we reach our destination."
"Right. Fine." John shifts into a more comfortable position. It's a nice car. He may as well enjoy the ride.
Their destination turns out to be Mycroft's office. John has always imagined it to be some sort of secret bunker, but it turns out to be a perfectly ordinary-looking room on the fifth floor of a building in the middle of the city. There are chairs on either side of a large wooden desk, which dominates the small room. There are several empty mugs on the desk. John gets the feeling that Mycroft spends a lot of time in this room.
"Have a seat, John." Mycroft is facing the large window behind the desk. John wonders if he's just being dramatic, or if there's a reason they haven't made eye contact yet.
"I'm alright, thanks."
Mycroft turns. "I'm afraid you may need it."
John blinks. Mycroft has bags under his eyes and his tie is crooked. In fact, if John didn't know any better he'd say that Sherlock's brother has been crying. His eyes are red and his face pale - he seems to have aged almost ten years since they last spoke.
"Blimey, Mycroft, is everything - "
"Sit down, John." There's the faintest hint of a tremor in Mycroft's voice.
His stomach is bottomless. "Is this about Sherlock?"
"Where does he keep vanishing off to? Why hasn't he talked to me since Wednesday?"
Mycroft sits opposite John, steepling his fingers. "This may be harder than I suspected. John, Sherlock is - he's dead."
"You're lying." John's belief is carved in stone, unbreakable, immovable. Sherlock is not dead, because Sherlock cannot die. If Sherlock Holmes can die, then life may as well cease forever.
"Would that it were, Doctor. But I am afraid - "
"Just what the hell do you think you're playing at?" John struggles to keep his voice level. He would dearly love to smack the dazed, heartbroken look off Mycroft's face. "Who the fuck do you think you are, bringing me here just to tell me that? What the fuck do you think you're doing?"
"John. I appreciate that this is difficult - "
"You're damn right it is, you utter prick - "
"- but if you could please remain calm," Mycroft intones, clasping his fingers together. His knuckles are white. "I am truly sorry, John, but Sherlock was shot, as best we can determine, moments after the explosion in the pool was set off."
"Fuck off," John replies, as eloquently as he can. "He was at the hospital with me, you must have seen him, Harry said she saw you in my room - you must have just missed each other." John feels sorry for Mycroft, suddenly. The poor man is just confused. "Look, he was at the flat just a couple of minutes before you were. You probably saw him leave."
Mycroft's eyes are filled with something that looks like pity. "Inspector Lestrade is, I believe, attempting to find a working cigarette machine somewhere in the building. He will be back momentarily, if you trust his version of the facts more than mine."
John is suddenly relieved. This is just another game, another silly scheme like the phone box, like asking John to spy on Sherlock. He can sort this mess out and then catch a cab back to Baker St, and he and Sherlock can laugh about all this. He shakes his head. He laughs.
"What's the point of all this?"
"What's the bloody point? You know as well as I do that Sherlock is probably back at the flat by now. This is just some silly joke you're pulling on me. It's okay, I understand that. I'm just, well, I'm fucking confused, to be perfectly honest."
Someone knocks on the door. Mycroft sighs. "Enter."
The door opens and Lestrade shuffles into the office. He looks terrible - worse than Mycroft, John thinks. He's unshaven, his jacket is dirty and his shirt is two days old at least. He smells of cigarette smoke and his face is ashen. He nods at John. "Evening."
"You look awful," John responds.
"Not surprising, considering we've been chasing that bloody lunatic around most of London for the past three days."
Lestrade leans on Mycroft's desk, rubbing at his face with both hands. "Look, John, Mr. Holmes here said that we might have a bit of trouble convincing you that Sherlock - Jesus, that Sherlock's dead. But listen, mate, what with the shock and everything, we couldn't tell you straight away, and what with one thing and another we thought it'd be best if you heard it from us."
Lestrade sniffs, loudly. It takes John a few seconds to notice that the detective's eyes are damp.
The roiling dread rears up in John's stomach and he fights to keep it down. In the army, he learnt to deal with tragedy by joking, by taking it lightly, not letting it affect him. Somehow, that skill abandons him at this moment and the look on Lestrade's face cuts to the core of him, makes his leg and his head and his heart ache. He is being borne away on a cloud of pure panic, getting to his feet, knocking over his chair, laughing without a single ounce of joy in his body.
"So you mean to tell me - " John takes a gasping breath, trying to conquer this alien laughter bubbling out of him - "you mean to tell me that Sherlock is dead, and that - that fucking wanker survived?"
"I'm sorry," Lestrade says, at the same time that Mycroft says, "Yes."
"Then who was - why did he - " John's hand is shaking and he isn't laughing anymore, he's breathing heavily, huge deep breaths that threaten to turn into sobs, and Lestrade is guiding him back to his chair before his legs give out and he wants to vomit and punch Mycroft and shake Lestrade just to get that fucking look off his face and Sherlock isn't dead, Sherlock cannot be dead because if Sherlock Holmes can die then what is the point of anything?
"Why did he leave me?" John asks Lestrade, who looks as if he would rather be anywhere in the world than right here, kneeling next to John and having to answer that question. John's face drops into his hands.
"Why didn't he take me with him?"
The pool lights reflect off the water, making Moriarty's face look ghoulish and almost dead. John doesn't dare turn around when he disappears from sight, waiting for the almost imperceptible relief in Sherlock's eyes, which signals that Moriarty has left the building. John relaxes, and in the same instant realises just how many of his muscles were tensed. There is no joy, only relief, when Sherlock launches himself towards John and removes the heavy, explosive-laden coat. John sinks to his knees against a wooden cubicle support.
-That thing - you offered to - that was - good.
Sherlock has trouble with sentimentality.
The memory is a blur, the water, the coat, the red dots lighting on Sherlock's face like living creatures. Moriarty's voice, by turns deep and chimelike, echoing inside John's head. But Sherlock's face is perfectly clear, when he looks at John before he pulls the trigger, just to make sure. One minute everything is calm, silent except for John's breath, and the next everything is light and noise and Sherlock's arms around John, pushing him back into the changing cubicle, covering him, providing what little protection he can. John's head hits the concrete wall and black dots creep into the edge of his vision.
- John, John listen to me, you cannot die, John Watson cannot die, if John Watson dies then life may as well cease forever. Do you hear me?
Sherlock presses a kiss to his lips, and his mouth is cold and defiant and beautiful, and then he is gone.
The flat is perfectly quiet.
John sits, and waits for Sherlock to come back.