AN/ Parts of this were adapted from the Johnlock Party Day 3 Prompt (Family Ties), but this has been in the workshop a lot longer. This has taken four months to actually post, writing and messing with it on and off. It was initially meant to be a retrospective Johnlock piece, and it turned more into a study of human relationships, written from John's POV.
Pairings: John/Sherlock, references to past John/OMC, John/Sarah.
We are all going forward. None of us are going back.
Snow and Dirty Rain, Richard Siken
Your best friend all the way through secondary school is called Mark, and tonight you are trying to show him the stars overhead. Trail out the lines of arranged constellations with your fingers, the immensity of the dark, the way it clenches around your outline and his like it's trying to swallow you both up into nothing.
He's not interested, because you're both drunk, heady with the idea of doing something wicked, something reckless. He's seen you looking at him – like that, like you should look at girls, and sometimes do, but not always and that's the sticking point here – and you know you shouldn't have, but tonight his hands snake around your wrists, and he rubs up right close to you, hot air on your face before his lips touch yours, slick with drink and saliva where he's licked them out of nervousness. And you tell yourself he is your friend, that there are boundaries you shouldn't cross, and oh look, Mark, there's the North star and Orion and Ursa Minor, and then you abandon caring and just kiss back, lie to yourself that you won't regret this in the morning.
He is focused trying to get at the zip on your jeans, shaky nervous hands making it take longer than it should. His mouth on yours, chewing through obscenities as he attempts to push up so far against you that you think he might go all the way through, so that if his flesh imprints on yours hard enough, then you won't be two distinct people anymore, you'll be a mess of merged fused flesh. He gives a triumphant moan as the button pops free, and you hiss like something wild, body arching upwards as though you're fighting against the hands fixing your wrists above your head, shoulders uncomfortable and beginning to cramp.
Your back is damp, stained and streaked from the wet grass, his body over yours, collapsing, and the rubble of his groaning body that's kissing you and falling apart, burying you beneath. Those beautiful brown eyes of his that will be the only thing you recall of him years from now, those eyes closed as he whimpers and you add something feral to the symphony, your hands free now to score pink indents into the flesh covering his pointed shoulder bones, that feel as though they are wings crushed down under the bindings of a check jacket. The colour of his hair is lost to the night, and you can barely see his expression over the charcoal shading stretching a gaping blank canvas over one half of his face.
You want to point out the stars, the thousands of them like ships adrift on a wide black sea, the light hitting you history from the thousands of years it's taken to touch up the blemishes on your flesh, touch his, ruin the shadows and show up the mud on your shirt, the sweat on your skin. He probably wouldn't care if you mentioned them, isn't paying attention to such vast things, is grounded in flesh and tightness and heat, and he moves and you force a noise through clenched teeth, and his hands are manacles over your wrists again. There will be reddened marks when he pulls away and the starlight will show them up, remind you what you've done here tonight.
His head and shoulders are in the way of the horizon, blocking your view, ancient light hitting unheeded against his back. And anyway, it doesn't matter because he's shifted again and you squeeze your eyes shut and garble something unintelligible, and you aren't looking at the stars either anymore.
Three years later, and you are another boy, another version of John, different to the one who screwed a boy called Mark in a field under the stars, another man, older, not wiser, never really wiser. Life moulded you with harder edges, punched your heart enough so that you learned to flinch at just the right moment. You've seen a heart as it really is, a greying bloodless organ on a biology lecture table, and it doesn't live up to the expectations you once had for it.
This man you're with now, he's a new face too. His eyes are almond shaped, his mocha skin flawless and thin as membrane, a stretch of sky, his smile a cut from cheek to cheek that's seemingly delicate. A grinning Caravaggio with invisible brush strokes and mystery and a touch of religion in the intensity of his kisses. His skin a landscape of backbone ridges and the terrain of the ribcage jutting faintly out, and so when you first met, you wanted to sleep with him. To take him down a dark alley or into your bed, feel his skin beneath your fingers, see if it would spark your own like touch paper.
You are learning the lesson that love is not fair. Today, he makes himself a sandwich when he gets in from his lecture, methodical, step-by-step; two slices of bread, buttered with an even touch, ham, cheese. He slices it neatly, eats one half downstairs leaning against the counter-top, humming a tune you hate and which he knows you do. He comes upstairs and you're reading on the bed, a thick medical tome, the small words slippery and hard to keep focus on, and he kisses you hello like a chore, the same quick mindless efficiency of washing dishes or making sandwiches.
And later, when you put the book down and kiss him back to see if his skin sparks as it used to, sex degenerates into a process, robotic, pre-planned phrases and hollow sound slapping against walls, sweat slicking your thighs, uncomfortable, cooling in the night air. You kiss back like you are biting, deliberately vicious, trying to make yourself hate him so you can leave him, only slowly succeeding.
Near the end, he shouts someone's name. It is not yours, but you've gone past caring now.
He leaves you to clean up. Goes back downstairs, washes his hands under a lukewarm tap like he's touched something dirty. He eats the other half of the sandwich. You follow him downstairs and flick on the TV, and after a moment, he comes into the room humming that fucking tune again, seats himself next to you but doesn't put his arm around your shoulder, the gap between you a gutter.
Neither of you speak.
There's a storm outside strangling blue sky when you tell Harry you're going to Afghanistan.
She has lines around her eyes, like she hasn't been happy for a long time, hasn't allowed herself to be. Her heart is a locked door that doesn't let anyone else in, not even you, and she's forgotten where the key has gotten to, if it's under her bed or it's balanced on the bathroom sink or she dropped it on a dance floor in a dopey haze. Her skin is a pale armour that clamps around every inch of her, and even the glassy glaze of a hangover doesn't completely swamp shrewd narrowed eyes that pin you in place.
I'm going to war, you tell her quietly, tone barely above a whisper. Day after tomorrow.
It has always been like this. You're not the most patient man by any accounts, but you rarely shout around her. Rarely raise your voice beyond beseeching in the tone of something desperate, because you know that as soon as you start blaming her, as soon as you start hitting the right notes of irritation and hopelessness, it's like holding up a mirror for her to see herself and she can't stand the face that looks back and only locks you out again. And god, but you just want to help her. Want her to win. She always chooses the wrong number to place her bets on. Her raucous friends. The drink. The partners. The one night stands. You want to be able hold her hand without her asking what the fuck you were doing and pulling away to grope for the half-empty bottle nearby, anchor her by your side with her palm tagged onto yours the way she used to when you were smaller and frightened of the monsters in the closet.
You learn as you get older that monsters are just pieces of humanity taken to excess. She makes her own monsters now.
As her brother, you are forced to stand to the side and watch a self-destructive cyclone, your every effort to help batted away. She doesn't want you. Doesn't need you to live her own life, she says, never has. She never told you when she came out, didn't mention her first girlfriend, or her second, didn't mention once waking up in Soho with no idea how she got there. She only called you as a taxi service at three in the morning, stabbing the wrong numbers the first few tries, knowing you'd pick up and expecting her demands to be ok.
Please, come pick me up, Johnny.
Johnny, she always says. You hate it when she calls you that.
No, you always say at first, no, Harry, I can't... I can't watch you do this to yourself.
Then close your eyes, she snaps back. I don't need your fucking sympathy Johnny, I just want a lift. Is that too much to ask? Jesus Christ, I'm your sister, I shouldn't have to fucking beg.
She's always hungover when she swears. You tell yourself it's not you she hates.
So when you tell her about Afghanistan, you aren't surprised when she shouts at you, initially disbelieving and then the slapdash blaze of righteous anger. How could you do this to me? Vitriolic curses and inventive insults designed to knock you down, words like punches in your battered shield held up against her. It's like the world owes her something. That because it did nothing as your father left, and your mother stopped being proud of her, stopped caring much at all, it should give her something in return. Sometimes you're angry, never blowing up in her face but allowing the undercurrent to seethe and write inside you, angry that she thinks it's all about her pains and her hurts, when your dad left both of you, when she wasn't the only one your mum was disappointed in.
Everything is not about you, Harry. You said that once and she snorted, a half choked laugh almost a sob. It's not just the world that owes her things; you too in her mind's eye have reparations to pay. She thinks that by being your sister, she is entitled to your unwavering care and affection, that you'll be there at the end of every drunken phone call, that she can call you every name under the sun like she wants you to drop down dead but you'll still love her in the morning. She's right of course. She's still your sister whatever else happens. But it doesn't mean it's not bloody hard to give her the things she demands from you.
You don't admit it, but you're really relieved about her anger, the most basic of her reactions. If she gave you her support and understanding, gave you words of encouragement, love, hope, look after yourself Johnny, come back to me, Johnny, don't get yourself blown up you daft sod, all the things you've quietly wanted from her in a nice package that she hands to you, you'd glance down at your hands without knowing what to do with it.
When you meet Sebastian, there's a palpable dislike for him that makes itself known immediately. His smile is too broad, doesn't touch his eyes, and you've known a lifetime's worth of corporate high-rise bullshitters to recognise the markings of one right here; his arrogant wide-faced watch worn just to show off wealth like it makes him better, his dismissive glance over your casual wear compared to his own tailored suit.
We all hated him, he says with a smarmy cat-like grin. As though words like that are blunted meaningless things to be thrown out regardless, as though when it applies to Sherlock, common courtesy doesn't matter. The high-and-mighty tone induces the straightening taut nature to your spine, arms folded, a frown settling in on your forehead. Even before you see Sherlock's eyes flick down – almost imperceptibly, for a split second, completely unconscious and telling you everything you wanted you know right in that one motion – you feel the dislike increase, grow warped and twisted like a tree that hasn't stretched upright to touch the sky, the branches curving instead inwards, crooked, arms close to its side ready to protect its own.
You are never going to get to touch the sky. You're a man, mundane and nothing special, but there is something about you that marks you out, the peculiarity that you should associate with a man few others can personally stand. There is an element of protection sparking here, aftershocks of the cabby, leylines of a tightening string that binds both your fates together fortified by rarely given trust. You trust Sherlock Holmes; the man with black-curled hair and grey raven-sharp eyes who is slowly becoming your friend, becoming essential.
So if this bastard keeps talking, keeps turning those intelligent eyes dim with cruel indifference, maybe the crooked arms that clasp over to protect your heart with its ruined walls – scribbled over with the foul things you've said and the noxious things you've heard and have taken into that weak organ and remembered all too well – will stretch out. Maybe your garrison against the world will allow another to slip under your defences to protect them another shrivelled heart against men like Sebastian, whose words in the end mean nothing at all.
Sherlock is not as invincible as he portrays, his front of apathy spidered with hairline cracks when you look hard enough. You wonder whether anyone has taken the time to give him more than a cursory glance before you came along.
You don't like him do you?, Sherlock asks in a subdued moment with sufficient space to breathe, the designated arena of all conversations that matter over at Angelo's, the candles again on the table, the detective again more focused on outside the window than at you. The outside destinations of every passer-by, their histories and fallacies laid bare before his eyes, and you don't mind him not looking at you properly, because you know with a quiet confidence he's listening out for your answer.
No, you respond.
Apart from the fact he's a complete dick?
He insulted you. And you just let him. Like you were used to it. That's why I didn't like him.
He pauses, peers at you properly like he's trying to narrow that laser vision of his to reach all the way through your skin, see the rusted cogs that make up a tired body, the rusted spokes that prop up a tired heart. This might be a talk you never have again with him, but you've said what's needed. You've not been able to be completely open with someone in a long time, not with your sister, your partners, even your friends, and that should mean something, the fact that Sherlock Holmes is the one man you trust utterly when no-one else has ever had that honour. You will not think on that yet.
The detective doesn't reply for a long moment, draped in a silhouette of stunned silence.
A lot of people insult me John, he counters finally.
Doesn't mean they're right.
You change the topic after that. He'll tell you later, years from now when you're both on the sofa at Baker Street, your laptop on your knees and him leaning against you with a thick book half occupying his attention, how he thought about what you said for a long time even after you'd both retired to bed.
But right now, at this table, you know with certainty that the world might be predatory, nature might be made to drag everyone down with snide remarks and bullet wounds and waking up to a lonely London skyline, but right now it's all illuminated in candlelight, tallow dripping onto the tablecloth, and you are going to be there for this lonely man. You are going to try and rebuild a wall of piercing stone that many have attempted to tear down, are going to screen him from what you can, because he means something to you. And you're not clear what to define it as yet, but will leave that to another day.
Because you know Sherlock will be a good man in time, a brilliant man, shining and burning and blazing, and he can only fulfil that destiny if someone believes it can happen. So you believe in him. It's as simple as that.
You kiss Sarah, and are disappointed. Maybe because you were expecting more from this, expecting someone else. She sees it in your face immediately, draws back, perplexed, realisation rising like a wave, her frown a tidal break that lingers too long on such a naturally smiling face. You haven't figured out the mysteries of why this is yet, wont for a while, because you're human and blind, and won't see the emotions you've been nurturing for another until they've sprouted too high to ignore. You only know that her proportions aren't quite right, too soft, too curved, and she has warm brown eyes, that aren't grey with the ghosts of tentative emotions billowing behind the main frontispiece of omnipotent, which don't invite what they used to anymore.
She smiles, the effect tarnished by a coat of let-down, but at least she's trying, she's not shouting or even angry, and maybe that hurts more, that she's not even fighting a battle that was predestined from the beginning. She smothers disappointment with a sigh, and places a hand gently on the arm you have wrapped around her waist, making it clear that you can let go now. There's a tint of understanding in her sad consoling smile, as though she's trying hard to understand the man you are now and the man you were when you first flirted with her, and how one of them has changed into something a little less brittle, something less broken but in the process has been captured by brighter lights and someone else's eyes.
She knows she is not the one that is fixing you, and maybe she's figured out the cure that's putting you back together even before you did, this wonderful woman who would fight for you, has fought for you, but who knows at the end of the day, she will never be the first in your thoughts, and that this budding thing you have could never withstand such an early inquest into your loyalties.
I'll see you tomorrow, Sarah says, and suddenly straightens, Thames air disturbing her hair so it whips behind her. She looks beautiful in this light, overcast watery sun highlighting what is already there, she looks brave and steadfast and dignified, and you both know it's over and she just smiles, a little joke only she gets the punch line for.
And it's like she's seen all she has needed to hear, and for a second, she leans in and you think she might kiss you again, not because of love but because of closure, of things you could have had but didn't, the final stanza to this short tale of yours together. But she doesn't, and instead her gloved hand finds yours, gives a soft touch though the barrier of knitted wool against your cold hand, warming it briefly from the touch of the frigid air.
Go home, John, she gives her permission in a faint nod, Sherlock will wonder where you've got to.
Then she nods again and pivots on her heel, strolling away with her feet catching the cracks of the pavement with every footfall. You'll see her tomorrow of course, but it won't be the same, and the sight of her back moving away from you invokes a deeper melancholy somewhere in your chest, deeper than if you'd used the pre-set words built in for this scenario, the 'it's not you, it's me', the 'I'm sorry, but this isn't working',
It's because you both know the honest truth of this; that from the beginning this wasn't going to work, that there were larger things in play, bigger games and she was never one of the major players, that you knew it would fall and flat-line, and that still you both tried regardless. Maybe that was what made this worth something in the short term. The fact you tried.
You stand still and wonder for a moment why she mentioned Sherlock, why she mentioned him now, brought him into this dialogue of endings. You decide, as she walks away, not looking back even though you keep expecting her to, just to forget about that for the moment.
You give it a minute watching her go, before you turn and start making your way home.
You both started this with fire, you and Sherlock and it makes sense it continues that way. An inferno of things unsaid, the burning chase with your feet eating up the tarmac and blood billowing a drum in your ears, the moments where he was right about the solar system being forgettable because the whole universe exists in London, and your galaxy is Baker Street.
The unbroken water of a swimming pool threatens to quench you both. It went off a damp firecracker, the thrill of near-death and none of the payback, except questions about this life, about him, and about where you stand along this slope you've camped on. The heat of fear, of the rush splutters up, would sizzle the chlorinated water if you jumped in, if this had turned out differently than the sequence of events you'd ran rings around in your head. The red dots flicker out of existence, and with the adrenaline, you burn up brighter with him there to burn with you, a defensive fire-storm that promises that this is not the end but god, you'll be ready for it, igniting your bones and igniting his skin so when he glances across to you he nearly shines.
Right there in these moments after, left to the lull of your own rooms, the damask wallpaper and the skull overseeing all on the mantle, the day doesn't have to end with noise, but in comfortable silence. Here you are John and he is Sherlock and you don't have to pretend to be anything else. Neither of you alter yourselves for the benefit of the other, pull up frayed hems or too long sleeves, the cloth of your character that will never quite be perfect but you are learning to grow into, the roles of friends and companions you stumble around in with stuttering steps, gaining ground on further progression. Before the Pool and all it stands for knocks you both back again.
You were frightened, but you are used to it by now. You've spent your whole life pretending to be ok. He was frightened, and the way he half looks at you like you're already dead and he's the chief mourner makes you think that maybe he's never had enough chance to experience this feeling before. There are too many variables in this experiment, and he's not got control anymore.
You learn the art of falling around then, the rites by which to hate him (not hate him, never truly, but hate the things that make him up, the arrogance, the ignorance, the way he's thinking about pushing you away), superficial wounds and foul temper stoked higher by Sherlock fretting and scrabbling for the bricks by which to rebuild his barriers, the heart of a clock wound till it stretches, nearly snaps. You've got a good heart, but a very human heart, filled with passion and anger and a storehouse for regrets and fears, and you're nearly smothered by it all. You want to kiss him or kill him, and you can't choose, only know that it's his fault, this game for too high stakes – both these games, the one with your heart and the one with your life, and you aren't sure if you'd trust him with either of such value just yet.
Maybe this is really what people mean when they talk about love; nothing about romance at all, more vicious, more about necessity, about trying to not give and taking anything you can lay claim to. The rain outside, the curtain of bad November weather, is shattering down, crying against glass windows, inconsolable, and it clashes with city lights, washes out the colour, and this might be a good point to start again. Leave. Pack your bags and have your cowardice witnessed only by the moonlight.
It wouldn't work. You're tied too tight to this city, these rooms and that man, and you wanted him, want him still, maybe because you thought you could destroy him and remould a good man from the ashes, maybe because you know that man wouldn't be him, wouldn't have nuances and consequences, know that he's already begun a campaign on your heart and scratched a signature of ownership on your chest.
Or maybe, at the end of the day, it's because you need him. Your love is equal to pound of flesh you'd give willingly, because you'd rather that then lose this. That could be what love is too.
You don't tell him this just yet. You haven't quite gathered the words.
The black car settled sleek against grubby pavement is an indicator, but you are able to read the bitter fallout in the air, detailing actions, reactions, the aftermath of short terse arguments and digging comments designed to hurt. You don't know the history of these moments, how they've got to this point so bedraggled and disintegrating still, but you are able to watch them play out like theatre, and you could read the script by now from your place backstage.
The elder Holmes is leaning back, sunken into the armchair, the twirling of his umbrella the only hint that he might actually be capable of movement. He is a grounded statue, shuttered gaze, proportioned limbs carved out of marble flesh by a thoughtful artist, whereas his brother opposite him imitates more an impassioned gargoyle, clinging to the edge of his seat by his toes, hunched upright with his knees up by his chest, barely sitting, more crouching with an animalistic contained quality, gaze cold and unmoving.
This is another motion in an eternal competition with no ground rules, preconceived patterns of familiarity. The two sat opposing one another, like children in a staring contest basing superiority and victory over who will blink first.
You don't get involved in this. It is not your place, not your game, and you're not sure even whose turn it is at the moment, who has the upper hand, so you divert into the kitchen, motion through pre-set signals to the detective you share the house with. Filling the kettle up from the tap, the water pressure too high so it splashes over the sink and dampens your sleeve; I'm making tea, if you're talking about something important I won't intrude; two mugs drawn down, the white one with the RAMC logo and the only other one that's never had any variant of irritant or deadly chemicals stewing in it, clunking ceramic on the sideboard; You want me to get him to leave?
At this Sherlock coughs, a sudden sound in tense quiet, loud enough for you to decipher and you'd had enough rehearsals of these encounters to know the rules by now; no cough, and you simply continue on and try to ignore them both, cough and it's as close to a request as the man will ever make.
Mycroft begins to murmur in a low voice, deliberately pitched, managing to sound exasperated, put upon, as though the other party is being unreasonable. It grates on you even though it shouldn't, two-fold reasons that both converge and make something hateful. One being that you know what that tone does to Sherlock, how his shoulders tense and he clatters around the flat afterwards like a fuming hurricane. The second, the more important explanation, being that Mycroft's tone is exactly like Harry's when he does that, like that voice she uses in late night conversations over the phone; you never listen to me John. You're so fucking selfish, you know that? You buggered off to Afghanistan, and didn't even think about me. What the bloody hell do you know?
And you know every one of these conversations is a drunken one that she won't remember in the morning, that it's not you she's angry at, it's her own addictions, her own failings, Clara, and you are simply the sounding board upon which she strikes, but it bothers you, of course it does. Digs deep and twists with a point, bringing forth the eternal inadequacies of a younger child who watches his sister succumb to the world and fail to fight back, who has leant out as far as he is able to try and catch her hand but with her refusing to take it.
That voice that is aimed at you is now focused on Sherlock, and you wouldn't want him to suffer that. It doesn't matter whether he deserves it. You can read him enough to know now is not the time for this, that the tiredness he is trying to blank out and the hunger you plan on remedying with a quick call to the Chinese mean this is an uneven playing field.
Time to go, Mycroft, you say, an echo of a primal warning, the body language of animals, of wolves – the superiority signals of an alpha warning off a lesser member of the pack against a mate; military upright, steady gaze held longer than is usually socially acceptable, wide stance, a frown on your face that appears the first motions of a snarl. You can finish this tomorrow.
[Back off, the wolf in him growls].
Mycroft reads this as well as anything the two of you could have spoken, and he concedes with a lowered gaze, and even when he stands and towers over you, your gaze doesn't falter. A sly impressed smirk flits across his face and he is saying his farewells, requesting Sherlock thinks on what is has said, all the while commuting with you something equally unspoken with his eyes: Look after him John. I trust you. You respond in kind, say with a stare and the softening of the soldier in you: I will. I promise (and it is now that maybe you think that you and the elder Holmes are not so different, that you both want to defend what is equally important to the both of you).
He inclines his head in a sharp indication that he was understood, and he is leaving then, the door to the flat clicking shut and the man on the other side of it is descending the stairwell.
Once gone, Sherlock frowns and seethes, discontented, and your posture immediately adapts, gesturing, offering tea with actions that are deliberately non-invasive, the claws retracted from your expression. His anger is a concrete you're trying to break with solidarity, and slowly, with dissatisfied mutters he bleeds out his fury and stands up a newer man, closed off and infallible.
But he thanks you in his own way, lowering barriers to give a succinct nod, the start of a smile, and it's not big, but you understand the rendering of emotion to gesture, and that's enough for now.
Tell me what you see, John? His mantra at every crime scene even as he is pulling together the strands of his own conclusions together, framing your name as a query, gun-sight eyes catching yours, asking, requesting. Tell me what you see.
Right now, you see a man shaking from anger, tiredness a heavy cloak over tattered dirty clothes, are watching him shake from fear and it's contorting his features into something purely animal. You see a man whose features you could sketch in pastel, pale and wan, composed of moonlight and stretching shadow, who is tearing himself up with every new bruise he catalogues on you, who might succeed in destroying himself.
You reach out to his crumbling kingdom with a steady hand, the knuckles of your fists scratched, the walls of him unable to withstand the world alone, not after now and a million other moments have shown him up to be nothing but a man, not a god, not immortal, not without the capacity for pain or hurt or grief.
I'm fine, Sherlock, you say, and this story is one you've been telling people for longer than you can remember, your code words with differing meanings dependant on tone and pitch and the expression on your face, and slowly he is learning to translate them, take the time to recognise them. You rarely mean those words, but today, you possibly do, even if he's not reading you right in his panic, even if he's searching for fatalities that he won't find. You are alive, alive and breathing and he is here, staring down at you like you're an imperfect reflection in a glass window he's glanced upon and has wondered how you got there.
Where did they hurt you?he demands to know. He's frantic, an anarchy of overt expression broken loose from constraint, and that is strange, you think, as his fingers trailing enquiries over darkening patches of bruises on your arms, your face, not many, not more than you've possessed in the past. A cut over your eye, a glancing blow off the side of your jaw, and these are not the wounds of a war, these are trophies to a triumph, a victory. John, where are you hurt?
Sherlock. You hold him steady, a hand on his shoulder to anchor him. Sherlock, stop. It's over. I got them. You nod over at the crumpled bodies of your opponent. But he doesn't look, and you pause, see something flitting and dark across his face, a paroxysm, his face paling wishbone-white. Sherlock. Why are you crying? I'm fine.
But he's shaking his head, thin lips pressed together, his hands shivering tremolo on your chest. It's like he doesn't know quite how to touch you.
He pulls his hands up, and they shine, drenched with colour that has caught the light. And when he moves his right hand to cup your face, shadows pooling at the hollow of his neck, the tender exposed places of his skin, they are sticky.
You raise one of your own hands, trap his own willingly beneath your own, and in that moment understand completely.
You had thought the knife had missed you.
Stay here. Sherlock's gaze is unfixed, and he's glancing around for someone to help, for someone to save the both of you, and you want to laugh, tell Sherlock that there is definitely no possibility of you moving anywhere any time soon. But the vibration of vocal chords is a choked wet gurgle in your throat, and you think then, with the sombre knowledge that you might very well be dying right now, that there are words you should have said earlier, only you were too much of a coward to say them.
John. Open your eyes, now, come on, Lestrade will be here any minute...
You smile, and you can taste blood in your mouth. You want to tell him maybe that it was worth it, that the bodies near yours are the two you killed for him, to save him, that you would have defended him to the last without regret, that should it have required it, you would have razed London to the ground if it meant he was not hurt at the end of it. In this landscape of an alleyway like a graveyard, and him leaning over you like he's delivering your rites, you want to tell him he owes you nothing, want to acknowledge that the way he's pulled you closer, smothered his body up against yours, his hands meshing tight in yours so both of you are stained with red, not the way people hold their colleagues, but the way people cradle their lovers, cradle the vessel in which the other half of their soul is held.
You think about forgiveness and want to offer that to him too, but at the same time, your laboured lungs are churning out breath after breath because like hell, you are going now, like hell, you are dying for this stupid wonderful idiot when you need to stay awake, when there are so many more roads to run down by his side.
John, just keep breathing, he's nearly here... you even think about dying on me...
Would I?, you stutter out, and he barks a half-laugh, his heartbeat fast in his chest like it's beating for the both of you. About now is the moment when you both realise there was a bridge further back down the road, a split in the road where you both could have chosen to test the waters of what this all means beforehand, the rickety bridge, the broken slats and weathered rope the only thing dangling above the rushing water beneath. The bridge where you should have taken heed of the warning signs that impeded your path ("Stay away from Sherlock Holmes"... "It's fine, it's all fine"..."I think you've rather shown your hand there, Doctor Watson"), the turn-back-now indicators of shared glances and the quiet lull of moments where you both curled up on the sofa in exhaustion without a thought to the conventions of friendship, how you've been blurring the lines ever since you met him – the bridge you've both crossed without barely a thought.
You want to give him something beautiful, something heart-breaking, so you tell him a story of how you will never leave his side, how you will never let him be alone again. You tell him the tale with every breath you take, gasping and coughing but breathing, inhale, exhale, listen to what I'm telling you, this human heart of yours finding the tune of his and syncing its own music from the pattern of his own.
Lestrade arrives, and somewhere along the line there is the inside of an ambulance as you are manoeuvred onto a stretcher. Sherlock doesn't let go of your hand. And you just keep breathing.
It is November, and it is just the two of you under the microcosm of an umbrella. The light-gilded rain sharpening in the edges of the moment, the blurry backdrop bringing the man before you into a brighter focus. His coat is crumpled, his hair flicked up at the curls like he's let it dry without even putting his hands through. He's faintly out of breath as though he's run all the way here to meet you, which maybe he had, collecting you at the end of your shift, having waited impatiently in the reception area of the surgery for you to clock off.
Nothing else has your attention from now but him.
He's smiling at you like every second with you is a new one, and you wonder for a self-effacing moment, how long it will take for the vibrancy to fade, for his new role to lose its gloss and not fit anymore. Instead trapping him into an emotional prison which will dull him, will make him grow stagnant and restless, and in the end he will end up hating you.
But it's as though he reads your concerns in the passages of your face, the clues you scattered there, only half hidden from him, for he stops walking and you mimic his response. He leans down, grasps hold of one of your hands in the gloved cage of his own; a victorious eager grin, as though he is the finder of all things lost, and your heart is the most precious item in his treasury of stolen goods.
You think you'll ever bore me, John?he murmurs, and his eyes glint. The rain outside is finding its rhythm on the fabric of the umbrella, and he is crowding in closer. Think I will ever want to give this up?
You know what he means when he says this. He means you, but everything that goes with you, the cells that make you up, the shades of your skin, the palette by which you are painted. You were his friend first, and that will always be the foundation of what you are to each other, so that what you are now is just a natural evolution. He wants you to stay, wants your friendship and kinship and your love, the loyalty you offer blindly, the cups of tea and the arguments and the way he says he's sorry and he means it.
Believe me, John, he says.
One day. I might never. One day, I might wake up and know I'm wrong.
You won't be.
You can't prove that.
Then let me spend every day trying to.
That, Mr Holmes, has to be one of your better ideas. So in the rain, you wrap your arms around his chest, and he adapts his posture automatically, holding the curved handle of the umbrella with one hand and clutching you nearer with the other, your head tilting up as his lips meet yours, the rain thundering down outside.
It's not the first kiss you've shared, but something tightens low and hot at the base of your chest, and you feel him smirking beneath your lips, and so retaliate by trailing your tongue across the seam of his lips, making him quiver and clench tighter to you. And you kiss in the rain like there will be no tomorrows, like all your yesterdays have coalesced into the culmination right here on the pavement outside Baker Street, you standing there, him pressing his lips to yours (his brain cataloguing, forming data and hypotheses, things to try, things to learn, and sometimes – like now, when you breathe ragged against him, and his throat hums with a moan that sounds as though it was meant to come out as a word – just letting the sensory input wash over him for analysis at a later date).
You are not one man – not John, not Sherlock – but two halves of a same battle-worn heart, union inspiring better things from the both of you. This, what you are doing here to the tempo of the weather, what touches you will trade, what memories you will make, this is the kind of thing neither of you will ever understand. Because for once there isn't an answer, there are clues but no solution, and for some reason, that's ok. You are human, and so is he. You don't have to know everything.
He deepens the kiss, and your hands tease down the small of his back, and it doesn't matter that you don't know what will happen tomorrow. You can't know the future; can't know that there will be three years where you count the days like a tally on your chest, can't know that one day a long long time and hundreds of happy memories from now, you'll look at him with his inky curls dappled grey and crow's feet framing those brilliant eyes of his and you'll still love him just the same.
But right now you are here, standing straight and unbowed to the world, with scars on your skin and scratches on your heart, and they're testament to this moment, to the fact that you've braved it all and emerged the other side, and he loves you, and that's really all that matters here, ad finem ultimum, and maybe you can hope you will have this every day, even if you don't quite believe it right now.
Stop thinking, he tells you, his lips teasing the flesh of your neck, drifting down, and you're going to have to get inside soon, away from prying eyes, away from the noise and the traffic and filling it with your own rhythms of breathing and motion and prayer.
He smirks again, separating his lips from yours a fraction, indicating with his hand at the door to home.
Coming inside?he asks.
You follow his lead. You do not look back.
The inspiration for segment 9 came from the gorgeous John/Sherlock artwork by reapersun over on Tumblr, who kindly said it was ok for her work to act as my muse =) I'll post the link beneath. All of their stuff is honestly brilliant, please check it out if you get the chance.
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