New Chapter! It took longer than I expected and I'm so SORRY because the cliffhanger was evil (I agree, but at least I didn't kill them like I sometimes do) because OMG I almost died writing this and have consumed so much wine my liver has had to take a holiday to Jamaica. It's having a great time. Here's the chapter ...
John knows that voice. As close and intimate as his own, still separate from the humdrum noise of the universe, despite a decade's silence.
He's imagined this moment so many - too many times - has played over the scene in his imagination until it became thin and worn as an old record. But now that it's come down to it John is frozen, far out at sea in a small boat, his mind keeling dangerously into panic.
"Molly what is going on in here? You look as if you're having digestive issues."
Silence in the room, only the sound of raindrops falling on the window without, a clear and happy rhythm.
And of course Sherlock doesn't recognise the back of John's head, greying and cut to the unforgiving army standard. But John wishes he did. It might make this easier.
He sighs. All the things he should have been for Sherlock ten years ago - brave, strong, noble - he can force himself to be now. Because if John can run through open fire to save the lives of soldiers he's said no more than a polite good morning to over tea, he can damn well turn and face Sherlock.
John sets his jaw - squares his shoulders - bracing for Sherlock as if for gunfire, and turns.
And gasps as their eyes meet, solipsist and soldier.
Sherlock's face a paler shade of white - unblinking - entire body clenched - staring at John as if gazing down on the impossible, with fanatical intensity. John had forgotten how that gaze could feel like a caress or a blade. Now a scalpel, peeling open each layer of John like ripe fruit skin: the premature sun damage, half grown-out army issue haircut, bad jumper, the ugly cane. He shrivels a little inside, ashamed that Sherlock sees him so desiccated, so sad.
John wants to crawl outside his skin, abandon it there to suffer this scrutiny in his stead. Escape. His only salvation is that he is able to look, too, to run his eyes over this new incarnation of Sherlock, a similar but foreign language.
He's less ethereal than before, has lost that metaphysical fragility John once prized so. But what he has lost in elfin elegance, he's gained in strength and a still, deepdark silence that reverberates around the room. He's still very thin, too thin, but somehow more substantial - a genuine broadness to his shoulders, solidity at his neck. John studies Sherlock hungrily, trying to soak as much visual memory into his mind as possible, sure that soon the spell will be broken and he'll be unceremoniously kicked out of St Barts, probably by Sherlock himself.
John takes a deep, steadying breath, ready to begin his long-awaited and much practiced apology. Thank God the words are etched upon his cerebellum because he's reeling.
"Afghanistan, or Iraq?"
"Um." John blinks stupidly, "What?"
Not what John had been expecting at all, and he's very much aware of Molly's frozen horror, her hands over her mouth, eyes flitting between them as if she's watching two trucks skid inoperably towards each other on an icy road. Mike just looks confused.
Sherlock's eyes narrow , "Did you serve in Afghanistan ... or Iraq?"
Sherlock nods curtly, "Hmm." He half-turns towards the door, looks back at John, expression inscrutable. Whatever he's thinking, whatever he sees, he seems to accept it. "Come with me."
Molly steps forward, "Is that really the best idea just because-"
"Shut up Molly," Sherlock bites, "John, with me."
John silently obeys, giving Molly an apologetic glance as he follows Sherlock out of the room. It's difficult keeping up with his long, sweeping strides, dragging along with his cane. Sherlock stalks down the hall, fists clenched, coat flowing angrily behind him.
Sherlock reaches the glass double doors well before John, and stands holding one of them open with his long arm, looking out onto the gleaming asphalt of the car park, uncaring of the fat drops of rain that are slowly starting to soak him.
Sherlock lets go, and the door swings shut with a low hiss - the rain begins it's cold, slick descent down John's neck. He looks desolately out onto the deserted car park, hunching his shoulders against a bitter wind, and against Sherlock's scowl.
Oh god, Sherlock's brought me somewhere he can kill me without anyone noticing. I'm going to die on the bonnet of a Ford Focus.
"Please, Sherlock, I - if we could just come to some kind of physical nonaggression pact before you quite legitimately unleash your wrath..."
He keeps a safe distance from Sherlock, voice calm and even and palms open, reminiscent of his negotiation training at Sandhurst. Apparently he isn't quite soothing enough, because Sherlock's gaze whips from the middle distance, focus swinging round to fix on John. He says nothing, hands in his pockets, pinning John down with those reptilian eyes.
John shifts uncomfortably,
"I had a lot of things I wanted to say-"
"I know." Sherlock blinks slowly, jaw tight.
"I know, John."
John stops, mouth half open, rain dripping from his eyelashes, "Oh. Um, right. But you see-"
"I do see," Sherlock interrupts again, "You forget I knew you well at Cambridge, too well. You quite clearly are not the same man. I see a man who doesn't just limp physically - who has punished himself for years, heaping sadness and loneliness onto his own shoulders. I see. I know. I ... absolve you."
John might be imagining it, but he thinks he hears a slight hitch in Sherlock's voice as he speaks, though the smooth and fathomless expression doesn't change. It has taken Sherlock two minutes to deduce him and, unbelievably, apparently understand.
Suddenly the rain doesn't seem quite so cruel, suddenly John's able to smile, just a little.
"Well, that was ... anticlimactic."
Sherlock arches an eyebrow, "You were expecting ... tears? Proclamations of love and undying devotion?"
"I was expecting a bullet in the stomach," John retorts.
Sherlock shifts slightly closer, hands still in his pockets, "Don't think I didn't consider that option."
"But you decided..."
"Not to cut off my nose to spite my face, to employ a parochial phrase."
And suddenly Sherlock is very close, so close John can feel his body heat through the frigid air. John shivers.
Sherlock looks amused, "Cold?" he asks, then answers his own question, "Yes, it is. You won't be used to it. Come with me, we'll get a taxi."
It's a silent, self-conscious taxi ride, and John is aware of moving smoothly through the rain past Kings Cross, skirting a soggy Regents Park. He can't stop himself from stealing glances at Sherlock whose face is dimming in the burgeoning dusk, profile proud and still.
Adult Sherlock: haughty to the point of arrogance, manipulating him, leaving John to follow in his wake. John wonders what he's is really thinking under this veneer of smooth indifference and his careful, relaxed hands on the keys of his mobile phone.
They finally draw to a stop outside an ordinary looking house on an even more ordinary looking street. John clambers up as Sherlock pays the cabbie:
"221B", he murmurs.
And they stand side by side, shoulders not quite touching, looking at the door.
Sherlock gestures, "Shall we?"
And so they do, John managing the stairs rather well despite the cane, Sherlock not bothering to wait as he takes the steps two at a time.
Inside, the noise from the street is muffled and Sherlock is slipping out of his coat, pottering about, his eyes occasionally resting on John as if to just make sure he is still there.
John has to press his lips together tightly to cage the animal wail of sheer relief that threatens to break free. Alone. With Sherlock.
Eventually Sherlock comes to a stop, watching John from the door to the bedroom. John clears his throat,
"So, this would've been it. It's nice. Just, you know, get rid of a bit of the clutter-"
"My things." Sherlock interrupts.
"Or, um, keep them. Sorry." John frowns down at the carpet, blows an awkward breath out, "So, coffee?"
Sherlock looks nonplussed,
"'Coffee' is a euphemism. For copulation. Is that your suggestion?" He enunciates slowly, as if trying to explain basic multiplication to a child.
John's mouth falls open in shock, but what comes out is a distinctly high-pitched, "Have you been Googling?"
Sherlock nods warily.
"Right. Well, actually 'coffee' is a very clichéd euphemism for cop - for sex. And I'm not sure it's, um, appropriate in our situation."
"And what is our situation?"
"One in which 'coffee' should absolutely NOT be on your mind right now! Don't you - don't you want to punch me or - or - tell me what you've been doing with your life or-"
"I think it a little strong to punch a man who uses a cane, John."
"So you're just ... letting me back into your life? Just like that?" Despite his best intentions, John's hand flutters up, fussing with the lapel of Sherlock's coat, "You, um, did you hit your head and forget what I did to you? You did didn't you, you have some kind of brain damage, sadly undiagnosed."
John's very much aware that he's babbling, and still touching the coat. Or rather, touching Sherlock a bit more than the coat, now, and that Sherlock's hands are on his shoulders, gently tracing the material concealing his tender scars.
Sherlock shrugs gracefully, "I assume that was an attempt at an apology? Pathetic. In any case ten years have passed; in linear terms I wouldn't call it just like that."
"You have not changed," John huffs.
"No. I have not. Is that unacceptable to you?"
"Is it acceptable to you that I have changed - beyond all recognition - and not particularly for the better?"
Thankfully, Sherlock nimbly sidesteps the actual question, "You are ever John. And no more intolerable than you were previously. Now can we get on with things?"
"Things?" John frowns.
For the first time Sherlock's blank, evaluative mask slips and genuine frustration leaks through, "You have approximately ten seconds to stop being ridiculous and start taking advantage of my forgiving nature."
John fights the violent blush of shame that threatens to take over, "I didn't want to - want to - make you do anything."
"I'm not eighteen, John, and frankly I think the time for chivalry and grand self-sacrificing gestures has passed, don't you?" He didn't wait for an answer, "I will not have you falling on your sword every time you touch me. Nobody enjoys a martyr, Mr Watson."
Sherlock's tone is mocking, a challenge.
No, of course, John thinks, nothing like the boy he was, in all the ways that matter most.
And that's how Sherlock comes to be pinned between the doorjamb and John, and how John comes to have a mouthful of lip and tongue, of Sherlock's neck, jaw, the side of his face shaven smooth, warm against his teeth, and Sherlock arching up against him, eyes dark and wide, face a shadowed blur.
John groans, low and brutal, trapping Sherlock even more tightly with one hand while tugging his shirt upwards with the other.
Sherlock smirks against John's mouth,
"Pyschosomatic" he mutters softly.
Sherlock pulls away - not far - to look down pointedly, still smirking, "Your limp."
John follows Sherlock's highly amused gaze to his cane which is lying lonely and forgotten on the floor.
He blinks, clears his throat, "Of course. Yes. Right. Where's the bedroom?"
The transient growls of cars and flickering strobe of streetlights outside the single-glazed window disturb them not at all, as the sky, vast as death's sleep, rolls overhead in unbroken, unburdened blackness.
If anything, what better aphrodisiac than the hungry lights and noise of city life and it's gritty pressures - released in rustling, unromantic triumph - the chink of teeth against teeth, salty tongue, the tearing rolling awkward action of it all. And afterward, the spent drift into dreaming early morning.
No dry-throated goodbyes, no last glimpses of a country hardly explored - just a dark blind drift from a nameless port.