A/N: Epilogue requested. Nothing is actually cleared up in this, but it is marginally less depressing. Happy ending FTW! So, here! Have at it.
Apologies for lack of beta! Again.
The tableaux was revolting and compelling: John's too-thin frame cut a sharp whip in the dim light of the room; he had long ago given up trying to stem the flow of Moriarty's bleeding, an expression of disappointment and relief on his face, but the blood had yet to dry on his hands - it glimmered sickly and shone too starkly against John's unnaturally pale skin. It dulled, however, as it seeped into the carpet, deep and viscous and dark as wine; its lustre gone, the splotches looked cartoonish and gruesome - not to mention, Sherlock thought blandly, terribly ordinary: just like those of any murder.
Perhaps slightly less ordinary were the shards broken glass covering Moriarty's prone form (courtesy of Sherlock's precise aim): impossibly tiny slices and slivers, shining like stardust, the milk long gone but its residue remaining - a bright white speckled with blood and brain matter, specimens on microscope slides.
John's milk, half finished, had been gracefully placed on the floor next to the consulting criminal's body. Sherlock glanced at it again; he knew from seeing the future (the possible future, rather, from which he and the Doctor had just come...the previous future Sherlock wanted so desperately to avoid...) that it hadn't been poisoned or drugged in any way, but he still longed to take a sample just to be sure. He would watched John closely for any deleterious effects.
But at the moment, John did not appear to be ill or dying. Sherlock could not see properly, of course - he'd need to scrutinise his colleague (friend) up close to really be sure of any significant physical changes. Flawless deduction at this proximity was unlikely at best. From a distance, however, the detective was able to take note of John's pin-straight pose, clasped hands, unfamiliar clothes. The army doctor was calm, blood-stained, sharp-angled and pensive.
Sherlock did not know why, but he felt a desire to look away. He fought it.
"Go talk to him," the detective said roughly to the Doctor, eyes not leaving John's face.
"I'm not sure I'm who he really needs," the Doctor replied. Gently, with practised ease, he pried the gun from Sherlock's hands.
"My bedside manner leaves much to be desired," Sherlock muttered.
The Doctor smiled. "I'd imagine he knows that, and doesn't desire anything beyond what you can give," he said. "Go."
Sherlock walked over to John, heart-rate increasing incrementally with every step. Rush of adrenalin, he noted absently. Peculiar. He'd killed a man and, predictably, felt nothing, but now he was experiencing the tell-tale responses ordinary humans attributed to stimuli provoking fear and excitement at the thought of talking to his friend: pupils dilated, palms sweating, hands trembling, blood pounding in his temples -
His automatic nervous system was reacting to this movement as if - well, if Sherlock hadn't known better, he would have said he was afraid.
"How long," he murmured impassively, upon reaching John and the deceased consulting criminal.
John didn't look up. "The whole process began two weeks and a day ago," he said precisely. "I didn't know for sure it would be today, but I knew it was coming. He was almost romantic in how he dropped hints."
A strange expression passed over John's features. Then he smiled and Sherlock noted, absently, that it was very out of place when the man was perched over a corpse and partially covered in its blood. Perhaps that's what John always meant when he warned me about 'Not good,' Sherlock mused.
"I suspect that's why the Doctor came to find you?" John asked, but his tone did not suggest it was a question.
Sherlock answered anyway. "Yes."
He looked at John, now that he finally had at his disposal the privilege of proximity, and realised this was the first time he'd actually seen him in three years - not on CCTV, not from the TARDIS window, but truly seen him - and he observed every inch.
Gaping collar, likely lost about two stone but hasn't had time or desire to buy new clothes - know he still keeps clinic hours and is employed by Lestrade (too little physical evidence on clothes, shoes, or body - why? - to garner information off person but surveillance shots show evidence of daily walk and banking information shows cheques deposited and made payable out to one John Watson funded by the NHS), so while he is not exactly drowning in quid he is making more than enough to fund a new wardrobe if he so chose. Therefore the weight loss is neither intentional nor something he expects to last and in the meanwhile appearance does not matter to him. It has been slow and steady; friends and colleagues who seem him daily likely haven't noticed due to constant exposure and the incremental nature of the change. No one has said anything to him.
Sherlock quickly moved on, feeling uncomfortable.
On clothes - not his; follow his style but the blend is too fine and the material too expensive. Also rarely wears that shade of blue. Likely came with only one set of clothing: that is, the one he was wearing, despite the fact he intimated earlier it was not a surprise and he even suspected the time-frame of his abduction. He still bore reluctance in coming and did not pack a satchel. Moriarty, enjoying the idea of conquest and theatrics and roleplay (and with a deep appreciation for luxury and expensive taste), would almost certainly object to "courting" someone beneath his status. He would dress John before beginning.
Sherlock swallowed, throat suddenly dry.
Eyes - tired and pained, pupils dilated but not unnaturally so. No more so than is to be expected in this light; therefore John is neither in undue agony nor on heavy analgesics. Likely was not tortured, then; pain is chronic - both physical and psychosomatic. Exhaustion is chronic - nightmares, sleep deprivation.
Hair - longer, at least 15 cm longer; he hasn't cut it in the last six months.
However, Sherlock paused, thinking , it might have actually been more than six; while acute activation of the sympathetic system was harmless, chronic excess of catecholamine hormones such as adrenaline forced the body to ignore "lesser" functions like maintaining health nail and hair growth in favour of the more critical ones, such as sustaining proper heart and lung function. This excess could be brought on by situations such as prolonged starvation (Sherlock absently put a tick next to that box) and ongoing stress (Sherlock put a tick next to that one too).
He swallowed again, roughly, cutting off that train of thought. For some reason, he didn't want to deduce anymore.
"I had a plan, you know," he said, voice betraying nothing. "I actually had a cunning plan - a brilliant plan - I had gathered forces - "
John looked up at him. Sherlock looked away.
"I had a plan," he said again, more fiercely this time. "And then you, you had to ruin it all by bloody going and getting yourself kidnapped!"
"I've only been gone a few hours," John said, giving him a penetrating look.
"No! Well - this time, yes," Sherlock replied, gritting his teeth. "But that's because we stopped you - " He broke off and took a calming breath. His chest actually hurt now, and he didn't know why.
He hated not knowing why.
"How could you do this to me?" he finally hissed. His voice was barely a whisper, but it carried. "How could you be so selfish?"
John was silent for several painful minutes. Then, he began to laugh. It wasn't a mocking laugh - it was soft and a bit broken and terribly, genuinely amused all at once. That only made it worse. "Can you honestly say you wouldn't have done the same as me?" the army doctor inquired. "Really, be real with me. Can you tell me in no uncertain terms, no holds barred, you wouldn't have done the same if he came to you? Because let's face it - you have a shit track record of turning down dates with psychopaths."
Sherlock felt sick. "I had a plan," he said again.
"I bet it was a good plan," John agreed easily, and Sherlock wanted to shake him until he was nothing but a pile of bones and dust.
Heartrate increasing breath intake ragged dizziness vertigo muscles twitching body temperature rising sweat glands overproducing temples-pounding-pressure-building-behind-eyes-
There was something foreign on his cheek. It felt...wet.
John wasn't laughing anymore. He looked curious and worried, and Sherlock realised, in the strange way people realise sometimes ("one even grew used to it, fond of it, overlooking its presence but noticing its absence") that this was the first real indication he'd seen all evening that his John was still in there. That he wasn't just a sociopath in John's body.
Sherlock didn't know if it comforted him or not.
John gracefully stepped over Moriarty's prone form and approached Sherlock. Saying nothing, he reached one bloodied finger up to Sherlock's cheek and wiped the tear away.
"That was..." Sherlock grimaced, utterly repulsed. "Completely uncalled for."
John smiled slightly, challengingly. "It was symbolic."
"It was unhygienic," Sherlock snapped, heart hammering.
"You don't care about the blood and you know it," John scoffed. "You've had far worse on that face, and no, not an innuendo." Sherlock grimaced again. "What's different is that I put it there. And now you feel marked. But that's not what it was about."
Sherlock scrubbed furiously at his cheek. "What, then? What was it about?"
John grinned. "God, Sherlock. You're so brilliant when it comes to logic and science but you're rubbish at emotional interpretation. I've got faith in you though. If anyone can suss this, it's you." He paused. "Or Molly Hooper. She'd know about feelings and I imagine you two have got quite close."
And with a smile, he turned to go. "Coming?" he asked. "I have a few days left of my holiday. I'm in Spain."
Sherlock raised an eyebrow. "You're also predictable," he replied.
"Naturally," John said. "It wouldn't do to arouse suspicion by doing something out of character. So I'm in Spain. Which gives us the perfect excuse to be wherever we'd like."
"I suppose he's offered us transport, then?" Sherlock gestured to the Doctor.
John nodded again. "Yep. There's some stuff to clear up first back at the flat, but then I'd say a holiday would be prudent."
They both stared at Moriarty's body.
Sherlock frowned. "Yes," he said impassively. "Mini-break would be best." Then looked critically at his friend. "He kidnapped you. Is there some sort of procedure or protocol one follows after such an event? Beyond police intervention, obviously."
"Yes, I'd imagine there are steps one could take if one needed them."
"Ah," Sherlock said, feeling a touch more at ease.
John smiled genuinely. "I'm rather used to it by now," he said. "I'd even begun to miss it! Although it did come at the most inopportune time..."
"It does rather cut our holiday short," Sherlock agreed with an elegant shrug.
"Right," said John, game face on. "So we likely have - what - 10 minutes until the Met show? - and there are at least eight bodies in here, and you've got an unregistered gun, and there seems to be the blood of a famous and already-deceased man on my hands and your cheek."
Sherlock nodded in agreement. "Commence operation not-Spain immediately," he intoned.
John thought for a second. "So, Teneferos V, then?" he suggested.
"Speaking in tongues, John?" Sherlock stared at him piercingly. "I can have a quality exorcist dispatched in seconds should you have need. Really. Just say the word."
John quirked a smile, and expounded, "You said it yourself. Not-Spain. The Doctor can take us anywhere. I don't know about you but I'm knackered and would love a cup of coffee, so how about we go back to the flat, tidy a bit and go for a nice cuppa in an out of the way caf' on Teneferos V. We could do with a bit of change and balance; I've never been but the Doctor says it's brilliant."
Sherlock gazed at him suspiciously.
John's eyes widened.
"Oh!" he exclaimed. "I see what the issue is. I just assumed because he'd taken you to the future - I thought you knew. But I suppose he told you and you didn't believe him. That sounds like something you'd do."
"It is scientifically implausible for us to travel between galaxies and universes," Sherlock snapped.
"Yes," John agreed, "but you yourself just said it perfectly: implausible. Not impossible."
"Only because one would be a fool to say anything is truly, irrefutably impossible," Sherlock said, rolling his eyes. "But that only suggests there is still a one-in-a-million chance, or that the theory has not been disproved. You cannot win an argument on basis of the idea something is impossible simply because it has not been yet proved possible, yes, it's true. But all that being said, the Doctor cannot take us to a cafe on a planet whose name sounds like it's out of the Iliad."
"Well, when you say it like that, it sounds like an epic challenge indeed," came the Doctor's voice from behind them.
Sherlock's eyes slid to the man who was leaning against the wall, smiling in a tight, forced way.
The Doctor pushed off the wall and strode over purposefully. "I would like to convince you, Sherlock Holmes. I proved you wrong about time travel, so why not this? Just a few days. You look like you could do with a bit of a holiday. But which I mean to say, you look like you could do with some running round and shooting and conflict that's not got you at the epicentre for a change. It's not your fault, it's in your job description - you happen to be at the epicentre quite a lot. But sometimes a bit of role reversal does the soul good, eh?"
John ducked his head to hide a smirk. "Right. So, mind giving us a lift to 221B?" he asked the Doctor politely. "Sorry for the inconvenience. I just don't fancy prison at the moment. Besides, I don't particularly want to be here to pick up the pieces when Lestrade's head explodes."
The Doctor nodded. There was a strange stiffness to it, a formality that hadn't there before. As if he was trying and failing to mask discomfort.
"Off we pop, then," he beamed, the smile not reaching his eyes.
Sherlock walked into the police box with John, every so often surreptitiously touching his bloodied cheek and sneaking glances back at the Doctor, who followed behind them at a distance and had his head in his hands, as if digging the heels of his palms deep into his forehead would somehow be enough to make him forget.
Destroying the evidence in the flat was surprisingly easy, and Sherlock was vaguely impressed with John's ability and knowledge when it came to the practice. Long before Sherlock told him, John knew which of Moriarty's presents could or could not be burnt (and what to do with the ashes afterward), and how to dispose of sensitive documents and scramble the surveillance cameras so they played interspliced clips of John's movements over the past six months. It was not for Mycroft's benefit this time, however, as the elder Holmes already knew what John and Sherlock had done. The objective was more to distract any remaining henchmen of Moriarty's, if Sherlock had somehow missed them, and would at least momentarily throw off their scent until Sherlock's state of life was made public.
However, it did have the added disadvantage of letting Mycroft know John was capable of such reprogramming. He hoped Mycroft would assume Sherlock or the Doctor had done it.
John might not have been a genius, it was true, but he was quick. He was sharp and he remembered things with ease and he analysed a situation thoroughly but swiftly before going in to rectify it.
Sherlock saw, now, what the Doctor had meant.
It was strange and fascinating and disturbing to be operating nearly in sync with someone else besides Mycroft, Mummy, and Moriarty (or the Doctor, he supposed) for a change. Sherlock wasn't sure if he liked it, yet. He was used to being the best - the Lonely Only One. The misunderstood, tragic genius with no one to relate to. And now - now he did have someone, and he wasn't solitary, and he was still the best but in some ways John was better if only because he wasn't a sociopath -
Sherlock went to the washroom and started gathering the incriminating things. As he reached up to open the cupboard behind the mirror, he caught sight of the blood on his cheek again. He growled and scrubbed furiously at it with a flannel and soap.
"Sherlock, come on," John said impatiently from the doorway.
Sherlock narrowly refrained from jumping; he hadn't noticed the other man's approach. Stupid, he admonished himself. You must be aware of your surroundings at all times. He whirled on John. "Why did you do it?" he demanded suddenly, as if that branch of scare-tactic interrogation could possibly be effective on a man who had lived with him for years. "Tell me!"
John gave him a Look that clearly said, You're smarter than this.
Sherlock sneered but dropped the subject.
With a gesture that was both elegant and irritated, he bade Sherlock follow him to the door. "The Doctor's waiting."
Sherlock sniffed. "Don't know what you're talking about."
The Doctor smirked. "Go on, admit it!"
Sherlock huffed. "Fine!" he said, throwing his hands up in irritation. "Although I should have relinquished my prejudices long ago when I first stepped into this thing, despite the fact you took me to a different time I continued to maintain this was some sort of scientific trick and/or glorified flying machine. But yes, alright, fine: I finally concede that you are actually an alien with a time-and-space-travelling police box in converse to my original assessment of you which may or may not have included the conclusions 'deluded,' 'undeservedly grandiose,' and 'human.'"
"Those aren't conclusions," the Doctor argued helpfully, "they're adjectives. Adjectives, being social constructs and therefore subjective, can be attached and detached and reattached and preattached to the existing facts to change their reception at any given time or place."
Sherlock wrinkled his nose. "Plausible," he said doubtfully as they stared out the TARDIS window and into the vastness of space. "I operate under the doctrines of science and deduction, Doctor. I don't care for spin, perspective or subjectivity unless it is crucial I do so."
"But you're 'operating' with people," the Doctor replied. He scrutinised the detective's impassive face. "People are, by nature, subjective, and that's crucial to remember. People are not predictable."
Sherlock made a soft noise of disagreement. "People are very much predictable, Doctor. Once you deduce the basic facts - "
"Yes, alright, if you know someone's culture you might assume a certain set of social norms; a sect of religion, and one's degree of devotion to it, could give you insight into family dynamic. It's true, yes, broadly speaking, sentient beings in groups will behave as other members of the group do, whether consciously through social pressure, or unconsciously through rearing and brainwashing, and so a slight done to one member will likely elicit a similar reaction if done to another - but only when you're operating on those basic assumptions!" The Doctor was grinning from ear to ear, now, voice filled with exhilaration. "You call them petty, boring, dull, but you miss the nuances, Sherlock, and oh, the nuances are key! Nuances and exceptions. Yes, it sounds 'predictable' for someone to cry looking at an old photograph or tarnished ring and you could deduce in half a second who they're crying over, how long it's been and what specifically made them revisit the memory now. But I bet you more pounds than Mycroft sees in a year you couldn't actually - I meant really, good and truly - aptly tell them why."
Sherlock was offended. "I could so! I've done it loads of times."
"Have you, though?" the Doctor asked. "Think about it, really think, because these people you see as so pedestrian, so plebeian, are in truth incredibly stronger and more fragile and impossibly more intricate and ugly and difficult and brilliant than you give them credit for. And you miss all that if it's nothing but you dully saying to yourself: Fact - her husband went off to war. Fact - she had a fight with him just prior to his departure. Fact - he hasn't been in touch for a week. Deduction - she is terrified he's dead and no one has let her know, and she feels guilty and doesn't want the last words she said to him to be ones of cruelty. Sounds very simple, right?"
Sherlock watched him, eyes narrowed. "Go on," he said suspiciously.
The Doctor grinned. "Well, it's just - okay, sometimes simple is good; and then, sometimes simple is only good enough. In many cases, because time and events and perception are so complex, the conclusion might be closer to: She is furious with him for not Skyping her and furious with herself for not being more understanding, confused as to why she can't stop crying and violently shoving away any thoughts that something might have happened. What you and I said are close in description, but not quite the same thing because mine is more thorough. Yours is a generalisation, an oversimplification that assumes remorse because that's what a person in her situation is supposed to feel - but what if she, as a person, has not yet felt that remorse? What if she may never in future, either? What if there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, and her response is just as predictable but it's overlooked because it's not presupposed?"
Sherlock hated this man sometimes.
"Mine gives her room to breathe," the Doctor went on, oblivious to Sherlock's annoyance. "Room to feel two things at once - regret and anger - and patently not feel as well - fear. The beauty of it is, that happens all the time! Human motive is murky as hell, because they're feeling so much all at once - and most of them don't even know they're doing it! As a very good man said once," the Doctor quirked a smile, "Humans are incongruous, and if you're holding out for predictability you're going to be sorely disappointed."
Eyes still narrowed, Sherlock glanced over at John, who was fiddling with something several paces out of earshot. "He?" the detective murmured.
The Doctor nodded minutely.
"He's..." Sherlock broke off, unsure how to finished.
"You'll ease into it," the Doctor reassured him quietly.
Sherlock gave him an impassive look. "I suppose. It's not as if I have illusions he'll change. Not after three years of..." he cleared his throat. "Not after so much practice."
"Point," the Doctor conceded. "I doubt he'll go back to how he was. But you may find he's still the same man - just...sharper, and harsher at times. He's more sarcastic and can be vicious. But he's also loyal and loving and warm, and you can nurture that side."
"Me?" Sherlock very nearly laughed.
The Doctored levelled a look at him. It felt like a challenge.
"See, I have this theory," the Time Lord said, lips twisting once more into a smile, "that you've got a sort of inverse-effect on humanity."
Sherlock rolled his eyes, but felt the tell-tale signs of a smile tugging at his lips too. "Contrary to your belief, not everyone I meet immediately wants to go help an old woman cross the street in a feeble attempt to wash away the stench of my baby's blood cologne. Their do-gooder natures don't suddenly skyrocket simply because I went grave-robbing, or insulted someone who did nothing wrong, or forgot to say thank you when Molly let me nick a few spare parts off some John Doe in Bart's."
The Doctor laughed. "Maybe not, not. But you do make them want to desperately prove you wrong - well, that and strangle you - "
He patently ignored Sherlock's muttered, "Feeling's mutual."
"- and what better way to do that than by being and doing exactly what you said they wouldn't and couldn't?"
"Now that is predictable," Sherlock sneered, but that stirring was back in his chest.
The Doctor smiled mysteriously. "You'd think so, wouldn't you. But it's deceptively simple, isn't it, being the other half of a debate - countering someone's missteps, rebutting their attacks. It grows old, for most. They lose the thrill of it. Rebellious teenagers grow up and stop trying to fight against their parents all the time; they move away or they learn new tactics, like tacit agreement. But not you. Why? Why do you love an argument? And him. For all his patience and long suffering, why does he love a good fight? Think, now. Really think about it. How many people do you know who actually, really and thoroughly, are contrary to a T - maybe so much so that it defines them in ways you'd overlook?"
"I was wrong," Sherlock muttered. "You're still deluded and grandiose."
The Doctor grinned. "But not undeservedly so," he observed.
Sherlock said nothing.
"Give it some more thought," the Doctor said, clapping him on the shoulder again and walking over to John.
"Why did you do it?" Sherlock asked against, but quietly this time, seriously.
John took a casual sip of his Shadow tea, admiring the alien beings and surroundings of the planet appreciatively before turning back to his friend. "Sherlock. You know yourself, and you know me. Think about it."
Sherlock stared furiously at a gorgeous green-skinned woman taking a sip of her drink. She was laughing about something inconsequential and her date - obviously shag buddy, by body language - leaned in close to whisper something in her ear, and he tried to ignore the fact that John now had an uncanny ability to make him feel as though he'd been kicked in the stomach.
Why did he still not understand?
That night,back on the TARDIS, he couldn't sleep.
He tiptoed from his room and padded silently round the labyrinthine corridors, exploring each crevice. He paused several feet away, though, when he heard voices.
"Does anyone ever ask you how you feel?"
Curiosity saturated John's tone. Some concern, yes, but mostly curiosity and it made Sherlock think back to the days when concern was the only thing he heard. It usually annoyed him. Now? He wasn't sure.
The Doctor didn't seem fussed, however. "Depends on who I'm travelling with," he answered easily enough. "Some of them don't stop asking; some can't be bothered to start. And some intimate their concern in other non-verbal ways. It just helps having a ear willing to take a rambling head-on, you see; I don't need or want much in the way of human psychiatry."
John laughed. "I imagine my brain would turn to mush."
"Goo's the more appropriate scientific term," the Doctor said frankly, "but yes, just a bit straddling the line between liquid and solid. Typical response."
The was a long silence.
"You're thinking of someone," John observed softly.
"Time Lord-Human Metacrisis, first of her kind, completely destroyed her mind, of course, until I saved her," the Doctor replied, voice oddly tight.
"...by making her human again." John hmm'd thoughtfully.
"There's nothing wrong with being human," the Doctor pointed out.
"What? No, of course not," John replied. "It's just, if you had one person left in the entire world - apart from your beloved villain, that is - who finally understood you and you could connect with, a liaison to a world you vaguely understood but still didn't Understand, why would you ruin that?"
"Villain?" the Doctor asked wryly.
"There's always a villain. And he'd have to match wits with you, so he's have to be alien, most likely a Time Lord. Likely you grew up as mates and he betrayed you. Isn't that always how it goes?"
Sherlock was almost impressed.
"It is," the Doctor agreed thoughtfully. "He's dead now."
"I very much doubt that. And so do you," John said simply. "But we've strayed. This woman. Why would you ruin that?"
"Because it was killing her," the Doctor said, as if John were a moron.
John made another noise, this time more sceptical. "Maybe it was. But someone with your knowledge - and no time constraints and all this technology and access to all of space and every stasis lock you could get your hands on, if she was really deteriorating so rapidly - you could have changed her, saved her. I'm guessing from that stricken look on your face that she more than vehemently made herself clear that she wanted to come with you, stay changed. She had made herself clear, but you made the choice for her. Was it because you didn't think it was safe or you genuinely believed there was nothing you could do?"
"My mind in a human body..." the Doctor took a shaky breath. "There really was nothing I could do. She wasn't built for it."
John sounded highly doubtful now. "In her current form, no, naturally. But you didn't even stop to think of alternatives. Combinations, transformations, hybrids. You wanted her to stay human and unaware, maybe because you thought she'd be happier or safer...maybe because you couldn't stand seeing her and not recognising her. Maybe because you felt something pure had been tainted. Whatever the reason, though, you went back on her wishes without her consent - as if she were a child unfit to decide for herself, or you were too rife with guilt to live with what you'd done."
"I wanted her to live an ordinary, happy life," the Doctor growled.
"She was happy with you," John stressed. "Just as she was. There are time locks, capsules, I've seen them - you are a quick thinker; you could have saved her. I honestly believe you didn't want to. Because it was just too terrifying knowing that in your 900+ years of searching you had only had a handful of people understand you, and the thought of someone actually knowing again...that was too much. Because what if you lost her? She was mortal, after all. She wouldn't regenerate. And that would kill you. Because you've never really been understood by many, have you, Doctor? You don't even use your real name. 900+ years is an awful long time to not connect with someone, human or Time Lord, but factoring in your eleven completely different incarnations but your enduring trait of reservedness when it comes to interpersonal relations, I posit you've had fleeting human connections - yes, you remember every companion you've ever had, but how many have you really connected with? One? Two? Three would be pushing it, but I could see that happening - and two Time Lords, one of whom has tried multiple times to kill you. Various incarnations found various things appealing in each one but nothing so much as their strength and their fragility and - ultimately - their ability to love. Their goodness. Their absence of darkness. You were desperate for them to balance you out, Doctor, because you really are a good man but you're terribly afraid of going too far and stepping over the line."
He paused. There was a deafening silence.
Sherlock stepped closer, not daring to miss John's next words.
"I know this thing scares you, this merge, this hybrid I created. I know you see yourself in him and you see her in me. But just stop for a second and think how magical it might have been if you could have been if you'd had someone like this. Not that someone you're shagging - " the Doctor made a strangled noise and John stifled a laugh, " - aha! I knew it! I knew one of those 'connections' was...Biblical. But anyway, no, I mean a...mate. A proper mate. Someone you could have talked Time Lordy stuff to but who could also go down the pubs with you and watch the football and show you a slice of her world, just like you showed her the stars."
John cleared his throat and continued softly. "That's what I want with him."
"Tell me, John," the Doctor said, sotto voice, "If you could go back, keep it all from happening, would you? Forget what I said for a second about crossing timestreams creating tears in the skin of the universe - "
" - which obviously you've done, or else your voice would not have just gone brisk just then but rather would have stayed matter-of-fact - "
" - yes, well, tale for another time," the Doctor said dismissively. He sounded like he was warring between being peeved and amused. "If you could, would you?"
John paused to think. "No," he said at length. "People need to grieve and make mistakes - "
" - and have it off with criminal masterminds - "
" - Oi! We weren't having it off. Nothing of the sort," John said with a snort.
Sherlock was ashamed at how relieved he felt.
"I just...I wanted to protect him from Sherlock, keep him distracted," John said simply. "And to protect him from himself. God, he's bloody dangerous when he's bored. And...fascinating too. And part of me needed that thrill. It felt intoxicating it felt like..."
"Home," the Doctor finished.
They sat in companionable silence for a few minutes.
"He's terrified," John said finally, breaking the calm.
It didn't take a genius to figure out they'd switched subjects, but Sherlock was oddly impressed (read: irritated) by John's ability to use as few proper nouns as possible in his speech. He also felt the need to lean in closer, as this conversation was obviously about him and therefore very important.
"He isn't," the Doctor argued with a mildness that felt out of place. "He's confused, and he hates being confused, so he's miffed."
"Yes," John said blandly. "And 'miffed' is Sherlockese for 'repression of something big, black and furry with glowing eyes and six inch fangs.' In this case, fear. So how do I convince him he's not in over his head?"
"You appeal to his humanity," the Doctor replied.
"Yes, of course. How elementary," John said.
Just outside the Library door, Sherlock scowled.
"I binned your fingers," John said unceremoniously, not looking up from the crossword as Sherlock opened the fridge at 221B. "When you were away."
Sherlock frowned. "Right. I suppose the rate of human decomposition would necessitate such an action," he replied.
He understood, but he didn't have to like it.
"John," he said, mouth suddenly dry. Heartrate increasing blood flowing to extremities pupils dilating excitatory response fear? no - nervousness? perhaps - source of danger? unknown -
"That moment in the warehouse."
John looked up, a surprised look passing his features. "I'm surprised you haven't deleted it by now."
Sherlock rolled his eyes. Not for lack of trying. He really might have done, too, except it was bloody impossible to delete something John Watson refused to tell him. Then it just became an insufferable game.
And John knew that.
"John," he said. "It could be important."
John cocked his head to the side, staring into Sherlock's eyes. Like an X-ray machine. Sherlock felt...stripped and vulnerable, but he forced himself to stand his ground - albeit with the haughtiest expression he could muster up.
"Sherlock, what were you doing just before I touched you?" John asked quietly.
"Speaking?" Sherlock replied, looking at John as though he were mentally deficient.
But John wasn't mentally deficient, and that was the problem.
"No," John said patiently. "You were crying."
"Something in my eye."
"Lacrimation!" Sherlock finally snapped. "As a medical practitioner you may have heard of the phenomenon! You discredit my general knowledge if you attempt to label and pidgeon-hole me by giving meaning to a physical response when it has none; you know any secretion of liquid from the lacrimal apparatus fits into three categories - basal, reflexive and psych. And, if legend is to be believed, you know me as well, and how I think: would it not be safer to say that tears designed to lubricate the eye or rid it of irritants are far more likely than those caused by emotional distress?"
John was still looking at him with that unyielding patience.
"Sure," he said easily, "Of course it would be safer. It would also have the tremendous benefit of not being true."
Sherlock turned away and walked primly back to the kitchen.
"You idiot," John said with a laugh, and Sherlock whirled around to stare at him. "All this time, and that gigantic brain of yours and you still haven't got it."
Sherlock's chest felt tight.
"Go on, then," he said mockingly. "What did I miss?"
"Think about it," John replied. "Don't just idly muse, skim, then file away for later. I mean really think. I told you already I wasn't marking you with Moriarty's blood. I made a huge point, in fact, of coming back here and destroying everything he gave me. I never grieved for him despite my growing affection for him. Why?"
"Because you're bloody mad," Sherlock muttered, but there was no heat in it. Frankly, madness did not unnerve him.
John shook his head impatiently. Sherlock wondered, idly, if that was how he looked when John simply hadn't understood.
"Sherlock, don't be dense," John said shortly. "Think."
Fact - John had, at that moment, interpreted Sherlock's lacrimation response to be one born of psych tears. His hands were bloody from trying to stop Moriarty's bleeding. Upon seeing Sherlock's tears - what John interpreted as Sherlock's first emotional response in the whole of their relationship - he moved to do what anyone in his position would: brush the tears away.
Fact - Society dictates the gesture was intimate and loving. Sherlock did not like intimacy.
Fact - Society also dictates the gesture was disturbing, given the blood. Sherlock did not mind blood, though he minded that it was Moriarty's and that it stained John's hands.
Fact - John has always cared about societal constraints but in that moment did not; in the past, he put Sherlock's comfort above his own; in that moment, he put the act of comforting Sherlock - despite the detective's discomfort - above all possible detriments to his social perception.
Fact - He placed greater emphasis on expressing this support to Sherlock than on Sherlock's comfort with the fact John cared, or with the method he employed.
Sherlock's mind whirled. In that moment, John's behaviour had reflected that he valued Sherlock more highly than he did his previous ideals: more than social convention, public opinion, even Sherlock's boundaries and personal space - an understandable breach, given how often Sherlock had invaded John's. It also asserted John's standing in the relationship: "you will attempt to take advantage of me and that's fine; but don't expect me to just roll over - it's a two-way street."
Deduction - Sherlock means more to John than anything. Things are different now. John is Sherlock's Metacrisis.
John was gazing at him steadily, eyes narrowed, lips curled slightly in a challenge. "Finally got there, did you?"
Sherlock sat down on the couch, not sure what to feel.
"Yes." He found his throat tightened and he struggled for words.
John's smile grew. "Crap telly?" he invited. With a gracefulness Sherlock recognised and found both disturbing and comforting, the army doctor reached out to snag the remote and switch on the television. Sherlock gave him a calculating stare. "I figure...Neither of us is dying, there's no rush. Let's just forget for tonight."
Sherlock nodded once. "Britain's Got Talent, then?" he asked casually.
"Oh, is that on tonight?" John sounded pleased. "Rather lost track of time."
Sherlock exhaled softly, feeling something uncoil in his stomach - something he could not, for once, explain through deduction and silence. He looked over at John and felt -
"Home," the other man said aloud easily, not even looking at him. "What you're feeling right now. Home, isn't it?"
Sherlook stared, fascinated. "Am I always this presumptuous?" he breathed, intoxicated.
John turned to him, grinning. "This is you diluted."
Sherlock felt exhilarated. "Oh, this more than makes up for your kidnapping, John."
"Glad to hear it," John deadpanned.
All night long, by the glow of the telly, they drank tea and laughed and didn't talk - and it was the best feeling in the world.
Yes, naturally, there were still so many things Sherlock didn't understand, even with his formidable intelligence. Mycroft's involvement. How the Doctor found him. Why Moriarty knew so much. Lestrade's idiotic consent to John's request for an impromptu three week holiday.
And how John had become what he did, and whether they could still be what they were now that so much had changed.
But Sherlock wasn't terribly worried. John was still John; he was just Sherlock now, as well. And if Sherlock were really honest with himself, he suspected he'd been a bit John himself for years now.
The Doctor, for all his maudlin and melodramatic notions on human love and life and connections, did have some of it right. People weren't linear. They weren't always predictable and idiotic and phenomenally dull. True, 99.9% of the time they weren't to be bothered with but if Sherlock wrote them off every single time, he'd miss it - that fraction of a percent someone wasn't what they seemed and felt something else and didn't behave as planned. And oversight was dangerous.
He spent so much time trying to move quickly, resisting change, running from it - there was always so much running - that he never really got to slow down and think properly, even though he was always snapping at people for not thinking enough.
He looked over at John, who was just a bit of everything, and who thought before he spoke but when he spoke it was as if he didn't need to think at all.
"Take a picture," John said absently, "It'll last longer."
Sherlock felt his lips curl into a smile. Odd, really - he'd always been fascinated by John but never quite like this. This was different. It was safety and contentment and surety and danger and anger and excitement.
It was the best mystery he'd ever been gifted. Truly, he wanted to study John for hours.
But luckily, that could wait. He turned back to the telly and smiled.
They had all the time in the world.