Last chapter. Feel free to don slash goggles if that's your thing, though I've tried to leave it open for interpretation. Thanks for reading.
John draped the dishtowel over a convenient door-handle and surveyed the flat with an approving eye. Everything was in its place – even if he'd had to make one for it - right down to the dark-haired, dressing-gowned figure blocking the light from the window, violin still tucked beneath his chin, lids drooping over moonlight eyes as he lost himself in reunion with another old friend. Notes wafted around the flat, reacquainting themselves with the dust-motes.
The sight, the sound, the feel of it. Safety with the scent of danger spicing the air. Home, with the call of the exotic trailing in the wake of that damned dressing gown. John shook his head, at himself, at the persistent shiver within crying warning that it couldn't all be real, as though the action alone could shake the doubts from his mind. This, exactly this, was what he'd mourned for all these months, helplessly, hopelessly, a vision so shining and precious that sometimes he had to wonder whether he'd painted the memories in more glorious colour than the original. Yet now, it seemed that the rose-tinted glasses through which he'd grieved for his lost friend had proved to be clear glass after all. Was it so surprising that he still couldn't trust the evidence of his senses?
John cleared his throat with a tad too much force, partly in an attempt to dislodge the lump, mostly because lurking silently while his senses gorged on the presence of his prodigal friend had to slightly pathetic, if not outright creepy.
Sherlock's eyes flickered fully open in response to the painfully contrived interruption. The violin music segued into something light, whimsical. Musical question marks, an audible compliment to the raised eyebrows.
John gestured vaguely towards the kitchen. "Cleaned up," he reported, shifting restlessly on his feet, tired to the bone and in no mood to examine why he wasn't tucked up in bed already.
Sherlock forbore to berate his friend on the redundancy of his statement. He could see the freshly washed teacups resting in the drainer, after all, and the visible lack of takeaways containers surely meant the leftovers were safely stowed in the fridge with 'fit for human consumption' labels affixed.
"You let them dispose of the stand," he noted instead, using a particularly vigorous sweep of the bow to indicate the emptiness below the windowsill.
John carefully repressed a smile, well aware this was all the thanks he was going to get for keeping the violin safe - and glad of it. Sherlock did thanks about as well as he did apologies, and the lack of one somehow erased the sting from the lack of the other. "Yeah, well, there's only so much I can hide under my bed," he replied. "Which, coincidentally, is where I'm off to right now."
Hence the point of the interruption, and the necessity of it jarred worse than the notes mangled by stiff fingers. Sherlock and his violin turned back to the window no further acknowledgement, but the volume of the music rose to follow John as he left the room.
Smiling at nothing in particular, or perhaps everything in general, John clumped up the stairs to his bedroom. Mrs Hudson, bless her, had not only made the bed up fresh, but had also laundered one of the pairs of pyjamas he'd never gotten around to packing and left it at the foot of his bed. Tempted as he was to throw them on and fall straight into bed, the lingering aroma from a tension filled evening prompted him to backtrack to the bathroom instead.
The music ratcheted up another notch as water cascaded from the shower head, and John whistled along with it, absurdly cheerful. It did his heart good, not to mention his ego, that Sherlock was as willing as himself to provide these little gestures of reassurance.
Even so, John found himself taking shameful comfort from the sting of water across his abused knuckles. He shook his head at himself, at them both. This pattern of seeking reassurance had to be broken before it became a habit, or he'd be finding excuses to punch Sherlock whenever his knuckles healed.
Not that he'd have to look very hard.
Sherlock frowned at the window, perturbed by the way his ears strained after the sound of footsteps until he'd assured himself that John had gone up instead of out. What more would it take? They'd fought, he'd explained, John had given the appearance at least of being appeased. Though John might well – had, frequently – slam out in the midst of an argument, he was simply not deceptive enough to present a placid face only to sneak out in order to avoid further confrontation. And yet, Sherlock's gut clenched within him as those familiar footsteps sounded on the staircase again, relaxing only after he'd determined that John's destination was the bathroom, not the front door. Something Wagnerian made its way from the strings, reaching up to meet the clash of water against tile.
Still playing, Sherlock turned to glare around the offensively tidy flat, testament to the extended amount of time John had spent bustling about down here, while every clumsy movement underlined his state of exhaustion. Foolish behavior, the product of baseless fear and sentiment, hardly worth noting, except that Sherlock had just now found himself adjusting the volume of his playing to ensure John would still be able to hear it over the falling water.
Something would have to be done to restore the correct balance, Sherlock decided. Something striking enough to linger in both their psyches until this pointless anxiety had time to dissipate. The furrows cleared from his forehead as several possibilities presented themselves with surprising promptness. Sherlock allowed himself the duration of John's shower to sift them, growing more bemused by the second at how much mind-space he'd evidently dedicated to the mollification of John Watson.
The musical accompaniment ceased just after John turned off the taps, leaving him battling the impulse to confirm Sherlock's presence somewhere in the flat. It could have no positive outcome either way, he told himself firmly. Investigating the lack of noise might give Sherlock the notion that late night concertos were reassuring, thus ensuring John would never again know the joy of an uninterrupted night's sleep. He yawned mightily at the mere thought. No, not risking that.
Accordingly, John dragged his reluctant feet up the stairs towards his bedroom instead, trying to ignore the panicky little mind-whispers insisting that it wasn't just quiet downstairs, but dark too. No lights, no sound, no movement when he gave into the impulse to peer back over his shoulder. OK, so maybe Sherlock had gone off on some errand of this own, but what of it? He had every right to depart and return at the prompting of his own will and whim, but he would return, surely tonight was proof of that.
Having finally extracted a thread of security from the tangled web of his thoughts, it was somewhat easier to keep his back to the staircase and his steps moving upwards. Appeased, if not at peace, John stumbled into his room, finally thinking of nothing except sinking onto the fresh sheets.
It came as an utter shock, therefore, to discover, not unlike one of The Three Bears, that there was someone sleeping in his bed. Or quite possibly feigning sleep in the hopes it would spare him eviction.
That much was easily fixed. No-one could remain asleep through the frankly unmanly yelp with which John greeted the reality of another body beneath the duvet, nor the decidedly manly swearing which followed. John scrambled back out, still cursing, and glowered at the curly-haired figure blinking against the glare of the bedside lamp.
"But John," Sherlock said plaintively, when the tirade ground to a halt, John having exhausted his impressive vocabulary. "You know that my bed was dismantled. You were there when I mentioned it. I know you were. I checked."
"Yeah I was, but that doesn't mean…" John's mouth flapped a couple of times, totally against his will. "Sherlock, you hardly slept in your bed when you had one." Of course, right on the heels of that came a crystalline memory of what Sherlock wore – or didn't wear – the times he'd actually used his bed, and the sheets Mrs Hudson had laundered didn't seem quite so fresh anymore. "Bloody hell, Sherlock," John exclaimed, momentarily diverted. "You'd better have pants on under my sheet."
For answer, Sherlock extended one leg from beneath the duvet, displaying a gravity defying length of pyjama clad shin terminating in elegant toes which might have been manicured, only John wasn't getting close enough to check.
"Right," John said decisively. "Now follow that with the rest of you, and take it all downstairs."
"But it's my first night back," Sherlock protested, in what was so very close to a whine that John was hard-pressed to keep the smile off his face. That would never do. If he showed weakness now, he was lost, and he'd never found the couch quite as comfortable as Sherlock did.
With admirable effort, because this was damned ridiculous after all, John summoned his best stern expression instead. The one which had proved its worth and protected evidence at many a crime scene, and fitted back onto his face with the ease of a lost glove.
"Not a chance, Sherlock," he said, carefully not meeting his flatmate's eyes, which he knew from experience would rival the very cutest lost puppy. "It's my firstnight back too, don't forget."
"But John," Sherlock protested, pouting up at him, which was distracting just from the novelty value.
John shook his head, partly in negation, partly to clear it. "No Sherlock," he repeated, looking anywhere except at that pleading face, which was certainly as insincere as it was appealing. "You'll sleep for all of an hour before crashing into the living room and waking me up. You might as well just start there yourself. Damn it, Sherlock, you've always preferred the couch anyway."
Sherlock sighed, as though heavily put upon. "But John," he repeated patiently, "I wasn't asking you to sleep downstairs. You must be aware this bed is big enough for two."
John gaped down at the curly haired maniac. He might even have boggled. The reality of what Sherlock was asking – no, expecting - finally landed squarely in his awareness, waving flags and sounding alarms in case he was planning to persist in ignoring the obvious. "Oh…No. God, no. And, in case that isn't clear enough, No Bloody Way on Earth."
Sherlock rolled onto his back, letting a single arm work its way from beneath the duvet in order to wave expansively at the other side of the bed. "But it is very big," he pointed out. "Huge, in fact. Your bed, I mean. You'll hardly know I'm here."
John closed his eyes briefly, seeking his happy place, which ironically proved to be Baker Street.
"It's not as though you're using this side, John," Sherlock's voice intruded into whatever sanity John was groping to find. "Not as though it's ever been used, come to that."
"Not from lack of effort," John mumbled. He opened his eyes, noted that Goldilocks was still firmly in possession, and sighed at his inevitable defeat. He'd had such high hopes when he ordered that bed, and, contrary to popular belief, none of them had involved his flatmate being the first to share it.
"Very chivalrous of you," Sherlock approved, "Placing yourself between your putative bed-partner and the door, that is. Though I suppose it could equally be for ease of escape, given the usual caliber of your girlfriends. You might have been better to persist with the first one. The doctor - Susan, was it? She at least had some backbone."
"Sarah," John corrected absently. He let his face drop into his hands. "I do not believe my life," he muttered. "Particularly not today. Oh, the hell with it. I give up." He glared balefully at his recumbent flat-mate, received an angelic smile in return, and turned, dressing gown failing to sweep, to begin stamping his way back down the staircase.
"Now John, don't be foolish," Sherlock called out. "You surely aren't planning on going to the couch after all, are you?"
John froze midstep, as he'd done far too often tonight. He'd been perilously close to caving, but that parting shot was one too many. Sherlock, he concluded, should have quit while he was ahead. A sneaky smile crept onto John's face and stayed there as he considered his strategy. The game was decidedly On. This was mad. This was ridiculous. This was….normal, and God, he'd missed it.
"You bloody wish," John yelled back over his shoulder. "I'm just checking that I locked the door. Otherwise Mrs Hudson will pop in to make sure I haven't murdered you in your sleep and find….find…." No, he wouldn't risk saying it out loud. Walls had ears, particularly in this flat. If word of this got out, the Yarders would spend the next month arguing over whether it constituted cause for paying out the ongoing 'are they, aren't they?' pool which would no doubt resurrect when Sherlock did.
The room was in darkness when he returned, beyond the confused moonlight/streetlight slipping through the gaps in the blinds. Further illumination was hardly necessary, John thought sourly, given the glow of triumph shining from Sherlock's face.
"I don't suppose," John said, giving vent to his last forlorn hope. "That you're bluffing and you'll go down to the couch after all?"
Sherlock merely smiled at him, once more waving graciously at the empty side of the bed.
"This is most generous of you, John," Sherlock said, as John flung the duvet aside, confirmed – surreptitiously he hoped - the continuing presence of pants, and thumped with poor grace onto the mattress.
"I shall take care not to snore," Sherlock continued placidly. "And I'm assured I'm not a sheet thief."
John's head tried to leap over his shoulder, only to be foiled by a lack of owl-like neck. "Who?….No, I don't want to know. I really don't." The mattress creaked as he shifted around in an effort to get comfortable, ending precariously close to edge, having decided he'd rather roll off the bed entirely than risk rolling on to Sherlock.
Sherlock chuckled softly in the dark. "For pity's sake, John, relax. I swear I'll not….what's the phrase? …jump you…in your sleep."
John blinked at the ceiling. There were far too many ways to interpret that statement for his poor overwhelmed brain to process. Or of course, Sherlock might just be making a last-ditch effort to retain the entire bed for himself. "I…er….um…."
"If you're feeling the need for an inoffensive – and might I add, quite unnecessary – let down, I usually find that I'm flattered by the attention, but don't like you that way usually suffices," Sherlock offered helpfully. "Is that the concept you're trying to coerce from your overtaxed mind, John?"
John flirted with the engaging idea that it could hardly qualify as murder if he strangled his legally-dead flat-mate. Evidently the insufferable git was still trying to freak him out enough to retreat the couch. OK, fine, two could play.
"I wouldn't use that one," John said casually, "Because I prefer to keep as close to the truth as possible."
From the other side of the bed came the sound of harsh swallowing. A gulp, in fact. John grinned, possibly manically. Maniacally, even.
"It's not that I don't like you that way, Sherlock," John said, and he truly thought he could hear his flatmate - currently bedmate's - breathing hoarsen.
"I don't love you that way," John concluded. In the prickly silence that followed, he rolled back onto his side, substantially further from the edge. Sherlock's eyes bored into this back, likely rebounding off the shield of smug satisfaction radiating from every pore. It was so rare that he rendered Sherlock speechless. The war had been lost, but he'd snatched a victory in the final skirmish, and it was something to be savored. Oh, he'd have sweet dreams tonight.
"I don't love you that way either," Sherlock announced. "Just so there's no confusion."
"God forbid anyone's confused in 221B," John said agreeably. "G'night, Sherlock."
There was the sound of flouncing. John chuckled into the dark. "Sherlock?"
That's all folks! Thank you so much for all the favorites, the alerts, and particularly the comments. It's been a lovely welcome to the fandom, and I will be back!