Sherlock Holmes did a lot of unusual things. He was constantly catching John Watson by surprise, an emotion typically tinted with amusement, frustration like all hell, and/or terror, depending on what specifically Sherlock had done.
You would think that seeing Sherlock covered in blood, rushing around the flat with a harpoon would be the scariest thing he did. At least for a while. But just a few days later, he did something that sent chills down John's spine and threatened to leave him paralyzed with fear.
John had just arrived home to Baker Street after a night out with Mike Stamford. It was two o'clock in the morning and he was still a bit tipsy as he stumbled into the flat. He was sobering up pretty well and he could feel a hangover headache already coming on. He figured he'd stop off at the second floor to hydrate a little before going to bed, so he opened the kitchen door and flipped on the light.
He started a little when he saw Sherlock sitting in his usual chair, legs pulled up to his chest, but John had grown fairly accustomed to Sherlock's insomniac-habits and tendencies to sit silently in dark rooms. Sherlock looked over at him and blinked in the sudden light.
"Sorry," John muttered. "I'll be out in a bit." He grabbed a glass from the cabinet and filled it with water from the tap. He gave a little sigh before gulping back the entire thing and refilling the glass. The water set uneasily in his stomach but he knew he'd be grateful for it in the morning.
He stood at the sink and hadn't heard Sherlock move across the room. But then Sherlock was there, taking the glass from John's hand and setting it on the counter. John turned, confused, to ask what was going on and abruptly found himself wrapped in Sherlock's arms.
Sherlock had never embraced him like this before and John was horrified. All traces of drunkenness were wiped cleanly from his brain. Something was clearly wrong.
But then Sherlock uttered a simple line that caused John's heart to thud almost painfully hard and goosebumps to raise up along his arms:
"I love you, John."
John wrapped his arms around Sherlock tightly. "What's wrong?" he asked. "What's going on?"
For a moment, neither moved. Then Sherlock straightened up and pulled away, looking at John curiously. There was a touch of annoyance in his gaze.
"Nothing's wrong," he said. He turned and moved back to his chair, leaving John standing awkwardly, his arms extended in front of him as though they were clay Sherlock had molded by pulling away.
Denial was a bad sign. John's mind raced with possibilities – what could bother Sherlock enough to cause that behavior, that Sherlock wanted to hide from him in such a way? Certainly he was in some kind of trouble. Something threatened him. He was going to be hurt, perhaps, or he was put in some other kind of danger. John knew Sherlock had a history of depression and self-harming habits...
"Sherlock, please, tell me what's wrong," said John urgently, finally dropping his arms and taking a few steps closer to his friend.
Sherlock's annoyance was more prominent now. "Nothing is wrong," he repeated.
"Then... why, why did you do that?" asked John, waving his arms helplessly towards the spot in which he had previously stood.
Sherlock cleared his throat a bit. "I was informed recently that I don't show my affections toward people very well and that you, of all people, might require a more direct approach regarding how I feel about you. I insisted at the time that such procedures were unnecessary, though seeing that you can misinterpret even the most direct approach I know to take, I wonder if I may have been wrong."
There was silence for a few moments while John stared at Sherlock, eyes wide and lips slightly parted. Finally he said, "No. No, that wasn't my fault. That was scary, that was!" He motioned again to the spot of the embrace. "You aren't – you aren't going to do something stupid, are you? Sherlock?"
"I imagine so, at some point. It happens often enough," said Sherlock, rolling his eyes. He looked at John over his clasped hands. "But I have no plans to return to my old habits, so stop worrying."
John shook his head slightly, trying to clear it of the terrible images running through it. "So... you were just... telling me how you feel?"
Sherlock nodded impatiently. "Yes, of course."
"Oh." John straightened up a bit and glanced awkwardly around the room, finally convinced that Sherlock wasn't preparing to disappear or die. "Well, I. I love you, too. Sherlock."
After a few seconds, John finally met Sherlock's eyes. They were softer than before, though his face hadn't moved. They looked at each other for a moment before Sherlock looked away. He cleared his throat again.
"Thank you, John."
"I'm off to bed, then."
"For the record," John said, stopping at the door and turning back to address Sherlock again, "I knew how you felt before you said it. While it could stand to be said more often, if it comes down to not saying it at all and saying it in a horrifying way like you just did, I'd rather you trust me to already know. I'm not as good at observations as you are, but I'm not stupid and I understand relationships and emotions." Sherlock was watching him, an odd expression on his face, almost a mixture of wretchedness and fascination and admiration. John studied the expression carefully before admitting to himself he wasn't sure what it meant and adding aloud, "Sort of."